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The Favor I’m Not Granting

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Department Of This May Stop Them From Asking

Moiself refers to Every Writer’s Favorite Situation ®  (insert appropriate, universally understood emojis of sarcasm).    [1]

Dateline: senior year of high school (mine; not yours). I wrote a regular, eponymous op-ed column in our school’s newspaper, in which I took a humorous approach to a variety of school-related issues.    [2]   Toward the end of the year, a school acquaintance approached me, asking for a favor…although, she didn’t exactly phrase it that way.  The way she presented it, it was more of an opportunity, for me.

She had been asked to write and then read something for an upcoming Important Occasion: a work party; a family reunion – for the life of me, I cannot recall *what* it was for, but that’s not pertinent. The thing is, she was supposed to write and deliver an amusing presentation.  And she wanted me to do it for her.

She said that she would give me some basic information – what it needed to be “about’ –  and then I could just whip it out, right?

“I just don’t know how to do that, but you’re so funny.
I can’t be funny, but you can be funny – it’s so easy for you.”

The way she spoke about it, it was if that complement from her would be motivation (and compensation) enough, for moiself – who would know that I had, once again, written something “really clever and funny.”

 

 

In her eyes, moiself  was a “natural” writer.  I’d just sit my witty ass down and the work would flow from my pen to paper. She did not acknowledge the time and effort it might take, and never mind that we were a couple of days from final exams.

Gently but firmly. I declined her brazen solicitation honorable request, in what turned out to be good practice for me, being the first of many such declinations.

Now, I *liked* this person.  She was the first of many people (friends; family; co-workers) over the years who, although they seemed to acknowledge my skills as a writer enough to covet those skills for a project of *theirs,*  did not value those skills enough to offer to compensate me for my work – nor even acknowledge that writing is, in fact, work.  It’s “work” enough that they did not want to do the project themselves or take the time  to acquire and hone the ability to do so, or were intimidated by it (“I just can’t write/I’ve never been able to write, like you can so easily.“)

 

)

 

Y’all probably wouldn’t think of asking your son’s soccer coach, who is a podiatrist, to fix your bunions for free (“I thought it might be fun for you – it’d be easier than our other surgeries, and you’re so good at it”), or try to wrangle a free housecleaning from your neighbor who works for Merry Maids.  But there’s something about knowing that someone works in an “artistic” field which brings out the mooch in otherwise well-mannered people.

Over the years, I’ve compared such stories with other writers (and artist friends).  We’ve come to the conclusion that because writing – particularly fiction writing, but not exclusively   [3] – is seen as one of the arts, and since “art” is perfunctorily lauded yet (the work behind the art) not respected financially, non-artists believe that any time a writer or artist is solicited for their work they should consider it (shudder) an honor to be asked.  Or, even more dreadfully, you get the exposure thing:

“We can’t offer payment, but you’ll get exposure –
we’ll make sure everyone knows it’s your work!”    [4]

 

 

 Noone understands better than Matthew Inman, aka, the mind behind The Oatmeal.

 

It doesn’t even matter to these freeloaders favor-askers, when you protest that you are a writer of fiction, not  ______ (grant proposals/term papers/college essays/office brochures – whatever their project).  In their (non-professional writer) eyes, you can whip up anything, at any time, right? 

 

How I’ve begun every story ever.

 

Moiself, when asked to advise upcoming/wanna be writers, has alerted them to this reality: Your writing and editing skills will be coveted by others, enough that they will ask you to do work  *for* them, yet not enough to be compensated *by* them.   

I can count on the fingers of one hand – if that hand had lost three fingers in a tragic panini press accident – the number of times someone has asked for my writing skills AND let me know the payment they would offer and/or asked what I would charge for the project they had in mind.  In all other cases, I quickly discovered the Favor Asker’s assumption was that I would work for free… (for them; for the honor of being asked; for “the exposure….” y’all get the drill by now).

 

 

What prompted this screed trip down Memory Lane is a recent Carolyn Hax column.  Carolyn   [5]  is the dean and queen of advice columnists, IMO – she could claim those titles from her writing ability alone, but she’s also keenly alert, has a remarkable sense of perspective balanced with compassion, and is excellent at recognizing and pointing out the problems behind the problems advice seekers *think* they are asking her about.

