This will be the last such lengthy roundup you see from me in a while — because I solemnly vow to always post these once a week (Tuesday mornings) from now on, which means they will be shorter and not quite so...omnibus-y.
I was on Facebook one day this now past summer, looking through all these exquisite travel photos on various friends’ walls, and it hit me: I haven’t been on a holiday in over a decade. I think the last time was in 2003 so, technically, 13 years. I don’t present that fact to make you feel sorry for me (although some sympathy is welcome) but simply to say that it’s one that actually escaped my notice (or one that I haven’t dwelt on or, well, one that I’ve simply suppressed) for a while. And I’ve only just realised that I’ve been in a long state of exhaustion for a very long time.
I felt my exhaustion hit me especially hard this summer and at some point (a little after the last time I sent out a roundup), I felt like I just wanted to stop everything for a while. I still had writing assignments and I worked on them, but I withdrew from a lot of other projects and actually didn’t “work” for a week or two (even the memory of that now escapes me, but I think it was fun).
Frida and I are checking our flight plans and are tentatively, cautiously optimistic. In the meantime, though, I’m doubling down on work and cutting down my social days to one (usually Fridays). I will be generally uncommunicative for the next many months (or, if things work out, the next few months) — I have a lot of work to do, the book proposal primary among them, and I have to get it done in between sorting through The Direness. So, if I’m a horrible correspondent, my apologies, but if it’s not work-related or to do with figuring out our departure or something related to all that, I may not get back to you very quickly.
Which brings me to a new rule about work: From now on, I simply cannot accept new assignments without an advance (which will also function as a kill fee, should that become necessary). As I indicated in my last update, I’m getting paid better as in, more per piece, these days.
But better pay doesn’t help me as someone who is a working writer working from cheque to cheque and who hasn’t yet been able to build up a reserve of savings to draw from. Bear with me as I tease out this metaphor: Paying a writer ought to be more like paying a contractor you pay to redo your kitchen or build a new house. Contractors take advances because that’s how they guarantee you’re committed to paying them at the end and because they need the money to buy the materials you want them to use. Interested in that fashionable (and sustainable) quartz countertop? It’s about $80 a square foot, and your contractor will need some cash from you before they even think of installing it for you. But ask for an advance for writing, and the response is often shock and horror (except when it comes to book advances, but more on that later). Most publications are not set up for a system that allows for advances, and the reasons why are, yes, economic (they don’t actually have money set aside for such and are terrified of what might happen) but mostly it’s because the idea that a writer might need money as fuel of a start before embarking on a project is simply one that never occurs to them. That cluelessness has everything to do with how culture at large thinks of writing as a process, as non-labour which simply happens in the head and without effort.
To continue with the contractor metaphor: Asking someone like me to produce a long, well-researched, and considered piece without giving me an advance is like asking your contractor to get you your materials and start building that project when they’re scrambling to feed themselves and have no money for gas. In other words, I’m running on empty most of the time.
When I get an assignment, I put aside a lot of my own projects and focus on the “big ones” because I can see the tantalising larger check at the end, and because I hope that the money will help subsidise my other writing. But I don’t have a large fund of money built up already, and need to figure out all the ways in which I pay my bills in the meantime. My subscribers help, a lot, and I’m increasingly realising that it’s completely pointless to write a piece without payment of some sort up front. The process gets especially complicated when I write for publications with a very fluid publishing schedule and if the piece is not time-sensitive: Being kept on hold while editors decide when to edit something for publication is not a luxury I can afford.
I’m fully aware that my requirement for an advance is not likely to be taken seriously by a number of publishers, and that’s fine with me because, well, the current system is doing me no favours. From here on, unless it’s a publisher with whom I’ve already established a relationship, I don’t write without advances (and even then, I’m going to be approaching you about getting an advance, so consider this a heads up).
On top of all this, I’ve sorely missed writing for my own site — I loved producing “Choose Your Elite: Edith Windsor, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump,” and I’m looking forward to many more in the near future, including book and movie reviews. If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I write with a perspective that’s not found in most publications. So, please continue supporting me with a subscription and, if you haven’t already, please do subscribe. I know the terms of my subscription have shifted every now and then, but most of all, you’re helping to keep me writing and producing the kind of work you know you won’t find elsewhere.
Finally, as we approach an election with terrible choices: Gender JUST is hosting a roundtable discussion on “Radical Responses to Electoral Politics,” Saturday, October 22. The Facebook announcement is here. Please come if you can and help spread the word!
And now: To the Roundup.
What I Wrote Or Appeared In
October 5, 2016: “Choose Your Elite: Edith Windsor, Hillary Clinton, or Donald Trump.”
September 19, 2016: I presented “There Is No After Gay Marriage or, How to Rethink Queer Politics” at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. I’ll be writing it as a longer piece soon.
September 9, 2016: “Meryl Streep Is in Costume as Florence Foster Jenkins.”
September 6, 2016: “We Were There, We Are Here, Where Are We?” in QED. You can read the pdf here.
August 29, 2016: “Anthony Weiner, Huma Abedin, and the Gender of Power.”
August 12, 2016: Katie Halper talked to a group of feminists about why we’re not thrilled about the possibility of (yet another) Clinton presidency.
And she made this meme (among others):
August 11, 2016: A piece I was thrilled to write, “Racism and the American Pit Bull” came out on the Current Affairs site just seconds after I posted the last update and sent it out. I went in and added it to the list of recent work but in case you missed it the first time around, here it is again. Besides the content, of course, this has some photos of absolutely adorable pit bulls -- and even more in the actual print edition, which is always spectacularly beautiful and worth a subscription.
What I’m Reading
Maya Schenwar writes about what “A Virtual Visit to a Relative in Jail” is like.
Hillary Clinton’s opinions on Sanders supporters were revealed (and they’re as contemptuous as we imagined).
I suppose it’s some comfort that Donald Trump’s $916 million tax writeoff is not that big a deal in some places.
The Podesta emails keep giving.
Drain magazine ran a special issue on Revisiting AIDS and its metaphors.
Nathan J. Robinson responded to Caitlin Flanagan’s slender understanding of Noam Chomsky, in “What Noam Chomsky Thinks of ‘Intellectuals.’”
Helen Razer writes on why we need to dump Lena Dunham and Amy Schumer.
Phyllis Schlafly is dead. Rejoice.
And so, sadly, is Jon Polito.
This, on “How to Be Perfectly Unhappy,” is perfect Oatmeal reading.
After 45 years, Modern Times Bookstore is closing.
On a happier note, Purvi Patel’s conviction for feticide was overturned.
My friend and comrade Liza Featherstone writes a regular advice column for The Nation. Here, she writes about how to be on the left and not feel guilty about wealth.
Remember that really annoying description of a lesbian wedding in the New York Times? Jen Graves at The Stranger reveals that the women concerned were as vile as we expected, in a piece titled “Gays Who Lived through Anne Imelda Radice’s Tenure as NEA Decency Czar Aren’t Celebrating Her Gay Wedding.”
Gretchen Hasse writes a direct and devastatingly brutal piece about “Art and Pain.”
My friend, comrade, and Against Equality co-founder Ryan Conrad wrote “I'm an Anarchist and I Vote.”
Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote this, “The Truth About the Biggest U.S. Sex Trafficking Story of the Year.”
The hagiographies of Michelle Obama have already begun. Here’s a reminder of her work in Hyde Park and the University of Chicago.
Jon Meacham wrote a strange piece about why we need to be nostalgic for the “grace” of George H. W. Bush.” As a counterpoint, here’s Dawn Michelle Baude’s poem about Barbara Bush, “Why Would I Waste My Beautiful Mind on That?”
Public libraries and librarians are under threat — see this report about Kansas City as an example.
Brexit almost killed Marmite. But, sadly, it didn’t.
Sarah Paulson recommends success later in life. And naps. I heartily endorse both strategies.
Merritt Tierce writes about what it’s like to be a critically acclaimed — and broke — writer.
I’m hardly a supporter of gay marriage, but this detailed history of Hillary Clinton’s changes in positions over the years is instructive.
Here’s an interesting piece on the Gawker debacle.
Montreal’s horrific pit bull ban was suspended indefinitely.
Portraits of some incredibly gorgeous goats and sheep because, why not?
31-Year-Old Nutmeg may be the world’s oldest living cat, and “his meow is more like a growl.”
This distracted puppy is me, sometimes.
And this otter is me, with ground cherries.
Duck, duck, dog: This little pair, a puppy and a duck, found a home together.
Orphaned baby skunks find their homes in the wild.
We might all take this long to wake up, but do we look half as cute? (link on Facebook).
From the Archives
October marks the death anniversary of Matthew Shepard; heres my review of a book that exposed the facts behind his murder, “Saints and Sinners.”
As we head towards the Election with No Choices, it’s worth remembering that this excellent book exists: False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As well as this piece on the Clintons’ favourite project of ending welfare as we know it: Virginia Sole-Smith’s “Getting Jobbed: The Real Face of Welfare Reform.”
On paying writers, this Harlan Ellison video, “Pay the Writer,” is still priceless.
For reasons I can only begin to speculate on, Nancy Polikoff’s book Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage never got quite the press it should have received. This Bookslut interview with her is worth reading.
This is my review of the book.
Here’s my review of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore’s The End of San Francisco.
David Kinder’s The Rise of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Cult is even more relevant now, in light of her comments about Colin Kaepernick.
Proof, from 2009, that Chicago is the most racist city in the United States.