Here’s the other thing about how writers are paid.

Typewriter keyboardThe current discussion/mudslinging about how writers/journalists/reporters (etc) are or are not paid is, I think, important, enlightening, and long overdue. I made my own wee contribution here; here’s National Treasure Charlie Pierce saying it better. I agree with every single thing Mr. Pierce wrote, up until his last six words — I can’t tell The Atlantic to “go fk itself,” because I don’t think The Atlantic is the problem, and as one of the few magazines out there with a working business model and growing staff, it may well be part of the solution.

Having said that, whenever we have this discussion, there’s this one wee thing that no one ever seems to mention, and it’s something that actually has an enormous impact on any writer’s bank balance: With every passing year, the writer is expected to do more.

Not more writing (eta: actually, in the era of ever-updating blogs, we’re also expected to write more, now that I think of it), and God knows not more reporting (“reporting” might require plane tickets or recording equipment, and those, God knows, cost money), but more of all the work surrounding the final product.

In the course of slashing budgets and caring more for corporate bottom lines than for content produced and/or what the advent of the Internet might mean for same, news and opinion outlets have hacked away at their editorial and graphics departments, their marketing and their fact-checking — virtually everything and anything that supports a writer/reporter in his or her work and produces a highly-polished and attractive final product.

Writers have always had to market ourselves, of course, particularly when starting out, but nothing like today, when it’s often considered part and parcel of the gig to not only produce copy, but also to blog about producing copy, tweet/FB/tumbl about the copy you produced, and engage with commenters over their opinions of the copy you produced, all while working on your next piece.

Writers have also always been asked to turn in clean copy — the cleaner, the better — but we used to write safe in the knowledge that copy editors would catch the typos, and editors would catch the sentences that went nowhere. These days, far too many Serious Outlets are content to let writers fend for themselves, typos and unintelligible run-on sentences be damned.

Writers have also always been expected to actually do their work and be as rigorously truthful as humanly possible — but again, no one is perfect, and some writers are lying assclowns. So, you know: Fact-checking, the process by which a Serious Outlet would make at least a minimal effort to determine that the writer had not Gotten It All Wrong was a pretty important task. In the current environment, far too many Serious Outlets expect writers to fact-check on their own (and, one presumes, to give the managing editor a head’s up if they’re going to lie).

Finally, in addition to reporting, writing, promoting ourselves day-in/day-out, and typing and fact-checking without a net, there are also a long list of outlets (less Serious than some, but still Kinda Serious) that expect their writers to find illustration for their work, as well. AND MAKE SURE IT ISN’T COPYRIGHTED.

And, of course, the many, many of us who aren’t on staff are also doing all of our own bookkeeping and if we are lucky enough to be paid? It’s on us to remind the Serious Outlet to fork over our dough. Often over and over and over again. Because accounting departments were slashed, too.

All of these things take a tremendous amount of time and energy, and sometimes financial resources. All of it comes from my bottom line.

And all of it is part and parcel of the modern day write-for-free model everywhere present in the publishing world.

On not paying for work done.

Typewriter keyboardI still have the aforementioned oddly fever-ish condition, so I’m not likely to be of much use today, but I wanted to say this:

A kerfuffle arose yesterday when a writer blogged about being offered to publish in The Atlantic Online in exchange for zero dollars; you, gentle reader, may or may not recall that these were the precise circumstances under which I wrote for The Atlantic Online, twice, about Troy Davis.

In his blog post, Nate Thayer sounds righteously annoyed, and I can’t say that I blame him. Work deserves recompense, full stop. I will confess to a small shudder of annoyance when the editor with whom I worked at The Atlantic told me that she couldn’t pay me, and I was honestly grateful for the tone of regret in her email — because though I was willing to accept zero dollars in exchange for my hard work, work deserves recompense, full stop.

