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I Quit

Perhaps it is because my little cat died last week and I am feeling naff.

Perhaps it is down to the fact that I am one of those unfortunate sods who became a professional writer before the internet accelerated and I find myself unable to shift gears and write at the breakneck speed tiny wages demand.

Whatever the case, neuropathologist I have had it up to my ill-tended teeth with writing op ed for a living. I quit. It has become an unprofitable pain.

Today I wrote a short piece at the request of an editor. I proposed that Sophie Mirabella, syringe a fairly obscure politician, attracted a level of revulsion with which her influence was incommensurate.

In my head, it was nothing but a reasonably considered jocular urging to the left to hone its thinking and find its focus. I said, don’t look at THAT when you should be looking OVER THERE.  I proposed that Mirabella was disliked more for her personality than for her policy and that progressives might do well to guard against this sort of critique.

On the internet it played out rather differently. And caused me such a headache, I am positive that writing this sort of thing is exactly how I must not spend my labour.

Here’s my piece. My associate Cathy Alexander at Crikey made the same argument a little later in the day. Although Cath didn’t get bollocked, we’re both saying: loathing a political nobody is both an unseemly and destructive progressive behaviour.

I said, very very plainly, that Mirabella was an awful politician but that her bold stupidity combined with her lack of power made her far less terrifying than the Quadrant-crowd.

I said that she is a sideshow; an impotent nothing whose freakish death we applaud while the real circus continues.

Man, I got bollocked. Even more than usual. When former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser singled my article out for derision and several of my colleagues posted this information on social media with no little amusement, I just thought WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL. This writing gig is crap.

I got a truckload of bile dumped in my face for a tiny bit of money and even folks I knew quite well rushed to misinterpret my bold claim that this politician is unremarkable and not deserving of, um, such a truckload of bile in the face.

Why did you misread my short piece?

I did NOT say was that Mirabella was above critique. I did NOT say was that Mirabella was subject to a particular kind of critique because she was female. (I made a single reference to Mirabella’s gender at the end of the piece. It wasn’t the argument.) I did NOT say that I loved the Coalition and wished to bathe their feet with my hair while bringing myself to climax on an hairbrush made of illicit ivory.

I just said to take joy in the demise of an impotent twit is the work of impotent twits. It is a waste of hate, I said. Revelling in this smug mudbath makes no sort of sense.

Now, SM might have peed all over her electorate through the “devil-vulva” I describe in a piece that, surely, only a brain made of Roquefort could see as being a defence. But writing about Indi was not my point and it was not my brief. My brief was to write about how the volume and intensity of critique of Mirabella was incommensurate with her status: basically middleweight.

I believe that it’s useful for someone sympathetic to point out logical inconsistencies in popular left argument. Because in this age of micro-niche lifestyle politics, we don’t want to be preaching to the choir than knows only the horrible song of John Butler, now do we? Or. Do we.

I cop it with my critiques. And. No. I am not being egocentric in making this claim. In the past three months, the publications Overland, The Daily Life and The Guardian have published sundry pieces on what a menace to “constructive action” I am. And the newly “left” Malcolm Fraser has left his Government and healthcare-destroying behind him to troll me: The Left’s Enemy.

I continue to express a belief that the left’s infatuation with gesture and symbol and occasion has eclipsed its interest in material justice. Every time I utter this thought, I am called a simpleton because “we can do both at once”.

Except no one is doing both at once.

Why has the symbolic eclipsed the material? Why do we seem to fancy, say, the ceremony over an irrelevant politician’s defeat to actual talk of policy?

I ask these questions and the answer I often get is This Helen Razer Person is Stupid.

I can actually handle the rape “threats” which are little more than the exhaust-vomit from an unwell mechanised-troll but I WILL NOT TOLERATE being called stupid. And racist. That one hurts.

It really hurts my feelings.

Call the Whaaaa-mbulance.

