Here in the US, it’s now been almost four months since the covid-related shutdowns began, and it seemed like a good time to take stock of how things are going. I’ll give you a snapshot of life in my office, and then I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments.
Back when this all began
Here in Colorado, schools shut down on March 15, and my husband’s work–a government research lab–also announced that anyone who wanted to could work from home indefinitely, then quickly changed that to “must work from home.” My coworking office initially stayed open, but I decided to stop going in as soon as other things started closing, because my husband has some health issues that may or may not be autoimmune, and my parents–who are in their late 70s–live near us and we see them frequently, so the office just didn’t seem worth the risk.
Looking back on it, one of the funniest/saddest parts of this whole situation is how quickly we all assumed it would be over. My daughter’s high school initially announced two weeks of Spring break instead of one–then, classes would resume as normal. Odder yet, I recently walked by a still-shuttered restaurant near our house that had a notice posted on the door, to the effect of, “We’re closing down until early April, when hopefully all of this will be behind us. Can’t wait to see you then!!” (if only…).
How things look now
It took about three or four weeks for me to accept/admit that covid was not going away anytime soon. By mid-April, I put my coworking office desk on hold indefinitely and finally succumbed to setting up a desk in our living room since I no longer have a home office (the curse/blessing of coworking!). My daughter’s school announced that online learning would continue until the end of the year–and she’s a senior in high school, so that was the end!–and my husband’s work announced that no one could come in to the building until further notice. My daughter “graduated” (stood in front of the school in her cap and gown, and there was a car parade that was actually really fun), I’m still working from the living room, and my husband is still working from the kitchen table.
For the aforementioned reasons–and because we’re still holding out some hope that my daughter will be able to head to college/university in another two months–we’re very cautious about the covid situation. We do lots of stuff outside and do some socially-distanced get-togethers with friends, but only one of us (me) goes grocery shopping or to retail stores, we don’t go to any restaurants, cafes, hairdresser, gym, and we’re not planning on doing any overnight trips until after my daughter leaves for college (assuming that happens).
On the work front
Executive summary: translation work is stable so far, online courses are booming, and interpreting has dropped to almost nothing. I’m also enjoying the expanded range of online training opportunities that are available right now.
-When the pandemic hit, I was fortunate to have two major translation projects for direct clients already in the works–one NGO project of 100,000+ words that I work on every year at this time, and a massive website overhaul for one of my European university clients. Both of those went ahead, and kept me busy–almost too busy, but it worked out since there was very little else to do–from mid-March until about a week ago. Now I sense a bit of a slowdown, but it’s actually welcome since I worked like crazy for the last two months.
-When I wrote a post back in November about how to prepare your freelance business for a recession, I definitely wasn’t envisioning a pandemic. But a lot of what I wrote about in that post–inspired by an episode of the podcast The Freelancers Show–applies to what we’re living through now. In particular, the fact that training and professional development offerings tend to thrive in a recession. People have time if they’re not working as much, they think about back-burner projects (like, “I always meant to start working with direct clients”), and they want to position themselves as well as possible for the work that’s out there. All of this has proven true in my online course business: every class I’ve offered since the pandemic started has sold out. My classes usually get a good amount of registrations, but “all sold out” is a first.
-My main interpreting client is the Colorado Judicial Branch, and work from them has slowed to a trickle. Pre-pandemic, I was working in the courts two to three times a week, and I wasn’t even taking everything they offered. Now–with all trials postponed and most other matters being handled via short hearings over the phone or Zoom–I’ve earned just a few hundred dollars total from interpreting since mid-March. I haven’t actively looked for remote interpreting work because I don’t enjoy it that much, but I’m not actively opposed to taking on more remote work if it pops up.
-One of my own back-burner projects–modernizing the Training for Translators website–is now on the front burner, and my web designer is working away at it. The site functionality will still be the same, but with some graphical updates.
