Every week, Slate destroys a new freelancer’s life. Recently, we’ve clowned on the wreckage that the real Cat Person and the creator of the fictional Cat Person, a story that went viral four years ago, has wrought on lovers and strangers. Earlier, we all learned about behavioral euthanasia for dogs together, and then many of us called for behavioral euthanasia of a certain essayist. Before that, we pointed fingers at a morally bankrupt Anonymous who taught us about cheating. Once psychiatry and the media colluded against the gays, and we started screaming. The gays are okay, in this one instance, we yelled until we were sedated at our desk beds with our prescription pills.
There is one person, or maybe a team of people who could stop this: the editors at Slate. They won’t. (This is often how the team constructs its headlines.)
Having a Slate essay published has become a way for people who feel bad about something they did to absolve themselves when bearing the discomfort in their own body becomes unbearable. Editors know this. But admitting to something shitty you did isn’t the same as being brave. And usually, uttering something you don’t think people talk about enough is not revolutionary, but so embarrassing that strangers on the internet will talk about it for four days straight. Declaring something online that you couldn’t admit to yourself before is not enough to fix you. We should know this by now! How many years has it been since your first away message?
Then, of course, the discourse will move on, everyone will forget about it, and you are left with the psychic pain forever that everyone thinks you’re a dumb stupid slut not responsible enough to care for an animal or identify their needs as a teenager in a relationship with an old guy.
I have written humiliating things online before for money, each time trying to elevate what I did earlier, in search of something I couldn’t attain. More Twitter followers? More editors asking me to pitch to them? It’s certainly not more money. No matter how bad your essay is, the writer still makes the same rate. I haven’t written for Slate, but I don’t know of any online freelancer who has ever gotten more money for a piece performing well. Not me, not even when I didn’t wash my hair for a month or got eyebrows tattooed on my face when I used to be a “beauty writer.” Those pieces still circulate every three months or so on Facebook or Twitter over a long weekend, and people contact me, asking me what it was like to write something and gain 24 Twitter followers in one day three years ago.
The brows have faded, I have to tell them. I didn’t take care of them. I didn’t get any extra money from the website for upkeep. It feels now like a dumber version of myself trusted the wrong people, who sold off a little bit of me I can’t get back, knowing that what they were doing wasn’t altruistic. It feels shameful, and I didn’t even kill/behaviorally euthanize my dog.