Archive | February, 2012

As Long As You’ve Got Friends, You’re Still in the Game

28 Feb

I got some mail today!

It wasn’t the usual junk and bills; it was a real-life box, with a handwritten address and everything!  When I opened it up, this is what I saw:

Now THIS is a box of cereal!

Now THIS is a box of cereal!

My good college friend Kim had sent it.

My first thought was, “That was truly the sweetest thing I’ve seen in a long time.  I think I’m going to cry.”  Seriously, I am still kind of on the verge of bawling over the thoughtfulness.

My second thought was, “That’s a lot of cereal!  I won’t have to buy any for like 2 months!”

To the average eye, this might just be a cute stunt.  To me, it’s a gift of presence.  Kim and I haven’t seen each other in at least 10 years…maybe more.  We live on opposite coasts and don’t talk often.  And here she is, suddenly at my doorstep.  Her handwriting, her spirit.  She had to go shopping for all of this cereal–or maybe she had it lying around, in which case, maybe she needs to start blogging–and she boxed it all up and sent it off.  It’s a gift people don’t often give or receive much these days.  It’s one of pure thought and love.  It’s an old friend, taking time out of her busy life of being a CFO, wife, and mom to two boys…to follow my humble writings and to give of herself.  It is just so freaking thoughtful.

It was so kind…and more than that–it’s so USEFUL!  I mean, sentiment is all well and good, but man…it takes a true master to blend emotion with PRACTICALITY, yo.  Truth be told, I would have had the same reaction had she boxed up a plastic baggie of Cheerios with the note.  It’s a great bonus that I can actually get some mileage out of this–wow!

This was beyond nice, and really proves ol’ Clarence right: “No man is a failure who has friends.”

And cereal, apparently.

As Long As You’ve Got Cereal, You’re Still in the Game

19 Feb

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged.  I’ve struggled to compose this “re-entry” post nearly as long.  The easiest way to explain my extended absence is that I just fell into the hole.

It’s part of leaping.

Sometimes, leaping works–the net appears or you have enough trajectory to propel yourself across the canyon on your own–and you think you’re pretty hot stuff.  You’re like, “hey look at me!  I took a huge risk and it paid off!  I’m so self-actualized and gutsy!”

sometimes, leaping works
And then, sometimes–the whole thing goes to hell.  You lose momentum and start plummeting…and that dang net suddenly disappears just when you need it the most, and you plunge into a sinkhole.  At first, you’re like, “whoops, ha ha–clumsy me!  I’ll just find my way outta here…let’s see…I’ll be going now.  Peace out!”  But you can’t.  Every door shrinks away, every window melts before you, and every ladder disintegrates.  It’s then that you start to grasp the situation at hand, but of course, it’s too late.  “Oh shit,” you think, as the light of your hopes, dreams, and fighting spirit gets swallowed up by the darkness.

And that’s what happened to me.

I guess it started in September and it is now February and I’m still stuck.  Not all of me…I mean, I at least pushed my head and hands through long enough to type something.  How lucky this laptop was within reach!

zombie stole a laptop
I really wanted to blog during that time, but I couldn’t do it.  The whole reason I have this blog is so people can see the reality of taking risks, of trying to do your own thing.  It’s not all book deals and puppies.  It is really, really sucky and terrifying sometimes.  And that’s important for any dream-chaser, leaper, entrepreneur, artist, “do-it-my-own-way”-er to hear so they may fortify thyselves!

What started it is that I basically ran out of my cushion money and the glut of well-paying gigs dried up.  The advance from our book is long gone and we probably have another 5 years before we see the pennies roll in through royalties.  At first, it was okay because Bark kept me/us afloat, and I launched a new business, NinjaDog Concepts, to fill in the gap as well.  But tried as I did, it wasn’t enough.  And it still isn’t, truth be told.

Here’s a glimpse at the state of affairs:

  • I’m making probably somewhere around $12k for the year right now.  Did you know that the average author makes just $9k, according to the Author’s Guild bulletin I just read?  So I guess I have that going for me.
  • Between my writing gigs (mostly magazine articles and greeting cards right now) and NinjaDog work, I’m able to cobble together enough for my share of rent every month.  But nothing more…so my expenses like car insurance, phone bill, and food come out of money we make through Bark.  And I can’t even address my credit cards.  I’m not sure when the last time I made a payment on those was.
  • One of my car tires blew in October when I was on a lost dog case.  It wasn’t even dramatic–I pulled away from the curb, and there it crumpled, withered from age and mileage.  The car limped home with the donut (thanks to my brother, who talked us through changing a spare over the phone), and I parked it in my driveway, where it sat until just last weekend, when a friend bought me new tires.  I didn’t have any extra money to get them, so we had been operating as a one-car family.Man, am I tire-d
  • I’ve learned how to do what I call “consume strategically,” which is basically a fancy way of saying “how to eat on no money.” I do things like make the same batch of coffee last for days, accept invitations to places and events that feature free sustenance, and asked for grocery gift cards for the holidays.  We save our “eating out” dollars for business meetings or someone’s celebration.  You’d think with this light eating, I could get rid of my muffintop.  But, no such luck.  Ah, the cruel irony of it all.

