It’s been a weird few months. Not completely torrid, but sometimes difficult. It’s come to a point where, instead of not having a reason to get out of bed (because there’s nothing worth doing or no way of doing it, nowhere to go or anyone to go with), lately, when there is, I’m convincing myself, don’t go for a walk, why go for a drive with that person, people and places are difficult. Other places that aren’t your 20 year old bed are not comfortable, other people are problematic, there’s not always synchronicity, sometimes they think things you don’t, and that is hard, why bother? The effort to be a decent friend to someone, to think of someone other than yourself, to do “something”, certainly an effort.
I felt like writing today though. Like I could write some things out. I’ve been writing scraps one way or another for the past year. compiling almost packages to Jennifer since we both left work up in Craig Bragdy Design. I miss sharing things with her. Writing un-posted cards to Joaninha in Cardiff now that I no longer have the chance to work with her and an opportunity to talk. Not quite finishing letters to Ami over in Hong Kong (this activity has gone up in frequency since May, when I received the most touching and beautiful letter of my life, all the way from far east Asia, complete with photographs and coloured paper, exotic birds on stamps and important birds still un replied). I consider these failings. Like I consider not showering for a week a kind of failure, but, a lesser, insignificant failure. Maintaining connections is important, it is literally what keeps you from losing your mind. Not using it.
Still, today, I feel like sharing, some parts. There are still innumerable hopes and fears and confusions unshared and un-delved even by myself, but, it is another start.
The act, day in day out, of searching online for work gets harder and harder. I’m not searching for jobs I would like or “wouldn’t mind”, I’m applying for anything. Even though I know someone as sensitive as me would be emotionally crippled working in an over-burdened care home for example, not being able to listen to people’s fears and stories, not being able to offer the basic decency of a real interest and a sympathetic ear because there are too many lonely ill people and not enough staff (and we’re allowing this malicious band of Downing street plutocrats to steal the NHS from under our noses, cunts who sing the praises of privatisation despite the scandals that emerge from such unregulated un-checked over-stuffed and strained institutions, despite their being highly unaffordable to most people).
I know too, from experience that working on a production line in a giant soulless warehouse where I’m treated like a machine and expected to behave like one too, for minimum wage, contract less, with no security, for a giant company (Amazon) that doesn’t even pay it’s corporation tax in the country where I “live” and work for it, I know that this is the type of work that would edge me ever closer to suicide. This type of work, if you have an enquiring mind and still have some of that childlike proclivity to wonder, is a soul-destroyer. It will crush your personality and see you sign away your human rights. It will see you conducting your out of work “life” in a trance-like state, not the enlightening kind, the kind where everyday a little of your light diminishes and eventually you’re not a whole person anymore. Where you don’t even question the “random” searches, the lack of access to toilet-break-relief, the 15 minute lunch “break” (by the time you’ve trudged all the way up to the little canteen and had to go through the metal detectors and take off your belts and capped shoes). Being felt up and having one of those radioactive batons swished over your body like some gloating totem singing the anthems of globalization. To endure you must surrender your fragile sense of self, and still be considered by a vast proportion of society’s earners as a simpleton. Survival of the thickest.
Still I search everyday, scanning the superfluous subtexts, translating the logorrhoea. “Seeks ambitious go-getter looking to get ahead” = “we’re looking for a selfish arsehole willing to shit on his co-toilers at the faintest whiff of promotion, which you must understand will be in title and increased workload only”. “Looking to appoint vibrant and dynamic employee for Customer Service work” = If you’re vacuous enough to not realize when an angry caller is threatening your life, indeed if you can giggle through the pain, we want you to take abuse, for minimum wage, 40 hours a week, on a zero hours contract, no holidays or sick pay (Job history: Live on site since: Yesterday. Applications: 489)”
Sometimes I think I could handle the drudgery of an office (Ideally working for a local council, university or charitable organisation – but wouldn’t everyone want to work for such a place, with benefits and a degree of safety that doesn’t exist in giant corporations, for a place that maybe even has a hand in making the lives of others better?!). I know how to use computers (both Mac and Windows but if you installed and set up Linux for me I could handle that too – preferably with a simplistic Mac type interface (without the annoying names, I run “Snow Leopard”… ugh) because Windows seems SO cluttered and clunky to me these days). I have manners thus could actually speak with angry/upset people without getting myself into a state. I am good at discussing things and presenting myself/others with different possible sides of an opinion without forcing my own on to people obnoxiously. I am empathetic and thus wouldn’t have my co-labourers picking up my slack, as I wouldn’t want to have to pick up anyone else’s. I’m not completely stupid and if shown how to use something once I will not forget, I have a very good memory. If you’re an earnest genuine person I will have no trouble getting along with you, even if our tastes differ. I like to think I could have a positive influence but I’m not someone looking to overhaul everything and upset the apple cart. I would pay my union dues and do my job and look out for anyone treated unfairly. I am not a bad person. Sometimes I’m even amusing.
