A Writer By Any Other Name

Sometimes all a writer has is their name. And sometimes they don’t even have that.

Words are intangible. When you speak them, they do not last. They can be misheard, or forgotten, or misquoted. They can be claimed by someone else.

When you write online as I do, it is easy for your words to be separated from your name.

Not long after I wrote The Brutal Truth About the Third Child, a post about the differences between my three different pregnancies, a friend sent me an email with the comment ‘here’s a really funny story about having three kids, I thought you might like it’.

I did like it. I wrote it.

She had been sent an email with the body of my post cut out of my blog, and she had simply forwarded it to me. I am sure that whoever did the initial cutting and pasting did not mean anything malicious by it, indeed, they must have enjoyed my writing enough to send it to friends. But they had removed my name from the piece, and therefore took the one thing that linked me to my words.

Watching the stats for that one post, as it went a bit viral and bounced around the net, I was stunned by the numbers of people who were clicking on my blog to read that post.

But I was equally stunned by the fact that the numbers were not changing significantly on the hundreds of other posts on my blog.

Didn’t they like me? Why weren’t they sticking around and following my blog?

It has taken me a while to realise that – with a few exceptions – readers don’t care about the writers. They care about words, they care about stories and how they make them feel, but they don’t really care about the person who put they words together.

I prove this to myself almost every day when someone sends me a link or shares a post, which I then click on and read, laugh or frown or weep, and then click away again. I might click ‘like’ or share the post, but rarely do I stay to poke around the blog. Why? My time is short, my attention span limited, and sometimes I can see that the post is not reflective of the rest of the blog.

For whatever reason, it seems it is the individual piece of writing that has life and is important, not the individual who wrote it. As someone who writes for a living, this has been a bitter pill to swallow. While there are beloved family and friends who will read whatever you write because you are you, they tend to be the exception, rather than the rule.

So this is why I feel that having your name attached to your writing is important. It might be an exercise in futility because of everything I just mentioned, but every now and then, someone will see your name and begin to associate your words with a person, and a relationship is forged.

So why is it then, that everyone keeps getting my name wrong?

The first time I was published in the newspaper, having won a short story competition, my name was written as Shannon Meyerkor.

Then, when I published an article about having a caesarean section in Offspring, a national parenting and lifestyle magazine, I was credited in the front of the magazine as Shannon Meyerkart.

Most recently, in a story in the Sunday Times where I was interviewed about my article about share food etiquette, the caption under the photo has me as Shannon Merykort.

I have to admit, I like Merykort the most so far. It makes me sound happy.

When I read stories to my children before bed, I make certain I always read out the name of the author and illustrator after I read the title. It is their link to the stories that make my children happy, and I want them to understand that a person somewhere, behind a computer, has put these words together: it is their livelihood, it is their talent, it is their gift.

Brown Eyes and Spaghetti (My Side of the Story)

The other day was Valentine’s Day.

The day before that was my 14th wedding anniversary.

And the day before that I spent an hour staring into the brown eyes of not one, but two lovely young men, neither of whom happened to be my husband.

I’ll explain.

In Perth, there are two main food critics. Rob Broadfield writes for the West Australian, while Gail Williams writes for the Sunday Times. I read both their work with interest, not only to find out about new places to visit (or avoid), but because I am interested in the craft of reviewing. That’s what I do.

In October last year Gail Williams finished a review lamenting the fact there needed to be an etiquette guide to sharing food. So I emailed her a link of my WeekendNotes article ‘Share Food Etiquette: Top Tips to Surviving the Share Plate Experience’.

Although she replied promptly, she indicated she was going away and she’d contact me when she returned. When I hadn’t heard from her a few weeks later, I sent a gentle reminder, asking her if she had enjoyed the article, but when nothing more was heard, I decided not to the be crazy stalker person, and let it go.

It felt like an opportunity had vanished, and I‘ll freely admit I was disappointed.

So three months later when the phone rang on a Tuesday morning, I was surprised when it was Gail asking to interview me about the share food experience, and to let me know she was going to use my etiquette rules for an article that would run in the Sunday Times. Was that ok, and by the way could I come in for a photo-shoot? Oh, and there would be food.

So this was how I came to be staring into the eyes of lovely young men, as four of us posed for a photograph to accompany the story. There was the ‘poor student’, the ‘big eater’, ‘the industry professional’, and me, ‘the expert food blogger’.

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We had met at Lallah Rookh in the city, a small bar and eating house I had heard of, but never visited before. At ten in the morning the staff were getting ready for the day, but when I walked in, the photographer was already there, table set, lights burning.

With a delicious spread in front of us, we were told to pose handing each other dishes, serving ourselves food, twirling forks in the pasta. I twirled my pasta so much, I couldn’t get it off the fork to eat. So much parmesan was served, it looked like a small beach, and all the while two lovely tall frosty glasses of beer stood untouched in front of us.

We were told to look each other in the eye and smile, something I normally don’t have an issue with. I like to look people in the eye, and I’m a bit of a smiler, but what I am not used to (I came to realise, while already hot and sweaty under the lights) is looking for an extended period of time directly into the eyes of men. I probably don’t look into my husband’s eyes for an extended period of time, unless we are trying to pass telepathic messages about the kids to each other. Maybe that’s something I need to work on.

I got a bit flustered looking at the owner of the bar that I ended up dropping the head of the prawn I was meant to be offering him, thus splattering smoked tomato salsa all over his hand. I’m hoping that won’t be the photo they end up using. Some expert.

*   *   *

The story was published today, and sure enough there is a picture of me staring through half-closed eyes at another man. I swear, it was the chicken pasta I was in love with.

It’s confronting seeing yourself in a picture someone else has taken. It’s even more confronting seeing what happens when someone else uses your words.

But as a writer I have done it myself. People offer you a story, usually full of pauses and gaps, backtracks and corrections, and as writers we smooth it over, alter it slightly to read better. But the words are no longer your own. You might have said it slightly differently, or focussed on something else. It is something I will need to remember for all future articles where I quote other people, to listen between the lines, and be sensitive to what they are trying to say. What I write might not be what they were trying to say.

I had hoped that a link to the original article I wrote would have been included in the article, but with a name like mine, I’m guessing people will find me if they really want to.

Just in case, here is a link to the original story I wrote.

And for the record, I really am in love with the roast chicken pasta we twirled.

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