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 Distance of 365 Days

A year ago today, a Polaroid photograph was taken of me wearing a pink lyrca and spandex bandage mini-dress. I only got to see it once but I remember being pleasantly surprised that even though I smiled big, my face hadn’t scrunched up and away from the kind of sex appeal I sought in this particular case. The photo was to go in my file as I auditioned for a job at a strip club in midtown Manhattan that I desperately did not want to take but would have been devastated if it wasn’t offered to me. I always did best when I smiled big because it made the men there think I was really having a good time. I passed muster and began work that very night. I took this photo earlier in the day when I was practicing at home: alana Massey stripper dress

I was owed thousands of dollars in freelance money, mostly from copywriting jobs and a handful of low-paid media ones when I ran out of Abilify, an anti-psychotic drug that I use to treat bipolar disorder. Uninsured and sinking into a depressive state, I started down the $880 price and knew that even if all the jobs I applied to called and made offers, I wouldn’t see money for another two weeks at least. And those jobs weren’t calling anyway. Abilify wouldn’t be generic for another six months and I could see myself slipping into the same suicidal despair that put me in Bellevue the year prior before that happened. But I can walk into a strip club and start making money that same day and so that’s what I did.

After my audition, I was in the dressing room getting more glammed up for my shift than was required to audition and a bubbly day shift blond in an American flag bandana approached me. She said, “Didn’t you just audition? It’s my first day too. You’re gonna do great cause there are like, no American girls and guys really like us. So you’ll do awesome!" She skipped out the door and on her way, apparently unaware of the dozen or so Russian women sitting around getting ready whose value she dismissed and made me look like a similarly over-confident slimeball.

One woman with long black hair, a thick Russian accent, and an ass that could solve the Euro Crisis kept staring in the mirror as she put on her make-up and said, “Somebody thinks she’s better than everyone else, hmmmm,” in an ominous sing-song way that I remain certain was a curse on both me and Bandana Jones because it was the worst club experience of my life. The night I quit, zero men tipped me after their lap dances that night, I had been thrown on the ground by a Norwegian man expecting a hand job on the dance floor, my tongue had swelled up and I had a fever of 103 from a nutritional deficiency I had developed from bad hours and bad eating trying to find a straight job and work at the club at the same time. I went home and just never bothered to show up again.

It was a year ago today that I started at a club in an industry I didn’t want to work in anymore. Today, I am in Paris writing my first book, a collection I sold to a Big Five publisher imprint for a generous sum with the help of an incredible agent and an insanely supportive and nurturing editor. I was hired at a major media company and left it when I realized it wasn’t for me. I started reporting science and technology stories when I thought I’d write personal essays forever. I fell in love and out again. I bought a fancy mattress and might buy a house in the Catskills in the next year. I’ve written stories that resonate with people enough that they send me very kind emails telling me that I should keep writing but that say to me, “You deserve to live,” which it is sometimes hard to say to myself.

The point of all this is not that I escaped the snares of the lurid adult industry and lived happily ever and to not become a stripper because someone might put a hex on you. The problem was not that I was a stripper but that I was unhappy being one at that particular juncture in my life. And as a writer now, I still get stories rejected and I get profoundly mean emails from readers and I still have to take Abilify so I don’t surrender to the alluring whispers from the Brooklyn Bridge that I could always just jump if the weight of myself got too much to carry around. I just want people to know that a year is not the blink of an eye we are so often told it is because it feels like a lifetime ago that I was on that stage in that pink dress.

I want people to know that they should remove the “just” from, “I’ll just stick it out another year” when they stay in jobs and cities and relationships they have the means but not the will to leave. There is nothing small or insignificant about a single year when you’re using every minute of it to claw your way out of whatever dull ache or crushing boredom or entrenched despair is plaguing you.If I had never gone into that club, I would not have made the money I needed to get my Abilify that gave me the stability and energy to follow up more assertively after job interviews and land the job that generated the kind of attention and opportunities I needed to get where I am today. That is Paris, by the way, if I hadn’t mentioned before what a cozy little bitch I am being right now.

When I got home tonight, I took this photo of myself in a black bodycon dress from American Apparel. I am not smiling big in it not because I am unhappy but because I think I look most like myself when my smile is at half-mast, not having to convince anyone what a good time I’m really having.

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Site Makeover....

Oh my gosh, I finally updated my website, bidding farewell to that melancholy pea soup shade of sadness to something a touch more sophisticated like this exquisite  she-devil of a child whose bloodlust for jam is unmatched in the known world. I should update more often here.  

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