When Everything Sounds Brilliant And You Can’t Say No

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Week Two of being a freelance writer, events programmer, arts facilitator, general Jack-of-all-trades and I am already feeling a little overwhelmed. How, I keep asking myself, can I have cut 38 hours a week of desk job out of the equation and actually find myself busier than ever? I am not lying in my pit ’til midday. I am not watching endless episodes of Loose Women/Jeremy Kyle/Columbo and lying around the living room in my dressing gown, (I do not have a TV and there is no heat in the house ’til the gas man comes, so this isn’t even an option). I am not out living it up in the Park Avenue of an evening and yet I seem to be arising around 8 and getting to bed around 1 and working pretty much every hour God sends in between. And I am not achieving anything of substance.

I have written approximately 300 creative words. (200 if you count the 100 I copied and pasted from another story that “wasn’t working” in a different but similar way to how this particular story, “isn’t working”).

I have read less than I normally manage to read during my daily half hour of reading whilst shovelling caesar salad into me and trying to ignore everyone else in the staff canteen. (Nb in my defence I am trying to read Eimear McBride, Iris Murdoch and a pretty intense psychology book all at the same time so I may cut myself some slack on this front)

I am actually behind on my Holby watching.

I have not yet managed to alphabeticize all my books despite the fact that all two thousand of them have finally made the journey from my parents’ attic, up the M2, to East Belfast.

I feel as if my time is disappearing into some imperceivable black hole. Like I am not moving forwards, only circling round and round the large pile of cardboard boxes in the middle of my living room floor. Like I am already failing at being a successful freelance person. Is this a normal state to be in during my first month of self-employment? I thought I’d be much more efficient than this. I had business cards printed and everything.

I had a bit of a spiral at the Arts and Ageing Conference on Wednesday. It was a great conference. There were fantastic projects showcased and inspiring people every direction you looked, (plus the added bonus of Pat and Doreen from Tyneside with three live chickens in a cage), but I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything. Every time I looked at my phone there were 3 more emails from people asking me do to things. All great things. Things I’d really like to do. And mostly for actual money. But, it still kind of felt like being caught under an avalanche that just kept coming and coming. I ended up skipping the last two sessions to talk, for an embarrassingly long time, to the poor man making the conference video. I’d never met this man before. He will probably be hoping he never bumps into me again for fear of being trapped behind a buffet table having to listen while I freak out about my inability to say no to any job in case I never got offered another job again, and my consequent fear of taking on so many jobs I will never again have a weekend off, or time to write a book, or even unpack all the books currently sitting in cardboard boxes in my living room. Poor man. The Arts Council does not pay him enough to spend his day filming vox pops and then, just when he thinks he’s wrapped up earlyish, have to deal with a crazed freelancer who doesn’t know what she is doing. (I will say he had very wise advice, as did Eimear McBride, last night in the pub. Just throwing that in there so it looks like I have celebrity life coaches circling round the edges of my life).

Upshot is I have realised two things need to change if I am going to survive to see the end of Freelance Life Week Three.

One: I will have to learn to say no a lot more. I will probably even have to say no to things that sound really interesting, and things where people might think I am not a nice and kindly person if I refuse to take their particularly project on, or even things where I could make lots of money. If I do not learn to say no I will never write any more books. I will never stop feeling like the Duracel bunny when its batteries are just about to run out and it has started going really slow, and I will never get to spend time with the people I love.

Two: I need to work out what it is I want to do. I am currently pursuing two careers simultaneously, (I’ll put the career where I become Northern Ireland’s leading expert on BBC medical dramas on the back burner for the time being). I’m starting to realise that I cannot throw all my energy into writing AND throw all my energy into doing incredibly fun and life-giving arts projects with older people. I could, if there were two of me, or even one real version of me, and a reasonably good replica robot. But there aren’t. So, I need to pick which thing to go Hell for leather at and which thing to continue doing where and when I can. This is super hard. Both things are my favourite. Both leave me buzzing with a sense of this is what I was put on the planet to do. Sometimes they cross over and this is the absolute best. Mostly they run parallel. I think I need to make a decision about which foot to lead with. It’s kind of like when Kylie Minogue was still in Neighbours and doing a wee bit of singing on the side and sort of thinking, “should I be a world-famous actor or a world famous-singer?”

I think I have to write but hopefully there will be lots of moments where I get to co-star in the old people crossed with magic realism equivalent of Moulin Rouge and dip a toe in both worlds at the same time.

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2 thoughts on “When Everything Sounds Brilliant And You Can’t Say No

  1. Keep calm and carry on! But I am slightly amazed that your final sentence suggests you have not only overcome your aversion to musicals, you have now added to your overflowing list of talents, abilities, ambitions and things generally taking up about 48 hours of every potential day, ‘starring in a musical’!

  2. It’s still early days and I’m sure a balance will come. As someone you’ve kindly said yes to for work, I say go with your gut and say no if you have to. Onwards.

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