You don't have to be a freelance writer to be the sort of person who moves personal goalposts to ensure a sort of Zeno's Paradoxical state of permanent unfulfillment -- plenty of people I know do this, and I assume it's one of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective But Permanently Scowling People. But man, does freelancing ever make it easy for those of us who choose to make things hard for ourselves. This post is going to get really Emo LiveJournal and squirmy, I should warn. All you really need to know is in the next paragraph; everything after that is blurt.
I'm not really able to detect the pitch of my own writing in this post thus far, but if it's coming off as a high whine, I apologize for it. I'm aware of how lucky I am to get as much work as I do, and of how fortunate I am to have been in the venues in which I've been (this would be a great place for a hilarious link to Dermatology Business Management Magazine, one of my first steady gigs, but that magazine has been out of business since like 2003 and the website was pretty Jukt Micronics when it actually existed). And, more to the point, a happy thing occasioned the writing of this post in the first place -- my piece about the nightmarish and inexplicably popular phaal curry at Brick Lane Curry House, and how that dish and its appearance on (nightmarish and inexplicably popular) Man Vs. Food helped rescue the restaurant, was on the front page of the Wall Street Journal's Greater New York Section on Thursday. (And was even in Gawker, which I'm sure my WSJ editors appreciated) It's a good thing! Not the curry, though: that tastes like scalding-hot sand, with bits of meat and a sad little devil's peen of dried chile floating in it.
I'm very proud of all those good things I just mentioned, of course, and I had a great time writing and reporting the piece; I'm excited to do another one for the GNY section, and to work with my editor there again, and all the rest. And yet here I am, knowing all this stuff a lot more than I'm actually feeling it, and thus missing the point of what is -- despite being a silly-ish and resolutely minor piece -- inarguably something of a career highlight. Or not that: I'm missing the point emotionally, which is made that much more poignant and unpleasant because I am fully aware of and pleased by the thing that is the point itself. That really cleared it up, didn't it.
The question, then, is what the true point here is -- the work or the pay for the work; the pride and the achievement or the reification and objectification of same. And this is where the self-defeating shittiness of the goalpost-moving tendency makes itself felt -- a couple of darlings got killed in edits, but by just about every metric the curry piece is a success, and so is this one and this one and this one and so on. And yet in terms of actually feeling accomplishment or pride or happiness about any of that, I'm honestly going to have to take your word for it.
Because... well, because my wife's getting ready to go to graduate school, which is going to double my financial responsibility, and because I can't possibly make enough money for the two of us to live writing fun articles I'm proud of as a freelancer. That's mostly it. It doesn't diminish my (abstract) pride in them, but stack all these lovely successes atop one another and you barely have a year's rent and utilities and Metrocards and periodic meals out. Unless we start going to one of those harbingers-of-The-Fall all-you-can-eat chains that I've seen advertising with ever greater frequency on TV. And I know Kate don't trust the sushi at CiCi's, you know? It's like, how long as that hamachi been under the heat lamps? And why is it even under the heat lamps in the first place? Sometimes I honestly think CiCi's doesn't even know what a tartare trio is.
Anyway, by the time I reached the old one, the goal line is in a different place. It was once my ambition to write a novel -- and I finally did that, and it's in the hands of my very awesome and very qualified agent, and I'm waiting to see what happens. But then it was my ambition to write pieces I want to write for magazines and websites that I respect and read myself -- and that's happening now, and has been happening for a couple years. But both those accomplishments have been superseded by another thing I haven't managed to accomplish yet -- which is making ends meet in a way that allows for something other than constant financial anxiety. And that last bit colors everything else I do. There is a way that this has always worked for me -- anxiety before a piece comes out, excitement immediately after, and then a crash of sorts accompanied by a taunting internal voice saying something like, "Don't spend all $250 of those dollars in one place, Diddy." And for whatever reason, the first stage is more intense, the second is briefer, and the voice is louder in the third.
This isn't all on me and my neuroses, of course -- living in New York City is both difficult and expensive, and circumstances in my life have changed and are changing still. But man would it ever be nice to be able to feel as proud of these things as I ought. For all the thrills of being a figure in the Elite Liberal Media apparatus that controls our nation (and keeps the bile ducts on pump in your more loathsome/paranoid monsterfaces) -- and I'm joking about the "thrills" part, there, but I'm also not -- sometimes all I really want is to relax. Someday, I suppose, I'll be able to rejoice in the coming-true of minorish but actual-not-making-fun dreams. That's my hope, at least. For now it's still kind of abstract. Being in the Wall Street Journal does seem pretty cool, when I think about it. I would love to better know what it feels like.
(And this is where I had a low-quality video of The Talking Heads play "Stay Hungry," because this much better video can't be embedded. But go here and watch it instead, please)