One Week, in One Year

Our lives are made up of minutes that become hours that run into days that eventually become years. Then, it’s over. There’s an announcement in the newspaper, or a Facebook update mentioning an obituary. Maybe there’s a visitation, a funeral, or simply the memories of a life lived out across a small ripple in a sea of time.

I’ve lived out more than half of my ripple. Will it leave even the smallest of marks on the water’s surface after I’m gone? Nothing’s certain on that front. I hold the belief that how we live and what we do while here matters—at least that’s the hope, lacking any guarantee.

Last week offered perhaps the most representative summation of the freelance lifestyle from my vantage point. Equal parts enjoyable, even empowering, intertwined with a stretch that left me uncharacteristically weary, requiring tapping into a reserve that I wasn’t sure I had. Every segment of my puzzle-piece work life was represented.

Back when I was running laps around the usual five-day-a-week labor track, I complained that my two-day weekends weren’t long enough. Now, finding a 48-hour stretch of time to step away from wage-gathering happens so infrequently for me that I sometimes resent those who have it so good—and yet find the need to voice their displeasure in my presence or via social media—not knowing that it irritates me (although I try to overlook it).

The world of work continues evolving.

The world of work continues evolving.

Writing is a passion of mine. If I have to name what it is that I do, I’ll always self-identify as “a freelance writer.” It took me nearly 40 years to recognize a talent (some might even qualify it as “a gift) that remained hidden under layers of work, family obligations, and even romantic notions about what constituted “the writing life”—as if there’s one defining frame for being a writer. Runners have different strides, just like pitchers rely on their own style and array of pitches in getting batters out. My writing experience is probably different than yours (if you’re a writer), as it should be.

I began the writing journey back in 2002, with 2003 being the year that I set my face “like flint” towards a goal to make writing central in my life. By 2006, I recognized that writing didn’t automatically deliver riches, but rather (at least for me) required creativity and supplemental income—at least if I didn’t want to end up foreclosing on my house, or worse. I turned back towards a more traditional, 40-hour way of making a living, while still continuing to write. In fact, it was during this stretch that I released my two books on Moxie.

This would also lead me to meet and work for one of the most important people to come along in my life. His belief in me and validation provided a boost, fueling my forward maneuvers as an author, an independent publisher—while eventually, becoming a consultant for other writers looking to do what I had done—publish my own writing and bring it to the marketplace.

I was reminded of that again this week when I had lunch on Friday with someone from that former life. My former partner in crime, Paul, has become a close friend. He’s the only person—now that my old boss has passed over to something other than this life—that I care to remain in contact with. I am thankful for Paul’s friendship. He and I always have honest discussions, mixed with laughter, and we part ways with the certainty that despite our busy lives, we’ll at some point schedule time to see each other once again.

In May I located a part-time job that provides a financial anchor for me. I’m committed to this employer four days each week between Monday and Friday. Tuesdays are my “off day,” but Tuesday usually is already pre-booked to work on writing tasks, like producing articles for an auto trade magazine publisher I’ve been writing for since last August.

Writing about cars, especially technology’s place and how it affects the industry are some of the types of articles I get to develop. I also have touched on elements that might be considered ancillary to parts of the industry (such as repair shops), things like food trucks, electric vehicles, and even Uber.

Speaking of Uber, I have now driven four times for the ridesharing app. If I’m going to moonlight, the job’s got to offer some certainty and an equation that delivers a number that’s fairly concrete when I factor in hours spent working, and its value for me. While I’m still really new motoring about Uberville,last weekend’s incentives that included guaranteeing an hourly rate motivated me to get out on the road and make some money.

Last December, I answered an ad in the newspaper for a Portland funeral home, looking for funeral attendants. What they wanted was someone who could go out on night “removals.” If you aren’t sure what that entails, I’m basically an undertaker. When people die, especially during the after-hours period between 4:30 at night and 8:00 the next morning, people like me go out with a van and pick up the deceased. It might sound a bit weird at first, but if you know anything about the industry, it’s a pretty standard practice.

The home that hired me serves as Portland’s “gold standard” for funeral services. Even on police calls and the worst possible death scenario, we arrive at the scene dressed to the nines, arrayed in the dark suit and white shirt.  That’s the way it’s done at this particular establishment.

I think It takes something that I’m not sure everyone has to get roused from a dead sleep in the middle of the night (or early morning), get dressed, and then drive 30 minutes to pick up the van, and go out to a local nursing facility, hospice, hospital, or crime scene, and retrieve a dead body. Sometimes you go by yourself and other times (at unattended deaths at home or elsewhere involving a police call), you arrive with a partner.

Friday afternoon I was summoned to my first suicide. This followed being called 12 hours earlier at 3:00 a.m. to remove someone who had died in their home not far from where I live.

This was what we call a “police call,” and it involved the municipal PD. The deceased had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I’ll let you imagine how you’d react to your first experience seeing someone with a golf ball-sized hole in their forehead, with lots of blood, and skull fragments scattered nearby.

