I’ve been meaning to update this blog. I have. But it was just a week ago that I wrote the last entry… wasn’t it?
As it turns out, it’s been 154 days.
154 days. I’ve never bothered to count that many days, I’ve never had a reason to. Sure, we count months and weeks and years, everybody does that, but DAYS. Who counts them? Who bothers?
It’s just a day, it’s almost nothing.
It’s just a day, it’s sometimes everything.
There have been 154 since I last put fingers to keys for you, my once adoring and attentive audience. Maybe I can give you a reason to be that again.
It’s just a day, it’s the day we begin again.
Ebbs and Flows
This year has been really fucking weird. I’m pretty sure no one on the planet, literally, would disagree with me. It’s been creating strange tides in my part of the industry, both because work seems to be a bit up and down and because I am absolutely a bit up and down.
At first, I was a lot more down than up. Things were very confusing. I wasn’t sure if I should move forward, step back or tread water. I wasn’t sure if I should quit entirely and give up forever. I wasn’t sure about much.
But as the days passed and the dead piled so deep the numbers no longer had any meaning, I stopped being so numb. I started being able to sleep again, even though I should have been in even more dire straights. I started to live again, among so much death.
And today, 154 days later, I’m adding something else to my day: you.
How’s It Going?
So how are things going for you? I am not at all confident that I can guess what the future will hold. I am not at all confident that anybody can. Things are bad, there’s no doubt.
But, I’m starting to get faint glimmers that things will get better.
There’s a lot we can’t control right now, more than most of us probably want to admit, really. But there’s a lot that we can control. And those are the things that it’s going to be critical to focus on for the remainder of this year.
School is starting and everyone is holding their breath. Colleges are already closing again because disease is spreading like a wildfire. It’s disheartening, there’s no doubt about it.
It also stands as a huge illustration of how success and failure really work.
Successes and Failures: Coronavirus Edition
Some days we go mad with anger and resentfulness because something awful has happened. Some days we zoom with enthusiasm because something wonderful seems to be just around the bend.
We move forward, we move backward. It may feel like we’re getting nowhere, but we’re inching ever onward. We’re learning, we’re growing, we’re striving for more. It’s all anyone can do, really, in the greater scheme of things.
And by anyone, I mean, a random person on the street… there are probably a few people who actually can do more, but we won’t talk about them here.
I’m Moving Forward, Too
A lot has happened in my life during the pandemic, too. I lost Annie, my wild and weird hound mix. I gained a new Favorite I never expected. And, I’ve made a major decision in my life: to return, at least in some small way, to local news.
It took me a long time to decide to do that. First, because I’ve been out of it for a while, but secondly because of how wildly unpredictable it can be. But it was my first love and it’s a part of me I can’t leave in the past.
So, keep your eyeballs glued here. I’ll be telling the stories from behind the stories that you may find completely delightful. Or not. I’m not your mom.
It’s growing grimmer by the day and for good reason, the situation is growing more serious and many are still not taking it very seriously. There are plenty of people who are defying suggestions to stay home, sunning their perineum as a way to protect them from CV-19, and buying up all the supplies. There are people who are still denying that there even *IS* a problem, which is, naturally, making the problem we actually have a lot worse.
Both coasts now have cases numbering in the thousands. Every state, even the ones failing to report properly or test adequately, are reporting sick people. They’re enacting all kinds of draconian rules to try to enforce social distancing so our healthcare workers stand a remote chance to fight this thing on our behalf.
It’s funny, for all the people who get absolutely pissed off when anyone says anything against our military, there are plenty who are happy to take our medical front line down. I’m just saying, they’re the heroes today. We don’t need G. I. Joe, we need doctors and nurses. And they need us.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
As I typed this header, I got an announcement that the governor of Arkansas was having a press conference about the COVID-19 situation there. I’m about an hour from the state line, so my local news is covering both state responses.
It’s alarming. So alarming.
And it’s overwhelming. There’s so much news coming at us so fast, there’s so much happening that we don’t have the tools to deal with.
There’s every reason for you to be paralyzed with fear.
But, because my state is near the tail end of this thing, I know we’ve all had our chances to deal with the shock of the situation we’re in by now. It’s not easy, but it’s time that we start to work through the fear. It’s not all doom and gloom, not today, not tomorrow, not ever.
Humans may be fragile, but humanity is resilient. We will carry on if we pull together, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to remember the good things.
Today, I charge you with finding some positives in your day. Remind your friends that things might be scary, but there are still Oreos. There are still cat memes on the internet. There are still idiots like me riding the keyboard so you can stay both informed and distracted.
I know a lot of you are just now starting your quarantines. I’m not better at this than you are, I’ve just been at it longer. All that hopey changey stuff is my way of trying to make the best out of a really awful situation.
But today, I wanted to address the other side of that coin. This is a terrifying time. And it’s OK to not be OK.
You know what I mean, right? I mean you’re going to fall to pieces sometimes. You’re going to feel like nothing will ever be good again. You may despair. You may become paralyzed with fear. You may binge your way through all your emergency supplies (don’t do that!).
The news is getting increasingly worse, as the news does in times like these. If you’ve ever lived through a serious natural disaster on the local level, try to think through how that went. It got real bad for a while, but ultimately, it was OK. In the end, it was OK.
Different doesn’t mean it’s not OK.
Maybe Not Today, Satan
We will have to face all the dirty reality that’s coming in at about 300 miles an hour right now. We’ll all have to figure out how we’re going to move forward. But we don’t have to do it all at once. We can do a bit here and a bit there, it’s a technique I’ve used in the past to write some seriously heavy content.
It’s a way to keep from becoming so mentally heavy that you can’t move. You touch it just a little bit, every day, until you manage to face it wholly. It’s a bit like a mental vaccination, but obviously no needles are involved.
So, maybe today isn’t the day you build your zombie survival battle plan. Maybe today is the day you just pick out some movies and veg on the couch like it was an extra Saturday. Maybe today is the day you rearrange your office so you have a better view of the back lawn.
Things will get dark. But today isn’t a dark day, necessarily.
Things will be hard. But today we still have plenty.
Things will be terrifying. But today we still have hope that our fellow humans will do what’s best for everyone.
That hope is a life raft. That hope might be everything for someone.
Check on your friends, your family, your neighbors. Tell people you love them. Make memories that aren’t traumatic, even in these times.
I love you guys. Hold on. It’s going to get better.
It would seem I’m not the only one going into lockdown. This is both a relief and a great sense of anxiety for me. It was bad enough when I was worried that I would get very sick and not recover, but to see the mandatory closing of basically everything around me is becoming very frightening. There’s no reason to pretend it’s anything short of horrifying and I won’t.
But I am also acutely aware that a lot of you don’t know what you need now that you’re stuck at home for no telling how long. You may have no idea how to navigate this landscape that is suddenly thrust upon you, so this week, we’re going to focus on getting you started in the right direction.
You Need Food
Presumably, you’ve got some groceries stocked now. If it’s any indication from the many, many photos on social media, you’ve got ALL the groceries. But do you know what to do with them? Can you actually cook? There’s no shame in living in a place where it’s cheaper to get take-out than to make dinner after a long day at work. But it has put you at a serious disadvantage today.
Start easy. Eggs are hard to mess up unless you burn them. No matter what’s in the pan, start with low heat and creep upward, unless you’re boiling water, then might as well just kick it to high to start with. Look up easy recipes for the things you’ve got on hand. Make simple staples and mix and match them in different ways. For example, cook up your rice and your beans, but not together. Then later, you might do up some taco meat and suddenly you have different meal combos.
Think ahead and combine foods that make sense. I know the grocery store may be difficult pickings right now, but nutrition is still important. You need all kinds of foods to keep going, but you may be forced to learn how to make new combinations because that’s what you have. Chicken and oranges can be a meal. Chicken and bananas, not so much.
You Need Calm
This is going to sound like hippie talk, but it’s well-documented that stress can weaken your immune system. And this is nothing if it’s not stressful. So today, I want you to find a way to find calm. Download some guided meditations, ask your watch for a breathing exercise (mine does this, yours may not), see what Alexa has for you. Controlled breathing is a great way to reduce stress, but so is taking a walk outdoors (this is very important: do not touch anyone or get near them), so is petting a dog.
