How To Retrieve Your Print Job

Last week was my last week, for now, at the part-time job I’ve held for nearly two years. This week, I’m moving on to a different part-time job. When I’m done there, sometime this summer—it’s a maternity leave fill-in—I plan to come back to the first gig. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, I’ll probably have to find another one.

Nearly a decade has passed since I lost my Teen Vogue contract, a slightly belated casualty of Condé Nast’s McKinsey-led 2009 purge. (Belated because they’d held off on letting me go until the day after the release party for The Teen Vogue Handbook, a New York Times bestseller of which I wrote roughly half.) If memory serves, I was fewer than eight weeks into a new year-long agreement when they cancelled it, and they had to keep paying me for several more months, because I’d already done nearly half a year’s worth of work. Which is to say: I wasn’t exactly dead weight. Even after they voided the contract, they continued to assign me lots of stories.

Overall, I’d guess that they saved very little money when they first converted me from a contributing editor to a regular freelancer. But for me, it had a big psychological effect. Suddenly, I became like so many other freelance writers, never quite sure where my next check, or maybe just the check after the next check, was coming from. I love freelancing, but I’m not particularly well-suited to that aspect of it. So, for most of the last nine years, I’ve held some part-time job or another. And for many of those years, I was more than a little ashamed of that fact.

To some extent, the shame stemmed directly from the jobs themselves. True, there have been several semi-prestigious (or at least non-embarrassing) short-term gigs: early on, for example, I did a five-month stint at InStyle.com, where I created a slideshow of Michael Jackson’s “most iconic” looks to commemorate the first anniversary of his death and took a snapshot of an instructional sign that was taped to the wall above the printer and was headlined, “How To Retrieve Your Print Job.” (Of course, I had nowhere to post the picture, complete with jokey, rueful caption, because it was 2010 and I hadn't joined Instagram yet.) But, even as I continued writing for Teen Vogue and InStyle and, eventually, Elle, I earned an increasingly higher percentage of my annual income generating copy for a couple of magazines that were significantly less, um, aspirational.

On a practical level, I was worried that if the wrong person found out that I’d begun moonlighting for a gossip magazine, I might be blacklisted from the other, fancier publications I preferred to write for. (Now, of course, it makes me laugh to recall that I ever thought myself well-known enough, even if only by the publicists of celebrities, to be blacklisted.) But I was also deeply uncomfortable with the content, especially of the first of the two weeklies that I worked for, which was well-sourced enough that at least a few of the negative stories I was asked to write up seemed as though they might actually be true.

Fortunately, I only made it a few weeks before I was taken off the “hard news” beat, because I’d burst into tears while working on an article that would expose a professional athlete’s infidelity. I genuinely couldn’t help it—as I was typing, I kept thinking about how the piece might eventually be read by his wife, a beautiful former pop star. (“He’s the one who did this to her, not us,” my editor said, exasperated. “This isn’t even the first time he’s done it! He got caught screwing their nanny like five years back.”) But the crying, coupled with my congenital inability to go for the jugular, worked out well for me: I felt better about the work once I was relegated to the shorter, lighter stories about various celebrities’ sibling rivalries and birthing plans.

The second weekly I worked for didn’t pay as well, but it was closer to my apartment and, I thought, less ethically dicey, because the “files” I received appeared to bealmsot entirely made up. You know, “Palace Confirms: William & Kate Named King & Queen.” That kind of thing. What I honestly didn’t realize, all through the election of 2016, was that the nasty stories about politicians that ran in one of the magazines’s much seedier sister publications were actually only ever really nasty about one candidate, mine, and in fact were fairly positive about the other. (I know, I know, but why would I have noticed? I never read that rag!)

It wasn’t until a few days before the inauguration—when I saw an article about yet another weekly, one that was reported to be for sale, which observed that it had begun running similarly upbeat stories about our objectively horrible new first family in order to attract, as a buyer, the company for which I worked—that I grasped what was going on. From there, it didn't take me me long to figure out that I, too, might soon be asked to write frothy pieces humanizing a racist would-be authoritarian, and I decided, with only a little hesitation, that I’d rather be fired than do so.

