So this new job of mine officially became A JOB this month, and by all caps, I mean I went on payroll in November. Big stuff around here considering I haven’t been on payroll anywhere in 11 years. And the thing that clinched it? Health insurance.
Obamacare hasn’t worked out well for families like ours – middle class, freelancers, a family of four in NYC. When ACA rolled out this time last year, I largely ignored it because I quickly realized that the health insurance that I had through Freelancers Union, a plan that I had switched over to 4 years ago to save on skyrocketing premiums, was still a better deal than the plans that were on available on the health exchange. Our insurance was far from the best (high deductibles and a frightening out-of-pocket max), but it worked for our healthy family and our premiums were relatively low (“relative” being the key word here since most would still balk at the number). What I didn’t know, however, was that Freelancers Union negotiated a year extension to keep their plans while most of the other trade plans that existed were eliminated because they didn’t comply with ACA. I was blissfully unaware.
During the summer, however, I somehow caught on to the fact that our insurance would end this year and that we’d have to purchase a new plan through the marketplace. So I went and searched around and quickly became despondent at what I was facing; the plans weren’t affordable at all. A letter from our insurance company in October confirmed my fears: an end to our plan and a significant increase in premiums for worse coverage.
I always made a deal with myself that if freelance no longer worked for our family I would go get a job, but a freelance career did end up being the best option for us while the kids were little because we were able to save on nanny/daycare costs while juggling flexible schedules and tag teaming on childcare. If you’ve been reading here for the past 6 years, you know all this. It wasn’t always easy and I feel like we paved our own way in somewhat uncharted waters back then, but it was the best of both worlds in a lot of ways.
But getting back to the deal I made with myself…well, I never really had to make that decision because freelancing went great for so many years – 11 years, in fact. Sure, there were dry spells like every freelancer experiences and it was in these moments of sheer panic that I’d promise to look for a full time job if I couldn’t support the family anymore, but work always managed to come down the pipeline.
The truth is, I was also afraid of looking for a full time job. It was a terrifying thought in a lot of ways. How would I adjust to commuting and working in an office everyday? I LOVED working from home and was lucky as a freelancer to never have to work onsite. The flexibility and freedom meant everything and I fought so hard to build and protect it. Whenever I turned a job offer down in the past – even jobs that I would have considered “dream jobs” – freedom over my time would always win out. I couldn’t justify the huge change in lifestyle, not even for a steady paycheck and benefits.
But sometimes you have to see the writing on the wall and I recognized for the past few years that the industry that I was working in was changing. Technology, media, design – it all moves so fast. We’d be foolish to think that the jobs that we could rely on will always be there. While I did have one of the best years as a consultant this past year, the work that I was doing was shifting – less web and more print. The big web projects that used to be my bread and butter projects were less frequent and harder to come by. Parallel to all this is my complicated relationship with design. I think one of the hardest and truest things you can do in life is to recognize and acknowledge when something has run its course. Maybe that’s leaving on your own terms when you’re still on top. Maybe it’s about letting go when it’s time. Whatever it is, it’s not easy acknowledging when something is over.
So it’s true that The Job sort of just happened. I didn’t decide to look for a full time job, there wasn’t a formal interview and this all came down during one of the most difficult times in my life. But sometimes things just fall into place, you know? And then it all started happening really fast, and I found myself helping to set up health insurance for the company and deciding on a job title for myself. And this is why it feels right. I’m helping to build a company and a product from the ground up and it’s going to be wild ride. I’ll admit that I had a moment of panic when I signed papers the other week. It sort of felt like I was signing my freedom away (though part of the deal is I get to keep some flexibility and only go into the office 3 days a week so I can still run our business and work on some freelance on the side. Look, if you want something you have to ask). When I made a little announcement on Instagram about this new venture, it all felt too real. But I’m ready to step into this new role and I realized that the promise that I always made to myself about finding a job if I couldn’t support my family any longer as a freelancer was only half true. I’m not only doing this for them or the health insurance or a steady paycheck; I’m doing this for me.
