- Ottessa Moshfegh wrote her novel Eileen with a plan: to get fucking rich. As a fiction writer, she thought, there’s only one way to do that—give the people the formulaic drivel that they want. In a profile for the Guardian, Moshfegh explains that “she didn’t want to ‘keep her head down’ and ‘wait thirty years to be discovered … so I thought I’m going to do something bold. Because there are all these morons making millions of dollars, so why not me? I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined and … talented: did I say that already?,’ she laughs. ‘I said: fuck it. Which was also: fuck them. I was pretty hostile. I thought: I’ll show you how easy this is … So … it started out as a fuck-you joke, also I’m broke, also I want to be famous. It was that kind of a gesture.’ ”
- But let’s not get carried away. Writing doesn’t really make anyone rich. Ask Merritt Tierce, whose debut, Love Me Back, came out two years ago to “wide acclaim”—she was interviewed here on the Daily, even. Now she’s broke, because that’s how this industry works: “I haven’t been able to write since the moment I started thinking I could or should be making money as a writer. I haven’t produced a Second Book … For over a year after Love Me Back came out I woke up every day with this loop in my head: I should write. But I need money. If I write something I can sell it and I’ll have money. But I need money now. If I had money now, I could calm down and write something. I don’t have money now, so I’m probably not going to be able to calm down and write something. To have money now, I need a job. I should get a job … Because no matter how you do it, no one is paying you to write. They may pay you for something you wrote, or promise to pay you for something you have promised to write. They may pay your room and board for a month or two at a residency. They may pay you to teach, or to edit something someone else has written. They may pay you to come to a university and talk to people about writing. None of this is the same as being paid to write. I would like to be paid to write.”
Trying to make it as a sports commentator.
The world’s third-largest youth soccer tournament, Schwan’s USA Cup, is held each summer on a vast stretch of converted farmland in Blaine, Minnesota. The complex comprises fifty-two full-size fields and an inadequate number of shade trees; it is a desert of grass. Throughout the week of play, parents huddled beneath umbrellas, protecting themselves from the sun, if not the heat. They shouted encouragement to their children and epithets at referees.
On the final day of competition, John Hadden sat at a folding table beside field A-1. He’d been hired by a local public-access channel to call play-by-play for a U-19 women’s semifinals match. His pants were khaki; his loafers, shiny; his briefcase was leather with brass clasps—his appearance and bearing resembled that of an accountant. He estimated that no more than two hundred viewers would tune into the broadcast. “There’s an if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest quality to gigs like this,” he told me, “which, if your aim is to reach people, isn’t ideal.”
Hadden’s aim is to reach people. He wants to announce for Major League Baseball one day and has spent the last decade traveling the country to call games for farm clubs: the Idaho Falls Chukars, the Yakima Bears, the New Orleans Zephyrs. Every summer he lives somewhere else. Winters he returns to Minnesota, his home state, and picks up whatever commentary work he can get. He has called Pee Wee hockey tournaments. He has called high school gymnastics meets. While he admitted he was somewhat disappointed, at thirty-one, to be working youth soccer, he took his assignment seriously. Before the morning’s game he’d done three hours of prep work, he said, researching the teams and their previous results, the players’ names, the facility, the weather forecast. Rain, for the first time all week, was predicted. The parents’ umbrellas would be put to new use. Read More
I had been out of college for a couple years when a friend got me a gig studying the “socially displaced.” This wasn’t as lofty as it sounds; what I really did was spend a couple months going around asking bums about their problems. The arrangement was fairly straightforward: they’d give me their stories and I’d give them a dollar. So I spent a few days roaming Castries—the capital of Saint Lucia—with a cheap recorder and a heavy bag of coins, tracking the street people and hoping a few would talk to me.
