Thursday is my two-month anniversary of becoming a freelance writer -- or unemployed bum, depending on your point of view. (I'm not collecting unemployment benefits, so Tea Partiers may refrain from leaving all-caps comments on that topic.) I've been doing a lot of reading, listening to music, meeting friends for lunches and drinks, and finally making some major purchases. That is, I've bought a new mattress (and can now sleep comfortably on both sides of the bed), a printer with WiFi capability (hurray, I guess), and a vacuum cleaner strong enough to pick up a crumb without going over it a half-dozen times (thus eliminating my chief form of exercise).
There is a vague plan of doing some serious writing and then looking for full-time work, but my preferred goal is a healthier social life. Until recently, I never knew myself whether I'd attend a party until I got it inside and took my coat off; plenty of times, I made it as far as the front door before turning around and going straight home in order to resume normal breathing. Getting rid of that inhibition for good seems more important than getting some bylines, as financially reckless as that may seem.
It may also seem self-indulgent when the economy is so bad and there is near-universal agreement that the country is in a precarious spot. (Half the people think we're already on the road to ruin, and the other half fear that the first half is going to put us there through their panic and overreaction.) But there are plenty of people to pick up the slack if I don't spend every moment worrying about the State of Things.
I'm a workaholic. This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm more productive than anyone else, but I am more obsessive, worrying about mistakes and anticipating possible disasters when I should be off the clock. So it's tempting to use my free time for non-stop pontification -- in other words, putting off a healthy personal life (again) so I can give way too much attention to a blog.
But I'm not thrilled by the idea of spitting out bits of wisdom about the human experience without actually taking part in life. Writers who hold themselves above it all can develop strong, clear, and consistent opinions because they're never challenged by their peers (if they even recognize that they have peers). They can develop a misanthropic style that begins as charmingly contrarian but turns stale and repetitive.
It may be because of my shyness, but I get the sense that this kind of isolation is an easier trap to fall into these days. It's true that writers and journalists get a lot of instant feedback, thanks to websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. At the same time, it seems harder to go beyond keyboard relationships. I studied journalism in college but I pretty much lost all interest in reporting when I realized that an increasing share of the work involved talking to strangers over the telephone. I concentrated on editing and production work instead, since that was more of a collaborative process with flesh-and-blood co-workers. But thanks to e-mail and telecommuting, an editor can now work with writers, proofreaders, and the like for years without ever seeing their faces.
In addition to working as an editor full-time, I've done a written of essays, analytical pieces, and the like over the past couple of decades (there are links to a few in the right-hand column, and many are archived on the CommonWealth magazine website). Some of them have provoked thoughtful responses and kind words, mostly via e-mail, but I've never really felt part of the journalism community, or the larger social scene, in Boston. I'm sure that my tentative personality is a big reason; the technological changes mentioned above and Boston's icy personality may or may not be factors.
Whatever the reasons, I'm taking some time to try making connections to the world around me. This may lead to some blog posts, and it may lead to some things I won't share. (I didn't need this article to remind me that anything I post may be used against me in a human resources department.) Like a house cat who one day manages to escape out the back door, I may end up running back to my safe space -- in my case, spending all day at a desk looking for typographical errors -- but I'd like a glimpse of what's out there.