We Are Here Now

The best moments […] are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
                                                ―  Alan Bennett, The History Boys

So, here we are a week later, and I still find myself with unexpectedly wet cheeks, unconscionably lumpen throat and ringing ears. I’ve heard every version of Major Tom, watched the International Space Station cover, watched Labyrinth and the Making Of, rejoiced in every snaggle-toothed smile, even as I welcomed the heartache. I questioned whether to write this at all.

I’m not much for celebrity worship. I never was. And yet here I am, here we are, and the pain is unbearable. A friend of mine said it best when he said, “as I sit here stunned by this morning's news, I realise I had genuinely believed that David Bowie was immortal.” And that’s really it. From the moment I first saw Labyrinth, followed closely by my dad presenting me with a CD with the same face on its cover, titled “Let’s Dance” and my realization that, “wait a minute, Jareth the Goblin King is a rock star!” David Bowie has felt less like a celebrity than a member of my family.

I remember presenting my new babysitter with my favorite new film to watch for the evening, and being shocked that she knew the person on the cover was a man, not a woman, even though he had long, sleek blond hair that, I thought, rightfully belonged to a woman. I can’t have been more than six (I always had imaginary friends and scenarios as a child) when I paced back and forth in my bedroom, voicing both sides of a conversation between a Labyrinth film tech guy and David Bowie, who in my mind was only Jareth, and unhappy about the direction the film was taking. He was in my head that early, and as I began to discover more and more of his music, he never let go.

What is it to feel the ache of the loss of something that has never truly been yours? Does mourning along with the rest of the world make it feel better or worse? I have this sense – as I feel sure every single one of his fans does – that I am somehow special because I listened to and appreciated his music. And in a way, isn’t that what we’re really doing when we listen to music? Perhaps that isn’t the whole story – after all, their must be something in the bassline and the beat and the melody and the story that grabs us – but when we’re all alone in a room, or walking alone in a city with the music, we are communing with this person that we will never know and yet know so closely. We feel we have been singled out for his message.

So many people attest to this sense of being an outsider, a misfit uncomfortable in our own skin when we were young. I had my own “David Bowie moment” so to speak, when I was around 16 or 17, and discovered the downtown music scene just beginning to burble over the surface in New York. Places like the Lower East Side, Williamsburg and the East Village, which I had barely ever set foot in although they were each a name and a history and an image for me, were suddenly illuminated, through and through. Backrooms of bars, music venues with stages inches off the floor, lofts and apartments, these become the tiny pinpricks of light that spread out to clarify my mind map. I became a creature of the night, even as I did my homework by day, and kept up my grades and looked towards college.

We were all the same odd people who congregated at the foot of these stages, all intent on sacrificing hours of our evenings just to make sure were in the front row, at arm’s length for the best pictures. There I met a fellow photographer, except he wasn’t a fellow at all because he was a professional. In one of our many meetings he let it be known that he had passes to photograph for the Today Show at Rockefeller Center. Did I know who was performing tomorrow at the Today Show?

I didn’t. The today show was the vulgar mainstream. I was a high school rebel rebel.

“David Bowie.”

And even better:

“If you’re willing to get yourself up very early in the morning and come down to Midtown meet me by 6:45, I can get you in. You can even bring a friend.”

The giddiness of that morning is well documented in a blogpost from the time, back when I was New York Doll and thought that name was just adorable:

When I accepted an invitation from a photographer friend of mine covering the Today Show in Rockefeller Center, I also had to accept an enormous amount of skepticism along with it. He actually gave me his cell phone number, just so I could call him when I woke up at 6:00 in the morning and decided that sleep was a lot more important than Bowie. He acted surprised and pleased when I showed up on time that Thursday morning, friend in tow, but his shock certainly could not match the amount of surprise and delight that would be mine when, after leading us around the back of the stage and past a velvet rope, he placed us in the VIP area and told us to wait. “Wait here?” We thought to ourselves, wondering where else there was to go besides this small barricaded area directly in front of the insane fans who had undoubtedly been camped out in their spots since the night before. “Does he mean we’re not staying here?” By the time he came back with photo passes for both of us, and led us to the ten feet of space in front of the stage that served as the photo pit, our eyes had glazed over with sheer disbelief. So what if he only played four songs? We were five feet away from Ziggy Stardust and a million miles from earth.

