Tag: Self-Employment

29Apr

Drugs and Cocktails

Family photo from yesterday’s jaunt to Assisi, snapped by our sweet friend Shannan.
(Not pictured: allergies.)

My allergies have done that thing they do wherein they take over my inner skull and morph into Inner Skull Head Cold of Suffering and Death. I’m on drugs (legal), which don’t so much make me less miserable as they do dilute my brain’s ability to distinguish misery. They also dilute my brain’s ability to do other complicated tasks like staying awake and generating thought. It’s awesome.

However, I’m determined to write something with actual words today, to check back in with all you in the land of the living and assure you in turn that I am still alive (albeit drugged). We’ve been so busy lately that it’s absolutely ridiculous. In fact, ridiculous is exactly how I feel every time I start an email with “Sorry it took me two months to reply…” or answer friends’ kind inquiries with a full-body slump and a conspiratorial eye-roll. I feel ridiculous because we’re freelancing and theoretically in charge of our time and energy. Masters of our own destiny, that kind of thing. We are currently under no deadlines other than the impending financial black hole of summer.

It’s that black hole, though, that’s got Dan and I hunched over our desks, eyes singed around the edges with LCD light, for a collective total of 120 hours a week. Freelancing is a trippy cocktail of creative mojo and guesswork garnished with desperation, and we simply have no idea which 12-hour day’s work will be the key to stability. During this particular stage of our lives, the only way to find what works is to try everything we can think of and then some more. We expect that one day, we will be generating more passive income than we know what to do with and will spend our days taking leisurely walks on the beach in Bali and using our annoying excess of gold coins as skipping stones, but for now, life necessarily has to revolve around work.

I can’t accurately describe what it’s like for me to be so far removed from the daily-writing-fairy-art realm in which my heart claims its citizenship. I’m a hard worker, and sitting down to power through spreadsheets or edits actually gives me a little buzz of satisfaction. I like accomplishing, I like knowing that I’m helping make my husband’s business possible, I like feeling like an indispensable part of the family team. I’m endlessly grateful for the ways my abilities and personality traits intersect to make our lifestyle work.

But by the time one day without the chance to write has turned into two (much less three or five or twelve), I’m already grappling with the bleak coping mechanisms my mind calls up for just such an occasion. The obvious solution, according to my brain, is to give up writing forever. If I don’t yearn to write, see, then my hopes will no longer be crushed by each overfull hour. Another option, lighter on both despair and logic, is to get up at 5 a.m. to write… after working straight until insane o’clock at night and figuring out how to forego both sleep and downtime with my husband. (Uh, no.) Repression is the easiest solution; I just put all thought of writing out of my mind and do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, one of the side effects is that I slowly lose grip of myself and end up shadowy and hollow-eyed, wandering through my days in a thick pocket of fog.

That’s why sick days like today actually come as a relief. I simply don’t have the neural activity required to Get Things Done, so the ringing in my ears is the sweet sound of permission to lounge around in my pajama pants and blog. (And perhaps later, even read a blog or two? Be still my heart.) I’m not exactly saying that I would choose to spend today with this Inner Skull Head Cold of Suffering and Death, but it sure beats repression-induced fog, and I have to admit that this mandatory break from work is helping me retain the light and color and pre-head-cold joy of the weekend better than any accomplishment-triggered buzz ever could.

~~~ 

How are you doing, friends? What is your spring looking like so far? 

5Apr

Cloud Control

I have a desk and a lamp and a chair that cradles my temperamental back like a luxury, but more often than not, I find myself set up here at the kitchen table. On one side of me, a coffee mug empty but for a smudge of foam, two pen-scribbled notebooks, the Bible I always tote in just in case my soul feels strong enough to open it. On the other side, glass doors closed against a granite-gray day. In front of me, my computer and dusky blue nails typing a haphazard melody. Behind me, pots and pans, possibly every pot and pan in the world, piled in sculptured odes to spaghetti sauce and barbecue chicken and priorities that always seem to fall just short of dishwashing.

I have letters to write and lessons to plan and approximately 30,000 hours of IRS instructions to decipher before Tax Day, and some might argue that our empty fridge and overflowing sink necessitate some motherly attention, but instead I’ve been watching iridescent points of rain pattern our balcony. It takes nothing more than this, nothing more than a leak in the sky to remind me just how weary I am.

A few years ago for my birthday hope-list, I resolved to invite guests over once a week for the following year… and I did. Some weeks, we had company for dinner three nights in a row, and the whole experience fit our family’s values and hopes like a signature style. We couldn’t keep it up though. Our job situations changed after that year, and as the worries of keeping our family afloat have compounded, our ability to reach beyond ourselves has plummeted. As we approach each new weekend, my plans alternate between trying to catch up on the bazillion errands and projects we never have time for during the week and grasping at the chance to rest. I can’t imagine summoning the energy to make our home an open invitation again.

Hospitality is one of the core values that Dan and I have always shared, and I know that he would have friends over tonight if I were willing. But to be really, painfully, embarrassingly honest, I’m not willing. I’m not willing to invite friends to view the laundry draped over every available drying surface in our house or the toothpaste splattered across our bathroom sinks or the congregation of gym bags in the hall or the giveaway pile that’s swallowing our guest room whole. I’m not okay with touching up my makeup and switching my conversational filters to Italian and acting bright and welcoming at the time of day I’m really only up for changing into yoga pants and losing myself in the sofa cushions. I don’t have it in me to pretend I’m on top of our family life enough these days to include other people in it.

So our doors stay closed, and we try to make our life fit without its signature style, and I watch the rain give our balcony the only cleaning it’s had in eight months while this weariness seeps right into my blood stream.

And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen the same haggard tightness clutch around the expressions of friends all over town, and I’ve caught glimpses of it in the social media feeds of friends all over the world, and this weariness, it’s a universal cloud cover, a granite-gray weight in the air. We don’t typically admit to it though. While busy is an acceptable, maybe even admirable condition, weary comes across as pitiful, and how can we add one more social failure to the list? How can we open up such a vulnerable reality to criticism?

A large part of me wants to delete this post right now, not even finish. I’d much rather continue saying “I’m just busy” and collecting understanding nods. But if I don’t admit that this busyness has grown into something other, something as unwieldy as the sky and draining as a disease, then I’m perpetuating the idea that it’s not okay to show what’s really going on behind the scenes. I’m holding up a façade between us and perhaps even making you think you have to hold one up too.

You don’t have to though, at least not here. This place is for practicing authenticity and chasing down grace and remembering that we’re all in this human experience together. More than anyone, I need the reminder, but perhaps you need it too—a squeeze to your shoulder assuring you that you’re not the only one plumb out of energy, that you’re not defective or pitiful or alone. I might not be to the place yet of showing you my literal behind-the-scenes (I don’t even want to look at my kitchen sink!), but cracking open the door on my weariness and letting you in feels like a step closer to the community I’ve been missing, and wouldn’t you know it, the clouds are finally cracking open too.

 

15Jan

Life, with Style

