What I’m reading: The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh
What’s on the iPod: Summertime by Kenny Chesney
Yesterday felt like a marathon. I spent five hours in the morning finishing projects, starting projects, and sending out invoices. When I stood up at 1 pm, I was ready for a break. Off to the pool.
Only the pool was closed. Dummy – I forgot the kids are the lifeguards and they’re in school until at least mid-month. There went that brilliant idea. So back home to get some much-needed marketing in. I did get to the pool later, and it was heavenly as the thermometer hit 94. And I picked my first deer tick of the season off. I know it wasn’t there yesterday, so I’m sure it came from one of two places – Valley Forge Park or when I mowed the garden. The only two times this week (or this year even) I’ve not coated myself with bug repellant.
There was this series of emails that came in over the weekend. Five, I think. At first I thought “Great. Someone’s broken in to my account and is spamming.” Then I read one. Yep. Spam. Only the next one was a continuation of the message, as were the others. I slowed down and read them.
I don’t know who it is (yes I do, but he never officially signed his name), but these were emails from someone who’d read an ages-old article of mine. And boy, was he ticked. The article – why employers need background screenings – was hitting a nerve, for he was, apparently, once more unemployed. And he was blaming me.
Mind you, I didn’t respond. Who would? Anyone who would blame the writer of an article that was three years old for his employment troubles isn’t someone with whom one should play verbal hockey. I don’t know him, don’t want to know him, and I can sympathize all day long, but his well-being is not my responsibility. He has no idea that the article in question was someone else’s idea and it was assigned to me, much like anyone would assign work to a contractor or employee. I had no say in the topic – just the presentation. And while my new pen pal may think it was my fault for presenting the info so convincingly, I’m actually paid to be convincing.
It happened once before. When that scam artist duped me into writing a press release for him, I was chastised by not one, but three different people, only one of whom had the guts to sign his name. It was my fault he was scamming everyone and shame on me (she actually wrote that) for not ordering a thorough background check on him before writing that one, 300-word press release! Right. Let me pay $300 or better for a background check on a press release job that pays about that, if in fact he’d paid me anything.
While weirdness does seem to find me like a lightning bolt finds a transformer, I’d bet some of you may have encountered something similar. Intentional or not, your writing may have struck pay dirt, only in an adverse way. You may not realize the impact your work has on others. Most of the time it’s good. Sometimes, it’s bad, albeit unintentionally.
So what is your responsibility as a writer? Where does that line get drawn? For me, it’s drawn in two places. First, clients have to pass my moral code. If they’re acting ethically, if they’re able to prove they are (ironically, the scammer had provided proof of his legitimacy – I wasn’t aware that an application for nonprofit status or his police badge credentials can be faked), and if they conduct business in a professional, honest manner, that’s the first win.
Second, the vetted client is my responsibility. I am paid by that person or company to please. I fill the order, write the words, state the case as convincingly as I can. If I didn’t, I’d be unemployed.
While the guy with no job has my sympathy, it’s not up to me to convince his employers that he should be hired despite a shaky background. I’d be passing along false information – go ahead, hire someone with a record! – and I’d be doing my paying clients a disservice just so a complete stranger who may (or may not) be reformed can cut a fair shake. I’m of the opinion that if you are truthful on your application, in your interview, and about your background, you won’t find yourself walked out of a job you’ve just walked into. That’s your job – not mine.
What would you say to someone like this? Where does a writer’s responsibility begin and end, in your opinion?