Find a way to relax and make it a part of your Apocalypse Day Schedule. I know your kids are home with you and that can be another source of stress, but they’re also stressed, so if you can find something you can all do together, so much the better. Lowering stress in your household will help you all get through your quarantine without bloodshed.
It’s easy to scroll social media looking for news, I know because I’m doing it constantly. It’s also the worst possible thing you could be doing for your morale right now.
Stop counting your dead.
The reality is harsh, so touch it lightly. Check the newspaper or the local news stations for updates, but don’t do it on the hour. Try to limit yourself to a few times a day. The rest of the time, engage yourself mentally in anything else.
Write a journal, read a book, build a Rube Goldberg machine. We may do that last thing at some point. I love those things. Puzzles, trivia, anything to get your mind back to a place of relative stability. You have to have time away from this.
If you must go out, go out with caution. Drive carefully, don’t let the wasteland distract you. It will. You’ll wonder where everyone is and may even be alarmed at the lack of traffic. I know because this is exactly what happened to me in 2007, during an ice storm that brought my city to its knees for two full weeks. I cried every time I had to go out.
But unlike that ice storm, we have all our utilities, we have all we need, we just have to remember that we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of infection with a nasty virus that we can’t fight.
So, FFS, don’t touch anything you don’t have to. Wash your hands. Carry hand sanitizer if you have any. Carry mace so no one takes your hand sanitizer. Stay away from people (three to six feet is the current recommendation, that’s just a bit more than one or two arm lengths, depending on your arms). Avoid places where humans are bunched up if you can. Don’t eat in, carry out, and even then do so with extreme caution.
Lastly, remember that we’re in this together. You can’t shield yourself from a community-wide pathogen without also shielding your brother and your sister and your neighbors. The community is infected and it’s spreading fast. Protect yourself by protecting everybody else.
Don’t take all the TP. If your neighbor can’t find any, start a drive: ask the other neighbors to each donate a roll until they can find some. The madness should be over soon enough, but until then we need each other to survive and thrive.
Check on your friends and family. If they are struggling to find something you have in bulk, share.
It really is this simple, believe it or not. All we need to do is support each other and our chances of making it as a group increase dramatically.
If your elderly neighbor has to hunt and hunt for supplies that you have in abundance and they get sick while out, that’s a high resource utilization hospital bed that’s suddenly full. In other words, if all the high risk people are sick and you break your arm, you’d better just look to YouTube for answers because there aren’t enough medical professionals to go around.
On the flip side, if you insist on continuing to mingle in the community and spreading your germs around, you might be just fine, but your friendly neighborhood doctor will have to choose who gets the last ventilator. Your friendly neighborhood doctor is going to mentally fracture because he’s going to be forced to let a patient die. He will know this will be the outcome from the moment they walk in the door.
And if you’ve ever complained about MD burnout, you’d better really prepare for what that’s going to look like in the wake of a pandemic where people have been left to die in medical facilities. We’re going to see a lot of people abandoning medicine for their own mental health.
Consider the mass graves we may be forced to deal with as millions of people die (how else do you expect we’ll deal with all the bodies?). It’s not worth going to that concert. We are not emotionally prepared for tossing all our parents in the same hole and filling it with a bulldozer. As a student of history, I can promise you that you have no idea how that will impact the national on a deep psychological level.
Reach Out (But Don’t Touch Anyone!)
Reach out. Right now we’re all suffering the same stress and the same worries and the same everything. If you run into someone still in hot denial, don’t let them drag you down or convince you that you’re nuts. Much of Europe isn’t closed just for funsies.
Talk to your friends. Hell, talk to your enemies. Talk to everyone. We’re all in this sinking rowboat together, we might as well give each other some semblance of comfort and compassion. Remember that they need to talk, too, though, so give them their opportunity.
Tell people you love them. We’re living in unprecedented times. Don’t wait. I love you guys. You’ve been my weirdly loyal fanbase for all these years. Some of you are even actual, factual friends. I love you all (but remember no touching).
Don’t give in to despair, but do acknowledge reality. We need a healthy dose of compassion and concern to keep the wheels moving. You can do this. WE CAN DO THIS.
