Self Employment Assistance Program

Off and on, since September 2012, I have been on unemployment. I have also worked as a substitute teacher, after school teacher, tutor, videographer, journalist, copywriter, workshop leader, graphic designer, photographer, and more. I like doing a variety of work.

I have wanted to get my small biz off the ground, providing coaching for writers and creative content for companies. Yet unemployment stipulates that you mustn’t start a new business, only look for an existing job. Otherwise, it’s fraud, my friends.

So, what to do? I just found out this week that I am accepted into the Self Employment Assistance Program, SEAP, which means I have to take 20 hours of entrepreneurship classes and meet with a mentor a few times. I have to fill in a bunch of progress reports. In return, I can receive full unemployment benefits for another four or five months, and keep my earnings from my biz.

I have had an entrepreneurial streak since I started babysitting at 12. Even before that, at 10, I started a nursery school with April Fisher. We set up a blackboard in my basement. But one morning, before our neighborhood kids arrived, April and I messed around, wrestling, and I broke my hand, and any way, our summer school was cancelled.

My next biz? In high school my dad had a newfangled personal computer as big as a pony, whom we fondly referred to as Norty (for NorthStar). I intended to start a label-making company. I did not get past the company-naming part of a small business. I came up with the name, get this, Ready, Willing, and Label. Clever, no? See, I was always good at snappy prose.

In college my best friend and I started a biz, selling earrings on a corner near Tower Records in the Village. We made and sold earrings from pieces of film we swiped off the editing room floor. We never really got that biz off the ground, but again, you can see, great idea.

So, I’ve always loved freelancing and starting companies.

Now, back to unemployment, the last time I reported to the office on Varick Street, I was among about 40 people — the majority of whom were middle-aged white men. I thought why don’t they just group us by our skills or areas of expertise and we could start our own companies? Or at least schmooze?

I became eligible for unemployment over a year ago, when I took the company buyout, offered to all of the 300 or so employees of the global agency of the United Methodist church. I basically knew that jobs in communications would be shuffled and that my position as staff writer for the mission agency was precarious. (After all, why pay tens of thousands for a salary when you could pay a couple hundred per article?)

My particular buyout offer at GBGM came to about eight months pay and the possibility of unemployment. I took it. And it turns out, I’m glad I did.

Because just this week, my dream came true. I’m a legit small business start up. And this time, I won’t mess things up by wrestling with April Fisher before the day starts and breaking my hand and having to cancel the whole damn biz.

English: Interchurch Center in New York City
My old workplace at the Interchurch Center in New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Bitcoins vs. Dollars

Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn]
Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn] (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)
Last night we were out at an Irish pub eating steak sandwiches. My son H. and I returned to a recent argument.

See, because of a conversation with a fellow coworker at new work city, I’ve become interested in bitcoins.

Honestly, I’d be interested in kumquats or any new kind of currency to replace the almighty dollar.

I’ve spent my whole adult life — spending and making and spending and obsessing about dollars. And if this bitcoin thing takes off, then maybe I can be free from the shackles of the national pastime – the pursuit of and the obsession with the American dollar. (This blog is called To Pursue Happiness, not To Pursue Wealth.)

Beyond that, I’m sick that banks get bailed out and individuals suffer bankruptcy. Where’s the love? H. told me, “Then blame Obama.” But I’m not blaming anyone (except the big banks. I’m so incensed that congress raised the student loan rates to 6.8 percent, and yet, you still consider yourself lucky if you get 1 percent interest on your savings account. Again, where’s the love?)

from our blogging workshop at new work city.
from our blogging workshop at new work city.

But I try to be part of the solution rather than the problem. And maybe bitcoins will solve the big bank monopoly.

I took one semester of economics at NYU with a Marxist professor, so my understanding of world economics may be skewed.

But as I understand it, bitcoins are a peer-to-peer exchange of value, a digital currency. They’re “mined for” on the internet so they’re scarce. They’re global.

Bitcoins need to be spent. Like all currency, the system’s messed up if you hide them in a shoebox under your bed. And they are currently valued at something like $90. They are not overseen by any vast financial machine (thus, making them perfect for drug dealers.)

My son and I had a good, heated discussion. Like, he actually said, “Do you think middle-aged and older people who take your writing workshops are going to pay you in bitcoins?”

“They’re not all older. And I don’t know,” I said, laughing “But I’d accept them as payment.” I started laughing so hard.

The idea was funny and true. I often think I am the first to discover great ideas. I had just told my son earlier how I was the first person to discover the artist, Pink, because I’d loved that song, Get the party started. And H. admitted he was the first to discover Cee Lo Green.

I digress. “Hey,” I said, returning to our economics argument, “I could pay my web developer with a bitcoin. We already use PayPal.”

My son thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. To show I’m not the only crazy one, I mentioned how the early adopters, the Winklevoss  twins, those of Facebook fame, are opening a fund for bitcoins. H. was unimpressed.

So, to conclude my 4th of July rant, let me just say, when our founding parents set up this beautiful country, they set this country up as a DEMOCRATIC not as a CAPITALIST society.

A democracy means we all count. A democracy means we are free. We have free speech and we have freedom to try different currencies. We are free to pursue kumquats or bitcoins. Or happiness.

Freelance work

I am working on a very short novel. I am working on my business. I am working on myself. I wonder if any of these things will work out.

I believe that I already have everything I need. I try to know, deep down, that all I want will come to pass. Yesterday I announced that I’m going to lead workshops for the International Women’s Writing Guild summer conference and in May I’ll be performing on Mother’s Day with the Listen To Your Mother Show. These are dreams that have come true for me.

Still, sometimes I think it’d be a heckova lot easier to just get a job and show up every day. And do what’s asked of you and then go home.

Sometimes believing in myself is a lot of work.

Speaking of work, I have a freelance assignment due tomorrow. A small part of me does not want to do it. Okay, a big part.

I like doing what I like doing, promoting my own workshops. (Come to the Adirondacks for a writing and collage art getaway! May 16-19) and my new biz (Am getting my new website up and running.)

I like my own stuff. But once I throw myself into something, even someone else’s something, I get into it. The problem is the throwing myself in. It’s like when you’re standing on the edge of the pool, hesitant to swim. You just have to jump.

About freelancing, here’s my truth — I love accepting a job; I love interviewing people; I like collecting the check. All the middle part, after the interview and before the job’s complete, all the writing and rewriting and fact checking, that’s a pain.

Imagine
Remembering to take time to imagine. (I was in Central Park on Sunday. So restorative!)

Happiness on Social Media

Life has been a bit of whirlwind. Only today does it feel like the the dust has settled. And it’s a rainy, dreary, depressing day.

After the kids’ and my spring break trip to Chris’s cousins in Boston and Nantucket, I led a blogging workshop at the Indiana Writers Center and a social media workshop at Religion Communicators Council, both in Indianapolis. Then I visited family in Chicago. It was all great.

I went solo on this recent trip to Indy and Chi-town. And the adage is true: you travel faster when you travel alone. But maybe fast is not always best.

Since taking this MOOC with MIT and last week’s keynote from Daniel Sieberg (I dig Bill Aiken’s summary of Sieberg’s Keynote), I’m asking myself these questions about my social media habit:

Is social media really making me more creative and connected?

Am I using social media only to market my stuff? Or do I really want to get to know you and your stuff too?

Am I oversharing with all my blogging, tweeting, Facebragging, instagramming?

See, I bumped into a friend on the street yesterday and she asked me how my spring cleaning was going. My first response was embarrassment. How did she know I was spring cleaning? But then I remembered my joke on my FB status. I’d updated, “While spring cleaning this morning, I found $3 – who says housework doesn’t pay?”

I felt a little flattered and a little naked. Truly, I write so people will read me.

So, on one hand, I worry if no one will read me, and then, on the other, I worry if people will read my stuff and react. (I write like I dance, like no one is watching me.)

In our last MOOC session on motivation and learning, Natalie Rusk mentioned that the keys to happiness are purpose and belonging. That these lead to personal growth. Maybe social media is for the social good when it encourages all of us to belong, to be purposeful, and to grow together.

Maybe when the rain stops and the dust settles some more, I’ll figure it all out.

Until then, here’s where I market my stuff on my social media — I’ve still got room in my Writing Retreat 4/25-4/28. And I need a few more good writers to make the weekend happen. We can discuss our digital diets over a nice long, leisurely dinner together.

One hour off technology

Writing and Mothering and Listen To Your Mother

pink buds blooming
Across from my apartment, things are starting to bloom.

Writing and Coffee

Amy Carr and I started a writing support group on Monday nights. One of our members, the brilliant DeBorah Gray, (“MaMa Dee”) offered this assignment from a writing contest. Use the following words in a piece:

butter, music, coffee, constellation, illumination, window pane.

Here’s what I wrote during last week’s ten minute in-class writing exercise.

There is nothing I like better than coffee, no friend as dear or faithful. Every morning my coffee is there for me. Friends, lovers, or husbands may come and go, but my coffee will remain.

I sometimes whisper to myself, “First sip of the day,” right before I take the first sip of the day.

I feel illuminated, lit from within. I take my pen to paper. I begin to write. I write about three pages long-hand every morning, a la Julia Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way. Sometimes I stop writing to stare out the windowpane at the empty, abandoned courtyard outside my kitchen.

I lose my flow. I long for a constellation of meaning. I begin to dread the next task, having to wake the kids. I hate, hate, hate having to rustle the kids out of bed. It is my lowest part of the day. When I have to set down my notebook and pen and take up the harpy role.

I have to shift from writer to mother. Ugh. All I want to do is write. I feel irritated that I have to do anything else, like butter my children’s toast or pay the bills.

I turn the radio up loud, alerting the kids that life is happening.English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

I detest the move from solitude to sharing space. I feel ill prepared to assume the responsibility of motherhood.I love my children, but honestly, first thing in the morning, I love my coffee and writing more.

Fixing the Problem

What problem does your business solve?

My friend Jolain told me that when she started her clothing line years ago, her goal was simply to make beautiful clothes. She said that wasn’t enough.

“A business has to solve a problem,” Jolain said.

When Kelly and I launched our new biz, we figured offering first-class writing workshops at non-luxury prices would answer a writer’s problem.

A writer’s challenge includes the need to:

  • be a part of a community
  • get published
  • find a sanctuary for dangerous writing
  • make time for writing
  • nurture creativity and beauty in a society that overlooks the arts.

Our biz does all that.

We use Field Notes to keep score when we play cards.

This morning I listened to a podcast about traveling salesmen (at Field Notes Brand, a company my brother co-founded). Ron Solberg praises the tenacity and brilliance of the early traveling salespeople who often sold books. And the customers appreciated how the salesmen delivered news, as well as products. They liked the free samples.

“The trick really was volume, the number of stops you make,” Solberg said.

And more winning advice: “Take advantage of the moment.”

In a sense, when I started the biz, I wanted to make and nurture beautiful writing the same way Jolain wanted to make beautiful clothing. But I am learning to sell as well as to create.

As a small business owner, I need to sustain my biz, so I must do both sales and art. And for both, I need to value beauty, tenacity, hard work, and being in the moment.

How to Start a Biz

When I was little, I wanted to be an actress and a writer. But I always knew I would be a teacher. I had a hobby of making worksheets for my little sister and trying to teach her French. I was like that. I saw learning for the sake of learning as a life-long hobby.

Since I left my day job two months ago, I have learned a lot. Here are some of my take-aways:

  • Pursue your passion. If you like doing your biz, then people will like being around you when you’re doing it. Happiness is contagious. People in your sphere feel permission to pursue their passion when you pursue yours. That’s part of life’s purpose: to provide a space for people to be authentic.
  • Have accountability buddies. My buddies are my brother Brendan, my coach Mandy, my biz partner Kelly, my ex-colleague Hal, and my web developer Felicity. My experience hosting the writing weekend in the Adirondacks showed me how awesome and important it was to have empathetic and smart people in my orbit. I could lean on them, admit my doubts, and be encouraged to persevere.
  • Stay social. I need to spend solitary time to blog and to prep for teaching. I imagine every start up can be lonely. So, I am joining some MeetUps, going out to lunch with friends, staying social.
  • Wear jeans. For ten years, I dressed in business clothing almost every single working day. Enough already! I still put on a nice outfit when I teach or go out to lunch, but I am happy that every day is casual Friday.
  • my city block in the morning

    Get up and out. I have to get up and out by 8 am every day. If all I do is walk the kids to the bus stop two blocks away at 7:40 am and come right back home, that’s fine. My other favorite destination is a nearby 7:30 am meditation class. And, of course, I love the little French bistro, Margot Patisserie, for coffee and a croissant. The downside to my early mornings, I wake by 6:20, is that by 10 pm, I am wiped out and crabby and yelling at the kids, “Get to bed!”

I wrote this blog post, inspired by Don Miller’s Storyline. I especially like Miller’s advice to Be Patient. That’s not always easy, but I think it’s always worth it.

It reminds me of Rilke’s advice to:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke

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