How I became a professional writer overnight
I’ve been writing since I was about 14 years old. I mean, of course we all had to write bullshit papers for class and whatnot. I started writing poetry and short stories for fun…both of which literally no one wanted to read. Not even my mother. That’s how I started, though. I’d have to say what really started everything was my passion for reading books. My mom was rarely seen at home without a book in her hand, and I followed suit. I always read, fiercely and passionately. My mom had a massive bookshelf that went floor-to-ceiling and took up an entire wall in my childhood home. No book was off limits. I was reading entire Stephan King novels by the time I was 8 years old. I spent my weekends curled up in my closet with a pillow and snacks reading page after page of any book I could get my hands on. I grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Fresno, California. Rough enough that I wasn’t allowed in my front yard without a parent present. This meant I went to private school, and I had no kids to play with on my block. My neighborhood was comprised of gangs and drugs. This meant weekends and after school spent inside, reading. This made me a weird kid. I had a vast vocabulary for my age and wasn’t very socialized. I struggled to relate to the kids in my school, which made me withdraw and read more. My grades shot through the roof, which made me even more of an outcast. I was incredibly lonely.
When I was 14 years old, I began dating a man who was 23. It was completely inappropriate, and something I struggle with every day as far as the implications on my psyche. This is also a subject for a complete, other story if I feel like ever writing it. From that union, that lasted over a year, I got my first professional writing break. He was working for the Twin City Times, which was the local paper for Caruthers, Riverdale, and Raisin City. He was a reporter, and got me a job reporting as well. I wrote for that paper for 3 years,while I was still in high school. I’m going to go ahead and say I was terrible. They assigned me to sports,which I knew zero about. Every article I ever wrote for them was a chore, and I hated it. I was a professional sports writer and photographer for three years and I swear to god I still have no idea how football is played or what the rules are. True story.
After high school, I put myself through college for an English/ journalism degree with a minor in photography. I didn’t really know what the fuck I was going to ultimately do with this degree, I just knew that these were the things I was good at so it made sense. I only wrote for school purposes, received good marks…but sort of started hating it. I ended up writing and editing other student’s papers for money all around campus. I finished college with a sense of dread. What the hell was I going to do? Pretty sure National Geographic isn’t hiring…so where do I go from here? I paid my own way through college, which means I worked fucking retail. There was a moment after about a year of graduating where one of my school colleagues came in to the Hot Topic I was managing and tried to put me down for not using my degree. He was teaching at our old high school, Clovis West. He was bragging about making about 25,000 a year. At that time, I was making over 40,000 plus bonuses. He was a teacher and had to still live with his parents. I was 23 years old, lived in my own house, drove a company car, wore designer clothes and went on vacation every other week. I decided to drop my dream of being a journalist and just work a real job, which I did for the next 12 years.
In 2001, my mom passed away. In 2009, my dad did as well. That was all of my family. These events thrust my life into a complete, different trajectory. I didn’t want to live in my home town any longer. Everywhere I looked I saw memories of a family I no longer had. My best friend of 20 years was living in Portland. I visited her, decided that was where I should be and moved. It took me a while to find a job when I got there. I filled my idle time with writing a blog for my friends to read about my experiences with picking up and moving to a new city. At first, maybe 4 people would read it. After a few months, over a hundred. Some of which were complete strangers who just found the content out there on the internet and liked it. The blog became popular, to my complete surprise. I got hired to write bar reviews for the well-recognized Portland institution that is BarFly. With the attention the blog and the barFly gigs propelled me to revisit my 90’s kid roots and do a zine. I had so many orders, I couldn’t keep up. I never thought of myself as a ‘writer’. I always felt like my writing narrative was unsophisticated, and had a juvenile voice. I never thought I could be a writer, or write anything anyone would enjoy reading. One of the last blog post I did, Bagby hot springs, was posted about 2 years ago. It was read in 6 continents, with thousands of views and re-blogged by 17 different websites. I was floored. It’s so weird to imagine that you can float something out on the internet, and have people find it. The internet is a curious thing.
