There is a store in Boulder Colorado called Neptune’s Mountaineering. They say it’s going under. I’ve been told this used to be the place. Before there were climbing gyms (which are the new de facto congregating zones for the climbing community (along with the internet and various hashtags)), before there were REIs shining like WalMarts anywhere the mountains are calling (and some places they are not), before there were climbers in bank commercials, and climbers in car commercials, and hollywood actors making movies about climbing… before all of that, there was Neptunes. And Neptunes – and stores like it – was where the climbers would gather, commune, tell stories, meet up, buy equipment, meet other climbers, spend their waking hours. That is what they say.
They say it is going under. They say there’s no more merch on the shelves. They say they owe debts. They say they stopped paying guidebook publishers, stopped buying guidebooks altogether. Some people say you don’t need them any more. I don’t buy them, myself. Don’t we all just use mountainproject? They say it’s the guidebook killing app.
I’m writing a guidebook. With a friend. We’ll split the royalties of 15%. That’s 7.5 each, about two bucks and a quarter a book. I don’t blame the publisher though. They say Neptunes owes them money, and they say Neptunes is going under, so maybe the publishers are in worse shape than I am. They want to sell the books in REI. They say REI is a good customer. They say REI won’t buy the books if there are ads in it from competing stores – stores like Neptunes. All of this leaves my head spinning. They say a hampster will run itself to death on a wheel if you let it. Nobody says that. Maybe I just made that up. But these days, that’s how I feel.
They say the mags don’t pay for 90 days. They say checks get lost in the mail. They say some simply won’t pay outright, that you’ll need to consult an attorney, that you’ll need to fight for bread. They won’t say their names. They are anonymous. The writers, the mags, the lawyers. Everything is hush hush. They say if they let you quote them, they might lose the work… the same work they get paid less for than they did twenty years ago… if they get paid at all. They say this is the game. They say you can patch it together with other things, rep for a brand, be a teacher, get a degree.
They say you used to make $2 a word. They say you used to be able to get paid up front. They say nowaday anything you do you do on spec. They say if you stick it out long enough, someone somewhere might notice you. They say you can work slinging copy for merch for some company somewhere that reflects your values. They say if you work hard enough, you might get lucky. But they say freelancing is dead.
I say I’m getting scared. I say the work is drying up. I say I haven’t made more than $800 in the last month and a half, and it’s not for lack of effort. I say I am waiting on checks, waiting on work, waiting on hope. I say I’m writing a book. I say maybe I’ll do a kickstarter. I say maybe a publisher will buy it, maybe I’ll make $15000 this year, maybe I’ll make even more next year. I say I want to have kids someday. I say I won’t be broke forever.
I say the less I make, the harder I work. I say I feel like a beggar sending emails after $100 checks, but I don’t know what else to do. I say the harder I work, the less I make, and the less I make, the harder I work. I say the climbing eases the fear. I say it keeps the demons at bay. I say the climbing is a pleasant escape. But the more I climb, the less money I make. I feel like that hamster on the wheel.
They say I should put a donate button on the blog. They say I’m doing the guidebook to further my career. They say I’m killing it. They say things are really coming along. They say the money always works itself out eventually, they say I always get to feeling this way, they say it’s all going to be ok. I guess they’re right. I guess I always seem to be ok.
But they say Neptune’s is going under, and I don’t know what else to write. They say people still read, but I don’t know if I believe they do. They say I’ve got a real gift – a talent. They say I can make it as a writer. They say it’s just a matter of time.
I say that as a matter of fact, “just a matter of time,” sink or swim, if nothing else, is actually true.