I will also note that though I was pleased and quite proud to appear in The Atlantic, the fact of that byline has opened no doors, nor has it led to a single offer for paying work — when editors talk about the value of “exposure,” I can only hope that they’re ignorant of what a chimera that is. (It might have been the reason that Robert Wright knew my name, and thus may have played a role in our collaboration for The Atlantic during the recent war in Gaza, but I approached him and volunteered to work with him, knowing ahead of time that his publication wouldn’t be able to pay me and shrugging off his evident discomfort with that fact).

The fault is not with The Atlantic, though. This is a system that exists across platforms and across readership levels. Working in the creative fields has never been a path to wealth, but during the last decade or so, with the advent of an increasingly nimble internet and increasingly mordant outlets saddled with increasingly desperate business models, working in the creative fields hasn’t even necessarily been a decent way to keep yourself in rent and tacos. This has been especially so since the summer of 2008, when the cratering of print media presaged the cratering of the entire world economy.

The problem is so big, and reflective of so much social malaise, that I don’t know how to even start getting my brain around it. On the one hand, you have the consumers of culture who think they should never have to pay for anything (“information wants to be free!” or some such codswallop); on the other hand you’ve got corporate-owned producers of information and art that are more interested in paying CEOs and big shareholders than in paying the people who produce the information and the art; on the third hand you’ve got the rolling introduction of entirely new modes of information-transference that no one really knows how to make a living off of; on the fourth hand you’ve got editors and managing editors who are really struggling to tell important stories without the budget they honestly need; on the fifth hand, you’ve got an entire economy predicated on the rich getting richer while everyone else struggles to doggy-paddle; and on the sixth hand, you’ve got the producers of content themselves, those writers, photographers, reporters, artists, etc and so on, who do need to pay bills but for whom the product itself can sometimes feel even more important than bill-paying.

A few years ago I decided that I would never work for free again, with exceptions for cases wherein I felt that the story was more important than my taco budget — such was the case in all the work I prepared for The Atlantic, for instance. I have not stuck entirely by that decision (The Hairpin, which I presume makes some money, didn’t pay me, for example; Feministe, which I’m assuming does not, didn’t either), but in every case in which I’ve broken my word to myself, I was consciously taking a chance that in allowing my work to be undervalued, I might advance my career. In twenty years of occasionally taking that chance, I can think of exactly one case in which that proved true (not any of those mentioned here).

Aside from the obvious ethical implications of asking people to work hard in return for literally nothing, however, there is the not inconsiderable issue of what this means for your talent pool: I can occasionally write for free (and, indeed, can regularly write for peanuts) because I have a spouse with a good steady income. If I did not have said spouse, or said spouse were unemployed, or also a creative, I would be SOL. I can’t help but feel that a model that excludes people who cannot afford to not be paid isn’t a great one for expanding our knowledge base.

I don’t know how to fix this, and I do not blame the editors who have solicited or accepted my work without recompense. I think it would be a step in the right direction if publications could institute a system whereby such work could at least receive a small honorarium, as a kind of good-will nod to the fact that it’s actually not right to pay people nothing, but I understand that even $50 a pop would add up pretty quickly. The argument could be made that if you can’t pay people, maybe you shouldn’t publish — but again, that’s not on the editors. And when I hand over my copy for free, I know exactly what I’m doing.

So anyway. I don’t know how to fix it, and if I ever again have the chance to publish something that really matters to me in a prestigious publication that cannot pay me, I will take it.

But can we all, at the very least, admit that it’s wrong?

Today in three year olds.…was AWESOME.

Back in the day (“the day” here being something like two years ago? ish?), my friend anibundel was a preschool teacher and would often tell us about her experiences in brief vignettes entitled “Today in Three Year Olds.” These tales tended to be priceless, and in ani’s capable hands, were always delightfully related.

