Helping More By Saying "Yes" Less in 2016

Please come along with me as I take a trip down Media Memory Lane. This is the story of how I felt locked out of media circles so that when I finally sneaked in, I left the door open behind me and let in more people than I could be accountable for. This created a problem for myself and this is a plan for getting myself out of it. I take full responsibility for letting myself get in over my head and am now taking full responsibility for getting out of it with the new direction of this blog.  Now at some point you might think: tumblr_nxwus0CMjp1si194ao1_500

But bear with me, I beg you. This may seem like self-congratulatory martyr shit but really it is just an embarrassing display of how thinking I could single-handedly change entrenched media practices was not that smart.

So at the beginning of 2014, I had bylines at two websites: xoJane and Religion Dispatches. I was eager to write for more publications and trawled the internet in search of editors' email addresses, I devoured their sites to see what kind of material they liked, I dove deep into their Twitter timelines. I spent time figuring out what they paid, who liked women, who responded fast, who never responded. Several hours a week were spent on this research.

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I sent meticulous email pitches that were overwhelmingly ignored. I was doing sex work and copywriting to support myself and hated the former and found the latter a bit tedious compared to what I really found thrilling. It was devastating at times but when the few editors  read my pitches and took a chance on me, it felt glorious . The work snowballed into writing for great online publications like The Baffler, The New Inquiry, The Hairpin, and The Toast. I started feeling like a writer.

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These pieces impressed BuzzFeed enough to earn me a staff writing role there where my essays and some humor content gained me credibility both inside and outside BuzzFeed. When I left BuzzFeed, editors began reaching out to my directly and my cold pitches were accepted more regularly at new publications. Within a few months, I had sold a book and was a columnist at Pacific Standard and writing for outlets like The Washington Post, The New Republic, Matter, and The Guardian.  I was finally making a living full time as a writer.

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About midway through this year, I began getting emails from aspiring writers asking about pitching, which I told them about happily. I suggested edits, I suggested editors, I made introductions, and I championed people without a ton of bylines. I am glad to have done it. After giving details instructions to a dozen or so writers, I wrote this post on the pitches that worked for me in an effort to help people craft pitches that would work well so I wouldn't have to repeat myself. But still, I received more direct inquiries that said nothing about my work and only asked for editors' email and introductions to them. I don't believe in media gatekeeping so I gave email addresses out willingly, even when they were available on Twitter and the publication's website if the person had done their research.

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When their pitches were rejected, some of these writers asked if I could appeal to the editor in question, a request that essentially asks me to second-guess my editor's judgment in a way that I wouldn't even do for my own work. Some asked for full line-edits of their drafts before turning in pieces to editors. With about 8-11 writers feeling OK about asking for really labor-intensive assistance, it became a lot of unpaid labor that wasn't helping them or myself. I fully realize that I brought it on myself but I am taking it off myself now.

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The point of this is not that these writers are ungrateful or clueless. They just haven't learned how to navigate the media world yet via trial and error and some Googling. In simply giving out emails and direct instructions to anyone who asked, I was stopping them from doing really amazing work. The work of cold pitching editors turns you into a better reporter and the work of digging up their emails makes you a better investigator and introducing yourself to someone new proves your courage and tenacity. All of these things make better writers and I believe the world could use some of those. I have ultra-confidence that strong writers can figure this shit out and become fucking exquisite without me making it rain with my Rolodex.

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I want the media to be filled with brilliant women's voices but I don't want to help them get their by using the same nepotistic tools that have entrenched so many in media to their roles. So this year, I am saying "No" to a lot more and instead using this blog to teach a wider audience what has and hasn't worked for me in various areas of writing. People can use these suggestions as they see fit and I hope this blog helps a lot of people find their pitches in the right hands so that one day, it's me asking them for a favor. I am going to scale back the number of writers that I mentor but continue to do so because they give me such joy and the world is better for having their work in it. But I'm also going to give them way more space to figure out where they want to write and what they want to write because frankly, my suggestions have probably been holding them back.

