Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Barding through Pamphlets

As my summer job was winding down last year I thought to myself "I need to create additional sources of income for myself. I sure would like to be able to make money off my writing somehow..."

That is how I became a pamphleteer. It's actually really fun to create your own series of chapbooks. I had enough material to produce five different chapbooks, three short stories and two poetry collections. After finding the cheapest printing available in my area I printed out about twenty copies of each, all told. Possibly more, though it's difficult to remember now. The cost of doing this was low. The plan was to sell the stories and the large poetry collection for five dollars each and the small poetry pamphlet for a dollar.

Plans change. I found quite early on in this endeavor that selling my work was much harder than giving it away. To most people on the street, the idea of paying to read something is offensive or stupid, or stupidly offensive. I'd ask people if they like like to read, and many of them simply replied "No, I'm illiterate." I think most of the strangers that paid for my pamphlets assumed I was homeless. In the end I was satisfied if I was able to cover the cost of printing the pamphlets.

You might think that this turned out to be a profitless exercise. You might be right. I certainly took my time coming to this conclusion, but I have also noticed some unexpected benefits of carrying around a stack of strange stories.

For example, you may have heard of the Seattle Freeze. In theory, this is a physical principal that prevents native Seattleites from being friendly or rude towards one another. Many out of towners complain that any "howdy" or smile, or even rude gesture proffered to a stranger on the street is invariably met with an indifferent gazing in the opposite direction. This is mostly true, except on the bus. You always thank the bus driver for the ride or you are an asshole.

So having a stack of things you want to share is a good way to introduce yourself to strangers around town, as long as you don't lead with your stream of consciousness poetry pamphlet. Strangely enough, it turns out that almost everybody is from out of town. I wonder what that says about the Seattle Freeze? That it's an import? I don't know.

If you don't charge, you will find that there are enough people interested in reading something new around town to make the whole thing worthwhile. Other unexpected plums manifested in the form of four edited manuscripts ready to submit for publication by reputable presses and not RAMS copy center. Even the scorned stream of consciousness collection found a surprising niche: Bums love it.

No kidding. I will sometimes give a bum a cigarette, or a quarter, and I am well aware of how little giving a bum anything is going to help their situation. Something I also became aware of is that transient life is boring and repetitive. All day long you make faces at strangers who mostly seem disgusted by you, and you guilt or charm them into giving you money, which you might spend to quell the gurgling in your gut or the pounding in your temples, and then an hour later the gurgling, the pounding returns. At night, the same pine cone jabs you in the back every time you move, and the most exciting part of your day is if you get robbed or arrested.

Enter "Sunday, Seattle" a small unassuming pamphlet that fits nicely in my front pocket. When asked for change, I'd give the asker a copy of the pamphlet, and warn them that the whole thing is for entertainment purposes only. As I've said, I've given out change and cigarettes before, but the gratitude in return for these acts is always minimal and then you will be asked for something else, something larger. These pamphlets brought genuine smiles to the lips of those homeless folks who read them, and genuine gratitude as well. I was not expecting that, but it's a good deal for everyone concerned I think. I should print up more.

As a side note, I should mention that Pamphleteering WILL NOT get you chicks. Fair warning.