[Latin prō bonō (publicō), for the (public) good : prō, for + bonō, ablative of bonum, the good.]
Definition: Done for the public good, without compensation.
No, it has nothing to do with U2.
A few days ago my business partner said something so touching and romantic I nearly swooned and turned into a girl puddle on the floor.
“No more pro-bono work,” he said. “It makes me feel like I’m not doing enough for you. I can handle shortchanging myself, but I can’t handle you being shortchanged.”
Birds chirped. Cherubs flew around my head, plucking at their tiny harps. An angelic glow linked our two hearts in a saccharine loop made up of Godiva chocolates and unicorns’ breath.
So yesterday, when he told me he took on a pro-bono job for a friend that would take “only an hour,” I went a little berserk.
No, I didn’t throw a vase, or writhe on the ground, or reenact a scene from War of the Roses. I did, however, say some nasty comments, and pull a little tit-for-tat action by posting a “services offered” ad for my writing on Craigslist. I also did that girl spectacle of flashing the whites of my eyes while seething. All in all, it was not my finest hour of conduct.
But I have my reasons and rationalizations. Even if they’re irrelevant and don’t justify my sudden regression to high-school-level bitchiness.
First of all, we were on serious deadlines for additional paying projects. The pro-bono gig in question was “maybe an hour” of work according to him, but that, to me, easily translates into one hour of writing after an entire evening of pondering. One thing that we both can’t stop doing is thinking about words, except when we’re playing Jenga, and then we’re really just out for blood.
Secondly, our agreement is this: if I do first pass he does second round of edits, and vice versa. My hands were tied to even step in and finish our paying gigs because it was rightfully his turn. I had already completed the first drafts for everything that was in the queue, so basically I would have to sit back and wait, just as he increased his workload. As somebody who is prone to anxiety attacks when simply watching a commercial for erectile dysfunction medication, this work-related pressure is enough to send me into a shivering paroxysm of panic.
Now, there are two issues at play here, and two morals of this story.
One, pro-bono work is a gray area. Although the timing was shitty — we had paying deadlines whose time could have potentially been compromised by the pro-bono job — to rule out working for free entirely was somewhat overzealous. I truly don’t believe you can, or should, completely disregard it as a possibility. There are a few reasons why.
There’s the issue of friendly trade-offs, which are important, and pretty much the foundation for neighborhoods and tribe building and all of that good stuff. If you have a pal who is skilled with assembling electronics, it’s likely you’ll call and ask her to come over and hook up your latest stereo system in exchange for dinner. That’s just what friends do, from Bose to bios. Because I’m antisocial and kind of mean this idea is a bit difficult for me to grasp. But bartering works, though it’s crucial that you set flexible deadlines so as to avoid any unnecessary stress or expectations.
Trade-offs for us in the past have included: a skateboard, business cards, a logo, and underpants.
Then there’s the sheer fact of wanting to do the job. Occasionally our word-seeking friends will be so phenomenally talented that we’ll actually jump at the chance to be associated with them. It’s a lucky way to grab fistfuls of coattails. Simon wrote a exceptionally witty bio for a friend of ours who is a graphic designer. When this chum went to present his portfolio at a very well respected design firm, the bio was referenced during the interview, and ultimately the job was his and recognition was ours. It’s a win-win situation, and to have charged our friend for it would have felt dirty.
And finally there’s portfolio building to take into consideration. A lot of the time those freebie gigs are what has given us the chance to prove that we can write outside of our usual, sporadic client roster. Offering our services, may it be to advertise for an experimental dance troupe or to save a dog, is good karma, if nothing else.
This is where my inner Gordon Gekko interjects: What’s worth doing is worth doing for money. But that’s not the focus of this post.
Well, in case you were wondering, the third act to our little Kabuki snit was that Simon had to put off the aforementioned pro-bono gig for a few days, namely because we received a request for revisions to a paying job, and that amount of work absolutely required two brains. (Not ours. We’re grave robbers.)
The second lesson to my fable is this: when you work with who you love you have to remember that you’re working with them. I wouldn’t have given the “Ughghgh, whatever” eye-roll to any of my coworkers or bosses of the past, even if they wildly deserved it. Therefore, I can’t take advantage of the fact that Simon saves me from spiders in my bedroom, has written the Lonely Planet guide to my G-spot, and knows where my scars come from. Our intimacy is not a free pass for me to be a bitch, both at work or at home. So there needs to be a little bit more maturity on my end. In general.
After all, most day laborers don’t have the luxury of knowing that they’ll have their birthday off, and they don’t get to sleep with the boss.
Current List Of Complaints
(because this is a blog, and I can write whatever I want to)
- I have small ants everywhere. This is supposedly a Portland thing, but I feel as though my life is filled with animated pepper.
- The heat.
- I miss my family. I associate summer with hanging out at Ditch Plains and seeing my dad make calamari after surfing, and grilling eggplant with my mom. Not seeing them on my birthday sucks, but this could just be PMS.
- The price of maxi pads with wings. (See above.)
- Birthdays. Mine and Simon’s. The former is just a day I want to go by without a single thing happening, other than sleeping in and possibly eating. The latter (on the 16th of August), well, I cannot for the life of me figure out what to give the kid. He’s turning thirty. Isn’t that the birthday where you’re supposed to get the other person a unicorn or Viagra?
Email all unicorns to AinsleyDrew at the gmail one.
Thanks to all who donate. Seriously. Kisses on the mouth are in store for you.
Don’t Hate, Remunerate