Muffintops are mean because they're ugly

So all of this stuff’s gotten me down, man.  I feel like a loser because I can’t make enough money to pay bills, let alone get a haircut.  I feel like a criminal 3 times a day when I send the creditors’ calls to voicemail.  I feel like an idiot because I can’t figure out how to put all of this together in a funny, yet poignant book proposal that resonates with the masses and sends a contract my way.  I feel like a failure because I started off strong and now I’ve totally blown my lead.

But the good news is that I’m still here.  And Kim is too.  And so are our dogs (they’re the only ones whose food and care we don’t compromise).   The other good news is that things ARE happening.  I have definitely had my share of little triumphs over these past months, and they are:

  • I was accepted into the pool of verse writers for Avanti Press.  Now THAT’S a fun job!
  • I’ve had not only my first magazine article published, but my second and third ones published…and I have more in the hopper.  So far, they’re all dog-oriented, and I really don’t want to pigeon-hole myself, but it’s where the opportunities are for now, so I’m gladly taking them.
  • Kim and I have seen an increase in commercial gigs through Bark, which is super exciting.  Our passion is obviously our private clients, but our commercial clients help us make a really big dent in our bills.  Plus, we’ve been lucky to get really good ones so far, like the cover of Cat Daddy, Jackson Galaxy’s new book, due out in May.
  • I’ve been brought on as a resource for a non-profit consulting agency that I worked with in my previous life.  This actually is a good tip, so listen up.  On a particularly scary day when I wasn’t sure if I was going to make rent (which happens periodically), I got an email from a former coworker that made reference to said consulting agency and it reminded me that I had not contacted them to let them know of my freelancing availability.  Wouldn’t you know it that right after I sent them an email with my resume, I got a response that was all, “Wow, what perfect timing–we could really use some extra hands!”  So I got steady gigs with them for a few months at the end of the year, right when all nonprofits beef up their end-of-year giving campaigns.  I haven’t gotten anything lately from them, but I’m grateful to be in their pool.  And I discovered I have a new skill that I’m actually really good at: Quality Assurance.  They give me the websites, apps, or whatever they’ve built, and I go through them and read everything, click every link, and put the whole functionality to the test.  Then I tell them everything that’s wrong.  It’s super intense but super fun.  The point here is: use every contact you have from anywhere.  Tell people what you’re doing, what you’re looking for, and how you can help them.  You just never know when they might be looking for what you’ve got.
  • I also worked a lot of hours for my friend Beth, who has the floral design business.  Her busy holiday season meant lots of prepping and delivering that she was gracious enough to let me do.  That helped me close the gap on my January rent.
  • I launched my own writing website: http://www.sarahsypniewski.com
  • And finally, a couple of our media bits have hit recently.  The local news did a spot on how I use technology in my operations at NinjaDog Concepts, a little show called Career Day included Bark in one of their episodes, and I was a guest on Marketplace Money to talk about how people make decisions when spending money on their pet’s health care.

So yeah…there have been really great things that have happened, and those things are my reassurance, my cheerleaders, my motivation.  They say, “you may not have gotten where you want to get yet, but you will.  You’re headed in the right direction, so quit your cryin’ and get back in there, slugger.”

Also, it’s super important to remember when trying to forge your own path: it’s work, man.  All of these things are really awesome…and often, when they happen, people respond with, “wow, you’re famous now,” or “you’ve finally made it!”

No.  We are not and have not.  Despite these wonderful, great successes that Kim and I experience, we are still hustlers.  We are still struggling to make ends meet.  We are not even close to where we need to be, let alone where we’d like to be.

So we keep working.  And working.  And working.

And that’s why this sinkhole terrifies me so much.  Living a leaper’s life takes a ton of motivation, tireless work, and a gut of steel.  And in that sinkhole, I don’t feel anything like that.  I feel totally defeated.  But more than that, I lose so much ground when I’m in that sinkhole.

Look–we all go through times of self-pity, depression, anxiety, or paralysis.  I went through it during my previous life as well.  But the difference there was, I still got paid.  I still made a living, even if I felt a little blue or if I called in sick or something.  If I call in sick or have a down day now, it impacts everything.

So the pressure is on.

It’s always on.

The ironic thing, of course, is one of the big reasons I left my career back in 2010 was because of the constant pressure I was under there.  This is similar, but different.  And even though I’m still dealing with constant stress, I’m glad I’m here.  I still wouldn’t trade it or go back.  Despite the constant threat of the sinkhole, I am actually quite content.

I guess the point of this post is to let you know that the sinkhole will probably find you too, and I just hope this might help you to be ready.  Be prepared for some really, really hard times.  There’s an amazing quote by Ira Glass that sums it up.  My sister was the first to bring it to my attention quite a few months ago, and I’ve seen it several times since.  I think it’s right on the er–money.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep fighting.  I’m not sure how much more I have left in me.  I may not be meant to be a writer.  I can’t figure it out.  I can’t find my place yet.  I can’t make a living, which definitely makes me miserable on a certain level.  But on the other hand, I still have this voice that eggs me on: “your place is out there.  Somewhere.  Keep going!”  That’s all well and good, but while I keep going, is it too much to ask for some cereal in the cupboard?  After all, that’s good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

It's good enough for Seinfeld

It's good enough for Seinfeld

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