Sometimes They Want a Story

When you think about it, the most interesting part is sometimes they legitimately think you don't know.

If you're an entrepreneur, or a freelancer, or a solo-preneur, or independent contractor, or consultant, or small business owner you'll understand. Doesn't matter what you put on the tax form, or what you tell your folks to tell people after Mrs. Grundel has asked your relatives for the umpteenth time, what exactly it is that you do. I'm not sure the office-bound will be on quite as firm footing. But you guys and gals can, I'm sure, still follow along.

Sometimes a client, for whatever reason, doesn't want to pay.

Sometimes it's because their best-friend's daughter committed suicide, and they don't know how to process so they're flailing. Attacking anyone who comes into their path.

Sometimes they are rushing from project to project, and because they're self-aware, because they know they make mistakes, they'll double-check an invoice that doesn't look quite right.

Sometimes they have more money than you, and are keen for you to acknowledge it.

Sometimes they lack perspective, haunted by the specter whispering that their prejudices may indeed be true.

Sometimes it's because they believe their past successes negate your expertise. They'd never assume any idiot could enter their discipline, learn from their myriad failures, and persist long enough to accumulate the experience you can only get but one way. But somehow... Somehow this is different.

And sometimes when you abandon your anger to the better angels of your nature, and you ignore all their bullshit, sometimes you trip headlong into epiphany.

The light winks on.

Sometimes we want to talk to someone who doesn't know us, who can't offer absolution, who isn't in a position to judge. Sometimes we just want someone else to know that we were here. For some reason or other it is important to humans that we graffiti the world with our presence.

Sometimes when you ask what's wrong, they turn out to be no more than you. Reflected. Seeking contact, seeking meaning, and sifting through the waning embers of past ecstasies and agonies just like the rest of us.

But not all of us know that we're all allowed to be human. So sometimes people want a story. And it doesn't matter how much it hurts.

I sent this email verbatim to a client three weeks ago.

Can't be messing around in these uncertain times. That Covid-19 is no joke.

Disclaimer. Every single word is true. Names have been redacted to protect both innocent and guilty alike. #sweetsin #freelancewriting

Hi John Doe,

I understand. I hope you don't mind if I share my perspective with you.

I know I am blunt, and sometimes that comes across as arrogance or disrespect, but if you knew me you would find the suggestion that I am arrogant laughable, and you'd know I mean no disrespect.

Some years ago, I would have attributed some nefarious motive to you. I'm not doing that here. There were a series of miscommunications.

Some years ago, I was not in a position where I could appreciate that even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen. Some years ago I would have needed the money so badly that any sort of hiccup in this process would send me into a rage, and I would need to get back at you.

And I'll prove it to you. Before I did this, I was anindependent immigration paralegal.

I abandoned my second to last client.

I couldn't find a way to get immigration law to pay you see. Not enough to justify the hours, and the pain, and all the sacrifice. Did you know that your feet can swell to twice the size of your head John Doe? I do. I sat in place for 56 hours straight one time. Trying to ensure that I wrote a brief that was solid enough that the Immigration Judge realized he had no choice but to release my client back to his wife (who was working as a seasonal warehouse worker for Amazon at the time), young daughter, and one more baby in the belly.

The neighbor had to pay me John Doe. Because my client didn't have enough. There was no way his wife could have come up with the money I was asking for. I believe I charged him $600.

Plus my last client tried to hang himself in his cell. He had a 10 year old autistic son, a 13 year old daughter so smart she got a scholarship to a prestigious Catholic high school in NYC, and the government had told him that he was still going to be deported back to the Domincan Republic. A country he had not seen in 20 years. In essence, the government had told him that his life was over.

I couldn't deal with this anymore.

Even though I abandoned my second to last client, last Sunday his aunt wrote an email to me.

And when I say abandoned, I don't mean I ran away. I forced him to get a lawyer, and when I discovered that the lawyer couldn't do his job as well as I could I STILL stopped taking [redacted]'s calls. I devised the strategy the lawyer needed to use, and even when the lawyer started fucking it up, I told them to leave me alone. Because I couldn't deal with it anymore. My daughter needed clothes, my wife wanted to go back to college. And I couldn't afford either.

So you can understand why back then I would have felt compelled to see the situation as threatening, and warranting rage.

I used to do books for $50 John Doe. Print and eBook. In those days that was like 3 days work each.

I 100% don't think you're trying to cheat me. There was miscommunication. And truth be told, it doesn't matter John Doe. It used to. But not these days.

When I met you, I think I'd finally mustered up enough confidence to start charging people $275.

Thank you for supporting me when I didn't have anything else, and 100% could not go back the way I was coming from.

If I were going to itemize what happened here I think it would go like this:

  • Initially this job was going to be confined to 2 hrs of uploading files to ACX. I quoted $150. That's my standard rate for digital distribution setup.
  • Then we needed print or eBook version of book so you could get ACX.
  • I did print and eBook for you RUSH btw.
  • The audio files were borked. I learnt software I never used before to ensure your files were appropriately formatted.
  • Audio successfully submitted to ACX. Problem solved.
  • Cleanup manuscript for print, re-code eBook with corrections/edits.

If I were going to give you an itemized account, just from learning the software and fixing the audio files it would be $300.

I still haven't responded to my client's aunt. I forwarded the email she sent me. I don't know what to say to her.

She doesn't see it like I abandoned her apparently. From her perspective, I helped when no one else could or would. She probably knows what that cost.

Doesn't change the fact though. Her nephew would have been released last year, and not last week.

Talk soon.

Photo by Romain V on Unsplash