It’s Not You, It’s Brie
Brie sat down in front of her MacBook with a small sigh. She typed in her password, the screen opening to one of her favorite photos: a white cat with a mouthful of grass. It was perfectly ridiculous and always managed to make her smile. She clicked on the browser icon on her desktop and was greeted by a plethora of spam email (which she promptly deleted), a few Twitter notifications, and a couple updates from people on LinkedIn she barely knew. Past all the garbage the internet provided her on daily basis was one promising message: a job offer.
She clicked on the message to open it. “Thank you for applying for the freelance writer position! We really enjoyed the samples you sent over,” the email began. So far so good, Brie thought to herself, her stomach rising into her chest in anticipation. “We’d love to offer you the position,” it continued. “We pay $5 for every 500 words. If that sounds okay, I’ll get all the paperwork sent over–”
Brie rolled her eyes so hard they hurt. She couldn’t believe how low the offer was. On a good day, it would probably take her at least an hour to write that much (although if she was being honest with herself, two was more realistic). That estimate didn’t even include any research or fact-checking she would undoubtedly be doing. At the end of the day, she would be making less than half the minimum wage for the state of Oregon, and she’d still have to pay taxes on it…
It always surprised Brie how often she applied math to her freelancing work. As an English major in college, she liked to joke about how bad at math she was and how unlikely she was to use it in her daily life. She actually found herself using it a lot now, but usually only to calculate the depressing amount of money she was getting paid for her writing. She kind of wished she was actually bad at math, so that maybe the low rates she consistently accepted would seem higher.
She groaned, briefly considering replying to the email with a giant picture of her middle finger. She was tired of people constantly devaluing her work and not getting paid according to the time and effort she put in to it. Ultimately, she decided against it. No matter how much she wanted to send that response, a job was still a job. Even if it didn’t pay well (an insulting low amount, she reminded herself), she still needed whatever money she could get. She hit the reply button and began typing out a message. “It’s great to hear from back from you! I’d love to accept the position.” She had sent so many emails like this, full of forced enthusiasm, that she didn’t even bother reading over it before she clicked send.
She stared at her empty inbox for a moment, willing a new message to show up – although none did. She got up, leaving her laptop open, and walked a few steps into her kitchen. For such a small kitchen, it was surprisingly dirty. Stacks of dishes surrounded and filled the sink, preventing the microwave door from being opened or anything resembling food to be placed on the counter. Brie reached around a few grimy mugs and grabbed her electric kettle from its base. She had to position the kettle at an angle in the sink to fill it with water before she replaced it. Flicking a small black switch on its side, she returned to her laptop as the water began to boil.
“Luna!” She shouted, realizing her Maine Coon was sprawled over her laptop keyboard. The large cat, equal parts chunky and fluffy, jumped down from the table and began to mew at her. Brie pursed her lips, but despite her annoyance, stroked the cat lovingly under her chin. Luna closed her eyes contently and walked off. Her other cat, Tally, looked at both of them lazily from the other side of the room.
Brie sat back down in front of her computer. She checked her email again, despite knowing no one would have replied so quickly (they hadn’t), and opened a Word document. Rows of red texts and extending lines stared back at her. The track changes function of Microsoft Word always looked more intimidating than it actually was. Most clients requested it, so she found herself using it a lot. She was actually starting to like it; it helped her visualize her work and sometimes writers would realize their mistakes if she sent them back the changes (which was always good).
She scrolled down to where she had left off, but hearing the kettle click, stood up and walked back into the kitchen. She washed a large pink mug and filled it with hot water and a bag of sencha tea. She moved a few dishes on the tiny counter, creating an even more precarious stack in front of the microwave as she returned to her computer while her tea brewed.
Since graduating from college a year ago, Brie had been working on and off as a freelance writer and editor. She enjoyed editing more than she did writing, despite preferring the idea of writing as a career. Editing was a lot more straightforward; it was much easier to edit something than trying to come up with pages and pages of writing. What she really wanted to do was write fiction for a living, but so far, she hadn’t found any success. It took a lot of work to write compelling fiction and she wasn’t making enough money editing to put aside enough time to work on it.
What she really needed was more money (and more free time not spent applying for editing jobs) to dedicate to writing fiction, particularly the book she had been working on for the past ten years. But maybe that’s just an excuse, she considered, as she began to read over the work she had done on her assignment so far. Either way, she still needed to finish this piece before she could feel okay about writing something she was almost certain she wouldn’t be getting any money for. She continued typing, adding more red words to her work, deleting large sections of texts, and moving portions throughout the piece to improve flow.
After working diligently for 20 minutes, she straightened abruptly. “Shit – my tea!” She jumped up and returned to her beverage, staring cautiously into the cup. The contents were dark, far too dark for a properly brewed cup of green tea. Brie picked up the cup and held it in her hands (it definitely wasn’t hot anymore) and took a hesitant sip.
She gagged, trying not to throw up. It was the most bitter thing she had ever tasted, like a mix between cheap coffee and realizing you’re probably past the prime in your life. She continued looking longingly into the mug, despite the taste of acidic dirt in her mouth. Is this salvageable? she thought. It was decent quality tea, and she didn’t want to waste it. She sniffed the cup skeptically – it smelled bitter. Could she add milk? Honey? Anything to save it? If it had been a black tea, that might have been an option, but regular sencha (albeit soaked to oblivion) with milk sounded just as bad as whatever monstrosity she had just created. With metaphorical tears in her eyes, she poured the cup of ruined tea down the drain and turned the kettle back on.
After the water finished boiling for the second time, she replaced the used tea bag with a fresh one and cautiously returned to her computer, keeping the cup in her periphery. She would definitely be ready this time to take the leaves out before she ruined another cup.
Glancing at her laptop, the photo of the wonderfully un-photogenic cat looked back at her. She’d found the picture on Reddit nearly four years ago, and it was still something that she looked at fondly. It was hard to imagine exactly what the circumstances behind it were. It was a funny photo, that captured an interesting moment in the life of an unknown cat. It was easy to personify the creature, a look of obvious, yet adorable disgust, on its flat face. Below the photo, in her Dock, Brie noticed a new notification. She eyed her cup of tea in the kitchen as she opened the browser again, knowing that she only had a few moments before it was perfectly brewed.
There was a new email in her inbox. It was the woman from earlier with information regarding her new job. That was actually really fast, she thought to herself. Included with the email were a few attachments: a W-9, a handbook for new writers, and a non-disclosure agreement. The email also included a link to some pieces they wanted her to read and a list of topics that they were interested in her writing about. She opened the list of topics, grumbling at the overly click-bait titles that they included such as “You won’t believe these top 5 beauty tips!” She felt her face fold into a scowl as she read through the list, knowing that she would no doubt be writing dozens of articles just like that.
After she finished her work for that day – it should probably only take her another hour or so – Brie was going to make some time to write something that actually made her feel good about herself. That might be a short story about her cats or writing a few paragraphs of her novel. Anything that would make this soul-crushing work, the click-bait articles and information regurgitation, the endless applying for jobs that would only last for a few days, the 6 years it took her to get her bachelor’s degree in English, worth it.
Maybe she would start a new short story. She already had quite a few started, that she had either gotten stuck on or lost interest in, but writing, she realized, wasn’t just about finishing pieces for her (although that always felt nice); it was about creating. Creating things that she could look back on fondly or to prove how much she had actually improved over the last several years.
She recalled finding several pieces of Narnia erotic (yes, Narnia erotica) that she had written in middle school a few years back and chuckled to herself. It was embarrassing, but something that hadn’t felt like work to write. Maybe I should get back into that, she jokingly considered.
She clicked around on her desktop and reopened her earlier editing project, rereading over the first few sentences. Just the idea of writing something fun had greatly improved her mood, more than any low paying article writing job could dampen it. She looked up from her work, and stared across her living room for a moment. Suddenly, and much to her disappointment, she remembered: “My tea!”