I started getting commissioned for work. People found the blog or found one of my zines, and asked me to do articles for local publications. It was boring, but it kept me writing. I left my retail career and went back to bartending. Turns out, in Portland you can make a decent wage pouring drinks. Nothing like bartending in California. I also went from working 50 hours a week to 35. This meant more time to pursue hobbies.
A few months ago, The Portland Mercury posted a writing contest. I read the prompt, and knew I would be a contender. I sat down after work, and banged out a story in about 30 minutes. It was good. Sometimes, you just know that you nailed something. I sent it in and got an immediate email back from the editor telling me that my story kicked ass. I waited, checked my email daily. My boyfriend broke up with me. The light of my fucking life. I kept checking that email, hoping I got that win. I did. I won the contest. I was heart-broken, lost…but I got that win. I was published in the mercury, won a cash prize and was validated that people like to read what I write. The day I was told that I won, I had no family to call. No significant other to tell. I woke my roommate up and told him. We hugged and I cried. He asked me if I was ok. I just said that nothing good ever happens to me, and that I was so happy. I was published in the most read paper in Portland, Oregon. Holy shit.
The next week, I was published in the Portland Mercury for the second time. I wrote a short piece for the I, Anonymous column and was published. Two weeks in a row! What did it all mean? I emailed the editor and pitched some story ideas. They were all rejected.
In regards to my writing career, my dreams have always been to write a novel about my ordeal with losing my parents at such a young age. That’s the end game. Before I did that, I wanted to write some stories for the Mercury. That was the top of my writing dreams and aspirations. I told myself if, and only if I was regularly published in the Mercury then maybe I would set my sights a little bit higher and attempt to submit for VICE. I have been a fan of theirs for years. Their style, writing content…it was exactly how I write and what I like to read. Years prior, I had applied to be a photographer for them and was rejected. VICE has always been an elusive brass ring for me.
I got hired to work for VICE, and I didn’t even apply. Here’s what happened. I was in Seattle, hanging out with friends. One of my friends tagged me in a Facebook post of one of her friends who was asking if anyone knew of any journalists who would be able to cover MFNW for VICE. I saw the tag and thought…pssssh… I ain’t qualified for this. I may or may not have been drinking at a dive by my hotel, and decided to send dude a message. He read my blog, loved it. He sent it to 5 different editors and they loved it as well. I sent the message to him at 10 pm on Thursday evening. By 9 am Friday, I was hired. HOLY SHIT. I was hired for a writing assignment for VICE, and I didn’t even apply. What. The. Fuck. I didn’t even ask if I was going to be paid. I just accepted and didn’t ask a single question outside of if my name would be on the list at the entrance because lord knows I couldn’t afford the price of the wristband for all three days.
When I got hired, I made the mistake of researching VICE to see what caliber of journalism I was working for. I mean, I already kind of knew, but I wanted to know for sure. Bad idea. Really fucking bad idea. It’s one of the largest journalism outfits in the world. It’s read in 5 continents and worth billions as of 2014. I went into a state of stun. Deer in headlights. This is literally the largest break of my life. People write their entire lives and never get an opportunity like this. I’d like to say I was ecstatic when I got this. I was terrified. What if I fucked up? What if I wrote a shit article? What if this was my peak? The pressure to perform was overwhelming. To make matters worse, I was hired to write for a music festival. I hate modern music. I know shit about shinola. My musical taste peaked out in about 1998 and never progressed. What the fuck was I supposed to write about? My blog is good because I write about things that I’m good at writing about. It’s totally different when you have to write about a subject in which you are not comfortable. Suddenly I was transformed back when I was 14, trying to write about sports that I fundamentally did not understand.
