The Sunday Post for April 22, 2018

Each week, the Sunday Post highlights a few articles we enjoyed this week, good for consumption over a cup of coffee (or tea, if that's your pleasure). Settle in for a while; we saved you a seat. You can also look through the archives.

Old Friend

Poet, translator, and activist Press Sam Hamill died last week. The AP obituary recaps the public story of his life: He was raised in Utah and found a calling for poetry in San Francisco, after rough teen years marked by heroin addiction and violence. He co-founded Copper Canyon Press, with Hugo House’s Tree Swenson and Bill O’Daly, in 1972, establishing a PNW publishing presence that drew names as big as any coming out of the New York houses. He was outspoken and anti-war, famously refusing an invitation to the White House from Laura Bush in 2003 — this irritable article from the time by Joseph Bottum is a reminder that poets can get under our nation’s skin.

That’s the public story. The private story is playing out over hundreds of recollections of Hamill’s influence on his friends and writers here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. These seem, somehow, a better representation of what he really achieved. For example, the verse tribute by Hamill’s friend Paul Nelson in Cascadia Magazine, whose opening lines I’ll excerpt here:

We wander through asphalt riparian zones
until it hits each of us: it IS later than we thought.
Another quick trip between this veil of soul-making
and complete re-calibration to the ultimate mystery.
How much is a word worth?

Malcolm Harris charts the declining pay for freelance writers — not just the up-and-comers paying their dues, but writers at the top of their game, selling pieces to internationally known publications. Without any way to influence rates collectively (or health insurance, which I hear is a good thing to have) many move on, to television, for example, or other in-house jobs that use the same skills to an arguably less noble end. But the brilliant little bit of math below shows the more insidious outcome: the calibration of quality to pay, with a decrease in one correlating directly to the other.

I was assigned this story at $4,000, and I turned in a draft of 4,000 words. Another site offered me $850 for the idea, and there is an $850 version of this story that is significantly shorter, with less research, and of a weaker quality overall. (If that sounds cold or unprofessional, imagine what the effect on the quality of your work would be if your boss cut your pay by 80 percent.)

There is also a $2 a word version that has more background research—in physical, not just digital archives—and for which I would have been more willing to press my sources to take risks and talk to me on the record.

I imagine a $4 per word version would include the specific, surprising allegations about the labor practices of particular beloved media institutions, the printing of which likely would make it difficult for me to find work for a while, but that would be fine, because I could live off that check for six months.

"One Has This Feeling of Having Contributed to Something That’s Gone Very Wrong"

New York magazine has been running a series of interviews called “The Internet Apologizes” — reflecting our belated realization that trusting a vast uncanny technological network with our emotional, social, and financial well-being was perhaps not such a great idea after all. This one, with virtual reality pioneer Jason Lanier, is interesting (if a little reactive) for how it charts the the social and economic stratification of the tech-nerd class. What happens when the formerly powerless suddenly own the world?

When you move out of the tech world, everybody’s struggling. It’s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy that’s doing well, but the reality is that the way it’s doing well doesn’t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. It’s like everybody’s working for Uber in one way or another. Everything’s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, that’s our doing. There’s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country.