Working from home may be an adjustment for many New Yorkers, but not for the city's freelancers, who are accustomed to spending their mornings alone behind a computer while clutching a cup of coffee, possibly still in pajamas. Now, a group of them are missing a weekly get-together they've been going to on the Upper West Side for the past two years. The Meetup group, “Freelancers Starting the Day Together,” which usually meets every Wednesday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Da Capo cafe on Columbus Avenue, was created to unite and motivate those who don't have a traditional office to report into each day.
The group's members are mostly writers, filmmakers and graphic designers, though some were starting a new business or transitioning careers. Melissa Held, a graphic designer from the West Village, said, "I work from home and joined the group so that I'd have more contact with others who also work alone. It's been a fun, more social way to start the day and then I feel totally content to work on my own."
The group’s founder, Marina Tempelsman, worked at the corporate headquarters of Meetup, an online platform that assists in putting together groups of people with similar interests, for four years. A comedy writer, she was hired to write for a pilot two years ago. “At that point, I left Meetup in the hopes that the pilot would get picked up for a full series. So we worked on that for a couple of months and then it didn’t get picked up, so suddenly I was like, ‘I don’t have colleagues anymore.”
Although teaching sketch comedy classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade and directing kept her busy, Tempelsman craved both the sense of community and routine she had in the past. “I missed having the solidarity of being around other people and needed a little extra motivation to actually start my day because I’m not a morning person,” she explained. She quickly realized that looking to her former employer would be the solution, and the idea for the Meetup group was born.
As for the venue, she felt Da Capo had the pleasant atmosphere conducive for the socializing and networking she had in mind. For the first year, their meetings were held on a couch in the back of the cafe. However, on one fateful morning, that sofa had already been claimed. Tempelsman asked if they could use the back room, which is usually closed during the day, and the rest is history. Having a large, private room in Manhattan just for the group has also helped foster a sense of unity. “They were so nice about just letting us use the space,” she said.
Photographer Max Gordon, a native Upper West Sider, credits the group with awakening the creative centers in his brain with stimulating conversation in a non-business setting. “As a freelancer, everything is very much client and project-based and they’re different schedules, so having something that’s not just a work thing is nice,” he said.
Like Gordon, most members are Upper West Side residents, but there are a few who traveled farther for the sense of camaraderie. “There have been people who have come in from New Jersey, Tribeca, the West Village, the Upper East Side. There’s a guy who would stop by on his commute in from Westchester,” Tempelsman, who is also a native Upper West Sider, explained. The average turnout is six, with the largest attendance on record being 15. “I’ve never been the only person to show up though,” she said, smiling.
Due to concerns over social distancing, Tempelsman has temporarily suspended in-person meetings and is looking into videoconferencing options. The group is still active online, sharing resources for freelancers during this uncertain time. A link to their meeting place, Da Capo’s GoFundMe page, has also been posted. As the group approaches its 100th Meetup, she said, “I can't wait to get people back together in real life ... Seeing both new and familiar faces of members every week has been such a joy for me, and the situation we're in right now is a reminder of how important those in-person connections are.”
"I can't wait to get people back together in real life ... The situation we're in right now is a reminder of how important those in-person connections are.” Marina Tempelsman, group founder