Tag: Self-Employment


Unknown v. 2.0

August 3rd slipped by this year without a hint of fanfare (unless you count a dirty house as a celebratory tradition); it was a normal Wednesday in a normal workweek in a normal summer, and it completely slipped my mind that this normal was once the sheer unknown gaping underneath.

Four years ago, we packed our lives into a motley assortment of boxes and tracked a thing with feathers across the Atlantic. Through miracle and determination, Dan had found a job here that fit his abilities perfectly, and the opportunity to finally, finally take on our dream was marvel and terror at once. Some nights, we danced in a buzz of ideas, lit from the inside out with the champagne-glow of adventure. Other nights, we lay creased in thought, my hand resting on the precious variable in my womb as the whens and hows circled like vultures overhead.

There was no gingerly edging off the beaten path, no feeling out each new step from the safety of solid ground, no road signs assuring prosperity in 4,500 miles. All we had was the blank expanse of possibility and the faith to leap, spurred on by knowing our options boiled down to courage or regret. We took the leap, and on August 3rd, 2007, we landed on Italian soil to begin forging our new normal. In the four years since, we’ve settled into the comfort of friendships and routine, language becoming ever less of a barrier and the Italian culture sinking ever deeper into our bones. It’s more than we could have hoped for when we boarded the jet back in Philadelphia…

…which makes this new drop-off all the more dizzying.

Dan has turned in his job resignation. It was necessary for a variety of reasons, and it was time, but oh. We’re here again with the buzzing ideas and circling questions, minus one occupied womb and plus one meticulously written business plan, and while there are possibilities that make our heads spin with goodness, they’re still only possibilities. Our now-normal has a windblown pang to it. I keep taking mental inventory against my better judgment and trying to work out which facets of our life—home? church? friends? money?—will still be in place come Christmas. My heart balks as the calendar pulls us forward.

Never mind that we wouldn’t be here in the first place without that leap off the edge of reason; I don’t want to do it again. I don’t want that momentary weightlessness above the dark pit of my imaginings. I don’t want to have to rely so completely on a divine intention I still have difficulty trusting (and sometimes believing at all). I just want someone who can peek into the future and put a stamp of guarantee on our steps before we plunge into them. I would like the risk eliminated altogether, thankyouverymuch.

But if I’m honest with myself, it’s only the narrowest bit of my mind that’s clinging to the notion of safety. The broader scope of who I am recognizes that ours, like any good story in the making, runs on the cogs of adventure. These tenuous days swinging between doubt and hope are paragraph spaces in an unfolding work of art that teaches us to live as protagonists rather than as background filler, and the process is nothing short of exhilarating.

It seems clear that August 3rd has served its time as a memorial to our story and is now ready to pass on the honor to a new date, a new landing—whenever and however it may be.


Indecision LIVE!

And now, for your intellectual betterment, a peek into my complex and highly rational decision-making process:

3:44p – As I put the girls down for their nap, my thoughts skip ahead to this evening when I’m scheduled to teach a one-on-one English course. My thoughts abruptly stop skipping and slump to the ground in passive aggressive gloom. For one thing, my special vacation-edition sinus infection rose from the grave only hours ago, scaring all forms of energy and intelligence into hiding. For another thing, I’ve worked every single evening this week and am progressing from the Denial stage of mother-guilt to the Weepy. Plus, my intuition is gently insistent about me needing a break.

3:45p – On the other hand, my brain chides, my paycheck this month could use a little fattening. It hardly makes sense to pinch pennies at the grocery store if I’m going to go around canceling work hours, and what if my student is really counting on this lesson? I can’t just avoid my job on a whim; freelancing doesn’t work if you’re not responsible enough to actually, you know, work.

3:46p – I fall back on the old standby:

Pros and Cons

3:49p – Things get a little heated:

Pros and Cons fighting

3:52p – I fall on the other old standby: rocking in a corner with my thumb in my mouth until the need for responsible decision-making magically disappears.

3:53p – It doesn’t.

3:54p – I contemplate checking myself in to a mental institution to get help for my blossoming schizophrenia… but mostly to avoid deciding anything about this evening.

3:55p – Crickets chirp unhelpfully.

3:56p – My student calls and cancels our lesson.

3:57p – I dust off my hands with the satisfaction of a competent, professional adult and the reward of yet another decision well made.




Less than two weeks until our Stateside vacation, and the detail-hoarding squirrel in my left hemisphere is thisclose to frantic. We Bassetts have a noble traveling tradition of insanity, and those mad dashes across foreign cities take a lot of preplanning. Schedules to be calculated. Maps to be downloaded. Accommodations to be arranged. Insurance to be finagled. Suitcases to be precision-packed (I let my Tetris champion husband take care of that one). And must not forget the passports, wedding gifts, swim diapers, teething medicine, SIM cards, kitchen sinks, and brain cell refills.

I also have a hairy editing project to finish, so date night this week consisted of Dan and I side-by-side on our computers, eyes glazing over, forgetting all about supper. Chick flick material, I know. Add an upcoming move and potty training (why, God, why?) to the mix, and you have the kind of busyness that thunks around in the pit of my stomach at 3 a.m. Priorities keep playing ring-around-the-rosie in that way they do when I’m no longer seeing straight.

So, in the interest of preserving senses of adventure everywhere, please share: What was the craziest travel experience that you (or someone you know) survived?







For instance, the one in which I entered names and addresses from handwritten cards into a computer for eight loooooooooong hours every day. I bribed myself to keep on living with Mrs. Baird’s cupcakes and one Sunkist a day from the vending machine. Still less fun than it sounds.

…Or the next summer, at the same company, in which I weeded out duplicates from the universe’s longest list of churches. In French. Which I don’t speak. It took me the entire summer.

…Or the summer after that with a company that hired me without actually having a position for me. I occasionally made copies, chatted with the secretaries, and tore sticky notes into miniscule bits to give myself some job security. Oh, and I also avoided their mandatory company-wide “spiritual strengths” meetings, which sounded as pleasant to me as steel wool underwear, by hiding under my desk. (I kept a pile of paper clips on the floor to give me an excuse were I ever caught. I wasn’t.)

…Or my first job out of college—pregnant and newly moved to Unemployment City, U.S.A. I searched high and low for English-nerdy jobs, particularly ones that I could do at home with the baby, but I ended up settling for a part-time position at a dusty resale store in an abandoned shopping center. (I still kick myself for not at least applying to Starbucks. Why? Why? Why? Why? Oh right, placenta brain.) I stocked dusty shelves, reorganized dusty knick-knacks, and coughed over the dusty cash register while dealing with unreasonable customers. I also dusted. And then quit.

…Or the next job I got as a church custodian since it allowed me to bring newborn Natalie along. She slept in the nursery cribs while I scrubbed bathrooms and vacuumed between pews, then I’d read novels from their library while she nursed. It wasn’t such a bad setup (besides leaving me exhausted and grumpy at the end of every day), but I couldn’t deal with my bosses. I would single-handedly clean up debris from a giant church dinner, steam clean the carpets, scrub the urinals, wash the windows… and one of the elders would complain that I had left some dust on the underside of a table in the attic. Perhaps I have a problem with authority figures (make that probably), but (okay, definitely) my days as a “sexton” were over.

…Or the last teaching job I took in the States. I was hired to teach several different courses to students ranging from kindergarten to college in both one-on-one and classroom settings. And now I need a nap. I loved the teaching experience itself (Have you ever played Study Skills Jeopardy with 7th graders? Or taught anything to first graders? They were a blast!). However, the company I worked for required me to make my own curriculum for each of the different classes from scratch. I also had to drive myself across town to different schools throughout the day, and I consistently put 60 unpaid hours a week into the job. In addition, I kept getting called to the principal’s office for:

1) Wearing the wrong kind of jacket.

2) Taking too long to drive from one school to another across town during rush hour.

3) Failing to adequately prepare my English student for his math test.

4) Not allowing a student to do unrelated homework in my class. (After a parent complained… “But my little girl is just so busy! She doesn’t have time to be paying attention in class!”)

5) Breaking the ice with an international student by telling him I would be moving to Italy the following year.

6) Failing to come prepared to a tutoring session. (I brought colorful worksheets I had written and printed up myself, my own books, two packs of markers, a homemade memory game, and a timer. But I made the mistake of asking my student if she had a favorite pen she wanted to use. Her parent called in irate that I had come “unprepared,” and my boss refused to hear my side of the story.)

That last one was the kicker. Irrational parents are one of the most insidious forces in all of nature, and I simply could not deal with them without support from my employer. I was stressed from my peeling toenail polish to my split-ends. Ironically, we were also losing money due to my work-related expenses—gasoline, daycare, vodka by the truckload. I called it quits after one eternally long semester.

Wanted poster

Only two of the fifteen jobs I’ve held over the years met my needs for both creative outlet and a boss who didn’t make me cry. However, something tells me that I am unlikely to find a career as a university student worker. (It’s too bad; planning freshmen orientation was fun AND involved free food!) So where does that leave me now?

☑ Large, sticky psychological issues with authority figures

☑ Unsatisfied with my [quite lengthy] résumé

☑ But absolutely no desire to re-enter the workplace

☑ But wishing I could earn some money all the same

☑ Dreaming of the day I can write at home in my pajamas as a professional writer rather than just an errant blogger with a snarly job history.



Fairytale Medication

I brought my computer along to the hospital last week, thinking that as Sophie whiled away the hours in dreamland, I would whip out a novel or something. Oh, refreshing naivety. Sophie did much more crying than sleeping, and when I found myself with a spare hour Friday morning, I had the following number of brain cells with which to write my novel: -2. I opted for mindless busy work instead and got to reorganizing my e-mail.

