Our diary-keeping freelancer faces a
dry spell, financially and otherwise.
MICHELLE SHERER |
An editor I know, one who showed up at my birthday party higher than Macy Gray,
just got a new position at a women's magazine. She must've been toking when
she called recently to ask for my clips, because we've never worked well together
in the past. And another pseudo-friend, a woman who was my superior at my last
associate editor job, said "sure sweetie" when I inquired about showing
her my clip book and ideas. I'm certain she was just being nice: We once called
each other bitches in front of our boss. But it's worth trying both of them,
or anyone else, because the point is, I need work. Freelancers have to hustle.
We scrap and scrape for any assignment we can get, even if they come from Bop
magazine. (Hey, the bills gotta get paid, whether or not Graydon's calling.)
Since I've been in a particularly tight monetary bind latelyI haven't
seen a check for two monthsI'm trying to be responsible and drum up assignments.
Here's how it works: I ask for stories; editors ask for clips; and we never
speak to each other again until an awkward meeting at some press event for K-Y
Jelly that we attended only for the gift bag and free mojitos.
But sending the clips sucks. First of all, it's not like
I've kept track of my work in the last year. (How can the magazines that contain
my stories get so lost in a 400-square-foot apartment?) And second, how am I
supposed to concentrate when all I can think about is my boyfriend?
Or, I guess, my ex-boyfriend, because he's clearly not my
boyfriend anymore. Somehow this guya pain in my ass who borrowed money
and cleaned out my refrigerator without replacing anythingdecided we shouldn't
date anymore. In a painful 10-minute conversation, he detailed his qualms about
me. Apparently, he (a) didn't like the way I clammed up around his egotistical
friends; (b) wasn't sure I could be Ms. Social in situations that didn't involve
my close friend Jill, our STs (Smokey Treats), and bottles of Red Stripe; (c)
didn't think I was funny enough in person, although my e-mails regularly cracked
him up; and (d) didn't think I'd be comfortable acting like his baby-sitter
in a role-playing sex game. (Which, um, no, I probably wouldn't be.) Hmph. I
got off the phone ASAP; his message that I was inadequately entertaining came
through loud and clear. (I guess quickie sex in public bathrooms and singing
heavy metal at Monday-night karaoke wasn't amusement enough for him.)
I'd hung up feeling teary. Not only had I been rejected;
I'd also been insulted. The worst, bottom-of-the-Pabst-can trait any human can
possess is to be boring. Clearly, I'd just been branded the thing I loathe most.
And this from a guy with no apartment of his own (he roams from roommate to
roommate) who borrowed my car, copied my CDs, and scratched his balls while
watching tedious sporting events on my digital cable.
True, this was far from my worst breakup: About a year ago
was the end of a serious one that lasted longer than most sitcoms stay on the
air. I've been crushed like a bag of bar ice, and I've always been able to bounce
back (pretty much). But being dumped by the Shallow Ball Scratcher still stung.
Even in surface-only relationships like that one, I had become quite content
with the regular phone calls, consistently good sex, and knowing I'd have plans
on Saturday nights. And did I mention the sex?
Whatever. I gave up on trying to act all cool, and I lay
on my bed weeping like a puppy with an eye infection. But more depressing than
this mini-breakup is what it's doing to my already sagging freelancer work ethic.
Whenever I go through something emotionally draining, I conveniently give myself
the perfect excuse not to work. (No matter that checks seem allergic to my mailbox,
and that if I don't work I'm headed for the Midwest, back to the old flamingo-pink
bedroom that'seven worseunder the same roof as my mother.) At self-loathing,
doubtful times like these, I need a demanding boss. With no one breathing down
my neck, and with situational depression weighing heavily on my shoulders, self-motivation
was impossible. Get moving, I told myself. But it's like sitting in a
hot tub after a yoga master class: Climbing out of the water is less appealing
than more rounds of downward-facing dog. My head hurts, my eyes sting, my creative
juices have been sucked dry by a guy who has little going for him besides his
Meanwhile, the doped-up editor called again saying she may
have a few short health items to give me. I knew what that means: I may get
two or three 100-word items that require two interviews each plus painstaking
back-up research yet only pay $150 per piece.
With the energy of a runner after a 10K marathon, I finally
got up off the bed. I discovered the year's magazines with my stories in them.
I cut out the clips. I slapped on some cover sheets and faxed 'em over. It wasn't
so bad, and I had an itch to keep on the productivity trail. The day I got booted
for being boring (as if!), I took another Excedrin and forced myself to pitch
a story that I actually cared about. With Carole King on repeat, I e-mailed
another editor I admired (at least she didn't need a 12-step program, nor had
she ever cussed me out). I sent her an idea about a woman who saved orangutans.
The idea received a warm reception and was assigned to me the next day. Meanwhile,
weeks went by, and I never heard from the other two editors who had looked at
my clips. No word from even the toker. Despite the watery eyes, dejected emotions
and foggy brain, I taught myself a few valuable lessons: Send specific pitches,
don't fool with clips, and write about hairy mammals instead of dating them.
Michelle Sherer is the pseudonym for a freelance
writer living in New York. You can read her previous column here
or start from the beginning here.
E-mail her at email@example.com.