dear privileged author

Sarah Madison, you wrote, on being broke and wanting books and such:

Oh honey. I’m with you there. See, I went to school, worked hard, racked up huge student loans to pay for my extensive education and spent twelve years paying them off. Just when things were starting to turn around for me, the economy went into the dumper, business fell off, and I incurred some major medical expenses. I haven’t had a television in 15 years and only recently could get access to broadband. I had to wait for favorite shows to come out on DVD and then had to save up to buy them. God bless Netflix. I’m now able to catch up on many shows I had to abandon.

But see, the thing is, I recognize that I am still a privileged person. I’m living in tight circumstances, yes, but privileged just the same. I have a roof over my head, food in the fridge, and can mostly pay my bills. I have access to the internet in my own home, own a laptop, a ten year old iPod, and a smartphone. I choose to have certain things. By choosing to have some things, it means I can’t have others. That’s called life, sweetie.

Yes, Sarah. You are a privileged person.

You paid off your student loans. I can’t work. This may or may not change; for now, I’m stuck redoing the deferment paperwork every few months, because no income means no income. I hope you were cured of whatever prompted the medical expenses. I may never be. As such, I am a risk and employers hate taking risks.

My roof, my broadband, my TV, my Netflix, this is all shared by my family. That makes me damn fortunate. They didn’t just dump me. But in twenty or thirty years I won’t have that safety net. There will be nobody left. I may have to sell myself — my body, in marriage — to whoever will provide for me into my old age. I may learn what survival sex looks and feels like from very close up.

That’s not life, sweetie. That’s a shambles. I did not choose this. I would kill to be fit enough to work a nine-to-five. I’m not. So I can’t. Yet. If ever. And don’t tell me SSDI or SSI are good enough on their own to make up for all that. I’ve never met people who do more than get by if those are their only income sources.

You are a privileged person and your ableism stinks to high heaven.

Right now I have a small cushion. Enough to get me small things I like; not enough to live on. So I don’t live on it. I stay here, where it’s safe. That’s why I can talk about hair and makeup. These are things I like and can still afford, and oh, I do ration them. Big part of why I’m looking to go back to natural from purple? Upkeep costs less and won’t put interviewers off if/when I am ready to risk it. (Because you know that as soon as your income is greater than zero, everyone comes hunting for what little you now have. Or at least I hope you know this by now.) Hair and makeup may be the difference between two candidates for a job, with clothing in the running as well — this is why we need Dress For Success programs for every woman of every size and shape. Suiting is shockingly hard to find at either end of the size spectrum.

I don’t steal your books, Sarah. I wait for birthdays and Christmases and buy my year’s stock. I use libraries when I’m up to the trip. Yeah, not every small town has its very own library — my nearest is a village away, and the one I haven’t pretty much read through is only about five to ten minutes farther out. Bless the county library system. Best idea since sliced bread. But by the way? If there is enough demand, the library will look into getting the stories you want. Nice try. I worked for the smaller library when I was still an able-bodied kid. I asked, and some of what I recommended happened — and some of it wasn’t going to work in ROI terms. And when you are a small library in a small town, this you learn to accept. Especially if what you want to read is against the head librarian’s religion.

I read a lot of free stuff. Gutenberg? Love it. Fanfiction? I’m there, and my current fandom is creator-supported (meaning she loves what we do and will be getting my money for her merch). Webcomics in general? I revisit old favorites. I was thrilled when Megatokyo got published proper. I’m generally thrilled when people who have made great things get noticed. You may have heard me whooping for joy when Sarah J Maas got her book deal.

And then you wrote a follow-up:

As I said in the previous post, I get ‘broke’. Honey, I’ve collected aluminum to buy a tank of gas and sold plasma to help pay the rent. But not only are there many options for legal free reads, I honestly believe the truly poor represent a very small number of these downloaders, much as I believe the people in foreign countries with no access to libraries don’t represent a large number either. I think the vast majority of the I’m broke, therefore I have to get my books illegally camp are really saying, “I have spent my discretionary income on things I can’t download without paying for them.”

The only aluminium I can collect here comes from soda cans. Soda can income will buy me a book at the grocery store, maybe. Possibly. Again, ROI is a problem; I spend hours begging people for their empties, and energy I don’t have, and I get one paperback that’ll last me four hours tops. Then I have to swap it out to someone else, because I don’t usually find those reread-forever specials on the grocery racks. Nope, I’m going to browse the back catalogue of Godey’s Lady’s Book. Way more interesting nine times outta ten, anyway.

Even if I were anywhere near the weight minimum for blood-product donation, they can’t TAKE mine because I spent significant time in countries where the risk of mad cow disease was greater than zero! And there’s a fantastic documentary out there about Henan Province and the shitstorm that went down when the poor sold their blood to survive. Spoiler: AIDS happened. Plasma Economy, man, that was not the best idea the Chinese government ever had.

I literally cannot pay my parents rent. So yeah, I am that reader, who is husbanding what disposable income she has as best she can. I’m also a reader of LGBT+ romance who hates anything that smacks of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. I probably won’t be buying your work (or pirating it, God, I’m not that loathsome) anytime soon. I give my money to people I like and look for used copies of the rest if I’m that curious.

But well done assuming “broke” looks the same as it did when you experienced it. Points for that.

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