Moiself cringed with weary recognition to read this letter…then my spine straightened in right-on! triumph at Carolyn’s response.

Dear Carolyn: I am a writer by profession — meaning I get paid to do what I do. I am constantly asked to edit someone’s community newsletter, write something about someone’s kid who plays lacrosse to send to college coaches, or write someone’s family Christmas letter. (I hate those things, but anyway.)

When I quote my hourly rate, I get the hurt look and, “Oh, I thought you’d just do it for me as a friend,” or — in the case of a newsletter — “Oh, I just thought it would be fun for you; it is a good cause and probably would not take much time.”

I keep quoting the hourly rate but it is the sad and hurt reactions that bother me. How to draw the line so that people do not see it as a rejection? I have even tried a slightly discounted friends-and-family rate but the problem persists.— Writer

Writer: The sad and hurt reactions bother me, too, but not for the same reason.

These people have just been reminded they’re asking you to work for free, and they think “no” is the wrong answer? Come on, people.

Go ask for free haircuts, housecleaning and brain surgery, and get back to me.

Or don’t. As a society, we’re not exactly at peak manners right now.

Your answer is fine; you are reasonably treating them as polite people looking to hire you for skilled work, and you’re responding accordingly. The burden of their cheek is on them.

But if these exchanges gnaw at you, then, sure, shift your answer a bit: “Thanks for asking. Are you offering a job or asking a favor?” So when they say, “Favor” — blowing through the sawhorse of a hint you just dragged across that road — you can say, kindly, “I’m sorry — if I agreed to those, then that’s all I’d ever do.”

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Department Of Oh Yeah, There’s That Holiday Next Week

Ah, yes, and what to cook, which can test the patience of even the most ardent welcomer-of-Thanksgiving.  I’ve been reading that this feeling is common to many if not all contemporary hosts – not  just us plant-based eaters – as we keep in mind our guests’ various dietary preferences, allergies, likes and loathings….

 

 

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*   *   *

From Ken Jennings, the man most people know as the winning-est Jeopardy contestant ever, has written several books on humor…the very idea of which, for some reason seems funny in and of itself, to moiself.   I’m currently reading his book Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture.  In the chapter dealing with the history of satire, snark, and ironic detachment (SSI)– specifically the rise, use, and overuse of that and in standup comedy, television shows and other entertainment – and even in protest movements against the government authoritarianism – Jennings has a segment titled “Outgrowing Snark.”  For a lifelong practitioner of SSI,  moiself  found his observations to be both obvious and insightful (my emphases).

Irony as a literary device, as something to observe, is fine. But as a way to live your life? Cloaking every thought, word, action with the implication that you might not mean any of it? That’s a pathology.

Unless ironic distance is the only way to keep government authorities off your back, it shouldn’t be the only pitch in your repertoire. The occasional curveball is only effective if you can throw a fastball and a changeup as well. “A Modest Proposal”    [6] is funny and effective, but let’s not pretend it accomplishes all the same things that a heartfelt plea for starving children would. You don’t always get to the same place by taking the opposite route.

In an age of irony, it will always be a temptation to use it as a cop-out, because it’s easier to smirk at things than solve them.

( excerpt from Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture,
Chapter 7: “Bon Jovi, come Home.”)

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Identifying With A Former Beatle

This something-I-never-thought-I’d-do moment came when I was listening to a recent Fresh Air interview with Paul McCartney.  Sir Paul is making the interview rounds, plugging his  two recent projects: the upcoming release of the Peter Jackson-directed documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, and the book The Lyrics .[7]  

 

 

As McCartney reminisced with FA host Terry Gross, who played clips from some of the Beatles’ well-known songs, I was once again reminded of, inarguably, [8]  the best – as in, the most sheerly unadulteratedly exuberant – opening to a rock n’ roll song ever: McCartney’s count off that begins I Saw Her Standing There.

