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.

writing fast kermit

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.

fuck fuck fuck misery

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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I Look Like So Much Stuff: A Journey

When I learned that my favorite girl group alive, Little Mix, is releasing an album today called "Get Weird," I was at once stoked because I can't get enough of the adorable troop of crooning murderesses and disappointed in myself because I don't get weird nearly often enough. The early days of this blog  were all about posting bizarre shit that I dreamed up and since like, six people saw it, I didn't care how strange it was. Now I feel like all my writing here is about writing, the blog equivalent of eating chewed Skittles from the bottom of a popcorn bucket at the Kent on Coney Island. So below instead, is a visual adventure with my face and the various shit it looks like. My resemblance to other shit that wasn't me began early. By my third year on Earth it was plain as day that Little Critter and I were cut from the same cloth. We were short, we had  gigantic faces, and we were tormented by ennui and our own idiocy.

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But as I grew older, I discovered that the only quality I possessed more of than dissatisfaction was G-L-A-M-O-U-R. The resemblance to famed dead pageant super baby JonBenét Ramsey was plain as day, even though she is three years old in her picture and I am nine years old in mine. Yes, I was a pipsqueak of a person. Yes, I killed a baby polar bear to make the luxurious pelt in that photo. No, I'm not sorry.

Alana Massey as Jon Bonet

The years wore on. My golden locks gave way to chestnut waves. Alas, I became a stone cold fox as was my birthright seeing as that glorious sorceress from Arkansas gave me half of my genetic material. Gail, you minx.

Mom and Alana

But as grateful as I was for my mother's witchery, I longed for doubles in the world who were not just magical or dead. But what should they be instead? Oddly arousing maternal figures with a fuh-reak streak like Sally Field, that's what they should be!

Alana and Sally Field

But this too was not enough. I craved more. I wondered if I would ever amount to more than the critter of my youth. My prospects were bleak.

Confused-Critters

Change was needed. Drastic change. As the years etched onto my face and wore away the tissue of my heart, I longed to be a slutty baby once again. And a slutty baby needs blonde hair. And a white dress. And a style icon like the hellspawn Kewpie Doll you see here. A change was here.

Alana As Kewpie

Soon, I began to look like all manner of shit. I dare anyone to guess who is the emoji cookie and who is me in this photo. You won't, you can't.

alana massey emoji cookie

I also looked like the tough but fair older sister to that darling Sky Ferraira in an indie breakout for both of us. We'd have French names like Servanne and Garance and smoke cigs in bed together. Often.

Alana Massey and Skye FerrairaBut why have an indie breakout when you could have a string of indie darlings? Here I was conjuring Michelle Williams thinking about an abortion and Ryan Gosling while on public transport, though I assure you my thoughts were far more lurid.

Fall Look

Sometimes, I would take drugs and fall somewhere between Scarface-era Michelle Pfeiffer glam bitch and Requiem-era Ellen Burstyn, ranting always about being on the goddamn television.

Me and Ellyn and Michelle

I grew bored of my own predilections, smoking indoors like a rotten-cored swamp teen.britney smoking.

Alana Smoking Gif

In a fit of desperation to regain my former moxie, I strategically placed a designer handbag across myself in an attempt to regain the je ne sais quoi of The Lady Miss Williams. It was in vain. Emphasis on vain.

alana michelle williams bags

I briefly turned to the Dark Arts. I excelled in them, as I do in all things. I cannot speak of what I learned or from whom I learned it.

Alana as Lucius Malfoy

As I was prepared to give up hope, I was greeted with a vision so thick with light and life that I was nearly blinded. This, surely, was my Road to Damascus.

keith is jesus

And I realized all along, that my vanity had shielded me from the love which was my destiny to embody as a double. To emulate profound love was my calling. And so I answered that call. And though to love is ultimately to lose, I was glad to bear the weight of it.

Pieta Alana Massey Collage

All the Alana Masseys Are Cool

If you're just tuning into this blog for the first time, the proprietor is a self-involved but ultimately harmless caricature of late 20s angst navigating the digital age through a series of writing jobs,  lots of Twitter labor that pays only in validation, and with expertly basic fashion choices. That proprietor is me, Alana Massey. BEHOLD HER AT THE WORK MACHINE:

No filter, sluts!

That is what my face used to look like when I would search Google and find only super-earnest results about my social justice activism and my graduate studies and other ZZZZZ borning stuff about me online with a bunch of other stuff about other people with my name who ran hair salons and daycares. I was like, "The Internet has a right to know that I'm the coolest of the Alana Masseys! And I'm not all serious! I also have lots of thoughts about men and cats!" And so I started writing about both. Then I started writing about others things like culture politics and the sexual economies of thinness and about deficits in religious education. And within a year I was DOMINATING the Google results on my name.

