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On Christmas Day, Craig Lindsey, a friend I've never met in person, wrote about his struggle with depression. You can read his piece here: If you've got a computer handy, I'd like you to read it and meet me back here when you're done.

I've been paying attention to Craig's work--to his career--for a long time. He's a fine writer who can be remarkably insightful about popular culture. We cover a lot of the same ground, and while our tastes are quite different, if you asked me for a short list of the most interesting critics in the country, he'd be on it. I hope to meet him someday and maybe find a project on which we can collaborate.

But here's the thing. Craig Lindsey can't make a living as a writer in this country any more. And that's a shame.

If you read his story, you'll understand some of the reasons why. Some of it's just bad luck. Many newspapers shed their critics as a cost-saving measure a decade ago, so a lot of people like Craig lost their jobs. It makes sense in that if something had to be cut, then maybe the dude who writes about the movies is less indispensible than the beat reporter who covers the city's budget meetings.

Craig has been making do with freelance gigs for 10 years or so, and they're getting harder to come by. You know why. Print publications have been contracting and disappearing. I was excited for Craig when he started doing some pieces for The Village Voice. But The Voice stopped publishing a print edition more than a year ago. And it shut down its online operation at the end of August. I have very complicated feelings about a world that thinks it get get along without The Village Voice.

And even in the best of times, working as a freelance writer is a tough gig. It's difficult to do it any more without a day job. If the publication isn't paying for your name, the compensation is lousy. I don't do much outside work now, but did a lot of it in the '80s and early '90s, and the pay isn't any better. (I don't mean relatively; I mean the rates are essentially the same.) It's not hard to see why, given that there are so many aspiring and desperate writers and the digital revolution has led us to the point where college professors complain about paywalls and metering (but they'll pay $4 for a cup of coffee).

I'm lucky not to be Craig. Not to be poor, black and afflicted by a real disease that turns out the lights on hope.

But Craig presents as scary-looking to some people, and things are as they are for him. There's no shame in driving a truck for a living, and if it came to that I believe I could be happy driving a truck for $17 a hour.

There's no shame in honest labor, though I think most of us can agree that people who labor honestly ought to be able to make it in what we've gotten used to calling the richest country on the planet. But in a better world, you would know Craig Lindsey's name; we would benefit from his voice, his perspective.

I hope he keeps after it, like a lot of gifted people do, but I wouldn't blame him if he got out of the writing game. Not that there's much else that guys like Craig and me are fit for.

Ever see a Pachinko machine? One of those vertical Japanese pinball games with the shiny tiny ball bearings that jingle and sputter through brass pins and either end up in little tulip-shaped catchers or wash out in the bottom trough? I had one when I was a kid, and it mesmerized me for a while.

There was a touch to it; if you were light and deft you could give some of the balls you shot a better chance of being caught. But it's still mostly random. The guts of the game scatter those balls in such a way that even the most careful, conscientious player can't do more than give each ball a reasonable shot at success.

By the same token, even the most remiss player can score a jackpot once in a while.

There's nothing brave about acknowledging you got caught. Unless you're an idiot, you understand that whatever stack you've managed to amass in this life is to a greater or lesser degree determined by who your parents are, and how they treated you, what they could afford to buy you, when you were young and tender. If you've achieved a measure of success in this life and you don't feel like an imposter--like it's all a mistake and someone might show up at any moment to strip you of everything--then you probably suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect.

(It occurs to me that two years ago, I would have had to explain that the Dunning-Kruger effect is when a person believes they are smarter and more competent than they actually are. But these days everyone knows that, so, hey, progress?)

Anyway, we've reached the end of another year without blowing ourselves up. I look around, and everyone in the immediate vicinity seems OK. The power's on, we've got canned goods and running water. Terriers. Bourbon. Friends. A nice guitar or two. You good folks.

And at least a few more new years ahead of us, according to the actuarial tables. I hope 2019 will be good to us all. Including Craig Lindsey.

Editorial on 12/30/2018

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Getting caught

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