My New York Times Essay is on a Podcast

My New York Times Essay is on a Podcast

Last year I wrote an essay for the Modern Love column of the New York Times. If you’ve read the column and listened to the companion podcast by WBUR, Boston’s public radio station, then you know that the stories are truly captivating. I read the essays and listen to the podcast most weeks. Though I’m much more faithful to listening to the podcast than I am to reading the actual column because, well, it’s easier to listen.

The essays that are read on the podcast are often a sampling of old and new works. The column has, after all, been around for more than a decade. That’s a lot of essays. Sometimes it takes years for an essay to be adapted from the newspaper to the podcast. The essay that was on the podcast two weeks ago, for instance, was first published twelve years ago.

With that in mind, I am so incredibly honored and proud to announce that my essay was just adapted for the podcast.

Almost exactly a year ago I looked up tips about writing an essay for the Modern Love column. One of the first tips I read: It doesn’t have to be perfect. The tip said that if you have a decent draft about a powerful topic, just submit it and see what happens. And that’s exactly what I did. I wrote what I thought was a far-from-finished essay and sent it to the editor, Dan Jones. Less than two weeks later I got an email saying my essay had been accepted and the New York Times was even going to use the title I gave the piece, which was exciting because that almost never happens. Editors will come up with a new title and some publications even have special editors just to write headlines.

I wrote a blog post about the whole process last year. It was a lot of fun and when the essay was published it was well received. I think it was the first time I’ve written something and didn’t receive hate mail. Emmy Rossum, Kate Bowler, and other luminaries shared the piece on social media. And now, a year later, Pedro Pascal from Game of Thrones and Narcos read the essay for the podcast. He tweeted about it, too.

I’ve never heard anyone read one of my essays before. He had my face covered in tears, particularly at the end. There’s a scene in which I’m trying to speak and it wasn’t going well. I knew Pedro was going to have to imitate my attempts to speak and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how he was going to do with that. It seemed like something that could easily sound inauthentic or fake, the thought of which made me cringe, but in the end he not only did justice to my writing, he managed to accurately convey the struggle of trying to speak. He captured the cruel reality of my illness and, in a world full of skeptics who often jump on any chance to doubt the legitimacy of an illness, that means a lot to me. I guess that’s why he’s a famous actor — the guy can emulate even the most unimaginable circumstances. I’ll always be grateful for how he portrayed that glimpse at my life.

There’s also a short interview with me after Pedro reads the essay on the podcast. It was both physically and mentally exhausting. Physically because, as you’ll hear, even whispering is a struggle for me. My breathing became labored during the interview and I struggled to get out the words I was trying to say without intense pain in my jaw. It was also tough emotionally because, well, you’ll hear that part, too.

But, without question, it was all worth it because the essay and the podcast raised awareness for MECFS and Lyme disease. I mean a well-known actor said Myalgic Encephalomyelitis on a podcast and he pronunced it better than me, and he doesn’t even have the disease. ⁣⁣That’s pretty damn cool.

It’s also perfect timing for International ME Awareness day on May 12th, which will feature demonstrations across the world. The ME community has held similar demonstrations before and they have made a big impact.

As cool as it was to write for the New York Times, as much as hearing my essay on the podcast boosted my ego, the most satisfying part about all of this was people learned about these diseases and the need for government research funding. ⁣⁣So, if you haven’t already, please listen and enjoy the podcast.

BEFORE YOU GO…

1. Thanks for reading!

2. If you would like to donate to support this blog I would be so grateful.

3. I am fundraising to pay my medical bills and if you’d like to help out by buying a shirt or hoodie I’d be equally grateful. I get about $5 for every shirt sold.

What are you Reading?

What are you Reading?

Unpaid labor is not a new idea. But the idea that anyone can write for a major media publication is relatively new. And that’s because some of these companies exploit non-professional writers by publishing their work without pay. One could venture to guess that this contributes to the true problem of “fake news.” These so-called “content mills” include online publications like Elite Daily, The Mighty, Bleacher Report and, until recently, HuffPost.

HuffPost announced it was closing its contributor network of more than 100,000 unpaid writers and adding two new sections to be filled by paid writers. HuffPost’s network of unpaid writers ran for nearly 13 years and created content that drew between 10 and 15 percent of all traffic to its website. The company didn’t pay any of the writers who created that content.

