Living the freelance life


So. I got a little behind this week. It was one of those times where I find myself taking on too much — teaching, writing, acting, more writing and more writing.  As I write this, there’s a list, written on a yellow legal pad of all the things that I was supposed to do this week that I didn’t. It’s not that I didn’t do anything; it’s just that there are only so many hours in the day and a person has to sleep at some point. 

As a freelancer — and that means for me not just writing but teaching and acting as well — I pretty much take any job that comes along my way. Cover a community meeting or protest? Sure. Write about foreclosures or health care? No problem. Act as a person with mental illness for crisis intervention training for nurses or cops?  I can do that. Teach four-year-olds how to dance? I can do that, too.

I take on everything because some months there isn’t enough work. So when there is work, I just figure I’ll do it all so that, during the leaner months, I’ll have a little cushion. 

With the exception of a two-year stint as an employee at a nonprofit, I’ve been a freelancer for my all of my post-college life.  I’ve had a bunch of very strange odd jobs over the years, including being a nine-foot fluffy pirate dog that walked around Navy Pier in Chicago. For the most part, it suits me. I like having flexibility. I like not having a boss looking over my shoulder all the time. I like being able to make lunch at home, and I like being able to sleep in, even if it means that sometimes I work until very late.  

According to Wikipedia, the term “freelancer” was first used by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe to describe a medieval mercenary warrior who was not sworn to any lord’s services. I kind of like the idea of myself being a mercenary writer not bound to any house. Perhaps I should make business cards: Have Lance, Will Travel. 

The fact is that my freelance lifestyle is a privilege in a lot of ways. One of the stories that I was supposed to write this week and didn’t finish (it’s coming soon, I promise!) is a story about health care, so I’ve been interviewing people about their experiences falling between the cracks in the system.  It was amazing to me how many artists who began their career doing freelance art jobs — puppetry, teaching, residencies, etc,— had to give that life up because they couldn’t afford health insurance.  There are a great many people working office jobs that they do not enjoy because their employer provides health insurance. 

When I was laid off two years ago and lost my health insurance, I had planned on just going without health care.  My father, however, said no way to that idea. I was a liability, he said, because if anything happened to me I would be a liability for him and a risk for my whole family. So my parents started paying for part of my health insurance every month and a year later I had a fluke medical thing happen to me that put me in the hospital for a week.  

The dream, I guess, is to someday be able to be able to be completely sustainable, to pay all my bills, be better with time management, and (gasp) pick and choose the kind of work I want to do. In the meantime, I’m still figuring it out and trying to make it work.