A few weeks ago after reading two columns in the on-line news source the American News Report (ANR), I was moved to make a comment on each. One comment was fairly brief, but the second was quite lengthy. Thirty minutes after posting my comments I received an email from the Report’s editor, Pat Anson, telling me that the longer of my comments was too lengthy to include in the comment section and asked if I would be willing to write a guest column for him based on my comments. I gleefully jumped at the opportunity.
Commenting on news items and medical articles addressing issues around pain is something I’ve been doing for the last two years. As I am a person with pain, and was during that time an activist for the American Pain Foundation, I made it my part-time job to read as much about pain issues as I could find. As I became something of an expert on living with pain, I began to comment on articles that I thought were especially helpful and even more so on articles that traded in poor research, stereotypes, prejudices, half-truths, and let’s face, lies.
During the last year, while serving on a working group with the Food and Drug Administration, I found myself, along with my Pain Foundation colleagues, at loggerheads with a physician that many of us deemed as a threat to good, balanced care for people with pain. This doctor has become the go-to guy whenever any writer fanning the flames of hysteria around prescription opioids for pain, wanted a quote supporting her/his position this physician was always available. Whenever I saw him quoted in pieces published on line, I would take him to task.
It was after one of my lengthier comments to a column published in the ANR quoting the good doctor that the News editor contacted me saying he liked my comments but it was too long to publish for the available space. I thought he was going to ask that I edit it down, but to my surprise he asked if I’d be willing to tweak it a bit and write it as a guest column. I was thrilled and said I would be happy to take a crack at it.
I immediately set myself to the task. To my surprise, following the editor’s lead, I found it fairly easy and rewarding to shape my comments into a column. I sent my guest column back to Pat and he emailed me that what I sent was exactly what he was looking for.
A few hours later, he sent me his edits, all of which I agreed made my piece stronger. In sending it back to Pat I told him I’d be happy to write an occasional column for him as the opportunity came up. He wrote back and said he’d like to talk with me about that but said he’d really like to talk to me about becoming one of his columnists.
In the years right before and after the attacks on Manhattan in 2001 I published in small literary journals a fair amount of my poetry. After leaving NY for Los Angeles in 2003 I began to write a memoir of my experience living with a chronic, very painful exotic disease. I worked on the project on and off as my lousy body would allow and in 2009 got very serious about it as I had received much encouragement from other writers and editors. And late last year, I began this blog.
When Pat asked me to write for him, oh say, once or twice a month, I leapt at the chance and told him, if he didn’t mind, that I’d like to write a weekly column. He quickly agreed saying he had columnists on the other side of the pain issue and thought I would do well writing about the people with pain and what they face trying to get decent relief from their often harrowing pain.
To my surprise, Pat explained that the ANR was a new site and was devoted to issues around pain and its treatments. What LUCK! I could write about issues about which I was well versed and had the added joy of writing about something I have been passionate about; giving voice to people silently living and dying from pain.
In all this time I’ve received remuneration for one poem, a poem that won a contest.
Pat told gave me what he thought was rather pathetic pay for groups of three columns and promised to upgrade the pay as the site gained more advertising dollars. I told him that the pay hardly mattered—well, maybe a little, it does—because he was giving me a chance to do what I’ve wanted to do for a long while and actually being, however meager the amount, paid as a writer.
For the past fifteen years I’ve called myself, often sheepishly, a writer. Getting published was the first step, but now being paid as a weekly columnist, in my mind, seals the deal: I’m a writer.
I really believe that this came about because I tenaciously commented on everything I could find on pain with the idea squarely in mind, that an editor might one day read my writing and do exactly what Pat did. I spent all that time commenting on other’s writings because the issues are so important to me, and let’s be honest here; I love the process of writing.
Keep plugging along you would-be scribes, keep plugging. You never know when a Pat Anson might unexpectedly enter your life with a golden invitation.