I have been incredibly lucky in life.
I work hard, but mostly, I’ve got that whole luck thing going for me.
I’ve had so many incredible experiences in my life that it’s unbelievable to me, sometimes. And yet, here I am, always wanting more.
See, in spite of all the experiences I’ve had, and in spite of the numerous privileges I was born into and the dozens of opportunities that I’ve scrambled to say “yes” to, I still make barely enough money to survive. I juggle multiple part-time jobs, none of which individually make me enough to stay afloat, so I can't leave any of them. I constantly struggle to keep each one of my jobs' bosses happy. I am not saving any money. Every year since college, I have been breaking even, barely. And I am lucky, VERY LUCKY, to be able to do even that.
Why don’t I have just one full-time job? Why am I still juggling these multiple part-time contracts, overworked, underpaid, constantly sleep-deprived, barely fitting in exercise and meals, and overall taking absolute shit care of myself?
Wouldn’t I be happier if I could just stop caring about the whole “art” thing – stop trying to make music, stop trying to write – and just sit in a cubicle somewhere? Well, I’ve actually tried. Multiple times. Can’t seem to do it. There's this whole "depression" and "suicide ideation" thing that comes on if I don't do any creative work for too many weeks at a stretch.
So ... I appear to be stuck with art.
Other than that, I’ve been very lucky.
I’m miserable all the time because I work too much and I’m barely making it and I take it out on everyone around me.
Other than that, I’m great. I’m doing really, really great.
Do I sound grateful enough?
The summer before my senior year of college, I sent out resumes to every publication in Boston, praying for an unpaid internship that I could do in tandem with my paid summer job. No one responded. My parents, ever the old school careerists, told me to go to the offices in person and ask for a tour and an “informational interview.” That is not a concept that has existed since the 1960s, by the way, because no one reacted well when I showed up at offices in person to ask for an interview of any sort, let alone a tour.
The Boston Magazine receptionist shook her head in disbelief and disapproval, eventually resorting to getting up from her intimidating circular desk and taking me by the arm, guiding me to the door with a firm hand. The Improper Bostonian receptionist smiled sweetly and waited me out; she left me completely alone in a room for upwards of an hour before I finally gave up. When I left the room, the office was empty; everybody had gone to lunch, I suppose, even the receptionist. The Boston Phoenix receptionist was just as angry as the others, but at least this office had hired someone who was meant to deal with people like me: a frazzled “Intern Coordinator” who left the company not long after we met that day (probably because no newspaper can afford an “Intern Coordinator” for very long).
The Intern Coordinator looked at my resume, since I had thrust it under her nose in the lobby and left her no choice but to read it. She seemed flustered, angry, and surprised – no one just shows up at offices and demands the right to work, not even if they're asking for the "right" to work for free!! Maybe they do now ... but in 2007, it was still unusual.
Once she saw that I had worked at a failing children’s magazine (also an internship, also for free) the previous year, however, and that I had some experience with a couple other jobs through college, she realized I was too determined to go anywhere without at least one sit-down meeting, so she invited me into a tiny conference room and interviewed me for a job that didn't exist.
I told her I knew the internships were full, but that I was willing to wait until one opened up, and that I was interested in pitching pieces to the publication in the meantime. I had done my homework, so I knew what types of stories they published and I thought I could do it (I couldn’t, of course, not yet, because I was 20 years old and green as hell – but I was willing to try and fail until I got shit right, and take risks, like showing up to an office out of the blue).
In an effort to get rid of me, I think, the Internship Coordinator gave me an email address for an editorial assistant and told me to send him my pitches. Typically this position is filled by a fresh-out-of-college kid who just deals with office bullshit and coffee refills, but the "editorial assistant" title wowed me, so I treated that email like a cover letter and probably even attached my crappy resume. I had no idea how pitching worked, so I wrote an entire unsolicited piece about cosplay culture, emailed it along with everything else, and crossed my fingers.
To his credit, the guy got back to me almost immediately and told me that although my piece made absolutely zero sense to him, he had forwarded it to the web department, because "they know shit about videogames.” And that web department gave me ... an internship. And I published that cosplay piece, in a much more readable form, much later. And reviewed videogames. And got hired by the Phoenix, full-time, on the same day as my last final exam in college. And worked there, full-time, for years, getting raises and multiple promotions and eventually leading the web department and managing employees and interns of my own … until the Boston Phoenix ran out of money in March of 2013 and folded.
