No Time for Hell, Yet. Or: Is This Essay Really Just About My Inbox?

It was 8pm on a Saturday night. I was writing thank you notes to our A+ members in the UK. And that is when it happened.

Our new-this-year UK members waited with patience and understanding because I couldn’t send them perks right away due to shipping restrictions that popped up after Brexit. From my end, it appeared that the UK customs department (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) put restrictions in place requiring us to register and have a VAT number with them, but were apparently unequipped to issue said number until over six months later. Personally, if you’re a whole country’s government, I think you should probably make sure you have the ability to allow people to follow your new regulations before you enact them but what do I know!? So, their delay became our delay, which became a constant source of stress because as far as I was concerned, I was personally letting our A+ members members in the UK down.

This is some second letter I’ve talked about working late or on the weekends / both. In Carmen’s letters, it’s been the same. I’m jumping in for a second edit right now at 10pm on a Saturday (third edit 10:10pm the next day, Sunday, and JFC 9:48pm on Monday, 8:33 am on Wednesday — I LEARNED). So much of my job, on top of the job that is running A+ involves leading the team in fundraising, answering messages, communicating in Slack, running the first shift on the Twitter account [we notably do not have any one full-time social media director on our staff], emailing people working on various parts of the fundraiser, all over the world, during times I do my best to make reasonable. And every fundraiser (and fundraiser lead-up) weekend and night I’m catching up, especially on writing I couldn’t get done during the day. These fundraisers are a ton of work, but we do them because we need your support.

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Why work so much? Well, like anyone else here holding this place together right now, I don’t really have a choice because of what I believe. I believe that Autostraddle should keep existing, that the better timeline is the one where Autostraddle survives. We all know there is another timeline. We’ve hit close to it many times, our ghosts in another dimension, on the other side, have made themselves easy to imagine. They’re disbanded without this central queer hub, without a place for conversation and stories, writing and art.

It’s hard to imagine the ripple effect of losing Autostraddle. My bones are aching with what it would be like to have that loss be a real loss for everyone who works here, everyone who has ever written here, for everyone who relies on Autostraddle or who is just about to, who needs us to be a part of their their journey, whatever that means to them.

This is also an important point, I think, to make because I know that many of you, that many Autostraddle readers would be just fine if we published less and took a break. Thank you for that. But, unfortunately, in digital media that is actually a vicious cycle. If we publish less, there will be less traffic because there is simply less to read. Then, we might not even have the advertising money we do now. We might also not get the new readers we need to support us in the future, to join A+, to spread the word. But we also wouldn’t have ad money… so we would need to fundraise even more, which would just burn us out more and also might not be possible. It also wouldn’t save nearly enough money to publish less. We’d have to take pay cuts, too, to fund the loss. But if we took pay cuts, we risk downright hemorrhaging our workers because people need to live, everything is more expensive in 2021, and we already aren’t paying top dollar — but we need to pay enough. We’re trying to grow our team right now, not spiral out and lose everyone!

All that is to say, if we stopped publishing, honestly, we might have to shut down. Trust me when I say that if there was an alternative that would let me go lie down on the floor, I would take it! We would all take it! But the thing is, we’re already saddened that we aren’t able to get more up on the site, that we aren’t able to publish the work of more writers, that we don’t have more for you to read. Our fundraising isn’t about doing more / doing better in some kind of ultra-funded space bro way. Our fundraising is about the fact that for a place as small as Autostraddle, the line is not between doing okay and doing better, it’s between complete and total failure… and a real victory. When you’re small, money can move the needle so much, and conversely there isn’t that much of a shoulder on this road if we start to crash this car. We take your gay dollars and we multiply them into so much more, but without your help right now, we don’t have any alternatives left. This fundraiser is about everything we can and will do in the coming months, exciting things, and it is also the alternative to shutting down. This is both the plan and the back-up plan. That’s why we need your help.

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At the end of the day, it comes down to two groups of people: you, the readers, our community, our friends — and my lesbian and queer and trans colleagues, who I have a responsibility to. In the calculation of whether I keep going, keep working, I simply will not and cannot be the piece that falls apart, that stands in the way of their having this space for continuing to publish the writers we love and for bringing new voices out of the woodwork and into the light.

So I can’t fall apart.

