Category Archives: work

Good for nothing

With the new year comes the existential angst, apparently. And after that, the smaller-picture, what-am-I-doing, am-I-getting-anywhere angst. So now I’m both worrying about how we’ll sustain our entirely modern-life dependent lifestyle when the apocalypse comes and also what I’ll do when the agent turns me down (or just never comes back to me) and I have to get a real job.

And I have many criteria for a job, at this advanced stage in my life. No Doublemeat Palace for me. (Sorry; we’re re-watching Buffy.) For instance, my requirements include but are not limited to the following:

  • I only want to work when the kids are at school so I don’t have to arrange complicated and expensive childcare.
  • I also have to have enough time and flexibility to do the shopping, bring children to dentist appointments, attend parent-teacher conferences, be able to drop everything if one of them is sick, and not work school holidays because my poor snowflakes can’t be banished to camp all summer.
  • I would like to work from home, because commuting is just wasted time and I am busy and important and need to maximize my synergies. And also leverage them. Going forward.
  • Or I could work very locally, I suppose, if some sort of job would just come and plant itself on my doorstep, figuratively speaking. Somewhere in the radius of between my house and the kids’ schools.
  • I want to use my talents, not just do any old thing. I have many talents: I’m good at baking muffins. I can alphabetize things. I know all the words to many songs and can sing in tune if I’m in the middle of a lot of other people singing the same thing. I can be polite and friendly (if I feel like it) and also write things down clearly. I type fsat and spell good. Also, I am hardworking and efficient, just not at housework.
  • I’m very lazy, so it can’t be too hard. Or too busy. Or at all pressured.
  • But I hate being bored at work because that’s a waste of time. So just busy enough would be ideal. Deadlines stress me out unless I have everything well in hand a good week in advance.
  • A former boss told me never to undervalue myself. So it has to be well paid. More than I’m earning right now, at least. More than I could hypothetically earn working at Starbucks or Target or somewhere. Because hypothetically I could work there any time I wanted.

You get the idea. Part of it is terror at the idea of jumping back into the workforce, part of it is the idea that I’m not qualified for any jobs in the greater Washington DC area, much of it is ennui at the notion of all the arranging that would have to happen in order for me to have a real job, and a whole lot of it is just fear of leaping.

It may be time to leap.

Faith

I really feel like I have the work/life balance thing down nicely right now. I aim to write 1000 words a day. Once I get there, the rest of the time is my own. This works much better for me than aiming to write for a set amount of time, or a set period, in the day, because sometimes I faff about for the first five hours of my time and pound out 999 words in the last hour before I have to pick the kids up.

Other days I get all those words out before midday and don’t know what to do with myself. Other days, I have to do the shopping and the laundry and chaperone a field trip and write up the PTA meeting minutes and so my 1000 words are more like 200, but the important thing is that most weekdays I do manage to get it done. On those days, I have a really nice feeling of accomplishment: I’ve furthered the plot, I’ve probably come up with some nice new things I hadn’t even thought of before, and there are more little black marks on paper heading towards the magic number of 45,000 or so. (That’s about right for a middle-grade book, apparently.) I need to finish this first draft of the second book – it’s going to be a trilogy, it appears – before the school summer break because I won’t get anything done once the kids are off.

Of course, I’m missing a vital part that would take this from ideal imaginary career to ideal actual career: right now nobody is paying me to do this.

The beta-readers’ reports on the first book were good. Everyone who read it loved it, or at least liked it enough to want to read a second one, if one were to appear. A couple of them didn’t get around to reading it, but I won’t hold that against them: ten-year-old girls are pretty busy. I laid my heart on the line by sending them my words, and they returned it with interest. I was, as you can imagine, happy. Bolstered, emboldened.

I’m still waiting to hear from the agent I sent it (part thereof, as requested) to. I know she got it. I fear her silence is a bad sign, but on the other hand, an e-mail saying “thanks, but no thanks” is an actual bad sign, and I haven’t had one of those, so I refuse to despair. Yet. Maybe I should send it to other agents. Maybe I should American it up* and try agents over here, but I don’t want to do that yet.