Posted by Jenna | 21 Comments
These transitional season months always go by the quickest, don’t they? We’re so busy cramming in all the seasonal activities that every weekend is always accounted for. And why do we feel so compelled to pack every weekend with stuff? Because October is the month to rival all months for events here in the city. I suppose it’s the last month where the weather is truly comfortable for any considerable time spent outdoors. We nearly ran ourselves silly last Saturday trekking through all the touristy spots. Let’s check them off shall we? So we started off in the Meatpacking District, followed by Chelsea Market, the High Line, Times Square and Bryant Park. The only spot missing in this crazy town list is Rockefeller Center, but it wasn’t all our doing. We had to drop one kid off at a birthday party in Times Square, and because we didn’t want the other kid to feel so left out, we took her anywhere she wanted to go and that ended up being the Japanese bookstore across from Bryant Park.
So Bryant Park has this open air holiday market which they’ve had for years, but one year it got something of a makeover and it rebranded itself (heavily sponsored, of course) as “Winter Village“, complete with a two story, glass encased restaurant that they build up and tear down every year, over a hundred outdoor shops and, of course, the ice skating rink. I thought the opening date of November 1st last year was really pushing it; I was therefore surprised…no, stunned really, that it was already open when we were in the neighborhood last weekend. Winter Village. In October. In the FALL. I know – why don’t we skip Fall altogether and jump right into Christmas after Labor Day? Who needs Fall?? I love imagining the suits who decide such things gathered in a conference room, debating on opening dates. “Can we get away with opening Winter Village in the middle of October? Will the people riot?” $$$$$
Today is November 1st. It’s cold and rainy and quiet, and such a different scene outside from last night’s Halloween festivities. Our Brooklyn neighborhood has become somewhat of a destination neighborhood for Halloween because of all the decorations, plentiful candy flowing from those brownstones, the party atmosphere and the Halloween Parade (I haven’t been to the Village Parade in Manhattan in years). All that’s gone now and I imagine lots of families are spending this rainy November 1st like us – indoors in pajamas, nibbling all day on food, kids reorganizing and negotiating candy trades, and playing games.
Not a thought in sight about the holidays at this house. As it should be.
Posted by Jenna | 2 Comments
What is it they say, about living life to its fullest? The happy moments alongside the tragic, the stress alongside those moments of contentment? Anger, frustration, elation, victory, anxiety. Well, if that’s true, then this has been a very full year. I suppose I believe, more or less, in that theory that life doesn’t hurl things at you that you can’t handle. All that stuff about life lessons learned and getting stronger…after awhile it’s just noise. Most times you put one foot in front of the other because what other choice do you have? Keep up or drown and somewhere in between, hope that you’re making a difference in somebody’s life.
It hasn’t been easy writing posts lately. I used to bang out a blog post every night (who was that person?). Now it takes days to finish ones I’ve started. Putting down words is harder. There’s less I want to say, and there are some things I need to keep closer to my heart for now (more of life’s little blindsiding surprises). The road ahead of me isn’t going to be easy, but that’s my mistake for thinking there might be some kind of closure. There will be hard times, but lots of good ones too. In all of this, I’m actually thankful I can feel. Because when you stop taking in all these complex emotions and start feeling nothing, that’s when you should be worried. So the fact that I can stop and marvel at the colorful leaves, admire a flower on somebody’s desk, crave a certain food, or laugh at something the kids have said, is an encouraging sign that I haven’t given up. Far from it.
Posted by Jenna | 16 Comments
I’ve been asked why I don’t delete offensive comments – and I do publish them all unless it attacks another blog reader. Let me explain. This is my blog, yes, but I don’t really believe that it’s “my little corner of the internet”. I do believe that everyone is entitled to express their opinions because even though this is my blog, it’s published in a public space. Aside from the sometimes polarizing opinions around online censorship, I leave comments alone, no matter how harsh or personally offensive, as a reminder of this.
I think sometimes we might get a little too insulated in our own little blog bubbles. There may be this false sense of security leftover from the early blogging days back when our audiences were smaller (well, this blog has gone back to being small) and it really was a community of bloggers and readers who were just trying to figure out what blogging was about. The internet in the late 90s and early 2000s is vastly different than the internet today. There wasn’t as much noise or opinions or conversations. There was just less of everything. Blogging back then really did feel like a journal that you shared with anybody who happened to stumble across it, and even though there weren’t as many ways to promote your site, people did find you because they were seeking communities with the same interests; those communities were just only forming. At least that’s how it worked when I ran my Asian-American webzine and a few years later started a product design blog for new parents, both of which were one of the first sites to exist in their respective online spaces. I’ve certainly learned a lot from running public webzines and blogs for the past 14 years and I’ve made a few mistakes, but there are no regrets. How can there be? When you go into uncharted waters it all feels like an experiment. It’s really only in hindsight that you can draw conclusions on what you could have done differently because there was no precedent to learn from at the time.
