Mixed Marriages: When One Spouse Goes Freelance
My husband is a pilot. His workspace is fairly defined. It has huge fiberglass wings and crazy sharp propellers that will chop you to little tiny bits if you don’t knock properly on the office door.
I wish I had propellers.
Instead I have a laptop, which, sadly, isn’t quite so lethal, and my non-pointy office also functions as a DVD player, a bullhorn for Star Wars-related whines, a sports wire, a news station, a photo album, a gift shop, and a jukebox. So when he sees me staring at the screen with my head in my hands, I could be trying to figure out why people continue to care about Paris Hilton… I could be contemplating the fact that my nephew’s new haircut makes him look like a forty-five year old in a Piglet sleeper… I could be one syllable away from a Pulitzer… he never knows.
What he does know, for his own health, is to assume the Pulitzer thing, even if it’s five in the morning and the theme from The A-Team is pouring tinnily from the speakers as I sob face-down on the keyboard, bitter freelancing tears raining down upon my caps lock key. But that wasn’t knowledge he simply absorbed from basking in my per-job presence: He had to be carefully taught. And so did I.
Two months ago we moved to an area with a standard of living which far exceeded our state of origin, and as our entire entertainment budget shrank to a one-DVD-at-a-time Netflix membership, he threw aside a spreadsheet in exasperation and said, “Well, you’re just going to have to work. You need to get a job.”
At my crumpled expression—I dearly would like to know exactly what I looked like here, very possibly like a person who had just been informed that her puppy had just been indicted in an identity theft ring–he immediately corrected himself with, “I mean, another job. I mean, an outside job. I mean, a job, outside the house. And you… have…nice hair?”
And, well, I can’t really blame him for the foot-insertion. In Western culture, you are your workspace, and my workspace is four inches away from the wine cart and the bathroom floor I just finished mopping. When writing or researching begins in earnest, I don’t put on a brand-color polo shirt, or a power suit, or (and I think way more people would be freelancers if this were the case) a cape.
Often when my husband leaves for a 7 AM shift, I’m still rolled in a writerly ball beneath the covers, recovering from a 2 AM deadline on TV commentary which called for me to watch three reality shows back-to-back-to-back. Why, then, it was perfectly reasonable for him to expect me to arise from the keyboard and trot his forgotten cell phone right on over. The last time he saw me sentient, I was cross-legged on the couch, working my way through a bag of Combos and heaping scorn upon Survivor heads. Working, working very hard!
Even though I’ve never seen anybody labor more selflessly, longer, or with fewer breaks than my stay-at-home sister as she endlessly prevents her two young boys from annihilating themselves and others, it is said of her, “She quit working when the baby was born.” I quit working when the commute shortened to the length of my laptop cord, apparently; when I explain to others just what it is I do, their faces take on a drawn expression of apprehension—until they clarify that sometimes I take temp office jobs between royalty checks. “Oh,” they say, “so you are doing something.”
Something, it seems, even if it involves a plastic nametag or a ten-line phone system, is far superior to the terrifying lack of social categorization of this freelance business; as a newlywed, I am often presented forms which demand my employer’s name, and I wince a little bit when I write “self,” because I know there are going to be Explanations To Be Had: Did I, in fact, work at all? I wrote? How many novels? Oh, online, really? Well, what about health insurance?… Oh.
I used to politely corral off such conversations as quickly as possible, because a wee corner of my self-esteem took a guilt bath and agreed. Where did I get off not lining up like a traffic lemming? Why was I the blessed recipient of a get-out-of-water-cooler-talk free ticket? How was it that I escaped a life in coveralls? Aren’t these the price of adult respectability?
And if I wasn’t quite to terms with the fact that I did have a job, just a very very sweet one, then I had no right to expect those closest to me to treat my career with the respect it deserved. So: a book proposal, daily online updates, freelance articles, commentary columns, marketing the book I already wrote, and seeking out other opportunities—these, I have learned to remind myself as I roll up on my laptop as the dishes sit sullenly by, are Work. It may not take place outside the house, but the results very much wind up inside my bank account.
And that is worth a few propeller chops.