People seem to worry about me a lot. Not for all the normal reasons, like “Am I getting enough to eat?” or “Do I need more sleep?” No – their main concern is that I work in an isolated environment, namely – my home office. And I write. All day long, I write. My tools consist of computers and dictionaries and pens. My wardrobe has morphed from blazers, dress pants and heels to shorts, tank tops and flip-flops (Arizona is HOT all year long and I mean ALL year long). My work lunches have gone from pasta at a five-star restaurant to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
These things don’t really concern people, though. It’s my coworkers that concern them.
You see, I share my home office with 18 cats, three dogs and 3 tanks of fish. Oh, and a turtle. (The turtle has been in hibernation for the last 5 months, so he often escapes my mind. He’s the best pet…)
My loved ones believe that I am too isolated, and that sharing my home office with my pets could eventually create, shall we say, an “alternate reality” for me. To put it more frankly, they are afraid I will go insane if I continue in this manner.
I object to this theory. First of all, anyone who is in a creative occupation knows firsthand that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. It’s been proven throughout history in all creative endeavors. Picasso, Beethoven, Poe, Hemmingway (and his CATS), Shakespeare, Wolff, Dickinson, even military geniuses such as Alexander the Great had a very fine line to walk when it came to their talents. Now I’m certainly in no position to compare myself to these brilliant minds, however I do have to make a point. Each of these talented men and women had an incredible ability to walk that “fine line” and they did so with ease and grace. Many of them did so with animals by their side.
While I was once smack dab in the middle of the corporate world facing impending deadlines, dealing with impossible people, and hostile work environments, I can now sit behind my computer and choose to deal with them, or choose not to deal with them. When I do choose to deal with these situations, it is primarily for the entertainment (or financial) value, and I am able to handle them with a new calm. I am slowly (very slowly) developing the ability to understand who is actually the insane person when someone is screaming at me over the phone on a conference call at the life and death importance of a piece of paper reaching their desk in the next 24 hours, as my cat walks across the keyboard and my computer program flips on in the nick of time with a low voice which warns the cat to “Get off of the keyboard.” Honestly, who is the crazy one? The person who is threatening my life over a piece of paper, or me – who has the power to present that piece of paper if the person would just ask nicely? Who is the one wasting the most time? The one screaming for an hour over the phone, or the one who could be writing what that person wants if they would just stop yelling at them? Personally I think that the one doing the yelling is the one who is insane. I’ve been working on being the person who can produce that little piece of paper, which causes all the grief.
And now I am that person. Currently I, who once had a crippling fear of the numbers 9 and 5, am now able to work from 5 am to 5 pm with little to no effort, because it no longer feels like work. My lunches, when I take them, are often spent sitting in the backyard beside our little pond, listening to the water as it cascades over the rocks, and watching the dogs as they splash into the “new lake” that has miraculously sprouted from the ground “just for them.”
My “catty” coworkers are now exactly that – cats. Don’t get me wrong, they still don’t listen to a word I say, they take none of my suggestions for improvement, they still talk behind my back and most of them still sleep on the job while I do all the work, but it just doesn’t bother me anymore.
The “dogs” that I used to work with are now literally dogs. They still whine all the time, they can’t make up their minds about a single thing; they want in, they want out. They still show up in my cubicle and continually harass me for food. They never let me get any work done until I tell them in no uncertain terms to leave me alone, and all they want to do is play games. But again, it just doesn’t bother me anymore.
I no longer swim with the sharks. Instead, I watch them swim around in the 50-gallon aquariums we have set up throughout the house, and trust me when I say it’s much more relaxing to watch than to be in the midst of them.
My commute time has been cut from two hours to two minutes. My fuel consumption has gone from filling the tank of my truck up every three days to every 3 weeks. I’m actually helping the environment. Now when I drive, it’s down to the grocery store, not up to work. I have to say that my tolerance level for drivers has dramatically decreased. It’s amazing how insane some of the drivers out there actually are when you’re not on the road all day!
My stress levels have decreased, I think. Maybe they have just changed, because when you change over to freelance work, you take on a different set of stresses. It’s no longer a stress of, “When will they fire me?” or “How long will it take for this company to go under?” It’s now a stress of “When will the next job come in?” or “How much longer can I afford to freelance and be in this incredible position?”
So perhaps the stress hasn’t actually decreased, but has taken on a different form. Either way – I like it a lot better than before.
I make my own hours, more or less, but I do work a lot harder for a lot less money. However, I now have a sense of accomplishment in what I do, something I didn’t really have in a corporate setting. I now take pride in my work.
Of course, everything has a down side, and freelancing does as well. You have to be a certain type of person to make this work. You have to be able to get along without much human contact, live on sporadic paychecks, have a very understanding spouse, and (in my case) a lot of entertaining animals to watch when the work isn’t coming in.
And you have to have a good sense of self. Knowing that you are okay no matter what happens, or where things go. But, most important of all, it’s important to have a very entertaining, very great friend to vent to – preferably someone in the same position that you are and can understand those times when you have to cross over the line for awhile. My good friend has arisen in the form of an artist, and together we form one of the best creative teams I’ve ever seen. Another important thing to have, besides a great spouse, a great friend and entertaining pets, is a wonderful family and if at all possible, a mini-me. Mini-mes' (miniature copies of yourself) are very difficult to obtain. My mini-me comes in the form of my sister, Meggin. They take years of grooming, decades to train, and are difficult to keep around. However, once you obtain a Mini-me, they are priceless.
So go ahead, take the plunge. Make sure you have the tools you need at your disposal: an amazing spouse, a great friend, a supportive family, a mini-me and lots of entertaining animals. And don’t forget your computer… That’s your link to the outside world, and you’ll need at least one of those in good working order at all times!
About the Author
Stacy Mantle is a freelance writer who currently resides in the southwestern deserts of Arizona with a number of cats, a coyote/wolf hybrid, and a very understanding husband. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Arabian Horse Times, Today’s AZ Woman, and Pets Illustrated. She now has monthly columns in Jackson Parents magazine and online at www.thecatsite.com. Many of her stories and articles have been translated into several languages, and now reach an international audience. Quickly becoming known as "…the Erma Bombeck of animals", her writing has skyrocketed to new heights as she records the stories of those she loves, inspiring the reader to learn why we have all come to love the animals we share our lives with. She is the author of Conquering the Food Chain: Living Amongst Animals (Without Becoming One), which is available in Barnes & Noble bookstores nationwide, as well as online at www.bn.com or www.amazon.com.