Everything happened so fast. I was hired Friday morning, which I was scheduled to work at the bar that night. On my drive from Seattle to Portland, I pulled over at some bar and called every co-worker to get my shift covered. I was so scared no one could. This was not an opportunity I could pass up. I did not want to quit my regular gig so that I could do this. Friday and Saturday got covered after about an hour of texting. The festival went all weekend, and I still didn’t have Sunday covered but I was going to be able to go. I’m going to be able to write for VICE. The assignment was intense. Attend the festival all 3 days and produce a unique article at the end of each day, due at noon the following day. I could not believe this was happening.
I arrived at the gates of that festival with my eyes glazed over. I checked in with the box office. I said my name should be on the list. The guy asked me if I was “talent” or “press”. I said “press” very awkwardly. He asked me what outfit I was working for. I said “VICE”. Everyone in the booth stopped at that moment to look at me. That’s when it became real. This is not some local publication. This is not small-time. You are chosen to write to do real fucking journalism. Something every single person recognizes. This is terrifying as fuck. I got my set of wristbands, including the one that singled me out as press. The guy who checked me in kept calling me “ma’am” and shit. This added to my pressure.
I walked into the gates and instantly began to panic. What the fuck was I going to write about? I spent that first day full of anxiety. I tried watching the bands, which were all boring as shit. It was all of that radio-friendly, washed out indie rock that fades into the background. Don’t get me wrong, I like music. I’m not “uncool”. I used to be in a band myself, back in the 90’s. I used to live in a house that was a music venue and used to bed rock stars. Point is, I’m not a square. There’s just nothing about modern music that excites me any longer. Perhaps I’m getting older. Perhaps music just sucks now. All I know is I felt like the exact wrong person to be at this festival, and to be covering it for a national publication. By the end of day one, I managed to produce a humorous article about festival culture. It was published by about 2pm the next day.
Day two was better and worse. I had way less anxiety. They liked what I was doing, and I knew I was on the right track. It was worse because I was at the same boring festival, but I had to come up with an entirely new idea. I felt the squeeze. The personal pressure was so intense. I spent day two feeling stressed and sick the entire time. My photographer was frustrated with me, as I had no idea what I was going to write, therefore could give her no direction as to what pictures she should be taking. I spent 9 hours at the festival that day, and left with a complete loss as to what I was going to write. This festival was fucking boring. Full of boring music and even more boring attendees. The crowd consisted of soccer moms, kids, teenagers, families, and white people in cargo shorts and floral headbands. The mall on a Wednesday afternoon is more happening than this thing and I was supposed to write interesting articles about it? I ended up producing my most popular article that day…which after I wrote it I was sure it was my weakest. I was pleased the article was doing so well, but it was frustrating because I knew I wasn’t giving them my best. My best article for VICE was the equivalent of my very worst blog article I’ve written. I was getting this one chance, and I couldn’t give it my best because the subject matter was out of my comfort zone.
Last day. I made a commitment to make this last article my greatest. I thought of a concept. I bounced it off of one of my editors and she loved it. Finally, I had a direction. I seized day three by the balls. I could finally relax, because I had a concept. The only problem? I couldn’t get that Sunday shift covered. That means I had to attend the festival, go to work, close the bar at about 3am, write an article and have it in by noon, then return to work Monday at 7pm. The pressure was daunting. I literally had no idea how I was going to get it done. There was nothing to do but put my head down and push forward. I kept telling myself that this was the greatest writing opportunity of my life, and I just had to deliver. I reminded myself of other struggles I’ve endured: burying my parents, moving to a new state and starting over, the horror-show that was my 7-year relationship falling apart… I told myself that I will do this. I have to. I cannot be handed this opportunity and fuck it up. I got to the festival and realized my wallet wasn’t in my purse. I had it in the cab on the way down. It fell out of my bag. With $300 cash in it. It was gone. I faced the reality. I met with my photographer and told her what the article would be about. She was thankful for finally having some idea of what she was supposed to be doing, and disappeared to work for the rest of the festival. I reached in to my purse. My wallet was gone. I jammed through the festival, taking in all I could. At about 8pm, I took a break. I squatted in an alley with Cheetos and a redbull, gave myself a mental pep talk to now cab it to my bar and work… Then bang out this article overnight. Moving a mounted seemed more possible.
