Join my email newsletter for updates about new fiction directly in your inbox!

42

Archive for Personal Life

Some Thoughts on Solitude

I recently sat down to watch the first episode of Maniac on Netflix.  and I was struck by a line in the opening narration that went:

It’s quite terrible to be alone.

In truth, I was only half-paying attention up until that line to the rambling, philosophical notions espoused by the unnamed and unseen narrator in those early moments, but that line made me sit up and take notice because of simply how wrong I found it.

“There is the thought,” I said aloud to nobody because I was alone in the house in a rare moment, “of a person who doesn’t have small children.”  The kind of profundity issued by someone who has been able to use a toilet in silence more than once in the past four years. Parenting is a wonderful thing that has enriched my life in many ways, but one thing it takes away from you rather quickly is the option to be alone very often.

In solitude, I think we find ourselves best. You truly get to know yourself with only yourself for company; alone, we wear no masks for the show of others. We do not find ourselves moving along with the crowd while entertaining silent, private doubts.  Solitude is a form of nakedness, and I think for some, it’s absolutely essential from time to time.

I find my ability to truly be alone has weakened in this era of social media, however. Thanks to the internet, we can always distract ourselves with socializing in some way.  My early mental picture of the internet was a vast library, but anymore, it looks like an enormous coffee shop full of chattering patrons.  To be truly alone anymore, I have to discard all my devices and rough it out.  It’s uncomfortable at first, but it usually leads to some deep reflection that I need.

Consider me a champion for solitude, at least in moderation (like all things). And hell, I try to give it as a gift to those I love.  For Mother’s Day, I give my wife a day of solitude.  A day with me and the boy she can have any time!  We go on an adventure and let her rest with her thoughts in peace.  My wish for you is to find that time for yourself now and then.

Permalink

The Jeremiah Tolbert Method of Being Present

I am a scatter-brained type person – I have a tendency to live up in my own head more than some, and more than I should. Being “present” is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. My wife constantly asks me “where are you?” At least, I assume she constantly asks me that, because I only notice the question about one time in five.

I have been refining a mental technique for getting myself to remain more present in my life. A “life hack” if you will, that reminds me that I need to stay focused and attentive to those around me, because this moment will soon be gone, never to be lived again. With my young child, it’s especially important to me.  My son is only four, and I already feel like I’m losing my grasp on some of the wonderful moments of the early days.  I look at this little person and sometimes, I miss the baby he was.

So this mental hack probably mostly works for science fiction fans more than ordinary people, but the way it works is, I try and pretend that I’m not living the moment for the first time. Instead, I’m revisiting it from the future.

The explanation varies – sometimes I pretend I’m dead, and in my version of the afterlife, I get to relive and witness my life again.  Other times, it’s a bit of a Quantum Leap form of time travel – I’m elderly and hooked up to a machine that lets me re-live the past as a passenger in my own self.  Doesn’t really matter.  It’s all pretend.

The key is pretending that, no matter how mundane or ordinary the moment is to me now, one day, I may look back on it so fondly that I would wish with all my heart to go back to it. Because even at forty years, I know that the things we remember most and the things we think are important at the time rarely align – or at least personally, I’m more wrong than I am right.

Weirdly, this works for me. It grounds me in the moment by causing me to perceive things more sharply.  I fix the moment in my memory better because of this too. It’s all nonsense, but it works.  I see the world more sharply when I pretend this, and my busy brain quiets and lets me be there, with my family.

Something that has grown out of this as a coping strategy for stress and anxiety is a realization that, looking back on particularly anxious or troubled times, I somehow managed to muddle through. One of the worst things about anxiety for me is that it tends to make small problems seem enormous.  Even when I’m in a moment now where a problem or worry seems insurmountable, the future-traveler me says “you’ve been through this before, you’ve been through similar, and you always made it out okay.” And a lot of times, that thought makes me feel some relief. Some problems seem big close up, but we rarely think about them once they’re receding into the distance in the rear view mirror of time.

That’s not to say that I don’t still need to do the work of addressing the problems I’m tackling now – certainly not. They don’t resolve themselves. But what I can do is spare myself the anguish of it all. I can take my problems seriously and not freak out about them.  Sometimes, anyway.