Then yesterday I got an email that was like "People are Googling you and finding your academia.edu profile!" and I was like "Cool, it must be because I'm so cool! Then a reporter from Toronto contacted me on Twitter to ask about this dominatrix in Canada who is threatening to out politicians that purchase services from sex workers to demonstrate the harm of a proposed law there. I write about sex work and privacy in the US and in my delusions of grandeur was like, "LOOKS LIKE SOMEONE NEEDS AN EXPERT!" So I prepped for the interview by reading this article about the dominatrix in question. And then was like, "Ohhhhh."

Alana in her signature basics.

Halfway through, it reads, "Alana Massey, an independent sex worker in Toronto who is working on her PhD, said Wednesday that she hopes Bedford won’t follow through on her threat. 'This is a bad idea,' she said. 'It’s really easy for Terri-Jean to do that. She’s retired. But no current worker will out their client. It would be career suicide. No client would see them.'" And then I realized that it probably wasn't my jokes about half-eaten donuts from that day that were driving people to their Google machines.

For a moment I was like, "Of all the ethnically unplaceable name combinations in the world, why did someone choose 'Alana Massey' as their sex work pseudonym?" Then I found out that it is her real legal name and she is just a badass that's like "Ehh, fuck stigma, I'm Alana Massey" which makes it kind of fucking badass. And then I stopped being all fussy that I don't have the world's most unique name and sent a salute northward to my sister-from-a-mister-of-likely-shared-ancestry-but-ultimately-different-North-American-nations.

Then I was like, "Running a daycare is badass cause it lets people work and have more affordable care than individual babysitters!" and then was like, "Having a salon is badass cause new haircuts make people feel good and entrepreneurialism and shit!" And then I Googled Alana Massey and sent digital high fives out into the ether to all the broads that share my name.

But if we are going to be real about this whole thing, the coolest Alana Massey is actually Ilona Massey, whose name I can't find a phonetic pronunciation of so I am pretending its identical to mine! She was a fiery Hungarian screen GODDESS and a bad bitch all around. You may now proceed to bow down:

"I'm bored by your talk of filters."

The Problem is Not New York, The Problem is You (Alt Title: Is Your Name Joan Didion? No? THEN SIT DOWN.)

To my millions upon millions of fans outside of New York, you may not know all the details about the goings on in our fair city.  Fortunately hip insiders like me have this here information super highway where we can throw truth bombs out our Interweb car windows as if they were empty Slurpee cups or Marlboro Red butts (diet of champions, by the way).  So here is the scoop: living in New York is like, kind of hard and expensive. A city fit only for fat cats?

And here is a bonus scoop for people who left New York because of said difficulty and expense:  NO ONE CARES WHY YOU LEFT, STOP WRITING ABOUT THE  FAILURE OF YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS TO BECOME SUCCESSFUL CREATIVE TYPES WITHIN THREE YEARS OF ARRIVING.

So I aspire to the utter inscrutability,  genius wit,  and worrying thinness of  Joan Didion like any other hot-blooded American gal with a liberal arts degree.  But I know damn well that no one is ever going to even get even a tiny bit close to the devastating and poignant accuracy and insight of her own "peace-out, guys"  essay on leaving New York,  "Goodbye to All That." She hit the nail on the head like she was Simon Burch killing Ashley Judd's character with that baseball in the classic coming-of-age tale. We don't need any more of them.

ALL HAIL QUEEN J! PS-This photo appears when you image search "Joan Didion hot slut."

For the sake of brevity (though this is super-long for this blog), I am only focusing on this recent incarnation of the New York Goodbye Letter though a slew of them have appeared in the last few years and they come with varying levels of insight and writing talent.  But all of the self-exiled make the mistake of believing in a place that never existed.

New York's mythology has always relied on the impressionability of the transplant (which so many (LIKE ME!) in New York are) to believe that there was a time before their arrival when things were very very different, very very special. You know in Gladiator when Marcus Aurelius gets all serious-like and says, "There was once a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter"? If I had a dime for every time Patti Smith or David Byrne or the apparition of Andy Warhol whispered that shit in my ears on the train but about New York and not Rome, I could buy you one of those fancy seasonal beverages they sell at Starbuck's.

BUT REALLY, ARE YOU NOT?

But New York has actually always been brutal to the aspiring creative. And to the aspiring financier.  And to the aspiring marketing kid.  It is a basic function of competition among highly talented people combined with a sordid economic and political history that has made lots of the city's storied neighborhoods inevitable pockets of struggle for generations at a time while others flourished.

The thing is, this dream New York where all the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed creatives thrived and nurtured each other and made living wages never existed.  Some artists that made it big have charming anecdotes that they tell lightheartedly about not eating anything but peanut butter for weeks and living in criminal strongholds and working in butcher shops by day and writing or playing gigs by night. But those are actually horror stories because the physical reality of struggling and poverty and insecurity in New York (or anywhere) is terrifying.  It smells like corpses and feels like hunger pangs and if we're gonna be real for a second, is the standard experience of New York for the impoverished that live here because they have to, not because they want to publish the Great American novel.

Let's take a gander at some direct quotes.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I was paying $800 per month to split a three-bedroom with two other girls. We were living on the border of Lefferts Garden and Crown Heights, a quickly gentrifying neighborhood which, while it wasn't bad, wasn't exactly the bustling downtown area people expect when they hear 'New York City.'

The bone-chilling specter of Lefferts Gardens.

Please stand still so I can get a photo of you to send to the folks at Merriam Webster so you and your roommates can be featured next to the word "adversity." You mean to tell me that you didn't get a $400/month walk-through in the West Village upon your arrival?  IT'S LIKE MOGADISHU ALL OVER AGAIN.

The irony of the author being less than enthused to live in the Lefferts/Crown Heights zone is that such neighborhoods are the present-day equivalent in terms of amenities, creative undergrounds, etc as The Village and SoHo of years past.   Yesterday's Williamsburg is today's Ridgewood, Kensington has more hip cachet now than Brooklyn Heights (or so my 11218-dwelling ass likes to think) and Manhattan has been over forever.  The creative hubs of New York City don't simply evaporate into a fog of high-rents and gourmet bodegas.  They just migrate across major avenues and rivers, but they do not leave the city limits. When they do, they become something entirely less special and important.

It may sound trite, but the personal identity of many young people who come to the city to flourish creatively is slowly crushed by the reality of affording the lifestyle. Social identity theory outlines the way that humans self-identify with a group or organization that they feel reflects their values and attributes. The identity you apply to yourself, in the United States and especially in a place like New York City, is unfortunately but inevitably tied up in your money-making methods. I am a doctor, I am a journalist, I am a receptionist....In light of this, it's easy to feel like a failure if your job ("receptionist") does not match up with your ambition ("writer"). I often found myself feeling like an outcast because my job wasn't exciting, because I wasn't a "mover-and-shaker," because I wasn't fulfilling the role that many picture when they think of a "creative New Yorker" -- a role that has all but vanished here.

To that last point, just because you don't see something doesn't mean it isn't there.  Two years is hardly enough time to get to know a city intimately enough to conclude that such roles have vanished.  People who stick around know more than their fair share of these creative New Yorkers that are thriving.  Like these dorks that be hating on my alma mater.

Regarding that profession-as-social identification bit, I also know a good share of creatives that have experienced some level of high-brow or mainstream success that still babysit and clean apartments for the smarties that went into finance and technology in to make ends meet.  Again, it's a function of competition with ferocious talent and the fact that a lot of people who harvested their organs on a dare from Anna Wintour back in the day are the ones in positions to make or break your career and aren't just handing out staff writer positions because you went to college and got coffees for your boss at some internships.

Git it, girl.

I'm not advocating that everyone move to the mountains -- it's certainly not for everyone -- but I am hoping that young creatives everywhere can start to open their minds and consider other home bases. New York City had its creative heyday, but cities are constantly evolving entities; perhaps it's time to stake out some new real estate.

Well I'm glad you're not advocating that because:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_I8ucLNE5WM

But my GOD is the funeral for the creative heyday of New York  premature.  Huge swaths of this city have literally burned to the ground (sometimes multiple times!) and risen from the ashes more alive than before.  The astronomical rates for one bedrooms in the Lower East Side are unfortunate but they aren't making New York anything short of the thing that it has been since the olden days when Daniel Day-Lewis was running things like a gangsta, "the mysterious nexus of all love and money and power."

While I don't really identify with the "creative professional" type as much as I do the "cat lady who has a blog and some nice freelance jobs" type, I have done those "real" jobs she seems to scorn and stayed the course and have a modicum of success doing things I love here.   I also know a lot of people that were hungry enough to achieve legitimately impressive things in creative fields here without parental help, ins with management, or Carrie Bradshaw's real estate luck. So I feel compelled to say something kind of harsh:  it is not New York that failed to be what it was meant to be, it is you that did.

For those of you who are still here, I realize that writing a love letter to New York is arguably just as lame as writing a Goodbye Letter to New York considering how well it's already been done. So maybe instead of writing these little blogs, I should starting passing out copies of "Goodbye to All That" at the airports and bus stations and the school orientations to all the n00bs to the city.   I'd put a Post-It inside that says "This will break your heart," but leave them guessing if the note refers to the essay or the city itself.

I mean, the answer is "Both" but letting them know right when they get here is cheating.