Day: May 5, 2010

Regulation of Input and Retaining Reserves

Each evening as I returned to my room after a day of conventioning, I looked at my laptop and dreaded opening it. This is unusual. The internet is usually my friend. I like my regular blogs and email. But my brain was so full of new things, that the last thing I wanted to do was add more new things. My caution was wise because I ended the convention over loaded.

I’ve been back for three days now and I am still carefully regulating my input. I’m back to answering email and blog comments. But I still haven’t caught up on my usual internet sites. I’m not reading much that I don’t have to in order to keep our business running. Also I am sleeping more than I would like. It is a necessary reset, which is being hampered by my extensive list of things to do.

I’ve seen this sort of overload in my kids as well. Patch is the most prone to it. He really requires quiet spaces in order to stay his usual happy self. One of my jobs as a parent is to watch my kids and force them to slow down when they’re getting over stimulated. Apparently I need to do a better job of doing this for myself. A couple of friends at the convention told me how they always schedule time mid-con to hide from everyone and everything. This sounds wise.

I am already thinking about how I can put this into practice next August when Howard and I take the two oldest to GenCon. We are all going to be over loaded and I need to think carefully about how I can counter act that and give us quiet spaces. The kids and I may have to ditch the convention for an afternoon and go find a park to sit in. Or perhaps we’ll watch movies in the room. I am going to have to be much more careful to conserve my own energy. I can’t afford to run myself to the edge of my limits when I have two kids to watch out for. I’ll also have Howard who will run himself to the edge of his limits, as is his job. I need to spend energy making sure that the presence of the kids does not interfere with his ability to work the show. It will be an interesting challenge.

Conventions are not the only time when I need to spend energy regulating input. I still remember clearly the day I worked myself to my physical limits assembling two pallets of books, and then had to face a plethora of kid crises with zero emotional or physical reserves. That was the kind of day I vow never to repeat, and I haven’t, but I keep coming close. I think one of the hardest things about being a mother is that I can’t allow myself to run to the edge of my abilities. I have to hold part of my energies in reserve so that I can always answer the needs of the children. It was one of the joys of Penguicon that I could use up my reserves. Mostly. Except for the phone calls. (How exactly did they expect me to help find the eye drops in my brother’s house while I was over 1000 miles away? I don’t know, but they called to ask me anyway.)

Hmm. This post began talking about regulating input and ended with retaining reserves. My thoughts are still rambling and I lack the focus to bring things back around so that they all connect at the end of the post. Also I am still tired. So for today I will apply the lazy solution and add the words “and retaining reserves” to the title of the post. That makes it all relevant. Right?

Anxiety Under Stress

The first day of Penguicon was fantastic. I spent the entire day having fascinating conversations with amazing people. Then I climbed into bed and my brain kept running for an hour, trying to sort everything. Just as I drifted off to sleep I snapped awake with an overload of mommy guilt. It only lasted for a few minutes, but during those minutes I was shaky and almost in tears. It was focused on being away from the kids, but it was really the result of too much input and not enough down time.

I was similarly shaky at the end of the convention. We were all packed and sitting at the restaurant, waiting for time to depart to the airport. A very perceptive friend asked if I was okay. I wasn’t really. I was holding on to calm and repressing the person in the back of my brain who wanted to curl into a ball and cry. Again it was the result of too much input and too little processing time. But I did not want to miss even a moment of visiting with friends whom I see far too seldom.

Last night I snapped awake at 1 am in a panic because I have not yet shipped things to GenCon. I have three months until GenCon. There is plenty of time to ship books there. But it took me several minutes to claw my way in to sufficient consciousness to remember that fact. The real problem is that I have an overload of things to do and most of them are both urgent and important. So instead of taking a couple of days to unpack and re-organize after Penguicon, I am trying to dive straight into all of the things to do. So far it is not working well. I’m getting things done, but it is all stressy and fragmented. If I can get myself focused I can dig out from under. But it is hard to become focused with so much looming.

The result is a latent anxiety waiting to pounce upon me. It is stress manifesting as fear. Fretting out all the details of what will happen if I fail is not nearly so useful as just getting stuff done so that I won’t fail. Also, the thinking in circles is made of unhelpful.

The good news is that my head is getting steadily clearer. I’m actually being able to blog some of the Penguicon stuff to get it out of my head. The luggage has been unpacked and stowed. I’m starting to wrap my head around the at home things. As I do, the anxiety subsides and I see that I really can do this.

Finance for Freelancers

While at Penguicon I moderated a panel called “Finance for Freelancers” with co-panelists Tobias Buckell and Catherine Shaffer. I wasn’t intending to moderate, but I was foolish enough to be the first one to ask who would be the moderator. Having everyone introduce themselves and tell why they became freelancers gave me just enough time to scribble a few notes so I could direct the discussion.

I feel like the whole thing went very well, due in large part to the wealth of experience that Toby and Catherine were able to share. It is a joy to moderate a panel of competent people who know how to make their points concisely. I learned some things and I felt like we shared useful information with the audience. I wish I had a transcript to post, but I can remember a few highlights. What follows is loosely connected notes from the panel:

The insecurity of not having a paycheck: All three of us agreed that the idea of freelancing sounded really scary when we were at the beginning of it, but that after doing it for a few years we all feel more secure in our incomes than we did before. This security comes as the result of having many different sources for income. When one contract dries up, the others carry you until you can pick up another contract to fill the financial gap. Both Catherine and Toby talked about having the ability to stop working for people who are difficult and how that contributes to contentment.

Health insurance: Toby gets insurance through his wife. Catherine has been getting it through her husband, but is considering cutting free of that. Like freelancing, the idea of searching for health insurance is scary, but once you get into it the fear goes away and it is merely expensive. Toby made the point that the price of health care needs to be calculated on top of what you need to pay your bills. This is part of the calculation you make to figure out how much money you need to bring in as a freelancer to make ends meet.

Organization: I spoke a little about organizing time. I have an assigned accounting day once per week where I look at my accounts. During the early years there were some weeks when I merely glanced because there wasn’t anything else to do, but I still kept the accounting appointment. We all talked about how it is important to keep the business accounts separate from the personal accounts. There was some variance about when a freelancer should incorporate, but Catherine quoted a $40,000 per year figure after which it is really to your financial advantage to be incorporated. Catherine uses a free financial management program to track her money (I can’t remember the name.) I use Quicken/Quickbooks. Toby uses Excel. All of us stated the importance of being able to do reports based on the financial numbers so that the freelancer can see where money is coming from and make good predictions for the next few months or years.

An additional note on organization: I think this point was made in a different panel, but it fits here. Creative people often have a learned helplessness when it comes to business organization. They don’t like thinking about numbers and they tell themselves that they can’t do it. Business thinking and financial organization can be learned. I taught it to myself. Over years of practice I got pretty good at it. Organization can be learned. Good financial record keeping can be learned. These things can be just as much a habit as putting on pants in the morning.

I know there was other good information in the panel. I may add it as I think about it. I’ll reiterate what I said in the panel, if you’re considering being a freelancer, you should check out Toby’s blog. He talks about this stuff and does seriously useful number crunching.