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I got off work at about 3:30 am. I got home, and speed-wrote about half an article. I passed out at 5:30. I set my alarm for 9 am. I woke up, feeling like I’d been hit by a vehicle. I finished my article, then hit the bathroom to throw up. The physical toll of this overwhelmed me. I dry-heaved for about 30 minutes. My article was submitted by 11:50, it was due by noon. It was over. Did I do as well as I could have? Did I put my all into it? The third article I wrote was my best. I knew it. It was my style, and my voice. I felt satisfied.
Day three’s article was never published. It wasn’t because of content. There was a problem with the pictures getting to the editor on time as well as VICE being “too busy”. All of my hard work that day was for naught. It was a huge personal let-down for me, as that last article was what I thought was my best and no one will read it. On the other hand, I was published twice for VICE. I should probably shut up about it. The photographer and I both shared our disappointment. I was glad for the job and that I was getting paid. In a stroke of amazing luck, my wallet turned up at the TriMet lost and found. my wallet was recovered, every cent was there. There are good people still in Portland.
The editor of VICE loved my work and invited me to work for them again any time. I was told to just submit story ideas, and they would let me know. That’s it. I became a professional writer. There’s really not much higher that I could shoot for. My only regret is that my parents couldn’t see me do this. I always kind if felt like I let them down because they never got to see me get married or have kids, which they both desperately wanted for me. Beyond that, I think they would have been really proud to see what I have achieved for myself. I left a town I hated to move to an exciting city. I quit an oppressive corporate job to be a bartender, which I love. I became a professional writer, which I love even more. I may not have a traditional life for a 36 year old. I suppose I am lonely. I have failed at finding the love of my life. I suppose I missed out being a mom. I think in another life I would have been a great one. My mom told me once that she wanted to be a writer, but lost the ability. My dad once told me his dream was to retire and be a bartender somewhere. I’ve achieved both of my parents dreams. I did for them what they always wanted to do. I wish they could have been here to see it.
The Unpublished Article
I got really drunk for 3 days in a row at MFNW (because there was nothing else to do)
Day one: Orientation
I had never been to MFNW before. In fact, most of my adult life I’ve gone ahead and straight up avoided any sort of music festival. Overall I despise the heat, crowds, loud noises, hippies, dirt, stink, kids, and sleeping on the ground with spiders. This pretty much knocks out any festival as a possibility for me. When I was asked to come check this one for the sake of journalism, I conceded. I mean, a huge plus was I didn’t have to camp there. I could go home at the end of each day, relieve myself in a real toilet, wash my hair and undercarriage, sleep in my own bed and have moments away from the melee. That all being said, I still hate large and concentrated groups of people. Granted, this music fest is far less crowded than even your standard Portland street fair. Still, it’s a lot for me. Ever since I got crushed at a Beck concert back in 1997, pressing crowds have given me the straight heebie-jeebies. That means I’ll need to drink to feel comfortable. I didn’t want to get too buzzed, however. I had a lot to take in as well as a job to do. Need to stay focused. I had one cocktail before I walked into the gates.
I timed my arrival perfectly so that I missed that initial opening of the gates line-up. I walked right in with no delay. There was a lot to see and take in. The very first structure to my left of the entrance was the i.d. check and the beer booths. First stop. Ice cold Chardonnay in hand, I made my way down the line of the festival. There were various vendors and food carts lining both sides of the tube that led to the opposite-end stages. Day one I spent drinking very conservatively, feeling awkward and anxious while observing.
