For Now, Content with Content Strategy

Edward Hopper's Office at Night
Office at Night, 1940 Edward Hopper, Oil on Canvas

Hey G-,

I miss you a lot, and am thinking, maybe sometime in January I’ll take the train down to Baltimore for the weekend. We can eat chips and watch Law and Order: SVU (dun dun – Dick Wolf).

I think about the 1999 Oscars a lot. Gwyneth won that best actress Oscar almost two decades ago. That was the one we watched together, right? And we made a pact to do it together every year until…well, until 2000 when we graduated from high school. But it’s odd, it really did feel like a tradition even though it only happened once.

For the time being Australia is on hold. Tom and I both started new jobs at the beginning of October, two weeks before we got married, and already it feels like forever. Maybe it’s God warning me because I was complaining about time going by too fast – and overall it still does – but each individual hour (mostly at work) seems to drag by. This worries me because I’m enjoying my job. I like the people. I’m a Content Strategist at an ad retargeting company. I’m not too sure what that means either.

A friend in OC who does something similar said, “Isn’t it weird they don’t call us writers? And what we produce…it’s all just “content.”

Sure it’s writing, but not the kind you want to break your back, or lose your eyesight over, trying to get every word right.

My boss is a 29 year-old kid from Boston who, like me, was also an English major. After graduating, he realized that he wanted to make a living so took instead of becoming a literary agent as he’d originally intended, took a job at a content agency writing upwards of twenty blogposts a day.

When he told me this my jaw dropped.

“My fingers would fall off,” I said.

He shrugged, “You just learn how to churn them out.”

Later, he said, “You write in a very clear, direct way.”

I was ready to accept the compliment but he continued, “Don’t do that. We’re in marketing. We can’t be clear and direct because it makes it sound like we’re guaranteeing certain things about our product.”

“That’s all I learned to do in my MFA,” I said.

“Your MFA, just throw it in the trash.”

He was half-joking. A few days later he was showing me some stuff on SEO and used his own blog as an example.

“Have you ever read ‘The Goldfinch’?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said, “I really really liked it.”

I had randomly nabbed it from the NYPL ebook library and stayed up late many nights in a row reading it until I finished it one early am, with tears in my eyes.

“Oh God,” my boss said, his eyes rolling, “I thought it was the most overrated piece of garbage. If you look up “Donna Tart Goldfinch Overrated,” my blog comes up first.”

Google affirmed this.

We have weekly check-ins, and monthly team lunches. Slowly, I find I admire him. I think a younger, less experienced, more narrow-minded me would have called him something else. Not washed-up. Not a sell-out. But someone who had grand but unfulfilled plans for writing. And who after college became jaded faster than most. But no, I was the jaded one, thinking writing was all or nothing.

My boss wakes up early. He lives in a shitty part of Queens (already kind of shitty) and goes in early, around 8:30. Very seldom after nine. For comparison, I go in in between 9:30-10. He works until 5:30 or 6 – as do I – and RUNS home. SIX miles! Because that’s the only way he can fit in a workout. At home he fixes himself a simple meal because he’s conscious about saving money. Then he writes for two to three hours.

His genre is fantasy and he’s already published one book. I sniggered when he told me the title, which was obviously aimed at the Twilight crowd. But then I remembered that I had published zero books, so I shut up.

He’s just finished another that he’s thinking about selling online rather than try to find a publisher. All of this blows my mind and makes me feel fatigued and old.

He’s not a loser hermit and seems to have a solid group of friends. He goes out about once or twice a week, definitely on Fridays. Once I watched with piqued interest as he changed his work shoes into these street-style sneakers. His “going out” shoes. But I can’t imagine him having more than two beers before calling it. But then again this is my boss, so who knows what he’s really like. I think he’s single, but who knows.

At the Christmas party I will ask him.

He also finds the time to play bass in a two-man math metal band (???) called The Employers or something like that. He is adamant about not playing covers.

“Where’s the fun in that,” I overheard him say once, when a colleague invited him to a “jam session.” Apparently you can hear his stuff on Spotify. I am curious, but not enough to download Spotify.

“You have to let us know when you have a show,” I said when I learned he had a band, “We’ll go and support you!”

My voice came out higher-pitched than I expected. If he could tell I was trying to sound more enthusiastic than I was, he didn’t let on.

“Yeah, we need all the support we can get,” he said, “We were blacklisted from the last venue because we brought zero people.”

I have a feeling if I’d interviewed with him rather than with the blithe higher up who lives so far away she is never in the office, I might not have gotten the job. He knows his stuff. Much more than I do. We were hired concurrently but separately, to work together, as though our getting along didn’t matter. I suppose it doesn’t, but it does to me. Perhaps it helped that I did not have any airs about my MFA. For the most part I think (I hope) he likes me.

Anyway, is the contrast stark enough? I think I make myself so busy sometimes so I don’t have to think about all the writing I’m not doing. Though because of my job I am actually writing about five hours a day. The other three hours consist of doing research (i.e. reading other company’s blog content), getting coffee and tea, and going to the bathroom because of high quantities of said coffee and tea.

For now, the job is fine. In a light-touch “let’s not think too hard about it” way. It’s both comfortable and sometimes, when I go to the bathroom and see my reflection or am waiting for the monster coffee machine to fill my cup, an out-of-body experience.

Who am I? When did I become this person who has a smiling LinkedIn profile that says, “Global Content Strategist”? How long will this last?

“It’s been less than two months,” Tom likes to remind me, “You could still get fired.”

True, very true.

Anyway, thanks for reading this “content.” We will talk soon. I have a vague idea of your recent whereabouts and – to employ some overused work email jargon – “I would really appreciate if you could just clarify some things for me.”

Big love,

Betty

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