I don’t remember what songs he played, or even if he performed them well. I remember the few moments afterwards when he came down toward us, and began to greet that line of dedicated, all-nighter fans and sign autographs. I came up behind him, put my hand on his shoulder to try to get him to turn around. Felt my hand connect with warm denim over muscle, before I was gently but firmly pushed back by one of several bodyguards who surrounded him.

“Ma’am, you do not touch Bowie. You do not approach Bowie from behind.”

I could hardly have been shocked or even insulted; for a moment my pumping heart had drowned out the cheers from the crowd. “This,” I thought to myself, “might just be one one-hundredth of what it feels like to be a rockstar.”

In the ensuing years I would pull out those photographs from that morning to admire them, just as I pulled out that memory and marveled at the fact that all these strange details had come together to get me there. I never saw that photographer again, can’t even remember his name.

Over the years David Bowie and I lost each other, but he popped up now and again, perhaps most surprisingly, when I moved to Berlin and found that Berlin and Bowie had had a special relationship – one that anyone who chose this city above other more glamorous locales will recognize and appreciate. I must have passed Hauptstrasse 155 a hundred times without actively registering it; now I live 15 minutes away by foot, and the garden of flowers, notes and candles spilling out around the door made me feel all whirly inside, but also grateful. That same garden of flowers, notes and candles has been sprouting up all over this past week. It’s the same one that comes around after any death, any tragedy or terrorist act. Yet none of it registered with me the way this did. I briefly considered whether this might indicate a severe lack of empathy or skewed values on my part. If that’s the case, there is a problem with all of us.

In considering what Bowie meant to us, and what he didn’t, there is a tendency to resort to hyperbole. I was not a gay man in 1960s London, yearning for someone to show me it was okay to be different. I have never been an aspiring musician looking for a muse or inspiration. I can’t even really claim to have been the most dedicated David Bowie fan in the world.  But I can say that whenever I contemplated his presence on earth, it made me feel a little more joy and a little less sadness. When I listened to his music, it was as if a hand had come out and taken mine.

“You do not touch Bowie.”

And no one ever will.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #10

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’ve been sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #10.

The success of others doesn’t mean your failure; it can mean your success as well.

At this point, you may have noticed a theme here. I think as professional writers, all of us, even those who go around with those moony-eyed looks and dreamy, contented smiles, have experienced jealousy so fiery and bright it almost blinds us. When someone gets a book deal, our first reaction is to seethe before we write a begrudging “congratulations” and “happy for you” in an email or on a Facebook wall. If someone gets an article in the New York Times, it must have been for reasons other than talent/she isn’t that good anyway/that newspaper is going downhill and they’ll take anyone these days. I’m guilty of it; guilty of it all. And I’m sure you are too.

At a certain point, however, I realized that, not only was this line of thinking doing me absolutely no good, it was also keeping me from taking advantage of new and valuable sources of information, usually people fresh from the high of getting said book deal or writing for said influential newspaper who were more than happy to share the story of how they did it. When you were little, perhaps your parents assured you that they loved you and your siblings equally; that their love was not a pie with different sized slices cut out of it; you and your brother or sister each had a whole pie of your very own. Well, success is like that pie: just because someone else got an article published in the New Yorker or the Atlantic doesn’t mean you are any less likely to. The pie doesn’t grow smaller because a fellow writer you know took a piece out of it and you can only take what’s left. You have to bake your own pie (am I taking this metaphor too far?) with ingredients you already have in your own kitchen.

Again, the writers’ groups I belong to have been crucial here. When a writer happily posts an article she has written for The New York Times travel section, I don’t have to give her a half-hearted congratulations while trying to keep that simmer of frustration inside me from boiling over. Instead I can say, “congratulations; tell me how you did it” and she’ll be more than happy to oblige; no one will think the worse of me, or anyone else, for having asked that question, because we are all here to help each other.

We are all here to help each other. Sometimes I think if we were just to remember that phrase and follow it, freelance writers would face higher payment for their articles and more responsive and helpful editors when we pitch and write. If someone else is successful, that means you can be too. Be happy for them and seek to emulate them; it means you’re on your way.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #9

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #9.

Always ask for more money.

