For the many journalists and cartoonists who've made the bumpy transition from staff jobs to home-based freelancers, there are three constants: You are going to see your income plunge, at least initially, you are essentially always on duty, work-wise, and you are always at home.
The last of these was initially the hardest. For three decades "” with a few breaks "” I always went into a newspaper office. I had a desk amid the other desks, chatted with co-workers, went to meetings, took 30- or 60-minute lunch breaks, and came home after an eight- or nine-hour shift. I had my weekends (not always Saturday-Sundays) free, except for sometimes being on call for breaking news graphics, and had two, three or four weeks of vacation a year when I was truly off. I had a place I was supposed to go each day.
After my last staff position was abruptly eliminated, I knew my first recourse was to freelance cartoons from home "“ after all, I had been doing some of that for years anyway. I would just keep doing that, only more so.
Once the first couple of months were past, boredom and restlessness set in. I was still spending my days in front of a computer or a drawing board, but now there were no other people around. Just me. All day. Nobody to talk to. Between that and the severely reduced income, depression set in.
I hit the online job boards on a daily basis. I went off to a job-support group each Tuesday morning. I sent resume after resume, nearly all of which failed to get any kind of acknowledgment. I put together samples of my artwork for freelancing and sent them off into the void, not to be heard back from. I got on LinkedIn and I tweaked my web site.
In the early months after my layoff, I took myself out to a decent lunch each day, a daily break from the home confinement. My former supervisor, Brian Snyder, said he'd wished he had enjoyed the time off "between jobs" more, and I thought that was a good attitude to keep in mind. But as the joblessness stretched to five, six, seven months and beyond, that changed. Lunches became the "dollar menu" at fast-food places, or sandwiches at home, as my depression grew. The only relief from my office was spending a few moments with our dog, Theo. My initial ambition to hit the gym regularly atrophied, as did I.
But in the past half year or so I've mellowed out a bit on the feeling of confinement at home. For one thing, my recovery from a detached retina has taken me temporarily out of the constant job hunt, so that particular pressure "“ and its lack of results "“ has eased for the moment.
I'm more of a cartoonist that I was while at the newspaper, drawing nearly every day, as opposed to doing graphics (maps and charts) each day with some cartooning squeezed in.
Importantly, my wife has stated that she rather likes my being at home. She's making a good enough salary to pay the bills (whatever else I bring in helps, of course), and likes the fact that I am around to take care of the house and pets (the dog-and-cat duo has expanded to include Gracie, our second dachshund).
I've become the handyman (though not really much of one) and the gardener. I do most of the shopping at Trader Joe's now. I'm here for deliveries or to pick up my wife's prescriptions. In short, I've become a house-husband. Fortunately we've got a pretty neat house, all full of color and tile and funky imports. A pewter-and-glass dragon is suspended in my office, staring at me as I work.
And I try to get out some. My parents are 40 minutes away in a retirement and assisted-living community, and I visit them once a week or so to help with their bills and errands. Once in awhile I declare a "play day" and do something like visit an art museum in Los Angeles or wander around downtown Ventura.
Recently, while running an business errand in Woodland Hills, I spotted a woman in an office complex, smartly decked out in a business suit, and for a moment I longed for her world "“ busy, interacting with others, serving a role, getting a regular paycheck. But then, it occurred to me that perhaps she might have longed for my world, has she known me "“ no set schedule, no time clocks, no specific lunch time, no need to dress up (or even shower), nobody evaluating her performance or issuing commands. It seemed "“ in my mind only "“ a bit like the 1977 movie "The Turning Point," where two people who took opposite life paths wondered if the other one made the better or worse choice.
Going back to the start of this blog entry, the part about always being on duty is fairly true. I have deadlines, and always meet them, even when sick (and when I first dealt with the detached retina, I still drew, "one-eyed" and I continue to do that to a lesser extent).
I'm anxious every day that I do something productive, even if it's just coming up with a concept for a future editorial cartoon. I do not turn down any assignments unless I am committed to being out of town (and even then I'd weigh whether I could fit it in somehow, and frequently check my email and phone messages). If an editor wants a drawing with a short deadline, I do it "“ can't say no, not without risking losing a client. On the weekends, I still devote some time to drawing or writing or promoting myself. There is no complete break anymore.
The money part sucks. I bring in a fraction of what I made 18 months ago. Any state EDD money I get is absolutely vital, even though I know it will eventually end. Yes, we can live on just what my wife makes, but I need to feel I'm carrying at least some of my weight, and I need some funds to spend; I make sure I pick up some of the checks when we eat out, which we do at least once on the weekends.
Many people in my situation are turning to side jobs "“ something perhaps wildly unrelated to what they've been doing, but SOMEthing to bring in a few extra bucks nonetheless. And I'm trying to do the same.
My new venture is to be a distributor for a personal medical records device. Called "Card4Life," it is basically a USB flash drive, configured with proprietary software to hold one's medical records, password-protected for security and with a Medic-Alert symbol to alert emergency personnel. The idea is that you carry it with you, and use it to hold your medical records (plus images such as X-rays, MRI scans, living wills and such) in one place for doctors visits or in case of an emergency when a paramedic might need to access your vital information.
My nurse wife, Roberta, spotted such a device on a patient and lit up, "I've been waiting for something like this!" she declared. She's a fan of electronic medical record-keeping and believes everything medical is going digital anyway. She learned the Card4Life company was a start-up and looking for distributors for its product; the whole L.A. region was unrepresented, so all of a sudden I'm taking a stab at being a businessman and a medical-device rep. It offers a left-brain counterpoint to all the right-brain creative work I do.
The web site I just built for this is http://www.card4lifela.com "“ and a naked plug here, please go visit it and consider buying one for yourself or a family member (I'm selling it to match the lowest price anyone is offering on it). It could save a lot of time and hassle, especially for an older person who maybe can't remember all their medications or emergency contacts, and it could potentially even save one's life.
Don't just think of it as helping a struggling fledgling businessman. Think of it as supporting the art of cartooning.