We’ve been an exclusively freelancing family for a year now—not a drop of guaranteed income since December 2011—and just to write that requires a deep breath and several pinches on the arm to verify that I’m still here, that we’re still here. It doesn’t seem possible. We’ve had nothing more substantial to stand on than the prismed airstreams of faith and hope and inspiration, and I’ll be honest, the hardest part of our year came after my post on accrued miracles.

We landed on the doorstep of 2013 as shaky and windswept as if we had been flung off a roller coaster, but just as exhilarated too. For all the instability of this lifestyle and the havoc it wreaks on my imagination, we feel like we’re en route to our best selves, and that’s been enough to overrule surges of panic and impulses to snatch up ill-fitting jobs. We pray like schizophrenics, listen to heart-nudges, eat lots of soup, and try to keep our forward momentum into new realms of possibility. It’s a morale-saver, that possibility.

It can also be a soul-snuffer, at least where my manic work philosophy comes into play. Without a clearly defined workday or bite-sized goals, I view all that possibility as my direct and urgent responsibility. Must! accomplish! All The Things! NOW! Inevitably, after three or four days of frenzied work and no play, Jack isn’t simply a dull boy; he’s a burned-out, scary-eyed, hormonal mess of a zombie housewife.

(This is what happens when a lover of hyperbole is allowed to freelance.)

I’ve always been quick to prioritize the life out of my time, though I know well how it leads to a cycle of dissatisfaction and burnout and despair and snooze button abuse, followed by a reluctant admission that my brain belongs in rehab and a resolve to do better (which I add to my to-do list because I’m also a lover of irony). Really, though, that is my mission for this year: to put the life back into my lifestyle. To recondition my sense of accomplishment and let myself feel happy dammit!, even if the only thing I’ve managed to do in the day is love well. To choose margins for my time instead of wallowing helplessly in too-much-to-do. To care for my physical, spiritual, relational, and creative self, you know, on purpose.

This is probably the hardest resolution I could make for myself right now. I’m more comfortable with sacrifice than I am with solace, and I’ve adopted versions of this goal in the past without it sticking any better than my resolve to give up sugar (I tried that once in high school for a whole day; I know better now). I have to figure this out though if I plan to enjoy our second year of freelancing adventures.

Which I most absolutely do.

29Nov

Honestly

I set up a Facebook page yesterday. Honestly, I’m not sure why it took me a year of “Huh, I should get on that”s and noncommittal throat noises to actually click the button… though honestlyhonestly, it might have something to do with this fun personal fact: I’m afraid of attention.

We’re talking woodland creature skittishness here, jumping beans in my stomach, thoughts sprouting gray hairs. I don’t think even Dan knows this yet (hi, honey!), but I had to fight back stage fright at our wedding. I still agonize trying to guess which day of the year Italian women will switch from ballet flats to boots because yes, the world will in fact end if I leave the house in unseasonable footwear. From the time I was a girl attracting double-takes with my homeschool uniform (picture an eleven-year-old Michelle Duggar), I’ve always had a wild desire to go unnoticed in public, and that self-protective instinct gets twitchier than ever when it focuses on my writing.

The simple truth is that this is my heart, strung out in black typeface and compulsive backspaces. When you read my blog, you read my heart, and my posting here is something like the CIA declaring Open House Day. My insecurities are here, my doubts, my hopes, the issues I struggle with and mull over, the insights that bring me peace… and by drawing attention to them, I am well aware I’m opening them up to criticism. It feels like standing on a busy intersection in my puffy denim jumper and even puffier bangs, waving.

There are the other fears too—the vulnerability of starting something new, the fragile alliance of “like” buttons, the safety net of personal privacy settings sidestepped. Always, always, statistics and purpose compete for precedence in my mind, and perspective can be as difficult to nail down as a live squid. I’ve moaned to Dan on an occasion or two [slight understatement] about how unfair it is that I was wired to write. As long as I’m following these heart-nudges, my goals and my personality will be at odds, and I wish I could be fulfilled in life by something simpler, less emotionally risky. Deep sea welding, for instance.

However, I can’t turn off the light in my core that says this, here is what I’m meant to be doing. It’s as clear a sense of vocation as I’ve ever experienced, and as much as I might like to dismiss this blog as a mere hobby (a monthly ritual of despair, which I’m sure has no correlation whatsoever to other monthly occurrences) or hide it under a bushel or amputate every stubborn neuron compelling me to write, a force stronger than fear keeps me here… and not just here, but honestly delighted to be here.

I know that sharing this with you is not exactly the act of withdrawal my inner stage-fright was hoping for. It’s the opposite in fact—a declaration of purpose and vulnerability waved from a busy intersection, eyes staring deliberately into the headlights. However, I wanted you to understand how much it means to me to be here with you, in typeface and photos, insecurities and Tweets, and a heart that wants to connect with yours far more than it wants to hide.

~~~

Is there anything your sanity compels you to do that simultaneously terrifies you? I’d love to hear about it; after all, commiseration and encouragement are two of the very best things about this great internet of ours.

Oh, and don’t forget to head over and “like” my Facebook page (why yes, I am making ironic quote marks with my fingers right now) if you’d like to connect, get blog updates, or otherwise make my day.

14Sep

Deus ex Machina

The girls started school two days ago, and all week has felt like a series of false starts and double takes, even if we have managed to get them to bed on time every night. (Us parents, not so much.) We’re stumble-adjusting to a new schedule and forgetting some things and vastly overthinking others, and when the water and electricity both went out on Wednesday, I took it as the universe personally heckling us. It’s been a hard summer, and I often just want to hit a pause button on all forward motion and let the days pile up around me until I finally feel there are enough to go around. I’m worn out. You already know this.

But here’s what you probably don’t know—

This week last year, my husband went to his last day of work for an employer who then announced he would not be paying Dan for the previous few months of work and vowed to thwart his freelance venture.

That same day, we received notice from our rental house in the States that our tenant was being evicted for failure to pay.

During the eviction process, a drug lab was discovered out of our basement there. The police got involved, and our resulting legal and house-repair bills were staggering.

The investors for Dan’s new project backed out without explanation and stopped answering their phones.

A very large, very needed check bounced.

And then this happened.

We had no money left, our freelance prospects were uncertain at best, and as I sat in a deserted train station off a deserted country road on the last day of September while our car was being towed away for a month-long rehabilitation, I honestly didn’t see how we were going to make it. I couldn’t tell if God was listening or not, but I sent him an earful of uncensored panic anyway. It was all very Children Of Israel circa Moses, convinced as I was that God had led us to the freelance-desert only to abandon us here.

Looking back at that moment from a whole year ahead produces something in between panic by proxy and mute gratefulness. It’s not that we’ve had the easiest run since then, but the miracles! I once heard someone say that the American ideal of self-sufficiency doesn’t leave much room for experiencing divine provision; we tend to hide our struggles from each other and subdue problems with a credit card, and this immediate stamping-out of neediness can also stamp out miracles in the making. It was a hard concept to get my head around as I tend to see self-sufficiency as next to godliness, but in the year since our sky fell down around us, we’ve seen the truth of it so many times.

Just as the investors were backing out last September, a company Dan had bumped shoulders with over the summer called to offer him contract work in his field. His first business trip after our car broke down paid the exact amount we needed to get it repaired.

Then on Christmas week, the very day we were going to be deported from Italy, we received the last piece of paperwork we needed to renew our visas. This was a bureaucratic impossibility, yet it happened.

On an impulse, we decided to fly out of Munich where, at the check-in desk, we discovered Natalie’s passport had expired; however, because we had never been residents of Germany, they were obligated to let us return to our country of citizenship. Had we tried flying out of Italy, we would have been stranded. (You can read the whole story here: Of Stupidity and Love.)

Two weeks before our January return flight to Italy, a series of unforeseeable “coincidences” allowed Dan to get the special kind of work visa he needed.

Two days before our return flight, our prayers for Disney World were answered.

And ONE DAY before our return flight, my visa was also granted.

We made it back to Italy together, and that in itself would have been marvel enough for the year… but fast forward two months when, the very same day that we were going to lose our house in the States, new tenants singed a year-long lease. The very. same. day.

I couldn’t make this stuff up, and even my diligently skeptical brain can’t construe this last year as a string of coincidences. We are still here, in our beautiful Italian home, with our car and our health and our work and our possibility-filled future, and to write that down is to look a miracle full in the face and say “I see you.”

Lest you think this saintly stoicism is a way of life for me now, you should know that I’ve spent plenty of days this summer panicking in God’s direction. I’ve got the Children of Israel routine down pat—You delivered us from deportation and foreclosure and living under a bridge only to abandon us in the freelance-desert again! Also, this pasta from the sky thing is getting old. This is why it’s so good to have anniversaries, to look back and see former crises as water under the bridge we were never doomed to call home.

