In 2019, I produced a new podcast for the Incomparable network of geeky podcasts with geeky podcast pals called Pants in the Boot. After traveling twice to England in the last couple of years, I enjoyed learning even more of the differences in language and culture. I decided to turn it into a thing, and each episode taps panelists from the US, Canada, and UK—and on the latest run, also from Australia. (I hope to expand in the future to other countries in which English is spoken widely.)
Each episode, we talk about a set of terms or concepts, like lemonade (surprisingly complicated), “public” school, or—yes—pants and underwear. It’s all in good fun, and I try to keep episodes short, typically 5 to 15 minutes, though some topics run longer.
I’ve got four episodes of another podcast recorded that I plan to call the Tiny Typecast, which will focus on the way in which the history of type, printing, and books informs us about the past and continues to shape us in the present. As soon as those are edited, I’ll get them posted, promote them, and start recording more.
I also was a substitute host and script-writer on a few occasions for Brian McCullough’s Techmeme Ride Home, a daily tech podcast that summarizes the news into about 15 minutes in time for everyone’s nightly commute. It’s a good challenge, and I appreciate someone giving me the helm of their ship and trusting I won’t smash it into the reefs! (Some episodes I wrote, recorded, and editing; for a couple, I wrote a chunk of the script while Brian was at a tech event that he was covering for the same day’s podcast.)
I did a one-off Jeopardy!-related podcast with Tom Nissley (an all-time winner) and Matthew Amster-Burton (a friend who was a fantastic contestant but an early victim of James Holzhauer) in which we discussed how James might change the game.
I expect to get back into more podcasting in 2019—I barely appeared on other people’s podcasts and turned down requests due to a lack of time. With my focus on the Tiny Type Museum project and Take Control Books writing, it was hard to find the time necessary to create anything on a regular basis.
California passed a new employment law that was intended to be smart in intent, but is disastrous in effect. It was an attempt to make sure gig workers weren’t misclassified. That is, people who work for Uber, Amazon delivery, Grubhub, Instacart, and many others where the company doesn’t allow negotiation of fees, imposes strict conditions that must be met, and otherwise acts almost exactly like an employer—but doesn’t pay unemployment insurance and workers have none of the protections of employment. This is an issue that dates back decades, as companies tried to shift employees to independent contracting status in a lot of fields in which it was inappropriate; the gig economy accelerated it.
However, the California law also effectively outlaws independent professionals who provide services, though it carves out so many exemptions that it’s clearly serving special interests. It doesn’t accept that people who have a high degree of training and experience, who set fees or negotiate them, who “hire and fire” clients, who work at their own equipment in their own manner, and who have typically many clients aren’t really employees—they’re actually contractors. Writers, photographers, and illustrators in California are limited to 35 “submission” a year for any given company, which means that many publishers are severing relationships with all their California freelancers in the interest of not violating that law. In some cases, this reveals how firms are truly exploiting people—paying an effective pittance per hour and demanding employee-like conditions! But for most folks like me, we run our own businesses, and this would be unwarranted.
California was the first to pass this restrictive a law. It’s potentially unconstitutional, but certainly has emerged to be disruptive and unfair. A similar, worse law is under consideration in New Jersey and passed out of a NJ senate committee. My friend and colleague Jen A. Miller, who lives in New Jersey, has been helping to lead a fight against the bill there. New York is looking at such regulations, and other states, too.
If Washington state adopted such a law, it would be bad for me, worse for many others. That’s another reason why I’m trying to chart a different course forward.
My Particular Future
I confess that I head into 2020 invigorated and happy with what I accomplished in 2019, but also quite concerned about the future of freelance journalism and my career in it. I know that I’ll be writing, where I’m producing prose intended for people to read, until I expire on some far-off future date (apparently, this happens to everyone), but the ability for me to pursue reporting in the areas that I am knowledgeable about for fees that make sense given what I need to earn and my level of experience? That feels like a big unknown.
I will certainly be writing more books, maybe even some with a more mainstream appeal. I have an idea for a subscription-based “thing” service I’ll be talking more about by around February 2020. I have recurring gigs and relationships I’ll continue to work on. And I’ve enjoyed the heck out of my creative work in 2019.
I am trying and so far succeeding in approaching the end of 2019 with hope for 2020. That wasn’t true at the end of 2017 or 2018, when everything felt much more uncertain about my work, the economy—even my health! Contracting the flu Christmas Eve 2017 and a difficult aftermath through the first four months of 2018 took a chunk of my energy and earnings. Fortunately, 2019 hasn’t been like that at all.
I want to thank everyone who has been so supportive this year and every other. My goal with my writing is to cast some light on interesting dark areas, and I appreciate every opportunity to share my thrill in everything I learn.