Regardless of your persuasions as they relate to the larger realm of politics and the social order, you have to admit that there is still something of a literary elite in this country.
I’m referring to the lucky people—of which I am nominally one—who can afford to spend many hours a day engaged in non-paying “work.” These people have the luxury of devoting themselves to something that will, in all likelihood, never earn them more than enough to cover contest entry fees and ink and paper for their printers.
I was reminded of an even more elite “elite” recently when I inquired about Narrative’s four-day intensive workshop. It sounded like a wonderful opportunity to dive deep into my next novel and get feedback from literary peers and professionals. Then I encountered the price, which is—to save you the bother of inquiring—$2,700, not including travel and lodging if you live outside the San Francisco Bay area.
I’m not saying the workshop isn’t a good deal. I have no doubt that attendees emerge from those four days inspired and with more finely honed manuscripts. But for me, other interests are competing for that $2,700. (Health insurance. My kids’ college funds. Car repairs. Groceries.)
It would be a different story if attending the workshop were an investment like that in a trade certificate program at the local community college, from which I’d emerge ready to take on a job as a tax preparer, say, or a green building engineer. The literary workshop offers no such official imprimatur.
And that’s what makes this workshop—and other, less expensive (because shorter) workshops in which I’ve participated over the years—seem not so much an investment in professional development as an indulgence for a pampered snob.
Am I, really?
I have seen the 1 percent, and she is me (I am she?)
I recently read an as-yet-un-but-absolutely-must-be-published memoir by a good childhood friend. I don’t want to reveal much about it here, but I can say that I found her story awe-inspiring. And it got me thinking about a schism I have always felt in my own life between my identity and my actions. I have never thought of myself as privileged. But thinking is not reality. I must admit I have lived—and continue to live—a privileged life.
My fiction has become the place where I wrestle with the cognitive dissonance between who I perceive myself to be and who I actually am. Rather than covet material things, I write about the dangers of materialism. Rather than attend $2,700 writing workshops, I blog about how they are only accessible to a small, elite cadre of writers.
My $6 investment
In the spirit of keeping things egalitarian—and perhaps as a buffer to my cognitive dissonance—I have instead decided to spend $6 to join the next round of Sixfold’s completely writer-voted contest instead of attending the workshop. This investment promises to bring many comments on my writing from fellow writers and a corresponding amount of work for me; I will be reading a lot of manuscripts during November.
What about you? Are you a completely integrated person, or are there parts of you that clash dissonantly with the rest?