Day two: Brown Out
Now that I knew what to expect, I approached day two with an entire new outlook. Day one was so uneventful. It was actually pretty boring. The people were boring. Fuck me. Another day at this boring-ass music festival? I decided to let loose a bit. I took a cab downtown, stopped off at a bar and got a few cocktails. Walking into the festival, I felt straight awesome. Zero crowd anxiety. That’s when I noticed the place was deserted. A damned ghost town. Brush fires in surrounding Oregon towns met with high winds led to Portland being covered in a noxious fog of ash. People were concerned about their health (oh Portland). I braved it. I walked around, ate some free jerky samples and then made a choice. I was just going to get drunk and see where this day would take me. I was going to say yes to the festival experience and seize it by the fucking groin. I promptly got a glass of red wine and gulped it in two swallows like a massive shot. The rules of the day: Never not have a drink in your hand and go till the very end no matter what.
After slowly walking back and forth between the stages a zillion times, clumsily spilling red wine on myself, I noticed the booth giving away free haircuts had no line. Shit, I ain’t no dummy. Haircuts are expensive. Sign me up. I mean, how bad of a haircut can I get for free out of a trailer at a music festival? A nice girl named Ginger sat me in her chair and stated cutting my hair. A very young teenager was in the chair next to me getting a haircut. We talked about our first kisses. She told me that she had only kissed one boy before and afterward he never talked to her again and she thought that was stupid. I told her that my first kiss was by a locker at school and he tasted like hot dogs. She said “but was he cute, though?” Way to put it in perspective, girlie. I chugged my wine.
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After my haircut, I was feeling pretty great. I mean, my stringy locks were now trimmed up and tamed, I was about 5 under at this point and was ready to mingle. I decided to chat up folks that work here. Security, vendors, janitors, sound techs… Anyone that’s behind the scenes to see if they had any interesting stories to tell. I mean, that dude propped up at the lost and found booth has to have seen some shit, right? Turns out, no. No one had one single interesting story to tell me. Time to hit the Jack Daniels cart.
Two $8 cocktails later, I’m ready to listen to some fucking music. Talk in Tongues is on stage and they sound awesome. Also, the music coming from the Dutch Bros. Cart sounds awesome. Sitting down feels awesome. This grass feels pretty good. I’m laying down behind the Doc Martins cart. I’m just going to close my eyes for a minute. I’m taking a full-on nap, sprawled out in a vintage dress in the middle of a music festival. In concordance with Portland kindness, neither my personal effects nor my person were fucked with.
I’m wakened by laughter and everything is ship-shape. I’ve been on a booze-snooze for approximately 45 minutes. I stand up, collect my things and head to get a glass of wine. Twin towers were about to play. I stand in line to pee and notice quite a few hotties waiting to pee as well. What a weird thing, multiple people lining up to relieve their bodily fluids in a similar hole. I was feeling pretty amazing again. Also, I had just got some beauty sleep and I had a new haircut. A single gal like me might be looking for a little action. I decided to try and pick up someone at the port-a-pottys. I poise myself by the trash cans/ hand sanitizing station for easy conversation. A guy with a man-bun and beard approach to clean up. I ask him how he’s doing. He says he’s doing well. I ask him if he would like to make out. He looked at me like I was insane and walked away without a word. I mean, I did just get up off of the ground. I may or may not have had grass and dirt clinging to my ass. HIS LOSS. Strike one.
Saw a dude rocking a heavy “bike messenger” look with big ole plugs. I cringed thinking about what those must smell like in this heat. Nevertheless, I approached him after he had freshly relieved himself and asked him if he would like to make out with me. He told me he had a girlfriend and asked me to get away from him. Damn. Strike two
After that, I tried chatting up a few girls, a guy…all who looked at me like it was a crazy person. I mean, my lips were pretty purple at this point…as well as my teeth. I had dirt and grass on my butt. I later found a leaf in my hair. My SPF 50 discount spray sunblock had made all my makeup gradually slide off my face… I get it. In a sea of Levi’s models I looked pretty fucking beat. I gave up on drunk make-outs. Time to stuff my face in other ways.