Actually, don’t. Don’t give a shit about my feelings. They’re irrelevant to the broad debate. Which I would continue to happily engage in if paid by the insult. $5 for every affront to my intelligence  $5 for every shitty leftist blog that begins with “What Razer fails to grasp” . $5 for every claim that I write “for the attention”.

But attention is not profitable. What IS profitable is pitching articles like:
(a) isn’t Mirabella awful??
(b) how beautiful it is that same-sex people want to exchange vows??
(c) aren’t loads of Australians racist??? Lucky we’re not!

If I could write these, I’d probably not have had to borrow money for my Eleven cat’s euthanasia.

But I cannot flatter the reader and tend to fracture rather than mirror his views and this, as it turns out, is a REALLY bad way to make a really bad living.

So. Yes. Stuff this. No more. I have to find a new gig. Email career advice to helen AT badhostess DOT com. I currently earn about $420 per week so anything equal-to-or-greater-than that.

Feel at your liberty, as an alleged friend did today, to charge me with being able to “dish it out” while failing to sup on your bitter desserts.

But what I dish out is argument about which I’ve spent most of the day speculating and what I get back is a middle finger and a poverty-line wage. Can’t do it. No more.

In criticising the self-interested inaction of the left, I am not disavowing all that is left. It doesn’t mean I believe I Know What’s Right. I just know what’s wrong when I see it. And bugger me. People have been drawing A LOT of rainbow crossings lately.

And I know this stuff feels good.  Rainbows feel good.  Twibbons feel good. Rainbow Twibbons feel SUPER good and so, too, does hating Sophie Mirabella.  But this infatuation with symbol, gesture and status update is not harmless.  It makes us feel as though we’ve done something. It gives us an illusory sense of change.

But you HATE it when I say this. You HATE it.

So I won’t say it anymore.

I have written capably to a large audience for some time for next-to-nothing. I made a contribution that was not without merit. And one to which you are no longer entitled. Because you give me shit and pay me shit.

All I am really saying is that conditions for the professional writer have become untenable. And I quit because the money is terrible and the snark is worse.

186 Responses to “I Quit”

  1. Stephen Lacey says:

    I’ve been a freelance writer for 15 years contributing to most of the national and international press. In the halcyon days I even purchased a house out of the money. But no more. The $$$ have dried up. I even dabbled in corporate copywriting but this was simply soul destroying. I wrote three novels and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s prize, but that doesn’t bring home the bacon. And so, I am considering enrolling for a two year Master of Teaching degree (primary) so I can have a steady income and long holidays in which to pursue my creative writing. Take my advice. Quit while you can still afford to…

  2. Lachlan says:

    You should definitely quit. I’ve also tried to live on the money websites can pay and it’s too hard and not enough fun. But mainly you should quit because you have too thin a skin for the life of a writer. All Malcolm Fraser wrote about your Mirabella piece was “really silly article”. I agree with him, others may not, but if you can’t cope with that level of criticism you are without question in the wrong line of work.

  3. Di says:

    Lachlan, learn to read. Helen clearly explained that the issue was the re-posting of Fraser’s comment by her colleagues.

  4. phyllis.stein says:

    You are probably over any further critique of your op ed piece but it goes to why the response was so forceful. Beyond your trademark rhetoric, you claim SM is unapologetic, and that is why we can’t stand her. Frankly, her apologies are not sought. You say she is not unusually vile. I say she is, and there is ample evidence of this. Her boldfaced unabashment notwithstanding, her absence from the Chamber on Sorry Day was churlish. You have an ear for cultural dissonance yet your piece was so out of tune it made you a target. All that aside, you say you are making an informed financial decision to seek better paid work, with the upside of not having to deal with these sorts of comments. You might have written yourself into a corner, but you have done that before, and it didn’t stop you for long. I’m sure you are replete with advisers, friends, friendly advisers, all who want the best for you. But, from a complete stranger’s perspective, I think you could make a living writing, or, you could make a living, and write. The product would in each case be different, but that’s my point. Good luck in your endeavors, sincerely.

