Picture it: Louisville, 2009. I’ve been working for about a year in a job that I generally like (aside from its ridiculous requirement that we always wear socks or hose, EVEN WITH SANDALS), but then my manager leaves and someone from outside is hired who doesn’t know what he’s doing and then things rapidly go to shit.
Right around the time that I start thinking it’s time to bail, a dear friend hooks me up with an opportunity to work as an independent contractor doing writing and editing. So I quit my full-time job and embark upon the terrifying prospect of freelancing to support myself. About six months into this, I realize that I’m unfulfilled and miss working with people. I also realize that this gig affords me all the flexibility I could possibly need to go back to school and become a social worker, something I have long been dreaming of that didn’t seem possible. So I do.
And then I complete my social work degree and get a wonderful full-time job as a social worker, but I keep going with the writing and editing. I have a bajillion dollars in student loans and decide that I will do at least enough freelancing to cover my loan payment each month. Except that at the same time, the company I’ve been contracting with decides that it’s going to drastically ramp up its productivity. They start sending me loads more work.
At first this is exciting. Money! Lots of money! More money than I’ve ever made! For the first time in several years, we’re not watching our checking account like hawks, worried that the balance won’t stretch until the next payday. We don’t sweat things like new shoes, vet bills, the occasional fancy dinner. It feels awesome!
Except for the part that doesn’t feel awesome, which is me coming home from my full-time job and doing more work. Often until bedtime. And spending a big chunk of my weekend working. The workload is unpredictable, and I often end up canceling plans with people. Eventually I just stop making plans. I miss important events, like my father-in-law’s birthday party. Neil is angry at me. I’m angry at myself for not doing a better job of managing my time, even though I’m doing the best I can. I stop doing almost all the things I need or want to do: cooking, cleaning, exercising, watching the occasional TV show, writing, reading fiction, reading to improve my clinical skills, drinking bourbon… Even when I do carve out time to enjoy myself, there is a constant anxiety, knowing that I still have work to do; even when I’m all caught up, it will only be another day or two before a fresh batch comes in.
Neil and I both know that this situation is not sustainable. We agree that I’ll keep at it until August so that we can save plenty of money for our trip to Spain. But then, something unexpected happens: the first week of April, they don’t send me any work. I don’t know why, and I don’t question it — I just shut up and enjoy it. And I do a few of the things that I used to like to do. I cook dinner. I walk the dog. I watch Breaking Bad. I do some reading. I start to remember what it’s like to actually have a life again. And it’s pretty wonderful.
The following Monday I wake up to a fresh batch of work in my inbox. Due to other commitments, it’s several days before I can get to it, and by then my anxiety is high, because the requested turnaround time is pretty short. And that is when I realize: I am DONE. But that doesn’t even begin to express how done I am. It’s more like:
I just can’t take it anymore. So I talk it over with Neil, freak out a little bit, re-crunch the numbers on our Spain budget and then, with much trepidation, send an email putting an end to all of it. Effective April 30.
The idea of only working 40 hours a week is amazing. The idea of coming home from work and not having to do anything is amazing. It’s true that my full-time job sometimes spills over its 8:30-5:00 boundaries and requires me to take work home, but I can handle that; it’s nothing compared to what I was doing. It feels like I’m about to embark on a vacation — a never-ending vacation.
With only 10 days left before I’m totally freeeeeeee, I’ve been thinking a lot about the leisure activities I want to do in the immediate future. Priorities:
- Finish reading Trauma and Recovery, a fantastic book that I’ve been reading in bits and pieces for at least the past six months. I’ve already learned so many useful things from it and I’m eager to finish it.
- Re-read The Great Gatsby before the movie comes out. I’m super excited about this! I loved the book in high school, I love Leo DiCaprio, I love Baz Luhrmann, and the trailer looks amazing:
- Walk. A lot. I’m taking a week off from work next month and Neil and I have been talking about going hiking. In particular, I want to do the 7.5-mile Sandy Gap trail to the Natural Bridge. I did it once before – in high school – and have been wanting to do it again ever since. But did I mention that I’ve done virtually no physical activity in the past six months? Never in my life have I been this sedentary and out of shape. It sucks, and I am beyond ready to get back into some semblance of reasonable in-shapeness.
- Read another Haruki Murakami novel. I’m not sure which one yet. Any suggestions? I read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle last year and loved it.
- Resume work on my novel.
- Spend some time noodling on the guitar. I’ve had a guitar for over 10 years and I’ve never really learned to play it, mostly because every time I pick it up I get frustrated with my slow progress and then stop playing. Also, I seem to be physiologically incapable of strumming with any kind of rhythm, which makes things difficult. But I’ve been in the mood to pick it back up again.
- Cook some new things. I don’t know what yet, but I miss culinary creativity. I’m going to be seeking out some new fancy-pants recipes in the near future.
- Friends. Oh my god, friends! I think I still have some! Hopefully they haven’t forgotten me and will still want to hang out.
- Blog. This is supposed to be a blog of adventures, but obviously I haven’t been updating it, because I haven’t been having any adventures. But that’s all about to change!
Today’s adventure is cleaning up my disgusting apartment, which has been horribly neglected this week between me working and Neil finishing the end of the semester. I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy some aspects of this adventure (like dealing with that pot of used-to-be-chili in the fridge), but I’m eager to have a relaxing, tidy space in which to plot all the fun stuff I’m about to start doing again.