Saturday, November 8, 2014

Secret Places, Secret Words

This one is gonna ramble.  Sit back and relax.  ;-)

After a particularly stressful week, I finally got a good night's sleep and feel almost human again.  Last week-end was our local Artists' Studio Tour, which I participated in, and while it's a lot of fun and I actually make some money at it, it's also exhausting.  Monday was back to the day job and all the other routine, so I'm just now really recovering.

One of the first chores on my List of Things to Do Today is calculate my annual budget.  As I contemplate the very real possibility of quitting the day job and trying -- trying -- to enjoy a productive retirement, I need to know if the finances will permit it.  I can tell you right now, I won't be surviving on the strength of my book sales

Well, at least not based on past performance.  But when I came back to the writing something over three years ago, I had no illusions about that anyway.  I came back to it because I had always loved it . . . and because I needed the creative respite from the stultifying boredom of the day job.  Though I've not been as productive directly on the writing in that time, it has given me the creative balance I'd been lacking.  And that's a good thing.

Quoting Martha Stewart is also a good thing for reasons somewhat connected to yesterday's post about the cultural silencing of women, especially women perceived to be uppity or just more successful than men. 

Martha Stewart doesn't have to worry about a budget; most of the rest of us do.  Many of us are so caught up in the daily grind, plus a constant cascade of mini-crises, that we don't have the luxury of even thinking about how to find a way off the vicious carousel.  Even if we did think of a way, we don't have the time or the energy to implement it, let alone the financial means.  In our frustration and desperation, we blame everyone and everything else for why we can't have nice things, because we just don't seem to be able to do anything else.

Many of us also have responsibilities to others that can't be shrugged off.  Sometimes it's very difficult to maintain any kind of balance when there are contrary demands that simply cannot be ignored.

So today I am grabbing for myself the luxury -- and it shouldn't be luxury but it is -- of sitting down and examining exactly where I stand financially and what I need to do going forward.

I know that I have certain assets that have lain idle because the day job has prevented me from putting them to work.  Though I have no way of even beginning to calculate how much income these assets might generate, I do know that they are not generating any at all right now.  One of those assets is, quite literally, a box of rocks.  And that's not as dumb as it sounds.

Something over twenty years ago, my husband and I sort of stumbled upon a rock hunting location that apparently hadn't seen very much activity.  We had actually gone looking for a different location and ended up more or less lost, in the sense that we knew where we were but it wasn't at all where we had set out to go.   Having neither cell phone nor GPS nor even a good topographical map to figure out if we had made a mistake or the information that had been given to us was wrong, we decided to explore the area we were in rather than get more lost, then retrace our route home.  The particular type of material that we'd gone in search of was nowhere around, but we found a few pieces of something else that looked promising. 

As it turned out, those few pieces produced some very nice cabochons that I made into jewelry and ended up selling.  Life being what it is, several years passed before we had the opportunity to try to find this place again and perhaps acquire more of the material we'd found there.  I felt confident that I remembered the roads we'd taken.  It was just a matter of whether or not the roads had changed!  For once, my confidence was well founded; I navigated us right back to the spot without a single wrong turn.  We turned off the road exactly where both of us remembered having turned the first time.

What we found, however, was not what we expected.  We didn't find any of the material we'd gone in search of, which we'd only found a few pieces of before anyway.  Instead, we were amazed at the abundance of another type of rock, not only in quantity but quality.  Why hadn't we seen them on the earlier visit?  They were literally just lying on the ground!  Everywhere!  Despite the temptation to pick up every piece in sight, we took only those that looked most likely to yield jewelry-quality cut stones. 

Over the next several years, we cut and polished a lot of those rocks.  I made them into jewelry and sold them.  And we went back for more. 

We never told anyone precisely where they came from.  "Somewhere in Arizona" was the extent of the information we gave out. 

As far as I've been able to determine, the site is not listed in any rock hunting guidebook nor has it been written up in any magazine articles or on any websites. 