This one is tough. In fact, it’s something I’m still learning but trying to get better at. When you apply for a full-time job, or really any job at all, that pesky little moment comes around when you have to talk about money. Research shows that men are better at this than women, because women tend to second-guess themselves and their worth far more than men do. Unfortunately, if you’re a freelance writer, a mini version of this comes along about once every couple of weeks, or maybe several times a week if you’re really successful at pitching. You’ll pitch a story, an editor will get back to you intrigued, maybe with a few extra questions and directives, and then, before writing the story, you two will have to talk about money.

For most freelancers, sadly, this probably means one thing: the editor proposes a sum, and you say yes to it, too scared to lose the story and a potential client to try and argue for more. In 2014, after several successful attempts at raising my salary for corporate work, I decided I would ask for more money every chance I got. I had once been burned by a boss who practically laughed me out of the room when I tried to get more money from him, but that was six years ago and I was just beginning to understand my worth. If asked to name a price first, I’ll usually take whatever price I expect an editor to say yes to and add quite a bit on top of it, assuming that it may go down due to negotiating. If the editor names a price, I’ll outline how I got more from such-and-such an outlet for a similar piece, and see if he or she can negotiate.

Sometimes this is harder than it looks, as a lot of outlets, especially online ones, will have set-in-stone, low pricing you can either take or leave, along with that possible home for your story. Once in a while I’ll let myself down, panicking when I’m asked for a price and underselling myself, knowing that I’m doing it even as I hit the send button and wait for a reply. I’m trying to get better at this, but I’m encouraged by the fact that I already have. I just added up my finances for 2014 and I made more money than I ever have in a single year as a freelancer. I have to assume some of that came from my determination to always ask for more, and my resolve to give up this fear that doing so might mean losing a potential client. I hope to do even better in 2015.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #8

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #8.

If you are generous with your time, experience, and contacts, others will be too. But it probably won’t be a 1-to-1 transaction.

This has something to do with Rule 3, and certainly has a lot to do with forging meaningful relationships as a writer, but it is a bit more specific than that. If you had asked me in 2013 or earlier what frustrated me most about being a young and relatively inexperienced writer, I would have replied: the cliques. That was it: all the writing groups out there I wasn’t a part of; all the secret societies I hadn’t been invited to. I truly believed that there was a group of around 10 to 12 writers in Berlin who were getting every story in every major publication, and leaving the rest of us to roll around on the ground, looking for scraps. Why weren’t they giving freely of their help and contacts? How could I get them to? And most of all, how had they risen to that point in their lives where they had help and contacts to give? Who had seen fit, many years ago, to give freely to them? Why weren’t “they” me?

While it’s true that a fair number of very good writers live in Berlin (hey, Berlin still remains cheaper than New York, and even very good writers are hardly very well paid writers; we all need somewhere to live), many of them got to Berlin before it was !!!Berlin!!! and spent years gathering facts, reporting stories, and pitching articles on a city that few—or at least fewer—outlets were particularly interested in. They did their time before I arrived. I know many more of them now and you know what? They have been extremely kind and generous, giving freely of their time, expertise, and occasionally even contacts.

Meanwhile, I’ve stopped being afraid to ask for that help, and instead, have started to focus on my own sort of giving. You remember back in Rule 3, when I said that 2014 was the year I started thinking of myself as a legitimate writer, and stopped thinking of myself as a hopeless mooch who would never have anything to offer? 2014 was also the year I realized that giving generously could translate into receiving generously, but it would rarely be a one-to-one transaction. This means that you should answer questions when you can, direct other writers to editors if they’re looking for them, discuss and critique written work as you would wish others to discuss and critique your own, and be generous with your time if it means helping someone else take a step you once found daunting. It also means not expecting those exact people to repay you in those exact ways. It may be that someone you help will be hard to get in touch with when you need help in return, but someone else down the line will probably make up for it, popping up and giving you assistance at exactly the right time, astonishing you with his or her generosity.

There was a time when I got self-righteously annoyed with how helpful I was being; pissed off that this person or that person seemed to have taken my advice, run with it, and not bothered to thank me. Then I remembered that I once did that as an inexperienced writer and was rightfully called out on it. I also remembered the numerous people I barely knew at the time, who have since become good friends and reliable confidantes, who proved their goodness early on by giving me direction without my even asking for it. Their advice resulted in paid articles or good clips, in an unforgettable experience or a much-need confidence boost. Keep these people close; their generosity was and is advance payment for your own future generosity.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #7

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #7.

