It’s rare, but I feel the need

I’m quite upset. And I know I’ll feel better after writing about it. Whether you stick around for the rant or not really doesn’t matter, but I hope you do. If you’d rather not, scroll on down to the photos.

I’ve been a member of the Garden Writers Association for five years, and will probably continue as one for many years to come (the yearly membership fee is $85, sound steep? I agree. More such figures to come). Lately though, I’ve been asking myself if I’m really getting anything out of it. That is, has it brought me any new writing and/or photography opportunities? Here’s the real question: Has it contributed in any way to the cash flow in my checking account? Unfortunately, my answer is no. If it has, I’ve yet to receive the deposit slip.

Some might say, “You can’t be sure because you have no way of knowing what the future holds and you could develop a connection via GWA that could provide a financial gain.” I admire those who might be content waiting for a dollar to come their way in the year 2525. I don’t have that much time. If I had concrete evidence of something the GWA has supplied that has brought me income, I wouldn’t be voicing my frustrations as I am now.

I love writing about gardening, all aspects, all levels, everything and anything about it is a topic of interest to me as a garden communicator. And I try most ardently with what I write to transfer a smidgen of my knowledge to anyone willing to use it. I also know that I’m not perfect and will mess up from time to time, and you have every right to let me know when that happens. (Even if I’m apt to get cross about it, like most writers I know, I don’t take criticism very well.)

Another thing I love about my profession is the networking opportunities, and the chance to meet a lot of like-minded folks who do what I do. And the regional GWA meetings are a great way to network and meet new friends. This is a good thing, and probably the only reason I can justify why I will continue to pay my yearly dues.

I don’t have to remind anyone about the economic situation we’re seeing all over the country. Layoffs, workers taking time off without pay so they can keep the job they have, folks working from home, some working for less pay, hiring freezes, company closings and layoffs, the news is bleak (unemployment in my county of residence is over 10% right now). Add to that the housing crisis with a lot of folks losing their homes, and it’s enough to make even a stoic feel some degree of apprehension.

But $85 is quite expensive for a phone book (i.e., the GWA Membership Directory), and I still have to pay to attend regional meetings. The cost, usually around $35, for those meetings isn’t bad, and my wife and I are attending a Region II gathering at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh in a couple of weeks. So, although I do feel a smidgen of pride being a GWA member, it’s the cost of their annual symposiums that are baffling me right now.

This year’s Annual Symposium is being held in Raleigh, North Carolina. And at 5 days in length it has a tremendous amount to offer. But for someone like me who’s struggling financially, the cost of attending the gala seems to be astronomical. For me to attend the entire event, the cost would be $986.96, and that’s not including transportation or the cost of an optional Social Media Workshop ($95), or one of either two garden tours ($60 for one, $40 for the other). Should I decide to “rob Peter to pay Paul” (stop tempting me Satan!) the cost of attendance for the five days would be well over $1,000, probably closer to $1,500.

You might be wondering if they have cheaper options. Yes, you can attend one day’s worth for $175, but with so much going on the other four days, one day’s worth of activities for that price would feel like a rip off, plus for me, driving (or catching a flight) that far for only one day would be silly. (Wouldn’t it? Stop tempting me Satan!)

I network on Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn, and via blogging, with other GWA members. Most of them seem unaffected by the high cost, but I have no way of knowing. I can say I’ve not seen but one other witty remark regarding the cost. One twitterer, cityslipper, said “I CAN afford GWA! I’ll just help a dude at the International Credit Bank make a $5.5 mil funds transfer (I get 40%)!”

I hope cityslipper gets the chance to attend, it sure looks like I’ll not be going. But here’s a contrasting thought: If I had a full time job, and made a decent salary, I’m pretty sure I’d already be registered without giving much thought to what it cost. Does that make everything I said before irrelevant? Or does it just add to the complications of life, and both the joy and sadness of trying to figure out what it all means?

I promised pictures for those wanting to skip my lengthy rant, I hope they’re a little more worthy of your attention.

$85 Phone Book

What I drive around with

Multiflora rose, an invasive species in many states, including Pennsylvania.

She gets like this when it’s her time to mow.

The life I live.

By TC Conner

Pro hobbyist photographer, drone enthusiast, musician, husband and father.

22 replies on “It’s rare, but I feel the need”

Ms. Esther: Thanks for you insight. Right now, I'm trying to get two teens through high school and college. The time it would take to organize something myself would be too much of a burden. I'm not sayingit's a bad idea, just that it's not a viable alternative in my case.

As someone who has very little money – I suggest you set up a parallel organisation.If you haven't, so far, benefited in the way you would have liked from being a member of the GWA, you could (perhaps?) organise something yourself.I can't afford train travel. I've stayed in a hotel only once in my life and bed-and-breakfast about five times – ever (!) and I feel sad at times (possibly alienated) that many things are arranged with the assumption that participants automatically have what I would consider to be a lot of money.However . . . if you have friends who might put up participants or speakers for a night simply because it would be interesting to do so . . . and if you were happy to have people to stay . . . would it be possible to have an event completely tailored to your own tastes and wishes? It may turn out to be surprising what good speakers you might attract to an informal but informed conference like that.Esther

Ms. Daisy: It is tough to analyze it dollar for dollar. I'm not sure if I'd feel this way about the cost if I were gainfully employed. What does this say about my thinking process regarding the entire situation? Perhaps I've been a bit selfish with my reasoning.

I've given thought to other conferences in much the same way. A $ for $ analysis just isn't possible. wishing you luck – and enjoying your pictures!

Ms Tina: I've never been to a GWA symposium. Minus the expense, everything they offer at those is beneficial to someone in the business of garden writing. I do regret that I can't afford to attend. And how do I go about not giving it another thought?? ;~)

Hang tough TC. Though the conference would probably be most fun, we can hear about it all from the comfort of our homes without the hassle of driving and fighting the crowds. I like that way much better. When I was in the Army the Aviation Association would have conferences all the time and I found them not to be that great with networking. Good thing the Army paid for us to go:) You do WAY more networking on your other social networks so don't give another thought.

Anonymous: It's good to have opposing views isn't it? After all, that's what makes things worth discussing. I'm sure you have benefited greatly from membership in GWA, and maybe I too will feel the same one of these days. But I don't right now. And maybe it has something to do with my financial situation (no, I'm not blaming my joblessness on GWA) which prevents me from doing a lot of things I'd like to do. You've been in the business a long time my friend, you're well established, well traveled, well read, and well, just plain well experienced!I'm lacking a lot of what you, and other long-lived garden writers have, and just don't feel like I'm getting much benefit from GWA membership. Does that mean I think it's not a good organization? No. Does it mean I think they don't have good programs? Again, no. Does it mean I think they don't have their finger on the pulse of the average member who writes a weekly column in a small town newspaper? Perhaps. By the way, I don't fish, camp, attend professional sporting events, rent movies, have excessive cell phone bills (we got rid of our land line phone and saved money by switching over to cell phones), or do anything to "fritter away" money. I use my tiller about once or twice a year. Gas and oil for it cost around five bucks. It's a very small tiller. I don't consider that frittering away money and it's much much less than the cost of my annual dues and the symposium. I paid $199 for the tiller ten years ago. That still don't come close to what it'd cost me to attend this year's GWA Annual Symposium.One last thing: Thanks for finally stoppin in and leavin a comment you old coot! One more last thing. I still love ya!

well, i HAVE benefited – GREATLY – from my association with GWA (many contacts which have led to MANY speaking engagements, unbelievably improved presentations from having been exposed to gardens and gardeners and garden styles and plants from every corner of the country, plus free admission to botanic gardens, plus the INCREDIBLE folks i have met and associated with over the years… even a guy named TC…and even if i did all this as a hobby, it is ALL TOLD much, much cheaper than a bass boat, camping equipment, tickets to professional football or going to operas or whatever else people do to fritter away their money… and member ship is a lot less than even belonging to a movie rental business. and a lot less than my cell phone, computer connection, and etc. that i "depend" on…oh, and i don't own a power tiller, which would cost more than my membership and the annual symposium. bottom line is, any good professional association provides rewards based on involvement. which comes with several different kinds of costs.

I say skip the NC trip and keep blogging. Your rant wasn't THAT much of a rant – more of a meditation. It's hard to make a living doing something you love. Usually, we have the choice of doing something we don't love to pay the rent, or doing something we love and never quite making enough to pay the rent. Life is compromise.

Ms. Claudia: Sometimes the detritus is much larger than I would care to admit. ;~)Dave: My decision to "carry around floral arrangements" was based in part on Felder Rushing's ideal truck bed garden (picture to be shown on "Say Nothin' Saturday"). Ms. Jennifer: Come back Saturday for a real "manly" man's truck bed flower garden.Ms. Marnie: I think the wait might be in order. Unfortunately. Ms. Susan: I've heard from a lot of folks on a LinkedIn discussion thread I started that disagree with my (and your) assessment of the high cost. And that's as it should be I suppose. But my thinking is cost is not a subjective thing. Something is either ridiculously overpriced, or it isn't. Thanks for your comment and I hope you stop in again soon. (I'll be seeing the GWA Region II Director soon, I think I might bring a few things to his attention.)Ms. Terri: If you find it, and there's enough left over to share, give me a call (724-967-2706). ;~PMs. Colleen: I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. Sometimes I have doubts about the cost of GWA membership. I plan on doing some serious reconsidering before extending my membership again. Mark: Hello and thanks for leaving a dissenting comment. Good dialogue must have both sides of the coin for critical analysis to take place. I understand how the GWA membership fee would be a bargain for you. And I'm sure the things you mentioned that have led to business deals are worth your time, effort, and expense. Unfortunately for me, those things have not materialized. I concur with your statement about meeting new friends through GWA membership, but my argument isn't directed toward those kinds of amenities. And since I'm not a member of any other professional organization, your comparison is unique to your own personal financial situation and has little relevance to what I could afford. I am still trying to come up with a plan that will allow me to make at least one day of the symposium, perhaps the day of the awards ceremony – Saturday. We'll see. Again, I appreciate your comments and understand your viewpoint regarding this discussion. Ms. flowergardengirl: Thanks for stopping and leaving a few words. I'm sure the GWA Symposium in Raleigh will be exciting and have plenty to offer. My argument has nothing to do with quality, and everything to do with quantity (i.e., cost). Ms. Luisa: Writing about it has relieved some of the pressure. As a writer yourself, I'm sure you know that feeling. Thanks for stopping by. ;~)Ms. Ginger: As Ms. Susan pointed out above, this year's membership book isn't all that different from last year's. And yes, that's a tire planter. Mississippi gardening guru Felder Rushing gave me a personal lesson on how to cut one. ;~)W2W: Yes, I do have a tendency to dig a little deeper when something really sticks in my craw. And my post has served as a venting mechanism this time. I'm a member on LinkedIn and posted a link on the GWA group discussion page to this post. It initiated some good feedback as well. I think, and I'm sure you'll agree, that well written dialogue on both sides of an issue can, and should, lead to positive results. (I'm going now to check out your post on Marnie's blog.)

