Patching vs. repairing (or, when to know when you're truly f*cked)

As with all Whiny-First-World-Whitey posts, I need to start this off with some disclaimers.

  • Yes, things could be worse. A lot worse.
  • Yes, they are, in fact a lot worse, in a lot of ways and a lot of places.
  • Yes, some of those places are doubtless scant blocks from my home. (I live on the edge of three very different neighborhoods, socioeconomics-wise.)

Really, given the state of the world right now, financial chaos, environmental and infrastructural collapse, plus the ongoing persistent states of misogyny, racism, religious persecution and all other manner of Living Hells, a futzy little post about getting one's house in order could easily come off as some clueless-elitist prescription to pick yourself up by your bootstraps and hie thee to the cake store.

So...sorry about that, in advance. But that's what this post is gonna be about. About fixing things, really fixing things, where you get at the root of them, vs. fake-fixing things, where you just slap on a little metaphoric Shoe Goo and keep on keeping on.

That's what the landlords who own my apartment building has been doing since they bought it: Shoe Gooing the place. Leaky pipes, funky wiring, rotten caulking, you name it, they've Shoe Gooed it. My bathroom is a vertible museum of land-based jury-rigging techniques. Mildewed ceiling? Paint over 'it! The only real repairs they've done in the time I've lived here are the ones mandated by the State of California and City of Los Angeles. And those have generally been done on an overtime schedule, lest they get slapped with costly fines on top of costly repairs.

For years, I've run big swaths of my own life this way, and frankly, I've been lucky enough to get away with it. What finally convinced me that I needed to start addressing some things at the structural level (i.e., "repair") vs. the cosmetic (i.e. "patching", or "Shoe Goo", if you will) were two things.

The first was running a "real" business. I've been self-employed since 1992, but mainly as either a contract employee (freelance copywriting for big agencies) or a theatrical contract employee (actor-for-hire by producers making commercials). In between, I had a brief, utterly restful stint as a real, W-2 employee which I used to bridge the gap from one to another. All in all, a pretty cush 14 years.

All that came to a crashing halt when I hung out my design shingle in 2006. Only it didn't. Again, I took the Shoe Goo approach. Like my crap-ass landlords, I dolled up everything to look pretty. My cards? Sexy Pantone numbers on thick stock with a nice tooth. My website? Looked good, read well and loaded fast*. Every piece of correspondence that went out had my branding on it because hey, I have Photoshop and I know how to use it. And if cash flow was problematic, I just used my personal reserves to float the business. (Thank you, Chief Atheist and Mercenary Former Boss for teaching me the value of the "F*ck You" fund.)

But my invoices weren't tied to a money management program and I had no accounting system in place. My contact management was haphazard (at best), and my dreadful workflow habits scattered documents liberally across a variety of hard drives and peripheral devices, which would eventually lock up or fail because I'd done the computing equivalent of throwing sand and chewing gum in them. Finally, while my needs are relatively modest and my stockpiles relatively damned good, I'm no trust fund baby with an open checking account.

It was about this time last year that I started getting serious about getting some serious repair work done. I made some progress, especially in the area of financial upkeep: my bookkeeper gave me a gold star last visit, along with a warning that if I continued in this vein of making things so easy for her, she would have to move to a minimum charge for her visit; we are both THRILLED by this turn of events.

There are plenty of other areas, though, that I've let slip. Not because I've been slacking off, but because I made other things priorities as opportunities arose. Like the chance to speak at last year's Creative Freelancer Conference. Or to speak to actors about marketing. Or to start giving workshops, thanks to Dan and Lara of Biznik. Or to collaborate with another Swirling Ball of Energy, my new sometime-co-collaboratrix, Dyana Valentine.

Or, hell, to do any number of other cool things, from going to SXSW to making** art*** to heading up to Seattle for a month, just because.

And the second thing? (Remember there were two things?)

I want to do more of that good stuff. And not having a system that supports me is getting in the way of that.

How can I pick up and move for a month if I don't trust that all the files I need are on my computer, and that my computer will work when I turn it on? Or that there's enough money in my bank account to cover the trip, while we're at it?

How can I do more of this AWESOME speaking and consulting, which, you guys, I cannot tell you how much I love, if I can't turn around an invoice quickly and get paid, or put my hands on a client's homework from anywhere?

I'm committing to some big, scary overhaul-type stuff this coming year. "Committing" as in either finding accountability partners who really will keep me accountable, or paying people to help me analyze and repair these things the right way.

I will also be turning down more and more things to make room for the things I do want to do, or the things I need to do in the short term to accomplish what I want for myself in the long term. On the small, hopefully easier-to-implement side of things, this will mean not checking email as often and trimming more media fat from my life. On the bigger, harder side, this will mean turning down some jobs, being more selective about what I say "yes" to, socially, even radically overhauling my diet and exercise habits. Really not looking forward to that, but as I slide into menopause, my body needs a little optimization.

Please don't misinterpret this as a diatribe against patching. It's a perfectly fine method for dealing with a host of issues, just not all of them, and definitely not all of them indefinitely.

And Rome wasn't built, or rebuilt, rather, in a day. A watchword in this process is patience; I'm moving at half-speed through all of this.

Move through it, I will though, and I'll be sure to report back on what I'm learning from it...


*Thanks to my good friend and great developer, Michael Grosch, whom I am indebted to both in the abstract and the absolute, hold on, Michael; your new logo is coming!)

**My video for Southwest Airlines' totally rigged contest, totally safe for work.

***My Dirty Keywords Search Song, totally NOT safe for work.

Image by d.billy via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.