And at some point in the past 12-24 months, when the whole “writing” thing really appeared to be permanently down for the count, I began to look very seriously at alternative careers, some of which were librarian technician/assistant, Trader Joe’s crew member, and preschool teacher. I didn’t get a couple of jobs for which I applied in the first category, was never called re: the second, and regarding the third, realized that going back to school in order to then earn a preschool teacher’s salary just wasn’t in the cards — but, thanks to ani’s most excellent suggestion that I try substituting, I did sign up as a substitute at the one place where I kind of knew the director already. 

And she never called.

Until a few weeks ago, when she did.

And now I’m on the list, and one of the teachers called on Monday to see if I was available this morning and I was and lo! I spent my morning playing with three year olds!


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my day job tends toward the dour. Indeed, even when I’m not writing about Israel/Palestine, I’m usually writing about some other horrible thing, like fires in factories or climate change. I do occasionally get contract gigs that involve happy nonprofits (why, look at these wonderful computer centers we’ve set up for our under-served youth!), but mostly it’s human muck and political mire.

But toddlers are cute as buttons only smaller, and they have goofy grins and soft hands that they rest on you as if you were a piece of furniture. They are proud (in the case of one young man this morning, very proud) of pooping in the potty, and very excited about snack. They want you to make funny noises when you read books, and if you’re very lucky, they jostle over who gets to sit in your lap (readers, I was lucky this morning).

I don’t have an anibundel-worthy story to tell — it was pretty much just cuteness all the way down — but I cannot tell you how happy I am that I did this. During those many, many months in which I was in the Slough of Despond, and not even making any money as I slogged through the Slough, I kept thinking “just find one thing to do that gives you joy,” and though I found many small things, I never found The Thing. I think for the time being, this is The Thing. Every now and then, I will spend two and a half hours of my day playing with toddlers, and even get a little dosh in the bargain.


Toddlers > than war and bloodshed, for sure and for certain.

Just a few of the many things…

…at which I would be awesome, should the world want to give me the opportunity:

  1. Research assistant (such as this: ) but particularly as regards the contemporary Middle East.
  2. Communications assistant or contract writer for nonpartisan or left-leaning non-profits – Topics I’ve covered in this capacity in the past include: the elections in Congo, America’s terrorism detainees, the environment, corporate social responsibility, racism in America, child hunger, Middle East peace process, Islamophobia, US interfaith efforts, war in the Sudan, abortion rights, refugees, philanthropy. And then some.
  3. Contract writer for museums or publishing houses – as a graduate student by nature and reporter by training (and long-time book reviewer), I think I bring a good approach to work that must be essentially academic in nature, but not come across as academic. I’m thinking in terms of museum education programs, for instance, or readers’ guides (fiction or non-) for publishing houses.
  4. Essayist, regular columnist, feted thinker of big thoughts – still dreaming the dream!

If you or anyone you know happens to be looking for such an employee, my online portfolio is available at, and more information (as well as a contact email and charming headshot) can be found on the above About page.

I’ve been a freelance writer (doing pretty much all of the above, in some form or another) for something in the neighborhood of 20 years, which means some months are busier than others (November has been pretty good, for instance) – but I confess that I would like something a little more steady at this point in my life! Call me crazy.

Just, you know: sayin’.

Dammit, who opened the floodgates of knowledge?

Once upon a time, I didn’t know very much, and that seemed fine.

No, wait. Let me re-phrase.

Once upon a time, I knew a fair amount, more than most people knew, and it was, in fact, fine.

I have long called myself the worst-read well-read person you might ever hope to meet, and there is certainly something to that (Moby Dick? Nope. Sense and Sensibility? Nope. Any number of classics in the field of Middle East Studies that people are certain I must know by heart? Nope.), but there is also something not to that — by which I mean: I actually am very well-read, very well-educated, and probably more to the point, know how to find the information I need at the drop of an Easter bonnet.

I had this skill when all the information was in libraries and one had to get up and go to the library, and I retain the skill, in its Brave New World form, in the age of the internet. I have always followed the news, I have always paid attention to the smaller stories as well as the larger ones, I have always been able to sniff out the lacunae in news reports that often matter more than the actual information on offer.

