Writing Whims (1)

This morning, I sat down and started brainstorming ways to follow my writing whims. It sounds like it makes sense but it doesn’t. I opened my planner and tried to come up with “writerly” activities and assign them a date and time. This is a logical action on a Monday morning, but it runs counter to what I’m trying to do.

What feels right is a moment to moment update. I can’t write down to work on my journalism class on Tuesday. I might not feel that way then. Would it still be a good idea to work on my class? Yes. I have a habit of letting go of pursuits that I am drawn to in favor of more mundane activities, like zoning out and watching tv. But the way that I attempted to “plan it” is counter to what I’m seeking here.

I did manage to follow what I consider my writing feeling for a while last night. I wrote nearly 1200 words in my private journal and 400 on this site. Then I did a couple of karaoke songs and attempted a bad portrait of my dog. Whatever feeling I am chasing, it seems limiting to call it “writing whim.” It pulls me to dancing, jumping around, drawing, and singing. Perhaps creative expression is a better term. Of course, judgement kills it off. At least for me. Reviewing my drawing pretty much ended the whole experience.

In short, I am now trying to plan how I will follow my creative whims, which implies that I misunderstand what the word “whim” means. Whims come and go. Whims are by definition unplanned and often illogical. I chose the word for a reason. I want to accept the unplanned and illogical more readily into my life.

Observation: I’ve noticed that I write this blog in a really clear and concise way. But I also pull out the stylistic flair that I often infuse into my writing when I know that no one will see it. My obsession with metaphors is not at all clear in this blog. Perhaps that will change over time. Or maybe the metaphors are the inauthentic part? Perhaps. But I want to add them here anyway because I like them.

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Chasing that “Writing Feeling”

I will preface this post by saying that I write it under duress. A large part of me doesn’t want to commit to the project that this post represents. But I know that making this commitment will change the way that I write.

Are you confused? Me too.

Here’s my problem. I only ever write with a plan. Every page has an outline. Every outline has three bullets. Every bullet has links to references. Without a fleshed out plan, my fingers freeze and I can’t make the words come. Worse, when I have a plan, I write and judge the words harshly. Everything falls short of the plan. What I imagine and plan always seems to exceed what reality can provide. When I deviate from the plan, it’s less an exciting turn and more like a failure to plan correctly. Burdened with the need for a plan, my writing is slow and clunky.

This experiment is about writing without a plan. There is only one rule to follow. I must follow my writing whims. I often squash my obsession with poetry (due to lack of public support for poetry, including my own). I often prioritize other things over a whim. I focus on the items that seem “publishable” rather than what intrigues me. Who prioritizes a whim? Me, apparently. Starting now.

This post is a whim. But it’s also larger than that. It based on the powerful idea that committing to a change can make it so. By publicly stating that I want to write without a plan, perhaps I can give myself permission to do so.

I fully expect it to be terrible. I expect my back to clench and my teeth to grind. I expect to face the difficulties of trying to change a long ingrained habit – the rebelling body and mind against a new reality.

I fully expect that I will struggle to even proofread because re-reading my words can be agony. Especially when I’m being honest.

But I want to learn to write without a plan. Because I trust that, without a plan, I won’t get lost. Somehow, not having a plan will allow me to go where my writing has always wanted to go. Where that is? I especially do not know – as I’ve spent most of my life teaching myself to follow logic and reason instead of whims.

But I’ve learned over the past two years.

Whims lead me to more interesting places. Places that feel truer and more real than where all the logic has taken me.

So, every morning, I commit to asking myself where my writing whims want to take me. Perhaps they will take me to this WordPress blog. Perhaps elsewhere. I promise nothing – other than that I will ask this question and struggle everyday to answer it. Until one day, following my writing whims is no longer a struggle, but a way of living.

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One Woman’s Career Choices

A colleague asked me years ago why I (and other women) appeared to be leaving aerospace. It’s a career that takes some dedication. We all survived at least four years of engineering college and a few internships. Yet we were disappearing in droves 5 – 10 years into our careers.

I left aerospace after three years.

I had a friend that spent nearly ten years in aerospace before quitting to travel the world. She amassed nearly two years worth of expenses and seems in no hurry to return to work.

I also had a female friend join aerospace and triple her previous income.

For the first two scenarios, I started to understand this phenomenon thanks to an article in The Atlantic. It appears when women have the choice to do STEM or not, many choose not. Yet, in countries where engineering or science is the ticket to a better life, more women stick with it.

I’ll admit that the salary was, in part, what drew to me to engineering. It’s essentially the biggest bang for your college tuition. Not many other careers offer $50,000 per year after only four years of schooling. But I always had a choice, which is why I chose to major in writing too.

I liked the article because it backed up my decision to leave engineering. However, sometimes I miss the complex problems that I used to solve. Loving writing doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to entirely leave STEM behind.

This is where I run into trouble because I’m not sure what I believe about the role a job should play in my life. If I believe that my work should be my passion, I should obviously spend all my day writing article queries and editing my book. Yet, if I focus on a job as a way to simply pay the bills, many other opportunities open up for me. Trying to match your passion is a high bar that few jobs meet.

Thanks to another Atlantic article, I’m thinking about this question in a new way, and my third friend’s decision to join aerospace makes more sense. In a survey of college-educated women, two researchers found that those who wanted passion in their work were more likely to leave work for motherhood or other desires. However, those that saw work as means to support themselves were more likely to stick with their jobs and cultivate some interest in them.

I find myself straddling these two ideas awkwardly. I do want to spend the majority of my time pursuing my passions, particularly writing. It would be excellent if I got paid for it, but experience has taught me that passion projects are more soul-fulfilling than coffer filling. Pursuing my passion in the face of monetary obstacles has landed me with credit card debt and a long list of IOUs. So, at the same time, I also want to support myself. I hate relying on others to help pay the bills.

So I’m also trying to straddle these two ideas in reality. I want to have a well-paying job that, while possibly not soul-fulfilling, pays the bills (hopefully at a rate where I can work 20-30 hours per week). Then I want to have enough time and energy left over to pursue my writing.

While that conclusion seems crystal clear, it’s not.

I’ve spent days deliberating with myself whether it’s the right choice. The publications that extol being your authentic-self seem to tell me to just trust that the writing will work out and keep going (even as I fall further into debt). And I just can’t bring myself to do that. Supporting myself is too important to me. However, I am also loathe to chase a full-time job because having time for my passions is also important to me.

Not picking a side makes me feel like I’m walking the edge of a knife. I’m constantly trying to balance passion and energy expended for money. Even now, I wonder whether my time would be better spent working rather than writing.

It’s a confusing gray area, but I’m unwilling to leap into a full-time job or to trust that I can be a full-time writer. The middle ground is hard to walk, but I can’t seem to find a more appropriate place for me.

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Learning from Rejections (#2)

I have entered a new perspective where I no longer run from rejections.

Even a few weeks ago, when I pitched a publication, my pitch was based around avoiding rejection. I would research thoroughly to make sure it was aligned with the magazine. I would submit my ideas with utmost care. I would wait in tortured silence, hoping the rejection would never come.

It’s not that I did anything wrong. It’s just that fear motivated everything that I did. I did all the right things (research etc.) for the sole purpose of avoiding rejection. I was afraid of being ignored or having my creative work criticized.

Today I felt a switch.

I’ve been working on a pitch for a feature story in the Sierra Club magazine, Sierra. Two hours of researching forest fires and building my backstory went into this pitch. I even drafted it twice before sending it. I waited until Monday because I believe sending it in on Friday is a recipe for disaster. When I submitted it this morning, I felt joyous. Can I do that again? I thought. Building a story like this is fun.

This feeling persisted despite immediate obstacles.

Buoyed by my joy, I continued researching places to publish. While scrolling through Backpacker Magazine’s contributor guidelines, I noticed my “error.” Holding no punches, the magazine authors stated in unambiguous terms that new and emerging writers would rarely be considered for a feature story. The same had to apply for the Sierra magazine. There was little to no chance that my pitch would land anywhere.

I smiled and continued my research.

What? I can hear my self of a weeks ago saying. Didn’t that feel like a crushing blow to know your article would probably never see the light of day? You wasted hours of your time on something that would never be published. 

A brave new voice answers, But it was fun. And that’s my unvarnished truth. Some of the most fun that I’ve had during the last week (outside of hiking and obvious fun events) was creating that pitch. I enjoyed researching the forest fires that I hiked through. I devoured maps, stats, and articles in a search for the right angle. And it was fun! Possibly more fun than actually writing the article. The act of looking for a story for Sierra was in itself very rewarding.

Realizing that I enjoy this aspect of the work has been a powerful acknowledgment of this path for me. If I’m not focused on the anxiety of rejection, being a writer feels good. It feels right. It fits like an awesome glove.

Honestly, what a relief. If there were no more to being a writer than being able to face down the demons of criticism, it would have been hard to continue. It’s a big obstacle to climb and a constant battle. How pleasant to know that I can ignore the fears (note: I have been working on this skill for a LONG time). And even better to know that, freed of the fear, pitching and creating stories makes me happy.

To read more about my current transformational period, check out my article on Elephant Journal.

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Learning from Rejections (#1)

Every writer lives in dread of the rejection letter. Those of us who have struggled with tying our self-worth to our successes are doubly terrified. While I’ve worked to extricate my self-worth from my actions, I still hate rejection letters. However, the more astute writers that I have heard from have told me that rejection letters have a purpose – to tell us what we missed and where we need to improve.

I got this rejection from a travel site called The Expeditioner. Reviewing the site, I saw that the writers had a great sense of humor. Therefore, I chose to write about some funny exchanges between a tour guide and my friend at a dolphin watching tour.

I read the article at my writing group in Capitol Hill. While I was secretly hoping for rolling belly laughs, I did get a few chuckles from people. The feedback was mostly positive. They recommended that I add a few more details about the boat.

After collecting pictures from my fellow adventurers, I submitted the photos and copy to The Expeditioner.

Within 48 hours, it was rejected.

I spent about an hour being mad. Then I reassured myself that it wasn’t my skills. It was probably just a poor fit for the publication. Looking deeper at that realization, I understood that I missed a large part of travel writing.

Like an essay or memoir, travel writing has to have a higher purpose than entertainment. There has to be an underlying truth, a discovery about the self, or something universally human. Otherwise, it’s just an amusing anecdote.

I wrote an amusing anecdote, a lovely scene. It served no cause. I can see why others might not find it interesting.

A writer friend of mine had gotten a harsh critique at the circle. One person asked him the point of his memoir scene. This person reiterated that every passage has to have a point, even in a memoir.

The same thing could have been said of my travel writing. I suspect I narrowly avoided the criticism because my story was funny.

Going forward, I am trying to keep in mind that travel writing is still essay writing. There has to be a point and journey. Being someone who describes people and places well is not enough.

In an attempt to come to terms with the idea that I will be rejected, I am hoping to post more of these realizations. That’s why I called this one #1.

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Freelance Failure Experiment – Introduction

I am going to finally “take freelance writing seriously” by courting failure. In the past, I have taken sure things – low paying content mill jobs. I get paid less than 5 cents per word, but my chances of rejection are low. I have realized this is unsustainable, but I also understand that the world of better writing is full of failure. My work will get rejected, multiple times, and I will have to learn to deal with it. That is the point of this experiment.

What does courting failure entail? In my case, it means that I commit to submitting $5000 worth of pitches per week. But I know that I will earn maybe $100 to $500.

The purposes of this experiment are numerous

  1. Even with a 90% failure rate, I should be able to pay rent.
  2. I anticipate failure and continue to work anyway. (Big one!)
  3. To make $5000, I have to take big shots that would otherwise scare me senseless.

The setup is quite simple too.

I will blog every Monday about my plans to make $5000 – where I plan to submit etc. On Friday, I will blog again to demonstrate what I’ve accomplished. I even have a small bar scribbled in my planner so I can track visually how close to $5000 I get. Note: I will only be working on weekdays because I want to be a person with weekends. The regular blogs will help keep me honest even when I’m not sure that anyone is listening.

It starts now.

This experiment is a small piece of building the lifestyle that I want. My larger goal is to be able to indulge my love of researching and writing about it. This experiment should help me build some of the skills and connections that I need to make the larger goal a reality.

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Waking Up to Reality: Accepting the Burdens that Wake with Me

When I awaken this morning, I think that I am a murderer. The remnants of the dream dissolve in the warm morning glow, but my subconscious keeps spinning for minutes. Did I really commit the crime? If I did, how could I forgive myself? I eventually become awake of a cat between my legs, a second purring on my chest, and a jaw locked tight to hold back some vague fear. I always hope to awaken to a bright morning with hope and optimism. But more often I awaken to burdens that seemed to have increased through the night, dreams that leave a foul taste in my mouth and an stiffness brought on by attempting to not squish the cats.

My boyfriend’s alarm rings for the first time and he swipes snooze. I also don’t want to leave the bed. For one, that would dislodge the cats. The swim back to reality rarely brings any illumination. I remember that I still don’t have a paying job. I feel unresolved emotions dancing across my tongue. I hold my tongue to the top of my mouth to keep them from escaping. As the world clears before my eyes, nothing actually becomes clearer. Each day looks different from the last. I have been working hard to resolve some of my unfounded fears, like the belief that any criticism is a poke at my intrinsic worth. As the blinds of fear fall away, I awaken to different colors every morning. My list of jobs that seemed so golden begin to lose their shine. Without the false light of fear, I see they are not a good fit for me. Other options previously invisible spring into focus. I am lost in the constantly changing world around me and the confusion presses me deep into my covers.

Although the crushing confusion seems unpleasant, it’s far better than the way that I have awoken for the previous twenty years. I used to wake up in the midst of writing a to-do list. Actually, it was more of a do-this-to-avoid-feeling-like-a-failure-today list. If I checked off everything on the list, the clutching self doubt that whispered that I was not good enough would stay at bay (waiting, of course, until I didn’t make everything on the list). I used to leap out of bed in the morning as the anxiety sent sparks up my spine, already panicking about everything I had to get done.

My boyfriend’s alarm trills a second time and once more it is pressed into silence. As I lie there half-awake, I think that being pressed into the covers is preferable to my shooting anxiety, but not perfect. I want to awaken to golden shimmering light, a purring cat pressed against my face and the thrill of being alive. I want to awaken like I do on the second day of a long vacation, swollen with the freedom of an empty day – ready to be filled with lying on the beach and exfoliating my face with sand while bodysurfing. Despite the openness of my unemployed days, it’s not vacation. Although the hours are technically “unscheduled,” I know that from 10am to 3pm is “freak out about making money” and 3pm to 5pm is “apply frantically to any job that I may qualify for.” I long for that vacation feeling as I watch the patterns of sunlight play across the ceiling between my boyfriend’s snoozed alarms. I force my jaw “relaxed” and pretend that I am far away. My body feels even heavier. This forced pleasantness soon swims away from my consciousness – as unreal as my dream of being a murderer.

As a cat stares me down and demands food, a new thought lightens my leaden body. Maybe it’s not possible to wake up happy and joyous every morning While the need to make money presses down on me now, when it fades, there will be others. It’s quite possible that there will be a new discomfort pressing my jaw tight and my tongue against the roof of my mouth every morning. For weeks, I have fought these feelings. I wanted the hope and joy, manufactured though it may be. The frustration with my inability to maintain these false feelings might be a part of what’s dragging me down now. I still awaken trying to push away the uncomfortable thoughts of dissolving dreams of murder or the pain of a locked jaw. What if there’s another choice?

When I inevitably awaken with a jaw locked in fear and a stomach roiling with anger, I hope that someday I can respond with kindness. Perhaps my most wonderful morning is not awakening free of every discomfort, but accepting of whatever is residing in my body right now. I feel the 7 mile weekend backpacking trip pulling at my hip flexors and tightening my back. A perfect awakening seems unlikely to me.

My boyfriends third alarm goes off and he shuffles to the shower, leaving me alone with my thoughts. While I might not spring from the bed with happiness this morning, I can slowly ease my aching limbs to the ground. I can revel in the feeling of stretching my sore feet, pressing my toes into the floor as I rotate my heel in midair. Instead of swallowing hard, I can gently brush the teeth that have been locked in battle with my anger all night. I can relax my poor tongue and let the anxiety its been holding back surge through me as I drink a comforting cup of tea. I might not be able to awaken totally light and free, ready to take on the day. But I can awaken in my own skin with the burdens of life pressing down on me. And, like the furred warmth that locks my legs into place, the familiar weight of my problems can be okay.

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How Content Writing is Eating my Soul but I Still do it Because My Perfectionism Won’t Let me Quit

Every morning I deluge myself in positive phrases, but by evening I always know they are bullshit. When I slide out of bed in the morning, I overwhelm my brain with a shot of happiness. “I am a professional writer.” “I get to write for work today.” “All of my client scrounging has paid off.” This glow suffuses me as I make an opulent breakfast, enjoy coffee with a cat on my lap and do the next day’s Yoga with Adrienne in the 30 day series I’m trying. (This is procrastinating, by the way). But when I sit down at the computer, my heart gains 30 lbs and slides into my gut, which suddenly needs a pastry.

I cringe at the description of my content writing assignments. “Salesy content,” the lover of words within me throws up a little at this misappropriation of an already disliked noun. I try to console myself with the idea that I am going to be an expert of arcane topics. Ask me about truck customization, clay chimineas or the latest in detox diets. I can tell you everything. While that knowledge fills me up with a small glow, it dims at regular intervals.

In researching for my articles, I stumble across my twins, the other writers who scratch out a living using their amazing word synthesis and writing skills to blog for someone else. Looking up yard machinery leads to a wealth of summary articles. This is what an earth auger does. As I read it, I suspect the person who wrote it was like me, writing content for a pittance. It’s well-written, correct and yet obviously devoid of any love. No one played with those words, twisting them into fantastic shapes. They plopped onto the page like nuggets of poo, the excrement of a writer’s brain. Or at least that’s what I think is happening. Because that’s how I feel when I write this content.

There is a draw to this type of writing, but it is small to me. I enjoy searching for other writers’ content to supplement my views. Linking to authority sources like the Mayo Clinic or The New York Times connects me with a network of writers, a community of hyperlinks. I love when the words flow seamlessly from my fingers. But I cannot help feeling as though writing this way stifles me. When I want to do my favorite things, make the words dance across the page, use sentences in ways that they are not meant to be used or come to an astonishing conclusion that only makes sense in my mind, I don’t. Because it’s not the place nor the time. Nor is it worth my time. To make enough to pay my rent, I already have to move on the the next assignment.

So why do I continue? I like attaching the label “professional writer” to myself. I can’t envision myself as the sensitive artist who only wants to write “art” and speak from her soul. I can’t pay rent, which is already subsidized by my boyfriend, without this gig. Giving up seems like failure. Retreating is a fatal personal flaw.

I used to retreat because I thought I wasn’t good enough. I left my dream job after 2 years because I couldn’t fix a broken mission. I couldn’t make the engineering work or the vendors back down or do anything that I needed to do to make the mission succeed. Or so I thought. I ran away because I couldn’t grapple with the fact that I couldn’t do it. And here I stand again, on similar ground, but something within me feels changed.

When my heart drops into my stomach, I want to leave content writing forever. Those of you who don’t know me well might not recognize the key word in that previous sentence. It’s “want.” I “needed” to leave my old job. I needed space to piece myself back together. I needed time to convince myself that my failures weren’t enough to drown me. Now I just want to go. The leaden feeling in my fingers and the ache in my heart is not directed at my own failings. I suspect it’s actual distaste for the work.

But using “distaste” makes me feel like a pompous asshole. The hole in my heart seems the work of someone too sensitive to survive in this world. This isn’t good enough for you? A large part of my brain demands an answer. A tiny bright part answers ‘yes.’ Am I allowed to say that? Am I allowed to say that writing about titanium wedding rings sucks? Am I allowed to ask for a job that makes my soul sing and my words dance across the page once more? Better, am I allowed to abandon my guise as a professional writer and return my work to the place in my heart where it used to reside? Can I do something else as “job” and let my writing be something else?

My perfectionism says no. This is what you have always wanted, it claims. You are a professional writer, it says. I say that I am starving, not for food in my middle class existence, but for something to fill me up. The word “professional writer” is not as nourishing as I believed it would be. It tastes hollow and stale, this version that I have baked.

The small bright part of me tastes the emptiness in what I have created. It gives me permission to go seek that which fills me up. It says to let go of the content writing. It says to embrace the unknown and jump in. It calls me back to my pages I’ve deserted for others’ needs. It calls me back to myself.

Can I give myself permission to go?

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An Unexpectedly Snowy Ski Trip to Whistler-Blackcomb

When my boyfriend picked out the dates for our ski weekend, we had no idea what to expect. On a warm December day in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, he selected February 2nd and 3rd. It seemed like a safe bet to get snow, but it was early enough in the year to be warm. Little did we know that we would careen through 6 inches of snow on Route 1 or use our Subaru Legacy to plow a path from our AirBnb driveway to the street.

