With today’s blog entry, I plan on deconstructing the rhetoric of a specific organization in order to try to better understand what happened and to tell the truth. I will remove names, whether of the organization or the individual, so I don’t slander/libel, but the rest will be intact.
As you may well know, I’ve been trying to get involved in/with the homeless community for some time now. There have been some successes. I have a friend helping me, for instance, and I’m slowly accumulating more knowledge and experience to add to my book on homelessness, called The Crumbling Mansions.
I’m going to first post the letter I wrote to the homeless organization, so that way you have an idea of how I started the conversation. Then I will analyze the response and the glaring problems found within, to communicate a larger theme I see being formed.
Here is the letter I wrote to the organization:
Hello. This is Phoenix. We spoke a while ago in person, and you had specific requests of me. I took my time responding, but only because I wanted to make sure that I had all of my ducks in a row, so to speak, and that I fulfilled your requests adequately and efficiently.
You asked me to email some samples of my writing and to also lay down proposals for my ideas. You also asked me to talk about what we discussed that day. I will definitely do that in this email. But first off, I wanted to thank you for taking the time, and I definitely want this to be a smooth process for all of us. I know you have a lot going on, and I don’t want to complicate anything!
Now, first off: What we discussed.
This is what I remember us talking about.
I need to definitely respect your positions in ——–. I should not have unreasonable expectations from you due to the high demand of work you have to fulfill on any given day. This is perfectly reasonable for me, because I am a pretty solitary worker (being a writer and all), but I am open to any help you may be able to offer. I plan on respecting your positions in just that way, by not demanding anything, and being open to any resources you may have to offer, or any ideas.
We also discussed that I need to have clear goals in mind. I plan on laying that down now.
I have a few proposals that we can work through, and that I have simplified as much as possible, for convenience and efficiency. Also, please note that we can follow multiple proposals, if it is appropriate. We don’t need to limit it to one proposal, by any means.
My first proposal: I write a piece that you find appropriate for your newsletter. The piece can be on any topic you think would be beneficial to write, so long as I have the appropriate knowledge to write the piece. I will be writing many pieces in the future, and I hope that one of these can be a good fit for your newsletter. This will probably have to be trial and error, as the standards for the newsletter are very specific, and I want to abide by those rules as best as I can, and want to keep the process simple for you. These can be pieces that I have already written or that I will write. To focus, it might be beneficial to recommend topics that you think would be appropriate, but it isn’t required. If you choose not to offer suggestions due to time constraints, I will work to write an appropriate piece for the newsletter, in the best way that I can.
My second proposal: I continue to write pieces, and ship them out to newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and any print or online media form or forum where the discussion of homelessness is encouraged. I wouldn’t need too much help with this plan, though I think having appropriate resources would be helpful, as I’m sure you’re aware of some, or certain contacts you might have that I can talk to, and the like. I would only consult you not to distract, but to be more accurate with my journalism. The requirements from you would be very, very minimal. All I would basically need would be resources, in any forms, in order to increase the accuracy of my work and the credibility. If you have any leads on potential places that would publish the pieces, or contacts there, that would also be helpful, but again it isn’t required.
My third proposal: Because I write philosophy, I’m still interested in either writing philosophical essays for your newsletter. If this doesn’t work, I can always submit to philosophy journals, but it would be helpful to again have resources for understanding the basic issues we face when dealing with homelessness. Again, I would consult you mostly for accuracy.
My fourth and final proposal: I leave the options open to you. Whatever you think would work best. I can run the gamut of what to write as I have tried to make transparent (reflective and autobiographical pieces, fictional pieces, philosophical essays, brief sociological studies, etc.), and I would give you the freedom to decide what would be most helpful given my skills and your goals, as I do want to work together. I’m not requiring anything, I’m in fact trying to simply leave the door open and give you more options. We talked about me needing to refine these proposals, which I have tried to do, but I thought I would leave this option open in case you think of something I have missed.
Okay. That’s a lot, for sure.
