“Not helpful for those that can’t pay,” she launched her opening salvo. “Shouldn’t this info be free for all? I believe everyone has the basic human right to learn how to read.”
You know, I always find it sad when educators are so overtly stupid that they don’t understand that people work for pay. As I understand it, healthcare is a basic human right and free in Canada, but something tells me she doesn’t expect physicians or nurses or medical researchers to work without pay.
I responded, “This is my business, Julie. There’s nothing wrong with me charging a subscription fee for people to have access to my work. I’ve published a lot of stuff for free, and people have abused it. So now it’s behind a paywall. It’s $5 a month. If you don’t have $5 a month, then you probably have bigger problems than learning to read.”
A longtime client and friend piped up to tell her she was out of line.
Julie doubled down. “I have moved from self employment to working at a school, for less money so that all of our students have access to science based reading instruction [sic]. But I’m not going to argue here. I am happy with my views and approaches. I’m really disappointed by the protective response and walk away gladly.”
But then she continued to argue and did not walk away gladly — or at all — until I banned her from my page and deleted all five of her comments. No one needs that buzzkill. Jeez.
Since she made a giant sanctimonious grandstand about taking a pay cut to nobly give “all of our students” access to her brilliant rendition of the so-called “science” of reading, I decided to look her up. Privacy died in the 1990s, so, you know, it’s kinda silly to imagine that you’re anonymous when you’re not. It turns out that Julie works for a *private* school that charges *tuition.* She is not a teacher there, giving students access to instruction; she is an administrative assistant who tutors some of the students from the school privately on the side. And not for free.
LOL doesn’t even do it justice. I’m not just laughing out loud; I’m writing a whole damned comedic opera out loud.
I contacted the administration of her school via email and informed them that she was misrepresenting her work and the school in a public online forum. I’ve been an employer, and I’d be mortified if my employees made false claims about their work online, let alone demanded that other professionals work for free. My email was intercepted by the office manager who forwarded it to Julie. Julie then emailed me and made the following claims:
I feel stalked and frightened. I am not sure who I communicated with last night, but whoever it was was rude and disrespectful out of the gate, and in my error, i [sic] got pulled into a very uncomfortable and confusing argument. I felt the immediate need to defend. I understand trolls can be a problem, and in retrospect, saying i [sic] wished the resource to be free i [sic] can now see could be seen as trolls [sic] words. I feel that i [sic] have been wrongly labeled and intimidated, and the way you are describing me is not at all in my character. Again, my only mistake was being drawn into a conversation order to defend myself from attacks.
As someone who has actually been stalked by a violent person in real life, I can safely say that she’s not being stalked, regardless of how she feels. Look back at my first response to Julie, the one in bold above, and ask yourself if I was “rude and disrespectful right out of the gate.” Notice two things about Julie’s communication: (1) she isn’t talking about facts anywhere at all. Not helpful. I believe. Shouldn’t this be? And then there’s I am happy with my views and approaches. This continues in the email: I feel. I felt. I wished. Could be seen. I feel. And (2) she refuses to take any responsibility for herself. Notice in her email that she got pulled into an argument; she was wrongly labeled and intimidated, and it’d not in [her] character to misrepresent herself, even though she did. Again, she was drawn into a conversation. And then claims that she was attack[ed] .
She demanded that I work for free, but somehow she was “attacked” and had to “defend” herself. Read again what I wrote and tell me, for the love of God, where I attacked her.
The whole thing got me to thinking about what it means to do something for free. Later this week, I will visit a local elementary school to volunteer with kids again in person, for the first time in over a year, now that my family and I are vaccinated against COVID. Today, I recorded a class for a friend and colleague who couldn’t make it, and I decided not to charge them. Hell, this here blog post is free, not on Shameless, not behind a paywall. Free, free, free.
What does it mean to be free?
As a self-employed sole proprietor, I make my own way, all risks assumed by me. I am free to work as I wish, to take clients if I want to, to book work when I want to, to make or refuse deals if I want to. I had one guy who hounded me for years trying to get me to let him sell my resources in his web store and at conferences, and I said no, no, no, no, no. For years. Why? Because I didn’t want to be bound to him and the myriad things he represented. No one could tell me I had to, because it’s just me. I’m free.
Etymologically speaking, free denotes ‘not in bondage, acting of one’s own will.’ As in not a slave. The word is related to friend and Friday and other words and to proper names with denotations of ‘love’ and ‘peace,’ like Godfrey and Frederick and Frigga. When I read that tonight — something I’ve read a thousand times before — I realized that all of my work is free.
Morphologically speaking, of course, the opposite of free is bound. Morphemes, like people, are either free or bound. Things that are bound do not stand on their own. This category would include prefixes, suffixes, connecting vowel letters, bound base elements, and freaking employees. Employees are bound by the policies and expectations of their employers. I am bound by the same public and general things as everyone else: gravity, age, traffic laws, and orthographic conventions. But I sure as shinola am not bound by an employer, and no one tells me what work I have to do for free.
The word bound has an interesting family too. It’s pretty cool in that there are family members with all five vowel letters: band, bend, bind, bond, and bundle. Bound has a couple of unrelated homographs, but this bound — the past participle of the strong verb to bind — belongs in this family that means ‘to bind, tie, fasten, yoke.’
What binds me to my clientele, including people who enjoy all my free resources and never pay for anything, is not my pay, or anyone’s demands that I do this or that or the other thing. Rather, I am bound by integrity, rigor, and the fact that no one represents me, and I represent no one, but me.
I never enjoy this kind of conflict. I do enjoy having rhetorical skill, and I do enjoy the epiphanies that often come with processing difficult situations (like free and bound!). With a deep understanding of what free means, the nature of my work became clearer to me. It’s not gratis, mind you, but it’s all free. Liberated. Unbound. Beloved, and peaceful.
All of my work is free, but it’s not for nothing.