I was one of the only people asked to stay for that final two weeks, collecting two more weeks of sad paychecks in an empty office as I helped clean up the last remnants of our web administration, a tangled web of complexities that only I could sort through best. I had somehow made myself into one of the most valuable employees. I had gotten all of the experiences that so many other journalists I’ve met would kill to have – “old school” newsroom experience, trying out multiple content management systems, helping to design issues both large and small for both print and web, and – best of all – unlearning my awful libertarian college bullshit and replacing it with smart, feminist lessons learned on the job from my own investigative reporting experiences, not to mention the capable and admirable women and men that I met who taught me everything I know now about journalism, politics, arts criticism, and how to balance a cutesy alliterative headline with a perfectly punned subhed.
I was extremely lucky.
Almost a year before the Phoenix closed, I was already thinking about moving on to grander heights. A new videogame website had emerged on the scene called Polygon. They were looking for the best videogame writers possible, writers who could pen feature-length stories and do smart takes on a business in bad need of new voices. They announced a staff with no women on it, and some people were upset. A lot of women games journalists’ names got thrown around on Facebook and Twitter. Some people said my name ... but not that many. I wasn’t that well-known.
I felt successful, though. At my own workplace, I was seen as an expert, especially about games and tech. I got used to being treated like my opinion mattered and like my writing deserved a fair wage. The pay at the Phoenix wasn’t exactly massive, but it was livable, and I was proud to eat my grocery store brand minute rice if it meant I could write the stories I cared about. In 2011, I had won an award from NENPA – first place for the “ best Social Issues Feature story”! -- for an article I wrote about the biggest gaming snafu of 2011 (Penny Arcade was involved, you may recall). It was a big-deal awards ceremony. Everybody wore suits and dresses and got free rubbery chicken-and-asparagus dinners. I got to go on a stage for two seconds to be handed a plaque and felt the tears behind my eyes when I saw my coworkers beaming. It was a pretty fucking big deal to me. It still is, to be honest. The plaque's still on my wall.
Polygon didn’t really care about the plaque, though. They didn’t care about any of the articles I had written, either, nor my newsroom experience, nor my extensive work laying out multiple types of pages in five different kinds of CMS. They didn’t email me back.
So when the Phoenix closed in 2013, I felt worried. I knew I had more journalism experience than some of the people who had been hired at Polygon, so I had to figure out some other reasons why I must not have been right for the position. I wasn't "well-known" enough, maybe -- I wasn't in the "scene" yet? I wasn't excited about moving all the way to San Francisco to start over again with a low-level reporter job, either, so I had somehow thought I'd be able to get a real editorial position.
That was veeeery silly of me.
I applied again and again there, every time they had an opening, over the years. Never got an interview.
In 2013, I had to start thinking bigger. I wanted to get a staff writing gig at a real videogame news outlet, but none were hiring and I had to think on my feet. I ended up working as a reporter for an MIT alumni publication called Slice of MIT. It was great experience for me; I had to write a feature story every week and do a bit of "webmaster" stuff, too. By the end of it, I had tons more clips, and had freelanced for MIT Technology Review. In that time, I had also gotten a column at Paste Magazine about videogames, and had even done a piece or two about games elsewhere when I had (ha!) any free time.
I was working all day for Slice of MIT, then going home at night to play games as much as I could and hammer out as many ideas as I could manage for Paste. Oh, and I was in a rock band. I felt exhausted and miserable, but like all of that hard work would surely end in a better full-time position somewhere, somehow.
Friends and colleagues kept asking me why I didn’t work as a full-time games journalist, as opposed to at Slice, and the questions started to eat away at me. Once I got hired in an official part-time capacity at Paste ("Assistant Games Editor," the job I still have there), continuing my full-time work for Slice got even harder, and I had to make a decision.
I chose videogames, for some fucking reason.
In January of this year, everything got even worse for me, and fast. I had left MIT at the end of November, hopeful that I’d be able to do enough freelance writing to make my rent each month. Instead, I collapsed into depression and couldn't keep up enough work to earn my rent. I convinced myself to work on a solo album if only to have something to stave off my depression.
I taught myself how to use Pro Tools on my own. I put out three songs, against all odds, and miraculously sold enough of them to make enough money to survive a little longer.
I got some more part-time editing jobs and web administration jobs, but every week, I worried about money. I applied for every type of job I thought I could even remotely do, no matter whether it had anything to do with writing.
Mostly, though, I couldn’t figure out why no videogame website would hire me.
In that time period, I got passed over for a lot of jobs, and I’ll probably never understand why. I heard through the grapevine from people at those publications, sometimes, that there were reasons. Sometimes it was that I wrote too much about “gender stuff,” sometimes it was that people couldn’t tell me apart from other women writers I knew, sometimes it was that my work was too personal or too confessional.
Aside from the obvious sexism endemic to those "reasons", none of these criticisms made sense to me at the time, and they frankly still don’t. I write personal essays sometimes, but hearing that critique after I'd just spent almost a year doing clean, clinical reporting at Slice of MIT and MIT Technology Review felt baffling. I had tons of interview experience and reporting experience under my belt by that time, and I'd even managed to accrue enough followers that no one in the "journo scene" could claim I wasn't networked. Not to mention the reams and reams of articles on various topics, in various journalistic styles, that I had done for the Phoenix, Paste, and so on. There were personal essays, sure – essays about gender, sure – those pieces went viral, won me accolades, got my name noticed. But there were also forgettable news pieces, long in-depth interviews, film criticism, theatre reviews, event listings … you name it. I’ve done it. For money. Haven’t heard of me? Maybe it’s because I’m just that versatile.
Applying for the Giant Bomb job hurt worst of all.
By that time, I had worked as a videographer and event host for ConnectiCon for years, so I had multiple embarrassing and hilarious videos to include in my application – videos I’d starred in and edited, jokes I’d written myself, cosplays I’d built from scratch.
I wasn’t on my own podcast, back then (I do that now, on the 5by5 Network no less!), but I had numerous guest appearances to share to prove that I can tell a joke with the best of ‘em.
I had my reams of recorded music and recording equipment to hold proof that I can do my own audio (and my band's music, too).
And, of course, my writing portfolio. Too small, you say? Not extensive enough? Not enough different types of publications and pieces? Oh, all right, then. I apologize for only using the 24 hours that are available to me in a single day.
I’m even lucky to have somehow grown into a conventionally attractive person, to the shock of my past acne-riddled self. So I should even have been able to pass muster on the whole "camera appearances" part of the deal.
You know what’s funny? I was actually worried, when I saw that job description, that I was going to have a really serious quandary ahead of me if they offered me the job. I was so sure I’d at least get an interview that I started actually worrying about moving expenses. I was really that naïve. I actually thought that my list of qualifications would matter.
So, so silly.
I knew I wasn’t going to get the job before it was announced, because I heard through the grapevine who would. I mean, it was pretty obvious when I didn’t get the interview, but also, that ol’ grapevine. But with each job that I applied for and did not receive, I felt more and more confused about how hard I was continuing to work. I was qualified. What qualifications did I need that I didn’t have? I mean … I had the same questions about every other job … but this time it felt even worse, even more obvious. It was going to keep feeling worse and worse and worse, the more it happened.
It became really clear, then, that I just wasn’t friends with the right people. Also, though, that there wasn’t any way that I was ever going to be able to be friends with the right people. Those people didn’t like me, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It didn’t matter how hard I worked, how many freelance contracts I took, how many jobs I took against my better judgment and beyond the limits of my own time. My audio recording equipment didn’t matter, learning Pro Tools on my own didn’t matter, learning Pinnacle and Final Cut on my own didn’t matter, cosplaying and theatre didn’t matter, and -- of course!!! -- my journalism didn’t matter. It was about being able to make a group of men feel comfortable drinking a beer with me.
And that … that isn’t going to happen, I guess. It’s not even my fault. There is no piece of equipment I can buy, no program I can learn, no piece of writing I can pen that will convince a group of men that I’m "one of the guys," because ... I'm literally not.
When I first got officially considered for hire at the Phoenix, I had to go through several rounds of interviews, even though I’d already been an intern there for a year and a half. I don’t remember anything else that the then-Editor-in-Chief Peter Kadzis asked me other than this one grumpy question: “Other people keep telling me I HAVE to hire you because they LIKE you. Why do you think people LIKE you so much?”
I just smiled and said I wasn’t really sure, but that it seemed like I got along with the team pretty well. Like we all fit in together. It was a good fit.
I’m scared I’ll never find that again.
I understand why people hire someone because they like them. You need talent … and luck … but also you have to “fit with the team.” And for a lot of games publications, that “team" ends up looking a certain way and having a certain vibe. I don't fit in. I'm not a good fit.
