Free Entrepreneur/Freelancer Resources Made Available Due To COVID-19

Working at home as a freelancer has always been a challenge for me and millions of others. Distractions abound, clients come and go almost willy-nilly, invoices are forgotten, and everything is tinged with uncertainty. It is something we chose for the other benefits: freedom of schedule, not having a boss, the ability to be at home close to family…

So now, with a very real pandemic on the world's hands and many more people working from home and trying to make connections than EVER BEFORE, many companies are stepping up to offer some of their premium services for free… for now.

I've compiled a list of the handful that are the most juicy for freelancers, especially in creative fields, or those of us who want to collaborate and communicate effectively. Let me know in the comments if you have found more. I am relieved and grateful to these corporations for doing the right thing and extending their resources when they can be of benefit to so many.

Just to get started, this is a HUGE list of artist-heavy resources, including ideas for how to book gigs online to how to get restitution if you are in the film industry, etc… https://covid19freelanceartistresource.wordpress.com/

And are you an educator or someone directly affected by a school closure? There's another (massive) list for y'all: http://www.amazingeducationalresources.com

Now to the individual links. I wish there were a lot more, but hopefully this will grow!

  1. Adobe Connect. This is intended to create virtual rooms for classes and seminars, web meetings and eLearning. You can get 90 days free by signing up for their trial before July 1st.
  2. Comcast/XFinity is offering free Xfinity WIFI hotspots all over the country, and also making their cheapest internet service free for a limited time.
  3. Charter/Spectrum (which serves a lot of folks who do not get Comcast…) is offering 3 months of free WiFi home internet service to anyone who has a K-12 or college student in the house. I know this isn't everyone, but it is a big help.
  4. T-Mobile is nuking their data limits on cellular plans for at least 2 months. Verizon and AT&T are NOT, but they are at least suspending fines and service terminations for non-payment.
  5. And…. hey feds… how about some sick leave? This one is still in development. There will possibly be a direct kickback to self-employed folks who are self-quarantining and can show a "typical" level of income. Unfortunately this means you do have to have typical income. If you are a brand new freelancer with minimal work thus far, no dice…

Okay, short but could get sweeter. Hit me up in the comments!

Dump Your Resolutions in 97 Days

It is September 25th. Wednesday. It will also be a Wednesday when the Gregorian calendar increments to 2020 ninety seven days from now.

97 days. Ninety-seven days. Chew on that for a bit.

The internets have already started churning out articles and "helpful" guides to get us all prepared to start on our New Year's resolutions when that fateful day comes. I don't even want to link to them because, frankly, that mindset is BULLSHIT.

Go look at that number above, again.

You could complete most of the resolutions you set for yourself every single year in 97 days. I am a fangirl of Benjamin Hardy, who writes the kind of stuff that makes freaked-out un-self-actualized folks like me stand up and start moving (or choke up, or both). He poses the question: "If you had 3 months to live, could you finish this year's goals in that time?" The answer, of course, is almost certainly YES. [Hopefully you have good goals—goals that you would be proud to complete just before death. Ouch, but hey, that's stoicism and the real way to embrace the ONE life you have. Sorry not sorry.]

A note on your annual resolutions: if the resolutions were projects that actually require a full year to accomplish (and those are rare, honestly), fine. Using your momentum starting today, you could have those goals done by September 24th of 2020 instead of the end of December when you're feeling cookiefat and hungover on too much time with Uncle Jerkface.

Your homework (and mine)? Make a big audacious resolution or two or three that you CAN complete or do for 90 days, and do them starting NOW. Then feel free to take a few days off while you ring in the New Year with none of the stress everyone else is feeling about "gotta improve! gotta set goals! omg!!!" while they drink plastic tumblers with crappy sparkling wine.

You got this.

The Heroine’s Journey

I’ve heard people say that you can read any number of books whether fiction or non or self-help, and they might be interesting but they won’t actually get you out of your rut until you are ready. This has been said about addictions, too-that you can quit 62 times or 3 times or 17 times but when you’re actually ready to be done, THAT will be the number that does the trick. If there was ever a reason to just keep trying, that’s evidence enough.

Last summer I was driving across Colorado from California, listening to a podcast interview with a fascinating woman named Steph. She’d been a monstrous skiier in the footsteps of her father and reinvented her life with a record-breaking year of travel and vertical descent, then wrote a book about her transformation. Not into a world-class athlete, but into a woman who had integrated her feminine and masculine sides into a whole and happy person. She was unhappy with her life before but had not hit any kind of rock bottom, and that hooked me. So many transformation stories seem to require that hard reset, that desperation borne out of hardship or trauma. Not Steph’s. She validated the “this isn’t good enough yet” life reboot.

By fall, I was also ready. 365 days ago I took a leap of confidence and joined Steph’s 3 month coaching program called the Great Big Journey. It promised nothing short of lifechangingness. That is, of course, if I put in the work and showed up and created and discovered what I needed for kicking myself out of ‘good’ into ‘amazeballs’ (my depiction, not hers).

Within a few weeks I was making connections between my history of authority-based relationships and my inability to choose something-anything-to steer my ship towards, whether work or love or location. Something had to change or I’d be in the same place at 54 as I was now at 44. And 34. During phone calls that alternated between frantic notetaking and impromptu crying, I found new meaning and some ways to find my goals.

But I still needed to act. Self reflection and self awareness are (a little too) fascinating on their own but they do nothing if I wasn’t going to actually DO something.

And do, I did. I rekindled old friendships that I couldn’t maintain before. I fell in love with one of them and had my heart spectacularly broken, and yet I reveled in it all. I became a poet, a bit of an extrovert, and a lover. In that same window of time I moved to Salt Lake City and those “little” changes set me down yet another new path of joy and connection.

Is everything perfect? Fuck no. Fear is managed, not extinguished. Love exhilarates and blinds at the same time. And work… well, work is still a perpetual mix of creativity, grinding away, and timing. I’m an amazing writer and my clients are out there to be found and cultivated.

But what has changed that still sticks with my enriched life? At least this:

  • Nearly overwhelming ability to feel my full range of emotions. Sounds boring or like a skill that everyone has, but it’s not. I didn’t let myself feel anything too deeply for 40 years. That’s a scary process of unlearning.
  • Less dependence on authority relationships, particularly with the men in my life. I have more than enough ability to make decisions and take actions with my own authority. And my relationships are closer to equal partnerships than ever before.
  • Many more friendships, and the deepening of all of them. Exactly one year ago I had one, possibly two friends that I would be able to call in a moment of crisis for understanding and an ear. Now I have a half-dozen, maybe closer to ten. That alone is a massive shift. It’s evident in my interactions with all my friends, this connection and commitment.
  • Despite the trepidation over work and finances and the ups and downs of feeling your feels and the risks of love and loss, I am HAPPY.

Introvert Toolkit: Just Call, Already.

The 1980s had dozens of television commercials about the benefits of phone calls. They could save you a trip to a closed business, start a pep talk with a family member, or get caught up with a friend. Some were from the yellow pages companies, some were from the local phone companies. Most featured tag or jingle lines like, “phone first!” or “reach out and touch someone” or “just call”. Even now with the ubiquity of smartphones, you can still save time calling ahead. Even with Yelp and Google and the businesses’ own website . . . the hours still could be wrong. But it’s more than that; it’s not just the avoidance of wasted time.

Introverts hate picking up the phone. Often, it’s a hate with fiery and sweaty-palmed passion. Same thing for the shy, the awkward, and those on the autism spectrum. This means about 30% of the population would rather risk being wrong or missing a crucial piece of communication than making a phone call.

But here’s the thing. Introverts also dislike spending more time than needed on interactions with people. If I do not call that auto repair place because they are open for another hour on their Google listing and when I arrive they are about to close, I now have to interact with THEM, as well as the next place on the list.

This does not just apply to business hours. This is even more important in business RELATIONSHIPS. At work, the difference between picking up the phone and writing an email is so night and day that extroverts laugh at our silliness and reluctance to talk to a human.

And after decades in the workforce, it is still hard to remember that one 10-minute phone call can prevent hours and dozens of emails. Not to mention you now have a “face” to that other person and they are far more likely to work with you in the future. Why is that? Because most of the time the person that I (and you) need to call is an extrovert. They wouldn’t be in that sales or marketing position if they were not. So they LOVE phone calls. They EXPECT phone calls. For them, that’s all well and good.

For us, they’re a necessary hurdle in our quest for efficacy in life. See it this way: the more times you pick up the phone, the less time needed for carefully worded interactions in the future. And possibly less time needed for interactions AT ALL with that person in the future. So for an introvert, that’s a win.

So here’s the big, magical toolkit/tip/hack: MAKE THE CALL.

This tip was written with business in mind, but it applies 110% to personal relationships as well. THAT might be another post for another time.

