Monday, April 24, 2006


More and more people I know today are freelancing. Chucking dead-end jobs which shrivel their souls for a life of choice, a chance to map out their own futures. It's a ridiculously frightening (and heady) feeling, stepping off into the unknown, without the security of a monthly salary to see what else is out there; to chart one's one course rather than living on automatic, brain on idle, heart shut off.

I remember taking this course after 11 years in the same job. It had become increasingly unpalatable, toxic even, and I remember once when I was ill continuously for about six months; one of those low-level colds that never seemed to get better. Not life threatening, but enough to make me miserable a great deal of the time.

Something had to give.

Stepping out in the unknown, in my case, involved going off to do a degree long postponed. A degree most other people could not see the use for, and which I, to tell you the truth, sometimes had doubts about.

Why was I doing it? It felt right.

That's not a responsible way to think? Responsible to whom? I was my own mistress, I could take off at a moment's notice if I wanted to, and frankly, what was I sticking around for? Did I think things were going to get any better?

A life bounded by grey horizons is no life at all.

Before I could go, I got tested all round. I had enough money to fund about three semesters (but what about the other three? where was that going to come from?). I usually like all these things hammered out in the beginning because I hate the insecurity of not knowing where the funds for tomorrow are coming from.

Here, my family came through for me in a wonderful way. I guess the Universe tests you and if you're serious about what you want to do, it steps in to help. I was incredibly blessed, but I do feel that having faith that it would all work out had something to do with it. If I had accepted my lot at face value, I would never have had the courage to go ahead. I would have remained in my job, miserable, sickly, feeling sorry for myself.

Another challenge was that I had no idea how I would fare in an academic situation. I had been out of school for so long, and my last encounter with it was not fortifying, to say the least. I had flunked my Form 6, the first time in my life, I flunked any major exam. I was just not a science student, and I remember the exact moment I gave up. I was busy writing one of the physics papers and I remember glancing at my watch and willing the time to hurtle ahead. I didn't want to be sitting in this chair, doing this. If I never saw another physics paper in my life, it would be too soon.

When the results came in, I was not very surprised, although my Mom, who could always count on me for coming in with a eleventh hour "save" was devastated. She decided that if I didn't want to study I could go out there and get a job.

So when I was all ready to go back to school, I wondered if maybe, I was not good enough. My first class which had to do with literary theory, confirmed my suspicions. I didn't understand what the hell it was all about. That week, I read five books to try and catch up and understand what that first chapter was. Unfortunately the chapter was on New Criticism, which of course, was too old and dated a theory to merit even a question for one of the essays, to say nothing of the exams. But it was a good exercise. Having read up on it, I realised that even if I was not yet up to par, I could always catch up. No sweat. I was good enough.

Anyway, the long and short of it was that I worked very very hard and aced nearly everything.

Then it was time to come home and I was filled with apprehension. Would I fall into old patterns? In Australia it was easy to wake up early and have a day filled with meaningful activities. Hours were not wasted in a million little nothings like battling traffic. What would it be like when I came back?

It was bad. And not. I remembered the traffic and had forgotten the people I loved. They were still here. Rooting for me. As for the rest, I would just have to learn to shut them out.

Naturally, the first thing everyone wanted to know when I got back was what I was going to do. Which newspaper? Magazine?

The thought of delivering myself up to one of those prisons of the spirit stopped me in my tracks.

So I told them I would be freelancing.

Freelancing? What a cop-out! Freelancing? How do you mean freelancing? Who are your clients? Freelancing? You mean freeloading. How long do you think your poor parents can afford to support you...

But the moment I started looking for work, I found it. I simply picked up my Rolodex and made a few calls. I had built up a reputation before I left and all I needed to do was work that reputation; reintroduce myself into the market.

So there I was, moving gamely ahead, getting immersed in my new projects, my spirit retreating to some grim corner. And someone called out to me.

He didn't ask why I had chosen the freelance route, insecure as it was, but affirmed that it was the best for someone like me.

"Yes, I understand that for people like you, it's about the time to do the things that matter - reading, writing, thinking. Don't think you could get that on a nine-to-five."

Indeed. And this from a venture capitalist!

I felt ashamed. I had decided to freelance because I wanted to free up my time for what mattered. And my days were simply filled with a lot of rubbish that didn't.

Crimson is the tide in my veins and it surges and ebbs. I want something I cannot have. I want something, something, something and I grow so big I disappear into a great steaming mass of longing.

Nobody sees the shadow in the mirror.

Or the people who draw skeletons in the sand.


goldennib said...

Wow, you are very courageous!

part-time buddha said...

I finished my degree late too, but not because I hated the tedium of the 9 to 5. I hadn't learned yet how bad that is, though I'm living it now.

When I applied to the University, I listed my major as undecided, but shortly afterwards I figured, "you know, the only thing I really care about is reading and writing. I may as well spend my money to learn to do those things better." And I did, though I'll admit that most literary criticism baffles me. I stick pretty much to Neew Criticism because I get that.

But after graduation I got a job at a library. I figured being around books would be good, and it is. But here's the thing: no one in this library really likes to talk about books. I mean really talk, talk until you get it, all the way through, every word, line, and passage firmly caught in the fist of your mind.

When you and I were discussing The Waste Land the other day I had to look up a few of the verses, and I became totally lost in that poem. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy that.
Chatting/blogging with you has brought this realization to the forefront of my consciousness, and I want to thank you for it.

(I tried not to make this so cheesy, but it obviously didn't work.)

Jenn said...

Nessa: Thank you, sweetie. Coming from you, that means a lot.

PTB: Wow. I felt the same way. I love to talk about poems or plays or novels, to dive into them, line by line, savouring in pure delight.

I could do that in Australia, arguing over what a single line means and whether Lear was more of a bastard than his two elder daughters, because we had essays to write and so everyone was interesting in brainstorming.

Over here, well, it's a little more difficult because there is no necessity propelling my peers to read what I read. They wouldn't be interested anyway.

So I have to say, I really enjoyed that interaction too. (Why is it when anyone says anything nice or heartfelt they immediately think it's cheesy?)

Btw, I looked up The Waste Lands (I stood in a bookshop and read it end to end, wishing I had you there to translate the various language ole Eliot thought of throwing in) and it starts with April is the cruellest month...the other Latin bit about Sybil being a dedication on the title page...

What do you say to that? :)

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