An Open Letter to a Freelancer

As you may know, I, along with ten others, am being featured in a crowd-funded fiction anthology. More than enough money was made to get it printed and pay the authors, and so The Editor got the idea to hire illustrators to do their takes on each of the stories. The talent works with each other at their own discretion, because really, it’s the publisher and not the author who contracts and pays The Artist. 

There appears, in my story, a small “twist” that feeds into what I believe is the overall theme of the work; the problem is, it’s actually kind of a challenge not to spoil that twist. I reached out The Artist and mentioned that this was something I was worried about. The Artist didn’t respond to me … well, The Artist sort of did respond, but only sort of … more on that below, in the text of the letter. 

The completed piece arrived, and it was a snapshot of a scene, with a major error, as well as a flagrant blowing-off of that request I’d sent off a day or so earlier. I sent an e-mail that reads (edited for secret content):  

I like the style of the piece[*], but I have two problems with it. 1) the first scene takes place [not in the setting you’ve presented]; and 2) I’ve gone through a lot of trouble—including the story description I wrote and the short excerpt I picked out for indiegogo and my Facebook campaign—to hide [the spoiler]. [This] is a very important part of the story for me. 

The first half of the response I got from The Artist consisted entirely of quotes from my story—not even a hello—followed by an explanation of why I was totally wrong about [spoiler] and the setting of the scene that I wrote. In the story. That I wrote. The letter wrapped up with: “Lastly the editor is the person who contracted me on this project and she has given the final stamp of approval and paid me for the work.” 

This really upset me, like, a lot. I told The Editor that I refused to work with The Artist, and I demanded that this piece not be associated with me. The Editor handled it like a boss, so it’s not my problem anymore. However, that e-mail pretty much ruined my day, so I wrote a letter I have no intention of sending to make myself feel better. And it worked. 

***

Dear Artist; 

I’m a freelance illustrator. I get what it’s like when you turn in a piece and the client isn’t happy with it. I get that I’m not your client. And I get that this is a work-for-hire piece that doesn’t pay very much.  

Clearly you don’t care about the piece you just completed. It was a paycheck. This much was expressed in the way you answered the email I sent you while you were still working on it, in which I made a request about the content—a request I considered “very important.” Actually, you had your spouse answer the email by asking if I was being sarcastic, and letting me know that both of you had barely read my story. 

Here’s the thing: I care about this project, and I care a lot. I spent countless hours writing it, and I am personally invested in how the art turns out. It’s not your job to care, but you could at least pretend

You had three options to respond, all of which could have made you look like a professional: you could have changed the art in some way to reflect the concern I had expressed to you before you turned it in (from a freelancer’s perspective, this is the least desirable option, but it still is one); you could have explained that we had different interpretations, but the art was approved and you can’t make any changes; or, if my criticism pissed you off enough, not respond at all. You chose a fourth option, which was to behave like a thin-skinned tween.  

I don’t expect this letter to affect you in any way. You have a business, and it has somehow continued to function despite your communication skills. More importantly, your response to criticism leads me to assume that you don’t like to consider the perspectives of others. I don’t think you’ve even made it this far, unless you’re rage-reading. 

I’m writing this for me, because my feelings were genuinely hurt by your thinly veiled contempt for me. I’m trying to soothe my anger at your behavior by spelling out just what it was about your email that pissed me off. And now that this is out of the way, I can express my initial reaction much more succinctly: 

Grow the fuck up and be nice to others for a change, you narcissistic prima donna. 

Sincerely, 

Jeremiah Murphy 

Writer and Artist 

_____ 

* I actually didn’t, but I wanted to work with the person, because The Editor seemed to think it was a good match. 

The State I’m In

I’m going to be completely honest with you right now: I’m fucking miserable. I don’t want to be. I think Qatar is awesome, and my cats are the best ever, and I love my wife. 

But I’m beyond lonely, and she’s not helping. 

In general, I’m in an awkward time zone, so most people are in bed when I wake up, all the way until my early evening, when my wife comes home. This has meant that I have quietly dropped out of the routine of most of my friends. Every Wednesday evening, I went to a writer’s group and hung out with some great people who hardly seem to miss me anymore. My roomie, who was my best friend, is too busy with her new career and, you know, sleeping to be around for me. 

The compound where I live is populated mostly by entitled parents and international yuppies, and so it’s been difficult to make friends here. And it’s five kilometers to the nearest store, through roundabouts full of traffic that’s not afraid to drive onto sidewalks (not an exaggeration), and another ten kilometers to anyplace that might be fun to explore. 

And then there’s the madness of My Evil Sister’s Wedding from Hell and her little dog too, which have utterly consumed my thoughts. My father took a big step to include me in everything, but once that fell through, there’s been nothing—not a picture, not a Facebook message, nothing. Same thing with the dog—once I stopped asking, nobody told me anything. My Evil Sister lives in the same town as my parents, and it seems like, in regard to this feud, they’ve decided that life is more convenient without me. 

When it comes down to it, the only person other than myself I see most days my wife. 

