You must be tired of hearing from me, Mr. Jacobs, but it has been nearly four months and I have not yet received payment for the articles I wrote for you. I appreciate that life can sometimes get in the way of communication; however, if I don't hear from you soon, I will consider our ghost writing contract void. Please contact me as soon as you can.
Thank you again, Mr. Jacobs. I look forward to hearing from you.
I still have that final email I sent to him in 2009; I knew even as I wrote it that I had been taken for a ride. I couldn't seem to let it go though. I'd signed a contract, believing that the scanned signature of my client would save me from this very fate.
I wrote the articles in record time, took my time editing, then sent them off to my client for his approval. I sat in front of my computer, checking and rechecking my email, hoping for praise of the carefully constructed sentences and clever turns of phrase. I waited for my payment, for my next assignment. I waited and waited and waited.
Mr. Jacobs never responded to an email ever again.
Seven months later, I wrote that email to Mr. Jacobs, tears blurring the words on my screen, unable to come to terms with my loss. I had come to the game unarmed and naive; those assurances I thought had promised payment and more work brought me nothing but static. The open line of communication turned to a constant dial tone in the back of my mind. I had no way on contacting him except email; I didn't even know if Jacobs was his real name. I had no legal recourse because I didn't know who he was.
I was defeated.
I thought he refused to pay me because I sucked, the writing sucked, I was terrible. Who was I? How dare I pretend to be a writer? Little me, who had been writing barely readable fiction in her school books instead of studying? Surely not.
It was several months before I could pick up a pen again.
It felt wrong; I'd never gone more than a few weeks in my living memory without writing something. But there were no short stories, no essays, no humorous anecdotes inside me. I felt like I had no story to tell anymore. There wasn't a point; if I couldn't do it for a living, I didn't want to do it at all. I stopped applying to writing jobs and just focused on my 9-5. I was miserable, but I couldn't get over how I had been taken advantage of, how my life's work and my skill had meant so little.
Until one day, I learned about Kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi or Kintsugi is a Japanese tradition from the 15th century. When a piece of pottery was broken, accidentally or on purpose, it was repaired with a precious metal like silver or gold, to make the object useful and pretty again. The philosophy behind Kintsukuroi is that "the piece is more beautiful for having been broken." The word Kintsukuroi is written in Japanese like this: 金繕い.
I stared at it for a long time, feeling something change in me. My four years of high school Japanese had taught me enough to get by. I remembered the kanji for kin: 金. I remembered it because, strangely enough, it is one of the kanji for Friday or kinyobi: 金曜日 (gold day). But the second symbol was what caught my attention.
The kanji's name is zen. 繕. It's origins are Mandarin (as are most Japanese kanji). It means to 1. to mend, 2. to repair, 3. rewrite, transcribe. 4. to make a fair copy of.
To rewrite. To repair. zen. To rewrite.
It replayed over and over again in my head. To rewrite. To repair.
I could fix it. I could repair it with gold. I could take the rain cloud of my current situation and make it beautiful again, line it with silver. All I had to do was work. So I did.
I used those unpaid for articles as the beginning of my portfolio. I wrote and wrote and wrote, signing up for free freelancing sites like Freelancer and oDesk (now UpWork). I rewrote and I repaired. I started getting real paying jobs. I got my first $10 gig, then my first $100 gig. I worked my way back up from the bottom. I took more precautions; never again would I have a non-paying client.
I landed my first long term gig writing homemaking articles for a blog. I wrote articles about cleaning, cooking, mending, and child care. Every article I wrote, every payment or piece of praise slowly filled in the gaps in my heart with precious metals.
Although I will never forget my first client, the client that disappeared off of the face of the planet without a peep or a penny, the repairs had been made. I didn't need him to validate my existence as a writer. I didn't need anyone's. My work spoke for itself and every day that I wrote, that portfolio got bigger and better and brighter.
Now I can say without any hesitation that I am a writer. And I always will be a writer. And I am better for having been broken.