I continue to be shocked by what I’m seeing on social media and from friends who are trying to not have full blown meltdowns. It’s image after image of stores completely cleared of all kinds of necessities by panicked buyers and opportunists who figure they might as well exploit this thing as not. There have been numerous articles full of preparation advice, lots of official announcements that begin and end with “wash your dirty hands” and a lot of people who seem to be legitimately confused about what to do now.
This is where I shine. I’m great in crisis. It might be because I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 19 (that was almost 21 years ago). The things I’ve learned in all those years of living with a chronic illness have taught me a few things, I think, and they’re probably things you could stand to know right now.
My First Bit of Advice: Deal With Your Emotions
You may not even realize that you’re feeling panicked, but if you’re hiding inside a fort of 1,000 rolls of toilet paper, it doesn’t take a pro to diagnose your anxiety.
These are scary times, it’s ok to be scared. If you’re not a little scared, frankly, you’re not paying attention. There’s no need for me to rehash the news, you know the numbers in every category grow daily and that America is in no way prepared to care for the number of sick we could end up with.
Just like when I was told I had Type 1 Diabetes and it would change everything for me forever, you’re gonna feel a lot of things.
You’re going to try to shrug it off, you’ll try to minimize the issue, you may even try to stare this thing in the face by doing something truly stupid (I’ve been there, I’m not at all judging).
You want life to go back to how it was last week. I know you do. But it won’t, at least not for now.
So, today, scream, howl, cry, punch a bag, meditate, drink copious amounts of coffee, do whatever you do when the worst comes and you are forced to have to deal. Do your thing, people. Do it and get it all out. We need to be clear thinkers come Monday morning.
You’re grieving and there’s no right way to do it. Even if it’s a temporary sort of grief right now, I know plenty of you are already counting your dead. I did it. I gave into despair. But as someone who has spent their entire adult life facing hard shit on the regular, I also recognized that I was falling into that pit because experience clued me in.
You may not have that to look back on, and that’s ok, too. That’s why people like me are here to help people like you.
Accept you’re having whatever emotions you’re having and work through them. One step at a time, ok? You will be ok if you follow the very good advice of medical experts everywhere. You will not be ok if you continue to panic and behave irrationally and neither will the people you come into contact with.
My Second Bit of Advice: Buy What You Need
Look, you don’t need to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Yes, it’s going to get ugly and things will slow down a lot and we may even face a small recession over the novel coronavirus. What this isn’t going to do is end humanity as we know it or China would literally be wiped off the map right now. They got it first. They are not all dead. Granted, they have a very different sort of government that can enforce public health policies in a way those of us in the West cannot, but China’s experience is a strong sign that we, too, can handle this.
BUT, if you keep clearing out the shelves of every market, we’re not going to survive this.
You may feel pretty safe with your freezer full of goods and your cabinets literally stuffed to the gills with every kind of non-perishables. But remember that we actually live in communities that are made up of all sorts of other people. If you buy all the goods, you’re only fooling yourself. Your neighbor may not be in a position to purchase or store as much, which means that when their limited supplies run out, they may not be able to get what they need.
This is where a normal person stops to consider things. If you just thought, “So what?” you’re literally banned from my presence for life. Just like that. Be human, you goblin turnip.
Even if you don’t care about your neighbor, have some fucking sense. If they can’t get what they need, sick or not, they’re going to be hunting for it. That means they’re going out in public again and again, exposing themselves to risk and increasing the risk for your entire community. And you’re part of that community, whether you like it or not.
Bottom line: no goods at the shops means increased risk because of increased touch points.
If you have more than you need, see if that neighbor is ok. Ask them if they need a roll of your precious toilet paper, if they want to split some of the hand sanitizer you bought in bulk or if they could use one of the 17 turkeys you now have in your freezer.
Trust me, you’re not going to notice the difference over a prolonged timeline and all of that stuff has a shelf life. If all your neighbors donated one roll of TP to the old lady on the corner, she’d be in a lot better position than she is right now. It’s just one roll, dude.
My Third and Last Bit of Advice: Support Each Other
This goes back to the toilet paper generosity. One of the first things you learn when you’ve been diagnosed with something where you wake up every day knowing you might not have survived is that you only have this one day.
Every day is that one day you get.
If you’re lucky, you get another and another. But the time will come when you don’t. You can be a royal prick to everybody you meet or you can support others who are just starting to have that realization, it’s totally up to you.
You get to choose who you are, barring extremes like personality disorders, obviously. You get to choose if you’re going to be selfish and go down with your hoard or if you’ll lift everybody up by providing moral support, shaving off a little of your stock if need be, and making sure your community has what it needs by not profiteering off of this calamity.
Who are you going to be today? The sailor who kept the ship afloat or the selfish shit who helped sink it?
Last night I pre-wrote today’s blog because my heart was ripped quite suddenly from my chest. I was sure it would stick. See, we had our first confirmed case of COVID-19 in my Missouri Ozarks. This is a place that’s relatively remote, much like West Virginia.
I mean, I knew it was coming. I knew it was a matter of time when the first case was diagnosed in St. Louis, a short four hour trip away.
Still, it doesn’t hit home until it does, you know? And it hadn’t hit me until that press conference, not really, even though I’d already been asked to quarantine. This whole thing still had an ethereal quality, it was something that happened somewhere else, on another planet, in another reality.
And I won’t pretend that I stared that storm down and spat in its face.
I cried for hours – in fear, in anger, in dawning reality.
I counted my dead (I do not recommend doing that).
I grieved a population that was being cut down daily and I fell into despair.
But, after the dust settled, I found some perspective. After all, if we are to die, let’s make it such a death that others remember our kindness and love. We can’t fight this with fire or with weapons. We can only fight it with generosity and compassion.
There’s Always Light in the Darkness
I know we’re all facing dark times. I know you’re probably still in shock and grasping for anything to hold tight to right now. I know this is hard because you love someone who is high risk or are high risk yourself.
But when you’re done processing what we’re facing, look up. There’s always a light in the darkness, no matter how bleak it is. There are always helpers who will shine like little candles in the inky black. They’re flame and starlight. They’re the ones who make these times easier to bear.
Wash your hands. Practice social distancing. Reconnect with old friends. Tell people you love them because tomorrow is never promised, with or without COVID-19. Live as loudly as you can, even if you’re in quarantine.
Quarantine isn’t the worst thing ever. The worst thing ever is continuing to walk about and spread disease to people who are going to be severely injured by this virus.
So, today, let’s start working on accepting our lot. Today let’s look for the positives. Let’s do the best with what we have, because humanity has a way of being so, so resilient. We’ve overcome so much, but we can’t do it individually. We have to pull together.
Today I charge you to start a “five things challenge,” something a good friend does when she feels too much grim sneaking into her life. Think of five positives you’ve experienced and make a list. You don’t have to post them anywhere, but do write them down. Every day.
My fives for today?
Fabulously blue hair.
Social media, because most of my friends live there.
New beginnings, even in tough times.
Working from home.
Spring just starting to peek out from winter’s chill.
Well, my faithful readers, it’s finally happened. I’ve been asked to enter quarantine. No, I am not currently sick. No, I am unlikely to be a carrier. What I am is a Type 1 diabetic with additional autoimmune disease, which puts me among the highest risk categories should COVID-19 come a-knockin’.
For that reason, I’m now in lockdown and I’m not really thrilled about it, if we’re all being honest. But I also know that my coming down with this thing will not only hurt me (probably pretty badly), but my clients and the community, so it’s time to take one for the team. After all, work kind of almost quarantines me a lot of the time anyway, right?
Why We Quarantine
There are a lot of reasons for quarantining for both high risk populations and those that aren’t. For we, the free folk of the immunocompromised community, we’re hoping to preserve a level of health that we’ve probably struggled years and years to achieve.
But we also are doing it because others will need help. There have already been a lot of cases in Italy where the medical systems have been so overrun with high risk patients whose symptoms are severe enough that a shortage of medical devices and supplies are forcing hard choices. Do you intubate the mother of four with diabetes or the grandmother with no health conditions? Whose kids do you choose to tell that there simply weren’t enough supplies to go around?
