Smoke Rises in Seattle

August 24, 2018 § 14 Comments

IMG_2086By Nancy Schatz Alton

Last night I walked through the smoke, face mask on. I walked through the smoke with my friend of 30 years. I walked through the smoke through a neighborhood transformed by money. I didn’t think about gentrification, that word I learned at college. Instead I thought about how I didn’t know where I was because the buildings reached so much higher than they did 18 years ago when I first moved to this neighborhood. The smoke from the fires surrounding our region disorient me. The new buildings disorient me. My friend is my compass, my remember when, my person who knows what it’s like to be pissed at the world yet she continues to walk through it with conviction and love.

Last night we were walking through the neighborhood to go to a book launch. At the book launch I realized my writerly jealously has lowered so much lately. Still I wondered what it would have been like to believe I could be a writer back when I was at college. It took so much effort to show up at my poetry writing class, to read my poems out loud. To hear my poetry professor tell me things I wasn’t ready to hear. I remember hanging on to my dislike of him because sometimes he didn’t show up to class. Still he is the reason I live in Seattle. He told us how all we need to remake our lives is a one-way train ticket. You can move where no one knows your name and remake yourself. He’s the voice I heard that propelled me to this city that has now been transformed by wealth. Back then, I moved with my $1500 and made a new life. I saved up that money working as an assistant manager at a bookstore. When I moved to my new city I applied at every writing job I could find until I had an office manager job at a city magazine. The same week I accepted that job I turned down an unpaid internship at a feminist press. I needed a paycheck.

I could spend my whole life wondering what if. What if I believed in my writing enough to apply to and go to grad school in my 20s? What if I had instead worked at the feminist press? What ifs are good for conversation, but at a certain age this conversation grows tiresome. And there is so much to love about where I am now. Where I am now is sitting at a reading where the author introduces me to someone who is in their late 20s. Because she is now freelancing full time thanks to a job lay-off. How do you freelance, she asks? She marvels that I have freelanced for 16 years and I downplay it, saying it fits my motherly life and the work just keeps showing up and I work part time. Ah, she is right though, I should marvel at myself. I encourage her to keep applying to jobs she wants even if she thinks she won’t get them. She is rising. Keep going, I say.

And then I am walking through the smoky neighborhood with a mask on next to my friend of 30 years. We are raging against the machine of society as we walk, our cadence familiar and practiced. I slip in the fact that my writerly envy is disappearing after much work. I’m on a path. I keep walking. Through the smoke. I am always arriving, and I write more words to keep me going.

Nancy Schatz Alton is the co-author of two holistic health care guides, The Healthy Back Book and The Healthy Knees Book. When she’s not meeting deadlines or teaching writing, she writes poetry and essays and works on her memoir about her daughter’s learning journey. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two teen daughters and one Havanese dogs. Read her blog.

A Word From My Sponsor

January 26, 2015 § 29 Comments

The Arranged Marriage by V. V. Pukirev

The Arranged Marriage by V. V. Pukirev

About a year ago, I made a decision. The last relationship I had been in, with a partner who lived in a foreign country, had been very expensive. Flights, time away from work, opportunities chosen for nearness rather than maximum pay. Before that, I’d been the primary breadwinner in a long relationship, then dated an actor and a musician. This time, money was going to be an issue.

I set my online dating profile to the country I wanted to live in — a country with a high standard of living and lots of expats. When messages came in I checked the approximate income level of the job the message-writer claimed to have before responding.

Shallow? Sure. But I’m a white, cisgender woman with no kids. I got a lot of messages. Screening for income is no different than screening for age, height, looks, or doesn’t-post-racist-screeds-on-Facebook. Saying, “I’m not interested in dating anyone who can’t, if necessary, support me.” is no different than saying “no kids.” It’s a status they have some control over, based on choices they made. It’s as arbitrary as liking C-cup brunettes.

Reader, I found him. A kind, gentle man with a wicked sense of humor in a physical package I find attractive. With citizenship in a country I wouldn’t mind living in, residency in the country I want to live in now, and an income, ability, and desire to be the primary household support.

It’s weird.

Not paying my own rent is weird. Not having my own residence permit is weird. Letting him hand me money for groceries and taxis is weird.

But it’s better than not writing.

