reflections on having a permanent job

May 24, 2014

For over six years in the midst of the Irish recession I struggled and strived when it came to work. Short, badly paid contracts, long bouts of unemployment, course after course, thousands of unanswered job applications. Occasional interviews where confused executives asked why such a well educated person was applying to be a secretary. Pleading with restaurant owners for a waitress position, only to be told I “would never stay”; dropping my CV into MacDonalds, Tesco and local cleaning companies. All to no avail. Crying, depression, despair, hopelessness. Anger.

Now, I have a secure job that almost certainly will, later, lead to another secure job, and instead of the job being the thing that I want it to be, it simply is the thing that it is.

Having a meaningful job, due to the not-having, became something that lost all proper perspective for me. It seemed so impossible and so out of reach. Others around me suffered the same fate but they floated to the back of my consciousness, while my employed and career-focused friends were right there at the fore, living lives of purpose and meaning and enjoying the fruits of their labours. It became the holy grail for me: the promised land. It became the answer to my sense of desperate unfulfilment.

And now, for the precise reason that I packed up and left the country of my birth, I have the elusive job, and suddenly it’s possible and within reach, and I am living the possibility and touching it, and it’s not the holy grail and nor is it fulfilling. It is a job, that is worthwhile, and I do it, and I feel tired after it, and I get the Sunday night dread, and we still count every penny each month to make the rent (while, admittedly, padding the fund for The Grand Summer Holiday – something not enjoyed in a few years).

Undoubtedly I am far less unhappy than before. But, you know, the job is being put back in its place. Where it should have remained all along, instead of becoming bloated with years of swollen anxieties about paying the bills and having worth as a human being.

It is terribly wrong when a person cannot find labour to fund their living. It is morally wrong when a society has been so ordered that their search becomes pointless. It corrodes a bit of that person: it really rots your interior life. I had times where I almost gave up looking and resigned myself to staying on the dole forever. Shortly before landing this job, I suggested to my husband that I simply stop looking. I felt I was approaching a nervous breakdown due to the unflagging disappointments and perhaps needed to allow myself to become a housewife. Have some children and keep a house. He said that was okay by him – he’d watched me suffer and fail for a long time. But then I remembered that we have moved to another country so that he can do something that requires someone else to be working. And so I kept seeking. And lo I did find. But as for those who have stopped seeking? I understand why. I do, and deeply. Looking for a job in the midst of a recession is like spending every waking hour scouring the floor, walls and ceiling of a pitch black tunnel for treasure, all the while knowing that there’s only enough treasure hidden in this tunnel for one tenth of those who are looking for it. It’s tedious, lonely and exhausting beyond compare. And you begin to despise yourself. What is wrong with me? you ask, over and over, year after year. Nothing, say your family and friends. You’re great! I’d give you a job if I had one!

As usual I am not sure what my point is. I wish I could wind my reflections into neat little packages, but I never can. I think I have said what I came here to say. It is good to have a job. It is bad to not have a job. But having a job is just having a job. It isn’t changing the world and it doesn’t address your deepest self, whose worth comes from somewhere else. So, you know. Remember that.

 

 

Advertisements

i had to put this somewhere

February 9, 2014

where my bruised reeds at? he says, looking for the walking wounded, the bent-over men and women, the smoldering wicks. where are my people who don’t even know up from down anymore, who can no more suss out what is sustainable than they can solve the problems of the world? where are my people at, he says, the ones who are beating back addictions, dysfunctions, lies that slink in and out around our ears? those are my people, he says, the ones i will not break. they are the ones i will not snuff out.

~ D.L Mayfield: mercy > sacrifice


a little yeast

October 18, 2013

I often find that the best moment for blogging is when I’m supposed to be doing something else. Seeing as I have guests arriving for dinner shortly and I am unprepared, now seems ideal.

So the Ten Series is complete. Thank God says you. And me too: you might have noticed I got stuck there towards the end. It took a great internal shove to get moving again. I lack momentum. Given my mass, you’d imagine there’d be a little more velocity.

I have been recently enjoying a brand new treat: unemployment in a strange city. I’ll be honest: it’s not that different to unemployment at home. Every single person that I meet immediately asks how the job search is going. A smart and funny friend of mine (over at 53 degrees) has been battering through his PhD for the last few years. Eventually he became so sick of the question “How’s the PhD going?” that he had a box of badges (that’s buttons, to Americans) custom-made to read “The PhD is fine”. I’m thinking of getting one that reads “I still have no job” to avoid that bloody conversation with everyone. It’s the first question in the phone calls from home, too. I know it’s because you care, so I appreciate that. I just hate how one-dimensional it makes me and all potential conversations. I guarantee you, if I get a job, you will hear about it.

I took this week “off” from job-searching and spent it instead prioritising time to myself not sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet. I spent lots of time in rubbish cafés, writing letters to friends and prisoners, until I eventually found the perfect café where I know I will go to seek refuge time and again in this city. I was pleased to note that The Coffee House is on Gaelic Lane. I got some long, rambling letters written, but not many. Letters take me hours and hours. If you receive one, please remember that, and also forgive me in slowness in correspondence. The more unhappy I am, the longer it takes me to do anything. Even time taken to dress and think about breakfast seems to stretch out through a morning.

So, I’m pretty unhappy.

The husband unit gave me a quote the other day from Karl Barth:

Radically and basically all sin is simply ingratitude… [The Doctrine of Reconciliation (Church Dogmatics, Vol. 4, Part 1 P 42)]

Something for me to chew on. Ingratitude is a central feature of my psyche: it sits alongside gratitude in classic shoulder-angel versus shoulder-devil style. Seeing as what you focus on magnifies, it would seem prudent therefore to focus on all I am grateful for, and allow that view to grow, rather than attempt to eliminate the ingratitude. A post on gratitude to follow. For now, I got some dough to knead.


the ten series: six places

September 17, 2013

Okay, these are in no particular order.

1. Dublin. It’s my town. I was born there and I lived there until I was 17. I’ve been trying to get back there ever since. When we return to the republic in 2019 we are settling in Dublin, hopefully for good. I love it. I love its disordered buildings and the rawness right there in front of you on the street. I love the mix of people, the tangle of nationalities. I love Moore Street with its fresh fish still flapping and feisty women selling you fruit as did their mothers and grandmothers; its cafes and junky phone repair stores. I love the hum in the streets. I love how awake it is, all the time. I love the lights at Christmas, the tinsel and bustle. I love its markets – from the hipster fleas to the antiques and rubbish to the farmer’s produce to the artisan craft. I love the eurosaver stores, the restaurants, the good humour with strangers. I love the marches, parades and protests. I love its coffee culture and its pub scene. I love the people who paint on the pavement. I love the city’s extravagant history. I love the live music everywhere, the street sculpture, the museums.  I like the cobbled streets and wide-paved streets and the walking tours. I like the cheese and the hand-made chocolate and the open-top bus and the Liffey river cruise. I love the macabre edge: the storytelling, the Ghost bus, the folklore. I love how it is a real place and that as soon as the sun comes out everybody strips off and soaks up every drop of heat and light. I love how Dubliners turn out for everything: nothing is a flop – they oblige at every festival, every market, every free show and workshop. I love the theatres, from the huge performances to the fringe shorts. I love its cinemas; something for every taste. I love the activism and the projects and the commitment. I love that you can always get a taxi. I love the Luas. I love the Nitelink. I love the train stations and the bus stops. I love its parks and nooks and crannies of green. I love its comedians and the cheap comedy shows. I love the old ladies who tell me I remind them of their daughters. I love its beaches and its fish and chips. I love its apartments and its flats and its ramshackle houses with the bathrooms that you have to walk through the kitchen to reach. I love the busking. I love the street performers and the human statues and the poets who self-publish and sell their work on the street. I love the stalls on O’Connell Bridge and the ability to find a cosy spot at any moment. There are things about it that I don’t love, but I don’t love those things only because they are destructive to a city and a people that I love.

2. Around my kitchen table. I’ve lived in a few places and I haven’t always had the same kitchen or the same table. In fact the kitchen in my current flat is so small there’s no chance of sitting round anything or sitting at all. In fact the flat had no table when we moved in, so we bought a table and four chairs and squeezed it into the living room, because what kind of home doesn’t have a table in it? So yes, around my kitchen table. Over the years there has been some serious rejoicing and some serious mourning done round that table with neighbours, family and friends. It’s the heart of any home: endless cups of tea and bowls of soup and boards of cheese and grapes and great vats of beef stew have been consumed at that table – nourishment not just in the food but of course in the company too.

3.  Malta, and its Hilton Hotel. A few years ago the husband unit broke both of his arms in two consecutive accidents. What followed was a lot of surgery and recuperation and six weeks when he could not wipe his own bottom. During those six weeks we completely missed out on Christmas and on my dear friend’s wedding in Texas, where I was to be bridesmaid. We recouped some of the travel costs (although we lost our flights) and booked a hasty trip to St. Julian’s in Malta for five nights. What ensued was the best holiday of our lives. Every last detail was perfect. We were collected from the airport by the hotel  chauffeur and were in the Hilton within twenty minutes of landing. We were greeted with complimentary cool drinks which we enjoyed while our bags were taken to our room. Our room had a view of the marina and boasted the most comfortable bed I’ve perhaps ever slept in. We spent our days exploring the island on foot and by boat, eating local delicacies of rabbit stew and drinking fine wine. We ate in a restaurant that had a river running through it full of live carp. Everyone we met was gracious, kind and courteous. The sun shone on us for five glorious winter days and we felt like honeymooners. (Our actual honeymoon having been several years previous, was an unmitigated disaster, the misery from which we still have not fully recovered. But that’s a tale of woe and warning for another day.)

4. I say this tentatively…Aberdeen. Years ago I remember reading a quote from St. Theresa who was grappling with her faith. She said, God I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you. Not to compare Aberdeen to God, but that sums up how I am feeling. I don’t love this city and in fact, I don’t want to. Maybe I am afraid I will grow attached to it only to be forced somewhere else in three years’ time. But in a way I do want to want to love it. It does have things going for it, this place. There is a very wild ocean that roars and is exhilarating. The worse the weather, the more thrilling it is. There are huge hidden parks that alternate between natural forest and grassland, and manicured lawns spilling their guts with beautiful flowers of every colour. It has fortified castles and a salt-smelling harbour and most importantly it offers an opportunity for my weary husband unit to expand his thinking and talents in a community that is both academically brilliant and socially vibrant. Aberdeen we’ll get there.

5. Prison. I’ve never been locked up in one (well actually, I have, but I have never been convicted of a sentence and served time in jail). But I have had the privilege of sharing in the lives of a lot of people who live in prison. More than this: I have met with God there – in sacrament and in person and in liturgy and in tears and laughter in sterile hallways and poky offices and bare wooden chapel pews.

6. The dole queue. No, I don’t love it. But it has been a significant place of learning for me. It has certainly been a leveller. My five year struggle to secure a permanent job, which ultimately failed, gave me an opportunity to reconsider my identity. I literally cried with distress for the first few years of having nothing meaningful to do. Being cut off from opportunities and money and the important social interaction that comes with working, only to get a three month placement here and a six month placement there, each one snipped just as I was getting comfortable, taught me something about myself:  I am not what I do for a living. If my meaning comes from what I do or what I earn, then what message of hope do I have for those who cannot work? My worth can’t be counted by Anglo or measured in the GDP. I’m pricey, yo. 


the ten series: eight fears

September 16, 2013

I don’t know why in this series fears get eight slots. Seems a bit neurotic. I’m not quite sure that I have eight fears. I presume there are some deep-seated fears that I shouldn’t put on the blog and instead explore in therapy, curled up on a crying chair surrounded by wads of balled-up tissue, with hair in my mouth and a river of snot to my chin. RIGHT LET’S GO

eight fears

1. That I am ‘too much’ or ‘too intense’ for people and that this means that ultimately I am a novelty rather than someone you really like to be around. There are only a few soul friends where this doesn’t worry me.

2. Slugs, snails and soft-bodied creatures. I don’t mind creepy-crawlies, but anything soft and slimy gives me the willies. I have been known to walk home in the dark on a wet night on tip-toe, shining the light from my phone onto my path. Stepping on them sends a shiver through me that lasts for hours. Anything without a spine definitely cannot be trusted. Take jelly fish for example (barf). Ah I can’t even talk about them. They’re too disgusting.

3. That my husband will die. It struck approximately one week after I married him. This is a stupid and pointless fear, because he definitely will die. And so will I. I suppose I fear the impending reality. On some level I think that I would rather die first, to never have to endure losing him. But then I think of how badly he would take it if I died, and I don’t want to put him through that. It is funny how as soon as you find yourself in a deep and loving relationship (not necessarily romantic, either) you suddenly develop this grip on the person as a reaction to the fragility of our existence. I went through a phase (which I think most children do) of deeply fearing the deaths of my parents. It’s incredible how this particular fear can hold us captive. It is the one fear that exposes how out of control everything is: how futile our attempts to hang onto anything are.

4. Small spaces. I have claustraphobia, for realz. It’s not an active part of my psyche so whenever it strikes I am invariably shocked as well as terrified. My most recent bout hit when I visited a museum in Aberdeen where you have to climb a narrow, winding concrete stairwell, built a few centuries ago, to get to the exhibit. UM, NO. About six steps up my brain shouted NO, WE’RE LEAVING NOW. GO GO GO. I had to turn back and leave immediately. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see the exhibit but if I had pushed on through I might have wet myself by the time I’d reached the top, and then had to endure tremors while wandering around but thinking about the descent. Another time that it struck when I wasn’t expecting (and now I think about it, it might have been the first time ever that it struck) was when I was on a primary school tour in a country park and we had to crawl through underground mud tunnels as part of some orienteering track. I had a massive freakout, underground, in a mud tunnel. Yeah.

5. Mountains. There is nothing you can make me do to climb mountains. I will most definitely be the person in the group who breaks their ankle or topples backwards to their grisly death. I don’t mind a friendly little hill. I don’t mind sloping trails in a forest park. But you will never ever get me on a mountain hike where there is even the remotest chance of losing balance and smashing my head open. To be honest with you, it’s not even so much a fear of injury. It’s fear of the humiliation of having to be looked after by the rest of the group and carried back to safety. DEAR GOD NO.

6. That my lack of a proper career will never end and I will be doomed to bouts of unemployment followed by stints temping in stuffy offices until the day I die. This one keeps me awake at night.

7. Being the minister’s wife. My husband worked for six years in a church and is now taking an academic break before going back to full time work in a church community as a minister. This fear of being The Little Woman (ha) has many layers. My husband outshines me in many ways. That is very difficult for my pride. He works harder, is more impressive, achieves more highly. He gets prizes, scholarships, job offers. I get the unemployment line, or so it feels. The church is a misogynistic place. My husband is a feminist and our home is an equal place. We both encompass qualities of the masculine and feminine. But I find myself constantly attending events where Husband-Unit is the keynote speaker and I am the silent wife in the background. I have met colleagues of his, repeatedly, who cannot hold onto my name. I am used to him having fans and followers who tack me on as an addition. This would be less grating if I had something of my own, but despite all my education, striving and very best efforts, I remain The Minister’s Wife. Even moving here to Aberdeen, I was shocked to find that 95% of the PhD students in his department are male, and that their wives and partners have started a women’s social group thing. I just can’t attend something where my identity is as an addendum to someone else’s.

8. Driving. I smashed the car into the garden wall and caused thousands of euros worth of damage that has sent our premiums through the roof. I fear killing someone, wrecking things, causing a massive pile-up. This is a saga that goes on and on in my quest to get my licence. I feel like as soon as I get that goddam licence I am hanging it up and never driving again. That part is the biggest fantasy of all, as there’s no way I’m throwing a pile of kids into a cart at the back of a pushbike and using that to get us from a to b. I’m even worse on a bike than behind the wheel!

Oh, have we run out of room? Turns out I could have kept going indefinitely.


and so it has come to this

September 13, 2013

Well, this is probably the fourth or fifth time I’ve sat down in the last month to try and write an update here on living gently, and failed. And it’s now that I’ve set myself a twenty minute window before I *have* to get to bed that I’ve decided I’ll take a leaf out of the book of mimi smartypants who does a weekly No Delete Thursday and have myself a little No Delete Friday right here right now. Celebrity Big Brother is on in behind me, providing plenty of satisfyingly inane background noise.

So we’ve moved from Ireland to Scotland. This is week six. I can hardly believe how quickly the time has gone. I am, as I expected I would be, quite homesick. Homesickness, I’ve found, has very little to do with how good or bad the destination is, and all to do with what you have left behind.  It is also a bit of a catch-all word for a shit-ton of conflicting emotions. Nobody told me that sometimes, a symptom of homesickness is feeling REALLY ANGRY at mild to moderate inconveniences. And it’s not about the inconveniences themselves: I am unemployed (agaaaaaiiinnnnn) and so have plenty of time on my hands for standing in lines for bureaucratic rubbish. It’s about how each of the little inconveniences (like standing in line in the job centre only to be told you have to ring to get your national insurance number, then ringing the place in which you are currently standing, then waiting on hold on the line to make an appointment for a national insurance number, then waiting a week for your appointment date, then turning up only for your appointment time being ignored, then waiting weeks for the number to arrive in the post) – it’s about how each of those little inconveniences isolate you and highlight your status as stranger, as inconvenience, as someone of whom the locals should be suspicious. And it’s just a small thing, but Aberdonians don’t smile all that much – at least not the one in service industries. I wouldn’t have described myself as chirpy or (God forbid) bubbly, but it turns out I approach most people with a big gormless smile on my face that quickly slides off as my plebeian status becomes apparent. People are generally helpful, but they do not grin in the way that Irish people do. But then sometimes, I can’t even trust my own perception of things, as perhaps as soon as I landed on the bonny shores I immediately slapped a giant pair of rose tinted spectacles onto my big gombeen face? In any case, things appear skewed vastly in favour of home at the moment, in spite of the many clear pluses here, and I am a walking ball of stress and rage and occasional contentedness.

Charlotte, in spite of her farting and alcohol-induced bed-wetting, has won (I know you were itching for the result), and now it’s time for my leaba. I’ll return. G’nite, dear ones.


i work in the dole office

December 13, 2012

Me: Hello, how can I help you?

Him: (Slowly removes coat, hat and scarf, sits down on chair and crosses legs. I am filled with a sense of foreboding.) Hello. I have a problem with my household benefits.

(Household benefits is a small amount of money given to the long-term unemployed towards phone, tv costs etc. It is not my area and he is not in the correct office, but I will listen to the problem and see what I can do.) 

Me: Ok. Let’s have a look here. What is your PPS number?

Him: (Spends several minutes trying to locate it. As this is rush hour, the queue behind him begins to lengthen.) 1234567Z

Me: Ok. Tom. What seems to be the problem?

Him: Well, on the fifth of October I closed my telephone account with Eircom. I don’t use the phone anymore. It’s just of no use to me. I have a mobile phone for emergencies. And today they sent me this. (Slides a bill for €8.03 across the counter to me, dated November 11th.)

Me: Ok.

(Silence.)

Me: What can I do for you?

Him: Well, can you sort this out or not?

Me: What do you mean?

Him: (Getting irate) I closed this account!!

Me: Tom this is the social welfare office. I can’t do anything about your Eircom bill. You need to contact Eircom and tell them that you have closed your account and they have issued a bill to you in error.

Him: They sent me down from upstairs! (Upstairs is the maintenance section for open claims. I work in the new claims section.) They said you would sort this out for me!

Me: I’m sorry, they must have misunderstood your query. As I said, you will need to contact Eircom yourself and tell them that you have closed your account and they have issued a bill to you in error.

Him: How am I supposed to do that?

Me: (Examining the bill) You need to ring this number here.

Him: (Looking at me like I am a moron) …I don’t have a phone!

Me: You are welcome to use our phones over here (I gesture to the public phone area). They are free for public use: just dial 3 for an outside line.

Him: Why can’t you ring them for me?

Me: Tom, this is the social welfare office. We did not send you the bill. You must contact the people who sent you the bill. I cannot ring Eircom and sit on hold on your behalf. This has nothing to do with me or this office. This is a private matter between you and your phone provider.

Him: Fine! (He storms off, leaving his coat, hat and scarf on the chair. I decide to continue calling other customers in spite of his marking his territory.)

(3 minutes later)

Him: I couldn’t get through. (Sits down at my desk again.)

Me: Tom I don’t know what to say. You just have to keep trying.

Him: Well, I can’t get through.

Me: (Beginning to lose it slightly) I understand that you are frustrated about being issued a bill that you were not expecting but it is up to you to contact Eircom to resolve this.

Him: But I can’t get through.

Me: Perhaps you could write them a letter of complaint and enclose a copy of the bill. Would you like me to copy the bill for you?

Him: Yes, ok.

(I go to copy the bill. There are now six other customers waiting. To my horror, neither of the photocopiers is working. About to do my nut, I have the brainwave of using the fax to make a copy. I return to my desk.)

Me: There you are.

Him: Thanks.

(Silence)

Me: So you should write to them and enclose that copy of the bill Tom.

Him: What is the address?

(Trying not to snatch it or explode, I examine the bill. There is no address listed. I begin to hate Eircom almost as much as I hate this encounter. I google for an address for Eircom customer complaints, eventually find one and write it down. I also find another helpline number listed, which I write out for Tom.)

Me: There you are.

Him: Ok. Thanks. (Spends several long minutes putting on his coat and hat and gloves while I, and the other customers, look on in utter disbelief. He leaves and my brain explodes all over the dole office, leaving chunks of fudgey grey matter on every surface.)