There’s no easy answer for our already overburdened medical staff, they never asked to play God in the first place. They’re in the life-saving business, not the roulette wheel spinning business. Going to work day after day knowing that they will absolutely have to choose, essentially, to let someone die has to be the worst kind of Hell.
These are things some people can never forgive themselves for. Even if they had no better options. Even if they could have not done anything any differently.
So the chronically ill people of the world are taking to our homes, as much for our protection as for yours. If we get COVID-19, we’ll need significantly more resources than you might. But that doesn’t mean that you get to just be jerks and spread disease like some kind of filthy street pigeon. We have to work together to fight this thing.
How Long is Quarantine?
No one knows how long this will last. Although the latest news out of China is promising, the news from the rest of the world is terrifying. We can only look to those who have weeks of disease outbreak on us to see what our futures look like.
At some point, we may all be in quarantine. We certainly should all be practicing social distancing, even if you yourself aren’t considered high risk. You know people who are, even if they’ve never told you. Things like diabetes are easy to hide and we often are too ashamed of our own weaknesses to make these things known to others.
You’re about to notice how many medically fragile people there are in your community, because they’re going to be staying home. Those who are invisible are going to leave a noticed silence in all aspects of life. You’re going to miss us, even if you don’t realize what it is that’s gone.
We’re having a hard time accepting this. We’re struggling to deal with the four walls that are already closing in. It’s like cabin fever, but thousands of times more impactful, because the worst thing that can happen is that we, and probably others, will die. It’s not simply a case of a little frostbite.
Be kind today. Be kind tomorrow. Be kind every day. Make smart decisions in the weeks to come. Our world is so infinitely connected that what you do will ripple to the farthest reaches of the planet.
I don’t know about you, but my social media is blowing up with the latest on the coronavirus… you know, the one that is believed to have originated in Wuhan and has since begun to spread globally. It’s not awesome, for sure, and the word “pandemic” doesn’t mean what people believe it does because movies aren’t real life, but the truth is that we’re in this together and we’ll get through it together.
Wall Street has started to respond to the Wuhan coronavirus, and man, are the markets behaving about 100 times more irrationally than my social media feed. This is bad for us, as Writers For Money, but it’s not the End of All Things. You can, and will, survive this plague that’s upon us. Or, maybe you won’t, but at least you won’t have to worry about any more deadlines, so there’s that.
May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor
Straight talk here. I’ve been speaking to some Very Smart Science Guys I happen to know (some of which are ladies) and they tell me that while having the Wuhan-flavored virus is not going to be the most fun you ever have with your pants both on and off, but the odds are good you’ll be ok. Most cases are expected to be fairly mild and last about two weeks.
If you end up with a bad case or complications, it could take six weeks to recover. That’s the bad news, I guess. But the odds of your getting the worst kind of infection, largely because you never go outside or interact with humans in person, are low. Very low, in fact.
Still, people are losing their shit at alarming rates, so the odds that this thing will affect your daily life are very high. Your clients may close unexpectedly. You may see slow payment turnaround. You may not be able to get a foot in the door at Bob’s Clown Parts, Inc. for the time being. So I hope you’ve got your trusty supply of beans and rice thoroughly stockpiled.
If not, we’ll wait. Go ahead and take care of that.
Ripples in the Economy
Again, you may not even get sick, so try to think about this whole Wuhan thing rationally. It’s the freakypants who are going to start causing the bigger problems as this thing spreads. You know how a lot of people don’t bother to get a flu vaccination because they suck they don’t think they’ll contract it? Well, your odds are about on par for coronavirus, my sources say.
The panic, though. OMG the panic will be the thing that really causes big problems. We’re just starting to come out of winter, the housing market and other large economic engines are waking back up and when people are too afraid to leave their homes, well, that’s not great in a capitalist system. Money has to go in for money to come back out. That’s the way it works.
So, when people stop going to the market to buy groceries, when they’re not buying gas, when they stop spending on those little luxuries in life like Easter candy, it will get ugly. The businesses you service, large and small, will do one of two things: they’ll contract hard in the hopes of preserving capital or they’ll start spending like mad with the goal of gaining more market share from those companies that have clamped the money hole shut.
You will still be needed. But you may have to work a little harder to find the people who need you so you can ride these ripples out.
