what is the deal
[The title of this post is supposed to be read in the voice of Henchman 21 from The Venture Brothers. But it’s fine the regular way too.]
I used to have a Google alert on myself. You know, because of all the reviews and blogs and whatnot. Then I got rid of my Google alert. Because of all the reviews and blogs and whatnot.
Given the practically infinite size of the Internet, it is statistically a near certainty that at any given moment someone somewhere on it is calling me a dick. Which is totally fine. It may even be true. But the weird thing about it is that when people talk smack about me they do it as if I can’t hear them. I feel like if someone’s going to call me a douchebag, they’re going to do it anyway, but they would at least do it in a different way if I were in the room with them.
Which owing to the nature of the Internet I am. Except it doesn’t generic zithromax gluten free seem like that to them — it seems like I’m off in some other universe somewhere where I can’t hear them. I think this is partly because I write for Time, and I publish books through a big fat entrenched New York publisher, which means that my words tend to appear in glossy packages that were obviously designed and printed by massive soulless corporations. That has the effect of making me seem like some bloated plutocrat who looks like the Monopoly guy.
Which is totally wrong. I don’t have a mustache.
And I don’t want people to think of me that way. I want to be in the room. Being a writer without a blog is like being a ghost at your own funeral. You’re there, and yet you’re not. And then you overhear your best friend say, ‘sure, he was a decent guy, but it’s not like it’s a national tragedy or anything. ooh, look, mini-pizzas!’ Which—cool ghost powers aside—who wants that?
So here I am.
The whole idea that you can’t write good fiction on medication is of course complete bollocks. David Foster Wallace wrote most of what he wrote on Nardil, which is a way harder-core med than anything I ever got near. (This argument is or is not effective depending on whether or not you like DFW’s stuff.)
It’s not like writers haven’t been self-medicating phentermine with alcohol since forever anyway. But we tend to be fussy about anything clinical or medical, i.e. anything that isn’t sufficiently self-destructive. It’s like Rilke refusing psychoanalysis because he thought it would kill his muse:
“Psychoanalysis is too fundamental a help for me, it helps you once and for all, it clears you up, and to find myself finally cleared up one day might be even more hopeless than this chaos.”
Spoken like a man who was sleeping w/ his shrink. (Which he was.)
But that’s how I felt myself after I went off SSRI’s. And I did not even have sex w/ my shrink.
After my Palm Beach adventure I stayed away from anything pharmaceutical for a year. As far as I was concerned writing required raw unaltered brain chemistry. If I was going to get anywhere with The Magicians, nothing else would do.
A lot of people take anti-depressants. A lot of writers take them. But not a lot of people talk about it. Or at least few enough that I was pretty struck when the Penny Arcade guys talked about their experience with Lexapro. I was struck enough that I thought maybe I should talk about my history with anti-depressants.
(At some future time I will do a post that tries to explain my obsession with Penny Arcade. But not now.)
Let me first say for the record: I held out. I did not want to be the dude in the Woody Allen movie who’s always talking about his shrink, and I did not want to be the dude who needs drugs to deal with reality. I wanted to be some other dude. Why, I don’t know. Because it wasn’t great being that other dude. It was un-great enough that when I was 35 I figured I’d had about as much anxiety and depression as I was interested in generic anti anxiety pills having. So I went into therapy.
The other night — Tuesday night — I went to the Time 100 party, which is something that happens every year. I have to go, because they need people from Time to make nice with celebs and prominent advertising clients. Not necessarily in that order.
But I would have gone anyway, because there are a lot of interesting people there. Jerry Holkins and Robert Khoo from Penny Arcade were there. At dinner I sat next to Lizzie Skurnick and Suzanne Collins, which is pretty much my idea of a good time. Prince played, which was cool until he got bored and kind of wandered away. Bill Clinton, Martha Stewart, Judd Apatow, Sarah Palin, Ashton Kutcher, Taylor Swift, etc. were there too. I did not talk to them.
Plus I finally own a tux and that and the National Book Awards are the only black tie events I ever get invited to.
But it made me think that for a person like me — by which I mean a person with a huge amount of poorly concealed social anxiety — I’ve met a weirdly large number of celebrities.
It happens to a lot of people. There’s a certain period in a writer’s career when your editors send you out on a ton of celebrity journalism stories. It’s just a thing that happens. When you write about anything related to the arts, and you’re too senior to sit back at the office and check facts all day, but you’re not senior enough to sit back at the office and bank checks all day, you get sent out to do celebrity interviews.