Less than a week later, I was given the file for a feature that described how the First Lady planned to redecorate the Oval Office (never mind that she’d so far demonstrated zero interest in leaving NYC), and I immediately told my editor that I wouldn't write it. Like, until they started running stories that made the Trumps look at least as bad as the Jolie-Pitts, I didn’t want to be involved.

Both my boss and her boss took it pretty well—neither of them tried to argue that my increasingly meager day rate, which had been unceremoniously cut the previous fall, due to the harsh realities of the magazine business, compelled me to create political propaganda for a president I opposed. Instead, they asked one of the other writers to do it. But as the weeks wore on, I began to feel that not working on those stories, personally, probably wasn’t enough; capitalism being what it is, I reckoned that I was worth at least a little bit more to the company than what they were paying me and, therefore, I was indirectly contributing to their efforts. So, to make a long story short (I know: too late), I quit.

Since then, I’ve been working as a fashion copywriter three days a week. And though it’s further, in some ways, from what I originally set out to do with my life, I think I prefer it? I mean, as far as day jobs go. For one thing, I don’t feel like I have something to hide. Obviously, I still fantasize about what I might be able to accomplish if I could spend all my time writing whatever I want to write (or, in darker moods, I wonder if I’m holding myself back with my pedestrian preference for financial stability). But, given the state of the industry that I stumbled into circa the very late 1990s, just long enough before it all went to hell for me to be able to imagine precisely how great my life might have been if it hadn’t, well, I’m doing okay. Like: I think we all know, by now, that I’m not going to retrieve that print job.

P.S. For a less woebegone take on this topic, starring some pals, click here.

P.P.S. Did you see this piece? The working title (in my head) was “Darling Don’t You Go And Cut Your Hair.”

Announcement: Reading Cancelled

Apologies for coming at you twice in one week (although if your inbox looks anything like mine right now I’m sure it’s a welcome change from the desperate, angry emails from the DNC, the NRDC, the ACLU, et al.) but: The reading I told you about was cancelled. Apparently the club at which it was to be held suddenly closed forever a couple of days ago? I’m slightly relieved, honestly, because my hair has been looking a little weird this month so perhaps I’ll have that sorted out by the time it’s re-scheduled. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted. About the reading, not my hair.

P.S. I went to see Liz Phair last night and I have to say, it was weird and interesting to be out in the world on the same day that Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court! I knew, of course, that there were going to be men at the show, but I still felt irritated by the fact that they were present in seemingly equal numbers and that they didn’t have the sense—ON YESTERDAY OF ALL DAYS—to gather quietly in the back of the venue. Instead there they were, standing obliviously in front of me despite being eight inches taller and having full bodily autonomy guaranteed forever, putting their hands in the air with their index fingers extended? Can you imagine? You know I’m mad because when she was singing “Polyester Bride” which is one of my favorite songs, I kept thinking, “Why do we have to hear what this guy Henry thinks?” Also her band was all men and I had heard somewhere that they were all extremely good-looking but big surprise, it was just the usual rounding up that average white men seem to enjoy in all things.

P.P.S. The Northern Virginia Jewish Community Center, aka the one where I both attended camp and worked as a counselor, was covered with swastikas (again?) early Saturday morning. Everything is FINE!

Stuck in High School

Twelve days ago, I returned to the New Hampshire campus of my old prep school to attend the annual “Leadership Weekend.” I went because I’d been pressured, at our last reunion, into a five-year term as class Vice President, with the explicit understanding that I wouldn’t have to actually do anything until the time came to plan our next reunion, a.k.a. now. (Yes, we continue to elect new class officers at regular intervals long after graduation. I assure you, I’m as surprised as anyone reasonably normal would be to find myself in this position, especially given that it comes two decades too late to serve as we used to refer to as “college suck.”)

