You know exactly who I am. I am that person hunched over a laptop, tapping away. If I am really cool, it’s an antique typewriter that I’m hunched over, and the keys make a decided click-click-click DING sound. There may also be a cup of Starbucks involved.
Except that’s not me. I work from home because I’m too poor to go to Starbucks. I also can’t afford to take an unpaid internship in New York, the industry stepping stone into fame, glory and full-time pay. Instead, I do what work I can and try to live my life, with interesting results. Here are some of the crazy things I’ve done to support my writing.
1. I’ve been known to eat food that has spent two weeks in the fridge.
Sometimes I just eat candy for dinner and call it a day. I’ve also been known to drink the tap water in developing countries. I hope for the best and somehow I’m still alive.
2. I once sat through an entire live concert on “sea chanties.”
Do you even know what a “sea chantie” is? I do, because I wrote an article covering the event. One of the musicians even said, “I have an accordion and I’m not afraid to use it.” You get the idea.
3. I went with a friend to a speed-dating event off-campus in the city.
Then I wrote an article about it for the college newspaper. Mostly I had to smile and be polite while some asshat tried to convince me how my political views were all wrong. When the night ended, I was just as politically flawed as before, and I didn’t get his number. How sad.
4. I spent a year in Somalia.
The year after I finished college, I packed my life into one suitcase and moved to Somalia. It was in the relatively quiet northern region, so I wasn’t in a war zone, but the area is impoverished and isolated. I had accepted a job teaching English at a start-up high school for talented youth, which I figured was a great opportunity to learn more about the world and get some writing ideas.
But when I got there, my students kept me so busy I didn’t have time to write. Instead I read essays about baby brothers dying in older siblings’ arms, and about that one night in the camp when “they” started shooting. I learned what it’s like to hear a news report about a drought, while you’re looking at the cracked dry earth and bargaining with the devil for rain just so that you can have a shower and do the dishes that have been starting to smell. And then to feel the joy of an African rainstorm, the rain crashing down on the metal roof of your house so hard you can’t even hear yourself think. It was a long year and I learned a lot, and have only started to write about it now, two years later.
5. I made insomnia work for me.
At 1 am, I closed the computer and told myself to go to bed. I’ll finish the essay in the morning. Besides, I’m not getting anywhere with it and I have to wake up in the morning to do more important writer stuff. I brushed my teeth, put on pajamas, put on my relaxation eye cream and turned off the light. As soon as my head hit the pillow I had the next sentence for my essay. I got back up, turned the light back on, and opened up the computer. This happens at least several times a week. Sometimes I also sleep with a notebook in my bed to jot down my middle-of-the-night rantings.
6. I completed an internship that was so bad my friend and I are writing a TV series about it.
After Somalia, I decided to move somewhere completely different, far away from the headscarves and droughts and AK-47s. So I took the first job I found: a paid internship in Lima, Peru. The program turned out to be a complete scam, and I spent many days in front of a computer, clicking the refresh tab on Facebook. I think the company may have been a front for something. It was such a bad program that my friend and I are creating a TV series about it. But even though I learned nothing from the program, I enjoyed my time in Peru, enough to return a year later on my own (more on that later).
7. I learned to lie like a rug.
While I lived in Peru and had that BS internship, I managed to get a few freelance projects on the side. For a long-form documentary-type piece, I had to interview someone who lived in a different city nine hours away. I took an all-night bus ride and texted my boss, “I can’t come in today. I don’t feel well.” And, when you get right down to it, both of those statements were true. I couldn’t come in that day because I was on a bus 9 hours outside of Lima. And I didn’t feel well because let’s face it, who does after 9 hours on a bus? I did my interview, hopped back on the bus, and arrived at 8:05 am, just in time to be 5 minutes late to work. I looked awful, but hey, I had said I was sick. And everyone totally bought it!
8. I learned that writing lends itself well to prostitution metaphors.
I freelance part-time for an online content business. I write the kind of junky, throwaway articles you see on the internet, the kind that make you cringe in embarrassment for the person who wrote them. For now, it’s my main source of income. Sometimes I get an email at 7 pm with a request for four articles, to be done that night, which will mean canceling plans with my friends and staying up half the night. Other times, there’s no work at all and I have to get very creative with how I spend my last five dollars. I am not proud of it. In fact, it feels kind of like prostitution. The quick and dirty, blowjob-in-the-back-alley kind. Hopefully I will graduate to the more respected kind where one has a standard list of loyal, high-paying clients.
9. I created my own internship.
Earlier this year, I decided to return to Peru and pursue my writing full-time. I planned to finance the idea myself, but sold the idea to my dubious parents as a “DIY Internship” where I would just go and freelance. Catchy title, no?
10. I increased my tolerance for sexual harassment.
Well, needless to say a successful freelance travel-writing career takes much longer than a summer to build. So out of necessity, I started teaching private English classes. My friend hooked me up with this guy who wanted to take the TOEFL and was looking for a native-speaker to help him study. Soon enough he started asking me out to fancy dinners and asking me totally inappropriate questions. Naturally, he turned out to be a total creep. One time he asked me, “Are you a lesbian? You ever try it?” with an enormous grin on his face.
I can’t quit just yet because I need the money, but I have fun imagining how I would base a character off of him.
11. I went to Bolivia without a visa, twice.
I was traveling in the remote southern Andes of Peru with a well-known photojournalist and we were working on a project together. It was late at night and we had been traveling for hours on rickety buses on narrow roads through the mountains, only to arrive in this sketchy border town as the sun set.
He suggested we go to Bolivia for dinner, since it’s right there, and after a briefly discussing whether or not I would need a visa or if anyone would even notice, we decided to just venture across the bridge and see what we could find. After being told by several individuals that if we wanted food we should go back to Peru, we walked back across the bridge to Peru. So far so good, until we realized we’d been followed by a member of the military police. While my companion talked the officer out of arresting us, I did my best to look innocent and keep my god-damned mouth shut. The police officer finally let us go, after deciding that our project was interesting, but warned us not to cross over again. Unfortunately we still had to photograph a market in Bolivia and so we did cross over again. Fortunately, nobody bothered us that time.
12. I keep doing this.
Because the truth is, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. As of yet, my family hasn’t staged an intervention.