In the Summer of (a Writer’s) Life

I’ve been talking a lot lately about Kristen Lamb‘s Rise of the Machines. And I’m not likely to stop anytime soon because every time I get a minute to read a bit more I end up finding something I want to talk about. It’s just that good. 😀

Today I read a short chapter that invites us to establish which type of writer we are…Spring, Summer, Fall, or Winter. Spring writers are the young ones with tons of time, almost no responsibilities, but not a lot of experience. Fall writers are older so they have lots of experience, and they have few responsibilities because their bills are probably paid off and their children are probably grown up. Winter writers are of advanced age, meaning they don’t have a lot of time left to make their writing dreams come true, but the time they do have can be 100% devoted to writing, and they have tons of experience.

I fall firmly into the category of Summer writer. In fact, I fall so firmly in this category that I found myself nodding enthusiastically as I was reading Kristen’s description. Summer writers are still fairly young, but they’re old enough to have gained a bit of worldly experience. At first it seems like an ideal time to be writing, but there are other problems. The biggest problem facing Summer writers is that they are in the most responsibility-laden era of their lives. Summer writers have day-jobs, children, mortgages, car payments, student loan payments, chores and errands that need doing. Summer writers can’t always find time to write because they have to dedicate many of their waking hours dealing with day-to-day career and family issues. Summer writers may be fatigued because they’re run off their asses by household requirements and children keeping them up at all hours of the night.

Summer writers, to put it succinctly, are bogged down with copious amounts of stress. They’re young, and they have experience, but they have no time.

Currently I am experiencing a slight reprieve, as my job out West recently finished and we’ve paid off enough debts that we don’t have to worry about money for a little while. Regardless, a lack of time is still my biggest complaint. On a daily basis, as the sun wanes in the West, I chastise myself for not writing more, and promise to do better the next day. But the next day I find a million other things to do, or the baby has a bad day, or I didn’t get any sleep that night so I’m completely knackered. And so when I do get a few moments when I could be writing, I instead find myself reading or playing video games or watching movies in bed (and trying not to drift off while doing so).

I’m not trying to give myself a pass or anything; I don’t get to just blame all my troubles on the fact that I’m at a particular period of life and I don’t get to whine that I can’t write because everything else is in the way. But I can say that there are challenges, and that I’m definitely not alone in having to deal with them.

No matter the season, all writers have struggles that they must work through, and as a Summer writer, I invite all other “Summers” to struggle with me. We have families and jobs and responsibilities, but we also have writing, and we have each other. We can do it, come hell or high water!

What season are you? What struggles do you fight with because of the time of life you happen to be in? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

Catch Ya on the Flip Side, Alberta!

As has been known to happen on occasion, my life has come to another set of crossroads. Tomorrow, after a mere 5-1/2 hours of jumping around the office like a lunatic, my job will be done. I’ll board a bus to go back to camp, where I’ll have a snack, grab my bags, and wait for the bus that takes us to the air strip. Once I’m on the plane it will be a moderately uncomfortable nine hour flight, and then I’ll be back home, with no idea of what the future holds.

I am amazingly calm about that fact.

Less than two years ago my world was turned upside down when the mill where my husband and I both worked shut down. At the time I had only been back for two months after having been off on maternity leave, and my husband was home taking a few months of parental leave. We’d been trying to work out what we were going to do for child care when he returned to work (and how the hell we were going to afford it); we still had student loans to pay, a car loan to deal with, and a mortgage hanging over our heads, to say nothing of the fact that we had a tiny little princess who relied on us to take care of her.

