I invite myself to take a risk and become a writer, whatever that means.
I was experiencing somewhat of a quarter-life crisis. The United States government was (and is) grossly mishandling a pandemic, unsurprising but still disappointing to anyone who has written a term paper on AIDS under the Reagan administration. The West Coast caught fire and seemed to bring the job market down with it. I found myself—formerly a performing arts stage manager—job hunting and baking lots of focaccia.
Nine months and two Taylor Swift albums later, it is clearly time to rethink how I approach my career path. I am holding out hope for a handful of dream jobs, but regardless of whether I end up winning first prize (full-time employment with benefits) in Hasbro’s new board game, The Job Hunt, I need to do something for myself.
OK now what????
I have always identified as a writer, even when I go months without writing anything longer than an email. (Don’t get me wrong: I love email. If I could, I would write the Great American Email Novel and be done with it. Unfortunately, the Great American Email Novel had been done to death by the time I was in training bras—more on training bras later, probably—and I don’t currently have any ideas to revolutionize the canon.)
As a child and baby gay, I filled notebooks with imaginary interviews with my heroes: Mia Hamm, Raven-Symoné, Barbara Park, the girl from Halloweentown, the lead singer of the Cranberries. As a young adult, I bought Moleskines ostensibly to look at while I typed stories and poems and articles and responses to books I’d read. The first listicle I ever composed was for my suburban Ohio high school newspaper. This was circa early Buzzfeed, and I titled my article something like “10 Reasons You Should Actually Read Jane Austen.” I’m calling it now: look out for Jane Austen. She’ll be big.
I went to college. I found theatre. The frequency of my nonacademic writing decreased, though the quality improved. I took a poetry class and interned at an indie press. I worked in permissions at the University of Chicago Press. I found theatre internships that would pay me to track props and format paperwork, and I quit that permissions job. By the time I graduated with a double major in English and Theater, my ambitions for a career as an editor and published writer were in the rearview. And I didn’t look back.
That is to say, when I found myself struggling to find footing in an unprecedented job market, I was drawn back to my first identity: writer. Returning to this identity is relieving and terrifying.
My voice might not be once-in-a-generation, and it feels like most of what I want to write has already been written. Still I crawled back to that very first iteration of myself and asked her to take me back. I don’t know why I thought I could live without you, but I need you, I told her. She rolled her eyes at me and handed me a pen, which I promptly lost.
From daydream to gay little reality.
What ultimately spurred me to action—and the reason you’re here right now—was an article in the Wall Street Journal: a sexist rant thinly disguised as a mediocre op-ed by a mediocre white man. I realized that, in direct opposition to the scarcity mentality to which I had been clinging, literally anyone could publish literally anything. And most of them were paid for it.
I looked at statistics and five-year projections about freelancing in the current job market. Some of them are very encouraging, and some are more along the lines of “DANGER AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW!” Armed with confirmation bias, I chose to process and then lovingly ignore the warnings. I don’t believe my voice matters as much as some other voices: voices of color, trans voices, voices of organizers. But tending to a gay little plot of land for myself will not, I hope, take space and divert attention from them.
Rather than waiting for an invitation to a world and industry and lifestyle that seldom carves out space for non-cishet-white-male voices, I am writing this as an invitation to myself—and to you, if you want to join me.
So here I am. Welcome. I have no clue what I’m doing. But I’m excited to find out.