Making Stories

A year ago in August, I was contacted about writing an article. The woman who emailed me read my Biddeford article for the “big city paper,” The Boston Globe. She liked it and thought I had what it took to tell her story. It was about a town that had stopped making paper.

In 2016, I was in a funk. I told Mark that “maybe I should quit” the writing game.

Part of this was self-pity. But part of it was also feeling like my writing was going nowhere. At the time, it wasn’t.

Mark’s response was, “keep doing what you’re doing, dad.”

I told the woman that I couldn’t do it.

Then, Mark was killed.

In January (and February, March, and April), writing didn’t seem to matter. Yes, I was blogging. This was more about simply pouring out my pain associated with loss and grief. I was shocked that people actually read my posts.

A decision was made to reconnect with the woman who reached out to me in 2016. She was pleased to hear from me. She was also sorry about Mark.

One year after she first contacted me, I made my first trip down the coast. I’d make several more.

I talked to people in the town. The town had lost a mill. A mill that had been making paper since 1930. I also met a man with big ideas about logs not needed for making paper. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

When Your Autopilot Fails

Cars have always fascinated me. This likely dates back to what I can recall of my earliest memories—sitting next to my father, riding with him in his 1962 Ford Fairlane, and watching him manually shift on the column. He’d even let me grab the shifter and after he depressed the clutch, I got to throw the Ford into third gear.

My earliest driving lessons were in a 1962 Ford Fairlaine.

The 1962 Ford Fairlaine: Back when men were men, and cars were meant to be driven.

I’ve just spent much of the past week trying to get JBE1 back to where he was pre-breakdown. For some reason, when my electrical system failure related to losing the serpentine belt, the incident also threw off my air conditioning. All seems to be right in the world, or at least with my car, at the moment.

The automotive world, like much of the rest of the things in our lives, has been increasingly altered by technology. Techno-utopians always consider technology’s upside, while minimizing and often, whitewashing any of the negatives of computers controlling most of our lives—and now, our cars. Continue reading

What Are You Doing?

I said I wasn’t going to put up a Friday blog post this week. I lied.

Granted, probably only four of you will bother reading it, since most Americans are out doing their Black Friday shopping. Stay hydrated and be nice!

Today’s title was prompted from my experience attending a recent open house put on at CEI’s brand new building on Federal Street, in Brunswick. It was also a Chamber of Commerce Business After-hours soiree, too. As someone that used to do these every month, I’m thankful that my life at the moment no longer requires my regular attendance.

I did run into a few former colleagues and partners. To a person, they asked me “what are you doing”? That’s never an easy, elevator-type question for me to answer. I don’t have just one thing I do, or I’m not doing the same old, same old that most people have been doing, forever.

My work gets me out of the office.

My work gets me out of the office.

Here’s one thing “I’m doing.” I rode over to New Hampshire in early November and completed two resort profiles for both Loon Mountain Resort and Gunstock Mountain Resort. These were done for RootsRated, an intriguing outdoor adventure portal. They were part of the site’s “An Insider’s Guide to the Best Northeast Winter Resorts.”

If you are really interested in what I’ve been up to (at least the writing), my website has all of my published work, from latest, dating backwards. Of course, I also know that people ask questions because they don’t know what else to do when they run into you, and I’m okay with that.

News From Around the World

The past four days have been an interesting stretch. I’ve actually been down the rabbit hole for much of three of them, piecing together the most ambitious short-term freelance assignment that I’ve landed to date. The payout for giving up my weekend is about a month’s worth of income. After the year I’ve had, any ka-chingle at this point is welcome. I’m actually in the throes of a decent late-year rally.

Up from the rabbit hole.

Up from the rabbit hole.

While in the course of my work, a major international event occurred, too—a terrorist attack in France—but I literally couldn’t stop to ponder or pay much attention to it (save for about 5 minutes on Saturday morning when I checked my social media feed). I did see that many “friends” were acting like lemmings. Continue reading

Learning to Sprint

In January, it will be 12 years ago (in 2004) that I walked away from my Moscow Mutual cubicle and never looked back. Well, I’ve glanced over my shoulder periodically to take stock from where I’ve come from, and also to appreciate the occasionally bumpy terrain I’ve traversed to get to my current address in free agent nation.

