Rogue Ink

July 8, 2008

The Money Talks, Day One: How Much Money Do You Need? A Lot More Than You Think.

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:41 am
Tags: , ,

Budgets suck. Budgets tell you that you don’t have enough money to do that, but you do have enough money to do this other thing, that you really don’t want to do, but which is smart to invest in for the future or whatall. Budgets are like the parent who told you no, you couldn’t have that toy you wanted when you were a kid, and refused to say why, just ‘because’. Except now you know why, and the reason is: you’re broke. Budgets are not, shall we say, harbringers of joy.

However. In order to figure out how much money you want your business to make, you have to figure out how much money you need. This is generally called budgeting, but since we have established that budgeting sucks, we shall call it ‘dinglefrapping,’ since our version is going to be more fun. Spoiler: Count Dracula is involved. Yes, I know. I’m excited too.

The Basic Dinglefrapp

The basic dinglefrapp includes all the obvious things – food, shelter, health, transportation, and that ever-important category of ‘miscellany’. ‘Miscellany’ is for all the stuff you forget you need until you really need it, like toothpicks or cotton balls or single-malt Irish whiskey (yes, they make single-malt Irish whiskey, and yes, you really need some. No, it’s not better than the best Scottish ones, but it is damned good. Yes, this parenthesis has gone on a little too long. No, I don’t know why).

The basic dinglefrapp is not difficult to figure out. You have your bills. Add them up. Round upwards, not downwards, because you will always spend more money than you meant to. Since I’m a single gal living on my own, my expenses may be less than yours. I am sure you will be able to adjust. My basic dinglefrapp breaks down about like so (rounding up because I hear math is easier when everything ends in zeroes. This may explain why my inclination is always to have no money. It is the ultimate zero, the lack of money.)

Rent and utilities: $900
Loan repayments: $400
Food: $150
Health insurance: $130
Gas: $40 (gotta love no commute)
Miscellany: $150

Don’t ask what’s in miscellany. I honestly don’t know. I just know the money is gone at the end of the month. It could be cotton balls and whatall, but what’s more likely is that it’s my tribute to the Queen of the Moths or something. I fork over the cash, she doesn’t send her brethren to eat me in the night. This seems more reasonable, especially since I know perfectly well I don’t have any cotton balls.

My Basic Dinglefrapp: $1,800 monthly. Cool. Now let’s shake it up.

Dinglefrapp Plus

Aw yeah. Dinglefrapp Plus don’t play. Or rather, it do. Dinglefrapp Plus is all about the non-necessities.

You also need money for books, for entertainment, for vacations, for random moments of stupidity, for eating out, for the random sock puppet you just have to have, for ice cream on a summer night, for the glass slippers you’ll need for the ball you might get invited to, for the impromptu surgery you’ll need to get the glass out of your feet when you smash them, which you will the very second you forget they’re made out of glass and the laws of physics always work against you and your fairytale recreations.

Make the budget for the lifestyle of your dreams. If I had my druthers, I would spend $100 a week on books, and this is not an exaggeration. I want druthers bad. What are druthers? They sound amazing. If, in the lifestyle of your dreams, you went to the movies once a week, by all that is holy, stick that in the dinglefrapp. If the lifestyle of your dreams includes buying a 1985 Aston Martin, go ahead and budget some monthly cash for that. If the lifestyle of your dreams includes getting sunk in a bathtub full of porridge while the cast of Spring Awakening serenades you, I regret to inform you that you are insane and should probably commit yourself forthwith.

But dinglefrapp for it anyway. You never know.

Harold’s Law

Many of you will be automatically discounting the Dinglefrapp Plus about now. “Look,” you’re saying. “That’s all well and good, but I don’t need to put anything in my dinglefrapp that is not essential because I am scared that I will not get the bills paid if I do not just focus on getting the important things taken care of. I’ll skip going out to the movies. I’m fine. Really, Dinglefrapp Basic is fine with me.”

I do not know how you can bring yourself to doubt an institution called the Dinglefrapp Plus, but since the dissent has been making itself known, I shall rebut. I had a perfectly reasonable goal of $1,800 a month. Perfectly doable. Why am I tacking a bunch of extra stuff on there to eff it all up?

Because of Harold’s Law, my friends. Harold’s Law will get you.

Harold’s Law is similar to Murphy’s Law, which states that if anything can go wrong it will and at the worst possible time. Harold’s Law states that any stated goal will be missed by just the hairsbreadth necessary to make you think that were you a better man, you would have attained it. (Harold was kind of a bastard. He got his head flushed a lot in grade school.)

Now, I have circumnavigated Murphy’s Law many a time, because one of its sub-components is that anything you anticipate going wrong is not the thing that will happen. My strategy for overcoming Murphy’s Law is to worry constantly about all of the worst things that could happen and completely neglect to worry about the trivial ones. This leaves Murphy’s Law no option but to make something fairly minor go wrong, which I then fix easily with my mighty skill and come out looking a dashing rogue indeed.

Harold’s Law also has a loophole, and it is essential to understanding the logic behind the Dinglefrapp Plus. Harold’s Law states that you will fail to miss your goal by a hairsbreadth, no matter what that goal might be. If your goal is $1,800, you will fail to hit it. You will only make $1,700. If your goal is $5,000, you will fail to hit that goal too, but only by a hairsbreadth. You may only make $4,700. And wouldn’t that be a damned shame?

Huge Unrealistic Goals.

If the triviality of adding a bunch of fun stuff to your budget is simply beyond you, set yourself a huge unrealistic goal. A big expenditure. A down payment on a new house, six months’ worth of vacation expenses, a candelabra from the original Count Dracula castle. Make it a real one, make it something you badly need, make it something you thought you might begin saving for some time way in the future. The future is here, and it has a Huge Unrealistic Goal squatting in the middle of it.

My personal Huge Unrealistic Goal for the next six months is a valiant attempt to get out of debt. I want to pay off all of my student loans. They total about $18,000. I just tacked on an extra $3,000 to my monthly goal. Take that, Harold’s Law. The rogue ain’t playin’.

Some of you will already have Huge Unrealistic Goals by sheer dint of having more responsibilities than I do. You may have spouses, children or really spoiled houseplants (seriously, they don’t need the designer fertilizer. You realize it’s not actually unicorn dung, right?) and thusly your entire life is already a Huge Unrealistic Goal, and you really don’t have the energy to contemplate adding anything more to it.

Do it anyway. Add a Demi-Size Unrealistic Goal. Maybe it’s an extra couple hundred toward starting that restaurant you’ve always dreamed of where all the dishes are composed of gummi candy. Maybe it’s your kids’ college fund. Add it on there. Seriously. You need it. Here’s why.

Shoot for Absurdity. When You Miss, You Might Wind Up in Functional. Well, You Won’t, but You’ll Have More Fun Than the Other Bastards Who Missed and Didn’t Try for Absurd.

Give yourself a higher goal than you need. Your Huge Unrealistic Goal is there to fail. It is okay if it fails. That is its purpose. The entire point of your Huge Unrealistic Goal is to circumnavigate Harold’s Law. The dream may not happen, but you will always eat, and you will always pay your rent on time, and the houseplants will rejoice in unicorn dung.

The Demon of Complacency

When your goal is only $1,800 a month, you can justify all kinds of things. A nice way to break down how much you need to make is by dividing that monthly sum up by the day. You need to make $50 a day. No problem, right? Hell, that’s Californian minimum wage. You could make $50 a day serving up decaf venti soy no-foam half-shot cinnamon two-shot vanilla lattes at Starbucks. And you’re a professional, right? No biggie for you to make a couple hundred a day. So you might as well take today off and go to the turtle races, and make $100 tomorrow instead.

I can make $1,800 a month without trying too hard. That’s two to three clients a month with mid-to-low sized projects, and that is doable. It is also a ticket to Complacentville, and we do not advocate that sort of thing. The great rogues of history would have sneezed, yea, sneezed upon such a paltry sum. It is not worthy of roguishness. Set yourself a huge goal, a worthy goal. A scary goal. I’m shooting for something more like $5,000 a month. I can’t make that easily. I have get my day started earlier, got to work hard. No time for Complacentville when the Huge Unrealistic Goal is calling you home to Awesometown.

Your goal has to freak you out a little bit. It should get your heart moving in the morning like opening your eyes to a marionette with one of those weirdly creepy Victorian masks for a face. If you open your eyes in the morning and the first thing you think of is, “Fuck. How’m I going to make $300 today,” I guarantee you that you will get out of bed just a little bit faster than you would otherwise. Unless that marionette was dangling right above your face. You’d probably get up pretty quick for that.

The Daily Desperation.

Peter Bowerman, author of the excellent Well-Fed Writer books, said he put up a piece of paper over his desk. He started with his goal number. We’ll take mine – $30,000 in the next six months. Then he made a list, like so:

$30,000 in six months
$5,000 per month
$1,153.85 per week
$230.77 per workday
Where’s the $230.77 coming from today?

His was much more impressive, since somehow he managed to get his math down to the point where his final number was a nice round $200. I don’t know how he did that. Clearly Bowerman can do math. The point stands, though. When you’re sitting in front of your computer and you don’t have any work lined up, that number is motivational. It’s not an absurd number, but it’s enough to freak you out. Get the blood moving. Shake up your sanity. (I just figured out where my Miscellany money goes. It goes to stock up on sanity. You can get a six-pack of sanity at Costco for $49.95. Very reasonable.)

That’s a fair amount of money per day. Makes you a little desperate, a little panicky, but in a good way, in a controlled way, in a way that suggests you could fix this problem if you could just figure out whether it’s the red or the black wire that gets you blown to smithereens. And you can fix the problem. The red wire is doing nothing and feeling sorry for yourself. The black wire is getting some business. Which one of them is going to save you? (Note: if you cannot figure that one out, kindly do not be the person who will save us in the event that someone leaves a careless bomb lying about an important building in which I reside. Please leave that task up to people better suited for it, like Bruce Willis. Thank you for your attention regarding this matter.)

We’re going to talk about how to apply your newfound Unrealistically Huge money needs to your rates tomorrow. Tune in.

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May 27, 2008

Commuting is the Mind-Killer

Filed under: Entrepreneurship — Tei @ 5:22 am
Tags: ,

You may have noticed I took a long vacation this weekend. I sincerely hope that’s all right with everyone, because my father’s ribs are not to be trifled with. Not his personal ribs, per se, because I realize we have a problem with possessives here. There’s nothing terribly exciting about my father’s personal ribs. They’re not some sort of melodic human xylophone or anything. But the pork ribs he cooks on the barbecue are extremely exciting in that they are mighty tasty, and they deserved my full and undivided attention this weekend, and so that is what I gave them.

Meanwhile, I found out something that I once knew, and had forgotten, because I have lived within walking distance of my job for some years now.

Commuting is wretched.

I used to have an hour-long commute, each way, and the commute on the way back was sometimes closer to two hours, if my boss managed to come up with some last-minute task for me, which he often did, because he was an evil old man and he lived two minutes from the office. If I could get out the door at exactly five o’clock, I only had to wait behind the few people that worked in close proximity to the bridge. If I got out the door at oh, five-ten, I and all the other suckers whose bosses came up with last-minute tasks for them would convene together, and we would all wait, seething and cursing and breathing exhaust fumes. It was a five-mile long gridlock of boss-hating and hallucinating revenge. Many of us could be seen drawing diagrams on our car windows in soap of how, when, and with what diabolical tools these bosses would meet their ultimate demise.

I have a bit of trivia for you: people who drive Hummers fantasize about using some truly obscene torture devices on their bosses. Word to the wise.

Anyway, commuting sucks, and I have a couple of reasons why.

The hour before arriving and the hour before leaving don’t exist.

This is even before you check the news, your email, and the blogs you like. Even before THAT hour, there’s the hour spent recovering from commuting. This is not a joke. You are in a bad mood. Nobody likes to be trapped in a car moving forward inch by microscopic inch and listening to morning talk radio. If you have a CD player in the car, you’ve probably forgotten to trade it out for a new CD, and have been listening to the same one for the last year or so. You probably liked the CD when you first got it, but you don’t anymore, and you can’t decide if it’s better to listen to that or hear some poor sucker get prank-called into admitting he’s cheating on his girlfriend. You decide on silence instead, and spend the time chanting “I hate work” over and over. By the time you get to the office, you are not fit for human socialization. You need a little time. More specifically, you need an hour. You need to recover for exactly the same amount of time you spent in a commute, because that is how you erase Hell. In equal proportions. Satan is very methodical in that way.

The hour before you get into the car is lost because you are anticipating fearfully how long the commute will be, trying to figure out how to dodge the boss who gives you the last-minute task, and wondering if you could possibly get home just five minutes before you usually do so as to have time to change shoes before meeting friends for a burrito, because yours hurt, and you might actually not be able to evade the boss, come to think of it, because the shoes are not stealthy so much as they are clicky and presence-announcing. You contemplate sneaking out of the office barefoot, and what impact that might have on your career if you were to be caught. That extra five minutes might be worth the risk.

Two hours of work time, down the drain. You might as well come in an hour later, skip the commute, and be able to get down to business. Same thing for leaving. I would have happily worked my tail off if it would have meant sailing home ahead of all the other commuters.

The cost of transportation is high.

I had forgotten about this. I used to go through a tank of gas at least once a week, if not every three days, and that was in a fairly fuel-efficient car. I’m currently driving one of my parent’s cars, an old Buick, and its mileage is lousy, but I’m only driving fifteen minutes over to a cafe and back, and I’ve had to fill the tank twice in the last week. Eighty bucks, for the privilege of not working at home.

Now, I command a fairly good hourly wage these days, but it sickens me to think that when I was working for a fairly low hourly wage, I was sinking about a day’s worth of pay every week into commuting. That’s correct. I lost a fifth of my salary for the privilege of having a job. That is lousy. If your job is far away, it had better be paying you VERY well. If not, I know some guys in Hummers you should hire to do some negotiating for you.

One word. Cops.

I’m not saying I speed, or take U-turns, or drive on the sidewalk when cars won’t move. I will say, however, that people are known to attempt any and all means to get themselves out of the car just a little bit sooner, and cops are waiting to catch you.

By ‘cops’ I include meter maids, and here’s the real clincher. If your office doesn’t have parking (and many do not) suddenly it’s your responsibility to either guard a meter with your life, move your car from one parking zone to another to remain within their 2-hour limit, or pay for parking in a parking garage. Note: parking in parking garages is an excellent way to get things stolen out of your car. Why? Because all the cops are out on the street, writing tickets to U-turners and people who didn’t put their seatbelts on because they were mad at their boss and just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.

Cars are awesome. Commuting is horrible.

The number-one reason I hate commuting is that it takes something that should be glorious – driving – and makes it dirty and evil and just wrong. Forcing an activity automatically makes it cruel and unjust. It sullies it forever. I couldn’t even LOOK at my car for hours after a commute. The poor guy was wondering what on earth it had done wrong (this was before Billy Markham, this particular car was named Sparky, and he was on loan from an ex-boyfriend).

“Why?” he seemed to say. “Why have you forsaken me? Did we not used to take curves too fast and parallel park in impossibly small spaces and race truck drivers through Nevada together? Why did you drag me through two hours of stop-and-go traffic with other, inferior cars and their masters and then abandon me here on the curb, keening over my own inadequately exercised pistons? Why would you do that to me?”

And I had to turn my head away in shame. We all did what we had to do. Those were hard times, before freelancing. I wasn’t good to that car, and I wasn’t proud of it, but it was the job I had, and nobody had told me yet that there were better ways to live. I’m sorry, Sparky. Maybe one day you can forgive me.

Billy Markham never had to commute. It’s why he loves me, why he’s joyous and free and never gazes off into the distance looking depressed and resigned, the way Sparky did. It’s why he got a surname, too, because that’s the other evil of commuting. Sparky never had a surname because there was no chance he’d ever pass it on. You can’t propogate the species sitting in gridlock. Commuting will be the death of us all.

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May 15, 2008

My Useless College Education

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 4:37 am
Tags: , ,

I was just thinking I should write a post on college, since my brother is graduating from his. And then, in my spam filter, I caught this little gem, which for reasons unknown to me, was under the heading “Business College.”

Hustler is a new realistic dong that will definitely be useful in your next passionate play.

I do not see why you would have to go to business college to determine that, but there you have it.

Which brings me to my topic for today. College. Why do we go, and what good is it?

One of my biggest regrets in life is going to college. I can say this not because I had a bad time in college, but because, given the choice to either go to college or check out what’s behind door number two in my history, I’d be excited to try door number two. That’s rare. Usually I’m kind of hippie-esque on this one (California roots, people. I believe in the power of organic vegetables and homeopathy and good vibes. Also, Asian fusion). For the most part, even if a particular choice was rough, I learned enough from it that I wouldn’t undo it.

There’s a saying I’m told is Romani, to the effect that you should never retrace your steps unless you’re willing to undo that portion of your life. This freaked me out to the extent that I have only ever taken highway 80 cross-country going one direction. And I go cross-country a lot. To the detriment of my car and my sanity and my bank account. I like driving. I like the open road. And I have become very well acquainted with the southern alternate route to 80. If you speed, it’s just as fast.

Unless you speed on 80 too. Then it’s a little slower. But prettier.

All of that is to say that given the choice to unwalk that path, to do something else with the three years I was in college (I finished, I finished, I’m just bright), I would take that chance. I would pick the red pill.

College Was Kind of Useless for My Profession

Everything I needed to know to be a writer I already knew by eighth grade. This is true, and it saddens me that most eighth graders do not graduate middle school with that capacity. I had excellent grammar and spelling skills and I read enough to know the difference between awkward and smooth phrasing. I started rewriting white papers for my mother when I was fifteen.

If I had been smarter, I would have started my business while I was still in high school. I could have been home free by now. I could have been keeping this blog for seven, eight years, people. You could have had SO much more Roguish in your diet.

I didn’t. I went to college. And I studied a lot of literature and philosophy and Shakespeare, spent an enjoyable three months in Rome on a study abroad venture, and weaseled my way through environmental science and French and Italian. It was fun. I like learning. I like academia.

It was completely and utterly useless to my profession.

I have never been asked for any of the skills I developed in college. I took precisely one class that offered the basics of business writing, and it was excellent, but I’m certain I would have learned more or less the same thing on the job if I had chosen instead to go be a stringer at an alt-weekly or write copy freelance as I do now. No one has ever asked me if Poe was being ironic when he claimed that he used only the forces of logic and reason, not intuition or experimentation, when he chose the rhyme scheme, meter, subjects, and scansion of ‘The Raven’ (Answer: he damn well better have been being ironic, because otherwise he was a tool).

People say you go to college for the experience. I say, that was a damned expensive experience. It cost me something like a hundred grand to go to the University of Chicago for three years, and that was with a sizable academic grant. I met people. I learned things. It’s a phenomenal school full of very smart people, and if I were planning on studying the origins or new virtues of something for the rest of my life, archaeology or economics or literature, I’d have gone again. I’d have taken the blue pill.

But I’m a writer. Writers write. I didn’t write more because I went to college, I wrote less, since I was working to support myself through it and trying to study for exams and come up with new interpretations of Much Ado. Writers write, that simply, and being in debt never made it any easier on us.

What say the rest of you? College or real-life experience? Red or blue pill?

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April 18, 2008

The Next Great Caper: Your Business

The only useful thing I know about writing your business plan is this: if it doesn’t make you laugh, you aren’t enjoying your freelancing status nearly enough.

If you’re running your business on your own dime, no one’s going to see your business plan. The bank won’t see it. All your kajillion potential investors won’t see it (what, you don’t have a kajillion potential investors? Me neither, it’s all right. None of the cool kids have them). Your mother won’t see it unless you show it to her. No one will see the business plan.

Which is why mine is tricked out to look like a con job.

I don’t know about you, but running a business scares me, especially on days when I catch myself taking it all too seriously. But I’m a rogue. Pretending to be a bank robber makes me all giddy inside. Approaching my business plan as though it were a high-level con job is amusing to me, and it makes the whole venture more fun.

Really, when you think about it, launching a business is exactly like running a con. You get your people together, you plan, you hit all the right set-up points, and if you do it right, you walk away with the money. You are frickin’ Ocean’s Twenty-Six. Or whatever number we’re up to.

A proper con needs:

A Mark: This is your target demographic. They don’t know you’re going to hit them, but they’ve seen your kind before, so they are naturally suspicious. You have to be smooth, savvy, come at them from an angle they’re not expecting. They have to like you, not too much, not enough to want to latch on to you, but a little, enough to trust you. If you pull off the job right, they’ll practically hand you their money. They’ll even be a little glad you have it. That’s the mark of a true rogue, when they feel like they got their money’s worth.

A Con Man. This, needless to say, is you. He’s the one who came up with the job and planned how to execute it. The most important attribute of the con man is that he knows his own strength and plays to it. Clooney didn’t try to re-wire the vault alarm, did he? No, Clooney charmed the socks off of people, because that’s what Clooney does. Translation: if you’re a writer and a good networker, that’s what you do. If you’re a web designer and an awesome accountant, that’s what you do. You probably know bits and pieces of the whole con job, but if you want it done right, you need to get yourself some cohorts.

Cohorts: Your cohorts are anyone who is helping you out. Ocean had a safe-cracker, a pickpocket, a demolitions expert, etc. You have a website designer, a marketing expert, a fellow entrepreneur. Your cohorts should only be people you trust, and they should only be people who are very, very good at what they do. They should be helping you mostly because they like you, a little because there’s profit. The guy who is only helping you for the paycheck is the one who’s going to cop out at the wrong moment. Screw that guy. He messes the whole thing up. He doesn’t even like the Bellagio fountains.

Logistics: Get yourself out a calendar. Mark off the days for each of your tasks. These have to be done in order, or it won’t fall right. Put your website up. Order your business cards. Attend a networking meeting and smoothly interest several patsys in your business. Kill the competition (wait, what?). Plan out each day of the first month of your new business. Down to the minute. Trust me. You won’t stick to it – it’s the mark of a good rogue to ad-lib when necessary – but you will be glad you had it.

A Cover: You should have a couple of current clients who continue to fund you throughout the execution of your plan. If anyone asks about your secret business launching plan, you can act all bewildered and say, “What are you talking about? I’ve been here with Johnny the whole time.” And Johnny will confirm. Because it’s true. Johnny is also your investor (he may or may not know this). Johnny is the reason you can spend half your time working on the secret business plan. You may not need Johnny later. The loyalty might keep you from getting rid of him, though. Depends on how ruthless you are.

A Payoff. If your payoff is not worth the amount of effort you are putting into the con, it isn’t worth the job. Make your payoff something worth having. My personal payoff is $50,000. Why? Because that’s the amount of money I need to pay off my debt by the time I hit my 25th birthday, pay my rent, eat out a few times a month, and fix my car. If I execute my plan properly, I’ll get my payoff. If not, the whole thing may blow up in my face. If that happens, I fall back on my cover, and I try to pull the con all over again when I’ve bounced back.

That’s the best part of the con. You can do it over and over again. It becomes more exciting, though, to do all the mundane little tasks that need to be done throughout your day. The next time you’ve got an assignment you don’t really want to do, pretend the building will explode if you don’t get it done by 5:00 p.m. It ramps you right up.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go dress in black and climb into a building.

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April 11, 2008

The Sausage Story

Filed under: Entrepreneurship,Off Topic — Tei @ 5:49 am
Tags: , ,

So I asked Naomi whether she’d rather hear a story about sausage or a 27-year-old pact, and she said, “Sausage. Always sausage.”

So this is all her fault.

There comes a time in a woman’s life where she is so intensely happy with herself and her life that no glance of judgment can deter her from her chosen path. I am that woman, and it is that time. I officially have no shame.

Backstory: For the last four days, I have had a negative account balance in my bank account. This is due largely to the fact that the Boulder postal service still evidently uses ponies to deliver the mail. Sick ponies. Ponies with gout and arthritis problems. I have been waiting a long, lonely day for money to show up in my mailbox. And in the meantime, I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal and Bisquick and the slightly dead vegetables in the bottom of my crisper. I eyed a lone jellybean left over on the floor from the previous tenant’s children for a good long while before finally letting it go, but only because it was a licorice one.

The freelancer diet comes highly recommended. Starving artists do not actually starve. We just decide that oatmeal is no longer worth it the trouble it takes to chew. I was lying awake in bed one night thinking I was kind of hungry, but deciding I simply did not want oatmeal badly enough to get up. Now, if there had been a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in my fridge, you better believe I could have bestirred myself. You would be surprised how much less food you decide your body needs when the only food available is, essentially, gruel. That Oliver Twist character was delirious. There is no way he actually wanted more gruel. He was hallucinating at the time. He thought it was brisket and deep fried mushrooms.

This morning, a very dear friend of mine, who has heard about my freelancer diet at length for the last few days, came to my house at 5:45 a.m., through the snow, to drive me to the airport. He brought me breakfast, which was sealed up in three Zip-loc bags. The three bags were: Toast with eggs fried in the middle. Two tiny muffins, and four strawberries. And sausage.

I may have sworn lifelong fealty to this man, as well as given my solemn word that I will bear his children and clean his fish tanks. It was the gruel talking. For pity’s sake, the man brought strawberries.

I chowed down with a vengeance. But he is a young man, this friend, and young men always think the bottomless pits they have for stomachs come standard for the rest of the human race, and so he brought me a lot of sausage. In fact, he brought me four little breakfast links, and an entire polish sausage. This is because he has ever experienced a stomach that is so disgusted with gruel that it has decided to wear black eyeliner and rock back and forth for awhile in its room, telling all visitors to go away. So the polish sausage went uneaten for a little while, while was delayed for nearly an hour in the snow for the first leg of my flight, landed with ten minutes to spare for my connection, and sprinted down half a terminal to discover that the second leg was also delayed, that I decided the time had come to eat lunch.

Next to my gate was a Dairy Queen. There were people surrounding the Dairy Queen, getting frosty shakes and burgers and french fries. There was ketchup involved. Also a good many bald men. I do not believe I have ever seen so many bald men in my life outside of a Congressional assembly.

I sat down. I put my beautiful brown leather computer bag, which I got as a graduation present, on the seat next to me.

Out of the beautiful brown leather computer bag I drew a Ziploc baggie with a giant hock of Polish ham in it, grease pooling at the bottom, still a little warm (those folk at Ziploc make a good baggie). Heads turned. Noses wrinkled. I distinctly saw one woman turn her child’s head away. I reached into the grease and pulled out my sausage, and began to merrily gnaw on it, among all the fries and the milkshakes and the bald men and the nicely dressed business people on business flights. A little sausage juice ran down the inside of my arm and I caught it with a fingertip and stuck it in my mouth, which is when one of the baldies decided to get uppity.

“Forget the bread?” he asked, smiling in the greasy way that too many Dairy Queen burgers will net you. He was wearing a pinstripe suit and a power tie, and he’d flung it over his shoulder to keep it out of the ketchup. He eyed my cleavage and bit off a french fry and it made a noise that sounded exactly like, “You poor, pathetic sausage-gnawing child. I can afford bread and meat to stick between it. And a milkshake.”

It was a noisy fry.

“A friend of mine woke up at five this morning to take me to the airport, and he packed me a little breakfast for a surprise. I’ve already eaten most of it.” I said calmly. I bit off a piece of my sausage, and IT made a noise that sounded just like, “You probably took a taxi to the airport, baldy, and nobody likes you enough to make you breakfast. Definitely not with strawberries.”

There comes a time in every woman’s life where she is perfectly, utterly happy with her life.

That’s the sausage story. Tune in a few hours for the 27-year-old pact.

April 10, 2008

Being Bored Makes You Broke

We’re going to play with some simple economics for a moment here. It’s okay, this is very safe. I’m a University of Chicago graduate, and we’re quite famous for our economics departments full of Nobel Prize Laureates. I will grant you that none of those Laureates are me, nor did I ever take anything that remotely resembled an economics class at U of C, but my boyfriend did, and he was a conservative Republican Texan Marine, so we argued about economics a lot. And I always won. Which allows me to speak now with authority, and alacrity. And alliteration.

Pretend you work in a company.

You get paid a salary for doing a job. Picking a job entirely at random, let’s say you screw the heads onto plastic bunny rabbit wind-up dolls. You screw on 200 a day. If you do that, your boss is fine with your level of performance. That’s what he hired you for. 200 bunny heads a day.

Now, if you’re like most of us, you figure out pretty quick that it only takes you perhaps 3 hours of your eight-hour workday to screw 200 bunny heads. The rest of those five hours you spend fooling around online, daydreaming about churros, and trying to remember all the words to the Rubber Ducky song. That’s okay, though, because your boss only expects 200 bunny heads, and as long as you screw all 200, you will still get the same salary that you would if you screwed them all day long.

In fact, if you are in a job right now and you are vigorously screwing on 600 bunny heads a day in a company full of other people who screw 200 a day for the same salary, you are a damned fool if you don’t insist on a raise or slow the fuck down. Women apparently have a particular problem with this, so to all women out there, I beseech you: only screw vigorously for an appropriate salary. That is all.

Now. Pretend you are a freelancer.

Works a little different now. Now, a guy calls you up. He says, “I’ll pay you a dollar for every bunny rabbit head you screw on.” You say, “Can I do it from home?” and he says sure, because you’re a freelancer, and those are the perks. So instead of screwing bunny heads on in an office, you’re screwing them at home, on your couch, wearing yesterday’s underwear (this is the theoretical ‘you’ we are talking about. I personally have never done this.) And you screw 200 bunny heads.

Pop Quiz: What do you do then? Do you keep screwing, for another 5 hours and another $333.33? Or do you stop and go check out for the rest of the afternoon?

