Oppression’s Essential Guide to Nowhere: Poking Holes in the Roadmap to Success, Part 1

White business man giving a thumbs up in a classic depiction of dominant culture, photo by Sandra Dragojlovic
Dara Burwell, Coffee Shop

Dara Burwell

I am lectured by my internalized oppression: “A writer?  Fool.  Do you honestly believe that what you have to say matters or carries any importance in the world?  That anyone will want to hear it?  You speck.  You nothing.  The Universe doesn’t want you, arrogant Black girl.  Play with your writing circle- they will be kind to you.  Don’t even consider something so absurd as publishing.  It’s folly.”

I sit and listen.  The tapes play again and again in different forms.  They are ultimately shared tapes- echoed in the minds of millions of people around the world at this very moment.  Mass produced with the appearance of specificity- slight tweaks and variations to better capture each individual listener.  The most popular song in the world could never get half as many hits.  And the tapes block connection to myself.

I sit down and open The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published, anyway.  It is one of my conscious efforts to poke at the internalized oppression, to try and unseat it.  Checking this book out, along with eight more like it, was another conscious effort.  A slow moving one because they have been sitting in my apartment, untouched, for the past four or five months as I have checked them out, been cut off from more renewals, put them on hold, checked them out again, and cycled on through.  Until today.

By the time I receive an unexpected call from a good friend, however, I am shaken.  I have worked to “be good.”  The book lays out a step-by-step guide to publishing one’s work, and I have taken notes in my journal and even photocopied the pages that seem most relevant.  Everything is laid out in such neat steps in the book, and in such a cheerful tone, that I have been working to suppress the growing sense of dread rising within me.  It is not until I begin speaking with her, unaware of just how profoundly the book has impacted me, that I recognize my own sense of panic, the resurgent tide of internalized oppression coupled with the feeling of being squished.  I dump on my unwitting friend.

“The book even has a check list that tells you not to start if you can’t agree to live with the following commitments:

  • Do you want to spend many, many hours working on something that may never see the light of day?
  • Are kids, partners, jobs and recreation going to be obstacles that you can get around?
  • Do you have the discipline, focus and attention span it takes to make a book and get it published? 
  • Are you self-motivated enough to grind it out month after month?
  • Can you stand being alone in a room, staring at a blank computer screen or an empty piece of paper?
  • Can you put aside regular chunks of time to work on your book?
  • Do you have the desire to shape your life to make the time you need?
  • Besides the hundreds of hours you spend writing your book, will you also be able and willing to set aside chunks of your day in the great time suck known as social networking, and then continue to nurture those networks for an indefinite period of time?

It’s as though they are saying: ‘if you are completely miserable and ignore the rest of life for the next 10 to 30 years, you too can be a guaranteed success!  And, once you get there, it will all be worth it.’”

“They’re joking about the list, right?” She responds, sincerely asking.

“No!  They’re not joking.  That’s the actual list.  And there are several others like it.”  I begin to detail the expectations.  The recommendation to travel to local bookstores to see how much space one’s genre is allotted and to gain the ears of store managers and employees to find out why.  The proposed spreadsheets to categorize the title, subtitle, author, publisher, year of publication, and publication process for potential competitor books.  The exhaustive online research to determine which subjects within a genre are being explored, and are therefore more likely to be published.  The endless social networking, self-advocacy, and out-of-pocket expenses.  Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  I give her a broad sampling.  “I am completely overwhelmed.  How am I supposed to do all of that?” I ask rubbing my chest above my heart.

My friend expresses doubt that all of these things are truly required to publish a book, though she isn’t sure.  She is certain, however, that knowing the right people is the first key to getting published, which the book doesn’t mention.  Of their suggestions, she laments for me over the networking, in particular.  She knows that I have a very pronounced anti-social streak.  In the end, she declares that a prayer circle might be more useful than this book.

I half laugh at this, knowing that she’s not really joking.  And, the implications of her suggestions are vivid, particularly when she points out that the book doesn’t make any reference to intuition.

For many reasons, this is not exactly shocking.  Ways of knowing, such as intuition, are typically understood to be in the realm of the feminine.  Devalued and associated with an unreliable, unpredictable, woo-woo sort of thing that “real men” and “real business people” ignore as the flights of fancy that they must be (read: sexism).  Even according to the guidelines given by The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published– what publisher would publish a book in which intuition and a grounded sense of connection to the Universe were mixed into a business model?  And why would any how-to book dare to make reference to the vast inequalities and differential access that would make any “universal” process ridiculous?  People don’t like the suggestion that they fall on one side or another of a set-up.

Indeed, these suggestions are hardly remarkable.  In the course of starting and nurturing Transformative Alliances LLC, all of the business books, courses, and counseling I have received expect the same extra-human feats.  These all-consuming processes are considered standard “best practices”, and they are deeply intertwined with capitalism and fierce individualism.  After all, if you cannot figure out how to be a phenomenal researcher, networker, writer, and marketer with absolute dedication and a will of iron, you can either pay someone to fill the gaps for you, or chalk any failures up to your own inadequacies.  According to these models, structural and systemic advantages and barriers are relegated to the same cone of silence as speculations about unicorns.

And these models are very culturally specific.  They represent the quintessential roadmap to middle class success.  Not to mention a guaranteed trigger.

To read part two, please click here.

2 Comments on “Oppression’s Essential Guide to Nowhere: Poking Holes in the Roadmap to Success, Part 1

  1. When I saw on your FB wall a link to this post, I thought, “Yes! Dara’s shared her writing, her thoughts, her intuition again.” I hurried clicked. Maybe we should add that to the list….Do people feel excited and a sense of urgency to read your words?

    Thank you for the kind birthday wishes,
    Adrienne

    • Adrienne, thank you for this post! I so appreciate your encouragement! I think it is actually one of your special gifts. Thank you. I hope that the rest of your week has been a good one. And, I hope that your birthday was fabulous, too- I forgot to check in with you about that! All my best to you.

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