I scour the newsstands in Barnes and Noble for the magazine that has my name in it. I’m just looking for some kind of physical proof that I did something, that I accomplished something these past seven months. I finger through titles to check behind every magazine, just in case it’s buried. I scan every end cap, every stand. There’s nothing. Nothing at all.
When I started my internship, I kept joking that the magazine might not even be real. There was some instinctual part of me that knew this magazine wasn’t super legit. But when I started, I was so desperate for things to go right, I didn’t really think. I just acted.
When I searched Indeed.com one day in September and found this perfect remote internship for a new travel magazine, I felt hopeful. I could actually get this. And I could work in my pajamas! Within days of applying and interviewing, I got the internship.
There was no contract. No official agreement. There wasn’t even a clear guideline of how long the internship would be. I didn’t ask. I should have asked. But I didn’t because I wasn’t thinking. I was just desperate for something to go right.
For the next seven months, I would learn a lot about my editor and yet not very much at all. I just learned recently he was an aspiring actor at eighteen and I’m still shocked about it just because I don’t think Hollywood is really casting that many roles for creepy sociopathic white dudes. Oh wait. What am I saying? Hollywood loves sociopathic white dude anti-heroes.
Anyway. He’s a writer. He lives in Canada. He’s done a bunch of interviews with famous people. He loves to list off their names. And you kind of figure when you’re a dumb and desperate graduate that an interview with Matthew McConaughey makes someone legit.
My editor was the kind of guy who expected me to email him back immediately as if this were an actual paying job, but he would take as much time as he wanted to reply to my questions. He was the kind of guy who would give me very specific instructions when it came to obvious things, but wouldn’t give specifics on the actual piece I was writing. He’d give me tidbits like, “research this – very, very well.” As if I was thinking about researching something badly. Very, very badly. When I’d ask about specifics of what he wanted, many times I would be met with silence. Other times, he’d just repeat the same vague directions in a slightly different way. So I ended up rewriting almost every piece I wrote for him. I’d write 2,000 words of something, he’d tell me it wasn’t what he was looking for, and only then would he clarify what he actually wanted.
He would also very rarely give deadlines. I did mention that he never told me how long the internship was, right? Apparently this guy isn’t big on time in general. Every deadline was a guessing game. When I asked the deadline of one assignment so I could make sure I could get it back to him on time, he said, “Just to be clear, as I am concerned that there may be some confusion regarding the internship, but as an intern you are expected to manage your time as needed to manage all given assignments.” So I stopped asking. And I’d just guess and buy time.
Once, he asked me to transcribe an interview he conducted. He first said it was 30 minutes. The second email said it was 41 minutes. When I opened the file it was 50 minutes. Once, he had me buy 200 envelopes to send out the issue in and then decided it would cost more that way after sending me on an “urgent” trip to the Post Office to figure out the cost of shipping the week the magazine was supposed to be mailed out. I spent $30 on those envelopes. I never got reimbursed.
But if that had been all of it, I would have been okay. If he had just been dismissive of my time and effort, if he had just been bad at clarifying what he wanted and generally communicating, it would have been fine.
But I found his Twitter page. And things changed. His page consists of almost all retweets from Fox News and Brietbart. They contain a full range of homophobic, sexist, and racist ideas and opinions, some more subtle than others. Like, this guy probably doesn’t hate Nazis. He probably sees where they’re coming from. That’s this guy. And he was my editor.
And then, we discussed my first feature article for the magazine.
Side note: Did I mention this was a magazine solely focused on Route 66? Yeah. One fucking road. Doesn’t seem like a super sustainable topic for a whole magazine. Like, how many times can you cover restaurants in Flagstaff?
For my first piece, I had found a female filmmaker who was collecting oral histories of women who had lived along Route 66 for a documentary. She’s a badass. She wanted to make the road, which is a white dude’s paradise, finally about the women who are often forgotten or only thought of as migrant mothers carrying their children through the Dust Bowl. That’s boring. She told stories of women who were congresswomen, entrepreneurs, travelers, educators, and artists. They overcame adversity and changed the status quo.
I was excited. I thought it was relevant and new and interesting. I wanted to write a thoughtful piece about these women who have never had a chance to be heard. About why it’s important to remember these stories today.
