beck

The thing about stealing other people’s writing.

When it comes to the repercussions of my actions (particularly by way of sending people Facebook messages and anticipating a response, ‘liking’ posts on various social media platforms, messaging artists via Etsy about purchasing their work, etc.), I get so anxious that I’m convinced I’m going to pass out, or worse, shit myself. Luckily, the latter hasn’t happened—but the first has and more than once. I’m a nervous person and probably should be on some cocktail of anti-anxiety meds and anti-depressants, but I’m on neither, and thus exist in this space where I’m so afraid of my own digital shadow that there are somatic consequences. The problem with me is that this anxiety doesn’t make me a passive actor: no, I’m not afraid of the cause, just the effect.

So you could imagine the dilemma that arose when an ex-friend, one I had a messy enough falling out with to warrant her never speaking to me again, referenced an in-joke from a manuscript I’d been working on since 2011 on her Tumblr. Is she going to steal my work or is she just… reminiscing? She’d been among the most supportive during the bulk of my writing process, what would have become inside jokes with myself became inside jokes with her, and she even contributed her own character to the rich universe I’d created: the protagonist’s boyfriend. It was perfectly possible that, well, it was less about me and more about the role she herself had played. But still. This was no good.

She wasn’t referencing her own work–not the character she’d written–but mine.

The first thing I did was research copyright laws. The manuscript in question was my thesis, there was robust enough a virtual footprint that I could prove to anyone who asked that this was, indeed, my intellectual property, but would that hold up in a court? Did it matter my professor had seen me through writing and re-writing this for the greater part of six months? Luckily for me,  all signs ultimately pointed to yes. And then, for good measure, I manically submitted excerpts to any lit mag I could find, as well as posted them to my online professional portfolio (which naturally counts for shit, but you know, paper trails, etc).

The second thing I did was ask everyone I know for advice. Should I threaten to kill myself to prove that I’m the conductor of the train to crazy town and that I’ll stop at nothing to protect my art? Should I say something less…batshit insane, but still scary enough to put the kibosh on any novel-stealing-plans she had? The consensus was either ignore it or give it a subtle nod, an “I saw that,” but nothing incendiary. So I ‘liked’ it, reblogged it with a counter-joke and now I wait, on the edge of my seat, hoping to god she doesn’t acknowledge me or that I don’t wake up with a confrontational text/email.

The thing that’s really ridiculous about all this, besides the glaring issue of me being a self-obsessed shitbag, is that I’m pretty well entrenched in writing communities. I have a 4-year degree in writing. Playwrights, screenwriters, novelists, poets, journalists—I run the gamut on writerly friends and at all levels of success. I’ve worked (and extensively) in almost all areas of the publishing industry.

The theme that’s common enough is that successful writing is, as my favorite professor once put it, “magical thinking.” Good writing is difficult to sell, in any capacity, let alone poorly edited theses. The paranoia is, all together, unwarranted and after all, I wasn’t exactly writing One Direction fan fiction. And better yet: the girl in question is too lazy to write her own material, material I know she’s passionate about and has dedicated multiple therapy sessions to.

The entire premise is preposterous no matter how you slice it.

If anything, I should be a little taken aback that she’s clinging to jokes from a dead friendship (or sharing them with other people).  I probably shouldn’t even be lurking on her blog in the first place. Hell, maybe it was bait to confirm I was snooping. Because I do. Multiple times a day. And I know that she has an analytics app installed and keeps an eye on her visitors.

I mean, who else is visiting her site from Buttfuck Nowhere, New England at 3am with no referring link? 😦

Line, hook and sinker, I guess.

–Beck

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