Creatives are sensitive folk. Granted, they may not all wear their emotions like clothes, but they’re tuned to wavelengths that other folks might not sense. They see life where others see a lump of clay or block of stone. Still, that sensitivity is no excuse for bad behavior.
Someone I know, an editor, recently had a run-in with a poorly-behaved writer. The editor was scheduled to speak a couple months ago, and in preparation had ordered copies of books she had edited. The purpose was not to promote herself but the work of the authors, and therefore help gain them a wider audience.
Due to life circumstances, the editor did not have the money for this. Buying the books put her in financial hardship, but she wanted to help these particular writers.
The speaking engagement was delayed due to the unexpected death of someone dear to the organizers; the funeral was set for the very day of the event. No worries. The event was rescheduled.
Bad weather made roads impassable. There was no rescheduling. And now the editor had copies of books she couldn’t sell.
She contacted the publisher for whom she works. “See if the authors want their copies for book signings,” they said, and so she did. Two authors responded right away, payment was sent from the first author, and one box of books was shipped on the next available business day.
All’s right with the world. So far.
The second author wanted his copies, too, but didn’t provide his mailing address until asked two or three times. She provided her mailing address. He promised the check was in the mail.
The editor waited.
She contacted the author. “My ten copies of (your book) are boxed and ready to ship to you. I just need the mailing address. If you’ve changed your mind about buying them, please let me know.”
He: “Did not change my mind. Address is (redacted). I will mail check Monday.”
She: “Alrighty then! I’ve addressed the package, and will mail as soon as the icy roads allow. (We’ve been stuck in the house for a couple days, with more frozen precipitation on the way.)”
No worries, he said. He and his wife had just been in a car accident, so he knew how bad the roads were. He asked once more for her address. Promised the check was on its way.
So she waited.
Two weeks later, she sends him another e-mail message: “Did the books arrive?”
He: “Yes they did, thank you. I am sending a check. Sorry I had not done so already. Its been crazy. My wife and I were in a car accident two weeks ago and totaled her car.”
She: “Okey-doke. I recall you telling me about the accident. How are you doing? Have you been able to replace the car yet?”
A pleasant exchange, right? Just a little chit-chat between author and editor who had worked together over a year ago on a devotional for teen boys. (The author is a youth minister.)
Two weeks later, she sends him another e-mail message: “Have you been able to mail that check yet? … I understand that the holidays have disrupted usual schedules, and I know you’re trying to deal with the aftermath of a car accident, so I’ve been trying to be cool about the delay in payment. However, since I first asked back in November whether or not you wanted my copies of (your book) to use for promotions or book signings, and since payment has been promised twice but has yet to arrive, you’ll understand why I’m losing hope for it ever coming.”
A touch of annoyance in that message, but still an attempt at pleasantness. Not trying to be antagonistic, but trying to nudge the author toward doing the right thing.
He: “sorry I really did forget… I have the money, business is good. The real issue is that (a close relative) committed suicide last (year) and this is the first holiday without him… (and another family member) with heart conditions was given less then a year to live two weeks before Christmas. My mind is jumbled and preoccupied. I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience my delay has caused you. I do not want you to think I am a deadbeat. I will put a check in the mail tomorrow or you can send me the paypal link. Once again I am really sorry. Hope you had a good holiday and happy new year.”
Sad. Tragic. Life-shattering. No argument there.
And yet, notice the pattern? For each request for payment, there is a promise, a delay, an excuse, a roundabout request to excuse the nonpayment for something that is much more pressing.
Despite the car accident, the terrible family tragedies, did the author still eat? Pay the water bill? Wash his clothes? Despite the terrible grief, did he still not go to work, conduct business, honor his other obligations?
Did he need that $56 for something more urgent? And yet he said business is good.
She: “I’m sorry for your loss. Losing a family member, especially through suicide, is rough. We all have our family tragedies. A writer whose book I edited lost her mother within hours of her book being published shortly before Thanksgiving, and she still attended book signings. I learned just before Christmas that my stepmother has an increasingly shorter time to live (cancer spreading). I cried, but I celebrated Christmas anyway. We recently observed the one-year anniversary since the passing of a family member while my brother was deployed to Afghanistan, are still dealing with the aftermath of another family member’s open-heart surgery, and are handling a few other matters we’d rather not. I understand emotional upheaval. However, it’s all in God’s hands. Life and business must go on. Thank you for the well wishes for the new year. I hope 2014 is better to you than 2013 has been!”
The editor is getting testy. Despite an understanding of his plight, she’s wearying of all this.
He: “Not sure how to interpret your email so I’ll just say I’m glad all of you are professional grievers and do not let anything stand in your way of moving forward. Check will be mailed tomorrow because life and busy go on.”
Call me coldhearted, be angry with me, talk some trash, shout at the wind, throw something at a wall, do whatever you have to do to deal with your grief. No one else can feel it for you. It’s okay to grieve. It’s good to grieve. So do it.
But don’t use it as an excuse.
I don’t want to fight you. I don’t know you. All I did was edit your book. And it’s a pretty darn good book.
We all have trials, (name omitted). We all have excuses for the things we don’t want to do. And paying for the books has seemed like something you don’t want to do.
Like I said before, I’ve been trying to be cool about the delay, knowing that you’ve had some unexpected and tough stuff happen. But each time I ask about it, you give a reason why a promise wasn’t kept. You’re a youth minister. Is this a good example?
Be as angry as you like. Grieve as much and as loudly as you must. Remember the God you serve.
He: “I took the liberty of forwarding your emails to (the publisher). I find them offensive and over 56.00 I hope you did not have to skip Christmas because of that money.”
And then, almost immediately after that message, he sent another: “You are extremely rude and I am wondering if you are a good example of a Christian yourself. You think I need to make excuses over 56.00 You will get your 30 pieces of silver but please do not contact me again.”
She did not honor his request not to contact him again, because she sent one last message, immediately upon receiving his:
I’m okay with my messages being forwarded to (the publisher). I’m not ashamed of anything I said.
Yes, $56 did eat into my finances for Christmas, to be honest. I won’t give you my biography, but the last two years have been financially difficult. I originally bought the copies of four different LPC books in order to help promote the authors at an event at which I was speaking. Unfortunately, the event was delayed twice (a funeral, and then nasty weather), so the organizers cancelled it. Had I been able to see into the future, I would have purchased far fewer copies, and then simply given them away or donated them to a library.
If you find me rude, so be it. Do please consider your words, as well.
So. There you have it.
No word from the publisher yet, but I know the editor, and although she’s understandably bothered by this unexpected ugly turn of events, I have a good notion she’s not going to be intimidated or bulldozed.
This exchange brings to mind a conversation this week on Facebook. A fellow writer posted selections from a satirical blog post someone had written a few years ago, listing ways “victims” think and shedding light on the ironic disconnect in that rationale, in that “victims” tend not to see that wallowing in their victimhood serves no one well. A few of those items could fit the conflict related above:
6. I can be sure that when others criticize me, it can’t be because I’ve done anything wrong. I’ve learned not to waste time listening to such bigots.
7. I can be sure that when I get angry, it isn’t for selfish reasons, but rather because the experience of my people has fostered in me a keen sensitivity to injustice. When others get angry, it is yet another sign of their hatred.
8. I can be sure that when others tell me I’m wrong about something, it means they lack insight, perspective and empathy.
Let’s be honest: sometimes we do need to point out the flaws in others. Truth is truth. However, before pointing fingers at others and yelping about their shortcomings, we might first need to look to our own failings. Once we remove the log out of our own eye and can see ourselves clearly, then we can remove the speck in our brother’s eye.