Am I a Failure?
Some days it’s difficult, if not impossible, to muster up the energy and will to be positive. Optimism begins to feel less like a form of hope than a retreat into self-delusion. The spirit is just not with you. Work is a grind instead of a joy. The writing comes slowly, in fits and starts instead of in a natural flow. The ominous shadow of self-doubt begins to creep over even the sunniest corners of your life and career.
On days like these, days like today, I’m confronted with a question as big and amorphous as it is troubling: Am I a failure? Have I failed? Did I peak professionally long ago, when I was in my twenties or thirties and am now on a steep, seemingly endless and irreversible professional slide?
Most days that maddening inner voice asking if I’ve failed is either non-existent or so faint that I can easily ignore it but some days it’s nothing short of a scream, a howl of desperation so deafeningly loud that it’s all but impossible to ignore it. And some days it’s so goddamn, unconscionably loud that it angrily demands to be answered in blog form.
It’s also a question I would not address outside of this website, which I created as a safe haven in a pop culture media realm I increasingly find terrifying and foreign. It’s succeeded on that level almost too well.
I fear that I am becoming the pop culture media equivalent of a mad scientist who retreats from a hostile and uncomprehending world by retreating further and further into a tiny little universe of his own devising, a world where I have total control and I can pursue my curious passions free from the judgment and feverish competition that characterizes the world outside of my weird little website.
Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place has done well enough financially that, along with the columns I’m writing for Rotten Tomatoes and TCM Backlot, I’m able to support myself and my family as a pop culture writer.
That’s good because over the past year or so my always wavering appetite for pitching stories has all but disappeared. Part of that is attributable to the Happy Place being a good home for just about any idea I might have. I totally know the guy who runs it, in the sense that he’s me, and that dude is always excited to publish anything and everything by that Nathan Rabin guy, no matter how self-indulgent, typo-riddled or perversely non-commercial. I’ve stopped just short of going to a trophy shop so I can get properly reward myself for being the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place employee of the month every single one of the last sixteenth months.
I’m anxious about pitching because, consciously or subconsciously, I see every no and rejection as more conclusive evidence that there is no place for me in the pop culture world outside the website I created and the handful of columns I’ve managed to hold onto, which has shrunk substantially in the past week alone when Rotten Tomatoes decided to retire my Sub Cult column.
I recently pitched to two outlets I’ve written for in the past and when neither website even responded to me I was a little disappointed but also a little relieved, because the passive rejection of having an email go unanswered is preferable, and less painful, than having your ideas explicitly and forcefully rejected.
When I worked at The A.V Club, the idea of being a full-time freelancer was unthinkable to me. I thought, not without cause, that I was way too insecure and anxiety-ridden to make my livelihood dependent on constantly opening up to rejection. I was half-right about that. When I left the world of salaried employment behind, perhaps permanently, after my end at The Dissolve I gravitated to columns because they promised a certain level of stability, security and regular income but in just three years I’ve watched the nine or ten outside columns I lined up post-The Dissolve shrink to only three. Part of that was by design but mostly it was a product of even my most popular, influential and high-profile columns, like My World of Flops, Sub Cult and Pod Canon, getting killed by the websites that originally commissioned them.
I’m mostly satisfied with the career that I’ve carved out for myself. I’m proud of myself for surviving some crushing professional blows, for reinventing myself independently on a DIY basis after my time with Scribner and Abrams Image and The A.V Club and The Dissolve came to an end but on the dark days I can’t help but wonder where and how I went wrong. I couldn’t even make it as a mommy blogger. How sad is that? The world of writing about diaper bags and car seat straps ultimately proved way too competitive and cut-throat for my blood.
I take solace and comfort in knowing that when I bleed all over the page like this, when I bare my soul and my fears and insecurities, at least a few people identify with my struggles and feel a little less alone and defeated in their everyday struggles. Writing can be therapy. It can be a way of sharing your truth with a world that oftentimes doesn’t seem terribly interested in what you have to say after you pass forty.
That, in itself is a victory. Or maybe it’s just sad. I alternate between those extremes based on the kind of day I’m having but being able to write my way out of a deep funk, as I’ve done over the course of this blog post feels awfully empowering and gives me hope that I’ll continue to have the inner resources to deal with a dispiriting outside world full of rejection, both real and theoretical.
I make my living primarily through Patreon so if you would consider donating even a dollar over at http://patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be