The Volunteer Job Nobody Ever Wants

Who wants to be treasurer? Silence.

Right? In every organization I have belonged to, the one position nobody wants is treasurer. Secretary, sure. Vice president? Easy. President? I’m so flattered. But treasurer? Nope, not me. Okay, occasionally a miracle happens and someone says, “Hey, I’ll do it,” but usually there’s some arm-twisting and hyperventilating involved.

I’m no good with numbers. Spreadsheets scare me. You don’t want me handling the books.

What is this about? We were all forced to take math in school. We all somehow manage to handle our personal finances. We can figure out a recipe. Some of us can do the calculations to build things, and some of us can do music math—eighth notes, whole notes, triplets, 4/4, 6/8, 2/2, etc. But when it comes to being the money person, it’s nuh-uh, not me, I need to get some coffee, go to the restroom, make a call . . .

Nobody wants to be treasurer. I am currently president of a writing organization where our treasurer, who took the job reluctantly last fall, has resigned. This is not the first time this has happened. Other treasurers in other groups have quit, and the books landed on my desk. Why? Because everyone else says “not me.” Do I have any special financial gifts? No. But my bills are paid, and I’m no longer afraid of spreadsheets. In fact, I use them a lot in my writing/publishing business. Think graph paper on a computer screen.

While talking to my brother about this on the phone last night, he noted that we both end up being president of every organization we join. That’s true. Our parents raised to be uber organized and to take charge. Or maybe we just can’t stand anyone else being in charge. Something to discuss in therapy.

Mike has experienced the “not me” for treasurer syndrome, too. Working in the legal field, he also has tales of treasurers deciding to borrow a little money for themselves. Yikes. We not only have to find someone who is willing but someone who is honest.

What is this fear of treasurer jobs? It’s not just writers, who claim they’re all right brain, the creative side, with not much going on in the left brain. But hey, they can calculate word counts, syllables and stanzas. If they can write a villanelle poem with its complex pattern, they can be a treasurer.

It’s money in, money out, pay the bills. You can use a calculator. Yet this article from the BBC tells us that 93 percent of American adults say they’re anxious about math. I think that’s a miscalculation, but that explains why almost nobody wants to be treasurer. When you throw in spreadsheets, it’s all over.

It almost feels uncool to say you like math, bookkeeping, money management, etc. But what about all those people who work in banks, credit unions, tax offices, and well, every big and little business that needs someone to do the accounting? We can do math, my friends. Don’t be afraid.

We will find our new treasurer poet and treat them like royalty. It won’t be me. I already have too many jobs. But I could do it if I wanted to.

How about you? Do you feel numerically challenged? Do spreadsheets terrify you? Have you ever been a treasurer? Would you take it on if asked?

A little extra reading: Some people are so afraid of numbers, or of certain numbers such as 13, that they have panic attacks. Not good for a potential treasurer. “You’re not destined to be bad at maths. You just may need to tackle your ‘mathephobia.’” “Why I Hate Spreadsheets”

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If Only We Could Believe What They Offer on the Phone

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This morning during my writing time, my phone rang. San Diego, it said on Caller ID. Those calls with city names are usually the car warranty scam, a credit card scam, or the Medicare scam. 

After a while, I noticed there was a voicemail waiting for me. The phone rang again. San Diego. I decided to get it over with to stop the interruptions. 

The young voice said, “Good afternoon!” It was 10:30 a.m. I said, “It is not afternoon.” Which means, I know you’re not in San Diego because it’s 10:30 a.m. there, too. 

Oh, she said. She proceeded on a long introductory speech that was so fast I couldn’t understand many of the words. It wasn’t that I couldn’t hear, even though I hadn’t put my hearing aids in yet. The voice was piercing, almost unbearably loud. 

She raved about my books. She knew all the titles and who the publishers were. She knew my sales statistics. She wanted to help me sell more of these wonderful books. She wanted to offer them at the Tucson Festival of Books and the LA Times Festival of Books, both coming up soon. She wanted to know if I had ever been to those festivals. Tucson yes, LA no. She wanted to know what I had been doing to promote my books.

I kept telling her I was busy and didn’t have time for this long conversation. I told her I wasn’t going to any book festivals in the near future. I wouldn’t have to attend in person, she said. They would take care of it for me. But I would have to decide immediately because the registration deadline is very soon.   

If my books are going to a festival, I want to go, too. I want to talk to readers, and I hope readers want to talk to me.  But that’s not the point. Her voice was hurting my ear, and I had work to do. Finally I was able to understand the name of her company. ReadersMagnet. As she kept talking, I looked them up online. A site for writers warned that this was a scam. They want hundreds of dollars to plop your book in a booth. Don’t do it. 

The ReadersMagnet website insisted, “This is not a scam!” They help authors. I clicked the link to their Facebook page. Lots of posts about book festivals. Their profile says they have published hundreds of books in the last two years. Hundreds? How good could those books be when most publishers, aside from the Big 5, put out a handful, maybe a dozen in a year?

Oh, now she was talking about how my book Love or Children: When You Can’t Have Both would appeal to parents. No, no, no. My book is for people who do NOT have children.They are not parents. 

