I don’t generally mention work stuff much here, partially because I’m sure not many of you are as interested in the scandalous inner workings of the freelance copywriting industry as I am but mostly because it’s incredibly unprofessional. I think I can safely relay this little vignette, though, and anyone out there who wants to can pat me on the top of my beautifully coiffed head and tell me I was very sheltered in university (and have continued to be so since then) and that this stuff goes on much more frequently than I’d ever imagine.
At any rate, from time to time I do some work for students, mostly proofreading or light editing for major papers or things like grad school applications. I love working with students because for the most part they’re very earnest and hard-working and gracious and appreciative to boot, so it really doesn’t feel like much of a chore at all to help them get into an MBA program or avoid flunking out of biology class. This evening, however, I received an email from a student who seemed to want help with … an article. For a workshop. A writing workshop. It was all very cloak-and-dagger, vague email address & signed with initials only, that sort of thing, and after a total of 9 emails back and forth I’m still not entirely sure whether he (she?) wanted me to write the assignment for him or just help him plagiarize the article. He seemed to want to keep things anonymous but he still seemed to feel fairly confident and comfortable in what he was asking for, and while I couldn’t quite figure out exactly what that was, I felt fairly confident and comfortable that I didn’t want to be involved, so I politely declined and wished him luck.
In somewhat related news, we received a voicemail from our realtor a month or two ago, which wasn’t particularly surprising since he has checked in every few months since we bought our house from him almost three years ago. What was surprising, however, was the fact that the voicemail was to inform us that he was being audited, and to request (rather nonchalantly, I felt) that if we received a call from the Canada Revenue Agency and were asked if we had received a housewarming gift from him (the realtor, not the CRA agent) to respond in the affirmative and to say it was a fairly expensive painting. Which would be fine if we had received such a painting, but did not exactly seem fine, primarily due to the fact that we did not, in fact, receive a painting of any description, much less one to which we would affix the adjective “expensive”. Mike sent him a brief email to that effect, to which (shockingly enough) we never received a response.
I’m not naive, exactly, and I guess everyone cheats on their taxes and I guess most students plagiarize something at some point in time, but I feel uncomfortable with the fact that it seems like a perfectly normal thing to ask someone else to be complicit in it, like involvement in a crime (no matter how small it is) is not at very LEAST a GIANT FAVOUR that needs to be prefaced with, “Hey, can I ask you for a GIANT FAVOUR?” and at worst the kind of thing you really only ask of your spouse or the friend you’ve had since elementary school who knows you committed the crime in the first place because they were there WITH you so they aren’t exactly shocked to be asked to help you cover it up.
I can kind of understand that sometimes you get caught between a rock and a hard place as a result of stupid decisions you’ve made, and that sometimes you feel like your only option is to keep on making stupid decisions, and I know we’re not talking about laundering drug money or burying a body here, but I can’t for the life of me envision a scenario in which I would call a CLIENT of all people and say, “Hey, I hope you’re enjoying that tri-fold brochure I wrote for you, if you need anything else don’t hesitate to call or email, and byyyy the wayyyyy I need you to lie to the government for me, mmmmkay? Have a good weekend and we’ll talk soon!” If the line between the personal and the professional gets any blurrier, pretty soon I’m going to be asking clients to feed the cats while we’re on vacation and dropping off a dozen chocolate chip cookies to a bunch of different houses because my favourite recipe just makes so many and we’re only two people and if we keep ALL of them I’m going to gain TEN POUNDS.