Life Imitating Art, Imitating Life, Kinda

So I was sort of working and my husband was “flipping around” - odd no one has “flipped” a channel knob in years but we still don’t say “pressing around” when we really are just pressing buttons on remote control - he landed on that Raymond show. You know the one where his brother is a giant, his Mother is meddling and his wife is shrill and nagging, and his dad was once FrahnkenSchtein’s monster. Peter Boyle playing a decidedly un-Gary Cooperish guy who gets the girl anyway. C’mon, sing it with me now “Suuupah Duuuupah”!

Anyway, as I said, I was working. And by that I mean, answering email, twittering - or is it tweeting? See? I haven’t even procrastinated sufficiently to be down with the “micro-blogging” lingo. (When did we switch from saying “up on” to "down with" anyway?) Here’s another thing: I wish those who make up lingo would not come up with a word which seems to mock how little work I’m actually doing under the guise of social networking. Another term which is, itself, a really bad term. I mean, it seems like “networking” is sort of serious. Then you have to go and put “social” next to it and it totally blows my cover.

Okay, where was I? Oh yeah. Raymond is “working from home” and it seems his friend is faxing him photocopies of his butt. The friend’s butt, not Raymond’s. His mother (Raymond’s) is there. This woman must be triplets. She is everywhere in that poor Raymond’s life, and his giant brother’s (not that the show is on that often.) Ma’s trying to figure out how someone Xeroxes their butt, while his wife is trying to get him to help unload the groceries. Raymond is trying to explain that even though he’s there, he’s really at work.

Ma decides to help Debra unload the groceries, seizing the opportunity to point out that “cookies from a log are almost like baking.” This, of course, reminds me that I have dozens of Meyer Lemons to use up. I must go take out butter to soften so I can make lemon squares later. “Later” is the time when I get to the real work which is writing and a bunch of other stuff I'll get to in a minute.

Being dedicated to my work, I didn’t stick around to finish the episode of this silly show. This is another way of saying that my husband “flipped” to another channel. It’s okay, you pretty well know when his kid wanders into his basement office, Raymond is not going to have a banner day at the (home) office. ?Too bad he didn’t have my old co-worker’s “smoke or blood” rule. Her kids knew that they never knocked on Mommy’s office door unless there was smoke or blood involved. Period. All other crises were to be resolved under the authority vested in her oldest child or tabled till Mommy was finished working.

Me? Living in a small loft apartment means there is no door, so even though there’s no kids underfoot, the “media room” is also the living room, is also the office, is also the dining room, is also the kitchen, is also the bedroom. The only door is the bathroom door and the desk just wouldn’t fit in there.

So our media center - back in the old days we used to just call them TVs, but that was when they had knobs. Knobs you actually “flipped” to one of the other two channels if you didn’t like what NBC or CBS or ABC had on at the moment. Anyway our TV - or media center (the DVR, the brains to the music, and the tangle of stuff we occasionally use for killing zombies) - all this stuff sits less than five feet from the computer. Oh yeah, and in this life of multi-use spaces, my desk also doubles as the old tabby’s refuge from the relentless kitten’s Pepe LePew-like stalking.

And speaking of stalking, there’s a birthday coming up. Then there’s the gym. Just two blocks away, beckoning. Living in sweats, it seems, makes you blissfully unaware how the pounds are creeping on. Or so I’ve heard. I’m going to have another eggnog and think about that some more. No. Not today.

I am a paragon of discipline today! I will forego opening Facebook (Tyler Florence just accepted my Friend Request!) or Twitter (where I have several direct @reply interactions going on with really cool food writers, wine writers and football fans going on, not to mention bakers...and here I am with all those Meyer Lemons...) Today - I Will Focus.

Then again, this being the holiday season, we also have movie marathons, old and new (Thanks DIRECTV), a “Dirty Jobs” marathon (lamb testicles anyone?) and there’s that baking to be done. All these things competing for my attention.

Did I mention that my husband also works from home? I’ll refrain from describing what he just did, this minute. Let’s just say it would wholly INAPPROPRIATE in any place of work. If he did it while I was on an important call, here in my place of work, I’d have to kill him.