The significance of this completely boring story is that I ran across an e-mail from four months ago that I had never seen before. I suppose my old hard drive destroyed it in a fit of petulance, and oh. Deep breaths. You see, this e-mail was an out-of-the-blue offer for my dreamiest of dream jobs from a company I adore. It was fairytale material, folks; not only did the glass slipper fit, it came with a side of work-from-home and compliments aplenty. After I scraped myself off the hospital ceiling, I wrote back to tell them yes, I love you, yes.

And then I discovered that the person offering me the job is no longer employed by the company. I have since tried to make other contacts, but no luck; this little story seems to have reached The End. I am self-medicating with logic—after all, I was plenty happy before I knew about the offer—but sheer disappointment is still clinging to my week.

I keep hoping that there’s some cosmic purpose in my not finding the e-mail until too late. The two times I was turned away from grad school brought this same heartsick confusion… until pregnancy and then an impending move to Italy gave gentle reassurance that I was already where I needed to be. Both times, Something Better was just around the corner. It’s hard to believe that Something Better than my dream job is in store for the coming months, but experience has taught me that trust is far better medicine than logic is, and perhaps—just perhaps—my fairy godmother is still waiting to make her grand entrance.


Pulitzer by December

Last year, whenever a new acquaintance asked what I did, I would reply, “Oh, nothing right now.” Or, if I felt the need to impress, “I used to teach English; I’m just on a break.” The truth, however, was that I was writing whenever I could–an hour here, two there, an illicit midday rendezvous with Starbucks–but I didn’t want anyone to know. I didn’t feel like I could call myself a writer before getting published. Plus, if people knew I was working on a story, they would expect me to… you know, finish it.

Right after we moved to Italy, however, we were invited to a dinner party where Dan let it slip that I love to write. “Oh, wow!” everyone exclaimed (in Italian, of course). “That’s wonderful! What have you written? Who are you writing for? What kinds of things do you like to write?”

“Uhhhhhhh…” I replied eloquently.

The moral of that charming anecdote is this: If you want to be motivated to finish those stories gathering megabytes of dust in your “Unfinished” folder, tell a group of Italians that you’re a writer. They will 1) cheer you on with infectious enthusiasm, and 2) ask you about your projects so often that you end up finishing if only to feel less like an international loser.

This afternoon, I finally submitted a story for possible publication. Initially, I freaked out a little, but once I calmed down, I was able to FREAK OUT A LOT. Sending that manuscript felt like packing my snackable little Sophie into a basket with a red bow on top and leaving her in the middle of Cannibals ‘R’ Us.

Delicious toes Definitely edible.)

However, I’m completely enthralled by the fact that I took my first step into a world I want to inhabit. My story may not be accepted, but I’m okay with that (stop laughing, Dan); I’ll send it somewhere else. What makes the most difference to me right now is that I, a notorious procrastinator and fraidy-cat, finished something. I didn’t know I had that final “oomph” in me, and now that I do, I’m seeing possibilities pop out of the woodwork on all sides. My next story goes out a week from tomorrow (I finished the rough draft today, ::happy dance::), and then, who knows? A Pulitzer by December?*

I’ll be spending the rest of my day scattered in giddy pieces all over the rug. Please feel free to join me!

* Of 2052?


More Fun With Metaphors

Hindsight needs a good punch in the nose for being so irritatingly smug.

To everyone who knew I should quit The Horrible Job, you are officially smarter than I. There were about forty-six reasons why I should have quit before and only a third of a reason I should stick it out, and that third of a reason may have just been a wad of used gum that looked like a third of a reason, but it still had to be pried out of my hands this morning. And then, once the gum was safely in the trash? I found out that this taxidermy organization secretly specializes in babies.

Shall we have more metaphor fun? Well, since you insist… This job was a free vacation to Heavenville, Bahamas that turned out to be a 298-hour mandatory timeshare symposium. This job was a banana with a sunshiney peel hiding an inner core of soggy, putrid iniquity. This job was a cute little friend who promised to share her Barbies but then didn’t on account of being BEELZEBUB.

In other words, it was a scam.

Once I finish scraping my jaw off the floor, I’ll have some pressing questions to ask. Like Internet, why didn’t you tell me my job was a scam until after it sucked out my brains and I quit on my own? And Self, how did you think putting almost three years of work into a profession you didn’t really like for an anticipted payoff of 30¢ was a good idea? And Ex-Boss, do you get special discounts for channeling the Prince of Darkness?

I feel profoundly idiotic. This is right up there with all those other moments I’m not telling you about in an effort to protect my imaginary dignity. Sigh, sigh, and, well, sigh. Let this be a lesson to those of you who are ever offered a job that 1) doesn’t pay, 2) provides no company address, 3) has no employee support system, and/or 4) is endorsed by the legions of hell: YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T TAKE IT.

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