I don’t have to tell you that spring 2014, when this agreement was made, was a very different time. Like everyone, I’ve changed a lot, and my centuries old alma mater has changed too: Several absurdly fancy new buildings, including a 63,000-square-foot Center for Theater and Dance, have been erected, even as certain less tangible structures have, perhaps, begun to crumble.

In 2016, the Academy admitted in a letter to alumni that a certain very long-standing former faculty member had, in fact, been “required to retire” and then “permanently barred from campus” a few years prior, after two separate women reported having had sexual relationships with him, as students, in the 1970s and 1980s. This admission—apparently motivated by a need to get out ahead of a then-forthcoming investigation into sexual abuse at New England boarding schools by the Boston Globe’s “Spotlight” team—prompted several more disclosures of the same kind; in August, the school released a pair of reports which accused eleven former staffers of abusing teenagers who’d been, one way or another, in their care.

Largely unaddressed were the many student-on-student assaults which (I think we can safely assume) have occurred on campus over the years. Although nobody has said as much, I think the school may feel that their responsibility for these more quotidian violations is… not as great? Perhaps rightly so: The teacher I mentioned above, in addition to having been vetted by the school, had more or less unfettered access to his victims—from what I’ve heard he lived in the same dorm as them and may have even been their advisor, meaning that he was the adult who was acting in loco parentis for those girls—whereas teen-on-teen assault is the kind of thing that can, and does, happen everywhere.

Anyway, I’m sure it’s perfectly obvious why this has been on my mind! The violent sexual behavior of overprivileged teenaged boys has been on pretty much everyone’s mind lately, to some degree, thanks to the fact that an apparently horrible example of the type is only a few votes away from getting to literally rule over all of us for the next several decades. As I am very far from being the first to point out, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that whoever takes that Supreme Court spot is probably going to be decisive in loads of bad judgements, so the fact that the GOP is going balls-out to ensure that the person who gets to deny a generation of women their right to bodily autonomy is someone who is widely believed to have real-world experience doing same is just… well, it’s putting it mildly to say that they’re adding insult to injury.

But there was something else that I was a bit more surprised to find myself thinking about during my visit to New Hampshire, even though I’m sure that it, too, is directly related to the current news and just to everything that’s been going on in this country over the last few years. As I walked around the campus, my beloved former home and the setting for, embarrassingly I suppose, some of the best years of my life, and as I sat through the Leadership Weekend Assembly and listened to speakers who described a variety of frankly amazing-sounding new classes and, of course, detailed the school’s copious fundraising needs, I thought: Is any of this really conscionable?

My particular prep school now charges boarders more than $50,000 a year, up (way up) from around $20,000 a year in the 1990s. Even if roughly half the students are receiving some kind of financial aid—and even if those whose parents make less than $75,000 annually are getting a full ride—is it in any way ethical to concentrate so many resources in the hands of so few?

Perhaps to combat this, the Academy prides itself on turning out good citizens; the school’s official motto is “Non Sibi,” or “not for oneself.” But when I think about what I’ve done with my life, and, frankly, what my classmates have done with theirs, I’m not sure it’s enough to justify all that we were given, when so many others go without. I’m not sure anything could be.

Anyway, my apologies, this edition is both a)not exactly related to the stated topic of this newsletter and b)kind of half-baked. But if any of you are thinking and working 100% efficiently in the midst of this slow-motion shit-show, this horrible period in which we are, all of us, to some degree stuck in high school, well, congratulations. Feel free to write back and tell me how.

P.S. In other news: I’m doing a reading next week! Please come to Wonders of Nature at 131 Grand Avenue in Brooklyn at 7 PM on October 10th to see me, Hossannah Asuncion, Yoojin Grace Wuertz, and musician Alice Danger at the season opener of the beloved Mixer Reading Series. I will probably read from my novel, so there will be more boarding school content, although ideally it will be better than this and also more fun!

P.P.S. I haven’t confirmed but I think my interview with Tarana Burke, the founder of the Me Too Movement, might be in the November issue of Elle UK. I loved talking to her so much, so if you are in England or thereabouts definitely pick it up (and send me a copy haha).

Loading more posts…