Well. In my middle years, I have come to learn an Important Truth:

The Information Super Highway is really more of an Information Firehose.

And I confess, dear reader — much as I love my blogs and my fellow commenters and my Twitter — I confess that, oh my good nightshirt, there is just too much to know, now!

Always, always, bloody always I am behind. On something. Something really, really important. Always.

Of course I have felt versions of this overwhelment pretty much since I started reading blogs about three years ago (having felt snooty about the practice beforehand — having forgotten, apparently, that like any tool or medium, a blog is as good as its handler, and if its handler is deft, then the blog is a thing of beauty), with a noticeable bump in said feeling once I got on the Twitter — but none of it compares with how I’ve felt since the revolution in Egypt.

Of course, it should be noted that a lot of the flood of information currently coming at me via Twitter falls, in a rather ahistorical and spectacular fashion, square in my area of professional, academic and personal interest. I actually — honestly, genuinely, and occasionally desperately — want to know every little thing about the rolling revolution under way in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa.

When it was all going down in Egypt, I was as a woman possessed. I read, watched, tweeted, blogged, commented, stayed up far too late and got up far too early and generally acted like it was my job. At one point, I had two computers on my desk, so that I could have Al Jazeera English on at all times, without having to toggle over from whatever other Egypt-centric internet source I was engaged in at the moment.

But it wasn’t my job (oh lord, how I wish it had been my job!), any more than it’s my job to be up on Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and/or Tunisia now (oh lord, how I wish that were my job!), and when Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I forced myself back to earth — to the actual, paying work, the human beings with whom I live, and the rest-of-my-tangible-world stuff which is forever taking me away from the flood of information.

And so now what Twitter and the handful of blogs I read mostly make me feel is inadequate. And guilty.

There are a lot of people (well – a handful, at any rate) who follow this blog or follow me on Twitter because I was as a woman possessed during the Egypt upheaval. What are they to make of me now? I’m not up on Libya as I should be, nor on Syria or Bahrain or Saudi or — good Lord, I even feel like I’m behind on Israel/Palestine all the time now! —  and I’m writing about female body image, cleaning my house, and gay rights! All of which are things about which, it turns out, I should also know more.

Oy and sigh. I suspect I’m going through what will someday be identified as an Information Influx Cycle or something. I recently upped my content-received, so now I’m going through the “too-much-too-much-TOO-MUCH” stage, which is likely to be followed by the “well, I can’t know everything and so I will let it go like the pretty butterfly it is” stage. Or sommat.

But right now, all I know for sure is that there is a Peter Jackson video blog, his first since he started filming The Hobbit (!!) that I’ve been waiting to see all day, and I keep putting it off for more important things.

For which, come to think of it, I have a blog to thank (thank you, Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog! Go! [that’s the blog’s real name. Really. You should read it! It’s awesome!]). OHMYGOD so overwhelming, this internet is, but also dead useful.

The rattlings of an empty mind.

(Looking for the 8/13 Open Thread? Go here).

I should post something. I really should. I have tried and mostly managed to do this blogging thingamajiggie on the daily, and now I actually have a fairly regular group of readers and… I really should post.

But right now, In My Head you will find a whole lotta empty. Exhaustion, and empty. Well, empty-ish. Certainly nothing I could spin out into an entire post (I already tried).

What is In My Head right now? A bit of this, a smidge of that.

Like: I’m thinking about applying for an internship at NPR’s Chicago affiliate, WBEZ. By which I mean: I have decided to apply, and now I just have to find the courage and powers of concentration to answer the essay questions. If accepted, I suspect I will be the oldest radio intern in the history of radio. I’m hoping that will be a point in my favor.

