Just Some Reflections on My Time at Mic

Last week, Mic — the woke-for-profit millennial news startup I worked for in a past life — met its inevitable demise, laying off most of the newsroom and selling its remains to Bustle Digital Group.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I’ve been quietly anticipating Mic’s failure for over two years now — ever since they laid me off (along with my editor and fellow staff writer) without warning. On the other hand, I have lots of empathy for all the bright, talented, hard-working journalists that got fucked as a result of Mic’s toxic atmosphere and gross mismanagement. It’s not cute.

In the weeks following my own layoff in September 2016, I contemplated posting a longwinded account of my grueling experience as a cog in the Mic machine… but then I’d remember that I signed a dumb NDA in exchange for a morsel of severance, so I figured I should avoid any potential drama and just STFU.

But now they’ve crumbled, so let’s discuss!

***

I spent my early twenties pursuing a career in the music business, eventually working as a music licensing coordinator at MTV after finishing grad school in 2012. It was around this time that I realized I wanted to be a professional writer. Lol. The timing was not great!

I started working on my first manuscript — a funny memoir about my fucked up relationship history — in my spare time. Oh my God. I labored and obsessed over that damn book for hours and hours and hours. When I finally finished, I thought it was so perfect. I queried probably every nonfiction literary agent in New York. Some requested and then rejected it; others rejected it based on the pitch alone. One agent read my book, turned it down, and then asked for nudes. (I know, right?) Other agents suggested revisions. I revised and resubmitted and still got nowhere. In the end, there was one piece of feedback all their responses had in common: “You need to grow your platform.”

I started writing op-eds and unpaid posts for sites that had open submission policies, but getting attention as a writer was hard. None of my shit ever went viral. Eventually I decided that the only solution would be to write for the internet full-time.

With no real connections in media, I started randomly applying to job listings with “writer” in the title as they popped up on Indeed. Crickets chirped in response.

I was in a dark, ready-to-give-up-on-the-dream-of-writing-y place by the time I came across a Staff Relationships Writer role at Mic in March 2015. I was elated to hear back a few days later. Over the next few weeks, I poured myself into their edit test, interviewed with various members of the company, and even published two “test” articles on the site. Eventually I was invited to quit my full-time job at MTV for another “test”: three months as a full-time freelancer to help grow their new relationships vertical (called “Connections”), with no guarantee I’d get an actual job out of it. There was a $12,000 pay cut involved.

It was a very shitty offer! But it was a career change. And they made an excellent case for their ability to help me grow a following and develop my chops as an online writer. Plus, this was during an era when Mic articles were going viral all the damn time. It was thrilling (and naive and stupid) to imagine myself writing one of those posts and finally proving to literary agents that I could be popular enough to sell a book.

I did notice that a lot of Mic content was clickbait-y and formulaic, but the vision I’d laid out in my edit test was adorably not clickbait-y and formulaic — and management seemed fully on board with that direction for the section I’d be helping to launch. Plus I saw that Ashley Judd (a famous person!) had written an op-ed for them earlier that year. So the place had to be legit.

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I started in June. My first editor was a lifestyle content wizard with an insanely sharp eye for clean, concise copy. Under her guidance I quickly became a pro at churning out trending stories in the sex/dating space. I wasn’t in love with everything I was posting — I never had the time or freedom to inject thought, nuance, or humor into my relentless coverage of relationship studies, sex toys, and viral celebrity tweets — but I needed to get an actual staff position out of this whole ordeal. I became adept at filing my work, hitting reset on my brain, and moving on to the next post. It actually wasn’t all that different from managing a pipeline of projects/emails in a thankless office job.

Mic’s lack of editorial standards became suffocating over time, though. The only stories approved by management were those that could be squeezed into “frameworks” that had already been proven to perform well on Facebook. This issue obviously wasn’t unique to Mic, but they took it to ridiculous heights with their various paint-by-numbers headlines.

I eventually started to cringe at the sight of my own byline.

Weekly pitch meetings with the v. pretentious Co-Founder/Editor In Chief were particularly painful. His favorite question was, “Who’s sharing this?” — at which point you’d have to make the case for how your headline would rile up at least one reliably share-happy chunk of the internet. It was especially encouraged to craft pitches with the “outrage share” (pandering to PC culture/liberal outrage) and the “identity share” (pandering to millennials’ obsession with self-identification) in mind.

I’d silently die inside as my pitches were dissected and reassembled by the Audience team to become more click-y and formulaic. For example, an idea I once had for a thoughtful personal essay on whether I had made a mistake by leaving my hometown somehow turned into “There’s Good News for People Who Go Back to Their Hometowns.” (The post contained no news, good or bad.)

The most successful article I wrote checked all the Mic boxes: “11 Brutally Honest Reasons Millennials Don’t Want Kids.”

