Holiday in Bizarro World
I am friends with a disproportionate number of creative professionals who have been affected by the economy: Writers, editors and graphic designers, mostly, but also architects, artists and others sprinkled in. The point was really hammered home with The Gawker Guide to Journalism, 2010 edition, which basically chronicles the ever-accelerating death spiral of paying media jobs. I’ve written elsewhere that I expect paid content to be a reliable part of the future of the Internet, but in a completely different form than how I grew up expecting to spend my life (and the events of the last couple weeks have spurred me to finally start putting my experiences as the Last Old Skool Journalist of a particular sort—one who grew up with newspapers, and was drawn to them—down on paper). I used to joke back in Queens that trade magazines were the places to get the money, and the newspapers like the ones I worked at were the place to get Real Experience, but translating that Real Experience into the job of one’s dreams seems to now be one of only 10 possible ways to get there, and certainly one of the hardest. The fact that I feel like I’m profoundly lucky to have the job I have now—the job I used to think was the “cushy” “journalism”—speaks to this fracture. In the Last Exit piece I cited above, I ask how much paid (as in, I get paid) journalism’s crash is actually related to the economy and/or the rise of the Internet and how much of it is cyclical, but there’s no doubt the economy has wreaked havoc on the best laid plans of many, many smart people I know who are working to a fraction of their considerable potential.
Contrast that with the lives of my dad and brother, who live out in the desert, and it’s like going to bizarro world. My dad works in academia, which for the gruff it gets during the fat years sure looks like a nice, warm incubator in times like these. Sez dad: “I will never curse tenure again.” My brother works at an investment company with the initials C.S. that basically doesn’t invest itself enough in risky things like the housing market to have suffered major consequences, as far as I understand it, as they work mostly in client services. Thus they haven’t been hit too hard, and anyway, bro is an up-and-coming manager there. Stepping into their world, it’s like the economic collapse was something that was happening simply to other people, one that made you appreciate what you’ve got, like seeing an accident on the highway. In fairness to them, I think they’ve looked at my career choice as foolish from the get-go, but the degree to which this has “confirmed” anything like that seems disproportionate with what I and hundreds of thousands of people are going through. I didn’t go to graduate school, but my four years in Queens were—and I don’t think anyone would doubt this—much harder than any J-school would have been; by extension, what’s happened to me is like if they went to medical school or law school and graduated only to learn that no one wanted to pay doctors or financial advisors anymore. I realize that people choose these schools mostly because they offer security against this inevitability, but growing up, who thought we wouldn’t have newspapers?
The point is, I spend last week in a bubble where the recession was happening to other people, and it really threw me for a loop. It doesn’t seem like the real world to me, and at least for the moment I still value the potential highs in my field over the security they have. God bless the trade magazine.