  5. Fladdle says:

    I’ve come in late, taking way too long to get the gist of what you write. I let your words swirl around in my head, see where they take me. Stuff.

    I don’t know.

    Do what you need to eat, I reckon.

    (And I hope you’re still running because I put some money towards Indigenous literacy.)

  6. Fladdle says:

    Also Helen, I wonder, if everyone who wants to pay you to write subscribed to Crikey asking for you to be employed, whether that would help. At the very least we’d get Mr Keane and Mr Rundle but maybe the agency would be rich enough to hire you too.

  7. Lachan says:

    Di, Yes I noted that but chose to give Helen a pass there. Reposting Malcolm Fraser’s comment amounts to implicit agreement with his views. He thought her piece was silly, so did they, so did I, so did many others. That’s what happens when you release your opinions into the wild. If a writer believe in the truth of her words she will be largely unmoved by criticism.
    To repeat, and really this should be blindingly obvious to anyone who has ever written or read a published word , if your skin is so thin that you can’t take criticism from your readers, you need to find another way of working a living. I commend Helen on her decision to do just that.

  8. Di says:

    Lachlan, you “chose to give Helen a pass there”?! Generous, dude. Please show me the criticism that actually engages with Helen’s argument. You know, the stuff that isn’t just a knee-jerk “how-dare-you-defend-Sophie?” (which she wasn’t).

  9. Stefan says:

    Well…fuck it. You gotta do what you gotta do, which is what’s right for your life. But if this really is it, what you can say, which only 1 in a 100 writers can say (if that), is that you bowed out still being completely courageous & honest. Your articles as long as I’ve read them have told people what they needed to hear instead of what they wanted to hear, taking risks rather than playing to an established crowd, & this one was no exception.

    I wish, like everyone here does, I could offer something better than le masturbation cybernetique. But since that’s it, all I can say is that there are only 3 people’s blogs in the whole damn internet I read; George Monbiot’s, Tim Colebatch’s to clue me in on economics, & yours. I find it so disheartening to think that the best contemporary feminist writer I know can’t make it work writing opinion pieces.

    The only thing I can think of is this: look for another job, but perhaps you could keep the writing ticking over by doing entertainment articles for a while? Like the Masterchef stuff you wrote a while ago? That probably pays worse & certainly wouldn’t be your original goal as a writer, but I’d hope would take much less blood, sweat n tears than your opinion pieces have. & you were really good at that as well, even if it personally meant far less. A chance for writing to be just fun, & if things ever get better you’d still have the contacts there to try again, & if they didn’t, well, you can drop it whenever. But I’m not in the industry, so I don’t know how things work.

    I’m really sorry this is how it’s turned out. But if so, I think you can look back on your career with genuine & deserved pride. & like everyone else here, I’ll hold out hope it’s just a break.

  10. Stefan says:

    & hey, just to emphasise how badly the writing world needs you, here’s the 3 top next links from when I went to re-read your article:

    Coalition sources blame Cathy McGowan for lack of women in cabinet 18 Sep 2013
    What to wear in your first week at university: Thursday 19 Sep 2013
    How to cure a sexist boss: insist on equality at home

    & this was on the Guardian. I mean holy mother of…

  11. Lachan says:

    Di, I have no interest in debating the merits of Helen’s Mirabella piece with you. I am content with my view that it was of little merit and perfectly content for you to disagree. I am also content to agree with Helen when she says she will quit writing. It’s a good decision. When you try and make a living trying to come up with provocative articles and are aghast when they provoke, you are as much use as a veterinarian who hates animals.
    Feel free to continue with this pity party, but I’m done.

  12. chronicfemme says:

    Best wishes, and please keep blogging.

  13. Diane says:

    Miss you. xx

  14. Annette says:

    Devastated to hear this! You have been a beacon of light & wit & brutal honesty to me- rise above the assholes Helen. You’re worth so much more. Always a hero & inspiration to me! Love & light!

