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.



the best imitation of myself

February 18, 2014

I realised quickly after moving to Aberdeen that I have a severe problem with trusting God.

That might sound very twee or commonplace but it really isn’t supposed to. Christians are always bleating about trusting God: ‘dependence on God’, ‘having faith’ and many other generic terms of Evangelicalese. I’ve always felt that I could do with having a bit more trust in God, sure, who couldn’t? But that all things considered, I was probably quite good at trusting.

Not so.

It turns out I don’t trust him at all. I strive very hard and put as many things in place as I possibly can to create a sense of safety. I have Plan B in place for when Plan A fails, and Plan C for when Plan B fails, and lots of alcohol for when Plan C fails. Then I have a cry and a bit of a meltdown and lather, rinse, repeat. Not so much trust as survival and a fragile self-belief.

When I moved here I gradually sank into a depression. I struggled to get out of bed. Once up I struggled to shower and get dressed. Once dressed I struggled to prepare meals or take a walk. I applied for job after job in my pyjamas on the couch. I went to volunteering, only just about managing to get myself washed and dressed for that weekly appointment, staying glued to the computer until the very last possible minute. Despite all this time on the computer, I would procrastinate replying to emails and text messages – duties that sat like lumps of raw dough in the pit of my stomach – because I could not bear to verbalise the staleness of my days to my friends at home.

To be honest, that has pretty much been the on-off pattern of the last six years, since I first lost my job at the start of the Irish recession. So nothing particularly new.

What was new however was being stripped of a support system. No friends, no church, no family, no nothing. The cultural wasteland that is this oil-drenched city couldn’t even offer me the consolation of coffee shops, museums to be explored, artisan markets etc. Being stripped of everything that usually acted as consolation to me for the pain of having no clear purpose and no good ‘job of work’ to do, became excruciating, and I began to feel desperate.

One day I spoke to one of my friends on the phone about this for a long time. Well, really, she did all the talking. She called. For me it was like therapy: I would gladly have paid a hundred pounds for it. For about an hour she just exhorted me to cry out to God for a ‘lifeline’. I said very little, tears and snot rolling down my face and splashing onto my dirty hooded sweatshirt as I sat curled on the sofa listening to her. She pleaded with me to do business with God: to ask him for what I wanted, to trust that he would provide. When our conversation finally ended, it was like the last drop of a hot toddy sliding down my throat and then I felt a terrible emptiness. She sent me a message within minutes with a scripted prayer that she had written for me: talk about interceding. She told me to read aloud the words if I just could not pray for myself. She sensed my stuckness and that I needed a bit of mothering. She understood my inability to ask God for what I needed when I knew all along that while he could give it, he might not. That’s so much worse than not being able to give. I realised in this inability to approach God once and for all that it was because I do not trust him at all.

So where is this going? Do you think I began to trust him? No, that would have been too simple. Instead of beginning to trust, I began to feel really, really angry with him instead. Good.

In my life, as in the life of so many people, amongst the flowers, lots of bad and painful things have happened to me and around me. Some unbearable things have happened. There have been dreadful losses and unsolvable problems. In all of my struggles I have never felt genuinely angry with God. 

Until now.

And wow the rage was strong. I had a good long, protracted rant and rave at him. To use an Irish expression, I fucked God out of it from a height.  One night in the middle of my burning rage a person I barely knew came over for dinner and I burst into tears at the table and interrupted her to demand why God revealed himself over and over in her life, miraculously answering prayers and for me he can’t be bothered. It was the most embarrassing dinner ever.

And then for some reason, to my outraged and utter surprise, he started to respond to me, in multiple and layered ways.

Not to disappoint but that is definitely a tale for another day.

And it occurred to me, in seeing these responses from God, responses I had asked for and longed for and hoped for and almost always failed to ask for, it occurred to she who can not and does not trust the God she has purported to follow for the last fifteen years, a God that she has torn her life apart for in the quest of the following – it occurred to her, to me, that all he is asking for is the actual, real me to be stripped bare before him instead of half-heartedly offering him the version of myself that I can tolerate.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I am being rewarded for fucking God out of it from a height. I’m just telling you a story.

Sometimes I feel that the city I am living in has to be one of the worst in Europe. So much money and so much poverty. So much ugliness and darkness. Such a booming sex industry while little cottage industries fail. So much vomit on the streets at night. So many alcoholics and heroin addicts and crying mothers because their children are not with them. It could swallow you up. And here I am in it hearing from God and feeling new things: things like excitement mingled with fear, and determination mingled with hope. I’ll be honest: I don’t really know what I am talking about at all. All I know is that I got really real with God and suddenly he is getting really real with me. Maybe it will all tumble down tomorrow, maybe not. But here it is. And here I am. And here’s I Am.

flash fiction: number eight

January 28, 2014

I keep my head down. There isn’t much getting done but best not to reveal that; not just now. The filing cabinet in her office slams and a cup bangs on a desktop. A sheaf of papers rustles for five, ten, fifteen, twenty seconds. The door is ajar and the faint odour of rage is seeping slowly through the crack, burning my nostrils just a touch, like the first disappointing hint that although the stew is looking all right, the bottom of the pot is crusted black. Her phone goes and she gives it four rings before answering it, although it is at her right hand. Her tone gives nothing away but we exchange a glance.

