In which Lauren becomes disillusioned with everything and escapes to Java.
The other day I completely dismantled everything about my life in just a few hours. My life is pretty flexible, so this is an easy thing for me to manage — maybe too easy. We’ll see.
I’ve been gradually building a solid base of regular writing gigs over the past two years, and I had just reached a point where I felt stable. I was beginning to enjoy some little luxuries as I travel, like cooking classes and winery tours. My days were falling into a nice rhythm dominated by work, but with cooking, exercise, and sightseeing poked in around the edges.
Then I got a message from the agency that supplies the bulk of my income. To make a long story short, they want the writers to continue doing the same work we’ve been doing, but they want to pay us less. They’re blaming this on “quality concerns” cited by the client — in other words, the client doesn’t mind buying work they consider sub-par, as long as it’s cheap enough.
I’ve personally gotten nothing but positive feedback on my work for this client, but this is the direction all internet writing is headed. Readers won’t pay for content, so it has very little value. Most websites don’t care if their content is good or not, so long as it’s cheap.
As I read the e-mail, I realized that I hate writing internet copy anyway. Most of it is meant to be misleading, or has low standards, or only exists to provide inbound links to someone’s website. I don’t want to do it any more. I’ll keep writing for internet news magazines and publications — those articles are useful, I like the subject matter, and I’d already backed down to a couple of articles a week for those markets — but I’m done with the rest. i.e.. the copywriting work that pays the bills. The minute I reached this decision, my heart grew three sizes. I felt free, and happy. I knew it was the right choice for me. There’s more than one kind of writing career, and the one I’ve been building is not going in the right direction for me. It’s time to stop construction, scrap it, and start over.
Bam, just like that the career I’ve built up over the last two years is over. Now what?
I have so many projects on the sidelines: websites in various stages of development, a meditation CD, book projects, maybe even a yoga DVD. I haven’t had time to work on them because I spend all my time on other peoples’ projects, just to make ends meet. It’s been exactly the life I never wanted, the one I thought I walked away from 20 years ago. A friend said ‘It seems like you’ve been an indentured servant in a series of scenic locations.” She’s absolutely right, and it’s time to break free again.
I’ll have to live on next to nothing while I build a different income stream. I have some royalties from my books & DVD, and I have rental income on my house and a small trickle of dividends. My plan had been to stay in the UK for three months until I could get another visa to re-enter the Schengen Zone part of Europe, then visit Prague and Vienna before heading to some warm Far Eastern destination for the winter.
I need to go to Asia sooner; there’s no way I can afford to live in the UK for three months without my copywriting income. I started researching which countries have a tolerable climate in summer (fewer monsoons = less dengue fever) and settled on Indonesia, where I can stay as long as 60 days. I searched Airbnb and found a fantastic little house in Java, remote enough to serve as a writer’s retreat, but with solid Wi-Fi and an English-speaking German hostess who can help me if I run into problems with language or culture. The cost? $330 per month, including rent, utilities, and wi-fi.
It’s now been two hours since I decided to chuck my career and start over from scratch. I promised myself I’d sleep on it. I knew I was moving too fast. But by the end of the day I was canceling all my lodgings and plans for the rest of the summer and booking the house in Java. (The sweet landlady wanted to be sure I understood this was open-air, no air conditioning, and with the possibility of lizards or chickens wandering in. I fairly wiggled with joy, as that describes all the places I’ve been happiest, from Cotopaxi in Ecuador to the treehouse in Cirali).
My current apartment in Lyon is only booked through June 17 and the house in Java won’t be available until July 4. What to do in the meantime? I checked Rome2Rio.com for all the possibilities of getting from Lyon to Solo, Indonesia. One of the most appealing possibilities was to take the train from here to Geneva Switzerland, then fly. Maybe I could stay in Geneva for a few weeks! But looking for lodging in Geneva was a total bust – I couldn’t even find a hostel. Just hotels priced at $150-300 per night. That’s a month’s lodging in Java! Yikes!
So, I looked closer at the flights from Lyon to Solo. The affordable (under $900) options are all 24-hours+, with multiple 5-hour layovers. But when I noticed that all the flights layover in Jakarta, I decided to just book a flight to Jakarta and rest up there for a few days. A nice spa hotel in Jakarta is just $43 a night, and I booked a flight for around $550. SCORE!
Jakarta is not a city I’m interested in exploring. But the hotel will pick me up from the airport, and I’ll spend two blissful days swimming in the hotel pool and eating in the restaurant while I try to learn some basic Indonesian vocabulary. I started thinking I might even get a massage in the spa— until I looked it up to see the pricing. Reviewers on TripAdvisor are very clear that the “massages” come with “happy endings,” and the “massage therapists” get miffed if they find out you won’t be paying extra for that. Oops.
Still, I’m happy with the plan. I will take a train from Jakarta to Yogyakarta and park myself at a private room in a lovely hostel until my house is ready in Solo.
So. I’m running away to Java soon, to scrap my current career and start over, building one that is more meaningful for me. Already someone has called me “fortunate” because I “get to” do work that is fulfilling. I gaped at him open mouthed, couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A total dismissal of everything I’ve done, and everything I stand for. As if I just sat there in the comfort of my living room and fulfilling work magically dropped into my lap. That is not how it happens, and luck is not even part of the equation. Embracing change, making sacrifices, taking risks, trusting yourself, and working your ass off — that’s the equation. Not to mention the deep soul-searching you have to do to figure out what kind of work will be fulfilling for you. For me it comes down to creativity and communication, but I didn’t figure that out while playing a video game.
I’m working so hard to inspire people to follow their dreams (which might be completely different from mine) but when people say “you’re so lucky” it dismisses everthing I’ve done with a wave of the hand. I have much more respect for the people who own their choices, the ones who say “You are nuts! I love my comfort and security, and I’ve worked hard to earn them. I would never want to do what you’re doing.” We are all very different, and we can still respect each other.
Of course, this may not work, and then I’ll be back at the drawing board. But here I go anyway, because that’s the definition of taking risks. Wish me luck!