Landing More and Better Jobs
Full disclosure: I, too, am looking for additional leads right now. I’m not about to be caught with my pants down when there are so many economic signs saying that the winds are going to shift again. But just because we could, theoretically, be each other’s competition doesn’t mean I don’t want to help you. If you’re worth your salt, you deserve a chance to keep on.
So, today, right now, go and do these things:
Brush up your writer’s resume. Update it to include any training you’ve done, any sort of interesting projects you’ve worked on, and anything and everything that you want to do more of. Show that you know the Oxford comma is back. Demonstrate your sales skills by using your resume as a selling tool.
Write a good cover letter. I don’t mean that you should write any cover letter. Write a good one. Write one you’re proud of. Make sure you showcase the skills the job you want requires. I usually have a few versions for different kinds of writing jobs. Same goes for the resume, frankly. Make ‘em match.
Stop resting on your laurels. Look, nobody likes a laurel-rester. Sure, your business may run on referrals and has for years and years (same, genderless sibling). Right now you can’t count on that. Go poke around the bushes, see what you can scare out. There are ads all over, you can sign up for a variety of platforms to meet new clients and, frankly, you could bug the people in your networks for work. Keep going until your stable is full of fresh meat.
Look, Wuhan virus ain’t nothing to fuck with, but it’s also not as intense as the Wu Tang Clan, so I think you’re going to be ok. Just stay the course, don’t panic, and encourage people to continue to spend money on your services. It’s not like they won’t need clients now AND later.
Being a pen for hire is, like many other aspects of the gig economy, a really precarious existence. Unlike working for a publication as a full time employee (HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA that rarely happens for writers anymore), you’re doing your best to stay above water, even when you need a sick day, even when you have to fly across the country for the funeral of a loved one, even when everything in the world is kicking you in the ass. Because you have no other choice and you have no benefits, you only have that keyboard and a lot riding on your not having any sort of emergency ever.
But the problem is that writers are still soft, fleshy blobs of skin and fat and muscle and, presumably, other stuff. We have nerve endings and we have emotions and we have shit in our lives that we have to deal with day in and day out. We live in a high stress world of feast and famine, where the feasts are always too small and the famines too long. In short, we’re all of us living on the razor’s edge between survival and failure.
This isn’t some kind of Bohemian fantasy where there’s redemption in poverty and mental illness. This is real life, where those things can end you up in the street, living rough. This is real life, where that means your kids might not have enough to eat. This is real life, where too much is outside of your control, but you muddle through anyway.
I Get Knocked Down
In real life, there are real problems. The economy the giggers have inherited is a far cry from that of their parents. That’s why you have two part time jobs and ten clients. That’s why your friends are constantly working side hustles and the only thing you talk to anybody about these days is work. We’re all against a wall, but at least we’re in this together…
Being in that very delicate position means that sometimes the wind will blow a bit too much, you sneeze one too many times or gravity shifts just enough that you get hit hard and you go down. For example, I had a major kidney infection early this summer. By the time I felt it, I was running a fever so high that nothing would keep it down and I couldn’t have left the house to get to a hospital even if I had wanted to.
Fortunately, I had just been in to see my PCP and he was more than happy to call in a shitload of antibiotics. I tried to get up and work, but it didn’t happen. Instead, I had a week or two of nothing but high fevers and sweating through my bedsheets. I’m pretty sure my dog was trying to decide how to serve me when I did, inevitably, die.
This is where the razor’s edge comes in. Too many of my clients were ready to jump ship. There was nothing I could do. I could only watch as I was abandoned to my fate.
The tragedy is that this wasn’t the first time I’d had to rebuild. Oh, no. In late 2011, I was very, very sick and I played the same game. That was much worse because I’d never had to do it before. In 2016, in preparation for moving to Texas, I cut my client load back on purpose in order to give myself space to pack (it was self-induced, but still sucked). Then in 2019, the kidney infection.
Life wasn’t an option in any of those situations. There was no sick time, no PTO I could take to handle my own shit, there was survival and there was nothing. But it’s not just my story, it’s the story of so many I know in this industry. It goes like this: bad thing happens, clients jump ship looking for someone who is available today, not in a week when the writer had had space to deal with their life (no matter how long their writer had been working for them). Writer ends up in a bad position because suddenly they have no income.