She is not doing well either. Her job is twice as difficult as it should be, because her predecessor made a huge mess out of it, and there’s a lot of mess and mistrust left to clean up. She comes home from work in the foulest of moods—impatient and indecisive and exhausted, and sometimes just plain fuming. Her response to the stress of it all (and I can’t blame her for it) is to withdraw into herself and her iPad games. I don’t even know if she likes being around me anymore. When I’ve tried to discuss how her bad moods affect me, she either defensively tells me how tired she is, or she tells me about all the times she hasnt been rude or short with me. 

Lately, I’ve been aggressively writing query letters to literary agents. On Thursday afternoon (shortly before opening of business on the East Coast), I sent out the first batch. Early Thursday evening, I received the first rejection. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed, but I do. I mean, I spent at least an hour on each one, researching their books and their likes to tailor-make a pitch for them, but they don’t want to waste their time on it. It’s not their thing. Is it anybodys thing? It makes me wonder if it’s any good; I mean, after all, I can hardly get people online to read what I post, and these are my friends (there are many legitimate reasons for this; I’m just describing what the mean voice in the back of my head is telling me). 

I need my wife right now, so, so badly. And she’s not there. In fact, she’s the opposite of that. 

So I keep it to myself. Because my loneliness and rejection feel petty compared to her job. Her criticisms of the way I went about dealing with the dog situation (or the way my family or Gallup Animal Control handled it—all her anger directed at them by proxy through me, of course) make me want never to discuss the issue again, even if it still has me worried. In fact, she’s just too flat-out exhausted to deal with my depressive episodes, which have been exacerbated by the isolation and culture shock. And worst of all, she’s incapable if just listening without offering advice. Because that’s all I need right now. 

I’m really suffering, and I don’t know what to do … 

This One Is Serious

The stupid, stupid exchange and hair-pulling with Evil Sister is just plain stupid. Like real stupid. This, however, is not. 

This past weekend—the time of which is unclear, given that Mountain Time in the US is nine hours different than mine—my niece was attacked by her soon-to-be stepfather’s dog. The doctors are using words like “skin grafts” and “reconstructive surgery” for her face, and are going to look into these options on Thursday. Her mother is getting married on Wednesday. 

The dog isn’t evil—dogs really aren’t. In fact, Almost Stepfather rescued this formerly abused one from a kill shelter and gave him a loving home. He’s really skittish, but overall pretty sweet. But I’ve seen it before; if a dog with this kind of history feels cornered, he or she will lash out. And that dog, regardless of how sweet he or she is, needs to go. 

For one, the dog is clearly broken and suffering. There is no therapy for canine PTSD, and it is hurting. For another, many homeowner’s insurance companies will drop your coverage if there is a dog attack on your property and the dog remains there; at the very least, they will not cover a lawsuit based on a subsequent attack. And if a dog lashes out at an owner who loves it (and make no mistake, my niece really loved that dog), imagine what it would do to a stranger. And that brings to focus the most important problem—my niece is in danger.  

Which is why what’s going on is so upsetting. Almost Stepfather and Evil Sister have decided that, now that my niece is home from the hospital, bandaged and traumatized, that it is her decision as to whether or not the dog stays. A thirteen-year-old girl’s decision. A thirteen-year-old who loves her Almost Stepfather. A thirteen-year-old girl with a passive-aggressive bully for a mother. 

My parents are not happy, and they are talking to them about it. That’s all they feel they can do, and that’s all I feel I can do. 

Currently my wife and I aren’t speaking to each other, because she doesn’t agree. She thinks that I am “not doing everything in my power to protect this girl that I love.” And by that she means that I should call local animal control and have them deal with the situation. She doesn’t trust my parents to handle it. She understandably doesn’t trust Evil Sister. And she doesn’t trust that my niece will feel safe saying no to her mother and Almost Stepfather. My wife fears the worst, and she’s angry at me that I won’t act on it. 

I’m really frightened and upset. I’m frustrated that my niece has been put in this unfair situation. I’m furious that I don’t feel safe enough to discuss it with my own spouse, because she thinks that I am failing my family. Am I failing my family? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. 

I feel so alone right now. 

Update 

After consulting with friends about the dog attack on my niece that caused her to have skin grafts, I did some homework. Some of the stuff took digging and involved legalese and PDFs galore, but I did find some useful information, such as New Mexico’s definition of a dangerous dog. I also discovered that any hospital treating a dog bite must report it to Animal Control within twenty-four hours. I phoned their headquarters and asked them about the their procedure about dealing with dangerous dogs, and they told me that, if there is no history, then the dog’s fate is at the discretion of the owner. 

As you know, my niece, who has to have skin grafts (I can’t get over this) was given the decision regarding the fate of the dog. She has decided that it stays. I am not happy. Both of my parents are not happy. My other sister, who is in town for my Evil Sister’s wedding is not happy (in her words, “When you can see the whites of a dog’s eyes all the time, that dog needs to be put down for his own good”). But it’s not our decision. It’s theirs. 

Twisted Sister

I am in a shit mood this morning because of two events back home in New Mexico. Both have to do with my sister—the one to whom I no longer speak. I try not to use gender-specific insults when I actually mean them, which eliminates the adjectives I want to use to describe her. She is a terrible person. 