-A silver lining of the pandemic is that so many more people and entities are offering online training right now. I’m going to do a two-week conference interpreting course in August, and I’ve done three or four all-day interpreting trainings so far, mostly offered by trainers who don’t usually teach online.
On the non-work front
-I try to force myself to focus on the positive: no one I love has gotten sick, my husband and I still have jobs, and my family is getting along well despite spending 24/7 together. We’re very fortunate to live in a beautiful place where we have never been restricted from exercising outside, and we can do all-day hikes or bike rides right out our front door, which is a big sanity boost. We also have lots of friends who live within walking distance, so even when things were really locked down, we could walk over to a friend’s house and at least talk through the windows. Although we’ve missed out on a lot of things that can’t really be made up for later–my daughter’s high school graduation, my husband’s and my planned 20th anniversary trip to Europe, etc., in the grand scheme of things we are fine.
-I think the shock of the quarantine hit particularly hard at the outset, because this is typically a time of year when we’re running in a million directions between my daughter’s bike races–last year she went to California twice and Quebec twice between March and August, and there was rarely a time when we were home for two weekends in a row–and our own work and travel commitments. This year I was scheduled to speak at the BP conference in Nuremberg, then at the New England Translators Association conference in Boston, and then we were thinking of spending a month in Europe for an anniversary trip and to watch my daughter in some bike races. I also normally play a few lute gigs at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, ride a lot with my bike club team, and we were hoping for a bike trip in British Columbia as a sendoff before my daughter leaves for college. I know…rolling on the floor laughing, right?? Clearly all of that has been scrapped, and it really was kind of a “60 to zero” situation at our house, which took some getting used to. I still use a paper date book, and for a while I’d turn to the next week, only to see something like “Flight to Munich, 2 PM,” like a relic of a bygone era when people used to do things like leave the house.
-A small thing, but my lute duet partner figured out a way for us to continue playing remote duets together. We meet on Zoom, and take turns muting ourselves (playing along with the other person) and it actually works pretty well. Not the same as playing together in person, but from the technical standpoint, it’s very doable and keeps both of us motivated to continue practicing.
Where I’m at right now
-About 80% of the time, I can take an “it is what it is” attitude toward the pandemic. Like, really the only thing you can do is take it one day at a time and do your part. We’re healthy, we still have jobs, and we live in one of the most beautiful places in the US. We get along. We have lots of friends right in our neighborhood. It’s been great to have the extra time with my daughter before she leaves for college, and I feel more prepared for her to leave since we will have had more than five uninterrupted months together at that point.
Then the other 20% of the time, I alternate between “When will I ever be able to…again” (hug my parents, go to a concert, eat in a restaurant, go to a conference, interpret in live court, fly on an airplane…are those things really so much to ask??) and “What’s the point??” (thinking about all the effort I’ve put into music, bike racing, interpreting, etc. etc. and not knowing when I’ll ever do those things in the real world again). I say that not to complain, but to say that no one can be expected to look on the bright side of a pandemic 100% of the time. If you also have days here and there where you feel down about the situation, it’s not just you.
Readers, over to you! How’s everything going in your various corners of the world?
I’m glad to hear that your business (and your personal life) hasn’t suffered too much during this time. My workflow slowed down somewhat because I used to edit reports of factory inspections, which are not happening for the time being. I’ve taken this opportunity to learn Adobe InDesign and medical writing skills so that I can diversify my income by adding desktop publishing and medical writing to my services. I was really hoping to expand my business this year, and hopefully I can still do that.
Fortunately, everyone in my family and all my friends have been alright, so no complaints about my personal life. I was a bit of a hermit anyways, so the social isolation part of this has actually been nice for the most part. I know I’m probably the only person who feels that way, and I do miss hanging out and playing soccer with my friends, but I don’t miss social interaction too much haha.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Jennifer! That’s great that you’ve been taking advantage of the down time to add some new skills. And I honestly don’t think you’re the only person who likes the social aspects (non-social aspects!) of the quarantine. My daughter (introvert!) is actually looking forward to that aspect of college: no parties, no indoor groups larger than three people, etc. So I don’t think it’s just you!
Vee Taylor-Gunn says
I wish my life was as exciting as yours!
Neither I nor any of my family or friends have gotten COVID, which is a relief and a huge blessing, on the other hand I suffer from quite severe depression, which the pandemic and lockdown have exacerbated.
My work has never stopped, although it has slowed down a lot, but I attribute this in part to the fact I need to do more marketing. The work-related aspect I miss most is in-person events – at three three events I had planned to go to have been cancelled.
I try to look for the positive aspects of the pandemic – while digital events are frustrating in certain senses, they’ve also made a ton of educational resources accessible. The European Society of Cardiology conference is actually free this year (!), so that’s one silver lining.
Corinne McKay says
Well, my life feels more chaotic than exciting on some days, but it’s a happy chaos! That’s such a great point about in-person events, and about the positive aspects of online events. That’s amazing that the cardiology conference is free??? Wow!!
Annie Brose says
My post isn’t as inspiring and positive as yours (including that 20%), once schools closed most of my work as an educational interpreter went to 0. Even though I don’t have much work during the summer, I’ve made enough money during the school semesters that I survive the 3 month ‘summer drought’. Other small jobs used to come here and there, but now it’s pretty dry. Things were looking up on the translation side when the ‘stay at home’ directive was put into effect. My first thought was ‘just like any recession, depression, etc. the first things cut from businesses’ budget are the ‘non-essentials’ (I say that facetiously): advertising, marketing, PR, translation, etc.’; and I really started worrying when my thought came true. I’m going to have to double my efforts to get more customers and that has increased my anxiety exponentially and it’s taken a toll both physically and mentally. I’m no longer motivated and am actually thinking of closing shop, in spite of 1 new customer (potentially big) whom I yet have to receive work from.
I always try to look at the positive side of things and have taken advantage of courses and worked on improving my translation skills but I’m honestly stuck and completely unmotivated. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, I say, but this tunnel is way too long.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Annie! I’m so sorry your work has dropped off so significantly; but I agree that educational interpreting has taken a huge hit and even the fall is not going to be back to normal. “This tunnel is way too long”…no kidding!!
I really feel for you, Annie. I know this tunnel can seem brutal, endless, and even somewhat meaningless. Do your best to find your new normal, a situation that works for you. Get the support you need. Pace yourself. Get enough sleep so you at least have the physical energy you need. The emotional energy is another story. Best wishes.
Since it started, I’ve gotten two new clients with small projects, done some translation editing for another, and done regular work with a long-term client, but it’s been pretty quiet on the translation front. My non-profit is chugging along steadily. The challenge is that my husband is now about 50/50 at the lab and at home. And my kid’s been home since March. That’s pretty disruptive to work. Also, I expect that I’ll be homeschooling full-time starting in the fall and that, if it’s going to be non-traumatic and successful, I’ll need to really cut back my career. I’m okay with that, but have to figure out how to do it without ending my best client relationships – maybe outsource more? But that’s got its own problems – quality control and figuring out taxes and liability issues.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Jennifer! Oh gosh, the kid angle…having an almost 18-year-old, I didn’t even address that. Definitely a huge issue if you have elementary-age kids at home, and I agree that if school is not open full-time, probably one parent is going to have to cut back on work.
Shizuka Otake says
My work situation’s been kind of grim. I worked almost 100% as a freelance in-person interpreter before Covid with a tiny amount of translation for interpretation clients. Since I live in New York City, in-person interpretation is completely out for now, and it probably won’t pick up significantly for at least a year. I’m working on pivoting to mostly translation. I’ve gotten a few translation, editing, and remote consecutive jobs, but my income has taken a severe hit. On the plus side, I rediscovered editing (I majored in writing undergrad).