The listicle format! The usage of “brutally honest” in the headline! The usage of millennial in the headline! The guaranteed identity shares from the proudly anti-baby crowd! It racked up millions of views. I’m sure the EIC came all over his Google Analytics dashboard.

***

I was officially hired full-time a few weeks after the kid-free article went live.

By then our vertical had become one of the most successful on the entire site. My editor got promoted to launch other sections, and Mic hired another editor and two more staff writers to ramp up output for Connections. They also hired a fancy new Executive Editor to take the overall newsroom in a more legit direction; she had a journalism background and a commitment to editorial integrity and everything! With all the changes afoot, I started thinking it might be possible to develop a lane at Mic where I could publish writing I was at least semi-proud of.

But alas, weeks passed and Mic’s clickbait-mad-libs strategy persisted.

Now that I had secured the staff role, I figured I could at least finally speak up about my concerns. I detailed all my complaints in a lengthy email to my new editor. She was supportive and understanding — I got the sense that she agreed with the majority of what I was saying — but it was largely business as usual for the time being.

I resigned myself to the belief that good writing and “Mic” were mutually exclusive concepts, so I focused on turning around quick trending stories with as much voice as possible. I packed my posts with sentence-to-sentence jokes and over-the-top phrasing in hopes of at least slightly differentiating them from the boilerplate Mic hot takes of the day.

But the Audience team was nevertheless encouraged to slap inflammatory headlines on all content when packaging it for social. I once did a silly 250-word write-up about how Khloé Kardashian said she’d never seen a white dick before — lol —  and the Facebook team opted for share text along the lines of “Khloé Kardashian is perpetuating a harmful stereotype about race and penises,” which… was an actual lie. I made a huge stink about this on Slack until they finally agreed to change it up a little. “Khloé Kardashian Has Some Thoughts About Race and Penises” was their final offer.

***

Meanwhile, weekly pitch sessions had become a special circle of hell. I was reluctant to share good ideas with the team because I knew there was no way I’d ever be given the space to execute them properly. So instead I just spat out half-baked and outlandish pitches that were basically second-rate ClickHole posts. I considered it a small, sad victory when one of them actually got published.

The directive to spark outrage and/or foster empowerment at every turn intensified. I was required to write about slut-shaming, body-shaming, post-baby-body-shaming, food-shaming, working-mom-shamingselfie-shaming, period-shaming, boob-shamingbreastfeeding-shaming, age-shaming, phone-shaming… all in a way that suggested I personally gave a shit! Not to discount the validity of (some of) those issues, but the standard for something to be labeled an act of “shaming” was remarkably fucking low in the Mic universe.

I often fantasized about writing for another, less horrible website — but was positive that none of them would ever take me seriously at that point.

And so I took all my frustration out on my editor and generally became a nightmare to work with. Months of pent up anger and embarrassment over the state of my byline would unleash itself on her at the slightest piece of editorial feedback. I became unprofessional and unfair. Our daily Slack exchanges were stressful and exhausting as she tried her best to quell my outbursts while still graciously insulating me from the bullshit she had to deal with from her bosses.

Our relationship eventually became so tense that management had to get involved. We scheduled time in a windowless little meeting room with an internally beloved Editorial Director who admonished me for not being a team player and threatened to fire me if I didn’t start being more cooperative.

“You’re a good writer, but you’re not that good,” he said with a chuckle. “No one is irreplaceable.”

The irony was that even if I wanted to be a team player, the directives from the top were shifting so rapidly that I couldn’t even figure out how to do so. I had thought that churning out multiple trending pieces a day to fill their Facebook quota was being a team player — but then they randomly started asking for generic evergreen SEO content out of the fucking blue.

I seized every chance I could to quietly revolt. I accepted an assignment to write “something about Earth Day” and turned it into a vulgar and ridiculous roundup of Earth Day sex tips that reads like a rejected Howard Stern Show bit. I randomly argued that Ariana Grande was a closet pegging enthusiast. I agreed to give the SEO director “A Complete Guide to Taylor Swift’s Ex-Boyfriends,” but instead gave him a complete exploration of what would happen if all her ex-boyfriends were cereal.

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Mic moved into new offices at One World Trade Center on August 1, 2016 and my section was cut without warning exactly a month later. My layoff took place in a sterile conference room with a member of HR and — randomly — the fucking SEO guy. I think he was maybe promoted by then? Lol. Idk. He wasn’t a fan!

Traffic and politics and other high-level shit I was oblivious to surely played a role in the decision to kill the section, but it felt at least semi-personal. An ex-coworker texted after my editor and I were escorted out of the building to inform me that my Earth Day sex tips article was specifically called out by management at an all-hands meeting about the layoffs later that day. Seriously!

I was relieved for my time at Mic to be over, but I was also sad and furious that the split had happened so abruptly and entirely on their terms. My ballsy career change had blown up in my face. And I still didn’t have an agent.

