08 September 2012

On post-freelance lancing and freedom

A year ago, when I was a freelance writer, contributing 11 articles to 6 newspapers, life was different.  Now, I write the editorial for the Sunday paper, a political commentary or two every month, a book/film review occasionally and, when pushed, a ‘filler’ here and there.  In addition, as part of a trial exercise with a view to put out a daily version of ‘The Nation’, I write dummy editorials every day and have also resumed my ‘Morning Inspection’.   

A year ago in my column for the Daily News I wrote a piece titled “On the ‘free’ and ‘lance’of freelance’”.  I think it should have been called ‘On being lanced by the free of freelancing’.  I wrote about an admonishment from my little daughter, then 8, who had figured out why I don’t have any time:

‘You don’t need a lot of time for your work; you need time for other people’s work,’ she said, and elaborated, ‘I have heard you speaking on the phone.  You are always telling people “hari, hari, karala dennam (ok, ok, I’ll do it)”.’

Back then, the problem was that ‘freelance’ gave the impression that I had loads of time which made it easy for people to tell me ‘machang, podi uddawak…’ (a ‘small favour, friend..’), even though the ‘small’ is but a sweetener and (typically) the favour needed to be done ‘right now’.   So I had to say “hari, hari, karala dennam” often and for ‘free’ (the other convenient mis-read of ‘freelance’), for one does not charge friends and one is reluctant to charge for things that are good for many. 
I explained, back then, thus:

And then there is the other meaning of ‘free’.  Things done in the national interest are done free.  When I am thanked, I tell people to thank C.W.W. Kannangara for giving me the opportunity to benefit from free education.  There are debts I owe that I can never repay.  ‘No charge’ for friends. ‘No charge’ for deserving causes.  As for the rest, un-corporated and ignorant of market rates, I generally brush aside price query with ‘whatever you think is ok’.  Some are actually apologetic and say ‘this is worth much more, but this is what I can afford’. 

Some exploit, and when I cotton on to the exploitation, I duly avoid.  In most cases though ignorance, stupidity and an awareness of the impermanence of things makes it possible for me to say that I am an unemployed graduate or else an under-employed one.  

As my sister once said, ‘it is not that you are sacrificing anything or being generous; this is a conscious choice you’ve made’.  Yes, I can’t make a virtue out of it.  Not complaining.  Just saying.

I am no longer freelancing, but I am not less free.  And no more burdened either.  The ‘unfree’ of a regular job makes people more apologetic when asking for favours that are more often than not granted.  Whereas earlier I could write in ‘one go’, now I am busted by the official, the have-to-do things of office: signing documents, attending meetings and dealing with the this-that of any place where a dozen or more people work. 

The difference is that my daughter doesn’t get to see me answer the phone very often.  It will get better, I tell myself.  Someone reminded me a couple of days ago: ‘you said you’ll be able to go home early once things get streamlined’.  Things were getting streamlined, but habits were also acquired, especially late hours in office; things fill the hours, after all.  Then things got steamrolled when the ‘Daily’ business was mooted. 

As things stand, I am writing more than I used to when I was freelancing, and that’s something to be happy about, I suppose.  Something to be worried about too, because ‘groove’ kills creativity. 
It’s about time management, right?  Right.

Almost twenty years ago, I got into a bus, a small bus, filled with people.  I wanted to take a No 6 Route bus to Kurunegala, but had to settle for one taking the longer, No 5 Route.  I had to stand and it was tough because the bus had a low roof.  It was tougher for my friend Champika Ranawaka, who is probably a good 6 inches taller.  We were going to spend the night at my late grandmother’s place and sell newspapers of our small but vocal organization, Janatha Mithuro (Friends of the People), Asipatha (The Sword).  Champika taught me about time management that night.  Even in that small bus, this voracious reader, didn’t stop ‘working’.  He spread out a newspaper, held it against the roof of the bus and read and read and read, all the way to Kurunegala. 

‘Twenty four hours is more than enough, Malinda,’ he said.  ‘The more you read, your eye becomes trained to move to the most important line and the more you read the better and quicker you become in drawing inference, extrapolation and so on,’ he elaborated. 

‘Office’ puts a lot of things on you plate that you can’t plan for, though.  It will get better, I tell myself.  And until it does, I do what I can do; I feel blessed that I spend a couple of hours with my family every morning, pick the girls from school now and then, visit my father and cuddle the little one most of the night, most nights.  

Back then I was lanced, in a way, by the ‘free’.  Now, I am lanced in different ways.  ‘Things in this world change very slowly if they ever change at all’, I remember that line from the Eagles’ song ‘Sad Café’.  

There’s no reason to complain, just reason enough to record the ‘is’ in relation to the ‘was’.