Hire Me on oDesk

The On Demand Global Workforce - oDesk

Follow by Email

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Indentured Servitude

I have made my first foray into the world of freelance writing...or should I say, 'indentured servitude.'

It's been a real eye-opener for this perennially somewhat naïve gal. In order to get one's foot in the door, one must find someone willing to take a chance on a complete newbie. This means competing against folks from the Philippines, India, Bangladesh, etc., all of whom claim they speak fluent English and work for less than a dollar an hour. It means bidding on the lowest-paying jobs, sometimes working for employers who can't write a coherent sentence themselves and arguably can't judge the quality of the work provided. But if I can get a few willing souls to take a chance on me, and if they post excellent reviews of my work product on the site, then, in theory, I can eventually command a more respectable wage for my writing from those choosier employers in America and the UK.

A lot of it's editing and proofreading non-native English but some of it's downright scandalous, it strikes me: people seeking individuals to click ads on their websites so they can reap ad income, or offering fifty cents to have someone write an article that they then turn around and sell to a website that pays them considerably more. Hard to know what's worse--that someone would pawn someone else's work off as their own or that so many folks are willing to do so to make make mere pennies.

So now I've returned to being one of the downtrodden masses, it seems. Well, I suppose it's good to be humbled every once in a while. But it is shocking to think that people will advertise for someone to ghostwrite a book based on a skeleton of an idea, pay them perhaps $20 and then try to get it published as if it were their own. Ugh.

Yesterday I spent 4-1/2 hours completely overhauling 10 review articles for someone in Lithuania who's paying me $4.50. That's a flat rate, not per hour! Kind of surreal. I try not to think of what I was paid by the hour back in the States. But if it's an investment in building up a freelance sideline or even mainstream income, then I am willing to bite the bullet. After all, I'm trying to finance what I consider to be a pretty darned idyllic lifestyle here in France, away from the massive overhead of mortgages, heavy taxes and overpriced insurance. I have to remind myself that more than 50% of my take-home pay back in the USA went solely toward the overhead on my houses.

Here in France I have a teensy house (and still have trouble finding the time to keep it as clean as I'd like) with no mortgage, and my expenses consisting of taxes, insurance, water, sewer and utilities run me less than 1500 euros per year. That's about $2500 which, itself, is not much more than my former monthly mortgage payment! So I am truly blessed.

That said, I still have to eat and put petrol ($7.75/gallon here) in the car so a dollar an hour wages isn't going to cut it long-term. But hopefully it's just a stepping stone to more lucrative writing jobs down the road.

I'd keep my fingers crossed but it's so hard to type that way....

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

French Lessons Commence!

Well, today I started my eagerly anticipated French lessons. These are free lessons that the government sponsors to help new residents adapt.

Back on the 21st of December I drove to nearby Le Blanc, just 20 kilometers away to meet the teacher and take a proficiency test. (The same Le Blanc where we whisked my neighbor when he amputated his finger--which, by the way, he did eventually lose, after returning home to resume cutting stone mere hours after getting back from the hospital. He would have returned to work immediately if he hadn't been so busy picking barrows of produce and buckets of walnuts to give me as a thank you.)

Capucine Roy, the teacher, was there to greet us; we filled out a few forms and, because I wasn't sure if I was good enough for intermediate, I took the 'debutante' test as well as the intermediate.

Capucine put me in intermediate with the suggestion that if I felt I was over my head, I could always default to the deb class. I said I needed it to be difficult, I needed the struggle, as I live here now. I don't want to waste time coasting on what might be a good bit of knowledge I already possess.

Well, today I went, reasonably confident I could hold my own. I found myself in a small class of eight students: 3 couples, another woman and myself. Everyone's British except me. And everyone's had several years of recent French lessons except me. Uh, oh....

We started with impromptu introductions. The man on my right went first. I sat there trying not to panic at his stream of French that went on for at least five full minutes. I was so busy trying to piece together a script for myself I was unable to catch more than a few key phrases in his entire monologue. How much of a workout in class would I be giving that key phrase, "Je ne comprend pas?"

Naturally, due to my state of panic, Capucine chose me to speak next. I muddled through and it wasn't too excruciating, stumbling over the history of where I've been the past few years and how I came to live in France.

