October 21, 2010

When I Was The Editor Of A Magazine

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What is the issue?

Actually, I was Editor in Chief. It’s a big title, and since I’ll probably never have it again, I feel like I can justifiably throw it around. I had cards that said “Lesley Arfin: Editor In Chief” and for a whole two issues, my name appeared second to the top on the masthead. I even got to do a whole “Letter From The Editor” type thing. It was a real job at a real magazine and I was (sort of) the boss.

Saying “I’m the boss” does not lead you into a world of popularity, but in fact the opposite. Unfortunately I’m the type of person who learns by her mistakes. So yeah, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t that well liked at my job. But first let me tell you how a very under qualified person such as myself won such a prestigious position. It wasn’t by using fancy words such as “prestigious” either.

It was the opposite. I was a blogger. Well first, I wrote a book, and before that I wrote a column, but when I was hired to run this magazine I was just a blogger with a hotel reservationist gig on the side. Or the blogging was on the side. Whatever. Really what happened is that I went to India. I left my job for a month and took whatever little book royalties I had managed to accumulate and decided to spend it all on India. India was like a brain rape that took a rape shower in a brain bath. It was insane. In India they don’t really have running water but they do have running Internet. The Internet in India runneth over, so I wrote. Everyday, in blog-form, I wrote about what I was going through in India. It was mostly funny over-exaggerations, and to be honest I didn’t think anyone was really paying attention.

As it turned out, the founder of a young miss magazine was a big fan. We’ll call it “Young Miss.” Young Miss was cute, quarterly, and very urban. I had always liked it but found it to be a bit boom box –and-gold-fronts heavy. It was very that, and I didn’t always see it on the shelves but when I did, I bought it. I was a fan of theirs as well.

So the founder asked me if I wanted to be “Editor At Large.” I said, “What do I have to do?” She said “pretty much nothing. Just write some stuff for us.” That seemed easy enough so I said yes. After two months with that title I got another phone call from her, which I immediately just assumed that she was calling to tell me it wasn’t working out. “We want you to be Editor In Chief.”

Now I knew that was a job that meant I actually had to do stuff. Like a lot of stuff. Like more than just write an article about going to a psychic (I wrote that when I was Editor At Large—sick article), but really I don’t know how to do much more than that. I’m not a person with a variety of talents.

She said she didn’t care, that she had faith in me, and that they’d all help show me the ropes. “Okay,” I told her. “I’ll do it. But if the magazine folds, don’t be mad at me.”

Of course what happened next was that my ego took over. I was nervous of course for the job, but I also thought in some strange leftover acid trip that I actually deserved it. While I can safely say that I did the best job I could, and for someone who didn’t know what she was doing, it was a really good job, I can admit however that I did NOT deserve this position. People work at magazines for years with a sliver of a hope that they might one day be able to work their way up to this title. I am not and have never been one of those people. Looking back I can understand a lot better the feelings of inadequacy I had at the magazine, as well as the many dirty looks I felt I was getting behind my back. They weren’t just “feelings.” The weirdness was palpable.

My first order of business as the next Anna Wintour was to cut out all things urban. That may have worked for the old Young Miss, but under the regime of Arfin, it was time to get nasty. This was during a time when I was under the influence of fashion magazines. I thought being a woman meant wearing heels everyday no matter what, and even though I pretended not to be fascinated by “It girls”, I was. What, can I say? It was a phase I was going through. It lasted a year at the most.

Because really what ended up happening wasn’t that I was able to change Young Miss. At the risk of sounding cliché, Young Miss changed me. I went in there a writer, but I left an editor. It was because the girls there, even when they may have hated me, helped me figure it all out. And yeah, we toned down the urban stuff but I also got a little bit more into it. I mean, I ended up going out with a white rapper as a direct result of working there, so word up to that.

I was the Editor In Chief for two issues before we folded, but I SWEAR it wasn’t my fault. Or was it? I don’t know, but the founder kept her promise and was not mad at me. Staff morale was low because they missed they old editor and I didn’t do coke afterhours. The recession hit and someone said “PRINT IS DEAD!” and everyone suddenly believed it. I was strong, but I wasn’t strong enough to carry the whole thing on my back and keep it going. Almost overnight everyone in the office had been fired or turned “freelance.” Then we were a website with a staff of three.

Then we were a website with a staff of two.

Then one morning I got a phone call from my boss telling me she was over it and not to go into work that day. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved.

What I loved most about being an Editor In Chief wasn’t the making of a magazine or the managing of a staff or all the ideas we had floating in our little creative thinking caps. All that stuff was fine and everything but what I really loved was the actual editing part. I loved reading stuff by other writers and making it, if I do say so myself, just a little bit better. I loved it because I felt it was actually helping to strengthen my own work. I think I have a knack for editing, and I never would have known that if it weren’t for that job.

But what I really loved most about being an Editor In Chief, above all other things, was being able to call myself the Editor In Chief. That was my title bitches! SUCK IT. TC mark

Lesley Arfin

Lesley started her writing career at Vice magazine where she was a staff writer and columnist of the now defunct …

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