Exploiting the Archives: the Broke Diaries
I write about money an awful lot here at Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place. That’s not just because my financial health, and the financial health of my family, are largely dependent upon this site’s Patreon earnings and things have slowed to the point where this month’s new earning are stalled at thirty-seven dollars and I am terrified of having to move back in with my in-laws. No, I write about money because that’s something that has always fascinated me.
I grew up in a state of perpetual financial self-consciousness and anxiety even before my dad left his safe if soul-crushing government job, setting in motion a series of unfortunate events that would lead to me spending my adolescence in a group home for emotionally disturbed adolescents.
I obsessed about money only the way a poor kid can. Money obsessed me because I never had much, and it sure seemed like everyone else was rolling in the stuff. As a middle-aged man, I wrote about money because money frustrated and enraged and bewildered me and writing has always been my way of making sense of an insane world.
I wrote about going broke and trying to make my way back from a dispiriting financial nadir because it felt like nobody else was writing about what a toxic and depressing force money was in their life, and I wanted people who similarly felt defeated by money and capitalism to know that they are not alone, and that we all wrestle with this shit, some of us more publicly than others.
When I was laid off from The Dissolve, I wrote about the fear and uncertainty I was feeling for an essay on Longreads: https://longreads.com/2015/06/09/the-box-and-the-basement/ I'm pleased to say the dude with the box and the all-consuming economic terror mostly turned out alright. Freelance remains a hustle and a struggle but I love the work and the readers and this site and its patrons have been a goddamn godsend, is what they've been.
That was the motivation when I wrote a four thousand word essay on my traumatic experiences with a shady and ultimately criminal debt consolidation company (I got my 120 dollar check as part of a class action lawsuit as conclusive legal proof of their dishonesty) I unwisely got involved with in a desperate attempt to pay off a thirty-seven thousand dollar credit card bill I’d wracked up researching my fourth book, You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me, first for the blog of the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, and then Gawker, which picked it up and threw zero dollars my way for a piece that was read something like 100 thousand times. You can read the essay here: http://gawker.com/getting-sued-by-american-express-led-me-out-of-the-ruin-518368196
But in writing that essay I was also motivated by a desire to keep other people from making the same mistake that I did. The debt consolidation company’s pitch was seductive but their actions actively detrimental to my long-term, and short-term financial health. I wanted to keep people from being suckered by debt consolidation company’s siren song. I wanted to really drive home the importance of doing due diligence before getting involved with anybody professing to take care of your money problems.
Around that time, I decided to introduce a column for The A.V Club called Money Matters, where I talked with people about their experiences making money, losing money and gaining all manner of perspective, if not necessarily cold hard cash in the process. It was not a terribly prolific or popular column, but I was proud of every entry, particularly this one with J-Zone, one of my indie rap heroes and one of the sharpest and funniest men in all of pop culture, and, as you can see here, one heck of a good interview subject: https://music.avclub.com/j-zone-lost-his-wikipedia-page-and-his-interest-in-bein-1798235395
It was a bit of a challenge getting people to talk about their terrible experiences with money, something that has historically not exactly “moved units” but I found some candid souls particularly suited for the column, like Benjamin Anastas, who wrote a memoir about going broke we discussed here: https://www.avclub.com/from-wunderkind-to-washed-up-benjamin-anastas-lost-alm-1798235706
Neal Pollack was also a terrific subject with a hell of a story to tell: https://www.avclub.com/neal-pollack-on-rebounding-from-massive-hype-and-six-fi-1798236876 and I knew that Paul Gilmartin, host of the essential Mental Illness Happy Hour, would make for an honest and engaging interview subject: https://www.avclub.com/paul-gilmartin-on-the-finances-of-getting-basic-cable-b-1798234921
Incidentally, if you click on the “Money Matters” link on The A.V Club website, it’s dead, which does not feel great from a personal perspective but makes this feature more valuable, because it sure seems like y’all need a sherpa like myself to navigate the A.V Club archives, which I hear are a bit of a mess these days.
Support Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place and over twenty years of intermittent excellence in journalism and get neat bonuses like instant access to all-patron-exclusive content over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace