The joys and difficulties of freelance life.

The other day I stopped and took a long hard think about the weirdness that is my life. It was a Tuesday around 11am, I had just dropped off my laundry, the neighborhood was slowly waking up. It was one of those mild weathered mornings with chirping birds, sunbeams shining through the blooming branches, Brooklyn looked particularly pretty that day. That same morning I had woken up without my alarm, as I do most mornings, made my ritualistic cup of tea, done my pathetic little 8-minute work-out, checked my email, and decided to run some errands. Nothing major, just a bit of grocery shopping and such. And suddenly it hit me, as I was standing in the middle of the near-empty street, this strange feeling of guilt that I remember vividly from school when I skipped math class to go to the record store, the feeling of playing hooky. I was overwhelmed by a sense that I wasn’t allowed to be there, in that moment, that I should get back to the office asap before my boss realized that I hadn’t come in… Only my office is my apartment, and my boss is me.

Freelance life can seem pretty dreamy. The freedom, the ability to make one’s own choices, the 20 minute mid-day nap, it all sounds great - on paper. The truth is, however, that despite the obvious perks, it’s also really really hard. I’m sure, 15 years ago, before the recession it was awesome. Lot’s of assignments, solid income, the good life. This day and age? Not do much. I’m not saying that this applies to everyone, but I dare to venture the guess that roughly 70% of NYC freelancers within the creative field are feeling that struggle. Every day. The Tuesday morning laundry drop-off is more of a desperate desire to feel purposeful, than an actual necessity. And tomorrow there’s a new day to fill.

After years of chasing that next illusive assignment, having jumped through every hoop imaginable, fatigue starts to set in. Not over night, but slowly creeping through the cracks like a growing shadow that’s getting harder and harder to ignore. And with that - at least for me - follows the vicious little voice that starts to question not only my choices but even worse, my abilities to do what I perceive to do best. The fight reflex, vigorously developed and refined over the course of many, many years slowly turns into flight (or hide) mode.

It’s not that it’s not going OK, because it is - I can pay my bills and generally get by - on good days I feel very privileged to live the life that I have chosen and built for myself - and I’m eternally grateful for the things I have in fact accomplished, and for the people who have supported my journey. However - and I think this applies to all creatives - the frustration manifests when we feel like we have something great to offer, but nowhere to channel it! We have put in the blood, sweat and tears that are required to hone the skills and perfect that little something that defines our style, and I think it affects us more than we care to admit when we don’t get that instant, sweet gratification. And in the age of social media, where we are able to taylor our on-screen life to reflect exactly the self-image that we wish for the world to see, it’s easy to compare ourselves to our peers in an unhealthy manor, as an added stress factor. I’m certain that my own social media presence paints my life in a much shinier light than is mostly in fact the case. 

I tend to live by a rather strict self-imposed set of rules, and one of the biggest restrictions is that I don’t allow myself even the smallest pleasure unless I feel like I’ve fully earned it. If I don’t have at least three bookings on the calendar, I don’t deserve to do something good for myself, such as checking out a show or take a day-trip, for instance. I simply don’t think I can justify it. Once I’ve prompted myself to take refuge in that destructive place, it’s difficult to leave. I know there’s this event that I probably should go to - it would definitely lift my spirit and boost my energy - but that means I’ll have to shower, shed my sweats, and put on make-up! I mean, that’s just too much to ask of one person. That, in combination with the dread of facing a room full of people and having to come up with twenty different versions of why things aren’t going so well is just too exhausting. 

Instead I stay in my apartment desperately trying to come up with new ways to turn things around, and when I’ve run out of ideas I’ll mosey around, do some light cleaning, water the plants, launch an ambitious cooking project, update the to-do list - I do that a lot - or binge some Netflix. Not smart-people TV like TED Talks or informative documentaries (those belong in the self-reward pile, and are reserved for when I’ve done good), but some lame crime show or something along those lines. Which is essentially complete and utter BS, however, not totally unjustified. The aforementioned brand of tea comes with a little feel-good quote attached to every individual teabag, and on this particular day it read: “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do”. Show of hands if you agree!

On a recent, particularly gloomy, day, upon completion of an hour-long staring-out-the-window session, I decided, though, that enough is enough. Depriving myself of those little fun and inspiring experiences just because I feel like I don’t deserve them is ridiculous, and certainly not why I struggled so hard to move here in the first place. NYC is packed with (inexpensive) things to do, most of which I’ve piled up for later exploration, often resulting in missing them altogether. As in the case of the Basquiat exhibit, because “you can go some other day, there’s still time”. There wasn’t time. 

Determined not to let that happen again, I went to Brooklyn Museum (a mere half-hour walk!) to see the Iggy Pop Life Class by Jeremy Deller exhibition, a collection of drawings by twenty-two New York City based artists, created at a previous live event. Iggy Pop is one of my all-time heroes - a symbol of iconic badassery - and still as relevant as ever. Talk about someone who lives life to the fullest, who still refuses to shy away from any challenge bestowed upon him, such as posing nude for twenty-two strangers at the age of 70. He has left his unmistakable mark on our time as a singer, musician, songwriter, and actor, and is pretty much unparalleled in the art of surviving. There’s probably not a substance known to man that he hasn’t smoked, eaten, or injected, yet he looks fiercely amazing, his body in itself a canvas displaying the battering it has been subjected to throughout the years. If he can squeeze every last drop out of life, there’s really no reason why I should sit and cry tears of self-pity into my tea. Let this be an inspiration to us all. The moment we stop wanting more and cease to push ourselves forward is the moment we die as creatives, but there’s no reason why we shouldn’t find ways to enjoy the down periods. And who knows what opportunities may present themselves around the next corner, once we get off our butts and face the world, head-on.

The exhibitions runs until June 18, and I urge everyone to go see it.