I’ve been paid for an infinitesimal percentage of the many words I’ve written over the last forty-five years. I need to up the percentage in the coming months. It is imperative, especially now that I’ve had a taste of getting paid for writing . And because my money is running out possibly faster than the time I hopefully have left to spend it.
The theoretically easy gig, writing short, 1,000 word memoir type anecdotes for $250 a pop, was presented to me about a year ago. I sent the guy two pieces that he loved and published immediately. $500, not bad. My friends were happy to see me finally getting paid for work I’d been doing for decades. I had the impression I could send him one or two a week, but the arrangement quickly became hard to bear.
It seems incredibly petty to blame my father for the sourness that quickly crept in, especially at my ridiculously advanced age of sixty. Maybe I should blame this editorial fellow’s father for it. I know that my arbitrarily adversarial father did not make it any easier for me to cheerfully abide the whimsy of arbitrary assholes.
The editor, if he can be called that, had grown up with a major problem with his own father, who had been a felon, a man of great superficial charm, adored by his wife, and who had hidden his criminality and long prison sentence from his sons. The son wrote thousands and thousands of words about the trauma of his father’s treachery and published it on the site. The piece could have been tightened up by a decent editor, but it made its point, at great, if not always elegant, length.
I wrote a piece about my father’s deathbed confession, which started off at about 2,500 words. I managed to cut an almost fifty year anecdote down, somehow, to about 1,500 words, and sent it off to him. He told me he loved it, but that the “sweet spot” for the website was around 1,000-1,100 words. I exerted myself to send him a draft, cut to the bone like a haiku, that came in at a little under 1,100 words. He loved it and told me he’d publish it in the next on-line issue.
Although challenged to edit his own story, he was fearless taking the red pen to my carefully chosen words. I’d worked to tell exactly what I meant to in as few words as possible. I read the piece he published on-line while waiting for my paycheck and noted that he’d swapped a precise phrase of mine for a cliche, inserted a fairly stupid parenthetical, changed a few other minor things. Sure, I thought, why not?
Then I read a line that stopped me, since it completely changed the sense of the entire paragraph that followed and made me appear to be as hapless a writer, and clueless a person, as this fellow himself.
It made no sense to me that a man with all the qualities he possessed could be such an intractable asshole.
His version had me write:
It never made any sense to me that a man who my mother absolutely adored could be such an intractable asshole.
I never had any confusion about why my mother adored my father, or how anybody can adore anybody else. That was more his issue, you dig, since his mother had absolutely adored such a despicable lying, murdering weasel and helped him lie to his sons.
My point was that my father had every quality to be a wonderful father, and a great friend, that I saw each of those qualities and it mystified me that he was so rarely capable of living up to that great potential. That’s what didn’t make sense to me, that is the contradiction I found impossible to reconcile throughout the senseless, trackless wars of my childhood.
There was no mystery whatsoever about my mother adoring him, nor did that have anything to do with what I said next.
“But you got paid $250,” a practical friend pointed out, quite sensibly.
That’s one part of it, and the good part. If it had ended with that small handful of his stupid edits, I could have kept sending him things, letting him lift his leg over my words as he saw fit, and cashing the checks. But it appeared he may have had some feelings about how quickly I sent him finished 1,000 word pieces whenever he asked.
Each one I sent him, he said, was beautifully written, although this one was, funny to say, a bit too personal, that one, surprisingly, a tad impersonal, that one too private, this one too public– and this one, while absolutely harrowing, he’d found oddly unmoving.
In the end, I decided there was no point to tell this hack to go fuck himself, take a writing course or anything else that might have hurt his sensitive feelings. I just stopped sending him my work. I am looking for other places to send my writing. If you will excuse me, I have to crack that directory now.