My coping strategies are my own, and they may or may not be useful to others. But I thought that I’d share a couple of them just in case someone else can get some use from what it’s taken me so long to start figuring out.

 

Permalink

Thoughts from an Ongoing Midlife Crisis

My name is Jeremiah Tolbert and I’m in the depths of a midlife crisis.  Nothing could be more boring and cliched than a privileged white guy feeling out of sorts and uncertain about who he is and who he wants to be, but here we are. At this point, I assume you’re only reading this blog if you have an interest in me as a person, so I feel comfortable being more honest about the state of my life. I turned 40 in 2017, and since then, I have been struggling quite a lot.  Especially creatively.  I have not successfully written a story in almost two years now, and I’m having to own up to some other project-based creative failures lately that has me taking a deep look at who I am.

The trouble for me really began in my day job as a freelance web developer.  After the Trump election, business took a steep decline – number of prospective clients shrunk, and budgets for those projects I did have tended to shrink also. I had been on track to potentially hire my first full time employee, but that was quickly discarded in favor of just surviving. I began to have to put in 10-12 hour days to keep things on track, and that left little time for writing.  Where once I had plenty of time for writing and dealing with other creative pursuits, paying the bills soon consumed almost all my waking time.

After about 10 months of this, I began to fall apart mentally and physically. I began to suffer back problems, I gained weight, and I slipped into one of the worst depressions I’ve ever experienced. I sought help pretty quickly and was able to mostly right the ship with a good therapist, but I’ve been left disarmed and stripped of defenses.  Business is still a lot more difficult than it was before, and it’s ticking up a bit. I’m trying not to get my hopes up.  I’m still very much in a recovery/survival mode there.

These days, I’m still working hard, but I have better boundaries between life and work.  I’m not always creatively fulfilled by the work I do (hence why I used to write). However, I’ve lost the bridge to my personal creative work. I’ve spent more hours staring at a blank screen in the past year than all my other years put together.  Motivation is an issue, but I’m also, well… blocked (another ridiculous cliche). I’ve tried taking on other creative pursuits, but I’ve failed at them too, disappointing people who were counting on me in the process.

I’ve spent a lot of time daydreaming about other work, feeling that my life would be on a better track if I just gave up on my freelance life and landed work doing some kind of dream gig. I’ve spent time playing around with game design, thinking that maybe that was what I really wanted.  To say that I’ve gotten “nowhere” would be an insult to “nowhere.” I don’t feel like I’ve even gotten that far.

The main thing I’ve learned in 2018 is that there is a big difference between the things I think would be really cool to do and the things that I am actually capable of accomplishing. So many things I think I’d love to do, I fail at ever doing for so many reasons (not the least of which being talent and time). It is probably time to learn that I can appreciate a thing without trying to learn how to make/do the thing too.  I’ve spent years chasing phantoms when I should have been establishing core competencies.

The hard realization that has set in lately is that I’m not the creative wunderkind I wanted to grow up to be. I really wanted to learn how to do it all, but life is too short and it takes too much time to become competent at more than a handful of items. I’m just a guy who builds websites and sometimes writes decent short stories when life doesn’t get in the way. It’s not even close to the full extent of who I wanted to be, but it’s going to have to do. Maybe that’s what a midlife crisis really is? Coming to terms with the limits your remaining life has. It’s when your dreams and the reality of your life start to overlap in a way that means they can’t really coexist anymore. It’s time to grow up and learn to accept some disappointment in yourself, and to become realistic about who you are and what your creative limits really are. My hope is that going through this crucible of realizations and disappointment will leave me with a stronger bedrock as a person.  Probably even more boring and mediocre than before, but hopefully a little happier and more grounded in reality.

I’m just hoping that when this period of crisis is over, I’ll let myself dream again. I miss it already.

Permalink

Thoughts on Nature

I went for a walk at the Baker Wetlands this morning. I’ve driven out there a couple of times before, and it usually makes me feel conflicted.

The Wetlands I spent countless hours working at in high school are gone. The place isn’t really recognizable to me at all, thanks to the SLT. I remember most the paths among the line of trees at the northern edge, and that’s mostly gone now, bulldozed for progress, or cut off from the proper wetlands by the highway.

