Solstice Means Stillness

Photo by Wibeke Bruland

Nearly a decade ago, I promised myself I’d spend summer solstice in the brightest part of the world. It wasn’t so much a bucket-list thing—not sure I have one of those—but more a kind of calling. At the time, I’d been visiting one of the darker parts of the world: Denmark in December. I’ve since craved light in its most potent form.

When a writing residency took me to Iceland during this year’s summer solstice, then, I relished not only the time to write, but the fulfillment of that promise. (No, neither Iceland nor Denmark are part of the Arctic Circle, where light and dark would be most extreme. But I’m calling it “close enough”.) I’ve just returned from that trip, after a month of soaking up the brightest light I’ve known. Continue reading

Self-Employees of the Month: Andrea Enright & Michael Boudreaux

Andrea Enright and Michael Boudreaux

A man may have lived all of his life in the gray, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless and pale. And then … the glory … a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished. And I guess a man’s importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories.”

–John Steinbeck

In 2005, Andrea Enright was living a golden, idyllic freelancer’s lifestyle, her communications portfolio fattening ever with contracts from well-known clients that ranged from Boston Market to Planned Parenthood. She had already successfully escaped the proverbial grind … but something was still missing. Her husband, Michael Boudreaux, a tech maestro for DIRECTV, thought so too. After a bit of soul-searching, they blew out of Denver and joined the Peace Corps.

When their two years of service in Bulgaria came to a close, Andrea and Michael kept going. On a mission they call “Wanderlust or Bust” they continued across the globe, including Syria, Lebanon, and Kurdistan (yeah, that’s Northern Iraq), couchsurfing, blogging, videoing and volunteering as they went. Continue reading

Expectations | Kenneth Koch

One of the great things about April (in addition to rain showers) is that it is National Poetry Month, and you can sign on to receive a fine and beautiful poem every single day. Beats heck out of a marketing newsletter, and leads you to writers you’d either never heard of or long since forgot about.

Kenneth Koch edited the first book of poetry I ever owned. Today I found a lovely and complicated poem that Koch wrote about his own father, “To My Father’s Business”. It illuminates how parental expectations, for better or worse, can play into our career choices.

I thought I might go crazy in the job
Staying in you
You whom I could love
But not be part of
Read the whole poem here.
My own father actually has had a lot to do with how I began writing–precisely by not pushing me, he left me room to evolve. Thanks, Dad!

The Accidental Tourist, Unplugged

Frozen Lake at Kripalu

Footprints across a frozen lake, Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, Massachusetts

One of the hardest things to do—for freelancers or anyone—can be to stop and make yourself take a vacation.

On the surface, it seems impossible that a freelancer would have any trouble arranging a vacation. If I’m in charge of my own schedule, what’s the problem? But generally, the freelance life is less predictable than a nine-to-five one, and harder to tame. I’ve traded an infinitely structured life for an infinitely flexible one. I never know when a contract might come in, so am always hesitant to plan anything at all, including a trip to visit my grandmother. And if I do, be darn sure I’m not entirely escaping—I’ll have my laptop in tow.

Well, at least I’ll try to have my laptop in tow.

Over and over again, I put off this trip to the Berkshires, during which I wanted to combine R&R at a yoga center with a visit to see a dear friend. Given my two-week dry spell with work, I felt incredibly guilty taking time off. Ultimately, could I really afford it? (No.) Shouldn’t I be looking for work? (Yes.)

Ultimately, my partner practically booted me out the door. Thank goodness. By the end of February, I was on a train cruising through the winter wonderland of the Hudson River Valley. It all happened so quickly that I had the distinctive feeling I’d forgotten something. By the time I got to my friend’s house in New York and broke out my laptop, I realized what it was—my power cord.

Continue reading

The Gift | Lewis Hyde

gift_us_new.jpg

In a fantastic little bookshop in Lenox, Massachusetts this week, I found a book called The Gift by Lewis Hyde. The title refers to that certain something we each individually have to offer. A kind of cult classic (recently going into its 25th edition) it was called “the best book I know of for talented but unacknowledged creators” by Margaret Atwood. I’m only partway through, but when I ran across this May Sarton quote, I knew I wanted to keep reading:

“There is only one deprivation … and that is not to be able to give one’s gift … The gift, turned inward, unable to be given, becomes a heavy burden, even sometimes a kind of poison. It is as though the flow of life were backed up.”

If we can’t find a way to share what we have to offer–and many can’t at their day jobs–we’re lost. But I believe that we are meant to continue trying.

Self-Employee of the Month: Jennifer Baljko

Jenn Baljko

“It’s just another gamble, right? I mean, you throw the dice, and if it doesn’t work … I’ll start over again somewhere else.

On New Year’s Eve 2003, I hosted a dinner party and served up slow-cooked collard greens and black-eyed peas—a soul food combo that, according to Southern superstition, brings wealth and happiness in the coming year. As technology trade reporter Jennifer Baljko joined the table, none of us gathered could have guessed the wealth and happiness that would soon come her way.

Jennifer’s name didn’t pop up on my radar again until 2007, when I noticed that she had beat out stiff literary competition to win the Traveler’s Tales Solas Contest. I was intrigued: Where has this woman been for the past four years?

Apparently, mere months after those collards and peas worked their magic, divorce and the dotcom bust sparked Jennifer’s search for a new life and livelihood. On the very day that the U.S. first declared war on Iraq, she declared war on life as she knew it, buying a ticket for an extended international journey and soon thereafter quitting her job. “I knew I needed to set my priorities straight,” she says.

Continue reading

Resilience | W.C. Fields

“Don’t worry about your heart. It will last as long as you live.”–W.C. Fields (shown below dispensing stellar financial advice)

Rejection, sweet rejection … Send me more rejection letters, Dear Publishers!! I can take it. In fact, I live for it. Besides, my heart, like Fields’, has been known to bounce back like a rubber ball.