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.

Uh-oh.

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

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About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is 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.”

    Like

  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.

    Like

    • 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.

      Like

    • 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.

      Like

      • 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.

        Like

      • 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. 🙂

        Like

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