MileHiCon, our local science–fiction convention, was the weekend before last. The con always leaves me feeling like a real writer (as opposed to a poseur, which is how I tend to feel the rest of the time) and full of enthusiasm for writing. In the past, those positive feelings were tempered by the need to go back to my job on the Monday after the convention ended. Or back to looking desperately for a new job during my periods of being unemployed.
That should have been different during the last two years, a time when I’ve been referring to myself as retired. Except that I wasn’t really retired, not completely.
After I was laid off from Quark in May 2009, I signed up for Social Security as a backup, and I kept looking for a new full–time, permanent job. (Let’s put aside the absurdity of calling modern jobs “permanent”.) In the meantime, I picked up some contract work, both tech writing and Web development. At some point during 2010, I accepted the fact that thanks to the economy and my age, a new full–time, permanent job was extremely unlikely. I also knew, or perhaps admitted to myself, that I really didn’t want one. Instead, I decided that I would keep on looking for contract work, as close to full time as possible.
So, just as I had been doing since being laid off, every day I did the Monster/Dice/Indeed/Craigslist/etc. thing, sending out zillions of resumes, getting some responses by e–mail or phone, going for some interviews –– working almost full time at getting full–time work. I was looking for contracts, but it was no different, in terms of time and psychological investment, from looking for a permanent job. As a result I continued to feel that writing was something temporary, and that time spent doing it was a vacation from reality. On some level, I thought that time spent writing was self–indulgent and self–deception. Nonetheless, just as I did for all those decades–that–felt–like–centuries when I was working full time, I kept daydreaming of the big hit book that would free me from any necessity to work and would convert me into an actual, genuine full–time writer.
I began to burn out on the emotionally draining job search. The return was too small for the investment, which was my life. Bit by bit, I reduced the amount of looking. I dropped some job list Web sites from my search, and I unsubscribed from various e–mail job listings. I also spent some time reissuing my old, previously published novels as e–books. Eventually I self–published my new books the same way. (Naturally, I track the monthly sales of all these e–books in a spreadsheet, with cool line graphs, and I get depressed when the lines dip and elated when they rise.)
I’ve continued to pick up the occasional contract job. Some have been Web development contracts; I do that work at home on my own computer. Others have been technical writing contracts. The writing jobs require spending the working days at the client’s office. Both Leonore and I hate those periods. Of course I worked in offices away from home at a succession of regular, full–time jobs for decades, but the more than two years we’ve spent together, all day and every day –– finally living the life we assumed we’d be living when we got married 43 years ago –– have made us both hate being apart at all now.
No, I don’t mean that we spend our days jammed side by side in a love seat. We have separate studies and separate work. But being together in the house, able to talk to each other whenever we want, able to take long walks together, able to go out to a movie or a restaurant, seems natural. It’s the way we set out to be, and it’s the way the Universe intended the two of us to be.
Except when I go off to do some technical writing somewhere. And except for the times when I’m thinking of the next job away from home or recovering from the effects of the last one. Those effects seem to be worse and to take longer to dissipate each time.
So. Back to MileHiCon.
For various reasons, this year’s con (number 43, the same number of years that Leonore and I have been married) left me feeling even more filled with writerly energy and enthusiasm than in previous years and more optimistic about my writing career than I have for a long time. A flurry of e–book sales, starting on the last day of the con, helped a lot.
Leonore also enjoyed the con and came away feeling more optimistic about our future. On the morning of the last day of the con, October 23, she said something to me that she had been wanting to say for some time. It finally seemed to her to be the right time to say it. She repeated how much she hates having me working away from home, and she said that she really wanted me to no longer accept any contracts other than short ones that I can do by telecommuting. She knew (because she’s always been uncannily able to read my mind) that I had wanted to take this step for a long time but that I would feel guilty if I did so because it would mean turning down the extra income. She told me that rejecting non–telecommuting contracts would not constitute self–indulgence and laziness and selfishness (reading my mind again) because writing is my job, my real job.
I felt suddenly relaxed and calm. Some inner tension I hadn’t realized was there went away immediately. I knew that she was right about taking this step; it was the right step and the right time. This was the right move, an exceptionally good move, and as is usually the case when something exceptionally good happens in my life, I have Leonore to thank for it.
Perhaps you think that I’m making too much of this. After all, I’m not yet talking about full retirement –– or rather, full–time writing –– but simply a step in that direction. But it’s a very major step because it removes the aspect of our situation that was stressing both of us the most before, the periods of separation and the knowledge that more such periods were ahead of us. That’s gone now, completely and permanently.
As for the money -- well, maybe the book I’m working on now will replace that. Or even more than replace it. And if not that book, then maybe the next one. Or the one after that. And so on, from now on.