When she calls my name I am alarmed. What have I forgotten? Now: to be meek or defiant? The moment is too short to decide: best to endure quickly. Kicking the chair back it gives a little squeal, giving voice to the piglet of anxiety in my guts. Ten steps and I am gazing down at her from where she glowers behind her desk. There is a small pool of cold coffee forming a skin on top of a small pile of forms.

Sit, she says.

Close the door there, she says.

She looks at me a few moments too long before speaking. I decide I will go with defiant. I don’t know why she is angry but like an airborne virus it’s making its home in me now.

I went to that meeting today, she says, and I asked you to prepare two folders for me. I got to the meeting and there was only one folder. I asked you to arrange this yesterday before I left. Did you not hear me?

A wave self righteousness approaches my shore. No, I say calmly. You asked for one folder to be prepared, so that is what I did. I wrote it down. When I asked you if you would need copies, you said no.

Do you live in a fantasy world? she asks me. A pause. I wish, I reply. Oh you think you’re funny? she says. Your negligence embarrassed me today. It embarrassed me. It embarrassed this whole company. I’m really growing tired of your carelessness.

I consider my next move.

If I misheard you, I apologise, I say.

She leans in. And another thing she says. She fixes me with a gaze like a razor. It has been noted, she says, by some of the other staff, that you do not write your ‘eights’ correctly.


My ‘eights’ I ask? genuinely confused.

Your eights, she says coldly. She is speaking very deliberately. You do your eights like this. She picks up a pen and to my amazement she sketches in the air how anyone would write the number 8: in one swift movement starting at the top, swirling down and then curving back up again to the top.

I am in shock.

In this office, she says to me, we do our eights like this. She raises her hand into the  air and draws two consecutive circles, one on top of the other.

Hang on, I say. It has been noted? By some of the other staff? Which staff?

Another pause. Oh, she says, I couldn’t possibly say.

That’s utter nonsense, I say. Nobody could possibly complain about the way I write my eights. Nobody would. I…I can’t believe what I am hearing.

Au contraire, she says, and I am alarmed by the inexplicably smug tone. Almost everyone in this company has come to me about this. I mean, it’s up to you, she says. If you want to continue doing your eights the way that you do, that is up to you. But that’s simply not how it’s done in this office.

Okay, I say.

If I ask you to do something, you do it in future, do you understand me? she says.

Yes, I say. I get up to leave.

I return to my desk, somewhat bewildered. I stare at my colleagues, working silently. I look at my desk, at my work. I pick up my pen. I draw an eight, in the usual fashion. I draw another; this time, two circles atop each other. I draw another circle, and another and another and another and soon one of the circles trembles and it’s swelling and it opens wide on top of my desk, and I raise my feet and climb inside it and find myself blissfully descending deep, deep down into its dark and fertile warmth where not a single number can reach me.

the ten series: seven wants

September 16, 2013

1. To not want so much. When I was a teenager and I first opened a copy of the New Testament for myself, I remember reading the letters of one of the authors – a guy called Paul of Tarsus – who was writing to a community of Christians in Phillipi; friends of his. He was in prison at the time and bound in chains, for the crime of heresy – teaching something different to the law, and bringing filthy Greeks into the Jewish temple. He didn’t strike me as fanatical or delusional, and yet despite his chains he communicated this intense joy and peace. Reading it almost stung me. I am petulant, dissatisfied and selfish and I live in freedom and luxury. Since then I have wanted to know that peace, regardless of circumstances. I have tasted it occasionally, but I’m after a permanent fix if anyone can help me out.

2. To work in a paid position as a prison chaplain or to be able to work full time in a prison on a voluntary basis and be funded by a rich husband. I suppose what I want is to be able to do this work that I enjoy and feel that I am good at and that I feel is crucial to society and still be able to pay rent and bills. Failing this I want good, meaningful work of any kind that stretches me a little. I would also love to have a period of time free from money worries and be in a position to be financially generous to others.

3. To put this endless saga of not being able to drive properly behind me. HALP.

4. To have full health and recovery from Eating Distress. This is a complex condition that has gripped me for many years and from which I am almost fully recovered, but not yet completely free. Recovery takes a lot of time, work and commitment and in difficult times it is often the first thing to slide.

5. To improve in my ability to self-care. This is linked with the previous want but not exclusive to it. I have become more aware of my values and emotional, spiritual and mental health needs, but this does not always lead to positive action. I’d like to develop healthier, happier routines that are fulfilling and don’t involve four consecutive hours sitting at a computer hitting refresh on Twitter. I’d also like to become better at playing the guitar (I would consider playing the guitar to be self-care) and take up yoga. In fact I have taken steps towards both of these things only this week.