  15. Nathaniel says:

    I only just saw this today (apologies for not keeping up with your blog posts) but I read your piece on Mirabella the day it was published. And I thought, “yes, that’s pretty much exactly what I’ve been thinking, well said Helen”, and moved on. I was entirely oblivious to the storm of completely unjustified criticism subsequently levelled at you for it, although I can see why it occurred: no one likes having someone rain on their parade.

    But it is so hugely depressing that the political discussion in this country continues to be focused on the things that hardly matter while ignoring the things that do. There was another op ed lamenting this today, from Rod Burgess:

    And of course even the Lefties who indulged in that orgy of glee at Mirabella’s demise were very fond of complaining, during the Gillard years, that the media was ignoring policy issues and focusing too much on Labor’s infighting. As you’ve observed so eloquently, they can be part of the problem too. It’s all very depressing indeed.

  16. luke says:

    Well, I think your site ate my previous comment. Or it was moderated as ‘offensive’. It may be an offensive suggestion. Last try:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe someone already said this.

    You, Helen, have fans, a profile, and you’re contentious. Redesign the site (please!) and whack some ads and maybe a donate button on it. Start a fight, drag in readers. Get in guest posts from the right, left, and symbolic left and disagree with them. Create a wall of shame for the turds people leave in comments. Turn the bile in $$$.

    This would have value (unlike other forums following a similar model) because, amongst the shouting and swearing, you have well-formed and well-argued opinions. People would come for the fight, and hopefully stay for the substance.

    Last word on the bizarre reaction to your Mirabella piece. There was a similar ‘just shut up’ reaction to Anna Burke airing her opinions recently. I think this is all because Labor (which, in some circles, is still considered ‘the left’) looks like a dog gnawing all four of its legs off, and a panic ensues every time any part of ‘the left’ criticises any other part of the left.

    Sorry about your cat.

  17. Mark Warne-Smith says:

    In regards to work, you mentioned you would write for the NYT, I turned my mind to it, while NYT might decide to pander to it’s Australian expat crowd ((there is truly a shit load of aussie bankers here)) the contact I have at the NYT (tenuously, through my fascist barista where I IV espresso) but it’s the food editor… don’t really think your a match, you’ve got to get yourself hired.

    The only umbrage with your article that I have is I want some new people that are easy to hate; it was fun hating SM like a new flavour or pop song, I get sick of sucking on my little johhny hate, and all the other new world order turds. So please don’t take it away.

    But quitting, hmmm, really please don’t, it’s allowed to get another kitten (they are waiting for you).

    BTW speaking of aussie bankers, it reminded me of some other naff exports that have been foisted onto the world by us (‘Us’ as if there was a loose Australian collectivism). Having to put up with Fox News really makes me think we are square with the USA for all the cultural detritus they have dropped on us. And when you group Murdoch with all our carbon outputs, well actually we do have a bit to make up for. So you have a responsibility to reach a wider audience, get to it.

  18. Anthony says:

    Coming a bit late to this piece and missing the SM article I had to o back and read it. Now I have to say you’re both right and wrong. You’re right in one sense – the left should probably take no joy in the demise of the demon Sophie M. Her removal means that she is replaced by a right wing independent who is articulate and intelligent. Leaving Ms Mirabella in place would have had significant advantages.

    You’re wrong because it’s always wonderful to see a total arsehole get her comeuppance. You’re also wrong because I believe you need to keep going for the sake of those of us who enjoy your work (have a look a John Birmingham’s blog for confirmation, he says disgustingly nice things about you) . But you’re right because the money on offer for writing good stuff is truly crap.

  19. Kate King says:

    I wouldn’t quit…Evolve if you want, get another source of income so you don’t have to stress about money but I don’t think it’s possible to quit who you are! Unless your frustration stems from the feeling that your writing isn’t saying what you really want it to say? I would say dig deep and carry on coz they don’t kick a dead dog honey. (Those dreadful cliches prove I’m not a writer but the sentiment is genuine)

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