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Day seventeen

November 17, 2016

Okay, I confess. I did not go to the gym again yesterday. I was dressed and ready to go when I finished my entry. Then I made the mistake of looking at my email.

The director who has taken over doing the newsletter from me, now that I am no longer on the board, sent me his first draft for comment. I should have gone to the gym before opening it. Once I had opened it, all I could think was: It would be easier to start from scratch than try to figure out what to do with this. And that, of course, is exactly what I did.

And of course it took several hours. Some of that was actual writing, so a tick in the plus column of  “writing instead of exercising”, but most of it was formatting and finding pictures. So not so much. Still, I’m proud of the newsletters I’ve been doing for our theatre group. They’re appealing to look at and (I may be flattering myself here) a good read.

When I stood down from the board this year (as members are required to do after a four year stint), I made it clear that the newsletter was going to be someone else’s responsibility, as producing it was one of the things I considered as my contribution as a board member. (Unless they actually wanted to pay me, which they obviously didn’t. And fair enough. It’s a volunteer organisation with a volunteer board.) I was happy to meet with whoever took over the job and I did. Twice. I explained the layout and the format. (Titles in Broadway and text in Century Gothic.) I suggested reading past newsletters to get acquainted with the tone. I’m not sure what else I could have done.

The first draft I opened yesterday was in about twenty different fonts. Bloody hell, I thought, I can’t even start reading this until it’s in the right format. And that’s when I sighed and decided to just do it myself. This really has to be the last time until I’m back on the board, which I probably will be next year.

By the time I’d finished it was four o’clock. Yes, I thought, in theory I could still get to the gym, but it would be dark outside by the time I’d finished and, well, you know, I really couldn’t face that. So no gym two days in a row. Perhaps the run up to the panto wasn’t really the right time to start, but let’s be honest. Given my general lack of interest in the gym, no time would have been a particularly good time. Gym today. I swear.

This might seem like a complete non sequitur, but it isn’t.

After Mike died in 2011 I really had no idea how I was going to survive. I’d stopped working in order to help him at home. Before I’d returned in 2008 to get him back to the island for what we’d been told would be his last months, I’d been working in the UK for a few years. I didn’t really have what I considered a network of contacts to approach for possible work. In my daze of grief I couldn’t imagine how I could earn a living and stay on the island. Yes, I was entitled to a few hundred dollars a month as Mike’s survivor and that did cover the bills, but there wasn’t much left over to live on. My cousin Peter rang from England one day and at some point during our conversation he asked what my plan was. I told him I thought I was going to have to supplement my survivor benefit with money from the mortgage line of credit until that ran out and then I would kill myself. “Oh, Anne,” he said sadly. “Well,” I replied, “it’s a plan, isn’t it?” And honestly, it was the best I could come up with at the time.

Then a friend called me who was working for a large environmental group. There was a report they were committed to putting out, but there were capacity issues within the organisation due to maternity leaves and leaves of absence. Would I, she asked, be interested in researching and writing this report? Sure, I said, thinking of it simply in terms of helping a friend out. Then she told me how much it paid. I’m not sure if I gasped out loud. It wasn’t a huge sum (probably no more than a month or two of salary for many people), but it would actually last me multiple months on the island. I did the report and was paid and suddenly a world of possibilities opened up. I might not have to leave the island to get work in my field. I might really be able to live and work from home.

Word trickled out that I was available for contract work. Another friend with another group approached me about a project. Then another friend, the editor of an environmental magazine approached me with the idea of using some grant money she’d received to pay me to write a monthly column tied into the magazine’s content for the next year. Yes! It was all coming together.

And then in 2013 it all started to go wrong. I’d gone back to the UK in April to attend a friend’s wedding and see friends and family. It was a good trip. I had a lovely time, including a couple of days with a friend in Amsterdam before I flew back. I knew I had work waiting for me when I returned. Things were pretty good.

I started work on the report I’d been commissioned to write. Initially things were going well. And then they went to shit. I would decide, taking what I intended to be a short break from the report, to have a game of something. (Doubtless Stupid Fucking Spider Solitaire.) What was supposed to be one game turned into multiple games and suddenly it was getting dark outside and the afternoon had turned into evening. Okay, I’d say to myself, that was bad, but it won’t happen again tomorrow. Inevitably it did, but I’d tell myself it was okay, I’d catch up the lost time.

At some point while this was going on, I subscribed to Netflix because I wanted to see House of Cards. I binge watched it. Sat up all night on the sofa. Then I started binge watching other things, quite regularly doing so all night and then trying to work without sleep the next day. It all came to a head in my head when I sat up all night to watch the final season of Buffy. Buffy!?!? Jesus. Okay, enough was enough. I called and made an appointment to see the doctor, who confirmed my self-diagnosis of depression (that was my 18 out of 20 score).

After that I made the call I’d known I was going to have to make and had been dreading. I called my friend to say there was no way I was going to be able to finish the report for her. I told her about my diagnosis. I even told her about bloody Buffy. She was incredibly understanding. She asked me to send her what I’d managed to get done and I spent a couple of days pulling all the bits and pieces together into some semblance of order. When she read what I sent, she got back in touch, told me the report was practically written and she would happily pay me for the time I’d put into research. A reprieve guiltily and gratefully accepted. The money would tide me over for a while.

I think I was on the meds the last time for about a year. Off for two and now back on. Throughout that time I’ve been gun shy about trying to find any paid freelance work, terrified that the same thing will happen.

That autumn I heard from an old friend of mine, the only person with whom I’m still in contact from my days in journalism in London. She’d stayed with the company throughout the intervening years and told me she’d decided to take early retirement, as what she’d receive wasn’t that much less than the pension she would have if she stayed on until retirement age. Back in the day, when she and I were first working for the company, there was what would now be considered by corporations a ridiculously generous pension scheme. That’s long gone of course, but if you were signed up in the original scheme, you remained in it. My friend has a quite livable pension. (Not extravagant, but livable.) Interesting, I thought. It’s so long since I worked there, I can’t be entitled to much. She gave me the contact details and I got in touch with the pension department. Their response amazed me. No, not a huge amount, but a few hundred a month, much more than I’d expected it to be and just about enough to save me from having to go into the line of credit every month simply to survive.

So, in a funny way, money paid to me for writing – albeit years ago – has been keeping me alive for the past three years. (That, of course, is no longer true. Thank you again, fucking Brexiters.)

Which brings me back to the point where the seeming non sequitur appeared: Getting paid for my writing.

If I had been commissioned to put that newsletter together yesterday, based on my hourly rate for non-profits, I would be charging $175. Of course that one was easy. I had all the photos I needed on my computer and all the information I needed for the articles in my head. If I was creating a similar newsletter for another organisation, a situation which would doubtless require chasing people up for images and information, the fee would likely be $500 or perhaps more.

Friends and occasionally strangers (Front Porch Bliss notwithstanding) tell me they absolutely love my ranting columns. Surely there is a wider, paying market for these? (I did think of taking the piss and offering myself to the Globe and Mail when Jeffrey Simpson recently retired. Of course I didn’t.)

This would involve putting myself out there. If I had any idea where there is, perhaps I could. But I don’t have any idea. If anyone reading this does have an idea, feel free to share.

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From → Black dog diary

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