The Hammock Dilemma: Why Work When You Could Play?

It’s the start of June, and I’m celebrating a milestone.

I’m also stewing (just a little) over paths not-quite-taken.

May was a great month, work-wise. Despite being grossly ill for the first two weeks of the month with theeee worst head cold known to man, I got a shitload done. The projects I’m currently hacking away at are varied and challenging and fascinating pretty much to a one, which (cough) doesn’t happen all the time, and that certaintly helped to bolster my resolve through the brutal fog of an early-summer sickness.

And, here’s the best part: as far as pure earnings, I hit a financial benchmark that I never could have imagined for myself a couple of years ago: I out-earned my partner.

Nah, this isn’t a contest, but it still felt great.

Now, though, we’re closing in on the end of the first week of a brand-new month, and I’m simply, plainly, entirely exhausted. In fact, I’ve been laying here the last 15 minutes fantasizing blankly about hammocks and thinking to myself how I need to finally find a way to rig one of mine up in our treeless yard.

hammock feet, erin j bernard, ejb writing studio

I spent a lot of my 20s lounging in hammocks. I even slept in one for a year when I lived in Mexico. It was fun. Back then, I was a Creative Roustabout more inclined to indulging in pure experience. I certainly wasn’t getting my rocks off on 40-to-60-hour work weeks. In fact, for a long time, I pitied such people their toil.

Alas, though my turn as a Roustabout was lovely, it had an expiration date.

So I quit it in favor of this quieter, noisier, busier, boringer, and far more stationary life, which involves regular stretches of hard, hard work, albeit in a profession that grants me the freedom to take long-ass vacations each year because I’m not a total masochist.

But on Thursdays such as this one, when I’m satisfied but so very incredibly tired and nothing sounds better than spending the next three weeks basking semi-comatose in the June-ish sunlight, of course, I think about that life I left behind. And I think about hammocks.

I think about the people I met during my travels who did, indeed, forego money-earnin’ and the material comforts it affords in order to become true career Roustabouts—friends who chose to skip along down the scenic, unmanicured path when the road forked, as it eventually always must.

Mexico Fall 2004 to Summer 2005 090-2r m

I admire them and the hammocks they must surely be resting in right this very moment. I truly do.

I’m no longer a broke vagabond, and my income remains a modest one, but I still carry with me a deep and abiding suspicion that money is super overrated. And so, yeah, I’m glad I made a shitton of money last month, because who wouldn’t be, but, no, I don’t substantially care.

Which raises a prickly existential question: why bother, then? Why make myself this tired?

I’ve always felt highly motivated to create things, but creative work, like so many other kinds of work, is unerringly hard. If money doesn’t motivate you, what’s the payout?

The whole “satisfaction of a job well done” conceit, too, strikes me as a preposterous and offensive fabrication. Yes, I enjoy my work. Yes, I’m often satisfied when it’s finished. But simple industriousness is a dim bulb to bask in, if you ask me. When I’m done for the day, not thinking about work AT ALL sounds like much more appealing form of compensation.

Why all this fuss? Why this working through illness, this comparing of paystubs, this inveterate and ridiculous slog? If money’s irrelevant, why not just revert to swinging ad infinitum in a sunbaked hammock for the rest of my forever like some great overgrown lizard?

I think what keeps me coming back to my creative work is the Pure Novelty of it.

Globetrotting proffers a singular high, but any extended traveler can tell you that the buzz wears off after a month or two, an adventure or two, a decade or two. It starts to feel daily. Dull, even. I know that sounds insane, but I swear it’s bafflingly true. At least it was for me.

Travel is magical, but I need breaks from travel to find it truly meaningful. And during those extended breaks, I hustle.

Sitting down to my desk each day and running my tiny little freelance business is never dull. Opening up my email each morning is like diving straight into page 34 of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Redressing a dull-witted, stoop-shouldered bit of web copy in a shiny new coat of colorful keywords! Slaying treacherous typos! Chasing overdue invoices, sometimes cross-country, my Collections lance at the ready! Navigating the sucking quicksands of situational ethics! And, come tax season, swampy pits of snapping alligators!

Freelance creative work can be hard, annoying, demeaning, discouraging, and decidedly not-lucrative. But it’s also surprisingly bracing and life-affirming, and sometimes even modestly well-paying!

And, unlike swinging around in a hammock all day like some lumpy, human-shaped pendulum, it never, ever gets stale.

At least, it hasn’t yet. Ask me again in another decade.

erin j bernard, ejb writing studio, hammock, caye caulker, belize

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