Because I wanted to give writing — like honest to goodness get-PAID kind of writing — a legitimate shot. As legitimate as I could give it while maintaining full-time employment & with the mountain of debt I’ve been shuffling around for the past 10-15 years staring at me every damn day. So, instead of just playing it safe with the gigs that I had — taking what was offered, rarely sticking my nose out, never pitching outside of my comfort zone — I threw my hat in the ring, risked absurdity, and all that stuff. For about six to nine months — I think between June 2011 and March of 2012; I’d have to consult the list of freelancing work I don’t have access to anymore to be sure — I was published and paid by the following publications:
- Indy Week
- Kill Screen Magazine
- The Village Voice
- Paste Magazine
The moments when I got the thumbs-up from an editor for a pitch I made were great. The moments when I hit SEND on a piece that I spent all night on were great. The post-SEND moments where I felt I did good work were also great, but rare. Everything else — the stupid hours I kept to get the work done (around my 9-to-5), the meager pay, chasing down that meager pay, and of course the actual fucking writing — made me a miserable despondent mope. More miserable than usual, that is; while all this was going down, I was also expending loads of energy actively hating my full-time job.
Just as a brief aside on the former dayjob: When a headhunter approached me about applying for an opening in the overworked understaffed group I was currently stuck in — an opening that was available because a former full-time coworker spent 18 months working maybe 20 hours a week doing everything in his power to make more work for the rest of us — doing 95% of what I was currently doing, but with a paybump of approximately 25-30%, after not having received a raise for four of the five years I worked there, and having had my pay docked for 2 of those years (which conveniently coincided with a sale of my employer to a larger corporation), I had to laugh. And then verify that my resume was updated.
Suffice it to say that my I spent most of my week miserable, and too much of my downtime dreading the misery, and a good portion of the time I spent searching for a new job wondering what the hell I was going to do. When I originally decided, sometime in 1998, to go for a degree in something job-friendly — spending my early 20s as an unskilled college dropout did a number on me, boy — the plan was to give The Man his 40 hours, but then stick it to him on the sly with the writing thing. Writing was supposed to be an escape, a place where I didn’t have to deal with any quotidian bullshit. That I was able to fool folks into paying me to write things was a bonus; it wasn’t the fiction or poetry or what-have-you I imagined I’d make my millions off of (cough) (teenagers are so dumb), but it was something, and having it as a supplement instead of my main source of income was nice.
That is, until I made it not nice. I turned my quiet little hobby into another source of frustration and grief, and put myself in a position where I wanted to not write anymore. To be fair, that’s usually my default position; if I’d known that working the 9-to-5, especially one I hated, would slowly erode my interest in doing anything else once the whistle blew, maybe I would’ve made different decisions 14 years ago. At any rate, I quit writing. And, with one exception, I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just told myself I was going to stop, and let e-mails go unanswered, and let whatever few contacts I had fall by the wayside, and let entropy take hold. I originally told myself I was going to stop with the paid stuff to work on writing for me, but after a couple of weeks of downtime, I knew that was bullshit. I just wanted to take control of something that I could control, and do with it what I wished. So I pulled the plug, on just about everything.
On one level, I empathize with Bethlehem Shoals’ Dear John letter to his writing career. I’ve never had the pleasure of acquainting myself with an agent, or working on a book proposal, but outside of how much farther up the ladder he was than I, the shit still smells the same. Even before the web stuck print publishing in the woodchipper, everything conspired to make freelancing a tough row to hoe. Now, with content farms and the hand jive of SEO and most long-running publications getting smaller and smaller and most newer publications rarely making it into a 2nd year, it’s a daunting gauntlet that’ll weed out even the most fervent believer. At least those whose interest in eeking out a living above the poverty line means as much, if not more, than seeing one’s name up in lights.
But now that I’m in a much better full-time situation, I find myself ruing the bridges I passive-aggressively burned about a year ago. Not just the ones involving me getting a chance to spit out a couple hundred words about some album or some band, but the ones I burned in my mind about doing anything writery at all. That involved letting the domain name I used to store all my bloggery from the past 16 (!) years, good old falsebinary.com. I didn’t lose any of that work, thankfully; it’s somewhere, in a WordPress database, just waiting to be downloaded and reposted here, or elsewhere. But I think I’m just going to leave it where it is for now, if not for a long while. My hope is that a complete fresh start, even if it’s purely cosmetic, does something for me. As for what this thing will become, I don’t know. After all the times I promised myself and “the world” to do something with this, I figure it’d be better to just stay mum and see what happens.