Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Clams Have Nothing on Me

by Zinta Aistars

Enjoying a moment at Z Acres
I am as happy as a clam, yes, that happy, and probably, when shells are all busted open, my pearl shines even brighter.

Even Mondays are shiny, and that's a first. No alarm going off, jangling my senses awake; just me, done with sleep, gently rolling out of bed and into the day. That alone can make the freelance lifestyle worthwhile.

Busy, busy, however, is still the rule of the day. I haven't been doing this long enough to tell if it will hit a higher mark than how crowded my schedule was before, but the balance right now is neck and neck.

Yet it wasn't a busy schedule that I was out to conquer when I made the decision to go full-time freelance. I am not out to avoid work (except maybe first thing on Mondays). I haven't got enough stashed away in retirement plans to assure easy golden days. I expect I will be working as long as my fingers can hit the keypad with more or less accurate aim, and my mind can still string a sentence together with some semblence of meaning.

See, I love my work. I love to write. I never played around with thoughts of other careers. Being of Latvian ethnicity, my parents new immigrants to the United States, refugees of WWII, Latvian was my first language and the only language spoken in our home. It's an old and phonetic language; learn the sound of a letter once and, by golly, it stays that way forever. (You don't want to ask my mama about thought, through, tough, though, thou, threw.) What that meant was that I was reading with ease by age 3. In Latvian, of course. Book after book, sitting on the floor with my little legs crossed Indian-style, and pouring over those Latvian folk tales with absolute relish.

Writing came next. I watched my mama writing letters to friends at her desk, and the process baffled me a bit even as it intrigued me. All that scribbling, then folding up the white pages neatly, stuffing them into an envelope, some scribbles on that, too, lick a stamp, and off it went. In a while, a similar one came back, and I saw her read it with absolute relish.

Magic, wasn't it?

I still think it is. (We can discuss my penchant to write texts on my cell phone in full sentences, without abbreviations or LOLs or BRBs, in another blog.) Long before I had any idea what I was doing, I was crawling up on that big chair at mama's desk, sneaking into her paper pad, and tracing pretty, flowing lines across the page, line after line after line. I wanted to create magic, too.

Sisters with their daddy at home, where Latvian was our language
Language gained even more meaning when I started to attend public school. I realized that my big sister and I, lo and behold, were the only ones speaking in Latvian. What's with those kids? But the masses rule, I had to learn English, I had to master thought, through, tough, though, thou and threw. I walked home from school with my sister and recited all the words I had learned that day. More times than not, I was learning those words from the written page. That meant I was mispronouncing just about everything (still do, on occasion), reading phonetically, just how I had learned to read in Latvian, and so my wise and experienced sister, master of the second language already, corrected me.

What I learned is that languages are not exact replicas of each other. There were things I learned to say and write in English that could not be translated, not exactly, in Latvian. There were concepts I could put into Latvian words that, try as I might, I could not explain in English. To this day, I am still seeking an accurate translation for the Latvian word "smeldze." No such thing in English, not without using several sentences of explanation, and so what did that mean about the differences in the two cultures? Do people see and feel and perceive and absorb life experienes differently? Perhaps they do. And they may circle a problem differently, too, and solve it from an entirely different angle and approach.


And a little sad, too, as I soon realized, mastering only these two languages and knowing just a smathering of another one or two, that entire worlds remain closed to me. Language, I understood, was a powerful tool, like no other. Language IS magic. It opens doors, and windows, and secret tunnels underground. It connects, and it takes us on journeys into places where we would never otherwise be able to go. All the more reason to keep as many languages alive as possible; they contain entire worlds, each one unique.

To be a writer was to be a magician. Language is my magic wand. I can produce a bouquet of blood red roses out of thin air, with the appropriate flourish, describe the petals and the droplet of water on the edges, and the prickly thorns, and the long thin stem, until my reader gasps at the pain of the prick and draws in the sweet perfume of the rose's scent at once. Oh, that's power. The power to convey one person's experience into the being of another, far removed.

What could be better? Why would I ever want to stop doing magic? I don't. I only wanted to explore my magic to where it would lead me, take those long and twisting secret tunnels, to emerge into other fantasy kingdoms. Follow my bliss, Joseph Campbell would say.

I am following. Without the alarm clock, because the pull is already inside of me. I am giving myself over to it entirely.

This week, among my various writerly accomplishments and deadlines met, I also filed the paperwork to became not just Z Word, but Z Word, LLC. That means limited liability company, and that means my magic wand won't come back to zap me, but more, it means I have given my bliss-following an official stamp. The business cards are printed, the website is up, the work is rolling in.

An accountant on Monday gave me many valuable lessons. I need to become a master recordkeeper. I need at very least a detailed spreadsheet to record income and expenses, all those fun little items that can add up to tax deductions, all the mileage I put on my car to travel from interview to interview, from pickup point to delivery. I will need to pay my taxes (and Social Security, and Medicare) in quarterly payments rather than once on April 15, like everyone else does. There's a business to this business, and it's not just about writing.

I'm also learning quickly that, gee, it would be nice to have an assistant ... just to keep my schedule. A good part of my day is just about getting all the puzzle pieces to fit smartly on my calendar. Since I live on a farm quite some distance out of anything like a town, let alone a city, I have to plan my trips so that they make sense. Combine this with that, follow that up with this, get it all done before heading back to Z Acres to do the actual writing. It gets tricky.

If one of the differences in my new lifestyle is that I don't wake to an alarm clock, I don't necessarily step away from my desk at 5 o'clock sharp, either. Nor do I take a weekend like most others do. I may trade a Thursday for a Saturday, for instance, my day off in the middle of the week rather than at the end of it. I rather like that flexibility.

I take my lunch at pondside. Bowl of yogurt in hand, I head out to my favorite seat by the pond, settle in, dog at my feet, and read a book for a while in preparation for an upcoming author interview to air on the local NPR affiliate.

Recording an author interview at WMUK 102.1 FM
It's all turned around, and upside down, and inside out, and new. It's a different way to live. But when another phone call comes in, someone referred to me by a friend with whom I've worked on another job, and I have another assignment on my calendar ... I know I am where I belong, doing what I am meant to do, and doing it the way that I want to do it. I am following my bliss. I am waving my wand and the magic is all around me.

When the work day is done, I am having stuffed green peppers for dinner. The clams may live another day. They deserve to be happy, too.

Green peppers from the Z Acres garden

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