In time, of course, it turned out to be a huge blessing. The only reason I’d joined Mic in the first place was to invest in my future as a writer — but somehow I’d ended up accomplishing the exact opposite of that. Churning out half-hearted bullshit for the internet day after day left me with no time or energy to actually work on writing projects I was passionate about.

I spent the year after the layoff working on a brand new manuscript, which ultimately turned into a YA novel that (finally!) landed me a literary agent and is currently on submission to publishers. I have a non-writing day job again — coincidentally at a legacy media company in One World Trade Center — but I’m working on my third book in my spare time. I desperately wish I had more time to focus on writing, but I try to be grateful that I have any time or energy to focus on it at all.

I don’t regret my experiences at Mic. Like many of their alumni will say, the people in the newsroom were mostly excellent — management was the problem. I loved my Connections team, and they were extremely patient with what was probably the worst professional version of me that has ever existed. I learned a lot. And if I hadn’t taken that leap, I’d have always wondered what would have happened if I did.

I was sitting at my desk in One World Trade Center last Thursday when I read the news of Mic’s final act. It was a quiet day in my office as, forty or so floors directly above me, the company that made my life generally miserable for fifteen months entered the throes of collapse. There was something kinda melancholy and poetic about it all. I started pulling up my old articles, some for the first time in years. Many of them still made me cringe, but others weren’t so bad. I still laugh when I think about the Taylor Swift cereal post. It even makes me a little proud.

 

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Not All Thinking is Relevant: Why I’m Done with Thought Catalog

I’ve only been close with one transgender person in my life so far, and she happened to be somewhat famous. Her name was Octavia St. Laurent, known by many from the iconic film Paris Is Burning. There’s nothing I can write here to convey how effervescent and lovely she was, so instead I’ll just state the facts.

Octavia lived about a half hour away from where I attended college in Connecticut. My campus-leader boyfriend hit it off with her after she came to our school to give a lecture on HIV for an event he organized one day. The chemistry was instant and Octavia quickly became something of a den mother to us. She schooled my boyfriend and me on safe sex, emotional wellness, and the importance of being our authentic selves. She gave us sassy yet wise life advice and told us mind-blowing stories from her salacious New York days. She never talked with us about her journey to becoming Octavia. She had nothing to prove; she just was Octavia.

One time the three of us got stuck in traffic for two hours during a thunderstorm, and Octavia and I passed the time by singing and harmonizing to Toni Braxton’s “How Could an Angel Break My Heart” (the Babyface duet version, of course) on repeat. Though it seemed insignificant in the moment, this has since become one of my all-time favorite memories. An 18-year-old white boy from rural Connecticut and a trans woman of color who happened to be a legendary LGBT icon, bonding over nineties R&B together in a Honda Accord. It was a lesson in just how not different we all are.

Octavia passed away at the end of my junior year. This was over a year after my boyfriend and I had broken up and we all lost touch, but the news fucked me up. I regretted not keeping in contact and not acknowledging that although she was a strong, nurturing figure to us when we knew her, Octavia was fighting for her health behind the scenes. I cried for days.

I realize now that briefly knowing Octavia was an incredible gift for the development of my character. I cared about the T in LGBT from my earliest gay days, because I had someone there to translate that T into an H for me. Human.

***

Earlier this week, I finished reading the stellar, capable-of-changing-hearts-and-minds memoir Redefining Realness by Janet Mock, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a work event a few months ago.

Redefining Realness is a movingly honest account of one woman’s journey. It’s elegant yet raw. It’s the type of story that, even having known Octavia (who I was delighted to see quoted at one point in the book), I had never actually heard before in such authentic detail. I’m much better for having read it.

You can imagine the visceral reaction I had, then, when not even 24 hours after finishing Janet’s book and subsequently reminiscing over my favorite Octavia memories, I came across a severely transphobic rant by Gavin McInnes published by Thought Catalog. If you don’t want to read the piece, just know that it’s a hot mess of misinformed hate speech.

At first I felt enraged toward McInnes for writing something so offensive. But I got over that quickly, as I realized that he’s entitled to think and write whatever the fuck he wants, no matter how horrible it is. So then I just felt disappointed. So, so, so, so, so disappointed in Thought Catalog for publishing it.

For giving hate such a major, influential platform.

***

I have something of a history with Thought Catalog.

The story starts in 2010, a few months before I moved from my small town in Connecticut to New York City for grad school at NYU. Please note ahead of time that I was 22 years old and remarkably callow.

Faced with a lot of free time that summer, I decided to write a book.

This was random, as I majored in music during undergrad and always had my heart set on singing. When it came to writing, I merely had experience crafting longwinded Live Journal essays that were never intended for an audience. They were self-serious and “deep” and little more than personal therapy.

But then I discovered Chelsea Handler books and fell in love with the sensation of laughing via written storytelling. I soon got into the deeper, more literary humor of David Sedaris. And then I read this hilarious and engaging memoir in essays called Bitch is the New Black by Helena Andrews. I proceeded to read every humorous memoir I could get my hands on until I started to hear my own voice developing in my head.

Once that voice started screaming, it was decided: I had to write one of these collections myself.

Based on the deluded belief that my writing was far too quality to be given away for free on the Internet, I shaped my essays in private, trusting that when I was finished I’d somehow just send it to a random publisher and it’d become an instant bestseller because that’s how life works.

I got about sixty pages into my book project before grad school started and I shelved it. Living on my own in the city for the first time, interning at a music label, and having my pretentious views of the world shattered kind of took precedent. I had some life to live before I could write about it.

Though I didn’t want to publish my work on the Internet, I started blogging during the summer between grad school semesters upon reluctantly accepting that book deals generally aren’t just given away to first-time authors with absolutely no platform.

I fell in love with blogging once other people started telling me how hilarious I was, and by the time I graduated in 2012 I was prolific. I measured my worth as a writer in laughs and reasoned that if my blog wasn’t funny, then no one would give a shit. But I was writing about my life, and my life wasn’t always a joke. Sometimes it hurt or sucked or just confused me. So I eventually allowed myself to write about that stuff, too.

Once I achieved a vague balance of hilarity and introspection, several readers of mine started tweeting and sending me links to Ryan O’Connell’s work on Thought Catalog. “This guy’s stuff reminds me so much of you,” they’d tell me in various phrasings. “You should write for this site, too!”

I read Ryan’s work. He published pieces at a rate faster than most people publish tweets, so some of it was fluff while other pieces were absolutely brilliant. I placed my focus on the fluff because, frankly, I was jealous. My readers were right—Ryan and I were similar. Except he was Internet-famous and had a book deal while I had a tiny (though dedicated) following and was nowhere near being a safe bet for a publisher.

Recognizing that Thought Catalog had a massive online presence, I decided that maybe I should go for it. I submitted an old blog post of mine called “Not OK, Cupid.” Within a couple hours, I got an e-mail from an editor at the time, Stephanie Georgopulos, who informed me that they’d love to run it (for free).

Being published on TC led to a spike in readership on my own site, so I did it a few more times. I noticed that with each new post I’d get maybe a thousand new hits and a handful of Twitter followers. It was validating and exciting at first, but then I started reading some of the content on the site that wasn’t written by the small handful of great writers (Ryan, Stephanie, Nico Lang, Gaby Dunn, and some others) whose work I admired. I noticed that much of everything else was unedited, uninformed, unaware, and generally sophomoric.

The low editorial standards of TC made me self-conscious about my own work, so I stopped writing for them and instead decided to focus on my own site and my manuscript.

A few months later, Stephanie reached out to me through my blog e-mail, totally unaware that I was the same Nicolas who’d submitted a few pieces to the site already. She loved my latest post and tried to sell Thought Catalog to me as a place to republish it for more exposure.

Feeling particularly validated that an editor had found my blog on her own accord and specifically reached out, I agreed, reasoning that, “So what if this isn’t a ‘quality’ site? It’s expanding my reach and I need to build a platform.”

I wrote for TC on and off for over a year after that. Throughout, I focused on my craft and submitted to many more reputable publications, but when the rejections poured in, being published on TC was always a bittersweet consolation prize.

***

My most recent pieces for Thought Catalog were posted just last month, weeks before they decided to run Gavin McInnes’ hate-fueled diatribe.

Their choice to publish that piece has made this long-time-coming decision of mine easy: I’m done. It’s over. I deserve better. Octavia’s memory requires more of me. We all deserve better.

The next time I get published outside of my own blog, I want to be proud of the accomplishment. I want to be able to say, “This publication has standards.” At the very least, I want to be able to say, “This publication doesn’t troll for clicks by publishing harmful, misinformed rants by raging transphobic assholes.”

But beyond my own writing career, what I’m more upset about with this whole thing is the fact that McInnes’ piece remains out there and continues to attract thousands of views and shares.

As the experiences I’ve recounted in this essay attest, I haven’t always been an educated, smart reader. I grew up in a small town where many issues (like trans ones) simply aren’t discussed. I was a naïve 22-year-old and an even more naïve 18-year-old. If Thought Catalog had been around back then, I can almost guarantee that I would have read it and taken it seriously.

Whether or not the editors want to acknowledge it, Thought Catalog has major reach and influence. In today’s world, social media presence is power. And with nearly half a million Facebook followers, Thought Catalog has got a fucking lot of it. And to quote Spider-Man, because apparently it’s come to that, “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Thought Catalog routinely evades this responsibility (not to mention editorial integrity) by crouching behind their indifferent slogan, “all thinking is relevant.”

Problem is, that’s not true. McInnes’ 1950’s-esque hate speech is not relevant.

It’s straight up fucking dangerous.

 

Kind of a Blog Post About Dating, Mostly a Video of Me Singing a Dixie Chicks Song

Recently some readers have been inquiring about my dating life, which, contrary to the fact that I haven’t really blogged about it in nearly nine months, has not disintegrated entirely into a never-ending loop of me eating bagels and watching the OWN Network with the affirmation “I give up on men but it’s fine because Oprah completes me” pinned front and center to the cork board of my sad, sad manless mind.

No, it’s been quite the opposite. Really I just cooled it on the confessional dating posts because I got sick of being held accountable to the identity of Thirsty Writer Who Can’t Find Love. The line between my art and my life had gotten a little too blurry. (Also, furry.) (And a lot like jury.) (Duty.)

(…What the fuck just happened?)

I think during the golden era of Jilted-Insecure-What-Is-Love-BABY-DON’T-HURT-ME blog posts, what I was really looking for was some kind of external validation and/or magical cowboy to sweep me off my feet and make all my problems go away. (Because #ThatzHealthy.) The reality of actually settling down and committing my time and energy to the happiness of another human being and having to deal with things like “sacrifice” and “compromise”? LOL. No. The first option required much less effort and made for better writing material.

I came to this epiphany earlier this year after I finally stopped looking for that cowboy and then a bunch of dudes fell for me at the same time and it made me feel like almost as much of a douche bag as I do for typing this sentence right now. You know those surreal phases where you become a man-magnet and the more men want you, the more other men want you? And your life becomes a real-world version of The Weather Girls’ timeless classic “It’s Raining Men,” until finally you’re like, “Wait, I think I wanna just go inside now. Or at least whip out an umbrella,” because you’ve lost the ability to give a shit? It was one of those.

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Which is why now I’m not really wasting anyone’s time by trying.

Instead I’ve just been living and focusing on things that I love already – my family, my friends, my writing. My newfound interest in singing random country songs while shittily playing guitar. Of course I’ve loved being in relationships in the past, and if another one happens to come my way soon and it feels organic and right and not at all like suffocating, then awesome.

But as for the idea of longing for a magical cowboy to sweep me off my feet and make all my problems go away? I’m over that shit. It makes for better art than it does an actual way of life.

 

Nope, You’re Still Not a Failure

I’m writing this post for all of us because although we live in a world where ambition is admired and accomplishments are revered, I think sometimes we could all use a reminder that none of it needs to have any bearing on how we feel about our actual selves.

In other words, when it comes to our basic worth as human beings, our accomplishments don’t mean shit. Isn’t that freeing? (Unless of course you’re hugely accomplished and have placed all of your esteem in said accomplishments. Then I suppose it might be less freeing and more like that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader went all “I am your father” on Luke Skywalker and shit got real.)

I’m all about striving for our full potential and creating our best lives. But when things don’t go as planned, let’s not beat ourselves up. Whether we win or lose at reaching our goals, we can still always choose to be whole without the validation of outside decision-makers. Let’s stop being “successes” and “failures” and instead just be humans.

And so…

Are you eighteen and headed to your back-up school this fall because all your dream colleges rejected you in spite of the fact that you aced the SATs and worked your ass off on every single application you submitted?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you not going to college at all because it just wasn’t feasible for whatever reason?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Did you recently get divorced from your spouse of ten years after tying the knot “way too young,” according to certain well-meaning but insensitive assholes in your life at the time, and now you’re wondering if they were right all along?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you an overweight fourth grader who dreads the state physical fitness test administered in gym class every year because they humiliatingly make you attempt to do pushups and run a mile even though you’ve never even once come close to doing either successfully?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you a recent or even not-so-recent grad who’s struggling to find work “in your field” and feeling like your life won’t truly begin until you get one of those adult jobs that all your friends have?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you sometimes feel like you have no friends at all?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Are you Mariah Carey and is your latest album — ALTHOUGH A BRILLIANT MASTERPIECE — struggling to perform commercially?

Nope, you’re still not a failure. (Rather, you are a deity.)

Did you naïvely choose to incur six figures of student loan debt to “find yourself” in grad school only to graduate and end up in a job that you find totally unfulfilling yet feel trapped in due to your massive debt?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Have you been spending the past two years working on draft after draft of a manuscript for a book that still hasn’t been picked up by an agent?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you subscribe to New Age wisdom and believe that our thoughts attract our reality, and so when something shitty happens you tend to blame yourself and your negative thoughts entirely, thinking, OH MY GOD I’M THE WORST AT BEING SPIRITUAL?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

Do you sometimes just feel like you’re not enough? Smart enough, hot enough, funny enough, eloquent enough, doing enough, saying enough, being enough, acting enough, tweeting enough, creating enough, exercising enough, living enough, socializing enough, trying enough?

Nope, you’re still not a failure.

And actually? You’re enough.

StillNotAFailure

The revolution will be tweeted. (Side note: even these trees with no leaves aren’t failures.)

P.S. I struggle with this often, so this piece is just as much an affirmation for myself as it is for whomever else it may happen to reach.