Now, to get to the samples of my writing, that you requested. I’m going to enclose a piece I wrote, which hits on important points on the role of invisibility in homelessness. I hope you find the piece useful to your goals, and that we can use it for some future project. If we can’t use it, it will at least show how I approach argumentation, which could be a skill potentially used for future pieces (or even public debate and/or public speaking). I’m also enclosing a speech that I used at the Homeless Commission. To add some flavor, I also thought I would share part of a play on homelessness that I wrote; the play is called Construct. I figured I would share a few pages of the play. The play is not accurate in terms of the harshness of homelessness, but that was intentional, as the play fits in a specific context of literary history that I find important for understanding homelessness and being empathetic, even if the view is highly romanticized. Also, I have a YouTube channel and blog, so if you want further samples of my work, feel free to check those out. I’ll send the link to my website with my books that has the further links to my blog and YouTube channel. The YouTube channel would give further examples of my style of argumentation, and the blog will have writing samples (not all related to homelessness) that you can test out to learn more about my writing style.
The link can be found here, and also on my business card: amazon.com/author/phoenix_rises
On a final note: Because I write books, and have even written books on homelessness, I’m happy to share my fictional work. Perhaps we could do readings for the public, where with each book sold, I donate a certain amount of money to ——– (as a kind of fundraiser). Maybe my play could be adapted, to not only shed light on homelessness, but also to make money for your organization. I’m tossing these out as final thoughts, but I hope there is some merit in them, at least long term. This isn’t something we have to do tomorrow, of course, they are only possibilities to consider.
Anyway, I’m sorry this letter is so long, and that I took so long to reply, but I really wanted to be thorough. I am meticulous in how I approach things, especially things I care about. I hope that hasn’t been distracting, and has instead been, as I tried to do, more specific.
I hope to hear from you soon.
Anyway, before I continue, I want to comment briefly on my own letter. You’ve read it yourself, so you’re free to make your own judgements, but insofar as I can tell, the letter is respectful of authority, it is clear with its mission, and is professional in all possible aspects.
Or, perhaps not. Here is the response:
Good Afternoon Phoenix!
Thank you so much for your patience as I passed your writing on to my boss and discussed with her your proposals! It was great to read through the different writing samples you sent to us and we appreciate you sending over a detailed email with your proposals.
In regards to your proposals, we aren’t able to have you write for our newsletter since it is against our organizations policy. The best route would be for you to continue to write independently, not as a representative of ——-, and submit your work to newspapers, magazines, etc. With this route we would be happy to provide you with program and service descriptions, and statistics as needed for your pieces.
We also really appreciate your willingness to do public readings and donate a portion of the books that you sell to ———-. Again that is something you would need to do independently. We wouldn’t be able to organize those readings for the public or the people we serve.
Thank you so much again for your support of the people we serve and to our agency! Please let me know if you have any questions!
I don’t know about you, but a few things stand out.
The letter is not “curt” by traditional standards. In fact, the letter seems to be appropriate in tone, maybe even too appropriate. However, the letter is curt in the sense that it doesn’t actually analyze all of my points, and it leaves out a good chunk of what I talked about. In other words, they didn’t address much of what I had to say, despite my effort to articulate everything as best as I could. This is a problem, because it leaves no room for dialogue or discussion, and it’s very difficult to communicate with what to me seems like a blunt rejection letter. With this type of rhetoric, then, there is literally no room to engage in discussion, which to me seems to be the point of writing such a letter.
Now, to specifically deconstruct. They make it clear that I cannot write for their newsletter. But notice how they don’t say why it is against the policy of their organization? In other words, I could write a piece that is completely appropriate for their newsletter, and yet, they wouldn’t accept it because “rules are rules.” (This particularly frustrates me, because they never told me, when I met with them in person, that it was against their policy to write for their newsletter; this comes across as a convenient sleight of hand to use when it’s most important and when it’s easiest to thwart what I have to offer, which to be blunt, is manipulative and perhaps even unethical; they should have been upfront with this at the beginning, because why else would I ask to write for their newsletter, unless I didn’t know I couldn’t?)