On the non-work side, being at home all the time has its benefits.
I’ve read a ton, worked out more than I used to, and have made a lot of progress on my novel.
One of my regular friend groups does a bi-weekly zoom, and I have a weekly Zoom with a very close friend who’s also writing a novel.
I really miss museums, travel (and the idea of travel), and seeing friends in person.
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Shizuka! Honestly I agree with you on in-person interpreting. I’m plugging away at my conference interpreting studies, but I agree with you on the timeframe for in-person interpreting rebounding. It sounds like you’re doing well in the “lemonade out of lemons” department, and that’s great that you’ve rediscovered editing and are getting some social time in on Zoom.
Dorothee Racette says
I want to hear more about the novel!
Corinne McKay says
Ruth Hollard says
I’m sorry to hear that this was your daughter’s senior year!! The seniors missed out on so much. But they will always be the COVID class at the class reunions for the rest of their lives (the only class, we hope), and that makes them unique. Unfortunately, none of the Brazilian seniors at my daughter’s school here in São Paulo will be able to go to the American universities they got into since no F1 student visas are being issued. One grad even got into Stanford but now he can’t go. And my daughter’s roommate at NYU who flew home together with my daughter is not even able to get back to NY since they closed the border to the Brazilians. But there is always a silver lining and so I can’t help but think of all the alcohol-related tragic accidents involving high school seniors and college freshemen that we inevitably hear about that did NOT happen this year since everybody was safe at home.
My translation pipeline slowed down a lot but is picking up. July has been great so far.
Fingers crossed that this continues. I’m enjoying being less stressed by outside activities and I feel this has helped me in my work. I used to spend so much time running around, on this committee and that, but now I feel so grounded. I think it has been a life-changing experience. One of my quarantine projects was something that was on the back burner for about 20 years – I made an amazing herb garden that I tend to first thing every morning; it is such a great way to start the day. Today, I had 16 strawberry plants and 20 lettuce seedlings delivered. I will be able to last 2-3 months without going to a grocery store. Why didn’t I do this years ago?? The time it will save me!!!
Our family is safe and well, and I just thank God for each day. My daughter had COVID and not one of us caught it, even though I kissed her goodnight every day.
I hope that you and all of your readers stay safe, Corinne. I always enjoy reading your posts!! Take care- Ruth
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Ruth! Wow, what an emotional rollercoaster it must be in Brazil with your kids scattered in different countries! My daughter was actually thrilled to miss out on all the graduation drama; she hates large group events, has a small and tight circle of friends, got into her first-choice college, and is an introvert with a lot of interests, so she’s actually thriving in the quarantine. That is such an incredible story about your garden and that you feel less crazed with more time at home; I bet the garden is beautiful! And so glad that your daughter made it through COVID; stay safe and I hope that everything works out for the upcoming school year!!
Jennifer Baldwin says
I’m experiencing a slowdown in translation work. It’s interesting though… Agency work is patchy. Some regulars dropped off, and I’m hearing from some agencies that I’d nearly forgotten about. Direct clients, on the other hand, have remained consistent. I suspect that this is because agencies are more sensitive to pricing and looking to minimize costs right now.
Personally, I enjoy the downtime and have caught up on a lot of DIY projects around the house. I’m going back to grad school this fall (an online program, thank goodness), and I appreciate this time for getting everything in order before my studies start eating into my time.
Even as an introvert, I miss a lot of the activities I used to do. I especially miss time with family. My niece had a baby in January, who I’ve only gotten to hold twice, back when he was a newborn. My niece sends pictures every few weeks, but it’s not the same, of course. He’ll be 6 months old already tomorrow!
On a funny note, my kids haven’t had haircuts since February. They both look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo! I bought professional clippers and scissors and offered to give them haircuts myself, but they don’t trust me. LOL
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Jennifer! That’s great that you’re going back to grad school, I’d love to hear about it. And wow, that is hard about your niece’s baby…so hard to be separated from family, and just the emotional burden of knowing that you can’t be with them even if there’s an emergency. And that’s too funny about your kids’ hair; if I lived near you I would definitely let you cut my hair, because I let my husband cut it with thinning shears, and now *I* look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo!
Christian Nielsen-Palacios says
Well… I *DID* have COVID-19, and survived. So did my wife and two sons, who probably gave it to us when they visited for Spring Break in March. All 4 of us now have the antibodies.
I work both as a translator and as an architect, but my hours were cut in half in April and 100% last week (laid off), because of projects being cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.
I am focusing on redoing my website, to see if I can actually make a living as a semi-retired architect/translator, hopefully combining the two fields ( I do a lot of translations about donuts and x-ray equipment, but would love to get more work in architecture/construction related fields). I actually LOVE working from home, and don’t miss my previous social life too much. Thank ___ for Zoom!
Corinne McKay says
Wow…that’s truly awful that your entire family had COVID; glad you are all OK! That’s excellent that you love working from home (I’m so done with it…can’t wait to go back to the coworking office!) and best of luck with your architecture translation ambitions. Send an update on how that’s going!
Eleonora Imazio says
Hi Corinne, here in Italy the situation has been really tough as we couldn’t leave our house for 2 months except for buying groceries and for essential stuff. I couldn’t leave our village either so I could not visit my parents. Me and my partner (he is a painter and illustrator) are both working from home, and I saw my workload dropping the moment I was trying to restart my business after my second child was born so I turned to professional training and took a marketing for translators course. Of course, it was hard to have our 2 children home the whole time (the “big” boy is almost 5 and the little one celebrated her first birthday during lockdown) with no help, and I am so glad we have a huge garden so we could at least go out and get some fresh air! Now my workflow is on the rise and I am really happy about it, my almost 5-yo started summer camp and we have the mornings to work. I feel really lucky I can keep working because many small businesses here in Italy had to shut down for good 🙁
Corinne McKay says
Thanks, Eleonora! The situation in Italy sounded truly awful, and I’m glad you’re more or less on the other side of it now. And that’s great news that your work is picking up. Being completely locked down with two little kids must have been a major exercise in patience!
Linda Pollack-Johnson says
In a previous message to you, I shared that I was facing some challenges in the telephonic interpreting side of my business. I am happy to give you an update with a positive outcome. The agency that had announced across-the-board cuts in the rate they would pay per minute for telephonic interpreting agreed to give me a raise! It is not a very big raise, but at least it is not a cut in my rate. After they announced the cuts, I had not logged on to their service for a couple weeks but I was seeing calls from them appear in my landline, so I knew they were in need of staffing. I had a nice conversation with the vendor procurement manager about my long history with the company and all the good feedback I get from the callers. She said she would “check with her team” and get back to me. When she called back she agreed to the rate I proposed. Yay!
My advice to anyone wanting to try out telephonic interpreting is that it can take a while to get on-boarded. Allow time for all the bureaucratic and technological issues to be worked out.
Corinne McKay says
Woo hoo, great to hear! Thanks for the update!
This is a really good update. I agree, nothing too catastrophic, but it definitely does sap the morale to have such a drastic change in pace. I am hugely extroverted, so the initial gleam and shimmer of Zoom and the online world wore off very quickly for me. Now I crave human contact. And it’s hard work to stay motivated. Not always easy to work through the mental fog. My translation productivity has plummeted, but thankfully my in-house translation team is understanding and supportive–I am so grateful to have them!
Corinne McKay says
I, too, really do not do well working from home, so I feel you on this one. I know it’s the rest of the world’s dream to work from home, but I get so much less done in so much more time (like the antithesis of an ad for a time management program!) that I really cannot wait to go back to my coworking office. That’s excellent that you have a good in-house team to back you up!