Also: I’m loving my Twitter feed today – I follow some Muslims, who follow other Muslims, and between the tweets and re-tweets, I’m getting this genuine, unfiltered little glimpse into the excitement and joy surrounding the start of Ramadan. This one tweets heart-felt admonitions to remember the social justice side to the month; that one encourages her fellow fasters to stay strong; this one over here references the cultural aspect of the start of fasting; that one over there just sounds all giddy. It’s fascinating and fun and I’m loving it! Ahhh, Twitter.

Also, too: How strange is it to be driving your nearly-11 year old son and his friends to the drop off point for their first ever Jewish sleep-away camp — and find yourself singing the following lyrics along with them?

I’m the son of rage and love
The Jesus of Suburbia
From the bible of “none of the above”
On a steady diet of soda pop and Ritalin
No one ever died for my sins in hell
As far as I can tell
At least the ones I got away with.

Yeahhhh…. Kind of strange. Kind of awesome! Also strange: Other Little Boy #1 actually got to see American Idiot on Broadway!! So I’m jealous of an 11 year old.

Ok, that’s it. That and the exhaustion. And all kinds of sad thoughts about Pakistani floods and Chinese mudslides and Palestinian desperation and Russian fires and the impact of the oil spill on the reproductive systems of the marine life of the Gulf and… and so I’ll stop. And leave you with my man Billy Joe, and his pals Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt, when they were in a slightly less rage-fueled mood. And go to sleep.

Things you can’t put on your resume.

(Looking for the Open Thread? Click here).

I may have mentioned that I am bereft of work. You know, a time or two. Ahem.

This is not, however, a post about that! No, it’s a post about resumes, or rather: the things I can’t put on mine, now that I’m thinking about it so much.

Like most people, I have skills — not to say skillz — that are finely honed, often unparalleled, and frequently dead handy. But useless on a resume.


  1. I can collate a messy pile of papers faster than just about anyone you might meet.
  2. I can likewise tap a messy pile of papers into a neat and presentable pile of papers right quick, without benefit of one of those automatic paper joggers (that I am not making up) with which I used to jiggle reams of paper into shape back when I ran a printing press in my youth. (Really).
  3. I have a freakish ability to divine from nothing but a movie’s trailer whether it will be good, or, in fact, suck. With, like, 80% accuracy. (Though I totally blew it, apparently, with Airbender. I declared it would be awesome. It is apparently most decidedly not awesome. I think I was blinded by my own fervent hopes).
  4. On rare occasion, I will have absolutely no idea what the time is, but for the most part, I can tell you the time, without access to a time piece, within roughly 5-7 minutes of the actual-factual time.
  5. I can measure a half teaspoon or teaspoon of salt, cinnamon, what-have-you, name your ground spice or herb, into my hand with stunning accuracy.
  6. Set me down in any building on earth, and I will find the bathroom.


How is that the job offers aren’t rolling in? I ask you.

The big empty.

Update: No you’re not losing your mind; yes this was originally posted yesterday. I moved it up on the page for blog housekeeping reasons. But hey! Why not read it again? Send it to friends! It’s all good. [The post that disappeared will come back, I promise].


Since losing my regular gig back in December, I have continued to work fairly steadily.

Well, I suppose I have continued to work “changeably,” because a constant stream of not-very-much-work has been intermittently interrupted by holy-crap-too-much-work-I’ll-be-up-until-the-dawn!

But, you know, there’s been work.

Of course, this has lead to an odd little situation: I’m constantly bemoaning the fact that I don’t have a job — and yet I am often very, very busy working. My head is not infrequently done in by the paradox, believe you me. I mean, I know that the problem lies not so much in “work,” per se, but in what kind of work, the extent to which it’s meaningful to me, the extent to which it draws on my strengths and abilities — but, bearing that in mind, it’s still kind of weird. I mean, I’ve even been making o.k. money.

Until today.

Sorry. I should have cued the music:

Dun dun DUNNNN –


This is the first week that has dawned since December in which I have had literally nothing to do. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Kloom, shoom davar, abso-fuckin’-lutely nothing.