Call Me By My Name(s)

I’m at the rear counter of a curio shop, ordering a mocha latte for my aunt Dolores. The owner, a woman in her 70s, is describing the size options to me in a not-abundantly-clear fashion. The small sounds rather small but is not terribly expensive though a number is not given. The large is $15 for newcomers, less for repeat customers. And two are, of course, $30. Because I am who I am even in my dreams, I order one small and wait for the cup.

My aunt and other traveling companions, who may or may not include my mom and other family members, are outside, admiring the small town views of rural highways and endless land. Before I went inside, we were remarking on how each house had two addresses plainly written on their exteriors or mailboxes. It kind of looked like this, for each and every house we spied while walking around town:

house with two addresses

A house, with divided addresses, cannot . . . exist?

This was a curious practice; I suspected part of the reason my aunt pressed some money into my hand and told me to go fetch her a latte was so that I could ask the locals in the shop what was up with the house addresses.

Through eavesdropping and some small inquiries, I had an answer. Turns out that there is a nearby town, larger, used for shopping trips and the like by the residents of the small town. The larger town has essentially consumed and absorbed the residential contents of the small town, though the small town seems to be suspicious of this. The two addresses reflect the locals’ shifting realities and inability to accept the larger city’s grand plan. One address is their official location relative to the larger town. The other is the small town address, from which no local can bear to part ways. Hearing this explanation made some sense to me, and I prepared to relay it to my travel partners. Just as soon as I received my potentially-expensive mocha latte, that is.

But before I could see the looks on their faces upon hearing the explanation, I woke up, wondering what was going to happen next. In reality, what happened was I took down some notes about this dream. And then I began musing on this dual-address state, not just of residence but of mind.

How often do we find ourselves with two “locations” in life? We are both children of our parents and adults (or even parents ourselves). We can be both an independent person and a spouse (with or without a new legal name). We can exist as a lover to a stranger and a stranger to our families. And often, for those who overthink our lives, we can exist as a fully realized adult human with accomplishments seen by our acquaintances and friends and yet feel like child who needs to get on with adulting to ourselves.

While our many statuses can act in concert to balance out our life goals or current choices, they can also act in opposition, causing suffering that is unnecessary. We contain multitudes, indeed. Each of these possibly dueling states has a “location” within our minds—and in the minds of those who surround us. Unlike those houses of my dream, we rarely wear both of our addresses at once. One is outside (the parent, the functioning adult, the artist) and one is inside (the dreamer, the child, the wanderer).

To boldly show both of our faces at the same time, both of our “addresses”, to the public at large is a rare act of vulnerability. It can make folks uncomfortable to see the duality freely acknowledged. Like when you see a politician cry during a speech. Or you see a woman breastfeeding in a business suit. Luckily, we live in an era that is starting to accept our many facets. That’s progress. Those examples I gave above might still raise an eyebrow, but they would have been unheard of—scandalous—a few decades ago.

What are your locations? Are they in neighboring towns, or are they antipodes so far apart there’s oceans and earth to keep them separated?

P.S. The original intent for this thread was to dig deeper and explore the history of name-changing for marriage and the cultural implications thereof, but it went in another direction, as thoughts often do. Perhaps I will explore the spousal tradition inquiry in a future post.

Recovering From Blog Loss in Two Easy Steps

silverton-pano-pre-dawn-winter-md

  1. Accept.
  2. Create.

I let life get in the way of taking care of administrative tasks like renewing my domain host, and consequently lost 2 years’ worth of data. 240 blog posts in total, and their photos. Stuff about ultrarunning, philosophy, writing, and food. The things I love.

Now why would I lose those in this age of file storage and such? Surely I made backups. Well yes, I did. I’m not that out of touch. Thing is, I backed them up to the hosts’ servers. When my account was deleted, no more files. I only have an xml download of the posts’ metadata. No images, no content. Just tags and categories and titles. Even archive.org hadn’t trolled the site due to my robots.txt setting. Wow.

Having the titles is sadder than losing everything, because I can now see what was lost. I can remember the posts and think, yeah that was a good one. I didn’t write often so when I did write it was usually long and thought out.

So what’s the answer to all of this? Nothing, really. I’m already a fairly good Stoic so this is not difficult to accept, or at least to know that I will accept it quite soon. I’ve lost data before. It’s data. It’s 1s and 0s and words that ultimately was a personal blog read by almost no one.

That’s OK.

I’m the same person with the same capacity to create. And I will.

The Oatmeal Generation of Runners is Coming

I am your new running overlord. Lo, my face is tidy and my physique is admirably skinny. Let us run!

I am your new running overlord. Lo, my face is tidy and my physique is admirably skinny.

… and it’s both terrible and wonderful.

Can I be harsh here? Of course I can; it’s my fucking blog.

I recently saw a mention of the possibility of an Oatmeal Generation of runners in the works. This is really interesting, especially given that the bulk of Oatmeal readers are in their early 20s and might not have a history with exercise. If a good portion of them take up running, we could have quite the bump in running participation. It has happened before…

Previous Running Spikes

Running has been through quite a few little boomlets in the past 40 years, either competitive or participatory in their orientation. Some have stuck around for decades, while others peaked and then fell due to catastrophe or just general trends in the larger society. Like the 1970s which culminated in the Jim Fixx apex (and sort of backlash after his death) and the 1980s and 90s Jeff Galloway devotees, and the post-1995 Oprah legion of marathon completers, and recently the Born to Run crowd. The most recent crowd is a harbinger of the Oatmeal Oodles, with a return to running as a natural human activity that brings joy and peace completely independent of competition and even racing. many-runners-running

Go Running, Rah Rah U S A!

The economic impact of running cannot be ignored. It has a noticeably good effect on the overall economy, in that it drives a shit ton of purchases. Just ONE race, a popular 12K event with 50,000 participants, drives an estimated 10 million dollars into the local economy. RunningUSA compiles great statistics about runners in the country, and as of 2012, there were 487,000 finishers of marathons (a slight decrease) and 6.2 MILLION finishers of 5Ks (a 17% increase just over the year before). That’s a heck of a lot. That is a heck of a lot of business for companies like:

  • running shoes
  • running books
  • magazines about running
  • social and training groups
  • technical apparel
  • energy bars
  • race-time foods like gels
  • electrolyte drinks
  • hydration hardware
  • sunglasses
  • hats, gloves, arm sleeves
  • compression socks

Also, to add to that rather significant contribution to the economy, consider that someone who might not even go out to eat that much is likely to want to splurge on a big honkin’ pizza after that long weekend training run, or a few beers, or some oversized bowl of pasta. The running boom just keeps giving and giving to corporations’ bottom lines, with very little overall effect on health outcomes.

Why Are the Oatmeal Oodles Wonderful?

Basically, a new crop of runners could be a good thing because The Oatmeal’s ‘brand’ of running is that of personal exploration, not of competition or acquisition of race medals, despite the economic junk I just threw at you. The good about running? Honestly, running, once you have at least a little bit of fitness, is quite fun. Research backs this up – you create happy chemicals when doing a run that don’t often get the chance to appear in the course of taking, say, a daily walk. Matthew Inman, aka The Oatmeal, is a Born to Run kind of runner. He does it to challenge himself and does race occasionally, but it seems that his joy from running is the foundation from which all other ancillary activities grow. His comic, inspired by the novelist Haruki Murakami’s memoir about  running life called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, is called The Terrible & Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. And now, since I began to write this post months ago, there’s an Oatmeal sanctioned/created/endorsed race. A real bona fide honest-to-gawd race. In the spirit of the blobby character who is every runner’s nemesis, it is called “Beat the Blerch“. Now, if Inman had wanted his legion of fans to really emulate him, he’d have started a 50 mile ultramarathon, the kind that he wrote about in an earlier comic. But it’s actually great that this race starts with a 10K. It is a good chunk of miles to bite off, and actually not as painful to race as the more popular 5K distance. There is also a half and full marathon distance for those who want to be out eating cake for much longer (oh yes, the races will have cake). The Oatmeal’s legion of fans is so, well, legion, that the race registration site crashed and entries were sold out in a matter of minutes. No surprise there.

Here’s the Terrible (Maybe)

Running, per se, isn’t the best way to get in shape or lose weight. (This is the topic for another upcoming post.) If these new participants are doing it just for the joy, then, OK, no argument here. But if they associate it with getting skinny and eating all the shit that they want, they’re dead wrong. Sorry, but it’s true. (But hey, at least it won’t ruin your knees. Can we finally put that misnomer to bed?) With all the talk earlier about how awesome this sport is for the economy, it might have a slightly negative effect on individual runner’s pocketbooks. First, because someone has to MAKE all of those purchases, but also there are doctor’s visits from injuries and sick time from work if one gets overtrained or REALLY injured.

No gear, no fear.

And all of those economic perks are a sign of our tendency to overcomplexify everything we do. You don’t need all of that shit. You probably need some shoes and clothes that won’t rub raw spots on your skin when you’re out and about. That’s all runners had generations ago, and they still made those happy chemicals just fine. Getting overly concerned about having all the right gear isn’t unique to running, of course, but it certainly can add stress to something that really should just be plain fun.

A Takeaway, Of Sorts

I embrace any interest in physical activity. I reject the notion that it requires more than a few dozen dollars’ worth of expenditure. I think between those two ideas, we can have a lot of young and excited runners to come in the next decade. Let’s not “Americanize” the very act of running with stuff and stuff and stuff, and we should be just fine.

Why My Health Plan Was Killed by Obamacare

When I got the envelope in the mail from my private health insurance company, I didn’t think much of it. They send me various stuffed envelopes all the time, usually containing something I just need to file or toss out.

This one, however, was different, beginning with the ominous statement, “your policy will end on December 31, 2013.”

Celtic cancels me

Whoa.

So, I became one of those folks in the group represented by outraged reporters talking about how Obama said, “you can keep your policy if you like it.” and then went back on his exact words. I “liked” my policy, in that it was relatively cheap and gave me catastrophic coverage in the event that I have something happen that could otherwise bankrupt me. I’d be out my huge deductible ($6K) and then not a penny more.

But that sounds like it might never have actually happened: people with plans like mine have had a long history of getting dropped by their company the second it appeared your account might start requiring lots of payouts. Generally the (legal) reason cited is that you withheld information on your original insurance application. Say, your claim involves checking out and biopsy of moles on your skin – the company could say that you didn’t note that you have lots of moles. Or, you are getting treatment for back pain issues but never mentioned in your application that you’ve ever felt a bit of back pain in your life. That’s an undeclared pre-existing condition, and therefore eligible for policy exclusion.

And it gets worse – the internetz are full of these kinds of reports from consumers:

There was no law against this. So if that catastrophe happened, the insurance company could have (and might very likely have) paid out some hospital days or one inital ambulance ride, then called the whole rest of it a separate case (due to that pesky pre-existing or bad application stuff above) and dropped me like a hot potato. No recourse, only bankruptcy. Or a legal battle that you as the patient MIGHT win, but might not.

Then, there is my friend on the East Coast, paying for private insurance that costs far too much and hoping against hope that this whole Obamacare thing that is coming might actually benefit her and her partner. But she is very wary:

I’m afraid to be excited about this

– my friend (self-employed), regarding Obamacare’s having a) much lower costs & b) better coverage than their current plan.
She was rightfully paranoid for a long time, unable to process the very real possibility that her health care situation could, all of a sudden, get WAY better. She and her partner were paying nearly $750 a month for truly shitty coverage while needing periodic care and prescriptions.

A summary of our befores and afters:

  • ME, Before: $120 per month with almost certain droppage after a major event. ME, After: $190 per month with far better basic coverage and no chance to be dropped.
  • Her, before: $729 per month for “insurance” that did almost nothing she needed. Prescriptions were mostly out of pocket because the deductible was too high. Her, after: $341/mo with much lower deductible on prescription coverage. Her out of pocket per year goes from ~$8700 to ~$4100, and that’s just premiums. Nice deal.

And that’s how it works. It has to work that way. I am one of those gravy insureds: I am healthy. I’ll withdraw a few hundred bucks per year or less of my annual premiums in benefits. I am the person who helps to subsidize my friend on the East Coast. I am critical in the system as is everyone like me.

A special thank you to Julie today!

Preventative Care in Three Parts

Real food.

Preventative care: what is it? If I may be so bold, this is it:

  1. sleep hygiene *(see below for more details)
  2. walking around a lot, some of it outside
  3. eat “ingredients”, not manufactured food products

In other words . . . IT DOESN’T COST MONEY. On this list there is not a single supplement or class or equipment to purchase. There are no prescriptions, no chiropractors, no weight loss gurus.

Many systems that thrive in our modern society are those that make money. And those that make money, often spend money on ways to make more money. Diet research and food palatability studies are full of money from both weight loss companies as well as food manufacturers. Vitamins must have paid research to back up their effectiveness (which, incidentally, is somewhere between “negative” and “zero”).

But getting out in the sun, going to bed at a reasonable hour *(between sunset and midnight, without looking at artificial light or glowing screens for at least an hour prior, not using sleeping pills or alcohol, sleeping in a dark room, and rising naturally), and eating things that can be (recently) harvested or killed – ALL of it is kind of simple and doesn’t cost money aside from buying the food ingredients.

Progressive lets you put a dohickey in your car to prove that you don’t drive too fast or brake hard and therefore deserve cheaper insurance. Why couldn’t health insurance companies do the same, strapping Fitbit Force or Withings Pulse or Nike Fuelband on the willing so see how much they get around in a day and how much they sleep? Perhaps someone is already on this. They should be.