Freelancing away

This past week I covered two assignments for a new paper, bringing my total of suburbs I’ve covered to five. This Thursday, my daily video project is supposed to begin after getting postponed last week. I have another assignment tomorrow afternoon, and it sounds pretty cool. It’s about a high school kid who was chosen to play in the Grammy band, and he’s going out to LA soon for a week for practice.

I went out on a date last week, and you can be sure it’s going to be a while before I do that again because it was a disaster. But still, first Chicago date? Check. At least I got to see “The King’s Speech” out of it. I’m just going to be a lot more reluctant to give a guy my number next time because the constant, uncomfortable texts are only just now winding down. Also, did you know AT&T charges you $5 a month if you want to block a phone number?

My friend Christine is coming to visit in a few weeks. She’s coming for Presidents’ Day weekend and we’re going to visit the Shedd Aquarium. Maybe I can ask if she’d also like to visit the free zoo I’ve become so fond of? I’m kind of a lame person to visit right now, because it’s cold and I’m poor, but I can’t tell you how happy I am that these friends are willing to come all the way here to see me. BC and Christina were going to come earlier this month but C got horribly ill days before the trip. We’re planning on rescheduling for spring when hopefully everything will magically be better on all counts.

I met a friend of my uncle’s for lunch last week. She was a very kind, humorous and generously helpful woman and I was glad to meet her. She worked for the Chicago Tribune for many years but is now retired. She offered a whole slew of job sites I haven’t been looking at and encouraged me to reach out to media outlets directly. We’ll probably meet up for lunch again soon, and I’m looking forward to it already.

I dressed kind of professionally to go meet her and I thought how nice it was to wear a regular office outfit instead of my department store all-black, or my pajamas. Sad, I know. Then I realized the outfit I was so excited about was easily something I’d be wearing to a regular day at my old job, any old time. I certainly don’t miss some things about working at my old office but I think I do miss the normal feeling of getting dressed for work and leaving the house to be somewhere at a certain time. Then it also occurred to me I should probably be dressing up for my newspaper gigs, which I haven’t been, so maybe that problem’s solved.

I'm pretty sure I've lost weight even though I've done absolutely nothing to deserve it. Old me would so want to punch new me in the face for saying that.


A home office

Beautiful desk with a beautiful bay window view

For whatever reason, we don’t often use the front room of our house. We tend to congregate in the kitchen or the living room, which are almost one in the same because they open up into one another. But the front room, or the library as we call it, has stunning floor-to-ceiling bookshelves completely covering one wall, and a spacious desk nestled right in front of a bay window overlooking a small city park.

This morning, I decided to make this my temporary new office space. Productivity is up about 600 percent from yesterday already, when I just moped around, half-heartedly researching grad school and left the house only to get milk and go for a walk in the midst of cabin fever/depression. Maybe a desk is a good thing for me after all, despite what I said earlier this week?

Also, I have another freelance job Saturday morning. I already made a couple calls about it. That’s right, from my home office. It was pretty awesome.

Meryl Williams, freelance reporter working from home. That’s got to be in my top five dream jobs at least, but I’m pretty sure it was prefaced with something like, “This one will only work out if I am also married to someone fabulously wealthy.”

A couple more bumps in the road

Today is my three month anniversary with the city of Chicago. I can’t believe three months ago I waved goodbye to Columbus and made my trip to my new home.

I budgeted for three months’ survival without a job. I underestimated the cost of simply existing here, so it’s a good thing I got hired at the department store. I got hired on for a project with an online newspaper that was supposed to start yesterday, but it got postponed until late next week. I was kind of banking on the income from that work to pay my bills next month, so it’s a little scary that this week the money I make will consist of one shift at the store and a freelance gig Thursday. I am just about hosed but trying to stay optimistic. I’m also trying to spend as little money as possible until next week, which is kind of a fun, weird game.

Grad school for video production is sounding more and more appealing, but I am still trying to determine if a degree is going to be necessary for my career. If I can get by with just the skills I am learning now and by teaching myself new programs than it might be a waste of time and money. Or, will I never get hired for my dream job because I don’t have the right education background?

When I was feeling really down a couple months ago, I took myself to see a movie and felt a million times better. I was going to do that yesterday but I knew I would just feel guilty for spending money on a movie. At least I still have Netflix, and I watched “Penelope” last night on Eileen’s recommendation. It was pretty cute, although I still don’t see the appeal of James McAvoy.

I am taking myself for a walk. Because it’s free, and I don’t get to explore my city often enough. Plus, it’s 30 degrees and not too windy today, which as my dad said, means it practically feels like spring.

A lucky break

Just when I found out I’d been scheduled for one 7 hour shift at the department store for the next two weeks, I got an email from one of my editors. She offered me the chance to do a video every day for her for the foreseeable future, which as far as I can see is regular work in my field. I can’t say much about it, but my first day is tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be able to share my finished product at that point, but still, I might not.

I am still going to work at the store on weekends if I am needed, and maybe weeknights. My video deadline every day is 6 p.m. so feasibly I could still do a short closing shift. I can also still do freelance videos and stories for other editors in the evenings and, depending on how things turn out, during the day when I am done with my scheduled work.

I will not be making much money, and I will still have to work really hard to stay afloat in Chicago. But the timing couldn’t be better, and this means I won’t have to go home like I was afraid I would. At least not for now. Once again, I’ve somehow managed to buy myself a little more time.

The thing is, the company I write and do video for is not perfect. It’s relatively new, and there seem to be some communication issues. For example, yesterday morning I drove all the way down to a southwest suburb to cover a demonstration by the local fire department. The demo got canceled but no one told me. So in the end, I lost money driving down there on top of not getting paid for the assignment. To make matters worse, I could have been on the set of a film project that morning instead — a great video contact I met through Christina invited me to the set but I had to cancel when I got asked to cover the demo. Hopefully I will get another chance to do something like that again soon. You know, with all my free time.

This may sound like a lot of trouble to go through, but when I stop and think about it, I would way rather be a traveling reporter / sometimes retail worker than be doing what I was in Columbus. I really lucked out with my last job and I’m grateful for what it allowed me to do, but I don’t think I was ready for a boring desk job at 22. I loved SNP and getting out there and doing something different every day, and OCSEA just didn’t lend itself to that kind of work. I feel like it could have, but it didn’t work out that way.

My dad pointed out that with my new daily assignment, I’ll be doing exactly what I wanted to do: getting paid to edit video for a news outlet. I’ve been doing that, but this is going to be different. You’ll see soon, I hope.

Will edit video for food

The co-worker I mentioned who had to leave the department store to go take care of his mom is coming back. Hooray! He is the knower of all things housewares and a fun person to work with. It’s too bad I’ll only get to work with him for a couple days before my time at the store is done. I’ve basically been taking on his hours in his absence, and soon that won’t be necessary. I have one day scheduled for next week.

My manager told me he’d recommended me for a position should one open up, but that’s certainly not a guarantee. Meanwhile, my emails to my editors at the paper have gone unanswered. So last week I took matters into my own hands and individually emailed 16 other editors whose papers Christina had deemed to be located within a not-insane-driving-distance. Some got back to me and said they have all the starving freelancers they need, thank you very much. But a few others were interested and I’ve been added to their lists.

One in particular called me back the next day to talk to me about video. I told her I didn’t really have any formal training, but had been thinking about going to grad school for video production because I’ve realized it’s my passion. She appreciated my honesty about my background and offered to help shape my work and make it better. I was a little taken aback, because my other two editors never really said much whenever I turned in a story and/or video. They just posted it, usually as-is, and I got paid. I thanked this new editor for giving me a chance, and she gave me a story for the next day.

I went to a library in a nearby suburb to interview the library director as well as high school students who were there studying for finals week. I turned in the video with a story, but they haven’t been posted yet.

With freelancing as spotty as it is and with my time at the store dwindling, I am on the verge of another freak out. My car’s almost paid off (done in May, yay!), but I am still paying rent, cell phone bills, car insurance, etc. And those bills just keep on coming, for some strange reason. Don’t they know I don’t have any money?

I think it’s time to stop buying groceries.

In other news, things are going well. My roommates are keeping me sane and I have actually made a couple friends at the department store. I am trying to be as productive as I can be and just know that no matter what happens, I tried my best. I don’t want this experience to involve any regrets.

I really hope I find something. I don’t want to come home yet.

A low-budget craft project

There was a fun Facebook meme going around and I got caught up in it:

Since I am broke, I used materials I already had (cardstock, glue stick) and made seven versions of a paper craft that I later framed. I mailed them out Monday afternoon.

I found this design online and re-created it with the paper I had:


Christina had given me some  4 x 6.5 cardstock post card pieces I used as the background. I cut out the birds from brown cardstock, seven pink ovals and two different shades of green leaves. First I glued down the ovals and then added some silver puffy paint to make the vines. I’d already had the paint from when my roommates and I decorated Christmas stockings. When the paint dried, I added the birds and leaves.

I went to the dollar store and found some nice black frames that came with white mats. Then I went to Target to buy some bubble mailer envelopes and packaged the framed pieces in bubble wrap. Christina commended me for my strong faith in the U.S. Postal Service and my belief that all six glass frames would arrive intact. Here’s hoping. I also bought a bag of Valentines’ Day themed Reese cups and put a few in each envelope. Before mailing them out, I bought some Chicago post cards and wrote a note to each person.

Here’s the break down of my costs:

  • Frames: $6.60 ($1 each, plus tax)
  • Mailer envelopes, six pack: $4.58
  • Bubble wrap, 2 rolls: $2.20 ($1 each, plus tax)
  • Reese cups: $3.49
  • Postcards: $1.65 ($0.25 each, plus tax)
  • Postage: $17.52 ($2.92 each)

As you can see, postage was the biggest expense, but I didn’t really see a way around that.

I mailed out six, to the first five people who commented and an additional one to my friend Rachael, who commented later and offered to exchange a jar of her homemade jelly for a handmade piece of mine. As someone who has had jelly made by her before, I was not about to turn her down.

I saved the worst one for myself, and of course, by the time it occurred to me to write about this, I’d already packaged the better looking ones. But anyway, here’s the final product:

The glue rippled this one at the top at little

I am not normally a fan of assembly line crafting, but I will say all seven turned out a little different. I hope the recipients like them and that those picture frames hold up while traveling across state lines.

“You Remind Me of Home,” Ben Gibbard

You remind me of home;
The paint cracks when the water leaks from the rusty pipes that are just beneath my feet
You remind me of home;
The heater’s warm but fills the room with a potpourri of dust and gas fumes

You remind me of home;
A broken bed with dirty sheets that creaks when I am shifting in my sleep
You remind me of home;
In a suburban town with nothing to do, patiently waiting for something to happen

But the foundation is crumbling
And becoming one with the ground
While you lay there in slumber
You’re wasting your life,
Wasting your life.
You’re wasting your life,
Wasting your life.
You remind me of home;
Sitting on a thrift store couch, I’m trying to get this all down.

Remembering my mother’s father

My grandfather died last week; he was 98 years old and living in a nursing home in a room with my grandma, who is 95.

He was practically deaf for as long as I’ve been alive, and I’m sad to say that made it a little difficult to get to know him. From what I remember, he was always upbeat and pleasant, always humming. I never saw him lose his temper. He loved crossword puzzles and many have speculated that his habit of doing at least one every day helped keep him so sharp at such an old age.

I wrote about visiting my grandparents at their nursing home last Christmas and I saw them once more after then. My grandma was losing her memory, but my grandfather seemed the same as always, although maybe a little quieter. I wrote more about her, and my fascination with her ability to still play Christmas carols from memory on the piano with ease, yet her struggle to remember who I was. I felt a new connection to her, my last direct, female blood relation to my mother, and I was comforted by the time I spent with her.

My grandfather didn’t say much, but he seemed pleased to have company. He was a World War II veteran, an accomplished musician and a bicycle enthusiast. He met my grandmother through a bike club and they were married for 67 years. When I read “Cat’s Cradle” in high school, I immediately thought of the two of them when I read about the Bokononism term “duprass;” it means two people who are so intertwined in doing God’s work together and who will almost certainly die within a week of each other because of their love. I can’t picture my grandmother going long without her husband.

As I mentioned, he was hard of hearing for as long as I can remember. At some point, after I got hearing aids in high school and was thrilled by my success with them, my mom asked me to write a letter to him to let him know how well I liked them, and to ask him to consider them. He eventually did, although he never grew to like them.

It’s weird to me, as it always has been, that two people so old outlived their daughter. This death also stirs up all these thoughts about where he is now, and where my mom is. I don’t think about this often and I still have no idea what to make of it, but this loss makes it hard not to speculate. My mom is gone; now, so is her dad. They have crossed somewhere we can’t go, and I have no idea what or where that is, if anything or anywhere. I guess, no matter what, they’re together. And someday I’ll be with them and have all the answers, for whatever that’s worth.

My grandfather lived a long and interesting life, and sadly this entry doesn’t begin describe it. I wish I had asked him more about his experiences, although he never would talk about the war. I’ll have to ask my dad to tell me more, since he took it upon himself to learn my mom’s family’s history perhaps better than she even did. I am going to send my grandmother a letter, since I couldn’t go to the memorial service. I also feel for my uncle, my mom’s only sibling, who has been taking care of their parents for years and years. I heard he did a great job making arrangements.

Here’s my uncle with my grandparents last winter:

My grandfather, uncle and grandmother

Return of the Green Monster

With a new year comes new promises to one’s self to work out more, eat better, etc. For me, that means two things: a revival of the Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred and the return of the most repulsive looking drink on the planet: the Green Monster.

I discovered these last summer as a way to sneak leafy greens into my diet. Blend up a bag of baby spinach, toss in some berries, or a banana or other fruit to cover up the taste of the main ingredient and you’re good to go.

I got a blender on sale from work and some of these cold beverage travel cups and starting smoothing. I made some today to take to work in the morning. They are really thick, but if you stir them with that straw they are just like any other smoothie you’d get from a coffee shop or something.

Spinach and frozen berries with a splash of orange juice

The pillows department

Today I got an idea of just how lucky I was that fateful day when I was assigned to the housewares department at the store. It turns out there’s something to what everyone kept telling me about how awesome our area is and how all the other ones suck. In housewares, you have a wide, double-sided counter with four registers, two wrap stands and, when it’s busy, company. Our manager is always pleasant and helpful and very understanding. You don’t have to fold much because kitchen appliances come boxed.

It’s not like that everywhere, and not even in the rest of the home department. Other areas have towels and sheets that need folded and re-folded and folded again because customers simply have to see just how big they are and what the solid color looks like all over the thing before they decide against buying it. Sure, I get annoyed when people insist on opening boxes and then not purchasing them but the towels, good Lord, the towels. It never ends.

Today I got placed in the pillows department. It was the first time I’d been sent to a different area for the whole day, and it was miserable. I forgot how helpless feeling it is to have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about what you’re supposed to be selling. That said, I’ve learned a LOT about housewares and feel much more confident there than I did two months ago when I started. Good God, I’ve been at the store for two months?

The pillows department does not have four registers; it has one. It doesn’t have a wrap stand and you’re ringing up giant, fluffy, cumbersome purchases on a table smaller than most kitchen islands and there’s no bags in stock and everyone wants to know which pillow is the best of all the pillows, and no one else is anywhere near you for you to ask and you feel as though you’ve been banished for not knowing enough about the German knives.

So the pillow department, or Siberia, as I like to call it, is not a good time. And I’ll be back there all day on Tuesday.

That said, I’m glad I still have a job. But I am feeling more and more ready for that beautiful, glorious God-sent full time Chicago job to come my way. Keep rooting for me?