I’ll cover these in order of importance, because the first one is just plain stupid, the second one is physically dangerous. The first is that my sister is getting married this week to someone who is, by all accounts, a great guy. And I’m happy about it. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair (I know too many people who don’t get to marry great people), still, if he makes her happy, then happiness is something I want people to feel. Even …  

Her

Besides, my parents are thrilled that she found someone, and my niece really loves him, and a good stepfather is priceless.  

This is how she chose to tell me: 

You may have already heard from someone else, but I just wanted to let you know that [my boyfriend] and I have decided to get married on April 10th. We dont expect anything, I just thought I should tell you. 

I’d feel a little nicer about her actually taking the time to tell me, but clearly her arm had been twisted.  

No one in my family has asked if I’m coming, or even expressed any sort of regret that I’m not. This is actually very painful to me. I know that they don’t want to get in the middle of a fight, and they think it’s easier just to let the two of us “work it out.” (We won’t.) And so my family and at least one friend is going to be taking part in this big-deal thing, but because my sister is such a [don’t use gender-specific insults, Jeremiah! Don’t do it!], I’m not a part of it. I feel like I’m being punished for her behavior. And because no one will talk about it, I don’t even feel like I’ll even be missed. 

Going anyway would have been a challenge, because I currently live in Qatar, which is nine time zones away. While I was talking to my father yesterday, he had an idea: if it was okay with Evil Sister, maybe he could set up the laptop so that I could watch the wedding on Skype. For starters, this made me so happy, because it suddenly felt like my absence would be noticed. Second, if I could avoid actually talking to Evil Sister, I wanted to be there. Because I’m family, goddammit.  

I didn’t expect Evil Sister to be okay with it, which is something I totally respect. It’s her wedding after all. This is how she chose to tell me: 

I don’t my wedding day to involve dad being mad at me, so I would appreciate it if you said no about the Skype thing. He never asked me before he invited you. I expect you to say no, but I don’t want you to end up trying to make him happy at the expense of everyone else’s comfort. 

It’s the first thing I saw in my e-mail when I awoke. I replied: 

I’m sorry that Dad never asked you before mentioning it to me. That was a little inconsiderate of him. It also really touched me, because I’m happy that you’re getting married, I really am. I had actually wanted to watch the wedding on Skype. I had planned on coming up with a way that you and I didn’t actually have to speak, or if we did, to be curt and cordial. I still don’t like you. 

Your message is childish and rude. 

By the way, I put some thought into it, and the answer is no. I’m not going to tell Dad that I don’t want to Skype. I respect your decision not to have me there, and you can rest assured I won’t be, but I’m not going to lie to him for you.  

What followed was a long string of back-and-forth in which she told me to “go ahead and think you’re fighting the good fight,” and I told her I actually am being sincere, and that “I know what kind of person you think I am, because you’ve told me. Why should I bother trying to convince you that I am ‘fighting the good fight’? I don’t have to pretend to be the better person.” She concluded by telling me that if I really wanted her to wish her well, I should stop attacking her. Which I think counts as a surrender. I shouldn’t take as much satisfaction about that as I do. And really, that last line about “the better person” wasn’t necessary, but it made me feel a lot better.  

And so, if you’ve made it this far, than you are either entertained, horrified, or bored, because this is just a ranty, venty, self-absorbed blog entry about some stupid family bullshit. I really hate this woman so much, and I wish I didn’t. This morning, though, reminded me how much I’m not missing. And while I finally got to be as vicious as I wanted to be to her (without using gender-specific insults), there is one issue related to the above, though, with which I’m struggling. Do I take the part of the e-mail exchange where she says “I will talk to dad and he will be sulky at my wedding because he tried to force a reconciliation between two people who will never be able to have a conversation” and somehow share it with my parents?  

Yeah, I didn’t think so. 

Habits

I left the United States a year ago to come live in Qatar, located on the Arabian Gulf, next to Saudi Arabia, about 275 kilometers from Iran. In that time, I’ve acquired some habits I’m going to have to overcome when I return to America. Here are but a few: 

– Tipping no more than 10 percent. 

– Not recycling. 

– Free valet parking. 

– Fearing the wrath of custodial staff if I try to dispose of my empty tray at the food court. 

– Driving on sidewalks (this is not an exaggeration). 

– Wearing, at most, a fleece while walking outside in January, even at night. 

– Expecting full-service at all petrol stations. 

– The phrase “petrol station.” 

– Paying fifty riyal (13.50 US dollars) to fill the tank of a gigantic FJ Cruiser. 

– Assuming that every driver on the road will not obey traffic laws, thus freeing me to do the same. 

– Going out for Lebanese fast food. 

– Abandoning grocery carts in the parking lot wherever. 

– Paying for everything in cash. 

– Dropping three hundred on a fancy, schmancy dinner for two and thinking that’s a really good deal 

– Spending four hours at a table during dinner. 

– Cutting in line, not out of rudeness, but out of sheer necessity. 

– And the metric system.