Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Working From Home: 2-23-10

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ballad of the uninsured in America

I knew full-well going into this whole self-employment adventure that health insurance was going to be a big problem. You see, as much as I otherwise love my country, its current system of health care is about as backwards as an ass could possibly be.

Wisconsin has some fairly progressive state-run programs for those people who lose their insurance (or never get it in the first place). I was on BadgerCare back in those first few years out of college when all I had was a coffee shop job. Between that and the Family Planning Waiver, I was able to enjoy an at least basic level of security.

Having cast off my full-time desk job on purpose, however, I don't qualify for BadgerCare. See, you either have to get through 12 months of being uninsured (and presumably unemployed) before you can sign up, or have been laid off through no fault of your own. BadgerCare Core, the program for single adults without children like me, has currently frozen its enrollment anyway, so I would have ended up on a waiting list even if I had qualified.

I would like to point out that the Core plan had only existed for only four months before so many people had applied that they had to freeze enrollment. That should tell you something about the incredible need for any coverage at all in this state, not to mention country.

But I shouldn't complain, right? After all, I chose to leave my job with an insurance plan. There are far too many people who've just plain been forced out of work, many of whom have families to support and far greater health needs than me. I respect that. Heck my family's been there. Yet while I recognize that my situation is the result of my own decision--and so far I wouldn't take it back for all the world--I also stand firmly by my assertion that our health care system is fucked beyond belief.

Why should someone who takes the initiative to strike out on their own in pursuit of more fulfilling work have to go without health care? Why should anyone, regardless of their situation, have to go without health care?

They shouldn't. Period. Which is part of why watching the most recent debate over health care on a political level has been so painful. There had been some hope of getting universal coverage, the so-called "public option," before politicians pissed it all away in the vain hope of placating those on the far-right fringes who cried "socialism!" as though it was a bad thing when it came to the very health and well-being of their fellow citizens.

Because you know what that "socialism" would have meant for, say, someone like me? It would mean that this now empty bottle of pills I'm holding wouldn't cost me over $700 to refill (where it cost $20 with insurance). It would mean I'd be able to continue treating a stomach disorder that, left unchecked, tends to cause severe pain and make it difficult for me to properly digest food.

It would mean that people, like my own family some years ago, wouldn't have to worry about going bankrupt because someone got sick. That's just messed up.

But you all know this already. Today I'm just feeling a little sorry for myself and wanted to rant. That done, the next step is waiting for my doctor to call me back and come up with some sort of plan for taking care of my butt sans insurance. There is no generic for the medication I've been taking, so I'm not sure what the solution is, but I'm hopeful that something can be figured out. Fingers crossed.

(photo by macwagen on Flickr)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lady of the lake

Being that the sun saw fit to shine on Madison today, I decided that a good photo walk was in order. Frankly, I've been neglecting my poor Nikon for far too long, and the city in winter offers plenty of picturesque scenes to be captured, especially if a person knows where to look.

A little bird told me that Lady Liberty had just risen again on Lake Mendota. This has become a sort of annual tradition, started way back in the prehistory of 1979 when the now infamous Pail and Shovel Party won a spot in student government. I'm not sure if the old gal has gone up every year since then, edit: Letter From Here has the correct story on this.

Sure enough, when I walked out onto the snowy, quiet UW Terrace earlier today, there was the head of Lady Liberty sunk up to her nose in the icy surface of Lake Mendota. She wasn't quite finished, but I took her portrait anyway.

(you can see the rest of the set at my Flickr page)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The glamorous life of the freelancer

I am now two-and-a-half weeks into being self-employed. So far, the overriding feeling is that of an extended home vacation, but the reality of my situation has been slowly seeping in by dribs and drabs. This gig has many aspects; it's fun, fulfilling, mundane, and terrifying. In short, being a freelancer is the perfect combination of elements to keep my attention and motivate me to work. So far so good.

For your edification, the following is a list of the plus side of working from home:
  • I get to make your own schedule
  • Sleep in when necessary
  • Go pants- and/or shirt-less whenever I want (no pants dance! no pants dance!)
  • More time for cooking
  • Save on gas since there's no daily commute and I loves me my bike
  • Do the work I want/like to be doing
  • Have more time to expand and find new venues for my work
Of course there are downsides as well, and we'd all do well not to forget:
  • Far less stability / security; don't always know when your next paycheck will come
  • If you're not good at scheduling yourself and sticking to it, you're screwed
  • It can get lonely
  • Health insurance? Pfft.
  • Taxes. Goddamn taxes.
Apparently I made enough money freelancing last year for the IRS to demand a decent chunk of change from me when I sat down to work out my taxes the other day. No sweet refund for me this year. And even though I was just gonna blow it all on hookers and coke, I still take offense to being so put upon. I'm not sure how me paying 1/4 of an incredibly meager take is sensible, but thems the breaks.

Which brings me to the first major lesson of the freelancer: It's time to turn my ass into an LLC. Doing so will help me to avoid a major IRS smack down come next tax time. I'm in the process of making this happen now and will post about my experience as it unfolds. I'm hoping the story ends up being more encouraging than cautionary, but keep in mind that I'm no accountant (another good thing to look into, frankly). The odds are pretty even.

But becoming an LLC, and then opting to be treated as an S-Corp, will go a long way toward simplifying my life when it comes to dealing with taxes without paying out the wazoo. It's also important to then keep incredibly detailed track of all my work related expenses so that I can claim them as deductions and save cash that way, too. Plus then I'm ironclad if Uncle Sam comes sniffin'. I like being on the up-and-up, personally. I also like getting to (legally) hold on to as much of the little money I make as possible. It's all about balance, you see.

So once I've done the LLC thing, what's my next step? Buying a file cabinet. Ah, the glamorous life. I'll be sure to blast some Lady GaGa while I set up the thing. Y'know, for ambiance.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ode to the Fire Ball

Over the weekend, I helped throw the second annual Fire Ball at the High Noon Saloon - and was exceedingly pleased to have it be a smashing success. We nearly packed the place with fabulously dressed people, enjoyed excellent performances from several talented folks, and then had ourselves a killer dance party courtesy of DJ Chen-Cheng (currently fighting for the position of My Favorite DJ in Madison).

I was also psyched because I got to perform an act with my very own sister. And thanks to my good friend and near-constant filmmaker Rob Matsushita, the performance was recorded for posterity:

The whole thing was great fun--exhausting, of course, but great fun nonetheless--and I'm confident that we'll be able to keep throwing this event every year for a while yet. Madison seems to enjoy it, and I know I do, too.

Now mostly recovered from my big weekend, I've been slowly getting into the groove of being self-employed. Next week, you can expect regular Lost Albatross updates to begin in earnest, including what I hope will be a helpful series of tips and tricks for other people looking to do freelance work, as well as more personal, (hopefully) humorous stories about every day life outside of the cubical.

(Many, many more photos from the Fire Ball are available at Dane101.com)
The Lost Albatross