It’s better than squeezing writing in around paid hours of something else, or stressing about the rent, or worrying about what happens if I get sick. It’s better than thinking, “One day, when I have time…”

For a long time, money was the currency I brought to my relationships, and finding different ways to contribute is weird, too. I like cooking and laundry, I don’t like cleaning or being a leech. And sometimes yes, I feel like a “research” day or a “resting” day was a “wasting someone else’s money and support” day, and that makes anxiety.

It’s a job like any other, this writing-while-supported, and I’m learning how to do it well.

At Salon, Ann Bauer writes that it’s a problem when writers don’t talk about where the money’s coming from — it misleads younger writers into thinking they’re doing it wrong. At a reading she attended,

The author was very well-known, a magnificent nonfictionist who has, deservedly, won several big awards. He also happens to be the heir to a mammoth fortune. Mega-millions. In other words he’s a man who has never had to work one job, much less two. He has several children; I know, because they were at the reading with him, all lined up. I heard someone say they were all traveling with him, plus two nannies, on his worldwide tour.

None of this takes away from his brilliance. Yet, when an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask him how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.

When we walk away from a statement like that, or compare ourselves to authors with an independent income and a room of their own, it’s easy to think I’m not working hard enough. Easy to attribute a lack of bill-paying success to a dearth of talent or skill. But the support of a family fortune, terrific connections, or a willing spouse is a fellowship. A grant to take the time we need to write, to refine our work, to develop our voice without having to sell sell sell.

My instinct is to support myself, and I’ve taken on enough editing jobs to have to reconsider my ability to make money, and how it’s interfering with the time to write larger projects and submit work.

I’m lucky to have that choice.

Check out Ann Bauer’s essay at Salon — there are some interesting comments, too, both agreeing and opposed.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!


AWP 2012 – Prettying Up the Baby: Publishing CNF in a Challenging Market

March 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

By Allison Schuette

R 12:00-1:15  Prettying Up the Baby: Publishing CNF in a Challenging Market

Ava Chin, Dawn Raffel, Marion Winik

I’m sitting here at the Corner Bakery not far from the Palmer House, trying to refuel for the second half of the day.  On my left, a woman is negotiating with someone about adoption (going that way, with the whole enchilada, would be too expensive); on my right, another woman eats salad while reading the news.  (She looks like another AWP attender, at least of one sort: sensible shoes, loose scarf, soft turtleneck, ah, yes, and the ubiquitous lanyard.)  I’m eating my own salad: spinach with oranges, grapes, strawberries and goat cheese.  I tried to order this salad as a combo, you know, like they serve at Panera.  No deal.  You want the half sandwich, you’re stuck with just greens.  And I’m a sucker for goat cheese, so I went with the salad.  But now I wish I’d just gone with the Panini.  The salad doesn’t live up to its name.

That’s almost how I feel about Prettying Up the Baby.  What I expected: a panel on how you take your CNF manuscript and tweak its cheeks into a ruddy complexion that publishers will coo over.  If not that, then a panel on how you think commercially without selling your soul.  Instead I got a panel on how the field of freelance writing has changed.

I blame myself.  I didn’t read the description in the big AWP book, only the title from the easier-to-manage planner.  Maybe I should have spent a little more time with the menu at Corner Bakery as well.  That doesn’t mean, however, I left totally unsatisfied.  Here are a few morsels.

  • ·      The market today presents far more opportunities for writers (good news!), but at less pay (bad news).  In addition, the stuff you love to write doesn’t earn the kind of money that service pieces do (advice columns were mentioned twice).  Winik recommends asking for more than you think you should ask for; editors won’t hang up on you.
  • ·      The opportunities of the Internet have had a positive impact even on print.  Readers expect personalities online and this has transferred to the page; magazines don’t edit down to the house’s voice.  You get to keep a bit more control over your work.
  • ·      Online presence is absolutely necessary now.  Publishers and editors will ask how many friends and followers you have.  You need an online brand to push and promote your materials—use Twitter, Facebook, a blog.
  • ·      All the writers affirmed that you should write what you love and persevere in it.  This commitment will lay the path for where you need to be, and it will keep your soul alive.

And now I think I’ll go order a cookie.

Allison Schuette teaches at Valparaiso University.

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