Had we not reached such extremes of neediness, we might not have recognized God’s touch for what it was. To be really, uncomfortably honest, I probably wouldn’t have acknowledged any of those miracles above had the situations not been so desperate and the timing so precise. I default to doubt when there’s any wiggle room for interpretation. We ran out of wiggle room last September though, and the resulting provision we experienced was an undiminished gift. Safely ensconced now in a new September, even with its false starts and double takes, I am keenly grateful for the reminder that we’re still in this crazy, wonderful, epic story of ours… and that our writer has a particular affinity for Deux ex Machina.

21Aug

Metaphorically Brave

Even my coffee cup is dripping sweat. It’s a wool-heavy 97° in the shade, and the entire tray of ice cubes I plinked into my espresso have melted away. I see metaphor in this, but my four-year-old has started teetering out of her bedroom each day with a cheery “Good morning, I’m MELTING, can you put extra ice in my coffee?” so perhaps it’s time I found a new metaphor.

This coffee cup was a gift earlier this year from a soul sister who instinctively knows my brainwaves and heartbeats, and the message she painted on it could be my motto for the year if I could come to accept the poetry of it beneath the film of sweat. See, this prompt to muse, awake, and do brave things has taken on a very practical significance over the last couple of months. As the Emerson quote goes, “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory,” but there is no such thing as a mere ounce of action when two work-from-home parents start pulling together a side business from scratch.

Rather, there is 1 a.m. and then 2 a.m. and then 3 a.m. for the fourteenth night in a row. There are heads pressed against desks, and it could be frustration or it could be prayer or it might just be good old-fashioned exhaustion. There is a mind-numbing amount of research, more study than I ever put into university midterms (and that was pre-motherhood!). There are a dozen moments in any given day when I catch myself reading over legal fine-print or double-checking prices or wading through PHP with a child hanging off each arm and think Who am I kidding?

Bootstrapping is like training for a marathon while you’re running it. It’s ridiculous and exhilarating and as emotional stabilizing as Tourette’s. It’s an enthusiastic brainstorm one moment followed by an overwhelmed slump the next, and hope has to take over in the absence of any guarantees. I know that some of you have gone through this too, so correct me if I’m wrong, but starting up a side business doesn’t feel brave so much as it feels… well, sweaty. We’re doing it though—ridiculous, spastic hope and all—and despite the exhaustion and constant perspective-swings, it’s been kind of fun. Especially this:

(Did you check out the site? We built it, Dan and I, mostly during late-late nights after our usual work was done and the girls in bed. By the grace of God, it does not appear to include any bleary references to will.i.am interviews or those hallucinatory kids’ shows that air after midnight.)

While we’re rooting on these gorgeous local olive wood sets to provide a new stream of income, I’m most excited to be sharing regular posts about the Italian style of home entertaining that has so influenced the structure of our days. (I rewrote that last sentence several times so it wouldn’t sound like our lives revolve around happy hour, which it doesn’t, except to the extent that we’re building a business around it and taste-testing twenty cocktails in one day, and I should probably stop explaining now.) Part of what we love so much about life here is the priority Italians place on sitting around a table together, investing in relationships and enjoying foods and drinks that are brilliant works of art in themselves, and both Dan and I are looking forward to passing along that tradition through Aperitì.

We slipped out for a two-day getaway at our favorite campground last week, and as I stood with a giddily nervous Sophie-girl at the edge of the pond, I reminded her what I believe about bravery—that it’s doing something even though it scares you. This child, who has never once agreed to enter a body of water deeper than her bikini bottom, dipped her toe in the pond, recoiled several feet, sat down, inched forward, adjusted her collection of floaties, peeked in the water, shut her eyes, opened them, shut them again, and finally, breathlessly, plunged in. I suppose that’s not too different from my own mental process this summer, and even though it might sound overly dramatic to call opening a small online store and accompanying blog brave, this might be just the new metaphor I need.

Brave

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

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