Saturday, July 30, 2005

The Luxury of Time

Someone suggested I write my next column on “the luxury of time,” a phrase I referred to in my last piece about procrastination. To some people, this luxury may not seem like a luxury at all, but something elusive because our society always has something to do.
What I was referring to, of course, is the luxury we all have of being given 24 hours in a day for as long as we are alive. Unfortunately, that luxury we had with our 15-year-old Dacshund ran out for us this week. She grew old and weak (as all of us will) and simply could not go on.
And although it had been awhile since Hershey ran and played with her ball, tore at her Christmas presents or sported her doggie lifejacket to go on the boat with us, those are the times we remembered. As we reminisced over photos, we asked ourselves, did we spend enough time doing those things or did we tell her we were too busy one too many times when she dropped her ball at our feet? Were we patient enough in her senior years when she had trouble navigating the narrow deck on the boat or could we have taken her out more?
These are all questions we ask ourselves when any loved one passes. Did we misuse the luxury of time we had with this person/being?
Of course, all of us think we could have done better in every relationship. That’s what makes us imperfect humans. But then I ask myself, if I had known what I know right now, would I have done any different? Probably not, because there are always errands to run, bills to pay and other things we have to do. Unfortunately, we can’t spend 24/7 doing what we love with those we love.
For Hershey, the world became a much better place whenever I was able to quit leaving her for 12 hours a day and start working from home. When I couldn’t play ball or fetch with her, she was content to curl in her bed at my feet in my office while she waited for me to finish my work.
The question then becomes not if I’ve wasted the luxury of time I’ve been given, but how I fill the void, the big hole left on the floor beside me where Hershey used to lay?
We go on, of course. We put the guilt aside and we resolve to do better with all those loved ones remaining in our lives. We promise ourselves to spend more time with our elderly parents. We resolve not to have as many fights with our spouses. And we command ourselves to get out and play a bit more ball – be it with our human kids or our furry ones. We know it’s a balancing act, because there are always the errands to run and bills to pay. Death only makes us more aware of that fact.
But today the bills can wait.
I’m going to find a good game of ball with the furry critters we have left.

Friday, July 22, 2005

My Inner Demon

This summer, I have been continuously reminded of why I shouldn’t wait until the last minute….to do anything.
I’m a procrastinator in the first degree. When I was in school, I waited until the day before a final to study or to start on a research paper I should have been working on for a month.
Now that I’m an adult, we writers who have this malady like to say that we are “deadline driven.” That’s just the euphemism for what has always been wrong with us, for whatever reason, we procrastinate.
I’ve read the psycho babble mumbo-jumbo that writers do it (and I suppose others as well) because we are perfectionists and we’re so afraid our work won’t turn out perfect that we put it off as long as possible.
Whatever. The reason doesn’t help me with the disease.
All summer long I’ve known that I have until August 15, the drop dead last minute date to get my manuscript into the publisher so it can be printed and available at my book launch party on November 5. So, what did I try to do to trick my perfectionist procrastinator demon (everyone is blaming demons these days)? I gave it a date one month in advance of the drop-dead date.
I tried to plan my work well in advance. I laid out a calendar so I would have it all accomplished before leaving for a Chicago writer’s conference last week.
It didn’t work. That’s what I will be working on this weekend, and with any luck, I will have it out prior to the next weekend.
The same can be said for most of my assignments and my housework. While I usually can motivate myself to get my calls made, get the appointments set up and generally get most of my research and reporting done ahead of schedule, I am continuously so far behind, because I’ve put off other assignments, that I’m up until the last day finishing the actual writing.
This puts me in a bad spot when an editor calls and asks for a story ahead of schedule. I usually can’t accommodate them and I wish I could, because I would like to help them.
This also puts me in a bad spot when one of the furry ones we have running around gets sick, as happened this week with our 15-year-old Dacshund, Hershey. Hershey was so ill at the beginning of the week, her vet sent her home with a host of meds, IV’s and instructions “just to make her comfortable.” Of course, if she had passed rather than improved, I wouldn’t just be running up until the deadline date with editors, I would have been running well past, which is another reason I should try to work ahead.
I suppose a psychologist would say that is because I dread the inevitable with Hershey so much, I put off doing my work, hoping it won’t happen. But one day it will, and I hope I’m ahead enough in my work to be able to stop and grieve.
I’m tutoring a young girl this summer who has much of the same problem as me. However, she doesn’t put off writing because of some perfectionist demon within, she puts off her homework assignments because she hates it. She would much rather be with her friends and doing things all young people want to do in the summer. Given any homework, she would rather be doing square roots and analyzing scientific theory.
For most of our sessions I’ve tried to pound home that she shouldn’t wait until the last minute to finish her projects.
It’s time I took my own advice, although it will be harder to do with the housework.
We never know when we won’t be given the luxury of time.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Being Caught in the Net is Good for any Business

Many people know what I used to do before going completely insane and joining the unpredictable life of becoming a self employed writer. I was a collector, you know me if your bills have ever been late. But I just didn’t call on people who were a little late, most of my customers were considered “bad debt,” six or more months past due. When I ended my first “career,” I was working for an in house agency at Citibank. I wasn’t just a collector (or an account manager as I was officially titled), I was a darn good one.

What does that have to do with writing, you ask? Not much. My road to the writing life was a long and twisted one and when I did land here I took to heart what every writer in the business told me to do- I wrote what I knew. I started at small business publications and worked my way into what I really love-investigative journalism. But it wasn’t just the advice of writers that assisted me, I leaned on my business experience too, using the first rule of business: networking.

What they say in the corporate world is true: it’s not usually what you know, but who (that is if you don’t have something politically threatening to hold over your boss’ head). And since I’m not into blackmail, I learned early on in business that it’s the contacts you make that will help you go far.

The art of networking has helped me in writing as well. When I first got started, I had the names and numbers of 2-3 writers I had met at writer’s conferences while I was still working my day job. One of those contacts led me to the Kansas City Writers Group, a large critique group full of talent, which helped me gain two things I needed badly to start a new career at age 35: more contacts and more knowledge. I’m almost seven years into my freelance career and I can still trace most of my current editors and contacts back to that first networking opportunity.

The rest of them, such as new opportunities I’ve had recently, can be attributed to joining other groups, such as the Society of Professional Journalists and the Kansas City Press Club and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA). But I also didn’t get into the organizations trying to figure out who might lead me to a new assignment, I just allowed myself to relax at functions and I made friends. To me, that has been the most beneficial aspect of networking. I’ve also used all of the avenues available to advertise my services within those organizations.

When I first started out, not knowing which groups would give me the most “bang for my buck” (also a business term a manager I loathed used, but at least he taught me to do that), I did waste some money initially trying to figure out which ones would work best for me. However, like my experience in the business world, I did take something away from each and every one, even if I didn’t leave with a newfound friend. Now I’m a little more choosey about which groups to try, and which ones will give me that most bang for my hard earned buck.

Which brings me back to why some people would consider me insane. I still don’t make what I did eight years ago as a successful “account manager,” but I would much rather be a moderately financially successful writer than a well-paid collector any day.

But I confess: my husband and I collectively breathe a sigh of relief each month when all the bills just get paid, because I sure don’t want to have to receive one of those calls I once made.