HuffPost, a company that billed itself as a platform for anyone to report the news (hmm, how could anything go wrong with that?), was hit with a lawsuit in 2012, after the company was bought by AOL for $315 million. The group of unpaid writers filing the suit believed they were entitled to a portion of the purchase price.

But U.S. District Judge John Koeltl ultimately ruled that the writers were not entitled to any compensation because “they never expected to be paid.”

And therein lies one of the biggest problems with freelance writing and content mills. In a perfect world these companies wouldn’t exploit writers, or any kind of worker to do a job for free, but the responsibility to ensure proper compensation ultimately falls on the writers. So if you’re a writer: DON’T. WORK. FOR. FREE.

Boycott

Of all the sites that doesn’t pay its writers, The Mighty has always made my blood boil. The Mighty makes me angry because not only does the site not pay writers, many of them are disabled.

It’s like that news story a few years back about Goodwill paying disabled people far below minimum wage thanks to its nonprofit status. Well, except The Mighty is a for-profit company and doesn’t pay writers at all. As one former editor wrote, the company sells users’ information to pharmaceutical companies and monetizes its content with ads from those businesses.

So while The Mighty may portray itself as “a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities,” it also profits off those people. The Mighty sells itself as a place where “We face disability, disease and mental illness together.” Oh really? Together? As in: You exploit disabled people while making them feel like you’re helping?

I’m not the only one who feels that The Mighty doesn’t care about disabled people — it has faced similar criticism in the past.

But perhaps The Mighty considers itself to be on the level of Facebook, a company that profits from a community of users who post content. But there’s a big difference. Facebook is made up of all kinds of people, notably those who can earn a living. The Mighty profits from many users who have disabilities and can’t work. And not just from their clicks or sloppy posts ranting about their Uncle Pete being a Trump supporter or photos of their meals. The Mighty actually enlists disabled people, many who can’t earn a living, then actually edits their content and publishes it as any other publication would.

One potential solution to this would be for writers to boycott writing for content mills like The Mighty. Collectively, they could choose not to write unless they are paid. But the problem with that is not everyone who writes on these platforms is a professional. In fact, I would venture to say that most are not professionals.

For these people, writing is not a profession, it’s a hobby. Many of the unpaid writers working for content mills aren’t in it to earn a living, they do it for fun, or as advocacy work, or for the potential exposure they could receive if something they write goes viral. And the underlying problem is they put little or no value on monetary compensation and far too much value on the exposure they could, but most likely will not, receive from writing an article for a content mill. Nonetheless, this is why there will always be people willing to write for free and companies willing to profit from them.

Just look at some of the people who wrote for HuffPost’s contributor network. The 100,000 unpaid writers who wrote for HuffPost formed an eclectic conglomeration of people. Some were casual bloggers and citizen watchdogs, while others were political figures and celebrities. Jennifer Aniston, one of my friends from high school, Oprah, and Barack Obama all wrote for HuffPost — without pay. And none of them made their living solely as a writer.

While articles written by celebrities are enticing to readers, they come at a cost to writers like me who have fewer paid writing assignments thanks to content mills. By accepting submissions from just about anyone, these sites not only dilute the market for paid assignments, they give instant credibility to non-professional writers without experience and sometimes even adequate education.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to quantify how many paid writing assignments would be created if every content mill closed its unpaid assignments and added paid sections like HuffPost did. But it would certainly be progress, which professional writers, and the economy, could benefit from. While this would mean less web content overall, it would mean more quality content. And certainly, it would mean more paid opportunities, particularly for those who write as a profession, not a hobby.

Don’t be a Freelance Writer

Whether you are a paid writer or working for free my instinct is to tell everyone to avoid freelancing. Don’t be a freelance writer, don’t be a freelance anything. It’s far too easy for companies and people to take advantage of you — I once had a client skip out on a $500 invoice, never to be heard from again.

Not to mention, being a freelance writer is not easy, it takes a dizzying mixture of literacy, personality, introspection, and business savvy, among many other things.

I was recently listening to a segment on the Bad With Money podcast about being a freelance writer, which reminded me that some people have to write for free because they have no bylines. I suppose that is where the term “paying your dues” comes from, but still, it’s hard for me to justify free labor. Especially when you consider the enormous corporate wealth we have in this country. But, as desperate as working for free makes a writer look, it makes a company look way worse. If only the public knew about it.

