Contemplating the Life of a Recluse

Photo: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul, freeditigalphotos.net

Photo: Kittikun Atsawintarangkul, freeditigalphotos.net

This morning, I ran across this article in Psychology Today about the deliberate reclusive life. In it, the author discusses the merits of such an extreme choice. It’s not satire, but I had to read it twice to make sure. I couldn’t help but notice how many similarities such a life has to the freelance life and what that implies about the life of a writer.

In the piece, the author discusses some of the merits of working for yourself (a hallmark, according to the author, of an authentically reclusive existence). These include waking when you want to, working and breaking when you choose to, not having to answer to pesky bosses or co-workers, etc. These merits are also things that many freelancers put in the positives column when contemplating their chosen profession. I do.

Some of the most famous writers in history were recluses. Emilies Dickinson and Bronte come to mind. I  like this list, which names several writers among other artist / entertainer types like Dave Chappelle (Who knew?!) for their hermit-like tendencies.

I’m especially interested in this connection right now because I’ve been living the life of a shut-in for the last five days. It seems as if a nasty virus has made me into an experimental recluse, relying on my dogs, the amusement of way too many BBC / PBS miniseries, and the steady gurgle of my Vicks Vapo Steam for company. I actually lost my voice last Saturday, which means I’ve not only put off leaving the house (I left once a couple of days ago — I think it was Tuesday? — to buy dog food) but I’ve also been unable to talk to anyone; a fact that has made me avoid eye contact so as to not invite conversations of any kind.

As another famous recluse, Art Garfunkel, once said, “I am a rock. I am an island.” At least for right now.

The experience hasn’t been so bad for me, or my work. Here are a few of the more subtle reasons why:

I’ve traded my speaking voice for my writing voice.

Because I haven’t been able to utter words, I haven’t been able to just say whatever came to mind right away. Also, I haven’t felt up to much, so communicating has taken effort. Therefore, I’m saving my energy for words and thoughts that seem most important and writing and editing those, and those only. Like this post I’m writing for you. Hope you like it.

I’ve been thinking and listing more.

Listing is one of the ways I make sense of my life, and because I’ve been more prone to introspection this week, I’ve been doing more list-writing, too. I’ve been addressing life-quaking decisions that have characterized this past year (husband’s new job, our move West, my impending jump to academia, the decision to start looking for a house and more) and those that will continue to change the course of my writing life in the next few years. I’ve collected books I want to read on the topic of career and life change but haven’t cracked any of them yet. So I’ve listed all of that stuff in an attempt to make it real and hold myself to making the changes and reading the books. It’s a writerly response to upheaval, I suppose. We’ll see how it all goes.

I’ve refined my own identity as a writer, just a little bit.

There are merits to this lifestyle, sure, but at the end of the day, I’m a social animal. Having to cancel an important work trip this week as well as social and volunteer engagements have made me realize how much I miss being around people, and how much energy and inspiration I draw on for writing by interacting with others. Sure, the freelance life often looks a lot like the reclusive life. But for me, the best thing about freelancing choice. I can go underground when I want to, taking a full day to write without interruption and planning conference calls, meetings and interviews only when it’s most convenient for me. Yet, I can also resurface for networking events and social opportunities when I feel it’s time to get back into the business of being in the world. I can straddle the line.

I’ve done squat to my hair.

Because nobody cares about your hair when you’re a recluse. (See: Art Garfunkel.)

Want a healthier, more beautiful office space? Just do this one thing!

Photo: foto76, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: foto76, freedigitalphotos.net

There are hundreds of things you can do to create a more ecofriendly, healthy workspace. Some are easy (replacing your desktop incandescent bulb with a CFL, for example). Some are more involved (repainting your desk with low- or no-VOC paint comes to mind).

If you don’t have much cash or time to invest and are looking for a quick-and-dirty way to clean up the air you breathe and enhance the beauty of your surroundings right away, I suggest investing in one or two humble houseplants.

Before you head to the nearest nursery, however, it’s important to decide on a plant that’s scientifically proven to purify the air. Believe it or not, NASA did a study on houseplants back in the 1980s in order to discern which green machines would best purify the air of a space station. Find a list of the most popular and effective ones here.

Many of the hardest workers can rid the air of gross offenders like benzene, trichlorethylene and formaldehyde.

(Spoiler alert: the Spider Plant and Golden Pothos, both of which never seem to die, even for black thumbs like yours truly, make the list. So does the pretty and powerful Gerbera Daisy.)

The bottom line: If these plants are good enough for a space station, they’re good enough for an at-home workstation.

Get growing!

Crushing On: Aromatherapy

Photo: Lemonade, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo: Lemonade, freedigitalphotos.net

I’m studying for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) right now and part of my preparation involves looking up the meaning of a lot of vocabulary words. That got me thinking about the definition of “aromatherapy,” a term that gets bantered about a lot. The word “therapy,” as defined by Merriam-Webster, means “treatment of physical or mental illnesses.” Add the word “aroma,” and I guess we’re talking about treatment of physical or mental illness through smell.

I’m not sure if scent can actually treat illness. But I do know that scent has a profound effect on how I feel.

Some fragrances (interestingly the smell of most fabric softeners as well as most commercial cleaning products, for example) really rub my ‘ole olfactory system the wrong way. Others, such as the crisp, naturally derived scents of lemon, eucalyptus, or lavender have the ability to make me feel relaxed, rejuvenated and just … well, happy in my space.

In the past few years, I’ve developed a little collection of can’t-live-without scented items, a few of which have proven awesome for quick at-work pick-me-ups. I’ve already written about my favorite all-purpose scented wipe. Here are the other two smell-good things I swear by at work:

 Essential Oils

Photo: Courtesy of Aura Cacia

Photo: Courtesy of Aura Cacia

I love the aromas essential oils provide. They’re called essential oils, by the way, not because they’re essential to life (how melodramatic!), but because they contain the true essence, the real scent, of the plant from which they’re derived and nothing artificial.

A tiny drop of any essential oil goes a long way, which is good news since most of these highly concentrated potions come in itty-bitty bottles. Essential oils can be used to scent natural cleaning products or personal care items. But my favorite way to use them is to dab a drop or two of lavender, lemon, orange or eucalyptus on my wrists when I’m feeling tired or stressed. The oils lift my mood or relax me, depending on which scent I reach for. Best of all, they’re 100-percent natural, so no icky chemicals on my skin, thankyouverymuch.

 P.S.: There are several trustworthy brands of essential oils out there (I buy the Aura Cacia brand at Whole Foods), but if the price is too good to be true, the oil probably is, too. If you’ve ever picked up a tiny bottle of essential oil and wondered why they’re so expensive, this article provides a great explanation / justification.

 A Naturally Scented Candle

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One of the many perks that come with working from home is the fact that I can burn a scented candle on my desktop. But as I mentioned earlier, I find most artificially derived scents pretty aggravating. As an alternative, I buy Izola’s lavender scented candle, which is made from 100 percent vegetable wax and relies on natural fragrance, and fire it up when I get that 2:30 feeling. I’ve already (forgive it) burned through two. I’m now on my third, and I absolutely adore the way it fills my office with subtle, feel-good scent, just when my motivation begins to flag. I doubt I’ll depart from my favorite fragrance any time soon, but I’m encouraged to know there’s a variety of non-cloying scents available (Elderflower and Sandalwood come to mind) should I ever change my mind. Again, here, I have to acknowledge the price ($35 a pop), which is pretty steep for a candle, I admit. But each one burns for 60 hours and the fragrances are all-natural, so it’s worth it for me. (And it’s cheaper than perking up with a 2:30 latte.)

What picks you up when you’re feeling low or slow at work? Does scent help?

Tell me your tricks in the comments.

Greetings from my air mattress.

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We up and did it!

It’s been quite the summer, what with my husband’s move to the West Coast in June (to start a new job) and my move last week, but I’m happy to report that my groom, both dogs and I are finally all back under the same sun-soaked roof in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, California.

The relocation has been slightly crazy, as most are. For starters, my old Honda, affectionately named Dirty Hairy, bit the dust somewhere outside Springfield, MO on the cross-country drive. The repairs were so extensive we had to junk the car and buy a new one on the spot. Upon arrival, there have been the usual tasks: setting up with what little stuff we have (for now), obtaining appliances and other large essentials, a multitude of big-box store runs and a couple of DMV trips. We’re not done yet: The bulk of our furniture and household goods is on a truck somewhere between Northern Virginia and Cali.

In fact, I’m writing to you from the only soft surface in our home right now: an air mattress.

In lieu of a chair and desk, it’s my current pop-up office space. Mentally, though, we’re all starting to settle in.

I’m telling you this because I made a promise two weeks ago to start on a series on the freelance sales process. And I haven’t delivered. I might have been too ambitious in thinking that, in between moving across the country and setting up house, I could write several thoughtful, helpful posts. Sorry about that.

With my feet firmly on California ground (Or, should we say, in the sand?) I’m ready to deliver on my promise. So, starting next week, I’ll begin with a piece on prospecting.