When you plant a rant, you dig in pretty deep, TC! I feel some of your pain. I've joined a local writers' group, but the dues are fairly cheap, 50 bucks a year. My writing is not making me any money, landing me any contracts, or securing my future. And it probably never will. I do get immense pleasure and especially relief from the "voices" when I write something. Hehe. Don't give up on the important stuff, whatever that happens to be for you personally. I have an idea for you on Marnie's post about Nepeta, something to do with poetry, your specialty.

Yeah, that's a lot for a phone book!Is that a tire planter in the back of your truck? I like it! Thanks for visiting my blog and for the great squash advice!

I've only been a member for a year and just rejoined for another. I like it but hey, I'm in NC and only two hours away. I'll probably make the drive each day. I didn't go to the one in Seattle cause of cost. I too have made good friends. My writing is in TV commercials so I'm not benefiting from GWA but it does keep me in the know. The folks involved in the GWA this year are sincere and doing a fabulous job getting ready. I hope it's a good one.

GWA has directly and positively affected my bottom line, including attendance at numerous national meetings. I consider the dues a bargain at $85, which compares very favorably to the $350/year I pay for membership in either of two national professional photography associations.I work hard at the annual conferences, creating new images at locations I probably wouldn't otherwise have gotten to visit. License fees over the following few years have generally covered the cost of attending. I've made connections face to face that led to significant business. Some years are definitely better than others. The more distant the travel the more I seem to get out of it (probably because locally I think I can always go back to the locations but don't always do it).I've also made numerous friends from across the country through GWA. Those connections wouldn't have happened without attending the national meeting.GWA includes much more in the conference fee than many other organizations. You can share a hotel room (or stay at a cheaper motel down the street) to further reduce your cost. I'll definitely be looking at my cash flow this year before I commit to attending in 2009, but I'm likely to make the trip across the continent.– Mark Turner

TC,I'm not a member of GWA, and I won't be joining. It is, in my opinion, a complete and total waste of money. I've managed to land several very good garden writing gigs, including two book deals without being a GWA member. With four kids and future plans that require saving the money I make, I could not justify $85 for a phone book and upward of $1000 for a series of meetings. It just doesn't make financial sense to me.

That sounds like a great deal of money right now. We wouldn't be able to afford it. Not unlkess I found a "pasche" of extra money lying around somewhere!

You're so right about GWA costing us too much. I'm also a member of SEJ – soc of enviro journalists – and it's $20/year and we get MUCH more as members than GWA members do. And their conferences are cheaper because they associate them with universities, and maybe in other ways.Also, GWA spends a bunch of our money every year on a survey that we're always asking them to stop paying for – trends, etc – because others are doing it and we don't use it, anyway. I've heard rumors of conflicts of interest and the inability to get financial data from GWA, but so far, they're only persistent rumors. Who could look into it, I wonder?

I've never been a joiner so it wouldn't be a hard decision for me. But if I was, I would skip this year since it hasn't offered you much so far and then make the another decision next year when things may look altogether different. Anyway the phone book probably hasn't changed much since last years;)Marnie

I'd be upset too!! And BTW I love that you drive around with flowers in your manly truck. Total awesomeness

That does sound awful pricey. I've thought about joining and was wondering about the fees. I'm not sure it's worth it with so many other opportunities available. Do you always carry around floral arrangements in your pickup? 😉

Gosh, I've had to make these hard choices. I wish I could say something that would make the decision, even after it's made, feel easier. I can't.I think we have to find our own group, our own hive if you will. To me? If you are thinking about the cost, this is not the right place for you – pure and simple.I admire your courage at looking at the detritus in your life. Very hard to do.

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