*I would have to go through the whole thing and change the spelling and punctuation to American, and decide whether to bowdlerise the vernacular or not, or create a glossary, or something. And I think it’s for an Irish audience. Time enough to conquer America later.

Dash is my champion. He hasn’t read the book, or heard it, because frankly it’s for girls, and Irish girls at that; but his faith in me is strong. He wrote a poem about me and read it aloud at the school’s mother’s day assembly. It’s in diamante form, and it goes like this:

Editor
Sure, precise
Checking, perfecting, reviewing
Writing, reading, words, changing,
Creating, flowing, knowing
Expressive, planned
Writer

Without even stopping to admire his wordcraft (which I do, a lot), it’s more perfect than he could possibly understand. It’s not just what he knows I do when he’s at school; it’s the progression from one to the other that I’m experiencing with every new day that I churn out my thousand words. I sit back with the glow of something new excavated, carved out, that I never knew was inside me, and I think, “I can do this; and I think I can do it tomorrow and the next day and for a lot of days to come. I think I’m finally here.”

I want it to be true. It is true. Maybe it’s just needy to seek the validation of external approval, but mostly it’s because I want this to be my job; and until I see a paycheque, it’s just a very nice hobby for a stay-at-home mom who should probably be doing something more practical instead.

Tantalizing tedium

I’ve been chugging along with my freelance copy-editing job, trying to keep to two hours a day without stressing, so as to keep my work/life balance in order. It would be fine except for those five days I ran off to Ireland for, so I’m scrambling a bit now that my deadline is getting closer and I did a whole four hours this morning.

The material is fascinating, though, in an extremely dry and tedious way. Lemme explain.

It’s one volume in a set that will list all the mammal specimens in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in DC. So it’s 300 pages of Latin names, along with who found them, where, when, and how much there is – skin and skull, or just skin in alcohol, or a lone mandible, that sort of thing. And then sixty pages of references listing the books and journal articles they’re all mentioned in.

Thrilling stuff, eh? But scrape the surface, think about it just a tiny bit, and you’re transported to Victorian times when explorers travelled the globe, with trunks and bottles and all sorts of unsuitable garments, finding a new species of bat in China and a new type of shrew in Sumatra and documenting the details in their field journals, the precise words of which are often reproduced in this dry-as-dust tome I’m working on a hundred and more years later.

Part of my task was to check the spelling of the placenames, which was a tantalizing break in the monotony when every few lines I’d flick over to Google and find myself looking at images like these, for instance:

Google image search results showing tropical islands

An awful lot of mammal specimens were found in amazingly gorgeous islands of Southeast Asia, apparently.

The English names of the animals never even appeared, so unless I bothered to look it up – which I only did once or twice – I really had very little idea whether the specimen in question was a fieldmouse or a monkey, or something in between. I know there were some rabbits, and a lot of bats and shrews, and pikas, which are tiny cute things with big ears that Pikachu must be based on. I didn’t know a thing about zoological nomenclature – or Indonesian geography, for that matter – before I began this, but there’s nothing like diving in at the deep end to teach you something new.

In spite of all the tropical mini-breaks, at least in my imagination, it’s still been pretty mind-numbing work for the most part, but keeping my daily slot to two hours has been quite doable. The references section I’m on now is actually more interesting, as I’ve more to think about and remember and pay attention to. And in spite of the way I’m describing this, I do actually get a kick out of it all. It’s my thing.

And at the end of it all, I’m promised, they’ll pay me real money. Now there’s reason for excitement.

Ongoing

It’s been a busy week, but I think I’m getting the hang of things.

I effectively took September “off”, to see if I could be a famous novelist or something, but instead I just started knitting a lot. So I think I’ve decided that I can’t, and that’s okay. I’ll put it on the back burner for the time being. In the meantime, I have an actual paying copyediting job where I have committed to ten hours a week, and I’m keeping up with that.

I have this terror of committing to a certain amount of time, even though ten hours sounds eminently doable when, technically, I have six hours five days a week all to myself, making thirty. Surely I can assign a third of that to a particular thing. But you know how it is, someone gets sick or there’s a meeting or you have to go to Target for that one thing, and before you know it your day is gone.

(Not to mention housework. I don’t mention housework. It happens if it happens. So long as my kitchen is tidy enough to bake in, and the bathrooms not completely vile, I’m not all that bothered about housework.)

I’m still writing for Parent.ie, though our rate of output has slowed to a more manageable five posts a week. It’s a hobby for all of us, and the pressure of churning out three or four a day was a bit much. We took a break, and then we came back to it in a more relaxed way, and now it’s fun again. It’s a learning experience; but it was nice to have the site listed on the Blog Awards shortlist in two categories and finalist in one, even if we didn’t win anything this year.

I really function much better when I have some sort of schedule to ground me, even if it’s simply a toddler’s naptime habits. So the idea that now I can sit down and edit for two hours every day, whether it’s first thing in the morning or last thing before the school run, is good for me. And the work itself, though seemingly tedious, is strangely addictive and satisfying.

Much like the knitting, actually. At the time of writing I’ve made three pairs of mittens and am on my third hat. You’re supposed to knit a little square to see if your item will work out the right size for the pattern, given everyone’s different knitting tension, not to mention possible differences in yarn and needles. But so far I seem to be just knitting the thing with what I have, hoping it’ll fit someone, and then amending as needed for the next one.

Mabel in multicoloured knitted hat

Entirely predictable existential crisis

My baby is going to kindergarten. I’ve been totally fine with that all the way to here. Not for me sentimental sniffling on turning in her registration. No tears at preschool graduation. We were all ready to move on. The world keeps on turning, you know, and you’ve got to keep up.

Yesterday we trundled up to the school for her intake test, or whatever it is they’re calling the tiny proto-entrance-exam thing they do now, where they see if they know their colours and their shapes and where they are on the learning-to-read continuum, ostensibly so that they can ensure an even spread of abilities across the four kindergarten classes.

The nice teacher began by asking Mabel how her summer had been, and Mabel replied with a slightly aggressive meow-growl. Which might not have been exactly what they’re looking for on the polite chatty scale, but she does tend to resort to animal impersonations when feeling shy. However, she went on to name all the things she was asked to name, to know all the sounds of the letters but not how to read the actual words, and to acquit us well by saying that her favourite book is a chapter book with an impressively long title.

But as we left I have to admit I felt a niggle. Just a tiny niggle of “Oh I hope she’ll be okay” and “They’d better see how amazing she is” and then that little wail of “What will I DOOOOO?” that I’ve been avoiding this whole time. I’m not planning on rushing out and getting a job with a commute and a dress code and all that jazz, but I really do need a plan for not just being a lady who lunches all day while my kids are at school. I have to bring in a few bob, like, for the sake of self respect and college funds and having something to live on in our old age and so on.

My plan, as it stands, is a vague one involving exercise (running or yoga or something), writing, and editing; the editing would earn a crust, the writing might if I could figure out some way to get paid for it. The exercise would stop me bursting out of my jeans and make up for all the muffins I’ll inevitably bake to go with all the cups of tea I’ll inevitably drink.

It’ll be a new era. I don’t think I want to think about it too much just yet.

Mabel standing in a window

Ready to leap

 

Where I am

Something interesting is happening.

You may have noticed, maybe, if you keep tabs on me, but probably you don’t, that I’ve been posting less here lately. I was posting almost daily there for a while, filling this little space with words and words and words as if I’d explode with them. And then, poof! Not so much.

But you might know, or maybe you don’t, that it’s because at the moment I’m writing a lot for Parent.ie. If you flip over to there on any given day you’ll probably find something from me, and some other things from some other great and hilarious and thought-provoking and well-informed writers. (When I say “other” there, I’m not including myself in all those adjectives. I am just sometimes faintly some of those things.)

I’m pretty sure that in a while things will re-balance, and I won’t have quite so much stuff streaming out of me and onto the screen over there, and then I’ll probably come back here a bit more often again. For the moment, I’m going with it and really enjoying the new platform and the new challenge and the different angle.