But also, it is so tempting to fall apart.

And also, my body has started to try to force me to fall apart.

The other morning, Sadie startled me awake. I flailed around and yelled, “What time is it?”

She looked at me like I had two faces. She thought I was awake, so she just started talking to me, which scared me into actual wakefulness, which scared her. What a morning. But, surely, with all the nights we’ve slept in the same bed, she would have known I was asleep. But this time was different, because guess what. Guess what. I was SLEEPING WITH MY EYES OPEN.

This is a new activity / talent I have now! I think it comes from fundraising stress. I noticed it happening again the other night, because I’d closed my eyes, and then reopened them to mentally compose a list of to-do’s. I caught myself falling asleep like that. Eyes open, to-do’s visualized, floating above me in the dark.

So let’s just say that my eyes were not feeling top notch last week. As the fundraiser started, I wasn’t able to focus. I moved like I was drugged, clumsy, banging into things, a mess of forgetfulness and typos. For days my body felt like I was hit by a car. I’ve been hit by three (3) cars, so I would know. My best guess is that my body and brain are so tired they’ve given up and are trying to drag me to Hell. But there is still so much more to do! No time for Hell, yet.

two spinning spacey pyramids

So, back to before the fundraiser. There I was, at my desk, air blowing in through a window air conditioner, shelves stocked with A+ member perks to my right, the glow of the computer screen and packages in front of me as I tucked stickers and bandannas inside, printed labels, entered our VAT number into customs forms.

You would think that, as someone living, not in actual Paris, but the “Paris of Appalachia” as they call Pittsburgh, that Brexit would leave me largely unaffected, but dear reader, you would be wrong! The whole being cut off from our members in the UK, not able to figure out how to send them their perks, represented outside forces trying to sever the ties within our community. We are all connected. We can all talk to each other. But there was red tape trying to keep us apart, however small it might seem to not be able to send packages, it’s still… surreal.

I’m no stranger to living in a country whose operators act in the interest of right-wing extremism, fascism or any number of components of an extremely harmful status quo. I can sympathize, deeply, with the queer people living in a country carrying out changes brought on by a fearful and resentful conservative fervor. That’s life for a lot of us. That’s why we need this space. I wanted you to know that we saw you. That wanting you to know that we see you is a defining characteristic of everyone here, everyone doing this work at Autostraddle.

We want you to know that we see you.

So, with each person, because it had been such a long wait, I ran their email address in a search through my email to make sure they hadn’t sent me a message about a change of address (because I asked them to let me know!), when I came across this note, a kindly member had sent me at the end of June. When I saw that note for the second time, it wrapped my heart up in a warm, fuzzy blanket all over again. It was just one of the moments where you saw us, saw me back, through however many screens and however much bureaucratic red tape. I remembered that I cried when I got it in June. I called Sadie in and showed it to her. She hugged me and we looked at the note together. Seeing it again, it underlined for me — in thick, black, mental Sharpie — why we do this work. Autostraddle isn’t a one-way street, we don’t just shout things at you and never hear back. We are constantly connected, speaking to each other, seeing each other, witnessing each other, growing together. If anything, the thing-that-is-Autostraddle is the structure and the people who devote themselves to the work of holding us all together. This can be your work, too, if you want it. This is what members do for us, what supporters do for all of us. They hold us together. We hold us together. You can be a part of that. Will you help hold this place together?

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You didn’t think I’d let you get away without seeing the note, did you?

Just to say I read how many problems stupid Brexit is causing, and on top of that I’m sure you’ve got a load of lovely new members to send stuff out for, so please take this as permission to put me at the very back of the queue. It really doesn’t matter how long it takes to get here, or if it never makes it. Reading what you all do for us every day just made me want to help out a little more.

Thank you, so much. Autostraddle is a big part of the reason I’m still here.

Autostraddle is life-saving. Community is life-saving. This is a needed and necessary space. I am still here because of the queers that came before me. And I am grateful that, together, you want to keep doing that work with us, that you want to help us build queer futures, for all of us.

The note is simple. It’s not a lot. It doesn’t need to be. But that’s what I love most about my job.

I love knowing that each and every member in our small town of members is a whole person, and that the vast majority of you are really kind and even if that maybe doesn’t describe you or you identify as hard-to-like, I love knowing that you’re there. We love knowing that you’re there.

