Editorial IV was born out of pure, unfiltered frustration. I felt trapped. My back was against the wall, so I reacted. It turned out to be one of the most important and impulsive decisions I’ve ever made. Since then, I’ve developed a deep sense of trust in my impulses, my instincts. They take care of me and I continue feeding them.
I’d arrived in New York a year earlier, terrified, mentally frail and lacking any notable qualifications. The three weeks leading up to the move were spent on a solo trip to London and various parts of Ireland. I intended on spending that time alone, building up the mental toughness I knew I’d need to handle the impending rejection. Each week spent in Europe, I hoped, would allow me enough time to build a mental wall capable of withstanding a month of intense pressure. My calculations were off. Breaking into New York would take me longer than three months.
My first apartment at Nostrand Avenue and Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights, Brooklyn came complete with roaches and bedbugs. I wore long socks on my arms at night so that they’d bite me less. The apartment – it was actually a room, not an apartment – was barely big enough for the bed, a dresser, myself and my hundreds of tiny roommates. I moved in on July second. There was no air conditioning. It was an oven. The girl I was dating at the time offered to visit twice. I was so ashamed of my setup that I made sure it never happened. Every morning I put on a suit and walked around in Manhattan all day, dropping off my resume at firms I’d researched the night before and trying to get a word with managers whenever I could get past security.
Three months in I was working for a high-end catering company, cleaning dishes at multi-million dollar weddings for Broadway producers at the Roseland Ballroom, feeding hor d’oeuvres to Donald Trump and Martha Stewart and Tyra Banks. Somewhere around that time – it all seems like a blur now – I had the fortune of landing an eight-hour-a-day, unpaid internship at a prominent public relations firm in Midtown. It was demanding, and I had to work at night to support myself. The more you’re being taken advantage of, the more is expected of you.
By January of the next year, I was working at another firm in the Empire State Building. My salary was thirty-seven thousand dollars a year. That doesn’t allow for much of a lifestyle in New York. Even if you eat rice all the time, you don’t end up with any savings. The struggle made me feel worthless. My ambition was seen as threatening by many of my superiors. My refusal to take vacation days was viewed as unhealthy, and it probably was, but I was so focused on becoming the best as quickly as possible that I wasn’t even playing the game right.
Fast forward to August and I was suffocating. More accurately, I was being suffocated. Tensions with certain managers were fast approaching breaking points. They wanted me to sit down and shut up. I couldn’t. They didn’t like what I was writing in my spare time, and even stopped publishing most of it on the company blog. And I was writing, I was writing so much. It was out of desperation; a true sense of hopelessness lived in my young mind.
Their disapproval was nothing compared to the despair and shame I’d overcome to be there, sitting at that desk, making them money. The sacrifices I’d made, the fears I’d flung myself headfirst at, the tests of mental toughness, and I was about to allow a few detractors to subdue me and turn me average by twenty-three? Less than likely. “Picture me letting these clowns nitpick at me.” That line played over and over in my mind.
That’s when I started publishing my thoughts on Editorial IV. It’s impossible for me to properly explain what this site means to me. It helped me escape. I don’t just mean that figuratively, the way fiction helps you escape reality; it literally helped me escape. My writing allowed me to create a new world for myself, then step into it comfortably. Two months after the birth of Editorial IV, I quit my job and started my own business. I entered the happiest, most challenging chapter of my life. I’m still here, writing that chapter.
I haven’t been publishing much recently. I’ve been writing every single day, just not publishing as much. Many of my early writings were critical. I’ve decided to become less of a critic and focus more on originality and the exploration of new ideas. Critics, I’ve realized, don’t build or improve or explore – they just say yes or no. Mark Helprin said that. The name Editorial IV actually comes from a section in The Sun, a fictional newspaper in one of his novels. He explained its significance in relation to the other sections, which each had a specific focus: “Editorial IV, however, was controversial, for in it The Sun columnists and guests were encouraged to write without regard to libel or any other consequences, though by some sort of unwritten code abusiveness and sensationalism were filtered from articles that might otherwise have been vitriolic or provocatory.”
I am once again filled with new thoughts. Intellectually, I’m growing every day. I’ve become quieter and more observant, an important step for a writer. I want to understand the forces dictating our behavior. Then I want to be capable of explaining them, breaking them down, categorizing them. As Aleksandar Hemon, one of my favorite contemporary authors, said in an interview: “It is my belief that you acquire writing language by reading. Not by sucking out of your thumb, not from your parents, not by watching television. But by reading. And reading demanding books, linguistically demanding and intellectually demanding.”
I’ve been pushing myself, intellectually and linguistically.
For a week, maybe more, I followed the estranged Antoine Roquentin around Bouville. By the time I finished Nausea, I was convinced that suffering really is the origin of consciousness. And maybe life truly does begin on the other side of despair. These thoughts had me feeling blue until I read Existentialism is a Humanism and realized that being condemned to freedom simply means we have to own our actions. It holds us accountable and doesn’t excuse those who act in “bad faith.” It means that you and I together are constantly defining what it means to be human. Because we share this responsibility, I have an obligation to love you.
I nearly gave up writing altogether when I began reading The Prime of Life, Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiography. Her style and range are so refined and intimidating that it’s hard to read a single page without second guessing your own abilities. What I respect most is her self-awareness and brutal honesty.
One of my favorite excerpts:
“In order to recover my self-esteem to any extent I should have had to do something, and do it well; I chose to be idle. My indolence confirmed my conviction that I was a mediocre sort of person. I was, beyond any doubt, abdicating. Perhaps it is hard for anyone to learn the art of peaceful coexistence with somebody else: certainly I had never been capable of it. Either I reigned supreme or sank into the abyss. During my subjugation to Zaza I plumbed the black depths of humility; now the same story was repeated, except that I fell from a greater height, and my self-confidence had been more rudely shaken. In both cases I preserved my peace of mind: so fascinated was I by the other person that I forgot myself, so much so indeed that no part of me remained to register the statement: I am nothing. Yet this voice did raise itself fitfully; and then I realized that I had ceased to exist on my own account, and was now a mere parasite.”
Only the strong can reflect with such precision. Did you catch the double colon in the seventh sentence? I’m convinced only foreign authors try to pull that off. One day, years from now, I’m going to sneak one in, somewhere. For now, well all the time, in actuality, but especially right now, I just need to focus on keeping my commas in line.
The beautiful thing about language, about writing, is that rules are merely suggestions, and orthodox enforcers are legends only in their own minds. There is some truth to that quote about the importance of knowing rules in order to break them properly, though. Language is altered over time by both talented and clueless rule breakers. Steven Pinker explains it nicely in The Sense of Style, the best “rule book” out there:
“Language is not a protocol legislated by an authority but rather a wiki that pools the contributions of millions of writers and speakers, who ceaselessly bend the language to their needs and who inexorably age, die, and get replaced by their children, who adapt the language in their turn.”
Much of what I’ve experienced in the past few years, and am experiencing currently, is included in the pages above. I feel lucky to have dodged so many bullets, and to have caught a few in the chest. I’ve aged quickly, yet I’m more curious than ever. I hope the same is true for you: that you’re enjoying yourself and pushing your limits.
I included this in a note to my younger brother recently, which pretty much sums up everything I’ve learned to this point in my life:
Don’t look around too much. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t become a slave to ambition or resigned to monotony. Follow your heart and…