In days of yore, valiant knights donned ridiculously heavy armour and hefted a lance. On a good day, they might protect a damsel in distress and/or slay a fire-breathing dragon. These days, knights and dragons are thin on the ground. As for swooning around distressingly damsel-like, who has time? In addition to actually working, as a freelancer I do battle daily with the most-dreaded modern monster of all: the Hamster.
The Hamster does not breath fire. Worse. An invisible changling, the Hamster natters and nags and wheedles and whines incessantly, and occasionally pulls spectacular tantrums.
Why? To get my attention and keep me running in circles.
Fully awake before my eyes fully open, the Hamster begins the day with a lengthy list of undoable to-dos. At breakfast, it catches sight of my Blackberry’s blinking red eye and whispers, “New messages, new messages, gotta getcha new messages.” I swear BB and the Hamster are in cahoots.
The Hamster thrives on insecurity. Give it the slightest opening—an ambiguous comment, a minor oversight, a telephone that stays quiet just a little too long, an empty inbox—and the Hamster starts in. “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!” it says. Although the Hamster doesn’t actually call me “Ollie” there’s no mistaking Stan Laurel’s exasperated tone.
Then I start worrying. Was that comment really a slight? Did I forget to pay the phone bill? Have all my clients dropped me? OMG, they have dropped me. Remember that typo??? Oh, wait, has a virus infected my computer? Evil bots? If I don’t land a contract, like, now, I will be homeless … Score one for the Hamster.
If I do manage to get through a day without a screw-up, the Hamster seeks sustenance elsewhere. Hamster kibble abounds in the life of a freelancer. Even when life and work are going swimmingly, the Hamster will find something else to gorge on. Like how much I have not accomplished.
“So, you delivered 3,000 words on deadline, worked up the moxie to cold-call a prospect and, finally, mastered that new graphics program,” says the Hamster. “Big deal! What about catching up with the accounting? What about the blog post you were supposed to publish? And your landlady? Weren’t you supposed to call her about the leaky faucet? Too late. Time for dinner. Oh, wait! the cupboards are bare, Mother Hubbard. When are you going to get a life? Loser.”
Unlike dragons, no magic sword or incantation can slay the Hamster. I have discovered, however, that certain practices act as a temporary muzzle.
For example, routine seems to confuse the Hamster. Just making my bed buys me a little time. A clear and doable plan also quiets the critter. Rumour has it that meditation paralyzes the Hamster. but I have too little data to confirm.
When all else fails, taking a long walk works. The Hamster will venture outside in all weather but can only handle fresh air in small doses. Obviously, the rodent has no stamina. Only a few minutes into a brisk walk and damnatus cricetus turns tail and races back to the office.
I’ll be honest. Some days nothing quiets the furry terror. On those days, I’d happily swap the Hamster for an old-timey fire-breathing dragon.
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