The problem is nobody knows they’re reading content written for free. I would guess that most people used to read HuffPost not knowing that the people who wrote the content weren’t paid. Would this change their reading habits? Would you boycott a major publication if you knew the writers weren’t getting paid? I would hope so, but that’s probably just me being optimistic. I think most people are barely focused on which publication their reading, let alone whether it pays fairly.

So, if you want to support writers and fair wages, please don’t read sites like The Mighty or Elite Daily. And if you’re a writer and you feel you must work as a freelancer, don’t work for free, even if you need a byline to show employers. For your sake and fair pay, write a blog and show that to prospective employers, use it as a vehicle to find a better paying, securer job that suits you.

A few things before you go:

1. Thank you for reading!

2. I am fundraising to pay my medical bills so if you’d like to help out by buying a shirt or hoodie I would be very grateful!

3. If you would like to donate to support this blog I would be equally grateful!

Why I Refuse to Write About Trivial Things 

Why I Refuse to Write About Trivial Things 

My life, as it plays out in my mind, is a series of fragmented memories. Perhaps it is my foggy brain, or just a normal faded memory, but my mind feels like it is filled with a bunch of blotchy points set in time. 

10 years ago I was graduating high school, seven years ago I was in college — flipping huge tractor tires in my backyard. Three years ago I was riding my bike and getting increasingly sicker; two years ago I was on my deathbed, last year my health started to improve, and now this year, I’m on the verge of getting out of bed again. 

These are the moments and associated topics I choose to write about for many of my essays and blog posts.  

I also write about newsy topics, sure, but only if I am able to fit in a paragraph or two about a cause I care about. While not entirely true, it seems I can’t bring myself to write about any topic of which I can’t pair with MECFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome). Take my Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times: If I wasn’t able to mention MECFS in that piece I’m not sure I would have willed myself to write it. Okay, it was the LA Times, so I probably would have found a way to complete the assignment, but it certainly wouldn’t have been as rewarding and if it had been a lesser known publication I know for a fact I wouldn’t have written it. 

How I got Here

Three years ago, when I was still able to live on my own and before I became bedridden, I worked full-time (albeit from home) as an editorial assistant for a financial publication. Everyday I woke up and monitored three separate stock portfolios of which my boss tracked and wrote about for the 50,000 paying subscribers to his weekly newsletters. I did a lot of research, ghostwriting, and editing for his newsletters as well. 

I was a business major in college and investing was always something that interested me, but writing with a conservative, Reaganomics ideology took some major acting skills on my part.

And while I did a pretty good job mimicking a fiscal conservative, I was primarily doing it for the paycheck. Eventually that mentality took my body down, as I couldn’t handle the workload while living with ailing health. I remember my boss leaving me a voicemail on a chauffeured drive home from one of his weekly appearances on Fox News and I just couldn’t gather enough energy to call him back. 

I soon became too sick to take care of myself, let alone work. And as I mentioned in my last post, working my body into the ground while my friends and family took care of me felt selfish.

Eventually I had no choice but to let go of my job. I was too sick to speak or eat and distinctly remember my mom having to call my boss and tell him that, despite his “No man left behind” speech, I couldn’t continue. 

While that was only two and a half years ago, my outlook on life and how I want to spend the rest of my time on Earth has immeasurably changed.

I Won’t Write About the Kardashians 

I submit my essays to many publications and nine out of ten times they get rejected. I would probably have a better success rate if I was willing to write about the Kardashians or articles titled “7 Hidden Menu Items at Starbucks.” But I’m just not willing to do that anymore. Why? Well, besides having already gone down that path as a new college grad desperately looking for ways to pay off my student loans, my heart just isn’t in it. It was never in it, but now — ever since the ghostwriting about Reaganomics — I just cannot muster the will to write about trivial stuff. And let me tell you, it’s not like the paycheck makes it a tough decision. 

When I had to write about things like porta-potties and the best nightclubs in Tulsa, Oklahoma (yes, I actually wrote about both of those things) I only made about $20 an essay. The work I do now is much more infrequent, but it’s way more rewarding. And infrequent is actually a good thing for me because I am all-too aware of pushing myself too far with deadlines and the stress of a large workload like I have done in the past. So now I write at my own pace and only about topics I truly care about. 

That said, I still put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to achieve things. I want to have my memoir published, for instance, and despite countless rejections, I will not give up until it is published. But that’s because my heart is in it, just as my heart is in every post I write on this blog and every essay I write for publication. So here’s to keeping the ball rolling….

Thanks for reading and subscribing!