freelance life

February.

The field organizer for an aldermanic candidate in my ward is 15 years old.Fifteen. There is a kid with braces and a bowl haircut standing on the street corner by Starbucks in the freezing cold, holding a stack of shiny cardstock handbills still in their copy-shop brown-paper packaging. Talking to passersby about the virtues of his candidate with the poise and composure of someone at least twice his age.

He has a BlackBerry, for God's sake.

When he came inside the café for a snack, I gave him my card and told him I'd love to help him in any way I could. When I was really thinking, "I need this child to help me figure my life out."

If a kid like that isn't enough to give you a crisis of confidence in your capabilities as an adult… I mean, I don't know.

Honestly, if February were any longer than 28 days, I'm not sure what would happen to me.

That blizzard we had last week delighted me at first in its novelty, and now the snow is just making me angry. I am angry at you, snow. You are ugly and grey and wet.

I'm angry at the season in general. You're making me depressed, Old Man Winter. You and Father Time and your patriarchal oppression. My feet are cold, and I'm lonely.

And I think it's safe to say I'm overextended. I have work. So much work. And work is a good thing, I suppose. It helps me pay my bills and buy things like kittens and steam mops. I'm writing and editing and helping fill the world with excellent content for all the good girls and boys.

But it's too much. I stay up working until 2:30 a.m.

Actually, I could just be really, really bad at managing my time. That's probably true.

But I would much rather blame external factors. Like winter. And the slow, spotty Internet I'm scamming from an unsuspecting neighbor. And my cat.

The worst part about overextending is that it leads to coming up short in other places. Like writing. And that's really frustrating.

The whole goal of quitting my full-time job was to make more time for writing. And I think I actually do it less now. But as I approach six months of this freelance gig — my, how time flies — I'm still working on that "cutting myself some slack" thing. Six months feels like ages, but it's barely a ripple in time. So are the 27 years I've lived so far. So it goes.

Listen to this song. It's by my friend Becky, who I've known since second grade and is now half of the amazing duo Barnaby Bright. (And if she's not enough to give you a crisis of confidence in, well…everything else in life, you're better than me. Amazing.) When you listen to that song, do you feel hopeless or filled with possibility? Becky Bliss — February: February reminds me that winter's behind me. And the flowers of another spring will come, and I'll have nothing to show.

I can't decide either. But March is another song altogether.

Reverb 10: Community.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 7 Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011? (Author: Cali Harris)

I went to the grocery store tonight after my workout — my first workout since before I came down with the plague flu. I bought frozen peas, Kraft macaroni and cheese, brownie mix and two kinds of baking chips. (I mixed the butterscotch chips in with the brownie batter. Just what the doctor ordered.)

On my way back into the cold, I spotted the familiar grey peacoat and lightly gelled coif of a former coworker, who happens to live in my neighborhood. I followed him at a safe distance until I knew it was him, then I all but bowled him over in the parking lot. We exchanged awkward pleasantries and small talk, teeth chattering, until he finally moved to unlock his trunk, pack his groceries and head home. The company holiday party — complete with Yankee gift swap and awards ceremony, unless all of upper management were brainwashed between last year and now — is in a few days. Go ahead. Guess how excited he was about that.

I don't miss that forced merriment and camaraderie. I don't miss the winding drive up to the golf club restaurant, the soft drinks watered down with melting ice, the choice of grey steak or fish of mysterious origin. The festering angst that the money spent on those festivities could likely have been put toward hiring another employee to alleviate some stress during the rest of the year.

But I do miss my coworkers. In a way. That community was built around solidarity. We were united against a common foe. Fumbling toward Friday together, every week, for three years. I miss that connection a little. But ultimately? That's not the kind of community I signed on for anyway.

When I signed up for Twitter in June 2008, it's safe to say I didn't get it. I'm not sure anyone did. (Well, I'm sure there are plenty of "gurus" out there now who would love to claim that they've always gotten it.) But two and a half years later, I've written 25,500 tweets. Most of them are worthless crap. I've somehow gathered almost 2,000 followers, three-quarters of which are bots or spammers. I follow an even 1,000 people who live all over the world, most of whom I'll never meet. This is where I live now. This is my community.

I spend most of my time physically alone, but it rarely feels like it. I'm surrounded. By people who have been in my shoes before, as freelancers or entrepreneurs, eager to share vague encouragement or their own success story. By people who can cheer me up when I'm down, with a kind word or a YouTube video. Or a baby animal. By people who are game to meet me for dinner or drinks — or the promise of them, next time they're in town. By people with far too much time on their hands.

My contemptuous corporate community has been replaced with a community of faceless friends. Which…sounds profoundly sad. With a community of friends that I take with me everywhere I go, then. Better? Well, if you don't get it, you probably never will.

2011: Writers.

Reverb 10: Letting go, three months later.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 5 Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I let go of the monkey bars. (If you're new here, click that! It's a link! Today, it could also be seen as something of a cop-out!)