 

 

Once again, I digress.  Here’s where the identification-with-a-former-Beatle comes in.  Terry Gross was asking McCartney about his age (he’ll be 80 next June), something he says he finds rather astonishing, considering how he feels:

“Hey – I can’t believe I’m a *grandparent.* I mean, like… I’m 25 years old, actually. I just look older and… I think my birth certificate was falsified.”

Bingo.  I have that feeling all the time, as though my age-on-paper has nothing to do with me.  In so many ways, I still “feel” like I’m twenty-five.  I’ve a way to go before I get to Sir Paul’s age, although the “facts” (and my mirror) remind me that I’m most definitely not 25…or even 45, or even….

 

 

*   *   *

PunZ For The Day
Beatles Edition

I’m obsessed with buying old Beatles albums.  My friends say I need help, but
I’ve already got that one.

How did the Beatles’ new skillet introduce itself to them?
“I am the egg pan.”

Did you hear that it’s tricky selling Beatles albums in some Scandinavian countries?
Apparently, when asked if they’d buy any of the group’s albums, a Swede wouldn’t.
But, a Norwegian would.

What did the Beatles eat when they were in India?
Naan, naan, naan, naanaanaanaan….

 

I’d rather poke my bleedin’ eye out than listen to anymore of this.

 

*   *   *

May you never ask artists to work for free;
May you solve as many problems as you smirk at;
May you get up and dance when you hear, One-two-three-FAH!;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] I’m not sure that there are any – hey, you emoji artists, get to it please. And we’ll expect you to do it gratis.

[2] Titled, “Parnal Knowledge.” Yeah, I know.  But what many don’t know is that title was suggested by my paper’s editor, who was also my friend, and who was known for being more…genteel, shall we say, than moiself, which led many mutual acquaintances to refuse to believe that the column’s name was her idea.

[3] I know of writers specializing in journalism and other non-fiction/expository writing who’ve had the same experiences.

[4] Except for that classmate I mentioned – when I questioned her further I found out she’d intended to read what I’d (might have) written, as if it were her own work – with no attribution for moiself   (“I’ll tell someone, if they ask,” she said).

[5] Moiself  likes to think that, had we met, we’d be on a first name basis.

[6] Arguably Irish writer Jonathan Swift’s best known work, “A Modest Proposal” (originally published anonymously in the early 1700s)  was a satirical essay which viciously commented on England’s exploitation of Ireland by using the reasonable tones of an economic treatise to proposes that Ireland could ease poverty by butchering the children of the Irish poor and selling them as food to their wealthy English landlords.

[7] A copy of which now sits on my office desk.

[8] As in, if you’re going to argue with moiself about this, just don’t.

The Name I’m Not Misspelling

Comments Off on The Name I’m Not Misspelling

Department of It’s About…This

 

 

The above shirt was worn by Stella McCartney, upon the occasion of her father Paul’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It’s also the sentiment of Some Of Us Who Are Embarrassed For Our Country Being This Late To The Game. ®

No matter whom you supported in the presidential primaries or will support in this upcoming election, let us pause for a moment to think of history being made. We congratulate ourselves for, for the first time, nominating a woman as a major party candidate for president.

After we’re done patting ourselves on our collective backs, let us also consider the fact that we who often refer to ourselves as leaders of the free world are trailing behind Australia, Bolivia, China, Great Britain, Haiti, Iceland, Malta, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Norway, Germany, India, Ireland, The Philippines, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Burundi, Liberia, Guyana, Ecuador, Finland, Chile, Israel, Austria, Lithuania, Costa Rica, Kyrgyzstan, Brazil, Serbia, Malawi, Croatia, Central Africa Republic, Nepal, and a dozen other countries who currently have or had have elected or appointed female heads of state.

 

 

…that it took you Yanks so bloody long.

 

 

*   *   *

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Discombobulate

Which is why I am re-reading Elie Wiesel’s Night, and tempering that with Philip Norman’s new biography of Paul McCartney, and also You’ll Grow Out of It,  a collection of essays by Jessi Klein, the standup comic and writer for Inside Amy Schumer.

