In the last six weeks, I’ve been given a 1,400-page unpublished novel to read, asked to sign a printout of a blog post I wrote called “Fuck This Shit,” posed for a Snapchat that was sent to “this girl I know who likes to read,” and hit on for sex (twice) and an egg donation (once). All without even leaving this goddamn house.
They’re now calling this place a “writers’ retreat,” and I’m now a “writing fellow.” My presence is advertised in the brochure as a perk: paying guests get to rub elbows with the esteemed fellows, “promising young writers who have already achieved substantial recognition and are honing their craft.” Fuck that. If I didn’t shit out the next Great American Novel when it was just us staying here—and I didn’t—these goddamned rubberneckers aren’t going to make that outcome any more likely.
I made it through the first 28 years of my life without being labeled “a writer.” I just wrote sometimes. Most of what I wrote got thrown away or lost or rolled up and smoked, and if it’s ungrammatical to write “got thrown away,” I can’t tell you, because the only people who ever read anything I wrote were teachers who were incompetent (grade school), lazy (high school), or stoned (college).
I was the “outsider” picked for this program, the “vernacular stylist,” as Arts & Letters Daily put it. Now I’m officially a “writer”—and, worse, a “fellow.” I’ve been certified by someone with money (because that’s all that really matters, even in the world of Arts & Letters) as a Writer Who Matters, and therefore I’m assumed to have things like a Process, an Aesthetic, and a Trajectory.
Being able to assemble coherent sentences does not make me special, it makes me your mom. Writing about sex and drugs does not make me Jack Kerouac, it makes me someone who was a 28-year-old college dropout working at the kind of service-sector job where if you don’t steal from the register or bone the manager (and then bone someone else), you don’t get fired. Writing online does not make me “alt lit,” it makes me someone who doesn’t have a book contract.
Here’s what made me a “writer”: I said I was. Only once, but that was all it took. I wrote one cover letter for one program and said, “I’m a writer from Columbus, Ohio.” They believed me, and gave me some money, and now everyone suddenly wants to know what angle to the sun I prefer when I compose prose. All because I said I was a writer, which I did because I didn’t give a fuck what a “writer” was. I still don’t give a fuck, and you do, and that’s why I’m a writer and you’re not.