WINNING BY LOSING: 4 STORIES ABOUT WRITING

Winning is a concept that many try to embrace.  “I want to be the winner!” is what people often say and believe.  Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi is often quoted for his thoughts on winning:

“Wining isn’t a sometime thing; it’s an all time thing.  You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.  Winning is a habit, unfortunately so is losing.” 

Lombardi’s thinking is black and white; you either win or you lose. 

I disagree. 

Often in boxing and mixed-marital-arts the true winner of a fight does not get the “W”.  It’s usually due to bad judging, and sadly, at times, corrupt judging.  Regardless, the fighters and the crowd know who really won.  During interviews you’ll hear the fighter who was ripped off say, “I know in my heart that I won.”  And the crowed will back them up.  There is a peace of mind within the fighter; they know the truth and so do their supporters.

Often when this happens the ‘loser’ gets more opportunities than the ‘winner’ because everyone knows who really won.  More opportunities means bigger fights, more money, and unofficial acknowledgement of being the ‘winner’.

This applies to many things in life.

What is winning?  Is it having your hand raised?  Is it winning that near impossible lottery number?  Is it having fame and recognition?  Is it writing a NY Times bestseller?  Is it being published in big newspapers, magazines, literature journals, and websites?  Is it getting into an elite MFA program?

I think winning is

  1. Having peace of mind
  2. Being treated with dignity and respect
  3. Losing something to gain something

Here are four stories on how I’ve won by losing:

Dignified Java

I used to do lots of my writing at an independent espresso bar 15 minutes from my place.  They had a great marble table that sat about 12 people and their Americano’s were the best I’ve ever had. 

I chose this place because I didn’t want to support big business.  I’d left another coffee shop in the area because the white owner treated her of colour staff like third class citizens.  And she left the coffee out way too long. 

The espresso bar owners were nice at first.  I’d go there about five times a week.  One espresso cost me $2.50 and I’d get an overpriced brownie once in a while. 

I’d sit, write, mind my own business, and leave.  Total time was about three hours.  That’s regular in coffee culture.

The owners knew I was a writer.  I’d bring in copies of XTRA! so the place wouldn’t be so hetero normative.  And I’d bring in some other local newspapers to counter their mainstream stuff.

After about a year I had a slight altercation with one of the owners.  As the place was closing she was cleaning up the tables and grabbed one of my papers that I had brought in.  One, XTRA!, I had planned on leaving there.  The other was one that I had not read yet and planned on taking home.

“I was going to take that,” I said to her.

“I was going to grab it so others can read it,” she said.

“Go ahead,” I said.

She took the paper that I brought to a stack and then commented out loud to her husband:

“I’m sick of people coming here and thinking this is their office!” 

It was closing time so I packed my stuff.  As I said, “Thanks, see you later,” which is what I always do, and I saw her scowl at me as her husband said, “Goodbye.” 

I never went back.

I decided to go to a place that was closer, cheaper, big business, and had nowhere near as good coffee, but treated me well. 

Very well.

A recent change in the ownership saw me say my goodbyes to the owner who I saw 6 times a week for almost two years:

“Mark, thanks for everything.  I started coming here because another place was rude to me and you have always treated me with dignity and respect. Good luck.” 

We shook hands and smiled loving smiles at one another.

I don’t get amazing coffee at the place I now go to.  There is no beautiful décor, no marble table, no cool music.  But I’m treated with dignity and respect.  And that’s more important than anything.

The cool independent shop folded a year later; they lost a lot of clients; no doubt from the energy they were giving out that myself and others I know experienced.

Great White Lefty

Two years ago I scored a gig with a big ‘lefty’ website run by white people. Their one and only of colour staff had wanted me to write for them for two years.  I agreed to write paid articles only. 

I don’t write for free anymore except here on blackcoffeepoet.com

Things started shifty.  I was told I would be paid double of what my first cheque was.  The overused word/excuse “misunderstanding” was given; I decided to stay; big name publications with large readerships have writers overlook things sometimes.

I was being paid and read which is a great combo.  But like my 4th mom said, “At what cost?”

After much haggle, unanswered emails, and shady editing, not being paid for an opinion piece the Editor in Chief agreed to publish and pay and later pulled, I was put through what you would expect right wing publications to do to their writers.

My review of a book about Palestine was not to their liking because I was honest.  I was being paid to write reviews, not to big up causes they promoted.  I support Palestinians but the book was not amazing and I questioned things the author said, focused on, and left out. 

I was asked to interview the author about my criticisms.

I got paid to write reviews not do interviews. 

I explained to my editor that if she wanted an interview I would be glad to do it for more money.  Not the wage I was getting, which was half of what I was originally told I’d be getting.

Drama.

My editor booked an interview with the author after I stated she would need to agree to pay me for it and didn’t.  I explained the situation to the author.  He was understanding and said it was the editors idea. 

I stood my ground.

“I didn’t realize it would be too much trouble to request a couple of quotes for your review,” snarked the editor in an email.