Learn how to make yourself take time off.

This one, surprisingly or unsurprisingly, was the hardest for me. In a way, I think it’s the hardest for all freelancers—one of the things we may actually envy our full-time office job friends for; friends who go out to the movies in the evenings, have brunch on weekends, and take two-week vacations that are actually vacations. To put it simply, we freelance writers don’t know how to take a day off, because our job depends on finding story ideas, sources, and outlets everywhere we turn.

The fact that we can work from anywhere turns into a curse instead of a blessing. Maybe we’re in Lisbon as I was last February, looking for undiscovered hole-in-the-wall restaurants as fodder for a “Top Ten” list rather than for our own culinary enjoyment. Maybe we’re in Taiwan as I was last March, or minds racing with possible outlets that would be interested in a story about a fascinating but comparatively little-known country. Maybe we’re just at home, trolling the Internet for interesting current events stories we could write responses to. Whatever our goals, whatever our reasons, we can’t sit still, because choosing to sit still now might mean that a month from now we’ll be sitting still not by choice, but because we don’t have any work at all.

What’s more, if we want to take a planned vacation, we have to estimate when to stop pitching and when to close the office, so that the assignments stop coming in at exactly the week we want them to. The way magazine publishing works, you can easily be writing a story in January that you won’t see in print until June. In much the same way, you can easily be pitching stories this month only to have editors get back to you in two months’ time—exactly when you had hoped to take a weeklong vacation.

Around November of this year, however, just as I was flying home from a two-week vacation in New York that was hardly a vacation at all (I worked all the way through it), I realized that if I was going to maintain my sanity, I was going to have to take a break. Luckily, Germany was about to take a two-week break as well, and I noticed that most of my regular clients were winding down for the end of the year. I also realized, with some relief, that I didn’t have to send out any new pitches if I didn’t want to. That might mean I would awake on January 1 and I find I had no writing gigs ahead of me, but that would free me up to do other work: take a 30-day online course on querying like I’m doing now, rethink my website, which I plan to do in the next week, and reorganize my desktop for the new year.

I’m writing this after a two-week break during which I did almost no work at all, and by the end of it (we’re talking January 1st, exactly) I couldn’t wait to start gearing up for another year full of freelance writing surprises and accomplishments.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #6

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #6.

There is no big break – just hard work

I used to think every successful writer I knew of had gotten some big break. I fantasized about how he or she had probably once been exactly as I was, laboring over small, trivial articles for little pay before – bingo! – he or she met the right person, slept with the right person, unknowingly did a favor for the right person, and was instantly propelled to a higher plane of existence; one I could not fathom, but just had to believe existed. This could also work, I reasoned, if a Very Important Editor of a Very Important Magazine™ just happened to be slumming it in the primordial ooze of popular websites and low-brow inflight magazines, saw your article, thought for some reason you were brilliant, and invited you to write for Very Important Magazine™. Suddenly everyone recognized your great talent, and you were inundated with invitations to write for: The New York Times! The New Yorker! Vanity Fair! Vogue!

Now, mostly thanks to the aforementioned online writing groups I am privileged to be a part of, I’ve realized that even the most successful writers still have to do the grunt work of finding new clients, going out into the world and making connections, pitching stories, worrying about deadlines and payment. Big breaks do come for the lucky few, but the rest of us, regardless of how talented, driven, and connected we are, have to learn to slog on through as well.

Realizing that success and my perceived lack of it had less to do with luck and much more to do with hard work was somehow liberating. Now I no longer had to sit there, stewing in my own resentment of the things that Other Writers were getting that I was not. There was a reason for it, and it was entirely under my control: the more pitches I sent out, the more networking I did, the more actual writing I did, the more likely I would be to get another kind of big break—one based entirely on my own goals and entirely of my own making.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #5

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #5.

Have something else you love to do that does not involve sitting in front of the computer.