We will now bid adieu to our bunny rabbit head screwing analogy, somewhat regretfully, since it turned out to be more entertaining than we had anticipated, and come to our point.

When you work from home, every single minute that you spend being bored is wasting your money. You are no longer getting paid for your time, you are getting paid for your output. If I tallied all the time I spent just yesterday watching this blog’s stats go shooting into the stratosphere (and thank you all for making it possible), it would amount to about the same time period it generally takes me to write an article. You know what a good personal essay runs for in an online magazine? About $500. I just cheated myself out of $500. Just TODAY.

The idea of tallying how much money I have cheated myself of over the last few months is terrifying. I suspect it numbers in the tens of thousands. I am scared to calculate it. And I could use that money. I have student loans and a chocolate habit.

People in Hollywood are always bored. This should be a warning to us all.

I was talking to an actor friend of mine in L.A. Now, everyone knows that Hollywood is where young wannabe actors go to become waitstaff, but my friend is doing very well out there, which is baffling. He shouldn’t be doing well. He fits none of the demographics for a successful Hollywood actor. He’s about 5’5”, half-Japanese, half-Chinese, with an overbite and an Asian ‘fro (honey, if you ever read this, forgive me, but it’s all true). Yet he’s making a living as an actor in a place where actors go to die. How?

Most actors out there work the way most 9-to-5ers do. 3 hours a day. The absolute minimum. They go to their auditions and they go to parties and scan their customers for celebrities and the rest of the time they are being, quite attractively, bored. My friend goes to his auditions, comes home, works on a monologue, writes a screenplay, networks, pitches a TV show idea to a bunch of people, attempts to seduce Jennifer Love Hewitt . . . you get the idea. He puts in twelve hours a day or more into his job. And because of that, he’s beating all the odds. The reward of which is a new car, of which I am deeply envious, because it’s a Mini Cooper, and Mini Coopers were the only good thing about 2003’s The Italian Job remake.

If I put in twelve hours a day – if I even put in the EIGHT a day that we all theoretically work – if I actually WORKED during that time, I’d be making six figures, easy. So would you. Because all of your competition is only working three hours a day. They have succumbed to the boredom.

They have an excuse. Screwing bunny rabbit heads is boring. Running your own business doing something you enjoy, however, is deeply exciting. In a shiny new Mini Cooper way.

Running a business is hard. But it isn’t boring.

Here’s the thing: I like my work. Writing for a living is good times. Being my own boss rocks, because I enjoy working barefoot and sneezing without covering my mouth (forgive me, it’s true). Every tiny little thing I figure out to make my business better gives me a little thrill of glee, right here, in my Glee Center, located somewhere left of my femur and south of my coccyx (which is, by the by, the best word you can’t play in Scrabble).

All of that is because this business is MINE. When all is said and done, working your tail off to improve someone else’s company isn’t nearly as cool as working your tail off to improve your own. It’s satisfying, it’s terrifying, it’s a little magical, and I am never bored when I am doing it. I am psyched, in fact. I call folk up to tell them I got a new client, or figured out how to design a webpage, or – and this is true – changed the layout on my invoices. If you are truly bored with running your business, you are in the wrong business, and you should get another one.

But but but, you say. Running a business makes my head hurt. I need an aspirin. And all the episodes of Sex and the City, in order by season, on YouTube, to make the pain go away.

Yes, it is true. Being bored is easier than running your business. But it will also bankrupt you, and it will make you no less bored to indulge your boredom. Let’s face it, the things we do when we are bored are not things we would ever admit to doing if asked at, say, a dinner party, what we did that day. We never say, “I commented on Yahoo reviews for mediocre movies that I subsequently saw out of guilt for being mean-spirited with no firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of 10,000 B.C.” If you ever uttered these words aloud, I am willing to bet no one talked to you at that dinner party – or indeed in that area code – ever again. The things we do when we are bored are, in and of themselves, inherently boring, and we are generally a little ashamed that we did them.

Except for watching the Rubber Ducky song. That’s just pure joy. With bubbles.

Brief Unrelated Announcement.

I will be flying to NYC tomorrow and shall not be responding to comments as promptly as I have been wont to do. But I will respond! It will just take me until I change planes in Tennessee.

What, like you’ve never been routed through Tennessee?

Oh. You haven’t.

Me neither. I’m a little scared.

Hold me.

April 3, 2008

Some love for others. Especially Men with Pens.

I believe this is the article that started it all. Well, not for me, because I am not that good at keeping up with the blogosphere, but chronologically at least, this was the first in this week’s mad viral interviewing posts, and Lori over at Words on the Page credits it for inspiring her getting-ever-more-awesome series on interviewing (today’s post: How to Suck at Sales. Hey, that’s me! I suck at sales!), so here’s some link love for Freelance Folder.

I think it’s like yawning. You know how even if you didn’t see the person yawn, you still have to yawn? I think these interview posts are like that. With less likelihood that a fly is going to wander in there while your mouth is open.

In other news: I’ve discovered that the blogosphere is the best possible place to get advice on freelancing. When I first moved to New York (cue music), I called up every contact my mother had in the area, and believe you me, she has many, but most of them couldn’t be bothered and few of them had any useful advice for a just-starting-out writer.