Those weren’t good days. I readily admit that on the day the announcement was made I broke down more than a couple of times. I was the only woman in the section of the mill where I worked, and as such I spent a rather large chunk of the day locked alone inside the women’s locker room, trying to gather up the pieces of my shattered psyche. I had no idea what we were going to do. Numbers kept running through my mind, and those numbers told me that there was no way we could pay our mortgage, our car payment, our student loans, and all those little things like food and heat on two unemployment checks. A quick call to the bank that holds our mortgage revealed that there was no kind of safeguard for this situation: we would still have to make our full payments. A longer look into the local job bank website revealed what I already knew: that there were no other jobs for an instrumentation tech or an industrial electrician nearby enough that we wouldn’t have to move to obtain them (and since the housing market in our area is so bad, there was no way we’d be able to get rid of our house and move). Basically, the weight of the world fell down on me all at once. We were trapped in a town with no job opportunities, in a house that we had little to no chance of selling, with bills that we would have no way of paying. We had a little savings set aside, but it wouldn’t last long. By the end of that first day I was Googling the repercussions of filing bankruptcy.

In retrospect, my reaction was a little more dramatic than was necessary, but it was still a rough time. I had no idea what we were going to do, and I was STRESSED OUT. There were no jobs in our field that were a reasonable distance away, and the jobs outside our field barely paid more than what we would be receiving on employment insurance. The only other skill I felt I had was writing, but I had no idea how to go about that, and writing takes time that we didn’t really have.

My husband and I had to make a hard decision; one of us would have to stay at home with the baby while the other went out West for work.

Those who don’t live in Canada might not understand exactly what I mean, but I can put it pretty simply: the overwhelming majority of good jobs in Canada are located in Alberta, specifically on the oil sands. Lots and LOTS of people travel from their homes in other provinces to find work in Alberta. Many of the oil sands jobs involve working strange shifts, such as working for ten days straight and then having four days off, or working for three weeks straight and then having two weeks off. Depending on the company they might fly you back and forth from your home for every shift, or you may have to pay for your own flights if you want to go home. Some jobs require you to find a place to stay nearby (and, ideally, pay you a “living out allowance”) and others book you a room at a “camp” where you stay while you’re on shift.

To put it in simple terms, working “out West” is not an ideal situation. You’re away from home, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for months at a time, away from your family, and often with many restrictions put on you (for instance, many of the “camps” prohibit alcohol and you can lose your job if you even show up to check-in with the hint of liquor on your breath). There can be good money to be made, depending on where you go and what kind of work you do, but many people won’t even consider this kind of life because of the implications of being away from home for so long.

But we had to do something, so my husband and I started applying for jobs. He got the first call, for a job that required him to find his own place to stay and transportation to and from work. It was a ten-days-on, four-days-off shift, which meant that even if he wanted to pay for the flights he couldn’t really come home (it takes almost a full day to fly from Alberta to Nova Scotia, another to fly back again, and it would cost a major chunk of his check). It was an awful job that he understandably hated, but luckily he was only there for a month when I got the call for my job. It would be two weeks on, two weeks off, the company would pay for all flights, and it was a “camp” position, so I’d have no expenditures while there. It also paid quite good money, so we’d easily be able to survive (and save!) even with my husband at home watching the baby. It was probably the best offer I could have gotten.

And it terrified me. I tried not to show it, but it absolutely terrified me. I’d never even been on a plane before, never mind flying 75% of the way across the country, and being away from my baby girl for two weeks at a time. The morning I left for my first shift I struggled not to start bawling my eyes out while sitting past security waiting for my flight. I really didn’t know how I was going to handle it.

I’ve been at that job for a year now, and it hasn’t felt nearly that long. Despite all my fears and worries, it turned out to be a great job. I’ve had awesome coworkers, and in my time out here I’ve managed to pay off all of our student loans, plus the remainder of the car loan, and I’ve put money aside for the baby’s education fund, in addition to our other savings (which will put a big chunk in the mortgage when our term comes up next year). There were lonely days, but I was able to Skype with my husband and the baby most nights, and when I was actually at home I could spend two straight weeks just playing with the baby if I wanted to. After an incredible amount of stress over the loss of both of our jobs, we found ourselves in a position to actually get ahead, and I haven’t suffered for it. The lifestyle may not be ideal, but it’s not impossible to do. It was a good decision to make.

