Taking a Seat

The only chair left was in the Reference section. It is hard to be creative in the Reference section. Test preparation manuals don’t inspire the flow of compelling ideas. And that is what I am after, after all, the flow. The Flow.

When the house gets stale, I leave, in search of a place that might do the mental trick. Often, I will go to the bookstore nearby. At the bookstore, you don’t have to feel guilty about not buying coffee. Coffee turns into another substance when it is not made in my kitchen. So I go to the bookstore, where there are big upholstered chairs set amongst the stacks. 

“Try that book,” they seem to say. “Here, sit here and read it, or some of it. C’mon.”

But I do not go to read. The literature section has three chairs, and they were all occupied today. That made me pretty mad, since the occupiers were not writing anything. One was talking…talking!…to another person who sat on the floor. The second was reading. Imagine, reading in the literature section. The third was sleeping. I felt like a pregnant woman on a bus, hanging onto the strap. Look at me, will you? I’m a writer. I’m dying here. Get up, will ya?

I walked around the store until I found the chair that ultimately became mine. I was not motivated, tucked in between guides to Asian walking trips and dictionaries of generic drug names. I debated whether to go back to the shelves where the real books were, and to haul the non-writing people up to standing. But I realized that might be a neurotic choice. Instead, I picked up a “Fast Fact Review for Algebraic Equations” and settled in. 

Rrring, Rrring…

In order to boost sales of my expert writing services, I have cast the net, recently, into unfamiliar waters. Used to be, the phone would ring.

“Hey, Pam. Are you available to write a piece for us?”

I’d pitch my own ideas, in between the calls, and all would be well in the land of words.  These days, of course, the phone is pretty quiet. Do it differently, then, I told myself not long ago. Do it the way you haven’t done it before. Flex with changing times. Stretch, twist, be happy.

So, I posted my resume on several writing websites, in the place where writers say they are available for assignments. It felt weird, out there, on its own with people, anonymous people. Not like a story in a magazine, or a newspaper. These people you know. Anyway, I forgot that I had sent my life story into the ethers until the phone rang while we were eating dinner the other night. Yes, the phone. 

“Is Pamela there?”

“Who’s calling, please?”

“Greg.”

“Greg.”

“I saw your resume. Are you free to do an assignment?”

Wow. Just like that. No interview. No spec work. No writing samples. These online writing websites are super, I say to myself.

“What kind of assignment,” I ask, grabbing a pen from the kitchen counter.

“A script. Have you written scripts?”

“Oh, sure. I have written scripts,” I answer, encouraged. “What kind of script…industrial, commercial, film?”

“Adult.”

Okay, not kids. No little characters with blueberries for heads or anything. Adult, sure.

“You have to write that kind of stuff,” he went on.

Oh…adult. I thanked Greg and hung up.

“Who is Greg?” my twelve year old daughter asked. “And what was that about?”

My twelve year old daughter has a unique ability to hear three words and know exactly what is going on in the rest of a conversation. I could say, “No thank you,” and she could state the parties involved, offer made, and impetus for my reply.

“He asked if I could write a script.”

“You can write a script. What kind?”

“An adult script.”

They didn’t know the term.

“You know, G, PG, PG-13, R….it is after the R.”

“Oh,” both of my kids said. “Ick.”

Last night, I went to a school meeting about the transition from middle to high school. The subject was extracurricular activities. The journalism advisor stood in front of five hundred parents and kids and promoted the profession as a wonderful career, a way to hone analytical and creative skills, express yourself, see the world. I was pretty much stunned, given the current state of journalism. I do not think she should have been allowed to say that, in order to attract students to her class. As much as I love what I spend my time doing, or try to spend my time doing, she should not have been allowed to say that.




 


Find Me, Idea

It has been cold here, so the 1 pm walk/run has been eradicated from the schedule. Instead, I hop on the Stairmaster, but only if it is 40 degrees or above, as such hopping requires a dash across the yard to the back house. In Texas, some houses have back houses, separate little buildings that could have been garages or extra bedrooms. They are also called “quarters,” the kind of quarters for guests.