I’ve never been great at interviews, mainly because I don’t like bothering people, including vagrants. I felt like I was invading their private space, which I sort of was. But surprisingly some of them were willing to tell me their life stories even without the promise of money. They had nothing better to do—and clearly neither did I. Read More
At a coffee shop, standing on line (because I’m a New Yorker, and for some reason that’s where we stand with lines—on them, never in them), I began to cry. This in itself was not so extraordinary—the mascara has not yet been invented that’s proof against my tears—but this jag happened to be music related. The José Gonzalez cover of “Heartbeats” had come on the sound system, and the time-machine jolt to 2006 was so sudden that my body didn’t know how to respond except with tears, although it wasn’t grief I felt. Read More
- Today in long-lost manuscripts commissioned by prominent escape artists: an expansive essay by Lovecraft called “The Cancer of Superstition” (sounds nuanced, doesn’t it?) was found among the memorabilia from a defunct magic shop. Apparently Harry Houdini conceived the project, which was, as its title suggests, a screed against every aspect of the superstitious: “Houdini had asked Lovecraft in 1926 to ghostwrite the treatise exploring superstition, but the magician’s death later that year halted the project, as his wife did not wish to pursue it … The document explores everything from worship of the dead to werewolves and cannibalism, theorising that superstition is an ‘inborn inclination’ that ‘persists only through mental indolence of those who reject modern science’ … ‘Most of us are heathens in the innermost recesses of our hearts,’ it concludes.” Christopher Hitchens would be proud.
- In which Anakana Schofield enters the job market only to find that it’s been overrun with hyperbole and the bloated, dead, “aspirational” language of advertising: “I can’t save lives or fix broken pipes: I need a job with the potential for staring into space or reading Pinget on the side—a car park attendant seemed ideal. I found an advert online and immediately entered a car park of excessive adjectives. The parking lot attendant they were looking for needed to ‘Be a trail blazer … Be Bold, Open-minded & Entrepreneurial.’ I was puzzled. How does one ‘blaze a trail’ handing out change and scanning parking stubs and visa cards through a drafty hut window? … I left that car park with the new understanding that the language of recruitment has gone up several octaves but since I negotiate language for a living, I was undeterred. The next advert included the promising phrase ‘a front line ambassador’ … ”
- America doesn’t need vacuous words like bold and open-minded. America needs y’all. “It sounds elegant, warm, and inviting. It offers both economy and an end to second-person ambiguity. Teach it in schools across the country. Mouth it to babies. Put it on end-of-grade tests … The possibilities are endless, and a simple substitution could actually solve a real problem in modern English that will only grow as we continue to examine how gender works in language. It could provide a better and gender-neutral word. It could relieve “you” of the impossible task of ostensibly functioning in so many roles, and maybe even along the way ease some of the regional and racial stigmatization of language and slang.”
- Talking to Zadie Smith, Darryl Pinckney looks at the effect of memoirs like Margo Jefferson’s Negroland on the conventional narrative of black achievement: “I think one of the things Margo Jefferson’s marvelous memoir does is remind us that classed aspiration was at one time a radical act or a radical mode for black people, because white people didn’t want you to leave the plantation. They didn’t want your barbershop to succeed. They didn’t want you to go to college. They didn’t want you to have Latin in college because they violated what DuBois called ‘personal whiteness.’ It wasn’t until the late fifties with the E. Franklin Frazier book Black Bourgeoisie that all this was demonized, that black middle class. DuBois also raked everyone over the coals for wanting to play golf instead of wanting to be in the NAACP. And then in the sixties, middle-class life became an optic of scorn anyway. So blacks were doubly scorned, for ‘trying to be white,’ which was a deep insult because these people had found a way to be black, and that wasn’t respected at all.”
- Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 novel Cré na Cille was widely regarded as an Irish Gaelic masterpiece—so why are we only now seeing an English translation? “For almost seventy years, Ó Cadhain’s greatest work remained inaccessible to nearly all Irish readers, because it was written in Irish Gaelic, a language vanishingly few of them speak, and it had never been translated into English … Sáirséal agus Dill, Ó Cadhain’s publisher, took concrete steps toward putting out a translation. In the early nineteen-sixties, a contract was sent to a young woman who’d submitted a sample translation as part of an open contest. (A letter from the woman’s mother eventually came back: her daughter wouldn’t be able to finish the translation, she wrote, as she’d just entered a convent.) Sáirséal agus Dill next tried to entice the poet Thomas Kinsella to translate the book; though he was honored they’d considered him, Kinsella wrote in a 1963 letter, he was ‘sure it would be a very difficult job, especially since we’re talking about Cré na Cille. It’s not an exaggeration to say it would take years.’ ”