Now, it’s fine to have rules. Organizations have rules they must follow, and regulations, set in place for a reason. But to completely shut off the option of writing for their newsletter, when I am both willing and competent (as I am a full-time writer), seems to be a slight affront, or at least a disregard for what I’m trying to do. If you know a little bit about my past, you know that organizations are good at finding ways to do this: Namely, cut off as many options as possible to keep me out of their organization, to keep me an outsider (perhaps, even, to prevent me from discovering something I could use against them).
The good news is, they at least allow me to assert my autonomy as a writer. So, everything I do I do independent of them. Actually, I find that part helpful (because I need space and autonomy to write efficiently), but the issue is that they are missing the point that I want to work with them and am in fact willing to work with them. At the end of the day, this may not be all that bad, as when you are inside something you fail to see its faults, and believe me, I see the faults.
Second: They didn’t seem appreciative of the fact that I want to donate money I get from my books to them. Why would I do a reading myself and then donate money to an organization that won’t even take part? That’s just basic rational self interest. Common sense would tell me I do the reading for me, and not donate money to an organization that clearly doesn’t want to be involved. This is a lose-lose situation, all the way around, in the sense that nobody benefits. They are, again, cutting me off and leaving no room for discussion. It’s clever rhetoric, but boy is it infuriating.
So, based off the letter, what options do they give me? They are willing to go as far as to give me statistics or program guides. That may seem like a step in the right direction, but think about it further, in all honesty: How will a few statistics and a program guide help my ambitious project The Crumbling Mansions? I want to tell the truth, and while statistics will be helpful, the whole book can’t be about statistics or it will be unhelpful to the public. Not only that, I can find statistics anywhere. And as far as program guides … I fail to see how that could ever be helpful. I could find information about their program on their website. I don’t need them for that.
That is about all the letter consists of. It’s airy, vacuous, and it doesn’t address the points that really matter: Namely, the fact that I want to write for them and that I would appreciate their help with being accurate.
Now of course, we have to focus on the good: They at least granted me autonomy. But they have to do that anyway. I’m a writer, and I need autonomy. And they certainly can’t take that away, unless they want to pass laws to take away my freedom of speech.
My point being, these organizations have mastered this type of rhetoric in order to avoid making changes and making relationships that could have long-term benefits even with short term sacrifice. I hate saying this, but they go out of their way to keep me out of their program (and they do it in such a succinct and indirect way). If the most they can do is provide statistics, it’s clear they have no interest in working with me (why didn’t they just say this upfront, though, so I wouldn’t waste my time?). That may be out of rational self interest too, but I detect something a little more sinister than that, though I couldn’t exactly define what that is. But either way, they aren’t interested in forging a relationship and working with someone who cares about the homeless, just in a non-traditional way. I’m willing to use my resources and my time and my skills to contribute to their cause, and they won’t have it.
Anyway, I don’t want this to be a rant, and I don’t want to paint it all black and white. I don’t have an agenda: I’m not going to try to make this organization look bad, and you’re free to draw your own conclusions. But I at least hope that my points have validity. I’m really trying to make a difference here, and with these organizations, it falls on deaf ears, over and over again.
So to close, I go back to the difficulty of what I’m trying to do: I may have the appropriate skillset, but I don’t have the right contacts. And so, because I don’t, I continue to get stifled.
The good news is, this isn’t stopping me. This is just the beginning. This is a deconstruction of how some organizations work, and I think it needed to get done. Just recall my other piece on trying to freelance for a homeless youth center and how they completely disregarded me. It’s hard to fight when the battle is uphill and you don’t get support, but that’s okay. As my friend Andrew said: Forget these organizations and just write your book.
I’m going to do just that.
But it saddens me the divide that exists among these organizations and the public. You want to help the homeless? Trust me: It’s not going to be easy.