Monday, July 31, 2006

To re-up, or not to re-up

So I'm sitting here, digging through the pile of month-end bills, and once again I turn up one that I've been shuffling back into the pile for the past few weeks: my SFWA annual dues statement. Do I really want to renew my membership in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America? I keep trying to come up with a compelling reason to do so.

I keep failing.

I first joined SFWA back in the 1980's. Didn't even know the organization existed until I'd already qualified for Active membership, at which time I was insanely flattered to be sought out and actively recruited to join. It was very validating; very gratifying. And truth to tell, it was fun to belong to SFWA back in those days: as a "pro" you got the Directory, which listed everyone else's home address and phone number, the Forum, which contained all the gossipy insider catfights, and most importantly, you got let into all the best private parties at all the big cons.

Which seemed like an important benefit, back when I was drinking heavily.

In time I got recruited to run for a seat on the SFWA Board, which was a mistake. Jim Baen tried to warn me; said that joining the Board would fill my head with stupid ideas that would ruin my career, and from his point of view he was probably right. The one thing my two terms on the Board really did for me was opened my eyes to just how many "name" writers were living on the ragged edge of poverty and dependent on the charity of others on a chronic basis, and how very, very few professional writers were actually making anything even remotely like a living from writing fiction.

A few years after that, I quietly dropped out. Having chaired the Membership Committee through yet another wretched re-examination of the membership rules, I'd taken a vow to quit if they ever reopened the Nebula or Membership rules debates again — and sure enough, they did. The organization can't help it. Every two or three years, they seem compelled to resume arguing over who can join the club and what the rules are for giving out cookies, and I'd had enough of that infantile nonsense. So I quit.

A few years after that, Vox talked me into rejoining. Like many of the things I've let Vox talk me into, it turned out to be a bad idea in the long run. The character and temperment of the organization has not improved any in the intervening years; the Internet has obviated the need for the Directory, and the catfights (which have mostly moved to blogworld) are no longer entertaining. Once upon a time, the Grievance Committee did good work for authors, but those days are long gone. You need to have a dynamic and growing market before the threat to withhold future work carries any weight. As a professional organization, SFWA simply does not make the grade.

But in looking through their web site for the figurative last time, I've just realized that there is one SFWA program I still find worthwhile: the Emergency Medical Fund. This one provides "interest-free loans" (read: grants) to writers who have serious medical problems but no medical insurance, which is an awful lot of them. And now I've suddenly realized that I have a much more useful place to send those dollars than to the general membership fund.

In memory of George Alec Effinger: award-winning genius, friend, and chronic hardship case...