From the start of the trip, it was obvious that this wasn’t going to be an easy adventure. Leaving Seattle, we took the normal superhighway of I-5. In 120 minutes, when we would typically be sailing through Bellingham, minutes from the Canadian border, we were still in Seattle. Technically, it was Lynnwood. But moving 3 miles in 120 minutes was unexpected. There wasn’t even any snow, just rain, and a terrible car crash.

As we finally pushed north, the rain turned to snow. Sleety slush rained down on us as we idled at the border crossing to Canada. I carefully flicked the windshield wipers off before we reached the window. Our lane had moved so slow, so I suspected that I would get a thorough examination before we were allowed to enter Canada.

“What is your purpose in traveling to Canada?” The border agent had thick black eyebrows.

“We’re traveling to Whistler for skiing.” I chirruped, pretending this exchange didn’t make me nervous.

“Where are you staying?”

“At an AirBnb in Squamish.”

Pleasantries aside, his intense gaze flickered between my boyfriend and I as he quizzed as about our employment. My mumbling boyfriend repeated twice that he worked as a flight test engineer. Not only did I have to explain that I was an Uber driver, he asked me about my previous place of employment and why I quit.

“The boss was terrible.” I said with a smile.

He didn’t laugh.

Instead he stared aghast as I explained that no, I did not carry a weapon in my car to defend myself against Uber riders. We passed, though not with flying colors. I continued driving along 15 North, searching for Route 1 and the road to Squamish.

The next adrenaline filled jolt was not at the beautiful suspension bridge or the large concrete overpass. We passed peacefully through the typical obstructions and I grew confident on the roads as they melted. Soon I was sailing at 70kph along the suburb of West Vancouver. The road dipped suddenly and I frantically noted the field of 6 inch deep snow at the bottom.

My foot flew off of the gas pedal and started lightly tapping the brakes. The asphalt disappeared beneath a white cloud. Only 30 feet ahead of me, I saw a white SUV weave back and forth. My elbows locked and my hands gripped the wheel. Quickly, the white turned to the black of asphalt once more. I aligned the car between the white lines again. Then I laughed.

It was after 11pm before we arrived at our AirBnb, but Nancy with the Mountain View room was waiting up for us. She graciously welcomed us and offered cookies. I took one with relief, happy to finally lower my tensed shoulders. 6 hours until we left again for Whistler. We slept.

The alarm went off in the pre-dawn light in Squamish. Outside the window, at least four inches of snow coated the car we’d parked only hours before. We left the house dressed in our ski clothes and took turns brushing the snow off of the car. The nearby tree dropped snow down my boyfriend neck as he inched toward the front door. Once inside, he started the car and put it in reverse. Snow piled up behind us as we plowed the top two inches. A Subaru Legacy does not have much clearance.

We made it to Whistler before the road closed behind us. As always, we stopped at the first parking lot. Arriving at 7:30am, we’d hoped to do the Ski and Breakfast special. This special allowed a few hundred skiers to go up the mountain early and eat a large buffet breakfast as the rest of us waited in line for the lifts to open. At the time, we didn’t know we’d need to go to Whistler Village to take the gondola up for breakfast. Instead, we ate our Starbucks and drank our cold coffee in line with the other skiers.

But it was worth getting up early. As we exited the first gondola, the entire area was laid with 8 inches of powder. Powder skis gracefully darted across its surface. We skied too, but with our old skinny skis at least 3 inches beneath the powdery surface. It was still fun, even in the flat light and somewhat windy conditions. The trails are so expansive, as wide as a freeway in some places. For the first few hours, there was always some powder to hunt down and explore.

Halfway through the day, we went to Whistler Village and got drunk on mulled wine. An old Irish pub, reconstructed in Whistler, was the perfect place to warm up. The fish and chips tasted divine, though the banana split put them to shame. Caramel ice cream is hard to beat. Combine this with the selection of hot alcoholic drinks, we were quite pleased.

Two long runs later, we headed toward the car. Our legs were weak. It was our first full ski day this year. In the warmth (and diesel smell) of the covered parking lot, we slumped into the car with relief. It would only be a small adventure to get back to our AirBnb in Squamish for hot showers. The road had opened up again.

For dinner, we explored downtown Squamish. It was still snowing. On the main road, we saw The Copper Coil. It had been recommended to me, so we stopped. The waitress greeted us warmly and brought us two beers, both local lagers, within 5 minutes. We decided to split a giant meal of chicken and ribs, with a side of the daily soup. As good as the ribs were, the potato soup was the most delicious. The restaurant had a smoker on-site and the smoked bacon made the dish. We left, stuffed way too full. With a bottle of wine from the local liquor store, we drank and were asleep by 9pm.

In the morning, we made it to Lion’s Gate Village near North Vancouver before stopping for breakfast. There was one cafe and we went to it gladly. The local roasted coffee was excellent. My Americano was served in a tall blue coffee mug, much better than the plain white one holding my boyfriend’s latte. The bagels were uninspiring, but bagels are bagels. The cinnamon rolls oozing with white glaze looked more appetizing, but we stuck with a more sturdy breakfast.

Our trip down to Seattle was similar to our trip up, minus the car crash. We also got through the border gate more easily this time, though we had to surrender our blood oranges. Apparently, no citrus can cross country borders into the USA. Bellingham was a snowy wonderland and the snow did not abate until we had almost reached Everett. Over the next twenty-four hours, Seattle would get buried in four inches of snow as well.

Thanks to his snow experience over the weekend, my boyfriend got to work on Monday without a problem.

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Becoming a Professional Writer

This week, I can call myself a professional writer. I have written an article and received $10 for it. I am not hitting the big time; I am working for a content mill.

Yet, strangely, it makes me happy.

For a long time, I avoided the content mills. I thought, “I have a $100,000 college education. Why would I do that?” Then my situation changed. The choice became planting my butt in a car seat for hours a day as an Uber driver or try to work from the comfort of my own home (with a small gray cat in my face). To be honest, the pay isn’t that different. For each, $20 an hour is a good day. But, as an Uber driver, I sometimes sit around waiting, hoping for a rider. As a content mill worker, I know I have my $50 worth of articles to write and I can do them as I please.

The fact that I’m having fun working at a content mill has been eye-opening. For one, I thought myself above researching fashion trends and moonshine regulations. I’m not. It’s actually quite fun to learn about a random assortment of items and try to compose a narrative article. I’ve looked at webpages that I never would have seen otherwise. What do I do with my new knowledge that Adidas has created bioengineered yarn for shoes that can be dissolved with a catalyst and water? I don’t know. But someone is paying me to look up weird things online and write about it.

Isn’t that kind of awesome? Doesn’t every millenial want a job like this?

Maybe not.

But it’s illuminating to see how happy I am. Because I am having more fun working for a content mill than I did reviewing safety requirements or collaborating with customers as an engineer. This makes me think that I am on the right track. As I wrote in my journal earlier this week, “…at this moment, the “right track” fucking sucks. But I’m finally there.”

Why does it suck? Well, even driving Uber for almost 30 hours a week and taking on every article I can find, rent is still an impossibly high number. I was surprised by $1100 in unexpected heating costs (thanks to the sunny cold days in Seattle and our oil heated house). My boyfriend and I talked about the heating costs earlier this week. I said that we needed to have another $500 in the joint account. He asked who should put the money into the account. I nominated him…because I didn’t have it. That’s a first for me. My savings are about gone.

With this lack of money plaguing my mind, I applied for 4-5 other content mills. Indeed has become my go-to site, and I applied for five other random writing jobs.

In some ways, this is awesome. I threw out my rules regarding how much I was “supposed to” make per hour. Now a whole new world of writing opportunities has opened up to me.

But getting rejected by a content mill because “we have too many writers and not enough projects” is sobering. I also received a phone call from a company that wanted to check that I was a native English speaker. These things remind me how precarious my situation is, and Uber is not the cure-all that I hoped it would be. Uber is like any freelance work; sometimes there is work and sometimes there isn’t (though getting a ride on a weekday morning at 8am is practically a given in West Seattle).

My new method is to gather these flexible freelance writing jobs. Once I have a handful of them, I can jump around, taking whatever work is available to me. $80 here, $60 here and $200 there eventually add up to the money I need for rent.

And, yes, technically, I can call myself a professional writer.

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