Until then, have you picked up your copy of The Wealthy Freelancer? As I’ve mentioned before, the book taught me almost everything I know about how to develop an effective client-prospecting program. That should get you going.

Yesterday, after 10 days in our new place, Jason, the dogs and I finally made it to the beach for a bit. This great spot, Doheny State Beach and Dana Point Harbor, is just down the road. I think I’m gonna need a paddle board.

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Crushing On: Herban Essentials Towlettes

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

I haven’t posted much in Work Healthy lately.

It’s not because I haven’t been prioritizing my work and health (I’ve been trying to do both.) Rather, it’s because I’m in transition and I don’t really have a healthy home, let alone office space, to call my own just yet, so the ideas haven’t been flowing as freely as usual.

Right now, my office is wherever I can find some quiet time; usually the local public library. I happen to love the local library. It’s newly renovated, light-filled and gorgeous.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it, like most public work spaces, can get well … germy.

That’s why I’m crushing on Herban Essentials towlettes.

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

Photo: Courtesy of Herban Essentials

They’re made with pure essential oil and therefore smell amazing, and also have antibacterial and antiseptic properties. For wiping down my work space pre- and post-session, my favorites are lemon and orange. They smell fresh and juicy without even a hint of sweetness, so they’re not perfume-y, just clean. And I love the lavender-scented and mint-scented towlettes for a post-lunch pick-me-up (mint) or stress reliever (lavender). I get mine at Whole Foods, but they’re available at a bunch of other locations, too. Locate your nearest retailer here.

Now, they’re pricier than non-natural versions, I’m not gonna lie. But I assure you, they’re so much better smelling and feeling than those strong, medicinal-smelling antibacterial hand wipes and sanitizers.

If the benefits don’t outweigh the cost for you, I get it. Check out this awesome recipe for homemade hand sanitizer at one of my favorite blog spots, DIY Natural. This one uses essential oils as well.

How do you “Work Healthy” away from home? Drop me a comment!

Hey, just a reminder: I don’t do paid endorsements on this blog. If I recommend something, it’s because I’ve used it and I love it. Simple as that.

 

Growing Season

Photo: Amenic181, freeditigalphotos.net

Photo: Amenic181, freeditigalphotos.net

We’re back from our South American adventure and man, was it amazing.

I won’t be able to distill my observations on the beauty of each country we visited or the people we met until far in the future. But I’m happy to report that our trip has yielded some great story ideas and this traveler is far from weary. In fact, I’m invigorated.

But as you may be able to tell from the lack of posts since our return, my priorities have been split.

In the last few weeks, my husband has accepted a great job which will move us from the East Coast and Northern Virginia to the West Coast and sunny SoCal. He has criscrossed the country to tie up loose ends and has already made the big drive out West. The dogs and I will stay behind until he can find us a permanent home to move into. Meanwhile, I’ve been dividing my time between catching up on work and working on the transition. Last week alone, I signed and scanned so much moving, storage, mortgage and rent paperwork, the guy at FedEx Office and I have become best buds.

As I write this from Indiana, where friends and family have made gracious homes away from home for us, I can’t help but reflect a bit on the rapid changes that have occurred and what it means for my, and my family’s, pasts and futures. For the last seven years, (the entirety of our marriage thus far), Jason and I have moved from Indiana to Hawaii to Washington, D.C. to Virginia, and finally (or so we think) California. The moves are what changed my career. (I wrote a guest post on how that happened recently.)

The move to Southern California is the first move we’ve made completely by choice.

We contemplated an exhaustive pro and con list before doing so and finally and confidently settled on it. I can continue to pursue this freelance gig from there, and I plan to. So there’s that lucky thing.

A few other things are in the works, too.

I’ve decided to take the writing thing a bit further by applying to doctorate programs in Communications and Journalism. If you read this blog often, you might have caught on to the fact that I’m preoccupied with how our industry is changing and how, in the face of that change, new forms of communication and dwindling sales numbers, we can keep it all moving along. I’d also love to teach a group of new, excited journalists what I’ve learned about how to put a magazine together. Until I put ten years in to actual industry work (and I’m creeping up on that now) I didn’t think I was quite qualified to give back. But now I think I am.

Will California be home forever? Who knows. That’s our intention.

Right now, and for the next three weeks, the dogs and I will continue to enjoy an Indiana summer. And I’ll be off visiting tractor pulls and horse barns for Farm Life magazine right here in my home state.

If there’s one thing travel teaches you, it’s how to, ahem … grow where you’re planted. I’d argue that freelancing teaches the same skill set.

Happy July, everybody. Enjoy the growing season.