Unemployment Nine: Interesting survey from SABEW

While hunting for subject matter for the blog I actually get paid to write, I found a story on the results of a survey by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. I didn’t participate in this research, but I might as well have, as the results really hit close to home.

According to the SABEW survey, freelance journalists earn an average of $25,000-$30,000 per year. Sadly, that’s dead-on accurate for me right now. Two out of every five were laid off, like yours truly. Three out of four respondents said they make less money than they did when they worked full-time, with one out of five reporting a difference of more than 50%. Yeah, that sounds familiar.

However, some of the results were completely different from my situation. The most glaring example: Two-thirds of respondents said they wouldn’t go back to a full-time news job. My desire to find a full-time position has not wavered one inch since the day I walked out of my old office. I would start tomorrow if I could.

Freelancing isn’t all bad. I love working from home. I love working in a T-shirt and shorts in warmer weather, or in a sweatshirt and sweatpants when the temperature drops. I love taking the laptop out on the balcony when the weather permits. I love the fact that I have the flexibility to run errands, schedule appointments, and take care of things that full-time employees could never find time for during the work week.

As for things I don’t miss, I certainly don’t miss trying to look busy during periods that aren’t busy. Let’s be honest: Unless it’s crunch time on a vital deadline, no one works 100% of the time. Anyone who tells you they don’t use the Internet connection at work for personal matters is completely and thoroughly full of horse crap.

I don’t miss commuting one bit. Commuting sucks no matter what your destination is, but when you’re forced to navigate a tourist-laden landmark like Grand Central Terminal, it’s much worse. I certainly don’t miss the once or twice every winter when I caught a cold that would slay the Greek gods from someone on the PATH train who sneezed or coughed on me without bothering to cover their mouth.

Six of the 67 respondents to the SABEW survey said they were earning more than $100,000 annually by freelancing. God bless them. If I could pull in that kind of cash, maybe I’d join the two-thirds who say they wouldn’t return to a full-time job. But at $25,000-$30,000? Um, yeah, full-time it is — if I can ever get anyone to actually hire me, that is.

No Flash: Just like an iPad, only different (and much crappier)

To say that the PC I use at my freelance job is as useful as a smoldering heap of turd would be an insult to heaps of turd throughout the world. It’s slow, sluggish and lacking many elements that people take for granted, Adobe Flash among them.

Adobe Flash

One of the biggest criticisms of the Apple iPad is that it doesn’t support Flash, which means users of the tablet can’t see a lot of video content on the Web. However, while the lack of Flash support represents a fairly serious issue, the iPad is still much cooler and much more advanced than the creaky Pentium 4 HP with an undersized monitor that I’m stuck with at work.

The problem is that as a freelancer, I’m the lowest person on the totem pole, and I certainly don’t feel empowered enough to bitch about anything equipment-related. When the nice, big monitor I had for my first couple of weeks on the job fizzled out and was replaced by the Etch-a-Sketch I’m using now, I smiled and said, “Thank you.”

My policy as a freelancer is to draw as little attention to myself as possible, because my tenure at this job can end instantly, without the details of letting a full-time employee go, such as dealing with benefits and severance packages.

So while every single person on this planet does personal things online during work hours — and don’t even try to tell me you don’t — I still don’t want to advertise the fact that I engage in that activity. And the lack of Flash hinders me more in my personal use of the Web than it does in my work-related use, although it has definitely tripped me up while doing actual work, as well.

Not having Flash has mostly been a problem when trying to sneak in a little work for my other freelance gig while between stories (hush up now). Tech-related sites tend to use newer technology (not that Flash is that new, but you get my point), so I have a great deal of trouble accessing sites like TechCrunch. I can’t use Scribd to upload documents. I can’t use Seesmic Web to manage my Twitter account (which made me realize just how badly Twitter.com sucks ass).

When it comes to really personal Web use, the biggest annoyance is the fact that live game trackers like those on ESPN.com or MLB.com don’t work without Flash, so when I’m stuck in the office during a Yankees game — which happens far too often for my tastes — I have to rely on my Droid to keep tabs on the team. In my opinion, if I’m going to be stuck in the office during a ballgame, an HDTV feed, snacks and beer should be provided. Unfortunately, management and I don’t see eye-to-eye on that. But at least let me follow the damn game on my PC.

Sadly, until the IT department at this company realizes that Pentium 4 chips, Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 ceased their tenures as state-of-the-art five years ago, I doubt I’ll ever see Flash on this heap of junk.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to refresh the browser on my Droid for the 593rd time so I can see how the Yanks are doing.

Unemployment Nine: Summer is my favorite time of the year but, so far, this one truly sucks

I love summer. I really do. It’s by far my favorite time of the year. But I feel like the economy, Mother Nature and some other cruel forces are conspiring to make sure this summer ranks among the worst of my life.

My mood this summer

I knew I was likely in for an emotional come-down following our wedding and honeymoon. I mean, two weeks in Hawaii represented the trip of a lifetime, so I never expected the summer to compete with that. But I also didn’t expect it to suck a big, fat one, like it has thus far.

First off, there’s the lingering unemployment situation. I’ve been on a whopping total of one interview since returning from our honeymoon in mid-May, and I’ve also had one phone interview. In both cases, I knew right away that the respective positions and I were not good fits. So it’s been months since I’ve even sniffed any hopes of a full-time job, and a very sobering anniversary is quickly approaching. Unless something drastic happens between now and Oct. 2, I will have hit the dreaded two-year mark of unemployment. In my absolute worst assessments of my situation, I’d have never predicted coming close to that milestone.

Anyone who has followed this blog knows that I’m not sitting around eating ice cream and watching soap operas. But I’m a little frustrated with both of my freelance jobs, as well.

The one I began recently basically destroys my Thursday and Friday nights, and I hate the fact that the pace is glacial, and I have no control whatsoever over it. There’s absolutely nothing I can do but sit and wait, and wait, and wait. It’s good in one way, because I get paid by the hour, so obviously, the longer I’m there, the more I make. But there are times when the hourly rate isn’t even remotely fair compensation for the activities I’m giving up, just to sit there and listen to people debate over every last clause that will appear in a medium that I am completely over: print. I don’t believe in what I’m doing, which makes it very difficult for me.

And when it comes to the one I’ve had for a little more than one year, I’m frustrated because I don’t get the sense that any improvement in my situation is imminent, whether it’s an increase in the amount of money I get paid per post, or an offer to come on board full-time, although those were mentioned as possibilities when I started. I feel like I’ve been bypassed by other people, albeit many of them worthy and deserving, and it seems like I’m speeding down a dead-end street. And the vibe in general has been far more negative than positive. I’m not a dog, and I don’t need someone to pat me on the head and say, “Good boy,” after every story I post, but receiving e-mail after e-mail of negative feedback without one positive note is not doing wonders for my attitude or my outlook.

The problem is, with my current financial state, I can’t even remotely afford to give up either job, so I have no choice but to solider on, regardless of how unhappy I am and how unrewarded I feel, whether monetarily or just in terms of fulfillment and getting some enjoyment out of my work.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m very happy to have both opportunities. Having something to focus on and being able to contribute at least some money into the household are both valuable commodities. But I’m just not happy doing what I’m doing right now and, as I said, I’m doing what I can to keep both jobs out of necessity, not out of pride in my work, or enjoying what I’m doing.

Summer, however, usually provides the cure-all, as I usually spend it doing some of my favorite things: going to baseball games, playing softball and going to the beach. This summer, however, has not been very good for any of those activities.

My wife and I are finally going down to Long Beach Island for a long weekend in a few days. As much as I’m looking forward to it, I fear that it will only whet my appetite for what I’ve been missing all summer.

