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A love letter to freelancing

In Whitehorse, where I live, there’s an antismoking advertising campaign plastered all over city buses and bus shelters. Each ad features a close-up of an extremely ordinary-looking person. Each character is from a different walk of life, ethnic background, and age group. All of them look a bit sheepish. In the ads, they’re breaking up with smoking.

“I love you, but we can’t keep sneaking around like this,” scrawls the text on a bright yellow poster.

“I love you, but I’m allergic to you,” whispers the rounded font on the hot pink version.

If the ad is to be believed, all these people will be better off and happier once they kick their addiction to tobacco. The ads make me think about my own life whenever I see them. Not because I recently quit smoking. I was never a smoker. But last year, I left behind a unionized, permanent job, and it was a difficult habit to break.

Once you get hooked, it’s hard not to have a permanent job all the time. You think about it when you’re not there. When you don’t have one, you wish you did, and you feel jittery. Sounds a lot like smoking, doesn’t it?

There were fantastic elements to my permanent job, including union representation and a regular cash infusion, but despite having lost my CBC paycheque, I’ve found that my craving for permanent work has faded with time.

That said, freelancing is easier because of skills I collected over my years at the CBC in Toronto. I worked for programs that gave me a wealth of experience to make the transition into freelancing easier. But my experience didn’t make shedding the security any easier, even though I felt like my inability to leave was slowing me down the way a pack a day slows down a runner.

Working as an independent means that I can cast my mind wide when I’m concieving story ideas. I haven’t locked myself in with one program or publication, so I can let my mind wander wherever I like. I can make my own fun by choosing stories that catch my imagination, then finding a spot where they’re welcome.

But so far, making a living as an independent media producer also means entering the regular workforce with some regularity. Everyone I know who has chosen this route splits their time between independent work and hopefully high-paying workaday contracts at universities, as consultants, or even as union organizers. As for me, I’m currently working on a term with the federal government. All the while, I continue to pitch stories across the planet, as well as hosting and writing for an independent podcast called rabble radio.

Rabble is the project that brings in the least money, but it’s also the most satisfying. I get to use my radio skills in a context with no limits, in a medium that (for now, anyway) prioritizes content over form. Good interview, bad mic? It can still run in the podcast. Bad language? It’s fine. Hip hop? We don’t track our audience, so we don’t need to censor ourselves. While the audio quality that comes in from our collective of volunteers isn’t what we could achieve in a CBC studio, the emotion and content are still there for our growing cadre of listeners.

Rabble is probably the best example of the ultimate pleasure of doing independent production work – we set our own standards.

But for benefits gained, there are benefits lost. As a freelancer, I have no health coverage, I have no one to go to bat for me if the money doesn’t come at the right amount, or if it doesn’t come in at all. Sadly, large organizations aren’t necessarily better than smaller ones at cutting cheques. Having a simple way to go after cash due is one area where union protection for freelancers would be welcome.

I love to freelance, but I must confess that the craving for a permanent job continues to thrum in the back of my mind. But for now, the benefits outweigh the risks of working for myself. So I continue to fight the urge to join up full-time and permanent with one employer. I count to five before I apply for jobs, I chew gum, I turn over an hour glass hoping the longing will have passed by the time the sand has run out.

I’m a lot like the thirty-something woman on the bus ad. The one in a blue tee-shirt, who says, “I love you, but I have more freedom without you.”

Meagan Perry is a freelance producer based in Whitehorse and a former member of the Canadian Media Guild.

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