Monday, July 16, 2007

You Employ Myself

For the past six months almost exactly, I have been “self employed” meaning that until last month, when I took a part-time job at a newspaper, I’ve been working freelance, paid-by-the-project work. During the last month, I’ve been both a self- and part-time employee, and I have to say, the whole working at home thing has been pretty awesome.

Basically since I moved, I’ve been spending my days doing yoga, going for bike rides, napping, swimming, having morning coffee at my favorite café, reading books I’ve wanted to read for years, going out late on weeknights and generally living the life of a student or a particularly well-nannied, self-absorbed stay at home parent. Basically, it’s just as possible to waste time when you’re self-employed as it is when you’re working full-time in a cubicle farm, except more fun because, duh, naps.

Over the last 6 months, as a self-employed person, I made a little less than half of my yearly salary in New York. It’s also on par with the full-time job I will start in August at an educational publishing house. So why the change? Why leap from the lap of luxury back into the life of harried despair of the American worker bee?

It all boils down to two things: benefits and the ease of having my time budgeted for me.

As I get older, words like “health with vision and dental” and “401K” have the same effect on me as “Northern Californian hydro” used to when I was a teenage pothead. I long to walk the sterile, no-slip tile floors of a doctor’s office. I look forward to picking out my new gynecologist and GP like some people look forward to picking out new furniture or a wedding dress. I am jonesing for that Chantix prescription that will finally rid me of my horrible smoking habit forever. I’d like to know that all the lumps and spots and moles I’ve found on my body since December of last year don’t point to end-stage metastatic cancer. I’d really really like to get my teeth professionally cleaned.

Furthermore, working for yourself takes a lot of project front-loading. You have to make sure you’re always covered in case a project falls through, or doesn’t pay, and that basically means constantly overbooking yourself. In the last six months, I’ve held positions as: copyeditor for a national magazine, copyeditor for a regional weekly, associate editor for an independent press, prose editor for another independent press, newsroom assistant, obituary writer, college lecturer, romance novel consultant, freelance editor for Iowa Book Doctors, freelance editor for The New York Book Editors, contributing editor for two different literary journals, and online college comp tutor. Which is something like twice the number of jobs I’ve held in my entire life. Granted, I didn’t get paid for all of these positions, but you never know when something might turn into a paying job. It behooved me to accept everything that came my way and then some.

Self-employment also means establishing a money net in case payments for projects come late or never (which in only six months has happened several times). I spent my entire time in New York just this side of broke, which has made me completely neurotic about money—not in the good way, the outcome of which is you’re better at balancing a check book and you always know to the cent what’s in your accounts, but in the bad, ostrichy, head-in-the-sand way, in which the ignorance that my account is overdrawn is the same as it not being overdrawn at all. Needless to say, the sort of attention one must pay to ones accounts as a self-employed person is not for the financially faint of heart, like me.

In fact, it’s a good thing that being self-employed allows for naps because it can often be exhausting and emotionally draining—and that’s before any work is actually done on a project.

The last six months have been great, and I’ll probably feel at least mildly regretful when I’m sitting in my temperature controlled office the next time it’s 85 and sunny outside, but it will be nice to have one job, one title, one source of income and a steady paycheck.


And on a totally unrelated note: We have neighbors who live catty corner behind us and with whom we share the ill-defined parking spaces in between our two houses. I won’t bore you with all the nastiness, but suffice it to say we got into a bit of a scuffle over one parking spot in particular, which we were under the impression we could park in, but the neighbors were not. (Relevant fact: our neighbors have more parking spots than they can use, but our house has to crowd five cars into the equivalent of three spots.) It could all have been handled in a civil and adult way except that our neighbors aren’t adults—they’re spoiled adolescent students who took to leaving threatening notes on our windshield and giving me the finger whenever our paths would cross in the parking area. In fact, they started inviting friends over to park in the spot in dispute—people who didn’t even live in their house—in order to keep us from parking there.

Well, there was a really bad storm today while I was out and about and when I turned into the alley behind our house, there were trucks everywhere and people milling all around. I pulled in and saw that a giant tree branch had been struck by lightning, cleaved off it’s huge oak tree of origin and completely smashed flat every single one of the four cars parked at Le Maison des Bebes.

As Brad pointed out later, nobody happened to be parked in our spot-in-dispute. (After the neighbors were satisfied that they’d “taught” us not to park there, they never used the spot again). It was the only parking spot on their lot the tree completely cleared.

I laughed for a really long time when I got home. I mean, nobody was hurt, and duh, the sucky neighbors will all get new cars from insurance (assuming they’re insured), but that will take a while, and in the meantime their lives will be more difficult and annoying. They can’t even bum rides off of each other. And for this I am thankful.