Fessing Up

So, here is a true confession from a woman who used to make a very good living consulting to Fortune 500 companies on “Flexible Work Arrangements” (such as telecommuting, AKA working from home.) I don’t really work from home. And it has nothing to do with Everybody Loves Raymond, the studly and clever Dirty Jobs guy, the gym, the baking, or anything else.

I work at (not from) home and I’m a freelance writer. That means I don’t have a boss to answer to (but I do have several editors). So I am in that thrilling and dangerous place called "self-employed". It means I can play if I want to, but most often, I really can’t. I don’t get to “go home” and get a break from work. Nor do I get to “go to work” and get a break from home. A change of scenery has to be forced onto me, most often by a well-meaning friend or husband who also means well and might occasionally like to check his email, too.

When friends say, “C’mon, you’re a freelancer you can work anytime!” what they don’t know is that any minute I’m not working, I have to think about also not prospecting and what that means. As in no work + no prospecting = no pay.

Where does your work come from? Most of you probably have a work flow that is governed by your company's business flow, and your role in it. You have project teams and marketing and sales departments making sure there’s work coming in. Not so with freelancers. Any freelancer reading this (any freelance writer, designer, editor, copywriter) knows what I’m talking about.

One of “Tweeps” (friends on twitter) asked if anyone would be “paranoid” about taking some time off during the holidays. I thought paranoid was harsh, but not too far off the mark. See, you never really know where the next opportunity (AKA paying job) might come from. You can pore over all the freelance writing newsletters and job boards, you can live on Craig’s list, you can make friends with a Monster. But it’s still persistent, 24/7 scanning, creative thinking, and quick action which gets the work. And sometimes it's just dumb luck. But remember: luck favors the prepared.

Any five hours away from prospecting can mean five weeks of empty pipeline. For those non-freelancers out there, that’s not the same thing as a vacation. That means five weeks with no pay. The next time you are pining for the “freedom” of the freelance life, think about the freedom from benefits, from paid vacation, from a steady flow of clients. I am never free of the weighty knowledge that I could be querying publishers, working on book drafts, writing to magazine editors. I always carry the knowledge that doing all of that, all the time, is the only thing that produces the coveted PayPal deposits. So, if you see my contorted face on the arc trainer at the gym, it’s not just that it hurts, it’s that I’m thinking about these things, too.

One has to write, too. I’ve found if you call yourself a writer, people expect that. You must be creative and keep fresh content up all the time. Spiders and search engines will forget about you otherwise, they are fickle friends with very short attention spans. You have to keep the online house ship-shape for visiting readers, editors and agents. Imagine inviting the world to your house. Then imagine keeping your house clean enough for any visit, any time, from anywhere.

Nope, this freelancer’s life, is not the life of Raymond. It’s usually a lot less comical and a lot less fun, including a lot of pretty unglamorous stuff. For me, the tough part is never “the ideas about what to write about” - which seems to be the #1 mystery to others about my work. The hard part is keeping at the whole beast of the business end, and going at it with discipline. Every day.

This is not really that funny, or that light, or that carefree. It’s also something I relish about my work. I love the sole responsibility, the creativity not just in the writing but in the marketing, too. I love the constant learning. I love that my required reading is about stuff I love. I love that I can work 24 hours a day and still wish there were more hours.

And sometimes it IS fun. Sometimes I do take breaks. Sometimes it’s even funny, more funny than that joke you just heard at the water cooler. Way more. Seriously. If you could just see what my husband is doing right now...

[ed note: for the record - this was begun yesterday afternoon, during the described episode of Everyone Loves Raymond. Then, the emails were answered, filed, deleted, followed up on. Next lunch, drafting second article, then gym. Shower was somewhere in there. As I edit this, after the requisite daily job board check-ins, it is now after 5 AM. I will finish this and the article for my new client, then probably call it a day. Work time about 10- 12 hours. About 1/3 writing. All the rest was, well, all the rest. The lemons squares came out great, write if you want the recipe.]