I chose the latter book mainly for the chapter titled Get the Epidural, upon which a hilarious sketch  (It’s Better For the Baby)  from Schumer’s show  [1]  was based.  That chapter was indeed delightful, but it was near the end of the book.  I had to skip from the chapter about watching The Bachelor, [2] which I could not stomach; thus, I had to punish the author [3]  by not reading the intervening eleven chapters between The Bachelor and Get The Epidural. And then, I just didn’t want to read the rest of the book. The author’s style and humor…I got it. Didn’t need to get anymore.

One of the Truly Great Things About Being An Adult ® is that it doesn’t matter whether I paid $12.99 for the Kindle book or $500 for a season theatre subscription – if I decide I am no longer interested in the book or the play, then I stop reading/leave at intermission. That money and time is gone and cannot be retrieved; I understand the Sunken Costs Fallacy and I get to decide at what point it just isn’t worth it to me anymore.

Once again, I digress.

Get The Epidural, as you may surmise by the title, is about the expectation and pressure pregnant women experience re choosing their birth “experiences.”

 

“I’m planning on having a sea turtle birth.”

 

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, in my job as a health educator in a family-oriented OB/GYN practice, I tried to steer away women from using the term “natural” re childbirth sans drugs.

“The more accurate term,” my spiel went, “is medicated or un-medicated childbirth. It is natural to seek relief from agonizing pain. No one asks your husband if he’s going to have his broken leg set ‘naturally,’ right? If the pregnancy is housed in your uterus and exits via your vagina, regardless of how much or how little pharmaceutical intervention took place in between, that’s a natural birth.”

Thus, I did my “Preach it, sistuh Jessi!” dance when I read Klein’s rumination on this irony: that women are pressured to do this one thing “naturally,” yet during the rest of their lives they are told that everything which is in fact natural about their bodies (e.g. the existence of leg, underarm and pubic hair; their womanly body shape, their normal hair color and texture and skin tone and complexion) is either annoying and/or gross and/or deficient and must be eliminated or altered.

It’s interesting that no one cares very much about women doing anything “naturally” until it involves them being in excruciating pain.
No one ever asks a man if he’s having a “natural root canal.” No one ever asks if a man is having a “natural vasectomy.”
(Jessi Klein,  You’ll Get Over It)

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Department Of What’s In A Name?

From birthing to naming – how did I get on the baby thing? Coincident with my reading the afore-mention essay I also read an anecdote about baby naming, which reminded me of my e-versation with friend KW in which he teased me for insisting on spelling my name “…in some bizarro way.”  In return, I felt obliged to relay the story of my naming:

 

 

Actually, ‘twere my parents who insisted on spelling my name Robyn (for my father, whose middle name is Bryan).  Here is what they told me about how I got my name.  [4]

I was born in Santa Ana Hospital. The day after my birth the Nurse Who Was In Charge Of Such Things ® brought the birth certificate form and other discharge documents into my mother’s hospital room. She asked my parents, “What name do you want on the birth certificate?”

“Robyn Gwen Parnell,” my parents replied, and relayed the spelling of each name.

“That’s not how you spell Robin,” the nurse huffed. “It’s spelled with an i.”

My parents said Nurse Jackboots seemed pretty disgusted with them, but they insisted that, no, they were spelling it Robyn with a y.  Nurse Nazi-nose actually continued to argue with them about it. My parents held firm.  Nurse Poopypants rolled her eyes, completed her paperwork, and told them they’d receive a copy of the birth certificate in the mail, eventually.  When my parents received the copy of my birth certificate they put it on a pile of papers on my father’s desk, and it wasn’t until a few months later, when they got to organizing things, that they actually looked at the certificate and discovered that Nurse Ratchet had taken it upon herself to give a bureaucratic fuck you to my parents [5] and had spelled my name with an i !

 

 

I know what’s best. Trust me.

 

 

Chet and Marion [6] Parnell were furious, but Chet consulted a lawyer friend who told him not to worry, you can spell the name however you like, it’s no problem. A few years after my college graduation, when I asked for a copy of my birth certificate, my father found a judge who put some kind of amendment to the document, to note the initial clerical “mistake.” Santa Ana Hospital burned to the ground not long after that. Karma, I sez.

