The words out of the mouth of the physician who has just fingered a small bump behind my ear are some of the most expensive I’ll ever hear: $200 a second, I think, or hour, or per syllable; the insurance will fight with me over whether this was a necessary visit, but not whether it was an expensive one. We know it was expensive. The cost is a cost, justified whether the bump is cancer or calcium.
Words of worth or just words of price–what is the difference, really? I ask my class of business students: how do we value things? Our shoes? Ideas? Art? (I wait on art, bring it in carefully at the end, a foreign dessert at the end of a familiar meal; afraid of their rolled eyes, giving up before they’ve started, grappling with vaguery, I talk about song lyrics, movies.)
Are value and price distinct? I aim the question at a quiet boy in the corner and as he stutters for an answer, I let my mind wander. What is my dollar worth for the words I deliver? For X dollars, I talk to people as they fall asleep in a classroom, make intricate triangle doodles on the sides of their papers.
“Consultations on your cash situation, even this–ironic or not–will run you a high bill. Any thoughts, anyone?” The boys in the back are trying to look up a pretty girl’s skirt. The pretty girl is texting from a sleek, black phone. The text message costs 5 cents per send. No one has an answer.
And then it occurs to me, that day, and many following, until the idea is soildified and it’s become a mantra and then a philosophy and I cannot back away from it anymore. For 5 cents at least, I will write. For the worth of my words, I will make something. Because a paycheck and a deadline will produce a finer stitching, will encourage a precision of hand, language, intellect, prose that can enliven: I will sell my work at the highest costs, at any cost, at cost.
Perhaps, then, Virginia Woolf may stop screaming from the heavens that we, writers, we, women, are poor. And we’ll have pennies as answers for counting.