All of this is irrelevant. Except for the cold part. I have lost my tolerance for it, I am embarassed to say, and even a trot across the little lawn is too unpleasant at 39 degrees. So, I stay inside and exercise in my bedroom. I do aerobics in my bedroom, in front of a mirror, just like the eighties.

“What did you do today?” my daughters will ask.

“I did aerobics in my bedroom,” I tell them. They look at each other, thinking, “What. What have we been given in this person. What does it all mean?”

Anyway, when I do aerobics in front of my parents’ antique oak mirror, which has moved as many times as I have, I think of other things. That is because aerobics is boring. I should inject, here, that I do not do the traditional Jane Fonda-style work-outs, but have my own modern take, more dance, more Fosse, more moi. The ideas that pop into my brain when I do this are generally very good. I learned a long time ago that when you are a writer, you are always writing, even when you are at the movies or having a little snack or doing aerobics in your bedroom.

Today was terrific. I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that today became a “concept.” A whole “thing.” Not just one, but many. It could be many. I am not going to say what it is. It is going to be a secret. When I got the idea, I was finished exercising. That is how it works because then, you have to do the idea. But since I needed to go to my daughter’s basketball game in fifteen minutes, I had to shower before doing the idea. In the shower, if you can believe the wealth, I had another fabulous jolt of creativity. Yet another something poured out of the head into my head and I had to stay there until it was finished. It was a long shower.

I tell the girls to hurry up in the shower. The younger one uses enough water for a small nation. Maybe I should permit it, I am thinking now, as long as she emerges not only clean, but inspired.


Strong Woman Lesson No. 9042

The thing about people who try to strong arm women just because they are women is, it is so old. People used to do it years ago and then, women realized they could say, “Don’t do that” and actually get results. So, fewer males, I think, try because they think, perhaps, they won’t succeed. And, this type of male is inherently lazy, so the extra effort, with no guaranteed gain, might not be attractive. Still, there are ignorant fools who continue to try to intimidate, disrespect, insult, pick your term, women, just in case they, in fact, do get away with it.

This comes to mind because of a situation in which some male tried not to pay me for my writing services. It is really boring, actually, because it is so, well, old, and because the idiot in question is such a, well, idiot. But…of course there is a lesson. And when you are a mom, and a single mom of girls who don’t see male-female discourse on a daily basis, it is important to make a lesson of it. That is a thought in and of itself, perhaps for another time, the notion that parents who do not have another adult in the house feel the weight of talking about, describing, making sure the kids know what you take for granted if you grow up with two adults in the house. For now, we will talk about the idiot male person who tried not to pay me.

So, I accept a silly assignment knowing I probably shouldn’t because the people doing the assigning seem a little incompetent. But, I figure it’s a quick job. Spending cash. While I am sitting in the office of the assigning man watching him try to work the fax machine, I am reminded of something my first Managing Editor told me back in 1985. I happened to run into her on the Madison Avenue bus heading uptown in the evening, and she told me that whatever I do, wherever I work, make sure it is for reputable people. Take a lesser position, she said, with a smarter operation. I have put this into practice for many years. The few times I’ve accepted assignments from less worthy companies, I have, in fact, encountered trouble. 

But, when you freelance, you tend to accept most anything that is offered. These days, you don’t even think about it. You will write about nail clippers. Anyway, the man, let’s call him John, tells me after the piece is turned in that the piece is not good. Of course the piece is good. This is a tactic. Tell the person the piece is not good, after you already told her it was good, so that you don’t have to pay her. It has been a month since John has had my invoice, and no check has arrived in the mail. Meantime, I email John and all of his coworkers about how it is time for them to pay me. John, of course, gets mad that his coworkers now know that he cannot operate a fax machine.

My kids think this story is funny. I tell them that people will try to take advantage of you, and no matter how significant it is or not, you cannot let them. This is insignificant, but we will use all we have at our disposal to make sure we are treated fairly. My older daughter suggested we all go to John’s office to demand the check. She wants to watch it. 

Meanwhile, John called saying that he will pay me if I sign a statement saying I will not email his coworkers and tell them that he cannot operate the fax machine or is trying not to pay me or looks like a mushroom. I told him I won’t sign anything so insane and that he should mail a check to the address on the invoice, just like real businesses do. 

He said he would. We are taking bets. Lesson No. 9043 is in the works.