Initially, coming back out here made me feel sad. So many of the nature landmarks from my early life are now strip malls or highways. But the new wetland does actually seem quite a bit bigger, and it teems with wildlife. (more…)

Permalink

Uzès, Day Nine: Markets and Social Blunders

Today was what we call a rest day – a day meant to allow us to recover from more extended outings like yesterday’s trip to the Pont du Gard where we focus mostly on in-town activities. I think it helps us not lose our minds navigating the French roads and it also allows the pre-schooler to recover from missing his naps. He’s on the verge of not needing them, but boy can we tell when he doesn’t get one.

We got a late start to the morning, heading up to the Saturday market around ten AM.  This was much later than our previous trips to the market, and we could tell just by the packed crowds. I would love to take some pictures of the stalls for you, but to do so would inconvenience people doing their shopping, and there’s nothing that sends me into a spiral of anxiety like inconveniencing people who don’t speak English.  Navigating the tightly packed stalls selling everything from fresh olives and tapanades to giant wheels of cheese to fresh duck meat with a group of four adults and one little one was nigh-impossible.  Eventually, I took some of the items on the shopping list and went off to collect them on my own. I just can’t seem to handle the anxiety of feeling responsible for four other bodies in such tight quarters.  We gathered up all we wanted and more (I don’t know how we’re going to eat all this cheese in time), and that allowed Sarah and I to wander back on our own while the little one played on his iPad with his grandparents.  I picked up a couple of French comics that looked interesting and yet more cheese (…so I think I have a problem).  Sarah bought some breakfast radishes. My muddled french gets me through basic transactions pretty well most of the time, and when they don’t speak English, Sarah is typically there to save the day.  This trip is a lot of work on her language skills, but I don’t know how we would do it without her, honestly.

With the shopping done, I settled in to get some work done on Ye Olde Laptop.  I’m working on my annual update to my base WordPress theme code.  I’m finally breaking things out into a core functionality plugin (I know, I know) and adding some new flexibility I’ve wanted for a while.  Along the way, I’m testing the new Gutenberg editor with the other tools that are needed for the complex sorts of back-end coding I use to build things like customized book pages.  So far, its awful and I hate Gutenberg. I hope they fix a lot of things about it before foisting it on us.  To my clients, I don’t recommend testing Gutenberg just yet. It’s still got a long ways to go before it’s ready for your sites.  But when it is ready, I’ll hopefully be much closer to being ready to develop custom blocks and such for it.

My code refresh is coming along slowly–I’m not sure that I’ll actually finish things completely before we go home. That’s probably okay. Maybe I’ll take things slow in June while I finish it up and get re-adjusted to Central time.  I really need to start earning money pretty quickly, though.  I wish there were about 50% more working hours in any given day, I swear.

As far as blunders, it took us until nine days to completely fluster a wait person at a restaurant.  Really, we should be proud, but the entire time I wanted to crawl under a rock. This was a pretty complex blunder, actually, so it took us some time to figure out what went wrong. There’s a nice pizza place a couple of blocks away.  We know it’s nice because we picked up a couple of pizzas from there as takeaway a few days ago. This is wood-fired oven, high quality pizza, very Italian style.  The two pizzas were more than enough for us. The problem came when we attempted to dine in and order roughly the same number of items.

The waitress tried in her English and then in French to explain that two pizzas was not enough food for five of us.  We tried to explain that we’d ordered take away and it had been fine.  Eventually, she went ahead and put in the order, but seemed pretty frustrated and annoyed by us.  Maybe not as much as we felt, but we apologized every time she came back, and I just wanted to run away and hide.

Sure enough, when the pizzas came, they were a bit smaller than the takeaway ones had been, or at least they seemed to be to me.  We tried to make up for things by ordering a lot of very tasty dessert. Still, I think they were happy to see us go. And it was a relief for us to get out of there.

Sarah felt especially bad because her French is the best of all of ours, but I think what we probably should have done was, when it was pointed out that we’d under-ordered, was went ahead and ordered a pizza for each person, as that seemed to be expected. These are the kind of stupid, low key social mistakes that haunt me for years for some dumb reason. I’ll probably have unpleasant dreams about it years from now, like those dreams in which you show up naked for a college final for a class you never knew you were signed up for.

Tomorrow will likely be another rest day – perhaps a visit to the local candy factory / museum in the afternoon, but otherwise, we’ll soak in some French life around the rental (and I think everyone is going to go to Mass except for me). Right now, it’s raining, the bells are ringing, and even the smell of the rain is different enough to remind me that I’m not in Kansas. Hopefully tomorrow we’ll make fewer faux pas.  And if not? C’est la vie.

Permalink

Uzès, Day 4

Another quiet, slow day, but a success on the jet lag front.  I may not have fallen asleep until 2 AM, but I was up by 9 AM and have yet to succumb to the dreaded afternoon nap, which gives me hope that tonight will be a completely ordinary full night’s rest.

Once again, I took the morning to find a bakery and pick up a baguette.  I had to range further than before because the usual place I’d been visiting was closed, but the place I found had far better bread, so it was a net win.  Because this town sees so much weekend tourism, a lot of local businesses are closed on Mondays.  It looks like tomorrow, things pick back up again.

Another trip to a grocery store was a bit of an adventure due to the heavy rain and our inability to read detailed product labels.  My father-in-law desired a clothing detergent sans enzymes, which proved very difficult to find. We spent at least 15 minutes reading labels, until I finally Googled the issue and found a recommended product.

Speaking of searching for difficult things, I have sought in vain a place that serves croque madames, my favorite French meal, but it seems that such a sandwich is a regional thing not available here in Uzès.  Instead, I had a tartine, which was basically an open-faced sandwich covered in greens, thin-sliced ham and cheese, and a heavy layer of tapenade.  Me, eating an olive-based product is practically a sign of the end times, but to be honest, I loved it.  Another confirmed kill in the war on my childishly limited palette!  Something about traveling helps me get over a lot of my food hangups and enjoy whatever is put in front of me.  Even Sarah’s fish soup, which smelled AWFUL, tasted good (not that I would want to eat the whole thing).

We spent part of the day planning the rest of the week, and we have a series of day trips planned around the region.  Tomorrow, we will go to a replica cave to see cave paintings by Neandertals.  It looks like a lovely experience, although I must admit I’m disappointed I don’t get to see genuine articles. Later in the week, we’ll be headed to Nimes to take in several Roman ruins — I can’t express in words how excited I am for that. I took Latin in high school for two years and those classes were as much about Roman history as they were the language.  I’m no expert, but I never really thought I’d get to see genuine Roman ruins.  My life is far more awesome than I ever expected back in 1994.

For years, I’ve had a certain type of dream.  In it, I am following the usual route home in whatever town I’m currently living in, and instead of going left at some junction, I go right, and I find myself in some entirely new location, strange, unfamiliar, and thrilling.  Being in Uzès is like living that dream every day. I spend part of each day ambling down the many narrow streets and alleys of the town. Each trip, I discover nestled avenues lined with quirky shops and art galleries. I don’t know what that dream says about my psychology except that it probably confirms my status as a neophile.  In life, I constantly seek novel experiences and places.  I have a bit of wanderlust that I suppress in order to keep a job and take care of my family, but if I could do anything I wanted, regardless of finances, I think I would travel nonstop.  Give me a small laptop and a couple changes of clothes and I would be happy wandering to and fro.

For those of you asking for pictures, I’m sorry–I’m not taking nearly as many pictures as I expected; the photos don’t really convey how I feel about the place.  My photography skills are more rusty than I expected, of perhaps it is the iPhone I am using rather than my standard SLR.  But I’m enjoying simply being here and experiencing it, though, and I am taking enough pictures to remember the experience decades from now.

Other than my quiet walks and spending times with the family, I’ve been reading.  I finished Wendy Wagner’s An Oath of Dogs last night, and quite enjoyed it.  I really look forward to seeing what she writes next.  Meanwhile, I’m about to crack open a collection of Roger Aickman stories next. I have never read anything by the author, but the description of his work I came across made me think that I would very much enjoy his work.  Having time to read something other than the internet for work is quite the blessing, and I aim not not waste it.  It’s been wonderful not feeling like I *must* spend time at the computer every day.  An hour or so to check on the status of my sites, run updates, and then write these posts.  How wonderful!  I do wonder if I might be able to make a vacation like this happen every year, even if it’s not overseas, but a disconnection from the internet annually could be quite good for me.  We’ll see!

No fiction writing as of yet.  I have half-formed ideas and thoughts, but nothing is begging me to write it.  So many half-starts in the past year, but nothing speaks to me lately.  I have relied for years on raw enthusiasm to carry me through the work of writing, and that enthusiasm has been missing.  My career has been going so well, and I wish I could find my joy for it again. I hope I do soon.  I’m hoping for this trip to help me with so many thing simply by giving me the space and time to think about them without worrying about work.  But enough about that. It’s time to read and relax once more.

Tune in tomorrow for details about the cave painting museum! I can’t wait!

Permalink

Personal Life, Travel

, ,

Uzès, Day 0

Travel from the United States to a place like Uzès is not exactly easy.  We Midwesterners are used to traveling long distances to get to anywhere interesting, but I’ve noticed that especially for people not from the U.S., the distances and travel times don’t sink in until I walk you through them. Let me give you the nuts and bolts:

  • First, drive one hour from Lawrence to the Kansas City airport
  • Catch a flight to Detroit, about two hours long.
  • In Detroit, board a large plane to Paris for about eight hours.
  • In Paris, board a bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare de Lyon train station for an hour.
  • Wait four hours for your train to arrive.
  • Take a three to four hour bullet train from Paris to Nimes.  Get yourself a rental car at the train station.
  • Drive about 30 minutes from Nimes to Uzés on roads that probably were first laid out in the time of Caesar.

If you’re me, and you can’t sleep sitting up, this means you stay awake for a very long time (about 32 hours for me).  No big deal though when France is your destination! We pulled into town at about 7 PM on Thursday, after having been awake since 7 AM Kansas time the previous day. I was feeling the exhaustion, but my plan for dealing with jet lag on the first day was to roll on up to bed time local time, take my meds, and then crash.  So far, that seems to have worked.

After getting a lovely tour of our AirBnB from the owner, Pierre, we unpacked a bit and then headed out down the cobblestone streets looking for something to eat. We settled into a little pizza parlor on the place aux herbs.  We had a platter of meat and cheese, pickles, and various other finger foods, some wine, and for our main course, a couple of wood-fired oven pizzas that were delicious.  Uzés is positioned such that it has many different regional influences on its cuisine, and I don’t think these pizzas would have been out of place in Italy.

Within minutes of sitting down, a local boy a couple of tables over had roped Matty into sword fighting with him using a pair of plastic swords.  As the sun set and the fairy lights came on in the Sycamore trees around the plaza, the pair, who didn’t share more than a couple of words, darted around the large stone fountain and dueled.  We spoke with their parents briefly, who were very kind and welcoming and encouraging of their play.  We couldn’t have asked for a better welcome for our family in Uzès.  So far, everyone is incredibly kind, friendly, and welcoming.

By 10 PM, we headed to bed, and as far as I can tell, we all got a good night’s sleep on the local schedule. It’s now early morning of day one. We plan to stock up on a little groceries, unpack some more, and generally decompress. I expect a nap in my future after lunch.

Initial reactions: everything is amazing here and I’m never going home.

Permalink

Place aux herbes

Personal Life, Travel

, ,

Preparing for France

In seven days, my wife, son, and I will board a plane headed for Paris where we’ll catch a train and then rental car to arrive, eventually, in Uzès, France. We’ll be spending about three weeks there before heading back to Paris for a week, and then coming back to the United States (assuming there is still a United States to come back to).

I’ve taken multi-month trips overseas before, but not in about 20 years, and back then, I didn’t have a job or a wife.  Back then, life was lighter, and I was less burdened with belongings and responsibilities. I don’t really remember the preparation for my trip to Kenya.  I probably relied on my mother to pull together most everything for that, because I was busy in college, finishing up one semester.

I’ve just about wrapped up all my work that needs to be done before I leave, but just enough projects linger, requiring attention and time that I’m in that odd, liminal space of not quite working, and not quite on vacation. Like most people, I find this neither-here-nor-there state uncomfortable and unsettling. I find myself wishing simultaneously that I had more time before departing and wishing that I was already there, strolling the cobblestone streets and taking in all the sights and sounds of a fifteen hundred year old village.

I like being places, but I’m not sure anymore that I actually enjoy the process of getting there. Part of it is the weird security theater we deal with to travel, and the other part is that travel is much easier when I’m only responsible for myself. Being a parent and traveling comes with all new anxieties.

Still, I’m hoping a four week vacation means I can relax more and worry less.  Who cares if we arrive a day late?  Travel mixups can happen and not take such a huge chunk out of our trip.  At least, that’s the idea. last night I began to obsess over whether our Airbnb had a shower or just a bathtub, and whether it had enough electrical outlets.  It seems that I’m an aggressive worrier and even a longer trip isn’t enough to calm my nerves.

Once I get there, I expect to really experience things.  I’ve felt sort of experience-deprived living here in Kansas lately.  Kansas is great for a casual day to day life, but there’s not a lot of excitement and novelty to the Midwest dad life.  Finding a balance between comfort and novelty has long been a struggle for me, and so if nothing else, I’m looking forward to an entire month of people and places entirely new.

And in my downtime, I hope to read and write and think hard about what shape I want my life to take in the next couple of years.  Freelancing for the past decade has been great, but I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut with a lot of it and I need to think about what direction I want to go into next.  For the longest time, I thought I would transition into more writing, but that hasn’t panned out quite.  Although one possibility for when I return is launching a Patreon for ongoing Dungeonspace stories. I feel like I have enough ideas to write those for years, and maybe that crowd-funding method could help me start that transition.  Sometimes I think I’m a little afraid of succeeding as a writer, and self-sabotage or get too risk-averse.  These are things I hope to think through when I’m enjoying the French countryside. Have a great May without me, everybody!  I hope to come back with some brand new stories to tell.

PS: tune in next week for an important announcement!

Permalink

Personal Life, Travel

All the things on my mind lately (a semi-condensed list)

Any one of these thoughts could be the subject of a carefully written blog post, but my thoughts around all of them are difficult to congeal enough to fit into this list.  When social media asks “what’s on your mind?” I don’t think they intend for us to answer truthfully.  The actual things on my mind lately would not be easily commodified.  Increasingly, I’m not comfortable giving them my personal life as a medium through which to sell Russian propaganda and pay-to-win freemium games.   Back to the blog we go, perhaps this time for good. Here’s some of what I think about lately in the quiet moments between the periods of work.

  1. The internet (social media) divides us specifically as it brings us together generally. People have been never more informed on what those around them are thinking or believing, and having access to this information has ruined us.  Meanwhile, companies like Facebook have taken the human instinct to be connected and piggy-backed upon this with a horrifying tool of mass information gathering that allows bad faith entities to further drive wedges between us. When the internet was little more than a glorified home shopping network combined with a digital Encyclopedia Britannica, it was intellectually useful, and socially neutral.  I would see us go back to that internet. I am seriously considering personally returning to that internet.
  2. Even though I worry about item #1, I struggle to put my beliefs into action.  Ideally, I would rather read a book than read another Facebook diatribe or another fifteen plus thread of tweets, but I find myself reading these things in great volumes over books constantly.  Am I addicted to screens? The information? Something else? Does it matter if I’m addicted when everyone else seems to be?  How can I break this cycle and return to deeper thinking and meaning?  I sometimes feel as if I have trapped myself in an intellectual tide pool, and it’s safe here, but I am slowly starving myself of a meaning only found in the depths.
  3. Shallow thoughts are my constant companion. I find myself formulating opinions not on the basis of my own thoughts but on the basis of what my political or social tribe seems to formulate, and I have found myself becoming swept up in a tidal wave of public opinion, carried forward with beliefs that don’t quite sit right.  I find myself wanting more time for contemplation.  I feel compelled by the pace of internet life to decide how I feel before I even feel anything.  I would challenge anyone who held opinions other than mine for going along with their tribe — why don’t I consider the source of my own conclusions and opinions more often?
  4. The modern internet, I fear, was a mistake, and though it provides everything in my life from friendships to my way of living, I wonder if it is at the cost of deeper meaning and satisfaction in life.  I worry that my superficial connections online prevent me from forming more meaningful ones on a local level.
  5.  My community is pretty white, however, as is my family.  Is my interest in helping my own communities and families a sign that I’m racist?  I worry that my desire to bring those in my family and my local communities back into something like the Democratic party means I’m secretly a white supremacist.  I worry that my concern for why my male peers no longer read, why so many of them seem so angry, means I’m sexist in a way I don’t see clearly.  How deeply can we lie to ourselves without having any hint of the truth? I worry often that deep inside, I’m all those things I do not like. Do I dislike them because I think they are morally wrong, or do I dislike them because I dislike myself?  What should I do about any of this?
  6. I worry at a secret notion.  It says that the best action I could take for the advancement of marginalized writers is to never write another thing again. To step aside.  The world is screaming that it has had enough of the opinions and thoughts of cis-hetero white men.  I want to do the right thing, but I am not sure if it is the right thing if it means giving up on my own dreams.  Part of me says, don’t give up. Continue to chase your dream and don’t listen, as part of the world will always want you to be give up no matter who or what you are.  Another part wonders if it my intent is to continue writing means I am in fact the monster I fear.
  7.  I watch my son grow up and I wonder if we are all born so inherently in touch with joy and happiness, or if that is something special to him?  Do our lives rob us of that connection, or do we not all get it to start?  How much was I like him when I was his age?  What is the nature and what is the nurture in the happiness of a child? And how do I protect his innocent happiness for as long possible?  Does anything matter more than that?
  8. Is an apocalypse or a famine the only way I will ever find to lose weight? How much longer can this husk of a shell put up with the damage I deal to it through inattention?
  9. Am I giving my business the attention it needs?  Should I be working harder, making even more money when possible? How do I know when is enough?
  10.  Having read over this list, I wonder, am I depressed right now? Or do I need a nap and a vacation? There’s at least one question I know how to answer with some certainty.