He didn’t see my vision. He envisioned a magazine that romanticized everything about Route 66. At one point he actually used the words “50’s optimism.” He wanted light-hearted. He wanted to project the 50’s as the best time in America. And I thought that was complete and utter bullshit.
He said he wanted to “romanticize the role of women.” He actually said that. So I told him I didn’t think I could romanticize the experiences of women of color when their stories deal with racism and segregation. We went back and forth over what this story was actually about until he reluctantly agreed to my topic. But he warned me not to “make victims out of anyone in the story.” He said I shouldn’t “make anyone the bad guys.” Oh, like the racists? The sexist pigs? Right. We need to protect them.
When I wrote the first draft of my women on 66 piece, he asked to take out any feminism in the story. Obviously he doesn’t understand what feminism is. Because that’s impossible to take out all feminism in a piece about women being awesome.
And then, he made the piece a human interest piece. Which is a nice way of taking something thoughtful and interesting and making it a fluff piece that doesn’t say much of anything. He asked me to talk about a few of the actual women in the piece. To describe their lives. And specifically, to mention their husbands, their children. He said, “I am just concerned about a piece too focused on the entrepreneurial aspect of these women when they were wives and mothers also. These roles were just as important and no less impacting on the route.”
He’d never have asked me to include information about a man’s wife and kids if the story was about the business he started.
After that, it was the same issue again and again. My editor wanted to write content that had been written a million times over. He wanted to preserve the romanticized image of Route 66, of the time when white men ruled and everyone else was fucked. I wanted to focus on those who had been ignored. I wanted to talk about something new. I wanted to shit on that romanticized image he had in his head.
He stopped asking me to pitch ideas and instead gave me assignments that I didn’t care about. And then those assignments became less and less. For the second issue, he didn’t even ask me to proof the magazine.
Slowly, I was being pushed out.
But I stayed. I wanted to get something out of this internship. I wanted to have some pieces to show. But it was clear that I wasn’t going to get the feature articles I wanted. After this revelation, I asked for the files of my stories.
But nothing is ever easy with my editor. The pieces he’d posted for the online magazine didn’t have my name on them. When I asked just for a copy with my name on it, so I could prove I wrote it, he said no. That they weren’t feature articles and even though they look exactly the same as “feature” articles online that did have bylines, he wouldn’t put them on my pieces. He also never told me the online pieces wouldn’t have my byline. He never told me what was and wasn’t a feature article. But he assured me to use the links and, “There should be no reason anyone would assume you are being dishonest.”
For a few hours, my friend and I texted back and forth, crafting responses to his nonsense. I tried to stalk the other interns online to find contact information in an attempt to start an intern revolution and get our names on the work we had done. Here was this guy who was exploiting emerging writers, and I wanted fucking justice.
But my intern revolution died and so did any dream I had of being a detective. Because I couldn’t even find one of the three interns. Not a Facebook profile. Not a LinkedIn profile. Nothing.
It was just another defeat in accepting that this might have been a complete waste of time. And once again, I was reminded as to how little control I had with my own writing.
After the byline fiasco, I handed off my latest piece of writing to him and asked about the other three pieces I was still working on. The other three pieces I still had to write, even though I knew they would never have my name on them.
Two weeks passed. He never responded.
It felt like my time was over there.
I thought about just ghosting him. Clearly he was doing that to me. But (in another discussion with my friend) I decided it would be better to officially cut ties and also appear like more of a professional.
He responded to that last email the same day. He said something very nice and very untrue about how they would miss me writing for them. And that was it.
It was all so anti-climatic. After all of this, what did I have to show for my time with this shady magazine?
Over seven months I had acquired two files of stories with my byline, a few online pieces that would never have my name, a fake twitter account to make it appear like I was following the magazine, and 200 envelopes that will sit in my closet probably until the end of time.
I go to Barnes and Noble again. This time, it’s when the new issue comes out. The last one I’ll be featured in. But there’s nothing. I go to a different Barnes and Noble. Nothing. I never find that magazine. I’m still not entirely convinced this magazine even exists. Maybe it’s some huge practical joke played on me. A weird, less entertaining version of Punk’d. Where are you, Ashton? Or, maybe this has all just been one man’s delusion I’ve been a part of.