Stay tuned for my post on how to ask for favors from fellow writers and happy almost new year, don't get TOO wild.

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The Ones Who Sustain Me

I despair often at the privileged lives of men and all that they get away with in the world while women question our every move, feeling, or even our instinct. A common question women are told to ask themselves when they face a particular conundrum about whether to ask for a raise or publish something is, "What would a mediocre white man do?" The answer of course is that he would do the thing that would make a woman fear she is being nervous or callous or thoughtless. I ask myself this often when I move ahead with more audacious things. But as much as I have longed to move as freely in the world as men, I have never wanted to be one. Because if I was, I would not have the unique and life-giving honor of having the women who surround me when I feel alone and who find me when I am lost. Surely there are deep and profound friendships between men and women that I admire but I have found in my own life a particular strength in women in numbers. The willingness of my women to time and again come to my rescue, knowing the peculiar dissatisfaction of being born into a world not designed for us, a world that is  dismissive when it is not downright hostile to our interior lives.

I was very sad this week, hit by an unexpected and disorienting sadness I did not have the language or fortitude to face alone. My friend Charlotte was at the ready in my text messages to affirm that I was not crazy to be disenchanted by a world that looks one way then suddenly acts in another way. On a night of crying, my friends Natasha and Arianna showed up with wine and their own gentle spirits to drown out the nagging noise of despair in my head. Phoebe wrote nothing short of a manifesto on how I deserve  happiness and made plans for big wild futures together. Alana reiterated that I am beautiful, which sounds trite but since she knows my greatest fear is physical mediocrity, it meant the world to me. The Rachel from whom I haven't heard in some time saw that I was having a rough week and reached out from the ether, knowing there is never a wrong time to reemerge if your message is comfort and kindness.

Then there was the internet. Another brilliant Rachel wrote a 10K word story on selfies that has the unique quality of making me envious of for her talent but too hungry for it for me to ever hope that she stops. The following line proved the very point of its many male detractors, "Maybe they are lonesome and hungry for connection, projecting their own lack of community onto this woman’s solo show, believing her to be isolated rather than expansive." I know it was in reference to selfies but what are my own tearful confessions late in the night to friends but my self, transmitting out into the world to be known?

Then today I published a story about how I lost my faith in God but still have a craving for grace and though men and women alike shared it, their responses differed greatly. I mentioned the fact that I went to Divinity School in the piece and strangers, both men and women, with whom I had little connection reached out to comment kindly on it but only women said things like, "I wish we had been better friends back then." Simple messagess like that carry the memory of grace that I crave so much.  They sustain me.

In the essay, I wrote, "I take heart in the words of the poet and professor Johann Peter Lange, who wrote in 1868 that there is 'no fall so deep that grace cannot descend to it' and 'no height so lofty that grace cannot lift the sinner to it.' I cannot predict how time will treat either my face or my faith, but I can allow myself to hope that I will know again that splendid fear that God is present, to be descended to once again." And though I crave the unpredictability of God, I am more truly sustained in these times by the knowable love of my friends. I know how deep they'll reach to get me and just how high they'll lift me, gently to a height where I can see just how far I can go but not so high that I'm scared to fall.

Stickers As a Social Good- "Fuck You, Revenge Sites" Edition

Vigilantes! Sometimes we need them to right wrongs that those cowards in law enforcement don't have time/competence/souls for! Sometimes vigilantes are just bitter or profit-seeking dick-mold that dedicate entire websites to outing women alleged to bed some other broad's piece requiring no evidence. To those vigilantes, I say "Fuck you, get the bubonic plague, and be convinced in a fever dream that the only cure is going down on the corpse of a tree sloth." On Voting Day, I was the bad bitch that I so often am and took not one but TWO "I Voted" stickers. Witness me with my contraband below:

IMG_0794 Now my plan was to sit out the next election, dust this sucker off and wear it again in two years. BUT THE FATES HAD DIFFERENT PLANS, AS THEY OFTEN DO.  I went on my morning run to Brighton Beach and on the train ride back to my abode saw that someone had put up some janky wanted poster featuring a woman's name, photograph, and several charming accusations against her.

