Sandy Ebejer is a local freelance writer. She’s fairly new to the Capital Region, moving here from Los Angeles three and a half years ago. She offers some interesting perspective on how her life has changed due to the crisis; not only looking at the long-term viability of a career as a freelance writer, but also being a working parent during this unprecedented time.
For over 15 years I worked as a fundraiser for nonprofit arts organizations. I was the Director of Foundation & Government Relations at L.A.’s American Film Institute, and after I moved to Albany, I worked at a couple of local nonprofits, including Albany Pro Musica and Proctors. But I realized in 2018 that I wanted to try something new–I’d been writing grant proposals for so long and craved a change. I also wanted to have more flexibility to spend quality time with my son, who I didn’t see much during our hectic years in L.A.
So, in September 2018 I left Proctors and embarked on a freelance writing career. Over the past year and a half, I’ve had essays, articles, and short fiction published in The Boston Globe, Greatist, FLOOD Magazine, The Girlfriend from AARP, Disrupt Aging from AARP, Brevity, Motherfigure, Folks, Scary Mommy, Sammiches & Psych Meds, Across the Margin, and Little Old Lady Comedy. Though I never established a niche, per se, I’ve realized over time that my work tends to cover parenting, culture, and health. To that end, I’m thrilled to share that my first health article for The Washington Post (on pediatric migraines) will be published later this year.
With quarantine comes work style changes…what’s your workspace like now, Sandy?
Under normal circumstances, I work from a home office, which I love. The room I use as my office was intended to be a bedroom, so there’s a large closet and plenty of space. Unfortunately, since quarantine began and my seven-year-old son’s school closed, my workplace has transitioned to the kitchen and my home office has become a dumping ground for stuff I need to “someday” put away.
My son and I are currently sharing a crowded, cluttered kitchen table. He’s on his laptop and I’m on mine, and papers and notebooks and pencils surround us. If it turns out the schools will be closed for more than a couple of additional weeks, I’m going to figure out how to move him to his own desk elsewhere in the kitchen because things are a bit too snug at the moment.
How have you been coping?
It depends on the day! Some days I’m fine, others I’m a sobbing mess. I’ve found that I’ve been doing better recently. I don’t know why–perhaps I’ve just hit the “acceptance” stage. But I do put a lot of effort now into not worrying about things I can’t control. If I focus on the long-term: school closures, travel restrictions, the economy, the virus, etc., my anxiety ramps up. But if I can stay focused on today–my son’s schooling, my own work, the tasks that must be done in the next 24 hours–I’m able to cope. And sometimes, I’m even able to enjoy being on “pause” with my family.
Have you started adapting and/or innovating the methods you use to pitch your stories?
I’ve had to learn how to let go some. When this first started, I was working nonstop–trying to keep my son engaged for six straight hours, while continuing to write and pitch stories to editors every evening. That lasted for about two weeks before I had a meltdown. I finally realized that at school, there are many teachers whose job it is to educate my child; it’s unreasonable for me (or any parent) to try to fill all of their shoes. Also, I’m not someone who can focus on my writing and then immediately switch gears to help my son when he has a question. I need quiet and space to really concentrate on my work. So, I’ve had to cut back. Core school hours are now 9-12, with some fun activities in the afternoon. I write and pitch editors when I can, but don’t force myself to do it at the same pace as I have in the past.
How have you seen the local creative community band together to support one another?
I’ve been blown away by how creative small businesses and nonprofits have been during this time. Early on, local businesses like The Pottery Place, The Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, and Market Block Books offered free (sometimes same day!) deliveries of online and phone orders. The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall has created a really cool newsletter called The Beat, which includes inspirational stories, links to online performances, and even cocktail recipes. The Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, for which I serve as a board member, is moving its arts education programs online. So many companies and organizations are coming up with innovative ways to stay in business and keep in touch with their followers while adhering to social distancing guidelines. It’s been really inspiring, and I’m doing as much as I can to continue to support as many local companies as possible.
Are you thinking about ways that you’ll change the way you do business in the future based on this experience?
To be honest, I’m really nervous about the long-term viability of my writing career. A number of publications have furloughed staffers, implemented budget cuts, and stopped working with freelancers. Some media outlets are no longer publishing at all. There are far fewer editors taking pitches, which makes it harder to get published and, therefore, paid. I’m waiting to see how things shake out over time, but I may have to expand the type of work I do, perhaps taking on more service (“how to”) articles, product reviews, and the like.
Positivity. We could all use more of it. Can you share a final positive note?
So many of us are used to working nonstop, and it’s hard to let go of that. It’s tempting to think, “I’m home, I should use this time to do more–complete that big project, write that novel, craft that long-term business plan.” But with so much going on, you may already be tapped out emotionally, physically, and mentally. The biggest mistake you can make right now is to add extra pressure on yourself by trying to do business as usual.
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself some time every day to do something that brings you joy. I’ve become addicted to two things: jigsaw puzzles and Nintendo’s Animal Crossing. They’re silly activities that take my mind off of the world’s woes and allow me to zone out for a bit. I would love to be able to write a powerful essay or even begin working on a book, but I’m just not capable of doing that right now. Hopefully, after some time, I’ll feel calmer and able to tackle some of the bigger projects that have been on my to-do list. But for now, I’m just doing what I can to get through each day, stay on top of my current obligations, and maintain my sanity.
Connect with Sandy!