Now, I’ve been corresponding with a bunch of folk over at Men with Pens about the difficulties of a freelance writer’s life, and my one measly whiny little post about hating to need gas money for an interview immediately kicked off a level of heavy-duty cheering-up, the likes of which I have not seen since the last time I knocked a front tooth out. There was James, one of the above-mentioned Men with Pens, who related a story that should bring tears to the eyes of any freelancer, about shoveling horseshit for a living, and this guy Brett, who said nice things about my blog and my writing, and this lovely woman Karen, who offered to advise me on auction sites, which I will probably be talking about in some detail when I grasp what they are and how to use them. And when I do, it will be because Karen helped me. Because she is more awesome than the professionals in New York all rolled together. I know. I talked to all of them.

Seriously. Men with Pens. They’re a great crew. They’ll make you one of them. Also, they’re just damnably good writers over there, and I need more brethren.

March 18, 2008

Freelancing is too damn free.

Filed under: Blogging,Entrepreneurship,Writing — Tei @ 7:32 pm
Tags: ,

Freedom is a glorious concept. Mel Gibson’s blue-woaded face wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive if he had been screaming ‘Oppression!’ while his guts were being slowly unraveled from his body. ‘Land of the chained and the home of the obedient’ isn’t a good slogan for any nation. And I liked Thomas More’s Utopia, I don’t care what all my professors at University of Chicago said about it. (They said mean things. They made Thomas More cry.)

The downside of freedom is, of course, that you have to figure out for yourself what you want to do with your time. In an oppressed society, someone tells you what to do. Get up at dawn, work in the fields, pay my taxes, hand over your wife. None of it fun, but hey, there’s a purpose to it. You know what’s expected of you. Same thing with a nine-to-five job. Get up, buy a latte, get that report done, pander to the boss. Nobody likes it, but nobody’s ever sitting there in the middle of the day wondering what they should do next. Nine-to-fivers know what they’re supposed to do next. They just don’t want to do it. And probably won’t, until their fifth reprimand from the voices on high. Since they discontinued that whole ‘serf’ thing.

I threw off my chains a while ago. I’ve been freelancing for years, free as the birdies, and just as aimless. I had a pretty lofty utopian dream of what my life would look like, if I were only free to do as I liked. No more wasted time on YouTube while my manager figured out that I’d completed that assignment a week ahead of schedule. No, I would use my time efficiently, finish my work in the mornings and spend my afternoons in museums and bookstores, increasing my knowledge and romantic nature with every precious art-ridden moment. Then, perhaps, I would refinish my cabinets. I would live in splendor, work swiftly and well, drown myself in art, and finish that novel. And bluebirds would appear every morning to drape a fresh crown of seasonal flowers about my head.

Here’s what actually goes down:

I wake up. Feeling a little sick. Have the sort of sore throat that makes me swallow constantly and try to pop my ears. But they never pop. No. Because there is not a just and kind god in the universe, not a one. Not even a pagan one of ears and sickliness.

Go back to sleep.

Wake up around eleven, having forgotten I was supposed to email a woman in California about a potential gig. Roll over, pull computer up on bed, attempt to connect to the series of tubes.

No Internet connection. Damn and blast.

Take shower. Make tea with some whiskey in it. If no one told you, ginger tea with honey, lemon, and whiskey is a delicious alternative to DayQuil, and accomplishes approximately the same thing. And if you think I’m an alcoholic for drinking at that hour of the morning, I remind you that some of us did not have Ritalin and Prozac and other FDA-approved drugs when we were children, and we must now make up for lost time by altering our experience of the world wherever possible, and for whatever excuse we deem fit.

Now there’s an Internet connection. I suspect this has something to do with my embracing alcohol before noon. If the gods of sickliness are not on my side, the gods of debauchery are ready to roll. I email the woman, find another email about a quick copyediting job.

I drive to the coffeeshop full of working professionals. Well. Maybe not. It’s a pretty day. I decide to take walk first.

Nice walk. I need to put more exciting things in my iPod. Stuff other people envy me for having. Some of this music I do have, courtesy of a good friend of mine who likes to gather it, but he always gives it to me in CD form, so all of my supercool music comes to me under the title of ‘Track 13’, which is impressive to exactly no one. For all they know, ‘Track 13’ could be Britney Spears, when in fact it is Goldfrapp.

Sit down to do the copyediting job. Get distracted by John Scalzi’s blog. Four hours pass. I eat a bagel for nourishment.
Do copyediting job. Takes a little longer than I would have thought.


Freedom is not for the weak. I think it’s good that we throw off our tyrants, but some of us could do with a benevolent monarch. A monarch who would issue inspiring, bold, unforgettable speeches from a high tower that impressed upon me the wisdom and virtue of good works and eschewing hours of time pondering the lolcats. When the monarch spake, I would immediately rush to do his bidding, because my many years of living under this rule would have assured me to trust him.

And then I’d find out that he was, in fact, responsible for some kind of Gate fiasco. And I would weep.

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