I’ve been out of town for the past few days, and I haven’t had a chance to post anything here on my blog. Sorry, y’all. I didn’t even say I was going anywhere, either. But I am still alive, really.
And I’m experiencing the challenges of being a freelancer who is trying to work away from her home office. I know that some people routinely work out of coffee shops, libraries and even their cars, but my chosen spot for working is the messy little office on the second story of my house. I often do have to conduct interviews or return phone calls from random spots–for example, I recently did an entire interview with two nursing professors from the parlor at my church, with my young son running around and jumping off all the chairs and sofas while I scribbled notes–but I like to do most of my work at home. I have my ergonomically correct chair, my big computer screen, the phone, the printer/fax machine, office supplies, reference books, and files all right there. And the fridge with the cold Diet Coke is just a staircase away.
But I’m visiting my parents right now, so I am working on things from their home office. This poses a unique set of challenges.
First, there’s the noise factor. Ma and Pa Larson’s home office moonlights as a laundry room, with the washer and dryer located in an alcove adjacent to the desk. Since I brought the aforementioned son along with me, I’ve been having to do a lot of laundry, since (as you’d expect from a three-year-old boy) he tends to get dirty. So I have to time things where I’m not running a load of laundry while trying to talk to someone on the phone. I hate having to explain such little domestic things to people, though. I try to maintain a friendly but very professional demeanor at all times, and somehow, I feel like having to say, “Please excuse the washing machine noise. If I don’t wash sheets and pajamas right now, my son won’t have anything to sleep on or in tonight” undermines that a little bit.
And then there’s the Great Diet Coke Standoff. Mom thinks I drink too much Diet Coke. She maintains this attitude, despite the fact that a can of Diet Coke has half the amount of caffeine that a cup of coffee has. I have explained over and over that even if I drank four cans of DC per day, I’d still only be ingesting about the same amount of caffeine as two cups of coffee. She drinks a cup of coffee most mornings herself, and we both know many people who drink far more than that (i.e. most other journalists), yet I don’t see her going off on some great crusade against any of them. Yes, yes, I know, I’m her daughter, and yes, she loves me and worries about me. I’m a parent. I get it. I do. But I’m also 34 years old. I promise that I’m old enough to take care of myself. Besides, I have a husband now who likes to worry over my caffeine consumption. Frankly, I need to take both of them to a newsroom and let them monitor the average daily caffeine consumption of the people who work there because after that, they’d leave me alone, I guarantee it.
Anyway, because of the Great Diet Coke Standoff, Mom always refuses to stock the requisite amount of DC that I need to function. This trip, she purchased one eight-pack of the eight-ounce cans. That’s it. “But we have the caffeine-free Diet Coke right here,” she said, gesturing toward a twelve-pack of twelve-ounce cans that some well-meaning but clearly misled relatives left at her house the weekend before. This is her house, so she certainly can buy or not buy whatever she wants. But when I say, as I always do, that I need to go out and buy myself some more Diet Coke, she always sighs and gets that Worried Mom look on her face. Oh, the guilt. Mom, this is my only vice! Just let me have it already and stop worrying about it! I’m a former newspaper reporter! You’re just lucky that I don’t guzzle coffee, smoke and drink heavily too! (Okay, yes, I just maligned my whole former cadre of colleagues. I’m sorry. You’re not all a bunch of smokers and boozers. I love you. I do. Am I really all wrong, though?)
The third major challenge of working as a freelancer away from my usual spot is that I have to rely on my cell phone for calls. Unfortunately, the reception here in Natchez, Mississippi for Verizon calls can be a bit spotty, so that’s sometimes a risk. But the alternative is to provide people with my parents’ phone number. That might turn some people away though; they would call, expecting to get my voicemail and hear me saying “Hi, you’ve reached Jennifer Larson…” and instead get my dad’s very serious, almost stern “Thank you for calling [South Mississippi phone number ]. No one is here to take your call…” Neither is particularly great, but what else can I do? Typically, I give people my cell phone number, my email address and, in some cases, my parents’ number with the heads-up that it is my parents’ number and that I’m out of town at their home for a few days. We usually find a way to work it out, although it can necessitate some additional explaining on the front end. I have yet to have someone flat-out avoid talking to me (at least because of phone confusion), so I guess it’s okay.
Besides, it’s all temporary. Yes, I have to deal with the challenges of working away from home, but on the upside, I get to visit my parents. My son gets to visit his grandparents. Mom made William breakfast this morning so I could sleep past 6:30. And she made me a sandwich for lunch. So I’ll keep plugging away and get done what I can get done.
But I am definitely going out to buy more Diet Coke later.