We’re also the first (or maybe 1.5) generation of parents who are raising kids in the age of social media. The way in which we conduct ourselves online is essentially our road map to teaching our kids about being smart in their own online identities and interactions. I’d rather be the one stumbling my way around social media networks and learning from mistakes than my kids for now, though I recognize that I won’t be able to keep up with all the new and yet to be developed networks and platforms that are cropping up every day. But this groundwork informs what we teach them about using social media responsibly regardless of whatever app is popular.
The girls don’t have social media accounts yet, but I know that’s inevitable. It’s encouraging that our public school is starting to include internet safety in their 5th grade curriculum and I can only imagine that this will become the norm if it isn’t already. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen too many times, it can really be a matter of life and death. The gravity of that statement is overwhelming, but this is our reality.
I would hope, though I realize it’s probably too idealistic, that people would exercise basic courtesy, restraint and sensitivity in their responses and comments on any public website, but if you have ever read a comment thread on CNN (though interestingly enough they disabled comments to most of their stories), then you know that doesn’t always happen. I was dismayed to learn that my mom read a recent comment that was particularly judgmental, but we talked about it and it served as a jumping point to other related issues that we then discussed. The internet isn’t always the safe haven that we’d like to imagine it to be and these are just periodic reminders of that reality. But there’s always something to be learned, I think. I’ve certainly taken a deeper look at myself whenever I’ve been called out in comments, and I’ve grown a bit more careful about the things that I’m now willing to share. These are good things. Besides, I’ve never been one to craft a certain image or lifestyle on my blog. It therefore seems wrong to me, no matter how flawed that thinking might be, to prune and censor blog comments to read a certain way. So those blog comments that I sometimes wish I hadn’t read? It’s just part of the story.
Posted by Jenna | 13 Comments
Took a short road trip last weekend and was dazzled by Fall colors on the drive upstate. Just 2 hours north and it was like a different world, particularly since we came home to weirdly muggy weather for this time of year. Driving back home was like turning back the clock as we got closer to the city – greener trees and higher temps, but maybe the perception of time slowed down is ok. You know once Halloween hits it’s an accelerated rush towards the holidays and I’m not in any hurry.
In Ithaca we visited a big farmer’s market which I had never been to before. It was good to go someplace new in a town that has so many past associations. I spent a good deal of time here when we used to have long summer breaks in art school and I’ve camped out in nearby Finger Lakes National Forest. It’s beautiful out here with lakes, forests and waterfalls. Driving through the back country roads towards Ithaca where there’s nothing but farm country reminds me of those years when gas was cheap and we had nothing but time. Driving, for the sake of driving, with music blaring and windows rolled down seem like a luxury now. This part of the state reminds me of my brother too. He spent a decade attending schools and later working at Cornell and I used to love visiting him at the Vet School. He’d show me jarred animal organs floating in formaldehyde in the labs and we’d go visit the cows and horses in the barn. What I remember the most though was the barn cat. He had multiple toes, something like 8-12 toes on each paw, and he was a sight. I always point out the store where Ed adopted my cat for me to the girls whenever we’re up here. It’s a funny story, really, of the night that Tobi spent with him before he was driven down to the East Village where we were living back in ’97. He was tiny, just shy of 3 months old, and wasn’t particularly thrilled to be plucked out of the litter of cats. That night, my brother dropped a heavy typewriter in the living room a few yards away from Tobi and it sent him in a panic under the sofa where he stayed until he had to be pried away for the drive down to my house. Tobi was scarred for life and hated my brother since then. Cats, unlike dogs, can hold long grudges it seems.
For the past couple of years, our short trips upstate involve family and visits to a nursing home. It’s hard not to get sad during these visits no matter how nice the facility is and I find myself choking back tears whenever we leave. It’s a reminder of our own mortality too. We’re getting old alongside our parents and we’re all grappling with physical changes that we can, but also can’t see. Some things are within our control and we can change our lifestyles to shape our future, but it’s also just a roll of the dice with genetics and pure chance at play. Sometimes it doesn’t seem fair, but life isn’t always fair, is it?
Posted by Jenna | 5 Comments