I still have a box of those rocks.

Last week-end, during the Studio Tour, one of the visitors to my studio wanted to buy one of the rocks.  I have certain pieces that I use for display to illustrate the original material from which the jewelry is made, and those pieces are not for sale.  The lady tried very hard to get me to sell it, but I wouldn't.  In a way, it's one of those "nice things" that I do have and don't want to part with.

But it's also more than just a "nice thing."  It's a part of me, a part of my personal experience, my memories, my knowledge.  The secret of its source is my secret, even if someone else has by now been to that particular place and found those particular rocks.

I could drive out there now, today, and probably find more of them.  Google Earth tells me the roads are still where I remember them.  No Panoramio photos have been posted, which suggests few people have gone out there even to take pictures.  I see no new dirt bike, four-wheeler, or hiking trails so indelibly etched in the desert that they are visible from satellites.  Perhaps, my husband being gone almost ten years now, it's still my secret.

Does that secret have a value that can be part of the budget calculation?  Can I use that secret, that knowledge, that experience, to break free of the daily grind and crises?  At what point does the secret lose its value simply because it's a secret?

At last week's Studio Tour, I sold two pieces of jewelry that had been especially dear to me.  I'm not sure why, except maybe it's that "nice things" syndrome.  I hated to part with them, but I also knew that I myself was not personally ever going to wear them.  They might as well provide me with a little bit of income and provide someone else with some enjoyment.  So I let them go.

One of the issues I've railed on frequently throughout this blog is the failure -- at times I'm tempted to call it the refusal -- of the writing community to set and then enforce some kind of quality control standards regarding digital publication.  I know that it's difficult for some people, maybe even most people, to stick their necks out and be critical, even when they know the criticism is warranted.  Their reasons are many, and often valid.  My own experience this past week may have reinforced some of their caution.

Back in the days when writers were scrambling for the limited number of spots on publishers' lists, there was a sense on one hand that those of us who had made it owed it to our fellows to help them up the ladder, and yet on the other sense that we were foolish if we trained our own competition.  As I've said before, I served my time as an RWA contest judge; I saw the horrible writing, the flat characters, the transparent plots.  I bit my tongue at critique group meetings where other members just plain didn't get that they had to learn proper grammar and basic writing skills.  In the end, though, it didn't matter.  Those writers were never going to be published.  They were never going to be my competition.

Today they are both.

Today, as I work on my budget to find out if I can even begin to survive without the day job's income, I understand that certain secrets will lose all value if shared, but certain others have no value unless they are shared.   Last night I completed a book review that I had started over a year ago.  I have no illusions that my review is going to make this particular novella any better.  Even though I pointed out very specific problems with it, others have done so, too, and the book remains in digital print.  It also remains an example of some of the worst writing imaginable.  I read three pages and that was more than enough.  The review is not kind.  It is honest.  It is brutally honest, because the book is brutally bad.

Is it possible that the author will read that review and be hurt?  Yes.

Is it possible that the author, her friends and family and fans, will be angry with me and seek revenge?  Yes.

Is it possible that some other writer will read that review and learn something?  Yes.

Is it possible that some reader will read that review and learn something?  Yes.

I'm willing to risk the first two for the sake of the second two.

I'm never going to be the kind, gentle, nurturing soul who pats the author of a badly written book on the head and says, "But you tried and that's what counts,"  and then slaps a big gold star on it.  (Yes, "it" may refer to the book, the author, or just the author's head.  Take your pick.)

Nor am I going to give hours and hours and hours of my time to angry, self-entitled authors who think I owe them free editorial services to ameliorate the effects of my scathing reviews on their tender egos.

But I will share my secrets, my knowledge, my experience, with those who are willing to learn and then willing to work with what they've learned, because now they are in my marketplace and they are competing with me.  I owe it to myself to contribute to the professionalism of my profession.

Just don't ask me to tell you where the rocks come from.

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