The Best Freelance Writing of September

By Dillon Baker September 30th, 2015

There’s a lot of stuff on the Internet. It’s an obvious point, sure, but one that I didn’t fully grasp until I started researching for this article. There are a lot of publications, a lot of great writers, and a lot of that now ubiquitous term “content.” And a lot of it is being done by freelancers.

That’s something I never realized until I started here at The Freelancer. Bylines are often small—hidden, even (I’m looking at you, The Economist)—and detailed author profiles are rare. At most publications, the brand comes before the writer. I know I’ve read plenty of fantastic pieces this month without ever bothering to check who wrote it. Unfair, yes, but I think unfortunately common.

But when you really start to look, you’ll find a ton of truly inspiring work being produced by freelance writers of all kinds, and for every publication imaginable. I think it’s about time they started getting some recognition.

That’s why we’re going to start gathering the best freelance writing on the Internet every month—starting today with September. (Just to be clear, we’re defining “freelancers” as anyone who is not a salaried employee in media or academia, or anyone who writes on the side of an unrelated full-time job.)

Here’s what I was looking for: unique, important stories told through evocative writing on a diversity of topics. That’s pretty subjective, and I admit you can see my biases pretty clearly in the selections, but such is the nature of these kinds of things. The Pulitzer Prize, for example, has no set criteria.

You’ll see that I mostly chose creative non-fiction and personal essays. That’s partly a matter of taste, but mostly reflects the kind of work freelancers tend to focus on; quick-hitters and investigative reporting are often the realm of staffers rather than freelancers.

Unfortunately, there was no way for me to read everything out there. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of worthy candidates, so if you think I left out something special (and I’m certain I did!), send me a friendly email or tweet with the piece—I’d love to read it.

Special thanks to our editorial intern, Esme Cribb, for helping me sort through everything.

The Messengers

By Brooke Jarvis | Pacific Standard

In 2011, a team of psychologists studying the emotional trauma and anxiety caused by the changing climate concluded that “global change is as much a psychological and social phenomenon as a matter of biodiversity and geophysics.” The Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht, after studying people living in an area transformed by open-pit coal mining, invented a word for the anguish we feel when beloved natural places change beyond recognition: solastalgia, which pulls from the roots of pain and desolation. Though we talk despairingly about how little people care about the environment, we’re now starting to recognize a different problem: Often, we care more than we can stand.

Me, Inc.

By Ann Friedman | The New Republic

What is a personal brand, though? The truth is, I’m not quite sure. I can’t even tell you what my brand is, exactly. Sure, there are topics like gender and technology to which I return again and again as a writer, but I’m just pursuing things that interest me, or that editors approach me to write about. No real strategy to see here! For anyone trying to figure out how to make it in media—or any other industry, really—that’s hardly a recipe for success.

Barbie Wants to Get to Know Your Child

By James Vlahos | The New York Times Magazine

At one point, Barbie’s voice got serious. ”I was wondering if I could get your advice on something,” Barbie asked. The doll explained that she and her friend Teresa had argued and weren’t speaking. ”I really miss her, but I don’t know what to say to her now,” Barbie said. ”What should I do?”

”Say ‘I’m sorry,’ ” Ariana replied.

”You’re right. I should apologize,” Barbie said. ”I’m not mad anymore. I just want to be friends again.”

Manhattan Real Estate Explained, In Just One Street

By Brendan O’Connor | The Awl

Union Square is not 14th Street’s geographic center, but it is its center of gravity. On its worst days it is only slightly less chaotic than Times Square, thirty blocks north, but even then the chaos is more purposeful, or at least bounded: This is where the skaters and bikers are; this is where the street vendors selling African black soap are; this is where the Whole Foods shoppers skip past everyone else. In the mornings, the subway station below is a melee, but, as everyone knows where they are and where they need to be and how to get there, it is a navigable one. In the afternoons, there are often fewer people, but they are also less familiar with the space, and do not know how to get anywhere, disrupting the flow of bodies.

Why Lime Crime Is the Most Hated Beauty Company on the Internet

By Arabelle Sicardi | Racked

Quite honestly, writing a summary of the events around the mythical, controversial, mostly disreputable beauty company Lime Crime feels like a Stefon skit from Saturday Night Live. This brand has everything: fake deaths, Nazi costumes, legal threats against 13 year-old girls, hacker attacks, class action lawsuits, FDA warnings, credit card fraud, cold sores, and questionably named eyeshadow palettes called “China Doll.” The saying goes that beauty is only skin deep, but the crimes of and for beauty seem to be a lot more pervasive. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start from the top.

Murder on the Appalachian Trail

By Earl Swift | Outside Magazine

What he did to them left wounds that didn’t close as neatly as that fading rectangle in the forest floor. It prompted outdoorsmen and trail officials to rethink conventional wisdom long held dear: that safety lies in numbers, that the wilds offer escape from senseless violence, and that when trouble does visit, it’s always near some nexus with civilization—a road, a park, the fringe of a town.

And it reverberates still, all these years later, because what befell Geoff Hood and Molly LaRue at the Thelma Marks shelter is a cautionary tale without lesson.

Then as now, this clearing was a lovely place.

And near as anyone can tell, they did everything right.

Broken Links

By Alana Massey | Aeon Magazine

‘The Internet is forever” has long been the refrain of neurotics who wring their hands over privacy. But, back in the earliest days of online interaction, we couldn’t conceptualise what forever meant for digital experiences. They seemed ephemeral, intimate. We were blissfully unaware that our little exchanges might one day be part of ‘Big Data’ to be collected, spat out crudely into an algorithm, and monetised. But what we thought were whispers that disappeared into the wind were footprints left behind in soil. That soil was fossilising, preserving a partial archive, hidden until it is not.

The Duke, The Landscape Architect and the World’s Most Ambitious Attempt to Bring the Cosmos to Earth

By Alina Simone | Atlas Obscura

My father, the cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin, was among the physicists who received this invitation. One could say I’d grown up with the multiverse; my father’s first paper on the subject was published in 1983. He has given lectures around the world, appeared on the covers of magazines, published books and held forth on television about the tumultuous, explosive, eternally expanding state of the cosmos. Multiverse theories suggest a sci-fi scenario: outer space is one giant Etcetera, and ours is but one lonely universe in an endless chorus of universes. In its staggering intricacies and metaphysical implications, it is an idea that seems to test the very limits of human perception. And not all physicists agree it is even true. The notion of fashioning a simulacrum of something so mind-blowingly abstract using nothing more than dirt, rocks and water, sounded, well, frankly insane.

The Age of Loneliness

By Meera Subramanian | Guernica Magazine

Back in Oregon, the boundaries between people and nature seemed clear to me. I could delude myself into thinking they were defined by the edges of the old-growth-forest tracts my friends and I fought to protect from logging. That they hung in the divide between my barking dog and the pack of coyotes that yipped as they passed through on their way to wherever. But even then, it was clear if you zoomed out and up and saw the former forests denuded of trees, that land of Cascadia was a patchwork quilt made of remnants.

Image by nikkytok
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