I guess most of what I am thinking about is, what does it mean to be a good person? How can I be a good person, or at least a better one?  What is meaningful and important to me in my life, and how do I accomplish that?  Perhaps a month of low-density work and travel will help me get my head around these thoughts and questions and figure out a way to become more comfortable with them.  Here’s hoping, as I’ll be headed to a small town in France for a month this summer.

Permalink

The Self-Employed Life – Happier, but Less Secure

Anyone who knows me (and I doubt you’re reading this blog unless you know me) knows that I’ve been self-employed as a web developer for going on 10 years now.  I have a lot of thoughts about the self-employed life, but first, a study that validates them:

The study by Professor Peter Warr from the Management School and Professor Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter found that despite working longer hours and having less job security, self-employed workers were among the happiest with more freedom and control over their work life.

Self-employed people happier and more engaged at work, study finds – News – Faculty of Social Sciences – Faculties – The University of Sheffield

 

Longer hours?  Check!  Less job security?  Sort of!

I definitely work generally more hours than I did before I was a freelancer.  This is because half the jobs I’ve held as an adult couldn’t produce enough work to keep me busy.  At least one corporate job I had gave me something like 4-5 hours of work. Not per day. Per week. It shouldn’t have come as a shock to anyone that I was laid off from that job at the start of the recession. I’d already been looking for something more interesting for a few months.

As a freelancer with a fairly well valued skillset (web development), I find myself employed mostly to the degree I want, and no more or less.  I’m very lucky in this  My billable hours goal for any given week is 20-25 hours, more if I want to buy a new toy of some sort, or more just because the work is interesting.  Of course, I work far more hours than that, but that’s how much of my time needs to earn.  And one great thing about being self-employed is, while the income is more variable, you see the writing on the wall long before the pink slip shows up.  The first time I was laid off in 2008, I was caught off-guard, if not entirely surprised. I was laid off a few months later from another job. I’ll never be surprised by someone wielding the ax again; because if anyone wields it, it will be me.  And that kind of hyper-uncertainty back in the Bad Old Times made self-employment seem far more stable even in the beginning.

The aspect of this study I do not dispute is that I have far more personal freedom than before.  If I want to take a walk, or a day off, I take a day off or go for a walk. If a project comes in that I’m not well suited for,  I can turn it down (provided I don’t need the money desperately).  In general, more personal freedom has led to higher levels of personal happiness.  Being able to do what I want, when I want, without ridiculous office place rules mucking things up has been wonderful. The downside on the happiness issue is, with great responsibility comes great anxiety. There have been times when I’ve been stressed to my breaking point by making to all continue to work.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone.  But if you’re like me at all and you get a shot, I recommend giving it a chance. You might find your quality of life significantly improved by it.

Permalink