Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Column: Business leap should have better safety plan than parachute pants
I have a vision.
Not the kind you may think – about going into business for myself, starting a newspaper and pursuing the noble (I believe it is, anyway) endeavor of providing community journalism. I have that vision, too, at least I did when I decided to give up a good job and the financial security it provided to commit myself to this objective.
Lately it’s been another kind of vision, brought on by the panic that sets in when I realize I don’t have an actual job anymore.
No health care, no retirement plan, no free access to bulk coffee or someone to deice the walkway from the parking lot to the door. No guaranteed vacation time, no defined power structure so I know who to take marching orders from and – more importantly – which secretary keeps them marching. No pool of people who may eventually call the cops if I get attacked by wild dogs over the weekend and don’t show up as expected for a few days.
That’s when the vision hits me. Actually it’s more like a waking nightmare, accompanied (and probably caused) by an acute shortness of breath when I think about the fact that I also no longer have a steady paycheck.
The vision is of me at some indeterminate point in the future. I’m flat broke and living in my car, which has somehow become a Volkswagen Rabbit with sheet plastic for the driver’s side window and a giant Kentucky-shaped rust spot eating through the fender. I have forgotten how to brush my hair and don’t seem to notice it’s become home to a crop of dandelion fluff and the occasional tree swallow. I’m Dumpster-diving at McDonald’s for old fries and limp iceberg lettuce to survive on, all the while wearing MC Hammer-era parachute pants and a multicolored woven poncho.
I don’t know why this is the worst-case scenario my brain has conjured up. I don’t drive a Rabbit, I don’t even know where the Dumpster at McDonalds is, and no matter how desperate my financial situation becomes I can’t imagine it keeping me from running a comb through my hair, at least once a week or so.
I don’t own parachute pants or a poncho, and I don’t know why they seem so much more horrifying than, say, stirrup pants and a Cosby sweater. But they are. To my currently fragile, prone-to-exaggeration brain, they most definitely are.
I’ve never been one of those throw-caution-to-the-wind, leap-before-you-look, fly-without-a-safety-net kind of people. I’ve never hitchhiked across the street, much less the country; never backpacked through Europe; never moved somewhere for any reason other than college or employment. I’ve never even been without at least a summer job since I was 13 years old.
And now look at me: unemployed. Or, rather, self-employed, but at the moment it feels like the same thing.
Who’s going to make sure the parking lot is plowed, file sales tax returns, get the office heating system fixed when it makes funny noises or allow me to remain blissfully unaware of “FICA?”
Cue the panic attack.
There’s a flip side, too. I get to pursue a dream and do the kind of work I love to do. I get to try to build something from scratch to the standards I think are important. And when I need to stay home from work (if I am ever able to do so again), I don’t have to try to conjure up a sick voice.
The trick is leveraging the flip side against the flipping out.
It’s not easy to do. I’m more excited about this project than I’ve been about anything in my life, and also more terrified.
But the beauty of envisioning a worst-case scenario is it rarely comes to that. Even if I’ve completely miscalculated the potential community interest in local news and this paper meets a reception of crickets and blowing tumbleweeds (someone… anyone … please???), it could always be worse.
I may go broke. I may have to find another “real” job to support my commitment to this dream one. I may end up living in my car and obtaining produce from the trash rather than the shelf.
But as God, Edward R. Murrow and anyone else is my witness, I will not wear parachute pants.
That is one vision no one needs to see.
Jenny Neyman is the editor, publisher, reporter, receptionist, janitor, etc., of The Redoubt Reporter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.