If you’re a writer of any sort, no doubt most of your time is spend hunched over something. In the olden days it was a piece of parchment with ink and quill, a candle stub quietly burning out next to you, a pot on the floor to catch the drips in your unrepaired ceiling. Then it was a typewriter. Thank goodness we have computers now, and most of us don’t live in Dickensian conditions. Still, if you’re like me, you probably have constant back, neck, and shoulder pain from sitting in chairs that are not meant to support hours of typing, lying in bed propped up on three or four pillows, or sitting on a living room sofa with my feet up on a chair. I should really get one of those ergonomic chairs, but I hate the way they look.

So it’s a good thing I’ve cultivated a number of hobbies that give my back a rest along with my eyes. If whatever I’m working on gets to be too much for me, there’s a good chance you’ll find me putting on my running shoes, downloading a new episode of Radiolab, This American Life, or lately, Serial, and going on a 30-minute run. What’s more, I usually have my best ideas when I’m in the shower afterwards.

If it’s around lunch or dinnertime, I’m just as thrilled to get my mind off my writing by going food shopping, planning a meal, or simply baking something frivolous. I’ve found that working with my hands is a thrill I can always afford: when writing down my list of ingredients for a new roast chicken recipe or stirring together a batch of granola, I can give my brain the kind of rest it simply does not get from anything else. Perhaps it’s the combination of hand-eye coordination with another level of planning and timing that gets my mind entirely out of writing and onto another task at hand, but it’s crucial mental time off that makes me twice as ready to go back to my ideas when I have to sit down at the computer again.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #4

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #4.

You don’t have to publish a certain amount of articles per week/month/year to call yourself a writer.

I used to think writers had to publish a certain number of times per week or month or year to be considered legitimate. I would look at writers’ personal websites, a long list of glowing publication credentials in their portfolios, and I would wonder what I was doing wrong. After all, even if I got an editor to take notice of me long enough to write one article, I could hardly ever get him or her to care enough again. How did I become a repeat contributor to certain publications? What’s more, how did they?

This year I realized that writing doesn’t have to be a numbers game, and indeed probably shouldn’t be. If a writer has written dozens of articles in a very short amount of time, take a closer look: those articles probably consist of clickbait, top ten lists, and lots of topics that will win the website a lot of hits but probably didn’t earn the writer a lot of money. I write for some of those now, and I’m fine with them because they’re fun, easy, offer an outlet for my playful side without involving lots of time and multiple rounds of edits, and pay just enough that they seem worth it.

The key to being a writer—and indeed any kind of freelancer—is having a steady flow of work, sure, but equally crucial is being discerning, picky, and above all else, patient. If you have steady gigs that pay the bills, whether they are at all creative or journalistic or just plain corporate, you can afford to focus more on your ideas and the publications that might take them, regardless of how well those pay (and let’s face it: most of them pay pretty badly). You can also afford to take some time off once in a while, and as you’ll see further ahead, that’s also on our list.

I know that not everyone can operate this way, and I’m very lucky that I can. Over the past two years I’ve built up relationships and very often self-made positions with local clients here in Berlin that pay me enough to sustain a lifestyle some would consider luxurious in what remains one of Europe’s cheapest cities. I couldn’t afford New York on the money I make, but I can afford to live nicely here in the German Hauptstadt.

I also know that not every writer can thrive in these exact parameters: some writers really are spewing out new ideas a mile a minute; enough to pitch fifty new outlets a month and get positive responses from ten of them, enough to keep churning out the clickbait and watching those small amounts of money trickle in to add up to larger ones. For me, and I suspect for a lot of writers, the smart decision is not to rely on open-ended pitches to faceless editors with slow response times on the other side of a computer screen to pay the bills. You should spend as much time building up the boring work that will finance the work you really want to be doing.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #3

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #3.

Making friends with writers is important, but not for the reason you might have thought

A very short time ago, I was of the firm mindset that the only way to become a successful writer was to make friends with other writers, and to be lucky enough that they’d be the right ones with all the right contacts, eager to help you even if you were too much of a beginner to do anything for them in return. While I still think surrounding yourself with a network of writers is extremely important, it turns out it’s not at all for the self-interested, self-promotional reasons I once had in mind.

2014 was the first year I truly started thinking of myself as a writer. I’d just done the Fodor’s guidebooks for the second year running, I’d co-written, -edited, and –published Slow Travel Berlin’s 100 Favourite Places by the end of 2013, and I had completed the first draft of what would later become Finding Your Feet in Berlin: A Guide to Making a Home in the Hauptstadt. Suddenly I felt I might have some advice to offer, and that’s when friendships with other writers started getting easier. I realized that I had been holding back, approaching potential friends awkwardly, all in fear that they’d find out what I was really looking for: that I needed help and advice and had none to give. I started asking questions about other people’s projects, and scanning my brain to think of anyone else I knew who might be able to help.

To my surprise, the connections I was able to make with other people who were struggling the exact same way I was—even people who seemed wildly successful on the outside—were more relaxed, more genuine, and much more helpful and supportive than any I had made before. I met a fellow Berlin-based writer who had also worked on the Fodors guidebooks, and she and I became fast friends. I was happily surprised by how much support she was willing to give me and how many contacts she was willing to share without my even asking her. I tried to do the same for her. A married couple who are successful and well-known bloggers became a great sounding board on the full-time freelance writing life, how to find the right outlets for your work, and avoiding certain outlets that make big promises and pay badly, and a general inspiration. My co-editor on the Slow Travel Berlin book also became a source of knowledge and support as we traded ideas, contacts, tips, and pitching horror stories.

Finally, although I may have been skeptical at the beginning, considering the general timewaster Facebook seems to have become, joining several secret groups of writers online was the best decision I could have made towards finding a community in a profession that can be pretty lonely. Much more than giving freely and generously of advice, contacts, and job leads, the people in these groups have given me suggestions on fine-tuning pitches, ideas of where to pitch stories in the first place, support when something annoying or disappointing happens, and inspiration with their own success stories.

What I Learned About Being a Writer in 2014 - Tip #2

I learned a lot about being a writer in 2014, and over these ten days, I’m sharing some of my tips. Here is Tip #2.

Never take rejection personally (and learn how to actually do that)

This is sort of an addendum to the previous rule, but important enough to get its own slot. Part of learning how to play the game is understanding that the rules have nothing to do with you, that the people who make those rules (editors) have nothing against you, and that those rules are just intended to make their lives easier. That’s why you should approach every pitch you write from that perspective too. How do those alien creatures with full-time jobs get those full-time jobs, you ask? They find the person who is looking to fill a position and present themselves as absolutely indispensible to that person; the only credible fit for that position. If you want to get the attention of an editor who has never heard of you before, the best thing to realize and accept is that that editor is just a person, and probably a stressed out, overworked one at that. Don’t expect a response, especially if it’s a rejection; be kind, patient, and quick to thank if a personal rejection comes.

Back in mid-November, just after I’d flown to New York for Thanksgiving but before Thanksgiving week, I had an idea I’d been kicking around in my head for a few days. Thanksgiving preparations were in full swing, and diatribes against the unholy matrimony of retail and holiday known as “Black Friday” were already being penned. I thought I could add to the conversation by writing something about Black Friday from the perspective of an American living in Germany—a country with a very different retail environment and an almost puritanical devotion to closing shops and businesses on holidays. I reached out to a Facebook friend of mine who was an editor at a high-profile New York publication, and asked if she might be interested in the story. She forwarded it to her boss, who said he was intrigued but confused by what I was trying to say, and she asked me to call her. After a friendly and helpful conversation during which she gave me some direction, encouraged me to write the piece on spec, and told me she would do her best to get it in before Thanksgiving day (it was Tuesday by this point), I dove in. One long night of writing and two edits later, the piece was in the system and ready for approval. The day after Thanksgiving she forwarded me her boss’s apology that he had never gotten the chance to approve the article so it couldn’t go up in time.

In the world of “Giulia, pre-2014,” I would have exploded with anger, mostly at myself, for having wasted time on writing the piece only to see it rejected, for having waited to pitch until time was that tight, for many other things my brain would have cooked up in the vengeful stew that would probably be boiling in there. In this case, I thanked her kindly for all her work trying to get the piece published in time, told her it was no big deal, and immediately put it back in a file with a note to start pitching it again in early October 2015.

The moral of the story? Rage against the editorial machine will blind you to future possibilities. Staying calm and thankful for the learning experience you’ve had keeps your mind and vision clear, and allows you to see solutions instead of beating yourself up about your problems.