|THERE ARE BUDS ON THE TREES and K. thought it was time
for some spring cleaning. I agreed, and we decided that Saturday would
be devoted to the task.
"Which room should we start in?" K. asked.
I pondered for a dramatic second and gave the answer I
would have given anyway, without the dramatic pause:
And so we woke up on Saturday morning, drank our lattes,
and got to work. "Why don't we start in opposite corners of the room and
work around the room till we meet?" I said, and opted to start with the
alcove where my desk sits. K. agreed, and started on the far end of the
bookshelves by the kitchen.
Hours later, we stopped. The room was only half done,
but we were exhausted. I had managed to fill a garbage bag with loose paper
and other rubbish, and K. had methodically re-filed most of our books.
A corner of the room that had been rendered useless with boxes still-unpacked
since we'd moved in (but rendered invisible by being hidden behind the
love seat) was clear, though deep impressions still remained in the carpet
from the boxes that had sat there since last June. The room looked better,
but it still wasn't finished, not by a long shot. Maybe next weekend, we
Four rooms left to go. At this pace, we might be done
I'VE BEEN NOTICING A HAPPY NEW PHENOMENON just lately,
a generational shift that's made my life as a writer much more pleasant.
More and more, I'm pitching stories and working with editors around my
age. It doesn't seem like much -- at 35, it's hardly like I'm a fresh-faced
new kid -- but it's made the freelance ritual -- contact, story pitch,
call-back, explanatory sell of the pitch, adjustment of pitch to editorial
prerogatives, first draft, re-draft, fact-check, final approval, publication,
start all over again -- much more pleasant.
Okay, here are the facts. For the better part of my career
as a writer (spanning a decade and a half), I've been working with editors
who fit into the boomer demographic. They have had, on average, two to
three decades of experience in the business, having fought their way to
a desk position and financial security after their own time in the freelance
wilderness. They might be anywhere from five to twenty-five years older
than me, and their attitudes might range from patiently encouraging to
unmistakably hostile. More often than not, they gave me the impression
of dealing with writers grudgingly. The process of pitching stories to
them was an uphill battle -- cultural references had to be explained, or
translated into language they could understand; the assumption I had to
start from was that I not only had to sell them on the relevance of the
story, but that I had to justify the cultural preoccupations of someone
my age. The question asked more often than not was: "But who's going to
Now, this is a fair question for any editor to ask a writer,
but when I tried to answer it, I found that the editors were mostly judging
a story's relevance by how often they'd read something like it before --
if it was something they'd just encountered, I might get to write the piece,
if it was something they thought they'd read about a few times already,
my pitch was dead in the water. In any case, the criterion for acceptance
was based on the editor's familiarity with an idea based on their reading
of other media. If they'd never heard of something before, most likely
the pitch would be dismissed almost out of hand.
After awhile, you learned to make your pitches based on
a careful reading of other magazines, and tried to get your pitches to
an editor before another writer, reading the same magazines, had incorporated
the same ideas into a similar pitch. In any case, you started hating yourself
for regurgitating the same old crap, and started resenting your editors
for having a world-view bounded, loosely, by New York, The Sunday
New York Times, The New Yorker, Entertainment Weekly,
Harper's, Time Out and whatever daily papers they took. You
started mentally profiling the recipients of your pitches; stressed-out
boomers with mortgages and families, their spouse often in the same business,
snatching time from daycare, t.v., weekend barbeques, house-hunting and
trips to the cottage to read online, in bed or on the couch while the kids
tossed Duplo™ blocks across the room and they try to decide between the
frozen lasagna or the frozen shepherd's pie.
Every month or so they get a night off with friends, where
they smoke a joint, get a little plastered on good wine, and try to talk
about the things they used to talk about when they were "hip". Every year,
they attend an awards ceremony where they celebrate stories only a few
of them had any responsibility for, welcome new initiates to the club,
and feel good about their sinecure in the industry. With such a cloistered
little world, it's no wonder they didn't "get" your pitch about cyberporn,
Hong Kong cinema or the burlesque revival.
Recently, thought, I found myself chatting amiably with
several editors, both at the national daily and the venerable magazine
the daily is folding into its weekend section. Tossing out my pitches,
we end up talking about the magazine business from the same, warily ironic
perspective, or reminiscing about Hüsker Dü and the heyday of
indie rock. Now, I'm hardly living on the cutting edge of hip myself, but
most of the joy in these encounters comes from realizing that I can be
understood, that the same set of cultural signposts are legible to both
sides of the table.
Simply put, the boomers have graduated another step up
the ladder, into positions of executive irrelevance, leaving vacant the
mid-level editorial posts for people like me.
What this means, of course, is that I'm fast on my way
to becoming one of those out-of-touch creatures of seniority and credential,
occupying a position of negligible power in the company of others like
me, forming a semi-permeable barrier at which younger writers will have
to fling themselves, who will have every reason to shake their heads and
rage at our arrogance and unhipness. In the meantime, I'm enjoying this
brief season in the sun for all it's worth. It's about time.