After several months of working to build my freelance side gig into a reliable full-time business of my own, I was nearly to where I could at least pay my usual expenses without too much help, and on track to inch my way forward into financial stability. I was so close! I started making plans again. I felt hopeful, even with the rest of 2016 grinding us down.
On my birthday, at the end of November, I was mistakenly hit with a direct debit from my checking account for almost $1000. Because of that, I was hit with bank fees for everything that was paid out of my “overdraft protection” for the next two weeks, while I scrambled to make up the missing funds. I’ve done all of the paperwork and phone calls and I’m trying to get it back, but it turns out the payment — to my student loans — can be both accidentally taken and irretrievable at the same time. They’re investigating, they said, and I may get it back, in 90 days or so.
They’ll let me know.
Because of this, everything else fell apart, like I was juggling a dozen eggs and then someone sped up the music, until I couldn’t keep time with it anymore, and the pieces I was trying to balance suddenly crashed to the floor. I worked harder than ever, but it wasn’t enough, and ended the month with a cold that I am pretty sure was brought on by lack of sleep, and stress.
I don’t feel right yet, but I have to keep going.
Due to the unexpected financial problems I’ve had this month, I’ve decided not to attend any conventions until at least Fall 2018, or do any kind of travel. (This means I won’t be able to be at Boskone this February.)
I do miss everyone, and I do feel lonely and isolated here sometimes, since it’s just me and mine and we’re not tapped into the same kind of writing community I’ve gotten out of my FB/Twitter/convention relationships with other writers. But, as tempting as conventions are, I am still behind on rent and bills. I’m still worried every day, and that interferes with my work.
And, I’m not writing regularly because of all the stress — it turns out, I need to know my son is safe and my life is relatively stable before I can be “selfish” enough to write, since that’s a thing I do just for me.
I know me, though. I will get my money, my life, and my writing back on track, consistently. Then I can focus on getting back into the world.
I hope to see you all, out there, soon.
I fell apart a bit.
I’ve said it before but this year has proven to me that the last 3 weeks of August (and the first week of September) are the hardest “month” of the year. That’s partly because of having my son home 24 hours a day without any respite, or break, or money to go out and do anything. His school year starts later than most; his first day back wasn’t until September 8, and by then, we were both ready for him to go.
We had to sit in our too-warm apartment all month — our landlord won’t let us put in an A/C unit — because it was too hot to be outside and at least we have some fans indoors. I still had to work as much as possible, and my hyperactive teen quickly became bored bored bored. With his special needs, I can’t send him out to play alone at the park, or go ride a bike, or any of the things I used to do to fill my summer days, all by myself as a kid. He’s an independent guy for the most part, wanting to play his video games or watch his favorite movies over and over for hours at a time. But even he gets tired of that much faster than I need if I’m going to put in a day’s work the way I can when he’s in school or camp.
The heat at the end of summer here is something I’m still getting used to. Growing up in California, we had heat. Hotter days. Lying out on the roof or in the grass that was dry and gone yellow, baking under the sun — my dog days of summer was late August dry heat, 100 degrees or more with no moisture in the air, and the utter joy of a sudden breeze. Here… it’s 90 degrees that feels like 95 because of 75% humidity and scattered rain every few afternoons that does nothing to cut the heat. I live in New York, but it feels like the summer I spent in Georgia, and like the bible school my aunt enrolled me in while I was there, I haven’t gotten used to it yet.
The best kid ever gets fidgety and then grumpy and then outright rebellious, given enough time trapped in a hot apartment with his mom who’s too busy and too poor to do much with him.
We did have one good adventure when I splurged on the gas on drove out to a Wal-Mart the next county over to do his back-to-school clothes shopping. Driving over the hills, the farms all green and growing, under a bright blue sky, the two of us played a game where we gave each other colors and picked out passing cars that matched. He got new clothes (not enough, but at least he wasn’t a shambles on his first day back), and a new haircut at the Wal-Mart salon (I didn’t even know they had those, did you?), and five whole dollars to spend in the arcade (I didn’t know Wal-Mart had those, either).
He was driving the Nascar game (of course) when a little girl sat at the Fast and Furious game next to him. She and her grandma couldn’t figure out how to get started, so Logan — silently — reached over and set it up so she could race the car she wanted, then went back to his game. Kid can barely speak, but he’s so smart and sweet and he didn’t just figure out what they were struggling with, but he wanted to help.
