On Fear, Occupy Wall Street, and Running Out of Creative Gas

On Fear, Occupy Wall Street, and Running Out of Creative Gas

One reason I’ve hardly been blogging at all these past few months is that I’ve had a series of interesting, and fairly lucrative, freelance gigs on the side that have taken up what writing time I had. I like these. They’re interesting, and provide me a tiny bit of financial cushion, and keep me from being entirely dependent on my day job at the Big High Tech Company Who Keeps Laying People Off. The downside to this has been that I’ve been working too much. My weekends are pencilled out for the Freelance Gig, and there’s always that low-level deadline panic. I finish one, and then it’s off to research the next one. My last one is due the end of this month, and I feel myself limping toward the deadline like a marathon runner who is way at the back of the pack.

Even writing that I’m wearing out, that I’m running out of gas, scares me in this economy. I’m freelance now, which feels to me like a steady drumbeat of Take All the Work. There might not be more. It might be the last job I ever get. In this economy, Take All the Work, an be grateful you have it, even if you feel a little like you’re a car that’s been going down a long long grade, and your brake pads are heating up, and starting to smell, and you’re just not sure how long you can keep up the pace.

The Occupy Wall Street protests feel to me like a large-scale eruption of this same panic and exhaustion. It’s not just me. We’re all worn out. We went through the appropriate channels. We got the degrees and went to the cubicles and bought the houses and paid the mortgages until one day, the corporate overlords decided that the Big Corporations no longer needed, for example,  tech writers (or newspaper writers, or magazine writers, or programmers, or web designers or fill-in-the-blank). That what had been a real profession, with salaries and bonuses and which was considered an integral part of product development didn’t matter anymore. Gone. Don’t need you all anymore. Here’s a parting gift, have a nice life, and if you want your job back you can take it on an hourly basis as a contractor, with no benefits. Because workers bring down the stock price, and our Big Corporation, like all the other Big Corporations no longer really cares about the actual product, the actual product is just an excuse to sell stock, which is where the real money is. Especially for the executives. Who are not being outsourced to China and India. Who still have bonuses, and stock options, and health insurance.

I came down with a sinus infection this week. It started as laryngitis, which I figured I picked up at my 30th high school reunion by being short, and having to shout to be heard in noisy rooms. It felt like a virus, and seemed to be running its course when it took a left turn on about Wednesday, and lodged itself in my sinuses. Then I felt sick. Sick sick. I have fairly crappy health insurance, but I have some, so I went to our local clinic, saw a doctor and got some antibiotics. They’re starting to kick in, which is good, but I can’t help but feel that it’s in part a symptom of living the way we’re forced to live these days. I only really ever get sick when I’m forcing myself down a path that isn’t working (like the Victorian Illness that plagued me through my PhD program).

And I have it pretty good. I actually got what I’d always wanted out of the Big Corporation — a part time job. I’m also grateful to have the Interesting Freelance Gigs. But I’m tired. I’m tired and I havent’ done anything creative in months, and we only even managed to get out and go camping once this summer. We’re both Taking All the Work, because it’s there, and we’re grateful to have it, and in this economy, there might very well not be any more work tomorrow.

Which is, I think, part of the thrumming background panic that’s wearing me out. That’s wearing us all out. Having no job security is why people are taking to the streets. Because this is not unforseen — this is the result of systemic financial decisions that prioritize short-term gain at the expense of all else. At the expense of teachers and schools and fire departments and plowing the streets. At the expense of our communities. It’s the result of 30 years of systematically pitting Americans against one another, rather than calling on us to band together, which is the only way we’ve ever accomplished anything. That people seem to have remembered this and are gathering, in groups all over the nation is giving me great hope.

On the small scale, I’m going to try to be a little brave as well. I think I’m going to take a few months off from the Interesting Freelance Gigs and put my energy into finishing the novel I started last year. I let myself get discouraged by the publishing situation for too long, let myself believe that writing another book was futile because no one is buying anything and even if they do, who can make a living that way (and the darker, more subterranean idea that because my first book was only a very modest success it must mean I really have no talent after all and who do I think I’m kidding)? I bought the cynicism and despair and let it be my excuse for derailment.

And so, just as I’m going to dare to hope that a real movement for economic and social justice can grow from one public space to another, I’m also going to dare to believe that putting my own energy back into my own creative work might not just be a fool’s errand. Here’s to hope, something we’ve all been bereft of for far too long.



12 thoughts on “On Fear, Occupy Wall Street, and Running Out of Creative Gas

  1. Yeah, I think my hope is broken. Or sprained. It seems like everything just keeps going the wrong way.

  2. I like “sprained.” I think I’m crazy to turn down work in the next couple of months, but I think I’m going to have to or I really will be crazy. And sick, apparently. Going to try something radical — hope.

  3. No, if you are exhausted and running low on energy a break is just what you need although I understand the desire to earn while you can…

    I think it’s time for people to be creative, community-minded and, above all, courageous

  4. From one hourly contractor with self-purchased health insurance to another: I salute you.

    I had an argument the other day with my father-in-law, who watches Fox News six hours a day at least, about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I told him just what you said here: that every single job can be outsourced to another country except that of CEO and misc. VPs; and pretty soon, that’s what we’ll see. You either own your own company or you’re unemployed.

    1. Plumbing and electrical — that’s what I wish I’d learned 30 years ago. You can’t outsource your plumber.

      1. I’ve got my elementary school-age kids in a science camp on Wednesdays. It cost a bundle we couldn’t really afford — but hey, perhaps in a few years I’ll recoup the cost when I hire them out as electrical contractors : )

  5. Just have to say “amen” and “me too” to this post — I have been freelancing 19 years and after awhile the “never say no” business grinds you down. Plus for the past 10 months my husband’s been full-time freelancing as well so, yes, we too have been paying astronomically out of pocket for dreadful health care. Trying to live simply, appreciate nature, count our blessings etc., but man, some days that’s hard to do! May your novel sustain you.

  6. Yes, yes, yes. Totally agree. You always word these things so perfectly. Can I repost?

    1. Of course you can repost — thanks.

      And my goodness — I look away for a moment and miss a whole conversation on my own blog —

  7. Trying to tie up as much employment as possible when in a freelancing position can be a sound, secure choice but I also see how so much focus on that can tie up one’s healthy well-being. I remember working 7 days a week for a spell and I was mentally burned out it was affecting my regular job. So, if you can strike a balance of taking some time for yourself then why not! 🙂

  8. Hello, I read this today on Planet Money’s blog & thought of you — quoting Adam Davidson: “So perhaps instead of (or, at least, in addition to) arguing over [job creation] plans that aren’t going to happen, we should focus on what almost certainly will come true. The economy that emerges from this recession is going to be different. Without the distortion of a credit bubble, it is clear that far too many Americans don’t know how to do anything that the world is willing to pay them a living wage for. No economic theory offers them easy salvation. …

    “We don’t need to become a nation of app designers. An economic downturn is a great time to learn things — carpentry, say, or aerospace engineering — that others will eventually pay for.”

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed.