Freelance Writer Files: Calm in a Sea of Chaos

Don’t you sometimes feel that the world is coming at you too fast? The rush of e-mails, ads, news blips, text and phone messages, Twitter, Facebook, and to top it all off, frenetic music coming from your radio or iPod? Are you overloaded and quietly going mad?

Before you start trying on straitjackets, try this: Radio Bach.

Freelance Writer Files: The Fall and Rise of Buster

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote that my feathered friend, Buster the parakeet, was in a bad way. Puffy, shivering, peepless, not to mention chirpless, he looked as if he was bound for the Great Birdcage in the Sky.

I feel pretty!

But thanks to the antibiotic and antifungal liquids I got from the nice bird vet at a Waldo animal hospital, he’s now healthy and sassy as ever. But during the 10-day course of treatment, I was sure he thought me a torturer, not a caregiver.

Twice a day, I filled the syringe, then, with a washcloth protecting my hand, chased him around the cage and captured him. At first, when he was sick, he was too weak to resist. But toward the end of the treatments, he was squawking like a bald eagle and fighting like a champ to escape my washcloth trap. I steeled myself to his cries for help and pried his beak open to squirt in a drop or two of medicine. I felt mean, especially since at first, he didn’t seem to be getting better, despite the daily tussle.

But on Day Eight, he chirped once. Hallelujah! This came like a beam of sunshine after a solid week of silence from the normally loquacious little bird. By Day 10, he was chirping, singing, and jumping from perch to perch, rather than sitting there like a little old man with his head low. All was well, thank heavens.

Years ago, I paid about $20 for my pretty green parakeet. He has given me endless pleasure over those years, as he sings cheerily all day in my office. Some would say, “What? You paid $72 for the vet, and more for the meds? Why didn’t you just flush him down the toilet?” To those people, I say, “Would you flush your dog down the toilet if it got sick? No? I thought not.”

Our pets are our children, our brothers and sisters. We don’t abandon them if they need of help. A friend of mine paid more than $1,500 in vet bills for her Siamese cat, whose frightening respiratory symptoms vanished each time he went to the vet. Finally, she said to Calhoun, “Listen, pal. I’ve spent all the money I’m going to on you. You are either going to get better or die.” Kind of tough love, but wonder of wonders, he got better. Tell me they don’t understand what we say.

I don’t know if I’d pay $1,500 to cure Buster, but let’s hope it never comes to that. Today he is singing. And the pleasures of this day are enough for me.

Freelance Writer Files: What do clients want?

“Please stop! Don’t do any more!”

My client’s voice on the phone sounded frightened and panicked. But that was not unusual. What was, though, was that she was stopping me from working on part of a larger project. I had ambivalent feelings about halting mid-project.

On the one hand, I like big, multi-faceted projects like this one, involving both print and Web writing. (And, of course, the ability to bill hours for research, communications, writing, revising, etc.) But on the other hand, I had a major problem with the project. Namely, that try as I might, I could not understand what the client wanted. This kind of client (of whom I have had few) might be called the “Oracle at Delphi” type.

The Delphic Oracle client

As you will recall from your studies of ancient Greek culture, the Delphic Oracle (a.k.a. the Pythia) was a priestess of Apollo with the gift of prophecy. She sat by a rock out of which certain vapors emanated, which may have been like ancient LSD. She would give you an answer, all right. Several, even, if you had more gold. The only problem was that her pronouncements were subject to many different interpretations.

Guess what I'm thinking.

The Delphic Oracle type of client can be frustrating—and kind of cute; they do try so hard to communicate their needs—but not nearly so crazy-making as the “Black Box” type. This client won’t tell you at all what s/he wants. You have to guess what’s inside the Black Box (the client’s head). Don’t worry, s/he will let you know if you guess wrong. Which, of course, you will.

I am a Gemini, which means Mercury, the astral body named after the messenger to the gods, is my ruling planet. So communication is my happy, happy place. I enjoy it. And I’m pretty good at getting the point and making a point, most of the time, anyway. So I feel terrible when, whether because of the client’s or my own failure to communicate (Did you see an image of Strother Martin wearing mirrored aviators just now? I did.) produces less-than-peachy results.

The most important thing (actually, two things) about which I’m unclear: One, am I off my client’s project, or just on this part of it? And two, is the client panicking because of my bill, which I e-mailed on January 1? Oh, there’s a third thing, the most vital of all: Will I get paid?

I imagine I’ll find out soon. Say, can you direct me to the nearest Delphic Oracle? Umm. Maybe I’d better just consult my Magic 8 Ball.