Yesterday Simon and I went to the farmers’ market here in Norman, Oklahoma. After snaking our way through countless outdoor stands featuring a hodgepodge of garden gems, from Jonah apples to zucchini, we dipped inside the enormous corrugated metal enclave where the bi-monthly flea market was being held.
This was the first place that seems to slightly resemble the stereotypes of Oklahoma I held onto until I discovered that it’s actually a lovely, hospitable state filled with people who have all of their teeth and an above-average level of articulation, at least in this area. If you collect marbles, milk glass, or 1980s broken plastic toys, however, the Norman flea market would be your wet dream. Also if you have a fetish for weather-worn men sporting aviator sunglasses who have flannel shirts tied around their waist. As we wandered along with the waddling current of people who resembled hippopotamuses with fanny packs, we smelled something peculiar, and heard voice over a tinny loudspeaker speaking so fast it could have been the Midwestern equivalent of a stock market.
And it was. A livestock market.
Inside of a dirt ring, three girls clad in cowboy boots, none older than six, were walking in a slow circle, sticks in hand, ushering enormous hogs. Simon pointed out how one of the little girls was wearing a belt buckle as big as her head, a sign that she had won in a previous level of competition. He noted that the winner’s pig is sold and made into bacon, which really isn’t much of a prize for the pig. I imagine that livestock show parents are kind of like stage parents, only with bigger hair, stronger accents, and an even stronger affinity for bullshit. Only in this case I mean literal bullshit.
I wondered if those girls’ parents taught them how to properly whip those future crown roasts, how to carefully stumble in a cute, swaying circle, how to seem tough while still looking, well, like a six year old. When I was that age, the only sort of animal I could handle without winding up at the emergency room from a scratch, bite, or peck was a guinea pig, and that’s ’cause my cousins had one that was ten years old, deaf, and blind. For livestock show kids, their source of comfort, cereal, and cartoons is also their boss. Which made me once again realize perhaps the primary perk to being a freelance writer: you are your own boss. Meaning that the corporate ladder is more like a corporate handrail for you to grind your skateboard down.
I pointed out to Simon the way our latest clients (and favorite clients) have corresponded with us. Emails are colloquial, refreshingly peppered with wry wit and forthrightness with regard to projects and ideas. They are interested in what we have to say, they want the business arrangement to be fair both financially and intellectually. Suddenly there are humans at the other end of the keyboard. All of our interactions are devoid of any disrespect, patronization, or condescension of any kind. Immediately it became clear: these people regard us as their peers.
It’s hard to fully identify the dynamics of a relationship with a client when you’re operating entirely within the digital fog of the Internet. We imagine the hand that’s cutting our check to be attached to a god-like figure, one reclined in a swiveling leather chair and clutching an ominously large cigar. We can nearly be assured that those who employ us are not wearing boxers and eating stale Goldfish crackers for breakfast. They are not bobbing their heads aggressively to The Knife or Squarepusher during work, they don’t take breaks to skateboard to the corner store, they certainly haven’t received oral sex in their office chair. (Well, maybe they have, maybe that’s why they’re so nice.) Our job perks, and our giddy enjoyment of them, make us, at times, feel a little too lucky. We figure that working in an office sucks. People who wear ties are miserable. Cubicle dwellers may not be forced to figure out how to cut costs by avoiding any social activities that don’t include the words “free” and “park,” but they also don’t have the sort of elation that comes with doing something you’re proud of, a job that you invest all of your pulmonary parts and plasma in. So we just assume that everyone else is going to treat us like the scrappy kids looking for a break that we are. And when we get emails where we’re appreciated or treated with respect, well, it’s almost an early-era Sally Field moment, devoid of the blue eyeshadow and hairspray.
They like us. They really like us.
No matter what the gig is, from slogans to success stories, we know that we’re going into it with the need to prove ourselves, and therefore we expect our clients to be skeptical at best, a Heather at worst. But it turns out that if you do what you love — and what you love is writing about somebody else’s product, company, or accomplishment — then the common goal of achieving a good outcome naturally allows there to be a level of equality. It also helps when you’re hired by people who understand what it’s like to truly struggle, or by people who have experienced the lifestyle that comes with freelancing. These clients are gratifying to work for because they don’t make work a soul-sucking chore.
Freelance might be where it’s at, but there are assholes everywhere, and in the past we’ve met the unpleasant acquaintance of those who operate by dragging attitude, insecurity, and vitriol into your world via your Gmail account. It’s a very traditional idea that you have to treat those who are below you on the occupational food chain like they really are bottom-feeders. And the worst part is, you just have to take it. The ‘tude simply complicates the job we’re trying to get done, which is providing vivid and solid copy at first pass. So these clients, the good ones who may or may not have received a hummer in their Aeron, they make it easy. Every job comes with authority, may it come in a form that’s relentless like Max Shreck treated Selina Kyle in that other not-nearly-as-successful Batman, or like a parent in the wings administering spit-baths and reproach. For Ministry of Imagery, our clients are our vice presidents, but the real authority is us, both as a team and as individuals. And together we cannot be stopped.
As for the three little pigs and their frighteningly tiny blond handlers, we didn’t stick around for the end of the auction, opting to look at flea market knives instead. There must be some joke I’m neglecting to make about bringing home the bacon.
Holler at me, literally. AinsleyDrew at the gmail one.