Again, I got paid little, and for reviews not interviews.

I received an email saying I would not be paid for my review and that it would not be published.

I approached my contact of colour and told her the situation.  I can only imagine the written lashing she gave my section editor over email.  The following two days saw two very interesting emails:

1. “I just received an e-mail from *** about your last review. I’m very sorry for any miscommunication about the interview and review…”

2. “My apologies again that the review of To Love A Palestinian Woman didn’t work out and will not be published on ********. I’m just writing to let you know that payment for your review To Love a Palestinian Woman will be arriving sometime next month.”

I cashed my cheque and published the review on blackcoffeepoet.com followed by a lengthy interview with the author and never wrote for them again. 

A recent chat with a fellow writer of colour who I hooked up with Great White Lefty said, “Jorge, they are so careful with me. I think it’s because of what you said and did.” 

My standing up made it a better place for others like me.  Too bad they didn’t follow their ‘lefty’ politics and treat all us folk of colour justly from the start.

The Fuck You Smile 

I used to write for a small mag run by peoples with a long history of battling oppression.  Similar to the story above I was having emails ignored with no concrete dates on payment and publication given.  One thing preceded this: I was asked to be part of the editorial board; ask me how many meetings I’ve been invited to.

Two things followed all this that were the last straw:

1. I had my byline not included in one of my articles.  If you’re a writer you know how important it is to be given credit for your writing; that’s what the byline is for. 

2. When I brought it to the editor’s attention I was given an apology via email.  When we met in person I was given another apology along with a ‘promise’:

“I am so sorry about that!  And so this never happens again I want you to be the Copy Editor,” said my editor.

I was told I’d be paid for the copy editing and that I could do it online, or they would provide me with hard copies of the pre-published mag for me to mark up with a pen. 

How many issues do you think I copy edited?

The new mag came out with one of the editors friends listed as Copy Editor.

All I got after that was a smile.

The Wait List

If you read the ABOUT page on blackcoffeepoet.com you know that I started this online magazine as my own MFA in Creative Program.  I made the wait list to an existing program and didn’t get in so I researched MFA programs and made my own; hence BCP!

Lots of people ask if I’m going to re-apply. 

Through blackcoffeepoet.com I

1. Get free books.

2. Do lots of reading.

3. Meets writers.

4. Make contacts in the writing world.

5. Engage in multimedia: writing, recording video, running a website.

6. I’m being read in four continents.

7. I’m growing as a person, poet, reader, and journalist. 

I still send my work out to journals, magazines, and newspapers.  I get to run my own self taught program while practicing and merging my art and politics.  And I’m building my platform as a writer who is writing books to be sold and read in future.

I’m not saying that I won’t re-apply to the MFA program or another program.  I’m enjoying what I’m doing now; blackcoffeepoet.com is going really well; and I’ll be celebrating blackcoffeepoet.com’s one year anniversary September 13th, 2011!

I recently met famed poet Dionne Brand at a literary event.  I walked up to her and introduced myself:

“Dionne Brand, I’m Jorge Antonio Vallejos.”

“Oh, you’re at *****,” she said.

“No, I didn’t get in,” I said. 

“I remember your name and your work,” she said.

I almost fell over. 

Dionne Brand, Toronto’s Poet Laureate and Griffin Poetry Prize 2011 winner read my application portfolio and remembered my name and work! 

I’ve never met Dionne Brand in person.  But she had met me via my words as I have met her.  It’s one the biggest highlights of my writing career; it’s the biggest highlight for me as a poet.  It was validation.  

It’s one of the things that keeps me going.

So, the last few years has seen me lose a few things: great coffee, big readership via a big website, a couple of paid gigs, and a spot in an MFA program. 

But, I have won something greater in every case: peace of mind, respect, dignity, my own publication, and acknowledgement from one of the world’s great poets of colour. 

Winning in the conventional way of looking at things isn’t everything.  Sometimes losing isn’t so bad as you may think.

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About Black Coffee Poet

Black Coffee Poet is a mixed race poet, essayist, and journalist who focuses on Social Justice, Indigenous Rights, STOPPING Violence Against Women, Film, and Literature.
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5 Responses to WINNING BY LOSING: 4 STORIES ABOUT WRITING

  1. I have spent the last hour or so reading your blog Jorge, and I’ve learned so much in that time. More so than at any other blog I’ve read or even of which I’ve become a fan and avid reader. Thank you for your work and attitude, it is truly an inspiration to me in my own writing endeavors.

    Ernesto

  2. Maysie says:

    BCP, you might not know this but I’ve always appreciated and been in awe of your courage, your politics and your power with words. Thank you for this post in particular and for your awesome blog.

  3. Lindy K. says:

    Jorge, great words, sometimes you learn alot more from losing, and the winning comes later not in the form you first thought. Keep it up BCP!

  4. Pingback: BLACK COFFEE POET READS “THIS IS WHY I WRITE” | Black Coffee Poet

  5. Pingback: INTERVIEW WITH DANE SWAN | Black Coffee Poet

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