P.P.S. Is it just me, or did that whole “Nope, you’re still not a failure” response thing have a very Catholic-mass-“Lord-hear-our-prayer” feel to it? Maybe I should just be a priest.

P.P.P.S. Oh my God, no. I love cursing and alcohol and being gay too much. I’d fail so hard at being a priest.

P.P.P.P.S. But it wouldn’t matter! Because nope, #StillNotAFailure.

Anyone Else Becoming as Unhinged as I Am Lately?

The past few weeks have seen me having more melodramatic breakdowns than usual, and it’s a problem. One second I’ll be all balanced and happy and zen, and then the next I’ll be spiraling into a black hole of fury: arguing that working forty hours a week is bullshit, telling myself that I’M THE SMARTEST PERSON I KNOW, and randomly IMing my friend Steven with nonstop pictures of Mariah Carey alongside her various love interests throughout the years.

Like, the other day I saw this beautiful passage on Louise L. Hay’s Facebook. Basically it’s all about how if we use a tomato plant as an analogy for creating the lives we want, we can be happy. Because we trust tomato plants to grow, and so when our personal tomato plant starts to sprout, we shouldn’t get angry and ask, “WHY AREN’T YOU BIGGER AND BETTER?” but rather we should keep watering it and say, “Woohoo! It’s on its way!”

I read it and thought, That’s how I’m going to live my life from now on.

Then this IM conversation happened after I randomly went off on a tangent to Steven about how I wish I had a year off to eat, pray, love, and finish the millionth third draft of my book:

  • Steven: i feel like you’re on the verge of a breakdown
  • me: dude it’s true
  • Steven: i can feel it
  • Steven: coming in the air tonight
  • Steven: i FEEL it. when your messages get short and sans caps and punctuation and proper capitalization
  • me: there’s just gotta be more to life
  • me: than chasing down every temporary hiiigh
  • Steven: oh god you’re breaking out the Stacy O
  • Steven: every time you do that, you have a crisis of faith
  • Steven: and then you throw shit and start crying
  • me: and the worst part is that I’m lucky to be employed where I am
  • me: and yet
  • me: WHERE’S THE MEANING?
  • Steven tomorrow you’re gonna be all, “we must reach for the stars with our highest energy and smoke our own poz toxins and look out of our third eyes and be the best versions of ourselves”
  • Steven: followed by quoting some zen writer I’ve never heard of
  • me lmao. true

Later that day…

  • me: the issue is simple
  • me: I just need to hold on through this rough patch
  • me: and continue to strive toward creating the life I want
  • me: I’m just getting so fucking impatient
  • me: like… fucking.. WHEN
  • me: but I mean, I know we mustn’t attack our tomato plants
  • me: WHY AREN’T YOU FUCKING GROWING YOU FUCKING PIECE OF SHIT TOMATO PLANT WORTHLESS FUCKING PIECE OF GARBAGE
  • Steven BAHAHA
  • Steven: I’m dying
  • Steven: I think you need to work toward being your best self
  • me: I’d like to be handed everything on a silver platter
  • me: WHERE’s my platter
  • me: omg I’m a fucking abomination
  • me: that’s negative
  • me: I’m a radiant expression of God’s love
  • Steven: I. Am…Dead

So, I don’t know. I guess the one lesson, if any, I’ve gleaned from this whole thing is that if you’re lucky enough to have a tomato plant, don’t be an asshole. Be grateful. Be graceful. Let it grow. And then go make some marinara sauce, maybe? Or: schizophrenically unravel via IM and then blog about it later. That always works too.

tomatoplant

 

My Day as a Psycho Celebrity-Spammer on Twitter

So, let’s talk about CELINE FUCKING DION. (You’re welcome.)

This story starts a few months ago, when some literary agents were telling me that my author platform wasn’t strong enough to warrant a book deal in today’s sure bet-driven marketplace. Which, in other words, means that I don’t have enough Twitter followers. Which, in other words, means that I’m not popular enough. Which, in other words, means that the publishing industry is basically Mean Girls and — Oh my God, Danny DeVito I love your work!

The fucked up thing about it is that if I actually did have a hundred thousand Twitter followers, I’d probably be one of those entitled, douche-y assholes who’s all, “Duh. Get with the times. Of course I have a huge platform; what do you think I am? A loser?

So maybe I’m a hypocrite, it’s fine.

One day in March, coming off the bitter sting of a fresh rejection, I was IM-ing with my friend Kaci.

  • Nic: Ugh. Still not popular enough
  • Nic: How do I get more followers on Twitter???
  • Nic: Maybe I should just start harassing celebrities in hopes that they’ll retweet me?
  • Nic: Which ones, though?
  • Kaci: Celine
  • Kaci: obvi
  • Kaci: I need to start getting cats and committing to dying alone
  • Nic: That’s it!
  • Nic: I’ll ask Celine to adopt a cat with me

And then a monster was born.

