When I started freelancing it was because I had been fired for the first time in my life. It was out of necessity and panic, and at that point in my life it seemed pretty clear that things weren’t going so well for me. Not only had I been fired, but I was newly sober, and still walking passed the smoke-filled bars that lined Portland’s rainy streets with a hankering for several shots of whiskey and a drunken dance-off with a stranger. I had no savings, since I had drank it all away, so I lived in an unfinished house with no stove, decorated with exposed insulation and nails springing from every flat surface, and with three guys who tended bar at night and tended to strippers even later at night, all of which would not have been a problem if one of them hadn’t been ejaculating into my closet. (No joke.)
Granted, there were silver linings to all of this: I was no longer tethered to the bottle. At least I had a roof over my head. All three of the bartenders were Southern skinny boys covered in tattoos, basically the walking equivalent of my wet dream, so if they wanted to spunk in my stuff they could have just asked or invited me to watch. Most importantly, I was no longer working at a job I didn’t enjoy, where I didn’t get any personal fulfillment, and where I didn’t get a chance to write. For too long my life’s goal that had been relegated to the back burner on my hot plate. At the time I hadn’t understood the power of positive thinking, though slowly I began to realize that poverty when you’re attempting to do something you love sure beats regular, old poverty.
These days I have a lot of shit swirling around my pot. I’ve moved away from the love of my life and our home of only a few months in order to take care of my mother as Stage IV pancreatic cancer takes over her body. I’m still poor. I’m learning that the depths of my crazy are far deeper than a shot glass. I could craft a complaint for every minute of the day, but what good does that do me? All it would succeed in doing is make me sound like a whiny, ungrateful reality show contestant, and it would rob me of the ability to enjoy the primary bitch-free part of my life: I write for a living.
Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive. But you have to.
Recently I was trying to look up statistics on freelancing in this economy, and I discovered one of those Associated Content articles labeled “The 5 Main Advantages of Being a Freelance Writer.” Now, I always view AC articles as the equivalent of generic, store brand products, which is maybe a little unfair. But thisMyTussin of Internet research had another pet-peeve of mine, right there in the header. ” Doing The “Write” Thing Can Actually Improve Your Life.” A play on words with write, in quotes, really? I had to see what was listed. I assumed the five would include having time to spend with your family, being able to listen to Crosby, Stills, and Nash at work, and being able to take pottery classes at night. Instead they were pretty run of the mill: flexible hours, being able to live wherever you want, a controlled working environment, income tax deductions, and the completely perplexing “Choose Your Own Level of Income.”
In Portland, our list went like this: being able to sleep in, having sex on the job, and feeling good about ourselves. We could only come up with three, but as we’ve learned with pitching ideas to clients, present only your strongest first. The other two would have probably included some mention ofDJing, burritos, Boggle, and body modification.
Things have changed. We’ve survived doing this for some time, albeit it always feels like we’re teetering on the brink of touch-and-go. Certainly if and when I’m stupid enough to have children of my own, I wouldn’t want them to live the way we lived out of necessity for a while there. But I will always want them to follow their dreams, in that cheesy, Hallmark way. (“The Benefits Of Freelancing, starring Stockard Channing, only on Lifetime!”) The benefits of what we do aren’t as simple as that list, and certainly they fluctuate in their accuracy.
I’ve often marveled at the fact that Simon and I studied screenwriting. Do we write movies? Nope. Do we work in entertainment? Nuh-uh. So were the umpteen-thousand dollars spent on our degrees wasted? Well, not exactly. We write promo shorts for companies, tiny spots that they can integrate into videos on their websites, informing customers what they provide. We write scripts for in-house training videos. At times our work involves pacing, dialog, and an innate understanding of how to craft a story arc. The lesson learned in this is that we never know where our craft is going to take us. Sometimes we writewhitepapers , other days it’s a press release, or a product description, or even a letter of resignation for one of our friends. So long as we’re writing and getting paid for it, we don’t care, and this path is not exactly set with traditional milestones. Where most companies have promotions and bonuses, we just have more projects. It’s fun not to know what the next gig is going to give us. The inability to just set our wheels on the track and wait for the next predictable thing to come our way allows us to really live in the present, which sometimes sucks (yes, there are projects that really suck, but, hey, every day can’t be Christmas.) We’re able to flex different muscles, and learn about how to adapt our words to each client individually. It’s a benefit I couldn’t have predicted.
Even though what I do to chase paper is identical to what I do for fun, writing for a living has transformed my writing outside of work. This is another boon to the job that I couldn’t have understood when we started out. After all, how does writing a press release really impact writing a piece of fiction? Turns out that the answer is majorly. Tiny technical details learned on the job get stuck in my brain mush, such as where to put an errant punctuation mark or the difference between complement and compliment. These anecdotes get integrated into my process when it comes to the fun stuff. Moreover, working with a wide array of people in different fields really influences my approach to stories, poems, blog posts, whatever. To use a tired, patchouli-scented analogy: it’s like a yin-yang. One side of my work informs the other, profession and play overlap.
Perhaps the most obvious benefit to this job right now is that it allows me to be here for my mother. I’m not sure that I would have been able to quit my 9-5 and moved across the country if my mom had gotten sick while I was “traditionally” employed. I don’t know if I would have felt the pull of family over the pull of health benefits and a steady paycheck. But being freelance allowed me to pack my bag and get home fast, without so much as questioning it. And being able to make my own hours has allowed me to attend every chemo appointment, sit in the waiting room during every doctor’s visit, and run any errands that she can’t do herself. My mother is a divorcee who lives alone with a variety of poorly-trained animals. She shouldn’t have to battle a terminal illness alone. I’m grateful to the guy who fired me now. He’s given me the opportunity to say goodbye to my mother in what I can only look at as the most wholesome and fulfilling way. I’m able to be of service, while also being on the job. Death takes no vacation time.
Simon and I are not corporate kids. We like to wear ratty tee-shirts, we stay up too late, and we like to blast Joy Division while typing at our desks, which are usually kitchen tables. In order to be sufficiently creative, we have to create an environment that fosters that kind of thought pattern. We can’t wear suits, but we can take conference calls with the kind of professionalism reserved for meeting royalty. We can’t clock in, though we can clock our hours. We can suck, but we can’t suck up. Fighting with the boss has often included expletives and make-up sex. And although some of our peers might get all starry-eyed and jealous that we don’t set alarms in the morning, and commuting to work consists of pouring the hot water over the tea bag and sitting down, there are plenty of trade-offs. Not having health insurance, the lack of savings, the fact that we seem immature, all of these come to mind. And while I may find myself listening to punk rock but day-dreaming of a spouse, some kids, and a well-manicured lawn, I wouldn’t trade this job that I love for any conventional American dream, no matter how much I fawn over the L.L. Bean catalog. (Shut-up.)
The real value of the work we do is simple, it still makes us feel good about ourselves. Being able to invest your passion in your profession comes with a weird sort of salary like that. The IRS might not understand when you label “being awesome” as a deduction, but, trust me, you wake up for work excited to start the day, even if you can’t afford a muffin. So here’s to work and play being united, to positive thinking, and to doing what you love. Turns out that even if you can’t afford a Miracle Bra, you can still feel like your job is some ridiculous miracle. At the end of the day, you can’t stick a pricetag on feeling supremely badass.
You’re welcome for that video.
Drop me a line, AinsleyDrew at the gmail one. And thank you to everyone who donates! It’s yet another thing I’m grateful for. I’d buy you each a bra made of diamonds if I could afford it.
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