My mother, despite the fact she loved you with all her heart and you knew it and you loved her as well, had this special knack of somehow making you feel never good enough. It wasn’t intentionally hurtful, but she sometimes seemed entirely unconscious of her phrasing, and perhaps she was, being raised before being Politically Correct was part of our vernacular. She wanted the best for us, and that also meant she wanted us to fulfill our “potential”. Her children, family, and friends didn’t handle their money well, or parent correctly, or achieve as much as they could. She wasn’t comparing you to herself, and she’d tell you right up front what her mistakes were so you didn’t do the same, including what she considered her financial and parenting mistakes. She wanted The. Best. For. You. While she celebrated every achievement, she wasn’t satisfied with a Bachelor’s Degree when she knew full well you were smart enough to earn a Master’s. A Ph.D. An award. A raise. A promotion. No laurels to rest upon with that woman, no sirree. Because she never had anything, and had to scrape and scrabble to have and keep what she did, she pushed for the most from us.
Mom always thought I should earn money from my writing, which I’ve been randomly doing since I was an elementary student. She saved every piece I ever wrote throughout my primary and secondary school career, and was thrilled to attend my senior project at university: a public reading of original fiction and creative non-fiction work in front of a student and faculty audience.
So. I’m not a “professional” writer. I’ve never been paid for my words. I’ve never been paid for my editing or any other form of production I’ve done in journalism, newsletters, and poetry and anthologies. All that was chalked up to “experience”. Oh, wait. I’m lying. There was one professional research paper I helped some biology students pull together about fish habitats, and a couple proofreading jobs. 2, actually, two.
I’ve written reams of these little essays over the years. Notebooks full of poetry. Undefined quality. Rants and raves. The essays were the way I could come to understand (?) the crap out there in the world. I called them anger essays, because they usually addressed cultural injustices, anger that at this advanced era in our global history so many of us are still behaving like uncaring tyrannical maniacs, from road rage drivers and customer service nightmares to gangs and bullies, and all the way up to government cover-ups and rip-offs. If it made me mad I wrote it out. Why did the issue make me mad? What was wrong with the/ir thought? Was there anything wrong in my own perspective?
Then there came a day, the day I realized I was of a certain age, had never been paid for writing, didn’t know how to get published or paid, and finally didn’t care any more. The stories and opinions boil inside me and burn my brain cells to the point I have to get them down on paper or suffer severe meltdown. I’d been reading other people’s blogs and thought I can write a blog and have an outlet for my essays. I read five or ten books on blogging and WordPress and finally enlisted a friend/mentor to show me around. I published a few days later. That day I became a slut. I’ll probably never get paid for my words and nothing can stop me from having my say. I’m giving words and ideas away for free.
I thought Mom would be excited for me when I told her I started this blog last February while visiting her during spring break. Just having the discipline to write every day (while being employed full time, with the woman’s second full-time job at home) was a big deal to me. I wanted her to read it, to have her critiques, her input, her insight, her history.
Mom often struggled with technology, as I do; I’ve spent 20 years of frustrated tears self-teaching and re-teaching myself how to use soft-ware like Word and Excel. Somehow in her little house, my brother and she could not figure out where to put her computer so she could receive the internet signal from their little LAN hub. She rarely succeeded getting onto the internet and wanted so badly to master e-mail and social media to stay in touch with us but to no avail. It was a source of real frustration for her.
I explain to her what a blog is and how I’ve only been publishing for about a month. I tell her I’m writing something every day. I tell her how interesting it is to publish my words and opinions on a regular schedule for the world to read via the internet. I assure her I am respectful of privacy and rarely mention names out of consideration for my family. I explain “followers” and how there are options for following a blog. She’s smart. At 83 years old, she understands it all in verbal theory without walking her through it on the computer. But then she could always do complex math in her head as well.
“How many followers do you have?” she asked.
“Nine!” I say. I’m pretty impressed with myself for for having ANY followers after only being on the internet for a few weeks. One was my mentor and she pretty much had to register as a follower whether she read me or not. Out of empathy.
Wait for it.
“That’s not very many,” Mom says.
Man. Four little words to pop my bubble. Then, I AM DAUGHTER. I AM GOOD ENOUGH.
Defensive. Embarrassed because I wanted praise. At 59 years of age I just wanted to be good enough. To be validated.
“I’ve only been publishing a month. I’m surprised anybody reads me at all. It’s just fun to have my words and opinions out there for people to read,” I say.
“And you’re not getting paid for this?” she says.
I want to scream, “OF COURSE FUCKING NOT. Who’s going to pay for whining? For brain puke? For offended righteousness that has nothing and everything to do with politics and religion from a writer with zero credentials? For the blabbering of a cranky sassy mouthy old broad?” I don’t scream.
That’s when I started developing ideas about slutting my words. Words worth the paper they are not printed on, I give them away for free, toss them out here, toss them out there. Every writer’s words have some kind of value; yes, you can have them and you, and you, and even you. Free of charge. I’m not even a whore; I don’t charge one red cent. No deadlines, no datelines, no bylines. No high class call girl here, no ma’am. Just free opinionated, curmudgeonly, never good enough verbosity. Free. Free. Free.
I know Mom wanted other people to see the value in my words, my art, as I do and she did. But value is not necessarily money. The value may be in the sharing, in the caring, in the ideas and suggestions for moving beyond the commercial material world toward creating the world of love and peace we need to save this world and thrive in it before it’s destroyed right out from under us. If I have to give those ideas away for free because all I have left is words then so be it. Perhaps the value is in planting the verbal seeds of revolt and change. Other bodies are more able than mine and if my body won’t cooperate I can still share the knowledge of my experience for you to try. See if you share the same experience. There may be a higher wealth, a greater abundance of intelligence beyond cold, hard cash.
Cash is a good thing in our society, it buys some necessities and some niceties. There it is again, though, one of those cranky thoughts. People are not equally affluent. WAY too many folks out there are dysfluent. You know what I mean. People who don’t have enough to eat, or a home, or a warm dry clean bed. IN AMERICA, supposedly one of the richest countries in the world. Which means no matter how you read the numbers, we fail as the richest country in the world. Our true measure of wealth is how we treat and care for the least of us. If we fail to care for the least of us, our wealth is compromised and our strength as a nation is diminished. When more than half our American families live under the poverty line, and 1 (one, yes, just one) percent of our population holds all the cash wealth, who wins? NOBODY. Like Mom I want better for us.
No, Mom. I’m not making money here. I’m just saying. For slutting free. Because I can publish my words without waiting for payment. Because we deserve better after all our years and generations of common everyday people working toward making it better. We deserve peace, and love, and wealth, and to be good enough. Even if we’re slutting.