After being resoundingly rejected, I got some more wine. I went back to the jerky cart. Delicious, delicious free jerky. Also at about this time, night had fallen and things were getting quite fuzzy. I hadn’t eaten, outside of the jerky. In fact, I’m pretty sure the jerky people asked me to not come back. Beirut were about to go on. I got a fresh wine and joined the crowd. I remember spilling a lot of drink down my arm. Don’t worry, I licked it off like a champ. Those babies were $7 bucks a piece. I remember dancing with some little kids. Why are there little kids here? I remember being in the cab home. I remember hitting my bed with my clothes still on. I remember my dog eating a bag of pilfered jerky out of my purse as I lost consciousness.
Day three: Hair of the Dog
I woke up feeling not great. I didn’t eat and I most certainly didn’t drink enough water. My legs and arms were itchy and covered in bumps. Right. You know, because of the nap I took with no blanket in the shitty grass. It’s time to go back to the festival, and I really did not want to fucking go. I forced myself up and ran a brush though my hair. That’s when I remembered that I got a haircut. Good lord.
Being at this festival on day three is like your last day in Vegas or Disneyland. Everything is way too bright, way too fucking loud and you kind of just want it to hurry up and be done with already. That’s where I was at. Time for drink #1. I felt like a grizzled zombie dragging my sun-baked corpse though a sea of vacuous, shiny, happy people. This was the sold-out day, therefore the most crowded. It actually felt like a real festival. The other days were pretty mellow. Time for drink two and three. I need this to be way less annoying.
Helio Sequence took the stage with their non-offensive radio-friendly hits. I sat and watched as girls repeatedly bent over way too far, flashing their asses while playing corn hole. This is gross. I feel gross. About then Danny Brown was setting up and blasting bass beats. Some lady in Birkenstocks said some shit about “ear drum damage”. Really Portland? How uncool can you be?
This show was the line of coke that this stodgy festival needed. Finally. Some music that was more upbeat than a heart monitor blip of someone in a coma. Totally different than any other act scheduled. Never fear! There’s nothing white people like more than safe and approachable hip-hop. That being said, this was also the most motionless rap show I have ever seen. I mean, some people were jamming. I saw a girl twerking with kombucha in her hand…which may have arguably been the whitest thing that has ever happened. At least finally, I smelled some pot. Thus far, this event has been super square. At least this act was causing some girls to take off their glasses and shake out their hair for a bit.
I went to head off and drink some more. People were already lining up for Modest Mouse, the headliners, and they weren’t due on for an hour. I’ve been a fan of theirs since way back in the beginning, and have never seen them live. That in and of itself is weird considering how often they have played over the years and also that I live in Portland where members of the band call home. It was going to be very crowded. My anxiety was starting to ramp up. I wonder if they’ll let me double-fist drinks? Turns out, on the last day and in the last hours of a long festival no one gives a shit about what you do.
I decided I should probably eat something. All of the food truck lines at this point were insane. Time was not going to allow me to get a burrito and shove it in my mouth before the show. I left the festival, ran across the street to a corner store. I got a Mike’s Harder Lemonade tall-can and a bag of Cheetos. I squatted down against the building and quickly consumed both. A guy sidled up to me to make small-talk. I ended up sharing both with him. I ran back to the gates.
I pressed in to the sea of people. Just like all of the previous acts, Modest Mouse went on precisely on time. I couldn’t really see over everyone’s heads, but they sounded great. The second song they played was “Dark Center of the Universe” off of The moon & Antartica. It totally brought me back to my twenties, listening to that album and having mediocre sex with my emo-haired boyfriend. A group of 5 very smelly people forced and wedged their way in front of me. The girl of the group picked up all of her sweaty hair, in her hands whipping me in the face with it. She pulled it up into a shitty top-bun so that it fanned out a foot over her head, further blocking any hope of a view and began jumping up and down while stepping on my feet. At this point, I was fucking out of here. Done. I was drunk enough to physically grab her by that rat’s nest on top of her head and take her to the ground. Instead, I made the long, shuffling trek out of the crowd. I stood by the exit and listened to two more songs. Say what you will about Modest Mouse, but they have been around so long because they are a good fucking band. Or were. I don’t know anymore. I’m old. Goodbye MFNW 2015. Smell ya later.