Friend KW said he found it somewhat scary, that a nurse would decide to override the parents’ choice for a baby’s name. He did also advocate for judicious selection in naming – “proofreading and gentle questioning might not be inadvisable in certain cases.”  He cited the story of a young pregnant woman who came into the hospital where KW’s SIL worked at a nurse and who insisted on naming her new baby boy Gonorrhea. (“She just liked the way it rolled off the tongue [ew!] No amount of gentle persuasion dissuaded her.”)

Anyone who would give their baby such a name (“And let me introduce you to her older sister, Chlamydia, and her twin brothers, Herpes and Simplex.”) – that’s grounds for instant, mandatory sterilization, IMHO. It almost makes the heretofore odd (to me) fact that certain countries (like Iceland) have “naming laws” seem reasonable.

 

 

There oughta be a law.

 

 

And then, when it comes to names, there is the issue of unsolicited feedback.

I’ve shared the Ultimate Baby Naming Advice ® [7] to many a prospective parent – advice which I mistakenly forgot when I was expecting my firstborn.

My mother was the first person to ask what names MH and were considering. This was early in my second trimester of pregnancy, when I’d telephoned my parents to talk about planning a visit to see them. We didn’t yet have the amniocentesis results, and so all (gendered) names were in the running. I told my mother that we’d barely started to consider names, but for a girl, I was thinking about “Aurora” – as in Aurura Borealis, a groovy Natural Phenomenon ® , and also as in the name of the 19th century French author whose pen name was George Sand. We’d call her Rory.

“Oh. That’s…interesting,” my mother mumbled.

Most people like things to be interesting, because interesting is, you know, interesting. When my mother uses that word, she means the opposite. I hung up the phone, knowing there would be fallout feedback.

The next day my mother telephoned me and said that I might want to consider a different name, seeing as how “R’s are the most difficult of the consonants for people, especially children, to pronounce.”

This, from the woman who gave three of her four children R-names.

Yep, I replied, I’m fully aware of that, having grown up being called “Wobyn” by my younger sister and her friends – and now my nieces and nephews – until they could pronounce the R sound. It didn’t bother me then and it doesn’t bother me now. I even find it rather endearing.

But really, you should see it when little children, even older people, struggle to pronounce a name with more than one difficult sound….

Still doesn’t bother me, Mom.

She wouldn’t drop it.  “Now, I want you to go stand in front of a mirror and look what happens to your face when you say, ‘Aurora.’

Her point was…?   [8]  My response was, “I want you to go stand in front of a mirror and look at your face when you say, Buttinsky.”

She changed the subject.

Six months later I had my son, K.

 

 

Look what happens to your face when you say, awesome.

 

 

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Department Of Because This Is A Classy Space, That’s Why

 

Aka, The Joys of Owning Cats, Chapter CDMXVII

Banana slug, or hairball? You be the judge.

 

 

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And One More Thing ©

 

Banana Slug or Hairball? was the title of the game show pitch I submitted to the leading game show production company in America. I got no callback, imagine that.

 

 

 

“I’ll take Mollusks for $1000, Alex.”

*   *   *

May you have an entertaining naming story;
May you in turn provide an entertaining naming story for others;
May you be as natural or medicated as the situation merits;
May you celebrate whatever when it’s about fucking time;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

 

[1] You must see that sketch, if you’ve ever been pregnant, or have ever known or seen a pregnant woman talking about her “birth plan.”

[2] Yeah I know it’s supposed to cheeky fun showing how confident you are in your own intellect to admit to being happy you are to watch a brain sucking show…still, ICK. It creeped me out to even read about someone else watching it, and I couldn’t make it through the essay. 

[3] I’m sure she’d lose several nights of sleep/gain a few stress pounds if she knew about my opinion.

[4] So, perhaps my name should be Rabyn?

[5] Not my parents’ phrasing.

[6] Not spelled Maryon, for some reason.

[7] “Do not tell your family the name you have chosen for your child until you’ve given birth and the name is on the birth certificate, for if someone thinks they have a chance of changing your mind, they will try to do so.”

[8] I’m still not sure. I only know that she must have done that herself, and thought saying the name made her…look funny?