I was fortunate to be on this call with a colleague that had spent 26 years in law enforcement. This wasn’t his first suicide. He was great to be with and I drew upon his experience and professionalism. Actually, blood doesn’t bother me and I’ve watched enough episodes of CSI Miami to have a sense of what I’d be encountering.  I wasn’t shocked at all. Also, having been on a couple of previous calls involving lots of blood, I made sure to be as cautious as possible to avoid getting it on me, save for my gloves.

Saturday morning, I woke up after my first full night’s sleep in nearly a week. I felt re-energized enough to ride 26 miles with Mary as she readies for her first USA Triathlon Age Group National Championship in Omaha, Nebraska in two weeks. That was enough for me, but Mary—someone who is a great fitness role model—then went out and ran 6.2 miles (a 10K) to complete her training brick.

Lest you think Mr. Jimmy (aka, the JBE) is all work and no play, we spent Saturday afternoon on Bailey Island, one of our favorite places on earth. Drinks and a late lunch followed at Morse’s Cribstone Grill. Then, an annual trip to Land’s End was in order, as this Maine landmark was a mere 2 miles away.

The JBE-off the clock and enjoying some leisure.

The JBE-off the clock and enjoying some leisure.

It might sound weird to anyone who works a fairly structured schedule (or is “living for their weekends” Monday through Friday), but it’s now increasingly difficult for me to relax and chill out for more than a 24 hours at a time. Even during that downtime, I have to remind myself that I don’t need to be anywhere else and tamp down that antsy feeling, or not anticipate getting a call to pick up a body. There is certainly an adrenaline rush that comes with living and working this kind of way, but then there is the crash that comes, also, when you are running on fumes from two hours sleep.

As hectic as my week was that also included chasing interviews and being on deadline for my trade mag article, I relished most of my week. For you communists out there, and those who want to overthrow the state for Utopian bliss (or perhaps better, the trust fund set), I know that my efforts this week delivered a better than usual payday. For me, working my ass off better deliver some ka-ching, or I don’t know why the hell I do it.

Like the farmers who must “make hay while the making’s good,” I never look a gift horse in the mouth these days. I remember how bleak things looked last January. At that time, I wasn’t even sure I’d still be writing articles for my trade magazine editor.

Seven months later, I’ve done some of my best writing for trade magazines like National Oil & Lube News and VehicleMD. Not the “sexiest” publications out there, but I could care less. I like the appreciation of a decent paycheck and one that’s delivered promptly upon invoicing. You can have your alt-weeklies and regional dailies. I’m likely done with them forever.

Who knows where all this is leading me. All I know is that I have a newfound appreciation for work of any kind—especially work that affords me a measure of personal control and flexibility (that would be Uber and my umpiring). The funeral work is less certain and I’m not as sure about it remaining in my personal mix, although I’m on the August call-out schedule due to some wrangling by the local manager, who also “sweetened the pot” for me. It also looks like I’m going to become  a volleyball referee too, as I’ve recently learned that Maine’s burgeoning high school volleyball scene has generated a demand for officials.

For those who believe their jobs are (or should be) guaranteed for life, I’ve got news for you. I don’t identify with you anymore. I’m personally sick of lazy whiners who expect taxpayers to foot the bill for their mediocrity—and yes, I’m talking about state employees. You might want to update your resumes fairly soon.

My additional parting remarks are, “welcome to the future.” I’ve already arrived, as this has been my reality now for the past four years.

3 thoughts on “One Week, in One Year

  1. Enjoyed reading this this morning as I do all of your blogs. As I have known you, Jim, for several years now I know much of what has been going on with your writing and your work life outside of writing.

    I can see where it is hard to relax for any amount of time, totally, after the busy schedule you have and so varied!

    As you know I am now looking for another job opportunity and have been exploring options. Worked as a Caregiver for an agency Thursday thru Sunday last week for example. I have come to the realization that I must find something that I look forward to doing…..one thing and than the rest of the time will be devoted to what “I want to do.” And I think that is the key. I am fortunate at this point in time I can financially do that.

    Yesterday, I ironed several shirts for my husband, finished a book and started another (concentrating on novels with WW I and WWII as the setting), talked to a couple of girlfriends on the phone and did more housework. I loved the solitude and peace of doing what I wanted to do and not have to deal with people and situations who do not define me.

    I must be surrounded by people who appreciate me and lift me up. To me that is the key to happiness and when I do my best work no matter what “I” choose…..finally.

  2. It’s now been almost two months since Maine’s slowest demolition company began gnawing at the bones of the old Worumbo mill. Every day when I ride my bicycle to the post office to mail my “business” correspondence, I’ve looked over at her and thought about work. I could be wrong, but I think the old white building was the dye house, which would be where O’Pa worked. If he retired in 1965, that would mean he worked there for over 40 years. And yet, we know very little about his work there. What did he think? It must have been dirty work, dying wool. Did he hate it? Did he dislike Oliver Moses, the owner? Dad says Mr. Moses would stop at the house from time to time and chat with O’Pa. Did Moses admire O’Pa’s garden?

    As a person still holding a full-time gig with benefits (no pension) I try not to complain because I know I have it really good. I admire the skills you’ve developed to weave together a decent living. You’ve had to “think like an entrepreneur” and not like “an employee.” Thanks for sharing and keeping it real for all of us towing the Monday through Friday line.

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