And this obviously affects everyone, not just myself, but the weather this summer has been about as miserable as any summer I can remember in my 42 years of existence. It seems like the two weather conditions are high 90s-low 100s with suffocating humidity, or raining, and the latter usually comes up if I have Yankees tickets or a softball game. This weather just makes it nearly impossible to enjoy anything.

Softball is usually one of my best escapes from drudgery, but I just can’t get on track this season. Between having to miss games due to the newer freelance job, or games getting rained out, it seems like every time I start to feel comfortable at the plate, I end up not playing for two weeks, which sends me right back to square one. I’ve been trying to hit the batting cage regularly, but even in slow-pitch softball, there’s a big difference between getting it done in the batting cage and getting it done on the field. And I take it very personally when I don’t play well, often because my game that week was the one activity I’d been looking forward to for days. And naturally, when I don’t play well and my team loses, I feel like I’ve let my teammates down.

The weather has taken its toll on my Yankees experience this season, as well. It’s just that much harder to enjoy a ballgame when you’re coated in sweat and you feel like the sky is pressing down on you. Plus, I’ve had to sell my tickets for a few games I really wanted to attend, thanks to, you guessed it, the newer freelance job. I love Thursday-afternoon ball games, but I can’t afford to give up a day’s pay to go to them.

Look, I know things could be a lot worse. I could still be single. I could have no money coming in at all. I could have jobs that are a lot worse and that don’t even resemble what I’m trying to do. But sometimes it’s difficult to rationalize the fact that just because things could be worse, it doesn’t mean they don’t pretty much suck right now.

I really hope things turn around and I get to at least enjoy the second half of this summer, because Oct. 2 is looming and getting closer and closer, which will not do wonders for my mood or state of mind.

Unemployment Nine: Feeling left out of the party

One of the things that really sucks about working on a freelance basis with an entire staff of full-time employees is not being able to share in their good fortune. Through no fault of the people I’ve been working with — just the nature of the beast — there are times when I’ve really felt like an outsider looking in.

On the outside looking in

At the particular publication I’ve been working for, the parent company decided to do something incredibly nice for the employees, which I would love to see other companies duplicate, but somehow, I doubt it. I guess there had been a 10% wage slash during the previous year, thanks to the oh-so-wonderful economy, which, as much as it sucks, is a hell of a lot better than layoffs (TRUST ME on this one!). Things are apparently on the upswing, as the company e-mailed an announcement that the wage cuts were being overturned, returning people to their previous salaries. While I was very happy for my temporary co-workers, as it is definitely a hard-working and deserving group of folks, it still felt weird being the only person in the office who didn’t give a shit and wasn’t celebrating, because it didn’t affect me in the least.

Another example: The magazine had just wrapped up an incredible 25th-anniversary issue (and I’m not just saying that because of my minimal contributions to it — it really was a fantastic issue). The following week, an e-mail went around giving staffers one extra Monday off during the summer as a reward. Again, good for them, but it didn’t do a damn thing for me. I don’t work on Mondays anyway and, even if I did, taking a day off means forfeiting money.

One last example: The night the 25th-anniversary issue I mentioned above was put to bed, someone bought a few six-packs of good beer for the staff. I was craving beer worse than oxygen at that point, but I never went over and took one because no one formally invited me to. I was probably being overcautious, as the people I’ve been working with have always made me feel welcome, and I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded sharing a beer with me, but I felt weird about grabbing one without being asked.

I will say this, though: I have found one very good aspect of being a freelancer. When I’ve been on the receiving end of annoying phone calls, which has happened a few times, I love being able to play this card: “I really don’t know what I can do about that. I’m just a freelancer here.” Full-time employees can’t get away with that, but I can!

Unemployment Nine: Unmotivated

I don’t know what the problem is, but I have absolutely zero enthusiasm to do any work this week, and I’m really finding this to be a struggle. Even the enjoyable and important parts of both of my freelance jobs have been difficult to deal with, much more so than usual.

I feel like 8-Ball this week

I’m not looking for sympathy here. Let’s face it: Nobody wants to work. I’m sure there are times when even Derek Jeter looks up to the sky, rolls his eyes and says, “Fuck THIS shit,” and he gets to play baseball and bang supermodels for a living. It’s quite clear that given the choice of a seat at a waterfront bar with a cool breeze and a cold drink, or a seat in a cubicle, no one in their right mind would choose the latter.

But I’m a hard worker, and I usually don’t have to fight off such an overpowering lack of desire to do anything resembling work.

The timing of this sucks, too, because I only have a week-and-a-half of full-time work left on my newest freelance job before gearing down to two days per week, so I have to be diligent while the opportunity to make big money — or what qualifies for big money these days, which, sadly, still pales in comparison to what I made before my layoff — is still there.

Does anyone else, whether full-time or freelance, find themselves having to deal with periods like this? What’s the solution? Any tips?

I’ll get through this next week-and-a-half and be fine, but I need to shake off what’s becoming a perpetual case of the Mondays, to steal an Office Space line.

Unemployment Nine: A little clarity in an otherwise-confusing situation

My confusing work situation is a little less confusing, but I’m still very confused. Confused? Good, join the club.


It appears that I will spend two more full weeks at the freelance copy-editing job I started practically seconds after my return flight from Hawaii landed. After that, I will come in for the publication’s two busiest days, Thursday and Friday.

The good news: I will regain some of the flexibility and free time I’ve gotten all-too-accustomed to in the past 20 months, allowing me to resharpen my focus on my blogging gig and giving me the time to interview for the elusive full-time job I’ve been chasing since October 2008, as well as to get things done around the house and run errands. And, most important, the hours I put in on Thursdays and Fridays at the copy-editing job bring in more money than an entire week of blogging, so I’d be a fool to turn down the opportunity.

The bad news: For as long as I have this Thursday/Friday gig, I basically have no life on Thursday or Friday nights, which happen to be two of the most popular nights for things like games, cocktails, dinners out and the like. I’ve been here for three weeks, and my departure times have ranged from 9 p.m.-9:15 p.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 p.m.-8:15 p.m. on Fridays. Even though Fridays don’t end that late in comparison, by that time of the week, my brain is completely fried and my body is totally exhausted, and I’m not great company (Note: To anyone who was about to comment, “When are you EVER great company?” go get bent.) Only coming in two days per week will definitely help the energy level, but it’s still pretty draining work.

Plus, I still can’t get used to one aspect of working on a freelance basis, although it’s perfectly logical. I hate the fact that taking time off, or even a holiday, means forfeiting potential earnings, unlike working on a permanent basis, on salary, when holidays and vacation time are built into the compensation structure and don’t eat away at my bank account.

One might say, “You’ve been out of work for 20 months. Why do you need time off?” And I might tell one to go fuck one’s self. While I may not have a “full-time,” permanent job right now, I’ve been working pretty damn hard, especially recently, while trying to juggle two jobs.

And summer happens to be my favorite time of the year. I love going to Yankees weekday-afternoon games, or even the occasional 11 a.m. Newark Bears game. I love the idea of a long weekend at the beach, especially since I’m no longer part of a beach house. I believe it’s healthy, for both the body and the mind, to recharge and spend some time outdoors while the weather permits it.

I never liked the feeling that I was wasting a vacation day when I was working full-time. But it makes the decision even tougher when I have to factor in not only the money I’ll spend during the day, but the money I won’t be making. There’s a huge difference between spending about $100 for a Yankees ticket and beer, and quadrupling that amount when subtracting my pay for the day. It’s really not worth $400, give or take a few posts or copy-edited stories, to see a ballgame, as much as I enjoy baseball. But I seriously need the break here and there.

So, we’ll see where the next step takes me. As I said earlier, it will be good to have some of my free time back, and to have a much-less-hectic schedule. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the life of a freelancer, but after 20 months and counting, it’s hard to remain optimistic about finding a full-time gig, and it gets harder and harder as the weeks go by.