That’s the getting knocked down.
But I Get Up Again
Getting knocked down is easy by comparison to what comes next. If you survive that kidney infection or you manage to get your head screwed back on after being in a mental hospital or you somehow stare death in the face and regain your strength to carry on, you have to figure out how to move forward.
You are probably, understandably, salty with your former clients. You are probably, understandably, salty with life. You are almost certainly confused, tired and scared, but you also probably coat that thickly with sarcasm and hope no one can tell.
Maybe you apply for a Real Life Job, only to discover that you can’t actually get one because once part of the gig economy, always a part of the gig economy. No one told you that when you fell into it backward in a moment of desperation, but it’s the reality for so many people.
I couldn’t get a job at a gas station in late 2011, when I was still hoping to make an exit from this life. I wish I were kidding. Pizza Hut also told me to go hang. Walmart wouldn’t hire me to do overnight stocking.
This is the reality of being knocked down.
The only option is to get back up again. To the few who have escaped the endless hamster wheel of client work, I salute you. To those of you who love client work and wouldn’t have it any other way, I also salute you. But know that you’ll get knocked down and you’ll have to get up again at some point.
You Are Never Gonna Keep Me Down
We all have a survival instinct, we all have a need to achieve homeostasis. So when we go down, we get back up — eventually. I was pretty sure I’d never be able to get back up after that last one, I was so, so sick for so long. I’m still taking every day as it comes, but with each passing week, I’m a bit improved.
The same is true of you, your friends in the gig economy and those strangers you’ll be meeting soon. You may not be able to get up as quickly as you hope, but you will get up. You won’t lay on the floor forever, just long enough to catch your breath. But it might mean you have to change things a bit.
Maybe you have to move into management because you can’t bang ‘em out like you used to do because that thing caused some kind of brain injury. Maybe you don’t have the tolerance for dealing with clients anymore and all you want to do is bang ‘em out because of the salt. There are gig jobs for all of this. It’s not just driving for Uber and grinding for pennies.
This is my official announcement that I’ve gotten knocked down pretty goddamn far, but I’ve gotten up again. And so can you. And I am here to make sure you do, to be your hand in the darkness, no matter what has you down there.
We, the free people of the gig economy, can’t be killed so easily. We get knocked down, but we get up again. You’re never gonna keep us down.
So, it appears to be October 7, 2019, it’s been about two months since I “officially” retired. And now I’m unretiring. It wasn’t working out, I didn’t survive the 90 day trial period.
It’s ok. I mean, I wasn’t sure it’d be a good fit anyway. But it did give me time to figure out what it was that I *did* find to be a good fit. Turns out slinging words like a motherfucker is still the thing I’m best built for…
So here we are. I’m back. I hope you bastards are happy.
Why I Came Back
Beside taking an extreme enjoyment in tormenting humanity at large (and having a platform like the entire Internet gives me no lack of space in which to do that), it turned out that I needed some kind of purpose. Who knew that fuckery and debauchery is ACTUALLY a calling?
Immediately upon making the decision to go back to work, I felt better. I felt like there was a reason I existed and a thing for me to do with my many, many crawling hours. The clock stopped being a way to track how many days were left and starting being an opponent again. Not “what am I going to do?” but “how can I do it all?”
I’m not suited to retirement, apparently.
And I think that’s ok. Even if many will say otherwise. Those people can fuck themselves, because they don’t know me. I do what I want!
Is It Life or Existence?
It turns out that being very, very sick is a great way to get a lot of perspective. When you lay staring at a ceiling long enough, you start to drift off on a little raft that only exists in your head. It’s a place where you can do anything, be anybody, and it’s pretty telling. Maybe this is the suburbian version of a vision quest, IDK.
But in that stillness, I didn’t see myself cleaning house and making meals and grocery shopping. I saw myself building websites and dispensing advice and helping people access more and better information.
Sorry, I’m apparently that lame.
Someone has to be. It just turns out it’s me.
Will it be hard?
Sure. This life is nothing but a wild ride of stress and reward.
Will it be fulfilling?
So that’s what I’ve been up to. What’s new with you?