Years ago, in another lifetime when I was a different person, I answered an ad on Craigslist for a copyeditor position at a city “urban lifestyle/fashion” magazine. I went in for an interview and took a test and got the job.
It was a freelance position for barely above minimum wage, but I was hardly complaining. I was thrilled to death because these kinds of positions are hard to come by if you’re not in New York City. They didn’t care that I didn’t have an English or Journalism degree, just as long as I could do the job. My boss was a bright young lady with natural talent and good managerial skills who guided me well. She just explained everything very clearly and I learned a lot from her. I didn’t care that I was living on ramen noodles.
Much to my delight, she eventually started giving me short writing assignments. You know, those short, zippy articles about restaurants and spas and nightclubs and fashion and entertainment. Vanity Fair Light. Just the kinds of topics I loved to read about, so writing about them was fun and not too difficult. She also taught me how to fact-check and do basic interviews.
She was the only person there who was nice to me. The editorial department was all women, except for one guy. Being a woman too didn’t help much because I was already thirtysomething and “old” and I wasn’t young and hip and fashionable like the other full-time staff. I went to a public state university whereas the other women had gone to schools like Northwestern and Vassar. Race wasn’t the issue. It was more about class and age and looks. I wasn’t the right kind of girl.
They were all friends with each other (or, at least, pretended to be) and hung out together, drinking and dancing and dining in the city’s hottest clubs and bars and restaurants. They could afford it. I never got invited to join them, I was always reminded that I wasn’t a part of the full-time staff. I was just the freelancer. For example, during Christmas, the creative director made hand-made bracelets for everybody and handed them out in person to everyone except me. Like it would have been so difficult to make that one extra bracelet.
One day I was working at the computer and one of the writers suddenly dumped her Prada bag loudly on the counter and said to me in an exasperated voice, “You know, I have a journalism degree from Columbia. I was here before you.” I guess she was pissed off because I was getting some of the writing assignments she assumed she would be getting. After all, she looked right for the part.
My boss was aware of the situation. I didn’t say anything to her, but somehow she knew. She said, “Don’t ever let anyone make you think you don’t belong here. You deserve to be here just as much as anyone else.”
So, really, I didn’t mind the exclusion that much. I finally had a meaningful, interesting job with some autonomy and I was learning a lot.
They finally offered me a full-time “staff” position. As the receptionist. I’d be answering phones and sending out faxes and having less copyediting opportunities. And no writing and no fact-checking. But I would get slightly higher pay and basic health insurance.
The office manager was behind a lot of this. She was a Belgian immigrant who, flush and giddy with all the new opportunities she had in America, was getting her MBA from some “returning students” program at a prestigious city university. But I’d heard from someone who’d gotten his MBA there (the regular program) that that special program was really just a diploma mill. Those students didn’t have to score high on their GRE; just pay the tuition and eventually you get to put the school’s prestigious name on your resume. Less discerning employers don’t know the difference.
So suddenly I was called into her office to discuss this new job “opportunity,” which I didn’t really understand because she was just the office manager and never got involved in the editorial department before. But I think there was some kind of power play between her and my boss and I was becoming a part of it somehow. When I asked some questions about this new offer and whether or not there was any opportunity for promotion, she looked at me quizzically and said, “I don’t see why you’re being so picky. Your only background is in being a secretary.”
Anyway, much to everyone’s dismay, I turned down the position. I could get a receptionist job anywhere. It just made more sense to me to remain a freelance copyeditor with occasional writing and research opportunities.
One day I came into work and my boss informed me that she was leaving. Her husband had gotten an excellent job offer in another city and they wanted to start a family. I took it well and I knew it was over for me. Within days of her leaving, I was told my position was being eliminated and that I would have to leave. Of course, immediately, they just put another person in my position. A 23-year-old.
Years went by and on occasion, just to torture myself, I’d go to the bookstore and pull the magazine off the shelf and check out the masthead. Of course, the people I hated the most were still there and doing remarkably well, moving up to senior editorial positions and so on. Two of the writers moved to another hip, urban publication into senior editor and senior food writer slots.
But karma happens. Maybe not right away, but eventually it does. You just have to be patient. The Internet changed everything and publications started folding left and right. The magazine got bought out by a much larger media group, who brought in a lot of their own people to replace my former adversaries. The creative director is still there and the magazine layout looks virtually identical to how it looked more than a decade ago. I’ve no idea if she’s still making bracelets for everybody.
I’m glad I’m not there. I’m glad I’m not trying to make a living as a writer or editor. I imagine the office politics at that place at this point in time must be absolutely deadly given the current state of media and competition from the Internet. So no thank you.
I have a blog and I can say whatever the fuck I want and post whatever images I want. I’m the writer, the editor, the creative director, everything. I’m not answerable to anybody. And I have followers and exposure and that is more than anything I would ever have at any magazine. Nobody cares how old I am or what private school I went to or if I’m pretty enough. I just have to blog and re-blog decent shit.
So thank you Tumblr. Thank you so much.
EDIT: I’m not saying this is the worst thing that ever happened to anybody or anything like that. It’s just a typical story that’s happened to so many of us.