Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Breaking the (work) cycle

I've been going through a strange period professionally, lately.

Sometimes I can't even believe how much things have changed in the last almost-six years since I started freelancing. I barely remembering longing to line up work and hustling to fill my time with assignments. Trying to connect with editors and hoping they'd hire me for a piece.

These days, I'm lucky enough to work with a bunch of amazing editors and clients. My time is filled -- so filled I have to turn down assignments regularly, which is a great problem to have.

But ...

(There's always a but!)

... to quote Justin Bieber (I think there's a first time for everything) ... "I've been so caught up in my job, didn't see what's going on, but now I know ..."

I've been so caught up in my work -- the endless cycle of pitching or accepting assignments, research, interviews, writing, editing all in order to feed the beast -- that I haven't really stopped to think beyond a week or two.

I've been living from assignment to assignment, type-ity-typing as quickly as my fingers can go, without really moving forward. Professionally, I've never been busier and while I love a LOT of what I do -- the stories I write, the people I get to interview -- it's not leaving time for anything else.

I feel like I'm stuck on a hamster wheel, churning out content, and if I'm not careful I'm going to find myself in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE five, 10, 15 years from now.

And that freaks me out.

It depresses the hell out of me, too.

My house is a mess. The kids' dinner was reheated meatball-and-rice meals that are supposed to be for school lunches but that's all I could muster. I hid in the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher like a zombie while they ate in front of the TV. They wanted seconds but there wasn't any so I buttered leftover hotdog buns and blankly delivered them to the coffee table. I feel like crying but I rarely cry anymore -- I don't know if it's the antidepressants or if I'm just shutting down inside, maybe. A random reader called me out publicly today for being a "very selfish" mother and told me to "smarten up." She didn't know I was already having a hard day. She didn't know I was drowning in deadlines and worrying about how I was going to get it all done. She didn't know I gave up my morning (precious work hours when C was in preschool) to volunteer at a teen health fair, talking about alcoholism in families. She didn't know I skipped my Zumba class tonight so I could let my tired shift-working husband sleep later, even though I desperately wanted to go. I know it's a bad day, not a bad life. I know I'm a good mother because I work damn hard at it, every day. I know I'll put the house back together at some point in the next few days. I know I'm not putting myself first today and that I'm burning out, and I also know that's temporary. But I couldn't bring myself to Insta a cute kid pic or styled project shot today, and this is why. #realtalk
A photo posted by Heather Laura Clarke (@hfxheather) on

The novel? The waking up at 5 a.m. to write? Has not happened in months. I tried getting up early again and it just didn't stick. I was so tired! Even with a very early bedtime, I'm so tired. I feel like I'm going at 200 per cent capacity all of the time. Maybe my iron's off-the-charts low again, I don't know.

The idea of never actually publishing a book is terrifying. I want it so badly but I'm struggling to give myself the time to make it a reality.

For the past three or four weeks, I have been telling myself I'm going to dedicate a certain amount of hours each week to finishing the novel. Maybe 10 hours, I decided. I'll schedule it into the calendar just like actual, paying work and I'll force myself to ---

Yeah, it never happened.

Being a freelancer means you have no stability in terms of getting paid, so it's our natural inclination to panic at the thought of turning down paid gigs in order to do NON-PAYING WORK -- even if it's, like, your freaking lifelong dream?

If a client or editor is dangling a cheque in front of me, I can't say "No, I have to work on my novel. I'm going to have to turn that down." Because the oil bill doesn't get paid from my novel's word count, and I don't think a well-edited first chapter will cover our monthly cell phone bill.

I don't know what the solution is to getting my groove back and finishing this novel. How to fine the balance between focusing on paid work that keeps my family afloat and committing myself to the biggest, most important goal in my professional life: writing books. 

In the meantime, you'll find me on the hamster wheel with my headset on -- interviewing someone, writing something, submitting something .... wondering how being an author is ever going to happen for me if I don't MAKE it happen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

When your baby's not a baby anymore

Our babiest baby turned four on yesterday, but anyone we’ve ran into in the past few months already knows that.

“My birf-day is April twenty-fifth — two five!” she’s been announcing proudly, just in case someone was unclear on the meaning of twenty-fifth.

We’re entering birthday season in our house. Our son, our eldest, is turning six in June and I’m not feeling much more than mild amusement. It’s like, “Wow, six! I’ve been a parent for six years?! Huh. Crazy.”

It’s going to be a happy occasion, heavy on the superheroes and Lego. He’s hounding us daily if he can open his gifts early (no) and that’s about it. Six isn’t a shocker birthday, like five was — OMG you’re going to school! — and it’s not as dramatic as turning 10.

(Eight, I think, will be a big birthday since I recall feeling much older when I was eight.)

But there’s something about the youngest child that makes every single birthday seem a bit painful. She’s the last baby we will ever have, and each year on April 25 we get further away from the days of freshly-laundered onesies and those fluffy cloth diapered bums.

(We also get further away from sleepless nights, colic, diaper explosions and tiresome pumping sessions, so it’s not all bad.)

First she was one and I cried that she technically wasn’t a baby anymore — she was a wobbly, curious toddler with delicious thigh rolls. Then when she turned two, I realized she still had been a baby and now she really was a true toddler. Her third birthday was emotional because, woah, she was a toddler/preschooler hybrid chasing after her big brother.

But four? Four is very different from three ...

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene ...

Monday, April 25, 2016

DIY media cabinet from an old hutch

I’d been wanting to upgrade the flimsy basement “entertainment centre” for ages. What had originally been a spectacular (at the time) unit with a storage bridge spanning two tall cabinets and a low rolling TV stand in the middle was now just ... a low rolling TV stand.

Ugh, right?

Its companion pieces long sold, broken or donated, it was the last surviving piece of Zellers memorabilia in a household that strongly supported the big Z.

Since the TV is wall-mounted, the stand wasn’t living up to its full potential anymore. It held the stereo components and gaming systems along with a whack of junk. It was the perfect low height to collect empty glasses, beer cans, stray discs and the odd toy or two. It was a dust-collecting mess and it was time to replace it with something taller.

Luckily, fate stepped in. Remember a few weeks ago when my friend gave us her old hand-me-down dining room hutch? It was a standard two-piece with a lower bank of cabinets and an upper section with glass doors and shelving.

So much potential, right?

We already had a hutch, so I knew right away we’d be separating it — and that the top section would be a perfect new media cabinet ...

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home ...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

When summer sports suck

It’s that time of year when parents get panicky about registration forms and deposits. No, not school — heck, school’s easy to get into. I’m talking about the Seasonal Summer Sessions of Sanity-Sucking Sports.

While the pain of bringing a child into the world does indeed fade — otherwise no one would have more than one — I’m still cringing at the memories of last summer’s T-ball debacle.

Two nights a week, every week, of scarfing down our dinner and jumping into the van to race to the ballfield. Hot, cranky, buggy evenings when the kids wanted to play in the backyard with their friends but I had to herd them over to a dusty diamond. I do not do “outdoors” well at the best of times, but especially not at the end of a long day when I’m sweaty, frazzled (with frizzled hair) and swatting at the bugs.

My husband’s work schedule meant he usually couldn’t make it, and I’d be running back and forth between the playground — trailing after our three-year-old — and the field to catch a glimpse of my lil’ slugger whacking the tee — not connecting with the ball at all.

Although I was happy at the end of each practice, the timing could not have been worse for the kids. They would race over to the splash pad and kick off their sneakers at the exact moment the water is shut off for the evening. Sorry, kids. Now let Mommy crab at you for strewing your socks across the field and jam your sweaty little feet back into your shoes. The minivan will be stiflingly hot, we already drank all of the water and, no, we are not having freezies when we get home because MOMMY REALLY NEEDS TO GET YOU TO BED.

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene ...