An Old School Dream
When I was 22, I moved to New York, with the dream of scoring a prestigious position at a magazine like GQ. I’d tried applying for writing jobs from Florida, but I figured a Southern address atop my resume equaled an automatic trip to the slush pile. If I lived in the city, I’d have a better chance of breaking in. So, I moved into a tiny apartment in Morningside Heights, with a buddy of mine from college. I got a job as a low-level retail manager at Banana Republic at Rockefeller Center, and I kept dreaming about working at GQ.
Once, a photographer from the magazine came into the store. She was shooting a feature in which stylists gave everyday guys makeovers in $500 suits. She was there to talk to one of the sales associates, who she’d met earlier, but she took my photo too, as a possible candidate. I was floored. Could you imagine how my life would change if I made it to the pages of GQ? It was one of those old school scouting stories that probably takes place in Instagram DMs now, instead of on the streets of Manhattan.
Sadly, I wasn’t chosen for the makeover editorial.
There was another run-in with GQ. I’d decided I was going to quit Banana Republic, but I couldn’t leave without another job. I had rent to pay, and if I had to ask my parents for money, I would surely be a failure. A spoiled one at that. A friend of mine convinced me to contact Atrium Staffing, to get temp work. I gave them my resume, told them about my dreams to work for a big men’s magazine, and they said they’d call if they had anything. When I was leaving work one day, I checked my cell and saw I had a missed call from Atrium. There was a temp admin position open at GQ, and I’d need to report for work tomorrow. My palms were immediately sweaty. I was scheduled to work at BR the next day but I’d just call out sick. This could be the life-changing moment I’d been waiting for; I wouldn’t let a little thing like my current job get in the way.
But by the time I called back, they’d already found someone for the role. Another chance to break in at GQ down the drain.
There was one more. I had a roommate who was a model manager, and he had a friend who worked as an assistant at the magazine. The publisher was looking for a new assistant; it was an interview you could only get if you knew someone on the inside. I could barely contain my excitement about the opportunity and gave an enthusiastic yes about signing up for an interview slot. I went, met the publisher, felt I’d done well in the interview, despite having no assistant experience. I walked out feeling good. But I never heard back. The third and final time missing my opportunity to work at GQ.
I let go of that dream and latched onto another one, one that was just as old school. I was going to be a real writer.
Once upon a time, it seemed there was one way to be a real writer. You had to get something, an article or short story, published in The New Yorker. You needed a New York Times bestseller. And you needed to live in New York. Just as the movie industry revolves around Hollywood and a handful of studios, publishing revolves around New York and a handful of imprints. Even as the publishing industry faced a perilous challenge from the internet, and e-readers, tablets, and e-books, that dream, more or less, still remained intact. But in 2018, even though that magazine, paper, and city still represent the pinnacle of writing success for me, I’m not sure that’s the case with the upcoming breed of young scribes.
YouTube fame, Instagram followers, and viral capacity all seem to be more desirable than getting something in print, even for writers. Self-publishing, while less trusted and supported than traditional publishing, offers a way for writers to eschew prestige in favor of higher royalty payments. There are other paths now. Yet still, the old school way is the way I want to make it.
Just look at Kristen Roupenian, the author of the viral short story “Cat Person”. The story was published in The New Yorker in early December, and spread like the flu. Many readers identified with the awkwardness of modern romance. The story was written more like a personal essay or a journal entry; though it was fiction, it tapped into feelings and frustrations that we all seemed to share. It was one of The New Yorker’s most successful pieces of the year, and Roupenian inked a 7-figure book deal with Scout Press because of it.
It was an odd phenomenon, and not just because people never get viral fame from short stories. This was an old school medium focused on a new school subject. It ran in an old school publication but was released to the world in a modern way. It achieved a new school measure of success but was rewarded with an old school measure of success.
Even in the era of video, that old writing dream still exists. It simply merged with the new forms of storytelling and distribution, but ultimately checked off all the boxes on the list of real writer success factors.
I may not work at GQ, and may not ever, but I will become a real writer. I’ll get published in The New Yorker, and I’ll write a New York Times bestseller. I already live in New York. My old school dream is still alive. And who knows? Once I have my bestseller, maybe GQ will interview me for an insightful feature about my work.
That original dream might not be as dead as I thought.