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How I Live as a Writer

Clandestine coin collection in front of the Pantheon

Sponsorship.

If you’re a travel writer, this is a topic that often comes up. Will you take a sponsored press trip, a trip that is planned for you and/or a group of other writers, so that you can see places you may not be able to afford to go? Or, do you go it alone, rebuffing PR offers in order to maintain your objectivity or, at least, to stay in the good graces of publications like the New York Times, which blacklists – at least temporarily – those writers who have taken them?

Being sponsored is murky territory in the travel writing domain. It is the crux of discussions over travel writing ethics, conversations which seem to come up every time there is a conspicuous travel blogger hashtag campaign on Twitter. Sponsorship in travel writing – that is, having a trip partially- or fully- funded by a third party – is a grey area because many of those who write about travel cannot afford to work otherwise.

But there is another type of sponsorship that has been setting the writer discussion boards ablaze. At the end of January, Ann Bauer published “Sponsored by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from,” an article with a cringe-worthy title and similarly obnoxious anecdotes relating to writers with money. Bauer offers a sympathetic tale of her own writing career path, one that she forged while poor, overworked, and living with her parents and that is now sustained by her second husband’s “hefty salary.” She makes the point that writers “do an enormous ‘let them eat cake’ disservice to our community when we obfuscate the circumstances that help us write, publish and in some ways succeed.”

I read many angry responses to Bauer’s piece. The article seemed to draw a line in the sand between those who are “sponsored,” i.e., those who come from money, have connected families, or married well, and those who are the “real” writers, i.e., those who hustle while living paycheck to paycheck or write on the side while working a full-time job. Writing from the perspective of those in the second camp, Laura Bogart, for Dame Magazine, writes, “I live in that in between of deadlines and bagged lunches, scrawling dialogue and outlines of scenes on the back of an agenda for a nine a.m. meeting. But it’s better than relying on anyone else for the roof over my head.”

As I read both of these articles, I couldn’t help but think there is a third reality. It is my reality. And in the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal the circumstances that allow me to write and publish.

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Miracle at Nationals Park

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“Do you mind if I interview your little boy for The Washington Post?” asked a sandy-haired man in a jacket of the same color. We were all standing in front of the gates of Nationals Park as crowds were streaming in for the opening game of the season. Dante was wearing a bright red National cap embroidered with a “W,” and was looking very much the part of the young baseball fan.

“Sure,” I said, then turned to Dante and asked, “would you like to answer a few questions for this man?”

“Do you have tickets?” Dante squealed at the man. “Where are the tickets? WHERE ARE THE TICKETS?”

I looked up at the reporter and told him we were still looking for a pair of tickets. It was a beautiful day, the best you could hope for on April 1. The sun was out, temperatures were in the low 60s. It was the exact opposite weather I expected for Opening Day, which is one of the reasons I hadn’t bothered to order tickets in the first place. When I realized that Dante had the day off of school, I made a decision mid-morning that we would take the Metro down to the ballpark to see if there were any standing-room-only tickets. “Maybe we will get lucky,” I thought.

Dante’s line of questioning continued, “We NEED tickets! Do you have the tickets?”

The reporter looked at me blankly, clearly wondering why he wasn’t the one asking the questions.

“He’s autistic,” I offered. It’s never the first phrase I utter about my son but it comes in handy to explain behaviors that others perceive as odd. “He’s autistic, but I can help him answer the questions if you still want to interview him.”

“Come find me when you get tickets. Good luck!”

The journalist had struck out. He was there to report on the excitement of Opening Day at National Park and our twin sob stories of a boy with autism having no ticket to get into the stadium were not what he was looking for. Read more