This job is not perfect. I am certainly not perfect. Every day, I look at the clock by 8 or 8:30 or 9pm and am shocked at how little I’ve managed to do in comparison to what I have left to do. I wonder if I’ve hurt the feelings of anyone in my inbox or stressed them out by not responding — and then I’m sad that I can only carve out a little bit of time, at the end of the day, to cook dinner with my girlfriend and be with my lovely senior dog. But the thing is, it’s not just me. My workload is triple or quadruple that which I’ve had before at other workspaces, at other independent arts spaces, mind you. It’s all encompassing.

And the thing is, we all are working too much. Last time, though, I was at my wit’s end when I wrote my letter. Remember when I CAME OUT to thousands of people in a fundraiser letter? I didn’t even remember to tell my friends who had donated, who would be receiving the letter, before I sent it. I CAME OUT TO SOME OF MY FRIENDS IN A FUNDRAISER LETTER because I couldn’t screw my head back on all the way. That’s how spun out I was, how tunnel-visioned. Just a bag of bones and caffeine minus a binary gender with access to Autostraddle’s Mailchimp account.

And now, as I write this, things are better. We’re fundraising for less this time. We’re in the process of hiring two editors and will look for an ad sales gay soon. 2022 stands to be so much better than this year, but we have to get there, reader. We have to get there. We need you to help us get there. <mark>It’s never about one person doing everything. It’s always about everyone just pitching in what they can.</mark> That’s what we need from you. We just need you to give $5 or $50, whatever you can do. If we all agree that we’re in this together, then we will all make it together.

We’re all more connected than we can ever know. And right now, in this timeline, we still have the central connective force, the nervous system, the community system that is Autostraddle, holding us together, all over the world. And the little things really do matter. I hope that you’ll help, that you’ll join A+, that you’ll give, that you’ll be a part of keeping us here for everyone who needs this space, who needs to be seen.

Sending love, wherever you are in the world,
Nicole

Nicole's signature

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Before you go! It takes funding to keep this publication by and for queer women and trans people of all genders running every day. And support from readers like you keeps the majority of our site free for everyone. Still, 99.9% of our readers do not support. Autostraddle is fundraising right now to keep our site funded through January 2022. Will you join our community of readers in helping to keep us around?

Nicole Hall is Autostraddle's A+ and Fundraising Director, and has been fundraising and working in the arts and nonprofit sector for over a decade. They write nonfiction as well as aggressively gay and sometimes spooky fiction. They live in Pittsburgh with their partner, Sadie. They are also a gardener, project queer, witchy/wizardly human and BFF to a lovely senior rescue dog. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram as @nknhall.

Nicole has written 48 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. thank you nicole! i had been wondering about the pace of publishing things – so it sounds like those of us who dream of you publishing less need to replace ad $ in your revenue!!! let’s go team!

    one of the many heartbreaking things about capitalism is that it has made us forget how to take care of each other and how to make our own realities together. to cede sooooo much of our power. i know many, many people are making a concerted effort to remember, and talking about it a lot. i support you all repeating yourselves over and over bc i think we can all use constant reminders that it is about feeding and housing each other and helping each other get medical care and rest. and prioritizing yall who are defYING all the powers that be to make this space our reality. for me A+ isn’t a subscription and these fundraisers aren’t like NPR fundraisers. it’s making sure yall can buy groceries, pay yr rent, and hopefully save for a move, save for a surgery, save for a trip. i hope everyone contributing can experience our contributions as small ACTS OF SOVEREIGNTY and to experience stretching in generosity here as an act of DEFIANCE – not to cheapen those words (which will of course get coopted and cheapened) but because it’s all of us finding ways in this money & gun shaped hell to feed the ppl who make this pocket of reality and who feed our souls <3

  2. Nicole, as a (former because I lost my job to the pandemic) fellow fundraiser, solidarity on all the address checking, spreadsheet sorting, postage and packing, literal envelope sealing side of the whole fundraising shenanigans – it is so much work!

    Also, as an inhabitant of this brave new world of Brexited Britain which has such people in it, I am seriously impressed you managed to wangle a VAT number out of HMRC so quickly – it’s all been a bit of a mare.

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