1)  I write my friend: Should I give myself away, for free?

2)  Why do I feel so bad for saying no? Guilty, as if free-fall blame will crush me.

3)  How can I make you happy? By giving myself away. Asking nothing in return.

4)  The director of Chicago Publishing Resource Center emails: Can you do a workshop this coming November. I ask about remuneration. We are a non-profit, he responds. We cannot afford to pay you.

5)  I “sell” my work. It is free content.

6)  As I struggle with self-identity: Am I a writer or am I a content provider? I want to make you happy.

7)  But what about me? Am I happy?

8)  On my tax returns under profession I put writer. Yet I am technically a non-profit.

9)  Can I actually call myself a writer?

10) I tell people I write for the web. They nod.

11) What does this mean?

12) That, yes, legitimately I am leaving a digital footprint. That in a cyber bank I have a cache of words.

13) Yet I am poor. My confidence bankrupt.

14) I email ChiPac: I need to know what you mean by stipend.

15) It depends.

16) So much depends upon title, description, and turnout. And, I muse: Gender?

17) What if I were a man?

18) Would a man even have to ask? Would a man give himself away for free?

19) I ask myself this as I work my other day job—frying eggs and flipping pancakes.

20) While standing at the grill I jot down story ideas on scraps of parchment paper used to line huge sheet trays.

21) Order up!

22) On my break I write in this notebook. No one ever asks: What is she doing?

23) How do I counteract this feeling that I am invisible?

24) Even my husband has stopped seeing me.

25) For our anniversary we went out with another couple. When the food arrived we dug in. Across from me I noticed my friend’s partner had stopped talking. He was turning blue.

26) I’ve often struggled with giving up. Why? Why? Why?

27) But I always return to the question: What else would I do?

28) He’s choking! I jump up and perform the Heimlich in the middle of the restaurant.

29) It’s messy, but necessary.

30) Later, perhaps out of embarrassment, the couple never calls, never reciprocates with their own invitation. Suddenly they drop off the social radar.

31) I contemplate writing about this, always coming back to how? Why? What?

32) Afterwards, on the bus ride home, my husband laments: Someone should have helped him. What? I ask. He obviously was struggling, someone should have helped.

33) I remember when I put my hand on his back at the restaurant—the man was scared. I could see it in his eyes—wide behind spectacles. He thinks he is dying.

34) Someone did help.

35) Through his shirt and sweater, his heart beating, pounding into my palm.

36) Did you not see me standing over him? My hand on his back. Calling waitstaff, pushing, pounding. The vomit along with the dislodged bone.

37) I finally realize I am invisible to my husband.

38) ChiPac to me: Can I work on spec?

39) What does this mean?

40) For publishing cred. A by-line. Something to put in my CV.

41) The last royalty check I received was 15 years ago. It was negative. I never earned out my advance.

42) Yet what is art worth?

43) I pass the order thru the pass-thru window. A #7 over easy.

44) I can barely pay my bills between freelance and cooking. I pick over the bones.

45) A rag picker.

46) I should be grateful.

47) To work for free.

48) I leave my husband.

49) Whoever said something is better than nothing is stupid.

50) Sad. Lonely. Empty.

51) So I ask ChiPac: Can you pay me something?

52) But what I’m really wondering is: What am I worth?

53) No one can tell me. I have to see it for myself.

54) I think of Louisa May Alcott whose character in Little Women cries out as if in pain: I hate being poor.

55) Even the title: Little Women

56) Today they’d be called girls, bitches, maybe sluts.

57) Louisa May Alcott through her writing became the sole supporter of her family.

58) Her earnings allowed her father Bronson Alcott to theorize about Transcendentalism.

59) I put my husband through grad school. He studied film theory.

60) And, all that hope, dreams of a future together are dashed.

61) Louisa loses her anchors, her mother and sisters.

62) She dies a spinster.

63) The fate of a great many female writers of that time period. Austin, the younger Brontes, Dickinson.

64) Without a patron or the support of a male editor (there was no other kind) Louisa would have perished.

65) She first submitted under a pen name meant to shield her true identity and give the impression she was a he.

66) Publishing was nasty business. You had to know someone. Many writers of the time turned to self-publishing. Dickens, Twain, Poe.

67) But what of the women writers? Could they take their future into their own hands?

68) George Sands, George Elliot, Isak Dinesen, S. E. Hinton, J. K. Rowling adopted male pseudonyms/personas when sending out manuscripts.

69) Catherine Nichols, if that is her real name, if we even believe her, did a query experiment.  She submitted proposals under her real name and under a male pseudonym. Her male counterpart was 8 and a half times more likely to get a positive response from an agent, a request for a full, than Catherine received. Is this coincidence?

70) Google it to see what I’m talking about. She had to take cover.

71) A safe place, a refuge.

72) I steal a moment in the walk-in cooler to put down words before they escape me. Should I give them away?

73) Starting out, it was fun. I wrote, I submitted, and the acceptances flew in.

74) I was paid in attention, accolades, affirmation.

75) But after a few years of this I wanted more.

76) Is it wrong to expect more?

77) So I made a decision: I would only submit to publications that pay.

78) Recently Jessica Piazza (I love her name!) has embarked on a project called Poetry Has Value, a personal challenge to send more of her work to paying markets.

79) Google her. She is a terrific poet, deserving of pay, remuneration, a stipend, royalties, a grand prize.

80) She is the recent winner of the To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize. Her winning manuscript is called: Interrobang from Red Hen Press, and also This is not a sky from Black Lawrence Press.

81) A Room of Her Own.

82) First we must earn that room.

83) No one expects us to succeed. It’s silly. Women have hobbies, men have jobs.

84) Poor Virginia Woolf walking into the river, her pockets full of stones.

85) So where do we go from here?

86) What is possible?

87) No one knows for certain.

88) Publishing is changing. Journalism is dead. The SunTimes announces sweeping lay-offs. Former reporters are turning to blogging.

89) I work with one at the restaurant. Many writers have become waiters. Many waiters write.

90) We kvetch together, but nothing changes—except change.

91) We continue to submit in the hope

92) that someday someone will want us

93) because what else would we do.

94) That’s not a question but a statement.

95) It is who we are, who I am.

96) Wrapped up in a thousand uncertainties, misapprehensions, against my better judgment.

97) Every once in a while

98) I

99) get

100) lucky.