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RE: the whole “Aegean” thing: basically I just Googled “cat breeds” and then chose the one that I felt would read most elegantly within the context of a tweet to Celine Dion. But apparently my elegance didn’t matter, because Celine ignored me as if I were a creepy Internet weirdo or something.

But then! I figured out why:

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Still nothing. So then I moved into the anger stage and was all, “Fuck Celine! I’ll branch out to… Martha Stewart.”

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DROP G’S! I thought it was brilliant. But Martha clearly wasn’t amused, as she ignored me too, forcing me to wonder if maybe my Internet fame wouldn’t be best found through middle-aged divas (one musical, one domestic) catered to the daytime-TV-watching crowd, so I went after the Jonas Brothers.

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BUT NO LUCK THERE. (On the kitten or the marriage.)

So then I went back to Celine in a final, desperate attempt to get her to at least adopt something with me, but for some reason by that point in the day I became an incoherent mess who required three tweets to finish a thought and close a set of parentheses:

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Celine continued in her staunch dedication to not acknowledging that a crazy person was spamming her on Twitter, which made me frustrated.

Frazzled and feeling like if I didn’t get at least one celebrity retweet by day’s end that I’d NEVER GET PUBLISHED, LIKE, EVER, I proceeded to do this:

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By the end of it all, I reviewed my timeline’s activity and felt highly, highly ashamed of myself. Who does shit like this? I wondered. This is pathetic and embarrassing.

But then my thoughts wandered into a more gratitude-y place — feeling relieved that, well, at least I didn’t have a hundred thousand followers watching.

 

Sometimes Life (and/or Oprah) Gives You Exactly What You Need When You Need It

Like many writers – cough, Cheryl Strayed, ‘achoo! – I enjoy taking long, meditative walks.

I used to walk all over my hometown as a kid, so walking all over my current town kind of reconnects me with my inner child. Plus something about being alone and surrounded by nature gives me the sense of space and freedom I need to contemplate shit that I might otherwise leave bottled up.

The results of any given walk are typically healing and awesome.

During my after-dinner walk on Sunday, though, things didn’t start out so well.

After thinking about my career aspirations for a few minutes, I found myself on the verge of falling into a spiral of self-pity over the fact that I want to do everything. I want to write everything. Book concepts, blog ideas, freelance gigs, ALL the essays, short stories – these things ganged up on me like a mental army of “YOU’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO IT ALL!”-screaming assholes.

I started thinking about how beginning one project always feels a lot like neglecting another project, which, given the fact that I have a full-time job and a highly active social life, feels a lot like making a big ass commitment to something that might not be the best project – which then makes it really easy to just be like, “Okay, fuck it. I’ll do nothing.”

I approached a big hill and kept walking. As my elevation increased, I moved on to feeling pity for myself over the fact that I’ve already devoted two years to finishing a book which is still yet to be represented. Then I felt more pity for myself over the fact that it’s probably because I don’t have enough space or time to write (or edit, for that matter) to my highest potential, because again: full-time job and highly active social life.

These are ironic and silly things to be upset about. These things are blessings.

So then I went into angry, tough-love mode on myself: Why are you so fucking impossible to satisfy? Boo-frickety-hoo, Nic! You work for a great company and you’re just too popular? Man up and figure your shit out. Stop sleeping so much. Maybe don’t go to happy hour. Maybe write. You could be writing right now instead of walking. MAKE A DAMN SACRIFICE, ASSHOLE.

And then finally I gave in and was like, Yeah. I just need to write. Start something new. I’ll do that.

And then I thought about all the book concepts, blog ideas, freelance gigs, essays, and short stories I want to work on — and I soon found myself right back at square. Fucking. One.

This walk had set me off on a mental cycle of doom, and it was a problem.

I started picking up the pace and feeling extremely tight and anxious – sensations that are usually reserved for when I obsess over my career in less tranquil scenarios such as when stressing over my workload at the office and/or peeing in dirty commuter train bathrooms.

As I reached the top of the hill, I saw an intriguing piece of litter sitting by the curb outside someone’s driveway. As I got closer, I saw that it was a coffee sleeve.

I soon recognized it as one of those new green Starbucks coffee sleeves that are given out to promote Oprah Chai – the new Oprah-Starbucks-Teavana partnership that benefits educational opportunities for youth.

I immediately thought to myself, WWOD?

(Note: This means “What Would Oprah Do?” and I should mention that it’s unusual that it took me coming across a discarded coffee sleeve of hers to finally ask this question in this situation. Usually it’s the first thing that comes to my mind in periods of distress, sleeve or no sleeve.)

The timing of this query couldn’t have been better, as each Oprah Chai sleeve comes complete with an inspirational Oprah quotable.

I bent down and picked it up to read my fortune:

Live from the heart of yourself. Seek to be whole, not perfect.