As hard as raising him is, and it is, a lot, my son always reminds me that he’s worth everything I do for him. Continue reading
I started taking photographs again. Not many, yet, but I’m trying to get back into it, when I have the time. The idea that I can share a beautiful moment without having to be front and center, letting the image speak for me, is very comforting. In a way, I can be social and introverted at the same time, which suits me best.
I wrote, too, a little bit. A poem about being frustrated at the inevitable whiteness of public grief when the media covers dead and injured people of color. More words on the new stories for my Mythos collection. (You can still get it for yourself by pre-ordering it via PayPal for $2, or donating to the fundraiser in exchange for rewards like podcasts and beta reads and art.)
I had sales and publications, too:
Issue 1.3 of Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal came out, and it includes my weird SF story, “One Echo Of An August Morning”. I blogged about it here.
I updated my Amazon wish list with some things that will help my life, if you like me enough to support me that way. You can also support me through my Patreon, which gets you poetry and microfiction at the moment, and will host longer stories when more people sign up.
One of the most important things I did was…
I got set up to once again teach my favorite online workshop: Better Writing Through Brevity: Writing/Editing Microfiction and Flash! And I blogged about why you should take this class from me, here. It’s entirely online, it’s less expensive than similar workshops offered anywhere else, and it’s starting in a month, so please, check it out, and tell your friends.
I also wrestled, mostly quietly and to myself, about my work as a freelancer. Most of you know that I went back to editing and content creation full-time because it’s the only job I can work around my son’s special needs, at least until I can finish college and have a real degree to back up my decades of experience (which should let me find a better paying dayjob where I have some seniority and flexibility). I love editing, I love writing, but freelancing is more than those things, and when it’s your only income, it’s frightening.
(Need an editor? I’m available!)
July was my best month as a freelancer so far this year — I got more done, on time! and secured some new work, got paid, too — but it’s still not enough to even cover the rent. I’m very glad to be recovering (recovered?) from being sick for so long; I feel good, I’m getting things done, and I feel confident going forward that I can do more and more. I’ve been chasing new kinds of work: in addition to editing, I did a lot of writing on spec, and at least some of that should pay off eventually. After not having the brain to do a workshop all year, I’m finally ready to do a new one, and a few people have signed up so far, which helped my July income.
On the other hand, it’s tough to work 40+ hours a week, pull a couple of all nighters, chase every opportunity I can think of — on top of parenting my child — to bring in less than I need to give my landlord this week. Much less the other unpaid bills. It’s disheartening, is what it is.
I admit that I struggle, sometimes, to get up every day and do it again. I hope August is better.
(The list of what I did in June is here.)
Three weeks ago, I went to the hospital for surgery. They removed half of my thyroid, because it had developed nodules (what they call thyroid tumors they suspect are benign) and had swollen up enough that it pressed against my trachea, and the nerve that controlled my vocal cords. I was having trouble breathing, at times, and my voice had started to go froggy. Of course, there was the year, going on two, before that of me starting to go downhill physically – tired all of the time, gaining weight, struggling to stay on task or complete things on time – but after dealing with a doctor who insisted it was just me being a woman, getting older, I’d found one who was actually willing to do lab work and sort it out. I was diagnosed with anemia, and started medication for that. Aside from the pressure on my throat, I should have been on the mend.
I didn’t quite feel it, though. A little better… but still, something was wrong.
We agonized over the decision to cut out part of my thyroid. It’s a simple, safe, outpatient procedure, except that it’s still surgery, which is never guaranteed 100% safe. My SO and I talked it over, made plans for dealing with what would come next if I didn’t make it out okay, and decided (supported by my surgeon’s opinion) that it’s better to get the swollen part of my thyroid out now before it got bigger and did some real damage. I felt it, a literal lump in my throat, every time I swallowed. Every time I tried to exercise and had to breathe harder. When I laid down for sleep, and the lump shifted a little, pressing on a new spot I hadn’t yet learned to ignore.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that lies flat, for most people, and has the volume of a peanut on each side. My right side wasn’t visible from the outside, so you wouldn’t know unless you saw a sonogram that it was the size of a jawbreaker, and growing. Inside were two nodules; the bigger one had been biopsied three times since it was found three years ago, and declared benign, though I was told in 2013 that it was collapsing and would get smaller – we discovered in May that it had actually gotten larger.
