It is a truth universally acknowledged that a freelance writer, embarking on her career, must be in want of health insurance.
–Jane Austen Danielle Venton
The first time someone tells you that marrying well is key to successful freelancing – by that read “marrying into health insurance” – it’s fairly easy to laugh. It lends a scent of the Victorian to the lifestyle, and accessorizes it with calling cards and afternoon tennis matches. The second time, it’s easy to crack a wry smile. Ah yes, I’ve heard this joke before. I began to worry it wasn’t a joke when I heard it a third time. And when, for the fourth time, a professor, mentor or seminar speaker said that one absolutely must take care to exchange rings only with the employed, insured and pensioned, there set in a mild panic.
Now, I have nothing against those with steady jobs and retirement plans. Nor am I prejudiced against those with healthy savings accounts. However, as alluring as the prospect of health insurance might be, it’s hardly inducement to hop in bed with someone. Therefore, I have been formulating a post-SciCom survival plan. I thought I might share, in case it is useful or in case you, reader, have suggestions of your own to offer.
A SCIENCE WRITER’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS
Let’s start with basics: food, clothing, shelter and entertainment. (A little distraction is, at least for me, also a requirement.) In terms of expense, housing trumps the list so nailing that down is most important. I could, I suppose, join a hippie commune or go back to being a live-in nanny, but I like the idea of having my own walls and roof. The most practical idea currently seems to be to build myself a Tumbleweed House. This company sells plans to tiny, yet complete, houses, or the pre-built houses themselves. At the moment my whimsy favors this model, The Harbinger. The very name inspires hope.
And where to put it? I hear you ask. My parents own about an acre of land on the outskirts of Petaluma. I’d like for them to think it would be a great idea if I tore down the old shop in the backyard, site of much camping equipment and fatherly tinkering paraphernalia. In its place I’d build a little picket-fence-enclosed home. Scuttlebutt is, if it is small enough, you don’t need the city permits that a full-fledged dwelling calls for (ironing all of that out is sure to be an odyssey). All I need is a self-composting toilet, some solar panels, maybe an electricity-generating stationary bike, a way to get on the internet and I’m set.
Food, of course, is also a primary consideration. The backyard already holds seven fruit trees and more can be planted. The family vegetable garden can also be expanded. We could once-again raise chickens for eggs and, coming from angler-hunter-gatherer stock as I do, there is always seafood and venison around. I do enjoy a meal out with friends, but I can accept I’ll need to eat out only on occasion. Home cooked meals always taste better anyway.
Saving on clothing is going to be less of a problem for me that it would be for, say, some of my Swiss or New Yorker friends. In this case, however, self-sufficiency is not the way forward for me. Once upon a time, I tried my hand at sewing. The ill-fated blouse was so supremely frustrating that, by the time I was done with the wretched thing, I had grown to loathe it. I don’t think I’ve ever worn that shade of orangey-peach ever again in my life, ever. Thrift and consignment stores will be in my future, as they have been in my past.
Now, I am extremely talented at getting into situations that are best survived by laughing at myself. The truth is, however, a little external entertainment is far easier on the nerves and less likely to cause injury. Fortunately my most of my pastimes are quite economical: reading, running, backpacking, going to Giants games with my brother. It would be far worse if my hobbies included, say, skiing, yachting, Swiss watches and heroin. (Full disclosure: I do actually own a Swiss watch and I’ve never done heroin.)
I’m happy to rely on the public library system for my books and movie rentals. Running is as cheap as free. With the exception of a decent three-season tent, I already own most of the needed backpacking equipment. Jeff and I always get the cheapest Giant’s tickets.
I do, I must say, enjoy seeing live music. My plan for working this into my impoverished future life is a two-pronged approach. For classical music: cheap seats! It only costs $10 to stand at the opera. Rush tickets at they symphony are $20 For modern music: catch on to the bands before they are famous, when the tickets are less. (I’m talking to you daytrotter.com.)
These plans for frugal living are only meant to be taken so seriously, obviously. But the idea of standing through four hours of Madam Butterfly is far easier to swallow than the idea of enduring a dating world where I have to include “financial security for two” along with my other requirements. It’s already a lot to ask that someone be tall, smart, funny, red-haired, a fan of MST3K and have a large and generous heart. I’m not interested in asking to see their stock portfolio as well.
SciCom is full of practical wisdom, to be sure. Some of us, though, might need to supplement our training with home vegetable gardening lessons and workshops on plumbing installation. All tips welcome.