I have a subscription to The New Yorker, the print edition. It is the one magazine that I like holding in my hands while reading.
Circling unfamiliar, fanciful, and inventive words is part of my reading habit. Circling whole paragraphs. Underlining brilliant turns of phrase. Highlighting exciting writing. This magazine feeds that habit well. The writing is occasionally above my fighting weight, and I appreciate that.
Every time I read The New Yorker, I come away feeling a little smarter, a little more informed, and definitely motivated to keep writing.
Living in Mexico, the New Yorker can arrive two or three weeks later than it should. More often than not, it is the only thing in my mailbox. Late delivery didn’t matter when the content was less topical. Good writing is good writing and it is timeless. I always valued the New Yorker more for its literary content than for its news.
Even the front-of-the-book calendar on events happening in New York City is entertaining, even when those events occurred several weeks ago. New Yorker writers are like the city — bright, challenging, acerbic, engaging, chatty, witty, savvy and, above all, never dull.
The New Yorker is trying to be more timely and that works against my cross-border mail delivery universe. It is still some of the best writing around but by the time the magazine reaches my hands, the rest of the world has moved on. Now, when I pick up a copy, I find that I’ve read most of the stories online.
I also have a large stack of old New Yorkers that I am reluctant to throw out. It feels like hoarding.
So, I thought, time to switch to an online subscription.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I went online and found that my print subscription expired March 1, 2015.
Is that even possible?
For years, the New Yorker has been arriving faithfully, sometimes two at a time after especially long delivery droughts. And I’ve never once paid my subscription?
For once, I am moved to use two words I despise to describe this moment: existential crisis.
My prized subscription, my only subscription to a printed thing – and I’m what? A glitch in the operation? A bug in the system? A ghost in the machine?
This is a computerized universe. We are a data-driven society. Marketers can tell when your stomach is growling or when you are leaning more Democrat — and swiftly rectify the course of things with ads uniquely chosen for your predicament. To say we are living our authentic lives today means that we are jogging beside a digital stream that knows our every need, predicts our every whim — and responds accordingly.
Usually, an alert arrives well before a subscription expires. Most offer automatic renewal if you choose to take no further action. My online newspaper subscriptions work like that. Convenient, timely, and seamless.
I am not the most conscientious bookkeeper when it comes to my bank accounts. Most times I don’t even think about it. The pension and Social Security come in and the bills get paid. If there is anything left, that is gravy.
I don’t recall an expiration or renewal notice from the New Yorker‘s data grinders. That would have gotten my attention.
Recently, The New Yorker did send me a rejection letter for an essay that I wrote for the magazine’s Shouts & Murmurs section. I sent it in about six months ago and they did warn me that the backlog was horrific. (Ie: “Don’t hold your breath.”)
It was my first New Yorker rejection and didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it might. It wasn’t even an, um, existential crisis.
(Here is a copy of the essay: That time Guy Raz interviewed Satan on the NPR podcast “How I Built This.” Look, I know it is not New Yorker material. A guy’s gotta dream though, huh?)
I actually felt at the time that the humor in my essay was more topically in tune with David Egger’s McSweeney’s magazine. I had a momentary dream of submitting to both, having both simultaneously accept the article, setting off a fierce bidding war that resulted in publicity to all the right people and a three-book publishing contract with an embarrassingly frothy advance.
Instead, I thought, let’s give the New Yorker a chance. It was, after all, my first love, in a literary sense.
So, months after submitting, and forgetting like a furtive one-night stand, I found out that I wasn’t ghosted. I was rejected.
In fact, it felt pretty good. How many people can say they got turned down by The New Yorker?
Real answer: Lots. And often.
Getting published follows the same rules as winning the lottery. You have to buy a ticket to win. And most likely, you’ll need to buy lots and lots of tickets before you get a winner.
Many writers are rejected dozens of times before a submission is accepted for publication. The magazine is that good. Cartoonists have it even worse. They can be rejected 30 or 50 times before making it into the magazine, although I believe the cartoon department is set up to more quickly reject a submission than other sections of the magazine.
I don’t really think I’m New Yorker material as a writer but you never know.
The trouble is, I’m in the Grandma Moses phase of my literary life. (Look it up, kids.) I don’t know how much is left in the tank and how much of it is worthy of rejection by prestige publications.
By now you might be thinking, “This is all well and good, Bob, but I think you are avoiding the existential crisis that initiated this essay.”
And you are right.
And I don’t know what to do.
I feel like I should submit this to “The Ethicist” column in the Sunday New York Times.
But wait. I’d better check and see if my NYT subscription is up to date.