23 March 2011

Born to Be Free?

© Bree DeRoche 2011 

I grew up in a household where, as I got up for school in the morning, my dad sat contentedly at the breakfast table, slowly peeling back each sheet of The Age, sipping his freshly brewed coffee. As I tore through the laundry looking for a clean school uniform, Dad popped a slice of raisin bread in the toaster, wearing faded Levis, an old surfer T-shirt and bare feet … or thongs if he was feeling fancy. As I propelled myself out the front door, three minutes before the school bell chimed – as other dads inched along the freeway in rush-hour traffic, cursing the fact that they were going to be late again – my dad casually rose from the breakfast table, neatly folded the newspaper, picked up his mug of coffee, slid open the backdoor, went out to his backyard office and was seated at his desk by the stroke of 9am.

I use the world ‘office’ loosely, as this was a true writer’s nook, a haven from the outside world, a sanctuary that he built himself in among the creeping ivy and staggering gums in the backyard of the family home. Hexagonal in shape, it was a bohemian masterpiece, complete with high ceiling, exposed beams, French doors and an enormous ‘sunshine’ stained-glass window – which he also crafted himself – through which a kaleidyscope of colours were projected onto his desk, dancing, twisting and contorting over his papers as the sun shifted throughout the day.

For decades my dad has worked in that hexagonal office (and still does), avoiding the traffic and fumes, the suits and politics, the stuffy offices and fluoro lights of inner-city employment. Yet he’s carved out for himself a pretty respectable living, keeping six daughters in Diet Coke and lip-gloss. Clocking in at 9am and finishing whenever he damn-well pleased, as a freelancer, he had the complete freedom to set his own hours, establish his own goals, nurture his own projects and only take on the jobs that suited him.

Some days I’d spy Dad through the stained-glass window rocking out on his bass guitar or manning the controls to Flight Stimulator. For other periods, I wouldn’t see him for days at a time as he got a story idea and worked obsessively, burning the midnight oil, as the inspiration flowed and he wanted to get it all tapped out into his keyboard before the moment passed.

This lifestyle didn’t seem like an unreasonable or exotic proposition to me, as a kid. I had zero grasp of the absolute luxury that this type of working lifestyle afforded, and the fact that it was a luxury that most people only dreamt of. 

Your dad works at Capt'n Snooze? Wow! That’s so cool! My dad’s job’s boring. He writes movies in an office in the backyard.

It was probably this complete lack of awareness of the exoticness of my dad’s career and work life that lead me to placing very few limitations on my own career–lifestyle choices. In Year 9, I remember my teacher asking, “What do you want to do when you leave school, Bree?”

“Well, I don’t really see myself working full-time in some office job,” I said, matter-of-factly.

“Don’t sell yourself short!” she said encouragingly, as though what I was suggesting was a reflection of low self-esteem. On the contrary. The idea of working for an advertising agency, chained to a desk on Collins Street, seemed like a life of servitude too dismal to even contemplate.

I had other plans. I did what my bohemian parents told me to do: Do what you LIKE. I liked to write, so I studied writing. I needed a part-time uni job, so I worked as a proofreader, which paid a couple bucks more than Safeway. After uni finished, I wanted to travel Asia, so I worked as a copyeditor in an ad agency on Collins Street (god forbid!). All the while swinging from one dangling vine to the next, not, in fact, realising, I was accidently – yet rather poetically – swinging into my own life of a freelancer.

Now, each morning, as my kids rush their breakfast and clamber around under the couch for their school shoes, I don yoga pants and a hoodie. As the throngs crawl up Eastlink in suffocating suits and petrol-guzzling vehicles, I log-on from the serenity of my home office, with incense burning and Jack Johnson playing, a balmy breeze wafting in from the open backdoor.

Sometimes, of course, I work at an hysterical pace, juggling five contracts at once – trying to keep each topic, each publisher, each author separate in my mind – working until the midnight hours in a cold sweat, with no support network, wondering if I’ll make deadline.

Other times I have dead calm, a clean slate, bills paid and money in the bank. Yet without a single job on the horizon. Like today. Even as I sit here in my backyard, at the Moroccan table, the sunshine on my back, the last balmy breezes of the season caressing my cheek, I can’t help but think, in all this decadent downtime, of my rapidly dwindling bank account and suffer the pure terror of wondering if anyone will ever contract me again.

It makes me wonder, of course, if my dad – in all his freedom and thong-wearing and bass-playing and office-building and Flight-Simulatoring – ever had the same fears over his many years as a freelancer. And I realise, yes, of course he did – although times by three, since he had triple the number of kids that I have. As, with all the luxurious freedom that comes from being a freelancer comes almost equal amounts of terrifying uncertainly about where the next pay cheque is coming from.

My inclination is to send out hundreds of résumés, cold-canvas every old contact in my address book ... scratch my eyeballs out of their sockets. But, perhaps for now, at least, I should just kick off my thongs and turn up the bass.


  1. Awesome post. LOL at Captain Snooze.

  2. You make working from home sound so amazing that I want to do it....hang on I do! (I don't seem to have the same vibe as you though)
    Love the post, it was a lovely escape from the realities of my work.

  3. The Capt'n Snooze reference is a true story! I was jealous of my friend as her dad worked there and, while he wasn't on the ads, I'd SEEN the ads, so thought it was the coolest thing ever.

  4. My friend's uncle was the captain snooze guy!

  5. OMG. I picked up the latest version of my school's HEALTH & PE resource and there on the first page was the editors name....Bree De Roche!! My teacher colleague looked at me funny wondering why I had the surprised look on my face. YOU HAVEN"T CHANGED A BIT! Can tell by your blogs!!
    Great Work!!
    Andrew Philp

  6. Ha ha, which magazine was it? Vital Health? I freelance so I edit and write for a lot of different magazines (but I mainly edit books). Hope things are well in your world, Andrew!