6. To become one of those wise old ladies that everyone looks up to for home-spun advice and tea and sympathy. That I want to become this kind of excludes me from ever achieving it. Sigh.

7. To become a better student. Despite having a load of pointless letters after my name I have kicked and screamed my way unwillingly through rivers of assignments and exams and assessments. I am a lazy-ass shortcut student who would rather read the cliffnotes than the actual textbook. What I am really saying is that I would like to learn the virtue of self-discipline. I am not a natural academic but really, who is? It’s 5% talent, 95% hard work. Ah feck it, this is boring. Let’s just play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

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!

checking in

May 12, 2013

You won’t have heard from me lately because I am having a bit of a hard time expressing myself at the minute. I feel a bit congested, emotionally and mentally. (Definitely not physically: I’ve had food poisoning for 10 days. Who needs a detox when you’ve got a gut parasite? :D)

I suspect this ‘congestion’ is all down to the pesky problem of ‘the future’. The husband-unit and I are making plans to emigrate in August for three years so that he can pursue his PhD. The bother about it is that we’re all gung-ho with the whole packing up and shipping out malarkey, but nobody’s replying to my job applications in The New Country. Bit worrying, as that’s our proposed prospective source of income. Nothing doing in the whole prison chaplaincy realm. The joys of secretarial work await. Or maybe something I’ve never thought of?

Anyway, I am constantly living in ‘the future’. I defo need to learn the art of living in the now, as the future remains a constant source of worry and anxiety for me, and it never ceases to be just around the corner. It’s always cloudy, covered by a veil, and due to my need to control everything (not to mention profound inability to do so), I’m all neurotic and wound up. That’s probably why I am a magnet for every infection going. (I swear, anxiety makes you all moist and dark – the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.)

So I haven’t been to work in a while because, as I say, I’ve not been well. Being sick when I’m supposed to be at work leaves me feeling unreasonably guilty. (Whoah, when you write it all down, this is quite the turd-box of negative emotions.) But when I have been there it has been challenging and busy. And unbelievably, my time as a manager there is almost over. One month from now I rejoin the dole queue. I have mixed feelings about this. And a thesis to write. And a house to pack up.  Ye gads!

Otherwise, I continue to cherish secret ambitions of becoming a mysterious nightclub jazz singer, and I forge ahead in the elusive hunt for the perfect cook-book. (It’s not the Hairy Dieters by the way – I don’t know what I was thinking buying that book. Their tagline is “How to Love Food and Lose Weight” but it ought to be “How to Develop a Complex Around Cooking with Real Food”. Avoid.) As well as buying a new cook-book I also completed my second masters degree and I suppose that now makes me a qualified chaplain, right? Champagne anyone? Today I also managed to shower and leave the house. Such a swathe of achievements man has not hitherto witnessed! I eagerly anticipate my episode of This is Your Life(Do they still make that show?)

As I write, the husband unit is pacing the house, shouting out things about Catholic social teaching as he goes up and down the stairs. Not because he cares (and certainly not because I do) but because he is in fully-fledged final examination mode. I do not miss those days. He claims that his brain is sore. That is so typical of a theologian: any scientist will scramble over dead foetuses to inform you that the brain has no nerves and therefore cannot feel pain. Stupid idiot theists with their sky-fairy! WHY DOESN’T HE JUST GO EAT SOME MAGIC WAFERS!!


i was looking for a job and then i found a job

January 20, 2013

Ah, Sunday night dread. You’re looking well; thanks for stopping by! Come on in, take a load off.

My stupid weekend has been full of diarrhoea, dullness and disappointments, with a short interlude at a lovely restaurant today (goat cheese, steak, creme brulee, stayed in), followed by a shedload of annoying assignments and now, the anticipation of the working week slides like wet cement down my gullet.

No time off is ever enough; no rest sufficient to properly process and catch up: am I ever bloody happy?

I feel like someone should have awarded me a six month holiday after the miscarriage. Maybe the president? There you are, aren’t you a great girl. With a giant novelty cheque of spending-money for strong cocktails, sun umbrellas and jumbo fried shrimp. A few days in Portugal just didn’t cut it. What do you do when you’ve lost your joie de vivre? I think maybe I am just a bad adjuster. I give all my energy to the adjustment so there’s nothing left for me. The day begins at 5.45am and never seems to end. By Saturday I’m like Dilbert’s ego: a little shrivelled rag. College is doing my head in. I am very ready to only have one thing to worry about: monostress > multistress. Knowing me, I’d still find something to get worked up about. Like that auld one in the restaurant today. Does her voice really have to be that nasal?

I want parties and socialising and being with friends because I want cheering up, but I am so tired that by 9pm I’m all withered like old lettuce; flat, damp and brown around the edges. While everyone else is just getting ready to go out, I’m getting into my jammies. Bed has developed this magnetic appeal, and not just for sexy reasons I might add. I dream about it on the bus home. Oh to lie down…and the duvet, so warm…and a nice hot lemon…

Right, it’s time for wine and The Smiths and swaying around the house in a melancholy fashion to the amusement of the neighbours.