So now that this job is over, I’m heading home without stress clouding my mind. We may be back to dual-unemployment, but it won’t last forever. We have significantly less debt than we had a year ago, we’ve saved a ton of money by having my husband stay home instead of having to deal with child care, and I’ve collected a number of contacts who could help me or my husband get an upper hand on the next job. We can’t both stay at home and relax forever, but for the time being I plan to go home, enjoy my family as much as I can, and take solace in the fact that there is no rush to work something out asap.

I’m taking a well-deserved vacation.

Balance? Ha! Baby, the world is tilted!

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

97. Finding life/writing balance

I’m going to confess something here: when I first read the words “Finding life/writing balance” I nearly died from the gut-wrenching laughter/hysterical crying that occurred. I may have gone just a tiny bit insane from reading those words. It’s okay now. I had a peppermint-Kahlua-spiked coffee that my husband made me and all was well. But it was touch and go there for a moment.

In all seriousness, this is something that I’ve been struggling with for years, and to this day I haven’t figured out how to manage it. Additionally, over the past year of blogging I’ve come to follow quite a few very talented bloggers/authors and it doesn’t really seem as though they’ve figured it out either. I’ve even Tweeted with writers – published and otherwise – who seem to react to the topic with the same mad hysteria/life-crushing misery as myself. It just doesn’t seem to be a subject that many find they have been able to work their minds around It’s one of those things…like trying to get a moment’s peace with 20+ members of immediate and extended family having a shouting match in your home. Possible? Maybe. Likely? Not really.

Finding a balance between life and writing is one of those mysterious things that most people don’t believe is possible…like leprechauns. Or unicorns. You’d like to believe, you really would, but in your heart you know it’s a pipe dream.

Okay, so maybe I’m being over-dramatic. Perhaps it is possible to find a balance, but I personally don’t know anyone who has managed it.

The problem is that most writers have a heck of a lot of responsibilities aside from writing. Many writers will tell you that the only way to truly become a successful author is to suck it up, grit your teeth, and focus 100% on your writing, even if that means that you’ll be destitute for a while during the interim. And while part of me agrees with that, it’s not exactly as simple as being willing to make life hard on yourself in the short-term for the hope of long-term gain. After all, people have important responsibilities. They have families, children, mortgages, car payments, other assorted debts, and any other number of things that require them to have an income that stems from something more stable.

So immediately we have that disconnect. We have the day-job life, and the writing life. Now add in a couple of other aspects of life that many writers have to deal with… In addition to the day-job life and the writing life you might have the mommy/daddy life, the (ever elusive) social life, the household-chores-and-errands life, the “I desperately need to lose some weight before I die of a heart attack” life, and so on and so on.

Personally, the only way I’ve been able to “balance” life and writing is by sneakily combining the two. When I’m at my day job I write between tasks and during breaks. When I’m in mommy mode I’ll pluck out a blog post (sometimes a sentence at a time) whilst braiding ponies’ hair and making Leonardo beat up Michelangelo. Sometimes I’ll pluck out a few words whilst keeping an eye on supper, or I’ll save a couple of sentences on my iPhone while waiting in line at the supermarket. And since it’s pretty much impossible to write while exercising, I’ll use that time to mull over a scene in my mind, which doubles as a way to distract myself from the burning pain all throughout my body.

(I’m not going to comment on my social life. It’s silly to comment on things that don’t exist.)

And that’s my two cents on that. If any of you other writers out there ever find a better way to “balance”, I submit to you that it is your duty to share it with the writer community (in the form of a comment on this post). 🙂

If You’d Just THINK For a Moment…

The more I hear about the changes that are coming to the Canadian EI system, the more frustrated I get. And it’s not even the changes themselves that are making me the most angry (though there’s definitely some rage there); it’s the comments I keep hearing from people who support the changes, or think the changes should be even harsher. The most common comment I’ve heard is that Atlantic Canadians (and our seasonal workers in particular) are lazy bums sponging off the system several months a year, and that we should be forced to suck it up and either get a job flipping burgers or move out West for work.

