Today dawned a typical September day: gray and foreboding. The sky was the color of a galvanized trashcan and the air tinged with a chill that whispered of summer’s end.
When the clouds lifted a bit I saw termination dust sprinkled on the Chugach Mountains. That’s the local parlance for the season’s first snow. The tail-end of the tourist trade clucks and points, taking numerous pictures of the shining whiteness while buttoning coats up to their chins.
Residents pretend they don’t care, but it can drive a little shiver into your day. Sure, the snow is still way up there. But we know it’ll make its way down to the flats fairly soon.
Even DF, who’s pretty cheerful about everything and a skier to boot, gets a little glum at the prospect. In fact, he sings about it (to the tune of Chopin’s Funeral March):
Woke up this morning, looked out the door and cussed:
There on the mountains — behold! the whitish crust.
Termination dust. Summer is a bust.
Hate facing winter again, and yet I must.
That made me laugh. I needed to laugh: Termination dust showed up on the very day that I got terminated.
Yep: My time with MSN Money ends as of Sept. 30. Then again, so does everyone else’s. The company underwent some reorganizing and the word came down from on high: “MSN Money is not a content company.”
That’s pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, not the second, as in “MSN Money no longer will generate original pieces.” It will run partner site content (read: free) rather than pay writers for personal finance blogs and articles. It isn’t clear how many freelance writers/editors were canned; some put the figure at 100 or more.
What kind of work?
I always knew this could happen. Every spring when it came time to renew my annual contract I’d get a little jumpy. Lately I’ve felt the same nervousness, a feeling that things were about to change. So when my boss e-mailed this morning asking if I had time for a phone call it was like having the doctor say, “We need to discuss your lab results.”
I didn’t wail, “But whyyyyyyyy?” I didn’t weep, or even get choked up. However, I’ll cop to feeling a bit poleaxed when our conversation ended.
Put another way: I live in the most seismic state in the Union and I know that another Good Friday Earthquake could happen at any time (even on a Wednesday). But if it does happen, I’ll still be surprised. Knowing something is possible is not the same as being ready for the possibility.
I immediately sent a few “Hey, guess what???” e-mails to people I know in the business. Within a few hours I’d agreed to write one or two original posts a week for Money Talks News, which already syndicates Surviving and Thriving articles. That will more than cover my needs, even though I pay for my own health and life insurance; my expenses went down when I threw in with DF.
Next month is the Financial Blogger Conference, so I will shop my free-agent self around a bit. Last year someone offered me a fairly nice sum to write a guest post but I was way too busy to say yes. This year I’ll definitely entertain such offers.
Not too many, though. My initial, panicked reaction was “How can I get enough work to bring in the same income level?” Within a couple of hours I’d amended that to, “What kind of work do I want to get?” And the corollary: “What kind of life do I want to lead?”
A question of choice
During a late-afternoon walk it suddenly hit me: I’m free.
I can choose not to rush to fill every hour. I can choose not to fret over every dime I feel I’m not earning. I can choose to focus on writing more for women’s magazine and various Internet sites. I can opt to develop my own website and maybe even (ugh) monetize it further. I could even think about books, if I wanted.
As I headed back home the sun came out, highlighting yellow spots on the birches. The breeze was still cool, but the termination dust had melted. I knew it would be back, maybe as soon as tomorrow. But right then the day was golden, and I felt fine. My unease had not entirely disappeared, but my attitude had adjusted.
My time with MSN Money changed my life. In almost seven years I went from being an emotionally broken middle-aged former newspaper reporter to a confident Internet journalist with a university degree and a voice of her own. Sure, I’ll miss that steady paycheck. But it was a helluva run, and I need to be glad that I ran it.
The race is by no means over. In fact, I no longer consider it a race or any other kind of competition. It’s just my life. I feel the word “journey” is overused, so I’ll just think of as traveling.
The comedian Rita Rudner says she never gets lost – she simply changes where it is she wants to go. My own destination keeps shifting, as does the pace with which I approach it. They say “not all who wander are lost.” I agree. And I think that not all who meander are lazy. Sometimes we’re slowing down to see what we might be missing.