I recently embarked on an ambitious new project with a friend and when I proposed that we make a joke about the less-than-lucrative nature of the enterprise he said something very reasonable. He said he was a little reluctant to be too self-deprecating about the economics of our project because he didn’t want to come off as desperate.
That made a lot of sense. Not wanting to be desperate, or be seen at desperate, is a widespread, if not universal impulse. Desperation understandably does not have a good reputation. When I think of desperation, for example, I think about Donald Trump cynically parading women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual harassment or assault before the media before a Presidential debate with Hillary Clinton as both a way of psyching her out before one of the most important performances of her life and career.
This was an act of desperation, a pathetic move from a man operating from a position of weakness, whose history of treating women like garbage was a matter of the historical record. Acts like that give desperation a bad name. Desperate people will do desperate, extreme things, like Trump’s ridiculous pre-debate stunt.
But desperation can also produce good things. You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me was the product of profound personal and professional desperation and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written. Heck, you could argue that crowd-funding is itself a mark of desperation, and that's been one of the best and most empowering things that’s happened to my career. In many ways, it's allowed me to continue to have a career.
I like to joke that Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place is the product of equal parts inspiration and desperation. Like a lot of my jokes, I’m not actually kidding. I created Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place because I wanted to create something pure and untainted, something that reflected my sensibility and my life and my madness in its purest form. I wanted to create something that I had complete control over, that could not be taken away from me and was relatively immune to the sadistic demands of the commercial pop culture media.
But I also began this site because things weren’t going so great on the freelance and economic front for the old Nate Dogg, even before The A.V Club decided to kill My World of Flops a few days before the site launched. I couldn’t get work as a film critic, and I stopped looking for full-time employment as a pop culture writer very early in the search, when it became achingly apparent that there really did not seem to be a place for me in the pop culture media landscape.
It turned out that I had to make my own place in order to have any power or control over my career. Taking control over my career with Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place made me feel more solid and less desperate, but it did not change the reality that it’s still incredibly difficult to make a living as a freelance pop culture writer.
My friend and collaborator’s comment made me realize that I don’t mind being thought of as desperate, because I genuinely do feel desperate sometimes. It’s not all the time, of course. Most days I feel good about myself and my career. Then there are days when I feel defeated, when I feel cursed, when I feel I’ve spent the last 20 years running in quicksand, and am doomed to an eternity of struggling and desperation and failure and rejection, of being less than and not good enough and broken and defeated. .
Sometimes that sense of desperation isn’t even abstract. Last week, for example, I was terrified that I was going to lose a gig that makes up about a quarter of my annual income. My panic turned out to be largely, if not entirely unfounded but for a few days I felt genuinely desperate, like my world was on the verge of falling apart. And for good reason. It is fucking terrifying trying to make a living in a field like pop culture media. I’ve been very lucky, but I wake up every morning knowing that luck might change, and also that I've had my share of bad luck as well. I think I can say conclusively that that will never change.
Besides, one of my goals here at the blog is to be open and honest about all of the ugly emotions we’re not supposed to talk about or exhibit publicly. That's one of the things I liked best about WTF in the early days, and it's something I'm trying to recreate here. I’m talking about jealousy and envy and self-pity and hopelessness and, yes, desperation. On some level, I think I write about feeling like a failure, and feeling desperate, and feeling jealousy and disillusionment as a way of making myself feel like there’s nothing wrong about feeling those emotions and writing about them.
There’s a certain level of desperation threaded into the very fabric of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place, and I think that’s kind of healthy. I’m happy to say that desperation is not my permanent state of being, as it is has been in the past, but it’s a place I’m all too intimately familiar with, and I can’t see that ending anytime soon.
Join the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place community over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace