My book editor is watching the Whatever to make sure I’m not slacking off — and he’s right to do so! — so let me just dash off a couple quick notes before he brings down the whip:
* The “Being Poor” piece has started to show up in local newspapers around the US, sometimes due to editors asking me directly if they can run the piece and sometimes due to editors picking it up through the newswire (it’s being distributed by Cox, which owns the Dayton Daily News, for whom I write a DVD column and which is running the piece on Sunday). Naturally, I am delighted to see this migration from the blogosphere to the print world. I’ve sold reprints of Whatevers to alternative weeklies and as one-offs to the DDN before, but this is the first time one of the Whatevers looks to be getting a wider print distribution.
In case anyone wants to point out the irony of me making hot, sweet reprint money by writing about poverty, I’ll note in this particular case I’ve been waiving my reprint fee. Please know that you will not see me do this on a regular basis; I am a true believer in the principle that money flows to the writer; also, I have a mortgage. But I didn’t write this piece for money, and I can afford not to charge for it. If letting papers have it for free gets those particular words in front of more people, Then I say, go, take it and print it. This information wants to be free.
(By implication, this means that I’m also okay with all all the folks who have been cutting and pasting the entire list on their own blogs and journals, so long as theire’s attribution and a link. What I’ve been very pleased to see is that in nearly every case I’ve seen there has been attribution and a link back to the Whatever, which wouldn’t have been the case even a couple of years ago. Yay! Link etiquette has reached critical mass!)
On second thought I should have asked for the papers to take what they would have paid me and donated it to the Red Cross. I’m sure that would have thrown their accounting people into a fit, however. Well, maybe next time.
* One of the things I find interesting about when people quibble with the stuff in the “Being Poor” list, they’ll hold out a particular detail as an example of artifice over experience. The one I’ve seen a lot is the example I gave using Raisin Bran: people have noted in several different places that Raisin Bran is relatively expensive as cereals go, and someone who is poor would choose the bagged cereal on the bottom shelf, or some other, less expensive brand of cereal. By citing Raisin Bran I’m making an observational error proving I’ve never actually been poor and/or was trying to write trenchantly with disregard to the facts, etc.
I don’t actually know what to do with the criticisms of this type. I certainly won’t deny trying to write for effect; I am a writer, and I did want to evoke a reaction. This is what I do. But without getting into the details of a story that would undoubtedly depress you for the rest of your day, allow me to assure all and sundry, from personal experience, that a poor parent might indeed choose Raisin Bran, possibly because she was at a convenience store where the selection was limited, and possibly because events led her to be in a state where comparison shopping took a back seat to getting through the purchasing process before she lost her composure in front of some random convenience store clerk. In other words, in this particular case, writerly artifice would have been in replacing the box of convenience store-bought Raisin Bran with a bag of Generic-Os cereal.
The “being poor” list I generated is by no means complete nor universal; as I’ve said a number of times in the comment thread, one of the interesting things about being poor in the US is that there are so many ways to do it. One’s mileage may vary on any or all of the items in the list, and in the items in the string of comments that followed. If some portions of the list seem shaky to you, that’s of course perfectly fine. I would simply ask that you entertain the notion that there are some values of “poor in the US” for which those details might apply.