A very small piece of this — to the tune of $100/month — is my fault. There’s a small, wee little job that I’ve done for several years now that pays badly but manages to both be meaningful to me and draw on my strengths and abilities, as well as often being very interesting, so I keep doing it. For reasons mostly having to do with the kids and their schedules, however, I decided to take July and August off. Without getting into a complicated and insanely boring explanation of their schedules and the deadlines this gig entails, suffice it to say: Trust me. It was a wise choice.

But the fact is that between now and September, I have not even $100 in the offing, and let me tell you: That is a fact that clears the sinuses!

It comforts me/serves to turn the screws tighter to know that this is not for lack of effort. I’ve applied for writing positions for which I would have been, in a word, perfect — and not even heard back. I’ve applied for writing positions for which I would have been pretty darn ok — and not even heard back. I’ve networked and asked around and made calls and sent emails and haunted the various job boards that have led to work in the past — and the best I’ve turned up in the process was that one job that I just missed applying for, but it’s filled now, thanks for asking.


I suppose there’s a little bit of invoicing I need to do. That’ll take 10 minutes. And there’s always focus group work — maybe I’ll wriggle my way into another $125 or so that way. And I’ve been amazed to see how much of the day can be consumed by commenting on a couple of blogs, tweeting a bit here and there, and occasionally pulling together my own blog post. There’s no end to projects I could do around the house, of course.

And there is the very real possibility that work could come over the transom tomorrow morning — hell, work could come over the transom in the course of me typing this post. That’s the way that freelancing works, and the one good thing to come of the past seven and a half months (the one good professional thing — there have been many, many good other things) has been the dawning realization that the work is likely to come. Here and there. Bits and bobs. Possibly even enough to make o.k. money.

But it’s rather an enormous, gaping stretch of Nothing that I face this afternoon, and I have no idea how I’ll fill it.

The simple truth is that for all my angst (jitters, jumps, misgivings, foreboding, fretfulness, and/or inquietude), I have largely been able to avoid thinking very deeply or at much length about what the fuck happens next, because I’ve been kept very busy nibbling around the edges of what came before.

So. We’ll see. I have many things that I keep meaning to get to on this blog, but I have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments, and I never know in the morning if I’m going to be up to writing anything substantive before it’s time to go to bed (witness Friday’s post. That really shouldn’t have counted). I have a couple of book ideas, I have a few leads on teaching in private schools, I’ve bookmarked the Career FAQs for Trader Joe’s. We’ll see.

Fingers crossed. For what, I’m no longer sure.

Ah – career plan now in place.

PS Funny story – I once wrote to the artist behind The Buckets, Greg Cravens, to try to get my hands on a strip I swore I’d seen once. He just went ahead and drew me a new one! This one, right here. Please visit The Buckets onlineGreg Cravens is a peach of a guy!

Good stuff: “So that means you love each other.”

Update II: Yaaaaayyy!! The ever-intrepid BoingBoing has an embed now (one gets the impression that the problem was that no credit was given, or something?). If you want to watch it, go to the post on Boing Boing and click on the video. So TOTALLY worth the extra click (well, two clicks, all told. But worth both!).

Update: I just discovered that the person who posted this video to YouTube has made it private — which makes me sad, for it is so lovely! But, at the same time, private is private, and maybe the boy’s parents were horrified to find him flying around the web all day long! (Which the clip has been, it turns out). In brief, the little boy says, essentially, “Wives are girls, and husbands are boys. I’ve seen husbands and wives before, but I’ve never seen husbands and husbands! That’s funny! …. So, that means you love each other. Ok, I’m going to go play now.” And he invites the videographer and (one presumes) the videographer’s husband to come play with him. My sense is that he is growing up good.

One minute and eight seconds of awesome from a little boy who sees the point:

I can’t tell you how much I love it that he essentially said “Ok, I see, you love each other. Got it. Let’s go play!”

(And thanks to Andrew Sullivan for the awesome).

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