In fact there was a period of about a year when I wrote Time magazine’s celebrity news page on a weekly basis. That seems so weird now that it’s hard to believe it happened in our Earth prime timeline, and not in some alternate branch where Sparta won the Peloponnesian War or something. But it did.
So for example, during the period 2002-2005, I interviewed (I’m just going from memory here): Claire Danes, Tobey Maguire, Bruce Willis, Julia Stiles, Naomi Campbell, David Blaine, Hugh Jackman, Scott Adams, Jack Nicholson, Tim Burton, Chris Rock, Robert Englund, Daniel Handler, Joan Didion, J.K. Rowling, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mos Def, John le Carré, Johnny Cash, Natalie Portman (who for some reason I spastically hugged after our interview), Hugo Weaving, Albert Brooks, Kathleen Turner, Gerard Butler (whose interview I accidentally deleted from my digital recorder before I could transcribe it; then I died of shame), Guy Pearce, Ann Coulter, Allison Janney, Al Franken, Jon Stewart, Keanu Reeves, Tilda Swinton, Tom Clancy … I can’t go on.
I mean I could. But I can’t.
Here’s the other thing people generally mean when they ask me why I work at Time: Why do you, a card-carrying member of the nerdo-American underground, work at Time, which is by and large an organ of the straight mainstream surface-dwelling culture?
The answer to this is actually kind of complicated, which is one reason I created a fictional alter ego for the express purpose of asking myself this question in public. (I shall kill him now. There, he’s dead.)
The easy answer is, it happened by accident. I was going to be an academic. In fact I took the drastic step of going to grad school for three years in comparative literature. While I was there I learned something really important: a career in academia is really hard, and I wasn’t very good at it. So I left and did what you did when you had no marketable skills and it was 1996, which was get hired as a Web producer.
My first job was at a startup — this startup — which died. My second was at Time Inc. I did Web stuff for them for four years before they decided I was better at writing than at Web stuff, which isn’t saying much.
This isn’t the normal way you get into writing at a magazine like Time. You’re supposed to go to journalism school and then do a few years at a local paper. But they needed somebody who was into books, and another person who was into zithromax online usa technology, and if they could get one person who was into both, they would take him and save an entire salary. I was that person.
So that’s one way to explain it: I needed a job, and that was the job I could get. Another way to look at it is that I have a habit — good or bad, I don’t know — of throwing in my lot with large, stable institutions. I went to Harvard. I went to Yale. I went to Time. I’m very risk-averse that way. Except when it comes to writing novels, I’m crap at going it alone. It doesn’t make for a very exciting resume, but it cuts down on my ambient anxiety levels considerably
Another downside is that It creates weird expectations about what kind of person I am. People tend to assume I’m this conventional, conservative, fogey-ish, bow-tie-wearing pod-person. Which by the way, there aren’t really people like that at Time. But I’m probably a little less like that than most, and there are times when I feel like I’m communicating with my co-workers across a vast cultural chasm. I dwarf, you elf. I Morlock, you Eloi.
So if you run into me at a reading or a convention or wherever, and you’re wondering what the hell the guy from Time magazine is doing there, just remember: when I go to work, everybody at Time is wondering what the hell the guy in the Potions Master t-shirt is doing there.
So sometimes when I’m talking to people — fans, people in bars, forensic psychiatrists, you know, people — they’re all, jeez, you work at Time magazine? What’s the deal with that?
As far as I can tell this question can actually mean two different things.
Meaning #1: You write novels. Moreover they are actually (for some reason that I don’t necessarily understand or endorse) published. Why do you have a job at Time too?
Well, here’s the thing: most novelists have day jobs. The sad truth is that there just aren’t that many novelists who make enough money that they don’t have to work on the side. A lot of them teach writing. Some do other things. Like work for Time.
There is a magic number somewhere out there, which is the amount of money I’d need to make from my novels to quit buy zithromax cheap working and just write them full-time. French mathematicians, building on earlier work by Descartes, first discovered and calculated this number in the 17th century. They named it Fuck-You Money, or simply F prime. (This would be funnier if I knew how to do superscripts in HTML.) The amount of money I currently make from writing fiction is approaching F prime, but it isn’t there. Yet.
That’s partly because in my case F prime is artificially high, because I live in a really expensive place, namely New York City. Where I stay partly because my daughter (who’s 5) lives here with her Mom, and I would be miserable if I lived too far from her.
I also stay in New York because I work at Time magazine. Recursiveness! You can iterate that loop pretty much endlessly.
Coming tomorrow: Meaning #2!