 

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 8.49.24 PMFirst of all, you can be a slut, you can be a man stealer, or you can be a whore, but you cannot, I  repeat , YOU CANNOT be all three at once.  Sluts give it away for free, man stealers are ultimately girlfriends, and whores get paid for that shit so make up  your damn mind when you throw around your bullshit names.Also, know who wrecks homes? PEOPLE THAT LIVE INSIDE THEM SO QUIT BLAMING THE SIDE PIECE FOR THAT SHIT. I decided that this broad in the picture looked real nice and tried to take down the whole flyer but the MTA staff was creeping around hard so I had to quickly affix my sticker over her face so at least one fewer subway car will be adorned with her face in an attempt to humiliate someone that most likely didn't do anything wrong and some asshole is just pissed at her and throwing her face up on the subway like some deranged Regina George with a MetroCard and too much free time.

So I put my contraband sticker on her face and am hoping that the motherfucker that put up the signs in the first places sees it and maybe, just maybe realizes that there is a bitch army ready to use the power of  democracy novelty stickers for good against their stupid cheater-shaming websites and their budget metro flyers.

The Woman's Complete Guide to Leaning the Fuck In

Ladies: they have so many troubles! When they aren't bleeding like wild coyotes, they are made fun of relentlessly for enjoying pumpkin-flavored beverages in the fall. When they aren't being murdered by their spouses, they are  facing exceptionally high rates of scrutiny in the workplace. Fortunately, an elaborate performance art piece depicting the decline of the capitalist intelligentsia called The New York Times is always at the ready to reveal how this might be remedied. Today, a story called "Learning to Love Criticism," by Tara Mohr essentially gave women a dozen ways to blame themselves for institutional barriers that make them feel like shit at work and several variations on leaning in to remedy them. FIND A FEMALE MENTOR! CONSULT YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE FICTION AUTHOR AND PRETEND SHE'S GIVING YOU ADVICE! IMAGINE THAT ITS ALL IN YOUR HEAD, DUMMY!

But what is missing from this advice? A NEW BOOK TO SPEND YOUR CENTS ON THE DOLLAR ON, DUH. Below are the titles I am working on for every kind woman that needs to do every kind of leaning in.

Lean Into the Wild- For the  woman in search of adventure and self-discovery, but has limited botany knowledge

Lean INXS- For the woman that needs him tonight, cause she's not sleepin'.

Lean In the Valley of Elah- For the woman who would dad-fantasy-fuck Tommy Lee Jones and isn't afraid to let you know it

Lean Cuisine In - For the woman who loves ham and cheese but eschews cold sandwiches as peasant provisions

Lean Inside Job- For the woman who whistleblew on the financier robber barons and lost her job for it while they returned unscathed to the riches of investment banking on golden parachutes

Lean In On Me- For the women who loved singer/songwriter Bill Withers, from near and afar

Star Trek: Lean Into Darkness: For the women who write Benedict Cumberbatch/Zach Quinto erotic fan fiction between job applications

The Lean-In Crowd: For the woman whose parents got confused at the video store and rented this janky Cruel Intentions knock-off at her birthday party, turning her into a social pariah and recluse

Lean In the Name of the Father: For the woman who is prison pen-pals with an Irish political dissident because goddam, they are so fly with their black curls and their rage.

Lean Into the Groove- For the woman whose only free when she's dancing.

All of these titles will be available in hardcover from Chez Massey Publications  and ready to gather dust for months as you claw powerlessly for some free time away from the excessive demands of work, family, and social expectations.