For the first half hour of the class, I was almost completely lost. But then things started to click. A glimmer of comprehension. I began catching a few more words. I began getting the gist of most of what she was saying. By the time 90 minutes had passed, I felt reasonably in sync. At the end of the two hours I was both calm and excited.

Now, mind you, to imply that I've got things under control would be deceit at best, delusional at the very least. I don't. But I'm determined to plug away. At least I didn't run screaming out of the room tearing my hair out in despair. (I reserve the right, however, to do that at a future date.)

And all that time, Tilly sat in her kennel at my feet, unbeknownst to the teacher until the very end. Hmm, I wonder how much of her native language she's going to to pick up?

Maybe Tilly can teach this old dog some new tricks.
SPEAK! Et pourquoi pas???

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bonne Annee! Happy New Year!

It's a cozy day here in central France, very grey with a few stray snowflakes and drops of rain. Just perfect for staying home in front of the fire with a hot toddy. Or so I told myself as I lit the fire moments ago and made a hot lemon with honey, cinnamon, cloves and rum before sitting down to write this.

Normally I don't make New Year's resolutions. Or, more accurately, I make one and only one and always the same one: not to make any resolutions. But this year I'm making an exception. I really do want to finish the first draft of my travel memoir before my next birthday mid-March. And I want to be more conscientious about maintaining this blog...and finding a job...and learning French....

My first New Year's resolution however is trying to figure out where December went. Does anyone know? Will you tell me?

I took a vacation of sorts from writing after jamming so hard in November. Actually, come to think of it, part of December was spent jamming--literally. I had a freezer full of nearly 12 kilos of fruit from the trees of various neighbors, mainly figs and Mirabelle (tiny yellow) plums. So I put up half a dozen jars each of fig chutney and jam, and a dozen of Mirabelle rosemary jam. I can now actually use my freezer so that's a relief.

December also introduced a new member to my household, albeit temporarily. She's my first professional pet sit client and I'm grateful to be making some cash, even short-term.

Lupe (short for Guadalupe) is a Queensland blue heeler who arrived here December 14th and will stay until January 6th. It took a few days for her to adjust to Tilly's puppy antics and to realize that she had to be extraordinarily gentle when playing with someone about 1/8 of her body weight.
But we've reached a comfort level. And having to bring Lupe out for daily vigorous exercise has been good for me as well. Tilly's quite capable of exhausting herself just running around the coffee table. Lupe, on the other hand, needs to tear across the fields playing catch for nearly an hour to accomplish the same thing.

I'm just not used to having a big dog around though. I nearly had a heart attack last week when Lupe, who tends to pace a lot like a caged animal when she's not outside, passed beneath the kitchen table where I was sitting working. One of the electrical cords caught on her tail and my 500GB backup hard drive was swept to the tile floor with a sickening crash. This, I should point out, is the hard drive that contains the only copy of both partially finished book manuscripts. I froze, staring at it in horror as Lupe continued pacing, oblivious to my distress. My heart thudded into my stomach.

When I plugged the hard drive back in, it hacked like a smoker with emphysema. I prayed it wasn't choking to death on the shredded fragments of my precious data. It stubbornly refused to yield a single file. My laptop beeped a warning, and Windows popped up an error message, telling me whatever I'd plugged into my USB port had malfunctioned. Yeah, I got that. Thanks.

Not knowing what else to do, I unplugged it and set it safely out of Lupe's reach, hoping it was just suffering a brief coma and needed some rest to recover. I tried not to panic. I mean, where am I going to find a life support system for my hard drive out in this rural area? And even if I did, could I trust a stranger who speaks a different language to comprehend that I was not prepared to say goodbye to my treasured book drafts? The sole work product of the last three years of my life?

The following day I took a deep breath and tried plugging it in again. No death rattle. Was that a good sign, I wondered? Or not? I tried to open the drive. I exhaled, aware now that I'd been holding my breath. It worked. I whispered a swift prayer of thanks.

It's temperamental now, shutting itself down without warning sometimes but it's still operational. Oh, yeah, that's another New Year's resolution--back up the backup. Maybe I'd better start writing these down....