Funny how sure of themselves are these people who have stable jobs and don’t have to deal with being regularly unemployed themselves. They’re so angry about people “abusing” the system that they pay for (uh, hello, the same people “abusing” the system pay EI premiums too, you know) that they don’t stop to think for a moment about some of the comments they’re making.

A few points, if you will:

– Yes, our seasonal workers (fishermen, tourism workers, agriculturists, etc) “sponge” off the system every year. That’s because their jobs, the jobs they’ve worked all their lives and are trained for, don’t enable them to work 12 months out of the year. I’ve heard so many comments about how those people should “look for other work then, if their jobs are so unsteady”. And that is one of the most ridiculously stupid things I’ve ever heard. If all the fishermen suddenly packed up and said, “You know what? We should go find a job that’s available all year through” who the hell would catch your fish?! Like it or not, seasonal work is required work. Those seasonal workers catch your fish, harvest your crops, cut your lumber, and a host of other things that need doing. Cut them out of the equation and you create a massive deficit in freakin’ society.

– “Okay, so don’t make them find new jobs, but force them to take other jobs during the off months!” Do you really think that’s so easy? First of all, most of these seasonal workers are only trained in the job they do. In order to find a secondary job that pays them at least closed to what they make normally, they would need to be trained in something. Who is going to pay to train them? Do you remember what college costs? Because it’s gone up. A lot. The EI changes that are coming will put no money into helping retrain the unemployed. So where is that money going to come from? Believe it or not, not everyone can afford to just say, “Hey, I think I’ll go back to college so I can work two jobs a year.”

– “Okay, screw a career, just make them work at McDonald’s in the off months!” Oh, you sad, sorry little person. There are currently tens of thousands of seasonal workers in Nova Scotia. Do you honestly believe that there are tens of thousands of unskilled jobs just sitting around waiting to be filled? Particularly in Nova Scotia? Because if you do, I’ll pray for your sanity if you ever lose your job. It hasn’t been very long since I was a college student looking for part-time work to help pay my tuition, so I know what it’s like. It’s not uncommon to hand out a hundred resumes before getting one interview (and that’s in the cities, not the super-rural areas many of us live in). And I’m going to explain something to you right now: minimum wage employers like fast food joints and department stores don’t want to hire you if they know you’re going to be leaving for another job in a few months. Why would McDonald’s want to hire a fisherman and spend a bunch of money training him, knowing that he’s going to leave to go back to fishing in a few short months? Minimum wage employers don’t want to deal with that nonsense anymore than any other employer would. Turnover at those places is bad enough without hiring people that they know for sure aren’t sticking around for very long. And as previously mentioned, even if some seasonal workers do manage to pick up these types of jobs, there aren’t enough available for everyone. To think that there are is complete and utter folly. If there were that many minimum wage jobs just sitting around, students wouldn’t have such a hard time finding part-time and summer jobs.
The entire thing, in my opinion (and many other people’s opinions) smacks of trying to force as many people out west as possible. If seasonal workers (and others who claim EI regularly for other reasons) are forced to take jobs outside their pay grade (and yes, 70% of what you’re used to is significantly reduced pay when you’re fixed into things like mortgages and vehicle loans), then they’re going to start looking at greener pastures, which seems to be exactly what the feds want. The West will continue to grow and prosper, while the East steadily collapses. The more people who head out to the oil sands for better-paying work, the less money that will be spent in Nova Scotia, the higher our taxes will rise, and so on and so forth. And to all you people who support the changes, you who have steady, well-paying jobs and never have to rely on EI yourselves…you can be damn sure that as the Nova Scotia economy rapidly declines, your jobs will end up in jeopardy as well.

Will you be ready and willing to take a minimum wage job or uproot your entire life to move out West?