The smaller one was labeled “suspicious” by the sonogram tech during this round of tests, but was .1 mm too small for a biopsy to be considered necessary, according to the current medical guidelines, so I was told not to worry. We’d wait, they said, and check on it again next year.
If I hadn’t opted to remove the larger side of my thyroid, that nodule would still be there. Continue reading
- Read more of everything.
- Books are great, read those. But there are also newspapers and online news sites, short fiction, poetry, magazines, graffiti in bathroom stalls, motivational sayings at the bottoms of posters featuring kittens dangling precariously. Anything you enjoy reading, you should read more of. Anything that seems informative, you should read more of. Then, you should seek out the opposite information and read that, too, so you can decide for yourself which side you think is correct. Probably, the truth is somewhere in the middle. It tends to be. But the more you read, the better informed you are, and the better chance that you’ll be able to sort these things out for yourself.
- Go for more walks.
- Move purposely, out in the world, alone with your own thoughts. Look around the scenery. Stand up straight as you walk. Don’t hurry. Don’t dawdle.
- Sleep whenever you can.
- If you’re not being productive, if you’re tired, if you feel frustrated by your aging body’s desire to do less than your brain deems necessary at any given moment – go to bed. Rest. Nap. Sleep for many glorious hours. Whatever your body needs, do it. You’ll feel better, snap less, get more done, and generally be healthier.
- Replace every instance of “ferret” with: “they’re weasels, man, not pets; they’re fucking weasels“.
- Cook more often.
- I don’t mean heating food according to the package directions. Make something from scratch. Taste all of the ingredients. Roll them around on your tongue. Know the individual flavors of everything going into your food. Use ingredients you adore. Love your food.
- Every once in a while, refrain from saying something. You don’t always need to. You can listen, instead.
- Pick one thing you are unhappy about, and fix it.
- It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but it can be. That’s up to you. Just find one thing that’s making your life worse, a thing or a person or a way of being that you’re trying to ignore, and find a solution. Get rid of it. Have it repaired. Break up with it. Move away from it. Rearrange it. Ship it off to where it actually belongs. Whatever you need to do, stop putting it off, and get it done.
- Laugh every chance you get.
- Give something away. Preferably to someone who needs it, or someone that you would love to have the thing, or – if that fails – to a charity which could use the thing. You really don’t need all of those things.
- Take a day off. Listen to some music. Take a walk. Kiss someone you fancy. Eat a nice lunch. Maybe have a nap. Whatever you want, as long as you don’t do anything important at all.
Looking back over 2015, and really, over the last several years, it’s immediately obvious that I have had a lot of struggles. My life now is vastly different from where it was 10 years ago. I’ve left California – where I was born and raised and never intended to leave – to drive across the county, trying out Philadelphia and New Jersey before ending up in a little city in Central New York. I adore it here, and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.
I went from starting community college at 31, with a new baby, to the last semester of my BA in a History of Art degree at an Ivy League university – only to run out of loans, leave school, struggle to find work, and end up back in community college pursuing a (much more marketable) degree in business. I started freelancing as an editor, and found, one by one, all the ways that freelancing can be a disaster, all the ways I can screw up.
I screwed up as a writer, too, missing opportunities and losing the time and focus I am desperate to put into my writing, spent on dealing with everything else.
I’ve been unemployed – I am, at the moment, uncertain how I’m going to pay the rent next week. I’ve been scared about whether I can provide for my son so much more than I ever thought possible.
My son was diagnosed with a severe speech disorder and autism and ADHD, and we were given a laundry list of all the things he’d never be able to do wit his life. I have spent most of his life being worried and frustrated, struggling to communicate with him, to teach him, to be his advocate; I’ve spent countless hours fighting the state, the school systems, doctors, teachers – anyone who wanted to give up on my son – and educating myself in the process. I’ve done it mostly alone, without any family or good friends close by.
I know I’ve made mistakes, made bad choices, broke down, and been lost. But my child has grown up, found his voice, and exceeds even my expectations, every day. He’s well on his way to becoming a man who can graduate school, go to college, live on his own, and make a life for himself. Not now, not for years and maybe not in the way you’d usually think, but someday.
I was married, and now I’m not. The idea of caring for a child with a disability was the last straw for a man who already didn’t want to make a better life for us, only for himself. We were left without a father for my son, without a partner for me, without child support. We haven’t seen or heard from him in years, and I don’t expect he’ll ever see us again. It was his choice, but in choosing him (and every other bad relationship in my life), it was my failure too.
Over the years, I’ve realized how much I didn’t know. I was horrible with finances, and life-long poverty had never given me a chance to learn. I was never taught how to do well in school, how to be organized and on time, and I had to teach myself while going to college and raising a child. This last semester, going back to college (without the childcare and support I had before) made me relearn it again.
I had a undiagnosed eating disorder for most of my adult life. Over the last few years, I’ve figured that out, sought treatment, sorted myself out, and begun the long process toward a healthier life. But all the years of dieting and fighting with food and “succeeding” only to gain it back… All that time, I spent disappointed in myself.
I didn’t know how to make a healthy relationship work either. That may have been the biggest failure of my life. So much drama, hurt, wasted time, wasted money, wasted opportunities.
And then, randomly, I found the person I was looking for. The last five years has been hard on us both, as we taught and challenged and supported each other while we both figured out what love and family and a real, solid, partnership was. I don’t know I’ve ever put so much into another relationship, another adult human being, in my entire life, and along the way, I’ve discovered who I really want to be. And a person who inspires me to be my very best.
Today I am dwelling in my failures. I have made grand efforts, and I have failed. I admit that. I have to.
But I am so loved. I have a family now that I never believed possible. Not easy (never easy) but worth it, and the foundation for the best possible future. I’m writing again. I have a plan for a better life. I fought for that, and that I won.
The rest is a temporary state of learning from my mistakes before back I get up, and try again. I regret every mistake, every failure, every time I hurt someone else or let myself down, every wasted moment. But I don’t regret where I’ve ended up, or the beautiful life in front of me. I just need to make it happen.
I was certain I could finish out 2015 without having to ask for any more help from anyone, but I’ve been hit with a large and unexpected expense:
I’ll be honest – I am so tired of this. I feel like I need a vacation from email/work/everything is overdue, bills I can’t pay, the constant stress of poverty. (I don’t need to leave home tho. I like my home. I like my people, very much.) Just no matter what I do, there’s something else looming over me, and I can’t afford to let anything drop.
It’s not even the demands. It’s the roller coaster. It’s feeling buried under it all, then seeing the light, fighting to get out of it, feeling like I’m making headway: deadlines met, problems solved, bill paid, I can do this! Barely scraping by, but doing it. Then, I wake up in the morning to find another pile of stuff dropped on me out of the blue. More bills. More stress. More despair. I’m never really escaping. I suddenly feel that all my success was a trick.
Start over, try again. It’s all I can do.
If you can throw a few dollars my way, thank you.
It’s a fair question. Many people talk about how they would love a life where they spend most of their time at home with their child. Writers often talk about how they’d love to not have a day job, to spend hours a day with nothing to do but write. So what could I – a mom, a freelancer, a college student, without a day job – have to complain about?
The fantasy of staying home only works when you have support. You need a way to pay the bills, a way to get a break from the childcare (if that’s part of your life), a group of people to share and interact with. What if you didn’t have that?
I live with my son in a small college town, on the opposite coast from where I grew up. I have one person in this town. He’s a wonderful person, he’s everything that I could want him to be, but he’s the only one I’ve got to lean on. I have no friends close by. I have no family. My mother lives in California, and not only is she raising my nephew, she was in an accident a few years ago that left her with multiple pins and plates in her leg. After pt and more surgeries, she’s starting to be able to walk again, but hasn’t yet been able to fly out to visit.
My son’s father’s family isn’t in his life. His father decided that he didn’t want a child with a disability, that having to visit on time or pay child support were too much trouble, and so he disappeared about five years ago. His parents, my son’s paternal grandparents, have other grandchildren they’d rather spend their time on. Grandkids that talk.
My son doesn’t, much. He has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, also known as Verbal Dyspraxia. It’s a bit like dyslexia for words. He understands a lot of what you say to him; he’s smart enough that even without language, he can operate computers, phones, video games. He’s pretty certain he knows how to drive a car. (No, I don’t let him.) He’s in the right math class for his grade. He can get by, with help, in mainstream class, with typical kids. But he’s got what we call “a Doctor Suess vocabulary”. He can regularly get out about as many words as a typical toddler. But he’s almost a teenager, with all the thoughts and interests of any 12 year old. Worse, he’s known since he was a little child that he has a speech disorder. He has so much he wants to say, but he can’t get it out.