The Cliff's Notes: I quit my full-time job, gave up my health insurance and paid vacation, the regular paychecks and 401K, my two-and-a-half-hour daily commute, the frustration of working for people with no interest in caring for their employees, and the general self-loathing that went with doing a job my heart was no longer in. An opportunity to work for myself, be on my own, presented itself. And I jumped at it. It wasn't a popular decision with my family — a situation not altogether unfamiliar to me at this point — and I knew it wouldn't be easy in a lot of ways.

But I did it because 27 years old is too young not to take a chance that might end in failure. It's too young to choose security over freedom. I did it because 27 is too old to still be worried about what's expected of you. I did it because despite the tough sell to my family, there are many, many safety nets, security blankets and downy-soft support systems lined up to catch me if I do lose my grip. And I did it because, contrary to all the news stories written in the past year about foolish, spoiled, naïve Gen Yers, it's never foolish, spoiled nor naïve to expect — no, demand — that a job be challenging, fulfilling and rewarding.

Three months later? I've left the monkey bars and hit the playground running. The twisty slide and the tire swing and the merry-go-round are all at my disposal, and I'm just getting started.

It hasn't been easy, just as I expected. I'm getting by on a bit less money than before. I'm paying through the nose for my health insurance (that's a link, too). I'm beating back the occasional attacks of crippling loneliness.

But I'm also embracing my freedom. I've been running up a storm; I'm getting back in shape. I spend my work days at Starbucks. I go to therapy in the middle of the afternoon. I love the people I'm working with, even though I rarely see them in person and we're scattered all across the country. I'm finding out I'm a pretty decent salesgirl. I'm starting to blog more; I'm proud of more of it. I've signed up for an eight-week writing course.

Challenging. Fulfilling. Rewarding.

Here's to letting go of the monkey bars and reaching forward to what's next.

Chatty Cathy, Quieted.

I realized something yesterday.I am extremely sad. A lot of the time.

Again.

And it's not because this adjustment to the freelance life is hard. It's not that I have no money. It's not even because of this ridiculous health-insurance debacle I find myself in.

It's because I am a shut-in. There are no people in my life. I make physical contact with so few living, breathing, English-speaking organisms now that it's actually affecting my quality of life. For as much as I hated my commute, as much as I disliked the micromanaging middle management and mind-numbing corporate culture that filled my days, I actually find myself missing those mundane brushes with warm-blooded humans. I miss even the grumpiest of Metra conductors, banging their little hole punches against the metal railings to wake the dozing businessmen who hadn't paid their fares, gruffly asking, "Where to where?" The baristas at my suburban-oasis Starbucks, who treated me like family on my worst days and royalty on my best. I half miss standing awkwardly around the lunchroom, half-heartedly singing "Happy Birthday" — except for the one man who took it to Pavarotti heights — and waiting for the honorees to blow out the candles on their store-bought cupcakes. Gently ribbing the ad reps who constantly forgot to use their inside voices when they were doing phone pitches. Wandering into my boss' office just to grab a piece of chocolate and staying for 10 minutes talking about nothing in particular: hearing for the fourth time about the Van Morrison concert he saw years ago, detailing my latest relationship drama, discussing the newest flower varieties like we were somehow qualified to talk horticulture.

But I used to wear my earbuds for hours at a time, zoned out and rocking from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, just to keep those interactions to a minimum. Because it all got to be too much sometimes.

Now? I watch TV. Because there are people on TV. Interacting with one another. It's my replacement for real, 9-5 socialization. And when I watch TV, I'm watching Angel or Law & Order: SVU. So the interactions are…y'know…raping and bloodsucking and maiming beyond recognition. Tell me that's not affecting my sanity at least a little. That's not to say that when I finally do get around people, I want to kill them. No, I want to hug them. And talk their ears off. (Yes, both of them. One is not enough.)

It's not that I've shut myself in on purpose. It's an occupational hazard of self-employment, so I hear. (Or so I heard, in one ear and out the other: Everyone said it would be a lot of work not to feel isolated, and I scoffed. …Yeah. Who's laughing now?)

My most thrilling moment of the week thus far: Realizing, during a long conversation about dietary idiosyncrasies, that I'm not the only one weirded out by bone-in meat. I found myself at Fiddlehead Café last night, craving human heat and a big glass of wine — neither could have damaged my writer's block any further, really — and I got into a conversation with my favorite bartender, Daniel, who I've known for about two years now. That place is my Cheers. Cilantro tastes like dish soap to him, and he can't handle meat on the bone. (Which, you should know, I first spelled "boat," then revised to "boan," then realized these two glasses of Carmenere had gone to my head far more than I first imagined.) I talked with the chef, Josh, for a few minutes, too. He spoils me: Last night's single-girl treasures included a little cheese plate and a dessert platter with a tiny ramekin of deconstructed banana cream pie. And then I talked to the guy next to me. His name was Vincenzo. He's brewing his own beer in buckets in his basement — and needed the bottles to store his finished product. He doesn't have a Facebook or Twitter account. I stared. My mouth hung open. Strange creature.

If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk. Fair warning from me: If you give me a direct look in the eye, I will ask you to be my best friend forever. Or at least for the next five minutes.

And I will be less sad. At least for the next five minutes. So thank you in advance.