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.



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: 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.

you don’t have to say

June 30, 2013

I’m at my kitchen table listening to a mix-tape L made me, sniffing the sweet scent of lillies and eating chocolates the prisoners gave me, and I am feeling happy and sad. Half of the electricity has been turned off because the sockets are crackling and we think the toilet might be leaking down into the walls. The glamour! Tomorrow a Man with KnowledgeTM will come and look at the problems and fix them without me understanding how, but until then only the back half of the house can have lekky.

As you can see, I’m determined to squeeze my monthly post in for the archives before June disappears and it will be quality as always!

My work contract expired on Friday. In the end I was very sad to leave. And then my two year placement in the prison finished up today. In five weeks I am moving to Scotland. (Boom, boom, boom.) I am as emotionally constipated as ever, although a little salty waterfall did emerge from my face this morning as I was embraced over and over in the prison chapel and many men who are not my husband told me they love me. I was given the privilege of sharing the homily at worship and who better to talk about than Wade Watts? That was a man who understood freedom.

I am anticipating a day of rest tomorrow where I don’t do anything of significance except make a sandwich and a cup of tea for the Man with KnowledgeTM. There is so much stuff to sort out and I have no idea where to begin, so I am beginning with a rest to get ready. I’ll come back and visit this week with thoughts on food, frugality, solidarity and being a permanent basket case. Laters!

friends, circles and followers

November 15, 2012

I had a Facebook account and about 450 “friends” up until last March. I eventually deactivated my account and haven’t returned. I didn’t close the account because I didn’t like Facebook (I loved it); I closed it because checking Facebook was interfering with my normal life. If it’s the first thing you do in the morning and the last thing you do at night, you’ve probably disordered your priorities.

I stayed on Twitter and Google+, though. Both of my feeds were a hell of a lot less busy, so they were less compelling and less distracting.

During the eight months of unemployment last year, Facebook was a strong link for me to others in the blank staleness of my days. I have realised that Facebook was not only a form of entertainment for me, but a very real way of alleviating the loneliness that comes with not having a job.

Despite my now absolutely hectic people-packed life, I often feel very isolated from others. I think most people experience this to varying degrees. It’s not disabling for me in any way, and I do value my own company, but I often find I stand alone in my passions and perspectives, whether that would be within the church or without. It’s not so much about not having people in my life – I do – and wonderful people at that. But I can count on one hand the people that I feel a deep connection with. I recognise as I write that that I am lucky and privileged to have those few. But I have certainly been using social media to numb that sense of disconnect with others. Getting positive feedback loops from witty comments or interesting articles is surprisingly gratifying, for something so unimportant. But numbing that disconnect is all well and good until your feed is full of messages from people in your life that highlight ever more starkly the ways in which you are worlds apart. Getting negative feedback loops is also surprisingly bruising.

So in a way, Facebook, Twitter and Google+ have made me feel lonelier than ever.

I’ve deactivated all the accounts now. I need to address my sense of isolation in other ways. I need to read for pleasure. I need to make more coffee dates with friends. I need to spend more time outdoors. I need to acknowledge my feelings instead of hoping the bad ones just go away.

Sometimes I feel a bit poisoned by the shittiness of the world. My husband-unit says that sounds pious. I’m sorry about that. But I feel like social media allows the shittiness of the world to be hooked to my heart all the waking day. I think reading the news just once a day (right before praying) is probably a practice I should make a habit, instead of making my mind a storehouse for every horror story going.

This is making me think about writing a paper on existentialism and social media. If I stay off Twitter, it might actually get written.


girl interrupted

November 13, 2012

Two posts in one week! It must be your birthday. All of you. All of you were born today. Happy birthday!

Before I begin, I’d like to apologise for the banner ads that WordPress have so unkindly put on my site. I do not earn money from these ads. Please install Adblock (an extension for the browser Chrome) if you want to get rid of them.

Now. Official business over.

I’m posting for two reasons: (1) I am avoiding doing my homework and (2) since I last posted, God has intervened in what I can only describe as my despair.

Although I am a reformed Christian, every week at the moment I attend Catholic mass. This is because I work in a prison on Sundays, and the Christian service there is a Catholic one. I love it. I miss my own community’s Sunday services sometimes, particularly the gusto with which they sing and the intensity with which they pray (not to mention the great coffee and cake), but I spend time with my community in other ways, like at ‘home group’ – a weekly bible study with about 10 others where we eat and talk and pray.

On Sunday morning I worshiped at mass with the prisoners as usual. But for me, it was not usual at all. For me, it was a moment of profound spiritual connectedness, experienced in the humblest setting imaginable. There were a number of elements that somehow came together in a silent crescendo in my very being that both chastised and comforted me. The experience turned my heart back in the right direction. I hardly know how to put words on it. Allow me to try.

The first reading was from I Kings 17:10-16. It tells the story of Enough. A woman is afraid to share, because she has so little. In her giving, she receives enough, and plenty more. The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry. The Psalm was 146:7-10. This psalm is, simply put, a song of a thankful heart. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. The Gospel reading was from Mark 12:38-44. Jesus suggests that his listeners to be wise about those who need to be seen to be important and successful and righteous, but to pay attention to those who, however humble, offer everything that they have, for others. Then, the prisoners’ choir sang a song that I didn’t know. It was based on Matthew 6:21: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Avid fans of Harry Potter will note that this was what was written on the graves of Harry’s dead parents, although Harry didn’t know what it meant.) And finally the sermon: it was just five minutes long and simple enough for a dull child to comprehend. The priest  invited us to consider that Christ stands in solidarity with us when we suffer and, that it is in giving, not receiving, that we receive.

And the only way that I can describe how I felt through this service was “ministered to”. It was as though the world around me began speaking to the needs of my heart. It is difficult to describe a spiritual experience, but that is what it was. Every piece of scripture spoke deeply to me, girding me with truth. The songs spoke deeply to me, singing lullabies to my grumbling. The sermon pierced me in my self-pity; my “what about me” monologue. The Eucharist nourished me. And the Spirit comforted me with a kind of warmth that pushed tears up out of nowhere to tumble into a prison pew.

My dear friend Eoin asked me recently what it means to have an “identity rooted in Christ”.

It means identifying with Christ before and above and beyond anything else. Before I am a wife, I am a follower of Jesus. Before I am an Irishwoman, a feminist, a daughter, a sister and a friend, I am a follower of Jesus. It means that my worth becomes rooted in what God says about me, in what God has done for me, and not in what I can achieve. My worth is not in my job, or my size, or even my intelligence. It is not in how nice I might be, or how horrible for that matter. It is not in my “good deeds”. My worth  is in and from my Creator, and that is completely liberating.

As this crescendo was bursting in my heart on Sunday morning, I was freed in a large part from my anxiety about this job, that I so wanted (and still so want). I saw with clarity that it really is okay to fail. I saw that I cannot be defined by my job, or my joblessness. My jug of oil is not going to go empty. My God lifts up those who are ‘bowed down’. I can’t join the ranks of those who wish to be successful in the eyes of others, but I’ve got to keeping giving my efforts and convictions everything that I am. And I have remembered (rightly) what my treasure is: it is the unquenchable love of my Father, and I want to live out of that reality, not of the reality that counts PRSI contributions and the age of my car. I am rich beyond measure. I not only have enough, but plenty. And I do not stand alone in suffering, at any moment, however self-indulgent that suffering might be.

And so I was ready, when I did, to get up off my knees, to go and minister to those broken-hearted prisoners, come what may.

And it is just as well that God intervened when he did, because I received the call this evening to confirm that I did not get that job.