Friday, August 6, 2010
My written word. Friday, August 6, 2010
“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” ~Ray Bradbury
Today was a bittersweet day at work. On the one hand, I received several e-mails from readers of our magazine, praising me for the articles I wrote for our most recent issue. “You are remarkable at writing,” one reader told me. “It is a spiritual gift and quality given to you.”
Even though I’ve been writing professionally for more than two decades, and have received a number of awards for my work, it still means the world to me when I hear such praise for doing something that comes to naturally to me.
On the other hand, two writers I know contacted me, hoping for work at my magazine. Their own publications have shut down, and they’re out of work. I’m getting more and more of these contacts lately. Unfortunately I didn’t have any positions to offer them. I don’t know where my own publication will be two years, or even six months, from now.
Times change. There is limited need today for buggy whip-makers or typewriter repairmen. Likewise, the need for print journalists is decreasing due to the Internet, and the means to pay them is decreasing due to the recession. Sidney Harman’s recent purchase of Newsweek – for one dollar – sent chills down the spine of every print journalist.
Harman will be slashing the staff and more and more of the magazine will be online. Eventually, the print publication will cease, and the number of writers needed there will shrink to a handful. It’s a story being repeated at magazines and newspapers across the country and around the world. The magazine I work for (not Newsweek) is surviving for now, but no one knows what the future will bring.
This is the situation that brings me the most anxiety. This is the situation that depresses me the most. I can take medication to help with my bipolar, but even Eli Lilly can’t make a pill that will guarantee my future employment. My suicide attempt occurred during a mixed mania, but the backdrop was a series of layoffs and pay cuts at my employer that left me devastated and afraid.
A lot of people, trying to be helpful, remind me that I can always write no matter what happens to my job. They send me articles about making a few bucks by blogging. They suggest I write a book. (I’ve written two, and believe me, books are a labor of love.)
Well, I’ve got a secret: It isn’t about the writing at all. It’s about the mortgage. It’s about insurance. Truth be known, I’d be quite happy at a job that required no writing, as long as I could pay my bills. I can always write on my own time, and I don’t mind writing for free. What I need is not to be a writer, but to support my family. I’ve been fortunate to do what I love for money, but these days, it’s no longer true that you can “do what you love and the money will follow.” Times have changed.
Anyone who knows me knows I am one of the least materialistic people around. I’m more than satisfied shopping at second-hand stores and driving a decade-old economy car. It’s not about things, and it’s not about status. It’s about the security of knowing I can cover basic expenses – and like SO many people these days, I no longer have that security as I look into the future.
I do, however, have lots of company. My fellow journalists share my fears, as do so many people in so many different fields. No one knows where this roller-coaster is taking us. And we’re all riding in the same car. All we have is today. And for now, we have to be satisfied with that.