Imagine how frustrating that would be.
When he has a bad day, I’m who he has. When his school isn’t giving him what he needs, I’m his advocate. When he’s sick, I’m who stays home with him. When he can’t be in school, I can’t be at work. When he’s angry at himself, which is every day, I’m there to help him calm down, take a breath, find the words he’s struggling to get out. I replace his shirts when he’s chewed through them – a bad habit he can’t seem to break, since it’s how he deals with the constant pressure of facial muscles that won’t do exactly what he needs them to do. I try to figure out how to teach him all of the little things you usually pick up from conversations he’s not yet capable to having.
He doesn’t spend the night at a friend’s house. He doesn’t go to grandma’s for the weekend. If I go to a convention, I have to hire a babysitter. (When I went to DragonCon, I had to hire three, so there would be enough coverage for the whole weekend.) I run errands when he’s at school, or in the middle of the night when he’s sleeping. I worry, all the time, about what his life will be when he’s 16, 18, 20, 30…
To have a real dayjob, I need to be able to hire someone to be with my son when I can’t. The kind of jobs I’ve been able to get so far don’t pay enough for that. Going to college for a degree in business – a field with much greater job opportunities – is my chance to be employed with a salary that will pay for the help I need to make certain my son has his best chance at life. My best chance at life, too.
I have this dream that one day, I’ll have a day job that pays the bills. I’ll be able to stop spending all of my “free time” chasing clients, and instead I’ll be able to write as much as I want, instead of stealing hours from sleep and studying. I’ll be able to go on a date with my person, instead of spending every night at home with my son. (We love him! But leaving the house sounds really nice, too.) I will be able to take my son to the waterpark he asked to go to all summer, or buy him new clothes each time he gets taller.
I’ll have a life that isn’t juggling expenses to figure out which I can pay and which I can ignore, paying my rent three weeks late (like I did this month), and being afraid, all the time, that something will happen I can’t fix.
To get there, I need to get through this semester. To do that, I need your help. I don’t have family to turn to you. I just have all of you.
You can access my GoFundMe page here.
I AM OFFICIALLY A COLLEGE STUDENT (AGAIN).*
It was a tough decision. Being laid off from my job last month means that I have the time now to finally finish up my degree, and to actually switch to a major which will make me much more employable than my previous work in Art History. But with no opportunity to get Pell Grants or loans for school, I’m not being paid to attend college — I’m just adding full time school to my regular life, and without a day job right now, I’m already struggling to make enough money. How do I decide to spend money on college when I don’t know whether I’m paying my rent in a few days? How do I not go to school when I have this opportunity now, it will make me more employable, a much better freelancer, and generally a more useful person?
Ultimately, I decided to do my best, and make this work.
I’ll be going for two semesters at community college for an AS in Business Management, and then two semesters at state for a BS in Business, Economics, and Management (with a minor in public administration). I still need to come up with part of the tuition so I can start school — asap! — but I’ve been awarded grants that will cover 80% of classes and books, maybe a little more. It’ll be tough, balancing work, kid, and full time college, but hopefully I can get to where being unemployed and in debt is somewhere I never have to be again.
That’s if I can find the rest of the money to get started. If any of you have ever wanted to take a workshop from me, hire me as an editor, proofer, book designer, anything — or even loan me money until after the semester starts, now would be the time that I really need it.
How you can help:
- I’m happy to offer a discount to anyone who books me for editing this month. Take advantage of me!
- My next workshop — Plotting the Short Story — begins on the 15th. If you’re interested in a low-cost online workshop, packed full of exercises and advice from me and your fellow students, please check out my upcoming workshops. With school and work, I’m not sure how many of these (if any) I’ll be able to offer next year. Now’s the time to join us!
- Don’t need any work done now but you’d like to help me buy textbooks and school supplies? You can donate to me via PayPal.
If you’ve got other work you’d like to discuss with me, need a mailing address, or have questions, please feel free to contact me at cuinnedits at gmail.
* At some point I should probably also tell the story of I used up all of my federal grants and maxed out my student loans going to the University of Pennsylvania, only to have it run out one semester before graduation… But that story depresses me so much. Maybe next time.