Just the other day, someone I worked with at the aforementioned insurance giant emailed out of the blue. The exchange was an odd one, something akin to, “are you the Jim Baumer that used to work with me at Moscow Mutual? Seems like you are doing well. Kind of an odd question, I know.” Odd indeed. But yes, my former co-worker had tracked me down after 11 years.

My naiveté at the time knew no limits; it still amazes me. Long before I’d ever read a sentence of Seth Godin’s encouragement to ship, and poke boxes, I found some book by a guy named Bowerman, about making six figures as a freelancer. The story’s not a new one with me, but shucks—I practically starved that first year out of the gate. Better, my wife put up with my ignorance and lack of steady paychecks and supported me until I figured out that I’d better find something steadier and more secure.

Life on the cube farm.

I used to work in a place like this.

Continue reading

Your Belief System

The person you are now was being developed many years ago. As a baby, people would smile at you and “coo” and you were already learning to perform for others, giving them what they wanted (and maybe more important, expected).

Over the years, all of those subsequent interactions formed the “print” of who you are; in essence, your self-image. The problem with that image is that it is based on the attitudes of others. The benefit derived for them is in who they think you are and the role that you’ve come to accept and play for them.

I’ve written often about reinvention here at the JBE. That journey continues, but I think I’ve arrived at a point where some newfound clarity was needed (and was missing).

My own lessons learned during the K-12 years and after—when I went off to college to play baseball, mainly—eventually led to a dead-end. At that point, I had to turn back, retrace my route, and find a different off-ramp, and a new road forward. that took place over a two-decade period.

There is a certain sameness that Americans crave and pervades life as we know it. I guess that’s why I’ve felt out of sorts for much of the past 10 months. The need for people I used to know to rush along with the rest of herd makes it hard to reconnect with most, if not all of them.

When my former boss died, I felt an obligation to reach out to former colleagues and people he knew in the workforce development world where I once resided, and where my mentor and I first met. Just like him, I’ve come to see that many of these former colleagues are pretty shallow; mere cardboard cutouts masquerading as human beings. I just shake my head thinking about some of the disingenuous email replies and responses I received.

I’ve intimated in this space that 2015 has been the most challenging year since I’ve been freelancing. It’s running neck and neck with a few other years back in Indiana, for most challenging ones in my life.

That being said, getting clear on some important things might just be the gift I wasn’t expecting from my year of adversity. As the dross has fallen away, I’m recognizing that I’ve gotten away from some basic values. I also recognize that there’s no value in forgetting the labor required to remove previous obstructions—I need to stay true to who I’ve become and not revert to the place where I was before.

So, can you define your core values? Also, are you where you want to be in your life? If not, why not?

It’s possible that you also have some work to do.

On Assignment

Looking for a story.

Looking for a story.

May was when the wheels seemed to come off the freelance bus. I lost a lucrative monthly client, and it caused a crisis of confidence of sorts. I’m sure there was more going on than losing a big chunk of ka-chingle. Who knows?

Six months later, I’m back on the horse. You can see I’ve been busy, with my byline showing up in a variety of places. The clip file has had some nice additions, including my piece on John Gould in the November issue of Down East Magazine.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned as a citizen of freelance nation, it’s that when the roller coaster seems at the apogee of its ascent, don’t get too excited. It’s going to come rushing roaring down the incline to the bottom, sooner than you think. Continue reading

Finding the Story

My regularly-scheduled Friday blog post got waylaid by snow, an early morning interview about lobsters (followed by another one a bit later in Portland), and a newspaper deadline.

Notepad and pen (and a thumb drive).

Notepad and pen (and a thumb drive).

I find my stories by putting boots on the ground. That takes time, some old-fashioned tools, and it sometimes supersedes blog posts. I also was forced to forgo my Friday morning pool time, also.

Add a laptop and a digital recorder.

Add a laptop and a digital recorder.

Working Backwards

The path to career success for many follows a time-worn tradition. Often, it’s off to college for a degree. Nowadays, the degree must be “marketable.” And then after that, an advanced degree is almost always expected, if not immediately, then down the road once you are established at the firm. Increasingly, all those initials after your name come with a hefty price tag and mountains of debt.

I’ve never followed convention, or the traditional college track.

My own “education” seems ass backwards according to the ways of the world. The journey of reinvention I’ve been on for more than a decade began later in life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I’m finding that my DIY ways and quirky approach to making a living is more of an advantage than a liability. Continue reading