Intermittently, the gray damp of winter is finally yielding to signs of spring. Though winter hasn’t hit my corner of Tennessee particularly hard, on this cold, damp St. Patrick’s Day, the lack of sun leaves me listless.
Other than our early bloomers, red buds and dogwoods and the grass that’s slowly regreening, the predominant colors out my window are still brown and gray. Last week, I took my camera on a short walk to capture the slow change creeping around me. I’ll soon cash in my view of the hills through vacant branches for verdant leaves. I’ll miss my hilltops, bridges, and hints of skyline, but I wouldn’t trade them for my lush summer vista. And I’ll see them again in seven or eight months.
Fortunately plants move much more slowly than my brain does, pulling me out of my daily life measured in seconds, minutes, and hours to think about seasons, years, even decades. Even thinking about them and what I might plant forces me to stop, to breathe, to contemplate soil, shade, and sun, forces and a rhythm that seem constant in an inconstant world.
But for today I’ll hold on to my hibernation just a little while longer, pull the jacket a little tighter around me, and take one last nap before spring.
When I was reporting my most recent article for Science Careers– about the financial end of setting up a new academic laboratory— I couldn’t help but think about the parallels to the day-to-day nuts and bolts of my own work. Though I never set up an independent laboratory, it’s clear to me that both freelance writing and scientific research are “businesses” and that cash flow (and the management of it) is key to creativity, productivity, and progress.
Traditionally academic scientists are reluctant to talk about the management of their labs as “business” and starving artists are beyond cliche. But both groups face the challenge of finding a niche where you can find assignments, gigs, or grant support that achieve a delicate balance between paying bills and pursuing passions, teetering somewhere between the practical and the high-risk– and the adrenaline rush that comes with living in that space. Money clearly isn’t the only part of a creative endeavor, but if you have a creative career, it has to be part of the puzzle.
What comes back to me from my conversations with scientists about setting up their laboratories was this question: “What do I need to be successful?” And sometimes they have to be creative when negotiating that answer with the institutions around them. But as an independent writer, I need that question on my front-burner, too. No, I don’t need five- or six-figure equipment to do my job. But I do need a careful plan– and balance, of collaborative-time vs alone-time, project types and more. I have to remain in-tune and honest with myself about what’s working, in terms of my personal goals, my clients’ needs, and an ever-changing media landscape.