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And THIS is why Oprah fucking WINS. AT. EVERYTHING.

Because of Oprah, litter is no longer litter. Because of Oprah, litter can now change lives. Or at least momentarily brighten them.

Because of Oprah, my anxious, existential crisis-y, mental-cycle-of-doom walk led me straight to an undeniable sign from God that everything is going to be okay. I can trust my intuition. I don’t have to be perfect. I do have to be myself.

Everything is going to be okay.

And then I saw a bunny.

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It was less blurry IRL; this is just what happens when I quickly take a picture of a moving bunny while my phone camera is all zoomed in. Is it just me, or does it kind of look like a Monet?

 

Like the Tour of Italy at Olive Garden, Except Less Caloric and More Write-y (#mywritingprocess)

The title of today’s post is mostly obnoxious and misleading, as it has nothing to do with Olive Garden’s delightful (OMG my big Italian family will have me off-ed if they ever find out that I just described something at OG as “delightful”) chicken-lasagna-Alfredo dish the Tour of Italy. But it does have everything to do with the fact that I’m participating in the #mywritingprocess blog tour, which has the word “tour” in it… so yeah.

The tour torch (tourch?!) was passed to me by the brilliant Ross Murray, whom I like to think of as David Sedaris except straight, Canadian, and with offspring. I actually have to pay attention when I read Ross’ stuff, because the humor is that good and sneaky and true.

Sometimes I kick babies things and eat gallons of ice cream out of frustration with my occasional fear that I’m lame and nothing I ever write is even remotely funny, but then Ross will comment on a post of mine and I’ll be like, “Okay, well if he’s still here, I can’t suck that bad.” (Either that or I’ve just become a habit.)

Ross answered the following #mywritingprocess questions last week, and now it’s my turn!

1. What am I working on?

So last year I wrote a book about my life and then spent a few months querying it and then some literary agents requested it and then they spent a few months reading it and then a couple of them rejected it and it was probably because I use “and then” in a run-on sentence-y kind of way far too often—and so I’m working on doing that less (starting now). I’m also taking all the agent feedback I’ve received (much of which was really insightful and definitely made me feel like the universe blessed me with a free professional critiquing service) and revising/editing/perfecting.

Aside from the ongoing book saga, I’m also working on figuring out where to go with this blog and how to make it take over the world. Lastly, because I’m an overachiever, I’m working hard on crafting a good tweet for later this week that I’m hopeful will net me two or so new followers.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

My voice, I guess? I mean, it’s all like, mine and shit. Also, I’d say my work is more “I’m an occasional hot mess who contradicts himself often” and less “I have everything figured out” than others in the memoir game. Oh, and it’s probably riddled with more casual Mariah Carey/Clueless/Jim Carrey/penis references than any other author’s work ever. Why I haven’t won a Pulitzer yet is beyond me.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always been great at talking about myself, and so yes, you could say I’ve always been a narcissist. I’ve also always been great at writing. So one day I combined these skills and later found out that what I was doing was called “memoir.”

Why humor? Because it’s fun, and I like fun. But don’t get it twisted; my book has plenty of surprisingly dark, serious moments – they just don’t last very long because every time I write dark I eventually get to a place where I’m like, “Wait. I really want to insert a footnote about how what I just wrote is eerily similar to that scene in Friends where Monica got stung by a jellyfish and Joey had to pee on her leg because she ‘couldn’t bend that way.’ Can I go back to being funny now?”

Yes, Nic. You can.

4. How does my writing process work?

Usually there’s a lot of meditating, going to the gym, cleaning my apartment, playing the guitar, calling my mom, drinking wine, and watching the OWN Network that goes on first before I ever sit my ass down and write. Then I finally sit my ass down and write. Then I treat my Word document as if it’s my best friend/therapist and it feels awesome and I’m just like, “Jesus, why do I always procrastinate doing something I love so damn much? Am I self-sabotage-y? Am I a hazard to myself? Am I my own worst enemy? DON’T LET ME GET ME!

Okay. Before my descent into early 2000s P!nk lyrics goes any further, I think it’s time to pass the tourch (!) to someone else.

And I nominate…

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EKGO!

Ekgo is one of my favorites in the blogosphere. She lives in one of my dream locations (amongst mountains), grows garlic, and sometimes offends people. We found each other via our mutual hero the Bloggess, and I think that says it all.

Much like how Ross can make me get over the occasional “I’M NOT FUNNY AND I SUCK MORE THAN MONICA LEWINS…A VACUUM“ spiral, Ekgo too will show up in the comments with something so ridiculously hilarious and outlandish that I have to laugh and say to myself, “YES. Ekgo gets it.”

And then I’ll keep scrolling and be like, “…and so do ALL of these other incredible readers!” So if you’re reading this, thank you. Seriously. I love you all and would hand out 1,463 tourches (You get a tourch! YOU GET A TOURCH!) if I could.

 

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