Before they sue me for libel, I can see that ReadersMagnet does publish books, and it does promote them. But when you haven’t approached them first and they push you to commit to spending money with them, it seems a little off.

I gently hung up. Thirty seconds later, the phone rang again. San Diego. I did not answer. 

This is not the first time I have gotten calls from people raving about my books and wanting to help me sell them. It’s so frustrating. Every author wants that phone call where an editor or publisher wants to publish your masterpiece and make you rich and famous. It’s the stuff we dream about. That companies exploit these dreams to make money is just wrong.

I wasn’t going to publish a blog post today, but I needed to rant about this. My phone rarely rings, but when Caller ID shows no name or just the name of a city, I’m either not going to answer it or I’m going to be rude, depending on my mood.  

 Writer friends, have you experienced this? Writers and readers, have you heard of ReadersMagnet? How do you know the difference between a scam and someone who really wants to help you? 

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Money’s not the only measure of success

Where have I been, you wonder. Me too. So much has changed in the last few months that I hardly know where to start. My father died. My childhood home was sold. My first book of poems was published, and another is coming soon. I got my ears pierced and changed my hairdo. I left my job at Sacred Heart Church and joined a new church where, instead of piano, I’m playing mandolin and I don’t get paid (but it’s a lot more fun).

The pellet stove that used to heat my house is gone, replaced by a gas fireplace and a propane tank in the yard. I just got a new phone last week to replace the one that couldn’t hold a charge anymore. Even the laptop on which I am typing this is new.

So many evenings, I still think: gotta call Dad. Then I remember: I can’t do that anymore.

What isn’t new is that I still get up, feed the dog, say my prayers, shower, eat breakfast, and report to work in my home office, where I write, rewrite, send work out to publishers, and manage my book promotion activities. What do I do? I’m a writer. Yes, I’m also a musician, but forced to choose one vocation, it’s writing. How long have I been doing it? Since I could grip a pencil and make squiggles on a page.

The new chapbook coming in March will be my 10th book. I have long ago lost track of how many articles, essays, and poems I have published. That means I’m a success, right? Well, it depends on how you measure success.

My dad left me a little money, enough that I’m talking to the bank’s investment people and I’m not doing my own taxes this year. Adios, Turbotax. I wish Dad had spent the money on himself, but here it is. The first investment guy I talked to—who quit soon after—dismissed my writing as a hobby. He said since it wasn’t bringing in much income, I don’t have to do it anymore. Say what?

When I met with the second investment person, I led with the news that I am professional writer and it’s important to me, and money isn’t the only measure of success. She was like, “Yes ma’am. Noted. Now, what other income do you have . . . . ?”

My father thought it was a hobby, too. Like Mom’s knitting. For him, money was the only measure of success.

The third investment advisor, a friendly guy young enough to be my grandson, was impressed by my achievements and by how long I’d been doing the writing thing for pay—1973!—but he repeated that the numbers were too small to affect my “portfolio.” Considering that I left my church job and am not looking for another paying job, he asked, “Can we say you’re retired?”

“Yikes. I guess so.” I have always said I am not retiring until I die, but whatever. You can’t argue with numbers, and I’m too busy with my writing and music to get a job.

When I met with my new tax person, a woman named Sharon, stylish and in her 70s, she did not mince words. When was the last year you made a profit on your writing, she asked, staring at my 2018 Schedule C (profit and loss for sole proprietor business). Um . . . not in recent history, not since I traded journalism for “creative writing.” She proceeded to tell me what I already knew, that the IRS would consider my writing a hobby and would not allow me to deduct my expenses. Looking more closely, she said I could use some of it as “volunteer” expenses and “volunteer” miles. What about those spreadsheets on which I so diligently record my income and expenses? Oh, keep it up; it’s a good thing to do. But forget the Schedule C. My writing income will now be listed under “miscellaneous income.”

She was a lot more excited about the dribs and drabs I give to charity. Oh yeah, make a list of those.

When it comes to being a writer, the whole money question is irrelevant. You can write your heart out and not earn much money, whether your work is published extensively or not at all. There’s always a chance that your book will become a best-seller and money will come pouring in, but most of the writers I admire have day jobs teaching or coaching or editing. Remember, William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Agatha Christie was a pharmacist. Wallace Stevens sold insurance. Kurt Vonnegut worked in PR, sold cars, and taught English.

In “Making a Living as a Writer,” Jennifer Ellis tells the hard financial truths of the writing biz. Fewer than 1,000 fiction writers in North America make a living at it, she says. The odds are better than they are for winning the lottery or getting struck by lightning, but not much. It’s worse for poets.

If I weren’t as old as I am, and if I didn’t have Social Security and a portion of my late husband’s pension, I would still be churning out newspaper articles–if I could find a job–or, God forbid, working as a secretary somewhere and resenting every minute it took away from my writing.

I don’t write for the money. Otherwise, I’d do something else, something that pays. Nor do I sing and play for the money. It doesn’t matter to me, as long as I have enough to pay my bills. But I live in a world where money is supposed to matter. So I meet with the money people, do what they say, and then show up for work in my office every morning except Sunday because that’s what I intend to do until I can’t do it anymore.

So there.

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