Maybe now you could say that it’s because I’m a jaded, bitter asshole. But … you must remember … I didn’t start out this way.
I started out as a fresh-faced young kid who walked innocently into office after office, honestly believing that I deserved a chance. And I got really lucky! But luck can only take you so far, right? Eventually, structural biases and oppression start to kick in. If a boss can’t visualize me as being part of a team, then … it’ll just never happen, for me.
But if an over-qualified slim, cisgender, white, natural-blonde, blue-eyed girl who totally recovered from her past acne years can’t get a job at Giant Bomb … then, honestly, who can? Honestly. Honestly!
I didn’t really say much to anybody, online, after I didn’t get the job. My friend Samantha said some angry stuff about it, because she loves me and I love her and we support each other and sometimes it’s easier to be angrier on behalf of someone else rather than yourself. I was actually so angry that I COULDN'T say anything. I was more angry than she was. However angry you thought she was, amplify that one thousand times and that was me.
Unfortunately, though, Samantha bore the bulk of the backlash from the Giant Bomb community for speaking out against my having been passed over. I hate that they did that to her. And I also hate the refrain they said the most often, to her and to everyone and especially to me even after they heard that I applied: “no qualified women applied.” Or, “maybe the job went to the most qualified applicant.” Or, "the most qualified person just so happened to be a man." And so on.
This drove me up a wall. I guess partly it’s because I know I’m qualified. But also … because the qualifications I don’t have (like being a guy you can drink a beer with) aren’t qualifications I can ever possibly get. I’m still upset about it. I hate that people still talk to me about it, still ask me about it. And most of all, I hate when my detractors drag in Ryan Davis's good name in a disrespectful way. And they do, more than you’d like to know or see. As though they could possibly ascribe a motivation to his memory!
The hateful transphobic and misogynistic slurs that I saw in response to Samantha, and in response to me, worry me. They worry me because I know that someday, somehow, Giant Bomb is going to hire a woman and she’s going to have a miserable time of it. And I don’t know if Giant Bomb cares about that. I don’t know if they even really understand what my July was like or what Samantha’s was like. That was the July that made Samantha quit.
That July was miserable for me, too, but not in quite the same way. It was the beginning of my dawning realization that all the networking attempts I had done in the past were not going to pan out for me. It was the realization that no matter how many qualifications I had, none of them would particularly matter, because I’d already somehow fucked up some sort of invisible qualification that can’t be fixed. It’s not even just being a woman – I’ve spoken to some of the people (women, too) who got hired instead of me at Polygon and Kotaku and elsewhere, and some of them don’t have my qualifications, but I guess they had something else. They were in the right place at the right time? They seemed “chill”? They had a beer with the right person? They got their name picked out of a hat?
It’s not about qualifications. And that anger, that sensation, was what inspired me to write this blog post in late June, after I already knew I wasn't going to get the GB job and after I also already knew I was pretty much fucked for everything else I'd tried to get, too. Then July happened. And then August happened. Shit somehow ... somehow! ... got worse. And worse. And worse.
Getting hired is about luck. Which is a sort of nice way of saying that it’s about privilege. And I have a lot of that! But … not enough, I guess, or not quite the right kind. And, here's a bonus tidbit: my history with an alcoholic ex has made it pretty hard for me to get excited about male-dominated, beer-heavy networking events. So maybe I really am just fucked, then. But damn it, don't tell me I haven't done the work. All I can do is the work. So that's exactly what I did.
So, yeah, if you say to me, “maybe you weren’t qualified,” then at this point I’m going to tell you to fuck off. My friends may well say that too. And you shouldn’t even be angry at them for doing it. Because you don’t know what you’re talking about. You said something ignorant and you didn't do any research and you're getting told off and you deserve it.
You can go on thinking that everybody who’s doing well in life deserves it, and everybody who’s struggling to make ends meet must be lazy. You just go on ahead. You're completely wrong, of course. But if you’ve never had anything happen to you that disproves it, over and over again, then … well, I guess I can see why you’d believe it. I used to think that way, too. But I can’t anymore, because I’m able to use observational skills to tell that the deck is stacked.
Of course, it’s a lot worse for other people than me. So mostly now I try to help other people. Nobody ever did that for me, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be a jerk about it to the people behind me in line. They worked even harder than I did and they’re probably even better at their jobs. And you’ve probably never even heard of them. That’s bullshit, right? That’s pretty god damn bullshit.
Happy New Year. Go make it count. Surprise me, videogames. Surprise me, for once.