Just over six years ago, I decided I’d had enough of work. I saved some money, quit my job at New York Magazine, and decided to go traveling for a while. Then I got lucky—I made a contact at the New York Times travel section, and quickly found myself in freelance heaven. In the time since, there hasn’t been a day I haven’t had an assignment or deadline—and therefore an impending paycheck. I also haven’t needed to get out of bed, shower, or put on proper clothing unless I wanted to. Life has been good.
Now our dear friend Theodore is about to learn what this is like: As he wrote yesterday, he’s been laid off from Harper’s Magazine—freed from the corporate shackles of… Oh, wait, it’s Harper’s. Freed from the strident paleoliberal bonds of the nonprofit publishing world?
Well, whatever. He’s also worried about how his kids will view him. As a cool writer dad who’s always available for a midday trip to the ice cream shop? Or as a pajama-clad layabout—a bum?
Frankly, I don’t have an answer for him. Because after all these years in the wilderness, I’m starting to feel ambivalent about my own work status.
For me, though, it has little to do with how Sasha might view me. And it has nothing to do with how I viewed my father, a history professor whose daily schedule was only a thin degree more constrained than a freelance writer’s.
No, this has more to do with me—and with Jean. For me, the years of freelancing have gotten a bit, well, lonely. I’ve mitigated that somewhat by renting an office (which I now share with the estimable Mr. Ross), so that I get a little bit of that camaraderie without being required to show up or participate in company activities.
But beyond that, while freelancing has been fun, it’s hardly been lucrative. After roughly 15 years in the publishing industry, I’m making about what I did a decade ago, give or take. I’m enjoying myself much more, and I appreciate the freedom, but it’s also wearying.
At the same time, Jean has been advancing in her career. She’s the breadwinner in our family—the provider of cash, health insurance, stability. (As far as I can tell, this is the only requirement to join DadWagon: have an Asian wife with a better job than your own.) But Jean, too, is feeling what I felt years ago—the desire to break free of the corporate world and do her own thing. Neither of us, however, wants to sacrifice our stability for some risky shot at creative fulfillment.
But if Jean and I switched places… This might happen, actually. I’ve got a couple of potentially revenue-generating projects in the pipeline (book, TV, Web). If they succeed, we’ll be okay. And if they fail, well, then I might be looking at getting what the kids these days call a “real job.”
Yes, a job. I’m not sure they still exist anymore, but I hear occasional rumors from friends and friend of friends that publications, both print and online, are hiring people from time to time. (Apparently, Internet content is not yet entirely computer-generated.) And god dammit, if I have to—if I really, really have to—I guess I’ll lobby for one of those jobs.
Oh fuck, did I just write that?