The interesting thing is that something has flipped and I am thinking of myself more as a writer. It’s given me a legitimacy, maybe, in my own mind, that a personal blog just didn’t. And I’m hoping that the re-balancing will include my writing more of the other things I’m theoretically working on. Because that’s what writers do, and I’m one of those.

 

Parent.ie

I love the Internet.

About a year and a half ago, I stumbled across an Irish parenting blog called “And My Baby” (now defunct). It led me to a Facebook group, quite newly formed, called the Irish Parenting Bloggers. After a little hesitation, I joined the group, happy that they’d have me, considering the way I’m not entirely an Irish blogger (except when I am).

Anyway. That was then. Over the past week, I’ve found myself frantically messaging and writing and editing and giggling and logging in and checking and updating and discussing, and generally marvelling at how amazing the Internet is. Here I was, working, collaborating, with a group of women I’d barely or in some cases never met, on something we hoped could be really big.

We launched it on Tuesday. It’s called Parent.ie. It comes from a team with a dizzying breadth of professional and personal experience, and I’m very proud to call myself one of them. We hope it will be topical, relevant, local, global, intelligent, entertaining, irreverent, thought-provoking, and informative. I’d love to see you over there too.

I write for Parent.ie

Conversation with my chiropractor

Him, chatty, while adjusting my spine, if that’s what that’s called: So, what’ll you do this morning?

Me, vaguely: Oh, do the shopping, go home, try to write something, maybe, sort of…

Him: So, are you writing a book?

Me: Well. No. I can’t say that. Well. I dunno.

Him: So you’re not?

Me: It’s just. It sounds so terribly presumptuous to say you’re writing a book, when you haven’t written it yet and you have no idea how it’s going to turn out or if anyone will want to see it…

Him: Mm hmm.

Me: So I can’t say that. But it would be terrible to get to the end of my life and say “I should have written a book, but I never did.” If I never even try, I definitely never will.

Him: That’s great! … Come back on Wednesday.

 

Syndicated!

I am delighted to have a post syndicated at BlogHer today. You may have read it here already, but click on over and see it in situ – it’ll look totally different, honest.

I think this is actually the first time I’ve been paid real money for something I’ve written.

I’m hoping it won’t be the last.

Syndicated on BlogHer.com

Gainful employ

I have a contracting job. I’ve spent about five hours this week doing work that people will pay me actual money for. This is quite exciting, I have to say. It gives me some focus when Mabel’s in school (apart from focusing on not cleaning the house, which is something I put a great deal of concentration into) and the idea of getting a check at some point in the future that I can bring to the bank and turn into money that I can exchange for goods and/or services is fairly mind-blowing.

I’ve done freelancing in the past, since I turned my back on the world of 8 to 5 and decided to go all out having babies and baking muffins instead, but they were once-off projects. This is (should be; not counting chickens) more of a regular, steady thing. Of course, I need to keep a chunk for tax, and I should really put all the rest away for our retirement, or into the college fund or something (there is no college fund; the children will have to go to college in Ireland, or get scholarships) but I’m busy spending the rest in my head several times over on boots and bags and new jeans and a cleaning lady and a professional hair-dye job.

Sigh. My wants are modest and meagre.

The work is good. It’s not exciting stuff and copy-editing is not everyone’s idea of a good time, but I’m funny that way. It’s challenging enough to be satisfying, and I was able to jump right in and get down to it straight away, which is nice when you’re only working in one-to-two-hour bursts. It’s really very gratifying to not only remember that you have skills that people will pay for but actually find the people who want to make use of them.

**********

I should say something about my new purple badge. I was very happy to be nominated for a Blog Award Ireland and I’m most delighted to have made the shortlist. (I’m also thrilled that the Irish Parenting Bloggers are so well represented, despite the lack of a dedicated Parenting category.)

I’m in the category called “Diaspora”, which is what Irish people call anyone who emigrated, because Mary Robinson said it in 1985 or sometime, and it sounds all poetic and stuff. It was nice of them to have a category for non-residents, though it does mean I’m up against all the might of The Irish Times’s Generation Emigration blog, for instance, which seems like a bit of a hard act to follow. Nevertheless, as we say in these situations, it’s an honour just to be considered.