Pen Not for Hire

I write to make sense of the world. I generally don’t write for money. If someone wants to pay me for what I’ve written, hey, fine, no problem, but I don’t write for hire.

There are a couple of reasons for this. I’m not a fast writer, for one thing. The late Gerry Kelly, my colleague in my Martha’s Vineyard Times days, cranked out prose like yard goods. Being able to call on Gerry when a stringer finked out or an unexpected hole appeared in the Calendar section — this was wonderful. But I’ve never been able to do it myself.

The other thing is that writing engages head, heart, and soul in a way that editing does not. My time and my editorial expertise are for sale. My head, heart, and soul are not.

A couple of weeks ago, however, I was contacted by The Trustees of Reservations (TTOR), a conservation group that has a presence on the Vineyard. Would I be interested in writing a 500-word story for their newsletter about the restoration work under way at their Menemsha Hills property?

I thought about it. Read their descriptive materials, interview the director, maybe pay a visit to the place and see for myself? The pay seemed commensurate with the time it was likely to take, and 500 words isn’t a lot. OK, sure, I said. Send me a copy of the newsletter so I can get a feel for your style.

So yesterday, not long before sundown on yet another sweltering hot day, Travvy and I headed up the North Road into Chilmark. As always seems to happen when I don’t know where I’m going in Chilmark, there was a hulking SUV on my tail as I drove along, looking for the Menemsha Hills sign. When I spotted it, the hulk was so close it would have been in my cargo bay if I’d braked suddenly, so I pulled over, pulled a U-turn, and followed the dirt road to the trailhead.

After Trav had a good sniff around the parking lot, we headed down the trail. Almost immediately we came to a sign: NO DOGS OR HORSES PAST THIS POINT.


Moon in crook of dead tree, Waskosim's Rock Reservation

Moon in crook of dead tree, Waskosim’s Rock Reservation

We went to Waskosim’s Rock instead. Waskosim’s is a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank property. The Land Bank has hands-down the best public access policies of any conservation-type organization on the Vineyard. This is because it’s a public agency. It was established by state law in 1986, it’s funded by a 2% tax on most real estate transactions, and it’s overseen by a commission to which each town elects one member and the seventh is appointed by the state secretary of environmental affairs. I love the Land Bank.

Dogs have to be leashed at Waskosim’s Rock these days, and with good reason: not only is there livestock on abutting properties, there are goats grazing in a fenced enclosure on the reservation itself. Some dogs, I’m sure, could be trusted off-leash around the goats, but Travvy is not one of them. Travvy was so excited that I wished I had his walking harness in addition to his limited-slip collar. I did have string cheese, however. That helped a lot.

So we had our walk. It was almost pitch-dark by the time we rejoined Malvina Forester at the trailhead and headed home on the North Road.

By the time I made the left turn on State Road, I knew I had to back out of the writing assignment. I’m not going to do PR for a property that doesn’t allow dogs, not unless I’m financially desperate — and though it was indeed a lean spring, desperate I am not.

Light fades from the west, Waskosim's Rock

Light fades from the west, Waskosim’s Rock

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to Pen Not for Hire

  1. Hal Davis says:

    Your adventure reminds of a line from the “Hannah Arendt” movie, “Philosophers don’t meet deadlines.”


  2. Juleann says:

    Are you SURE dogs are not allowed on ANY TTOR properties? On some conservation lands dogs are allowed in winter when migrating birds have left and/or when nesting season is over. It’s a compromise I’m willing to live with.


    • Juleann says:

      P.S. Norton Point Beach & Wasque both allow dogs (TTOR properties). There are also some Land Bank properties that limit dog access — for the reason stated above.


    • I don’t know about other TTOR properties. The one I was supposed to write about was Menemsha Hills: NO DOGS OR HORSES PAST THIS POINT. “All dogs must be leashed” would be fine with me — that’s the case at Waskosim’s Rock and most Land Bank properties. I’ll edit for an organization I don’t agree with 100% — hell, I freelance for trade publishers, don’t I? 😉 — but writing is different. Writing something for money that I wouldn’t be willing to do for free? I’d rather not.


      • Juleann says:

        That’s allright. But, you refer to TTOR as “an organization that doesn’t allow dogs” and that isn’t accurate. They do allow dogs at other properties. That was the only point I was trying to make.


      • You’re right, it was ambiguous. I didn’t mean that TTOR never allowed dogs anywhere, only that they’re the organization responsible for not allowing dogs at Menemsha Hills. Duly fixed. 🙂


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