I have no specific admin experience though. In chronological order I’ve worked as a Census Collector, a primary school art workshop leader/teacher, a painter and decorator, a cleaner, a warehouse operative, a student support worker/note-taker, an English teacher/Native Speaker in Poland, a ceramic “artist” in a factory in north Wales, a Barista and most recently as a volunteer Gallery Assistant/Receptionist. I have thought about offering my labour for free to companies advertising for “Temporary Admin Assistants/Data entry” vacancies, to get some experience while on Jobseekers Allowance.
I have also thought about people who have experience and relevant qualifications for such roles and thus my taking from them the opportunity to earn minimum wage and a potential support for themselves or their families (in my mind I’m always taking paid work away from desperate single mothers…) by working for free. I also think of internships, false-hope giving internships. Firstly, when you’re an intern you are not able to apply for/interview for other positions for the duration of your internship, thus making you ineligible for JSA. How do people afford internships? Independent means, they already have part-time jobs in the evenings or weekends or their families foot the bill. If you’re unable to even get any job in the first place securing one to support your hypothetical internship seems a miracle, and what if your family is already under pressure because you and your brother 2.5 years your senior are both living at home because you haven’t enough money to support yourselves independently? EVEN if you can look after yourself for the duration, and manage to be amazing despite all the extraneous pressures and demands on your time, even if you do this, do you secure paid work? Rarely. Why would the organisation or company pay to employ you if they could advertise and fill another internship vacancy? Why pay you if someone else is as desperate to gain “experience” that they’d give their labour away for nothing in return save, maybe, a reference?
This is where they have us and where they bloody want us. Companies can hold you to ransom, treat you unfairly and threaten you with termination (which in some cases leads to eviction and debt increases) because guess what insignificant spec? There are another 500 of you out there just dying to be downtrodden for cash! IF there are always people desperate enough to work (because they’re in debt, have families to feed or don’t have families they can rely on in hard times) there will always be pernicious and corrupt corporations behaving thus and taking advantage of (and in many cases creating) this.
Still, I need to work. I went through a terrible experience this past few months, culminating in a horribly painful experience just one week ago today. It served to amplify my feeling of desperation. Hearing myself talk of my cognizance of the world and what the future holds, perceiving an utter absence of light. I cannot remain stagnant and without hope. I cannot. I am withering. I need to have hope. If that means working in a restaurant on my feet all day being occasionally harassed just so I can develop a sense of independence and maybe convince myself I’m saving up for a trip to somewhere interesting, where my disillusionment with the contemporary art world will dissipate when I see encouraging soul-filled pieces of art that aren’t merely “a comment on art itself” but actually contain more than pseudo-insightful irony and can actually offer ways to surrender to and reconcile with myself. If it means that, then someone, throw me a bone, or send back one of my desperate CV bones with a note of encouragement, see the potential in me that I used to. I need a reason to get out of this bed. Something louder than the excuses to stay.
This most recent stretch of unemployment has reached 4.5 months, before that it was 6 months; over the last 12-month period I have worked for just 2 months (not even full-time). It takes its toll on your self-worth. Working in that café was tricky enough (the work itself simple, having to feign interest in reality television and hair extensions not so…), I eventually had to resign after (having told them I was reliant on public transport and couldn’t travel to the city on short notice on Sundays (I would have to ask around for a sofa or a lift) and being assured that was fine since the entire team lived in the city, it became apparent that this was not the case and in the first week of proper rotas I was told on a busy Saturday that I was expected in the following day.
The timing of everything was awful. I was already feeling blue after being told on the Friday that I had been unsuccessful in securing a job I had interviewed really positively for, an admin role within the charity Arts Alive Wales based in mid Wales (indeed they prompted me afterwards to join their creative network free of charge and said if I wanted to maybe to go up and create/curate some volunteer workshops – I was so devastated that I still haven’t replied, that was in May), they decided to go with someone with specific admin experience despite saying I was the “most engaging candidate and most in-line with their vision”.
I already had a chest infection and had fallen off my bike a couple of weeks prior (attending aforementioned interview with grazed hands and a lot of concealer covering my cut-open-chin). It pissed down that Sunday, and being in bad shape to begin with, I cycled 20 miles in a downpour, the last 5 up hill constantly, to cap it all I turned up 30 minutes early, and, needing to go to the supermarket across the way to buy dry underwear (my uniform was in a dry bag, but I hadn’t foreseen being so sodden that my underwear would require ringing out!) to grab breakfast (!), and, you know, not collapse, my lazy colleague (of which there were a couple), immediately, asked me to take the rubbish out back because I was already drenched and she didn’t want to get wet. I wasn't due to start for a full half hour! I could barely hear above the ringing in my ears.
I worked 6 of my 8 hours that day, that crazy busy day, trying to smile, trying to stay awake, with colleagues chatting loudly about their lewd TV shows in earshot of disgusted looking customers, ignoring my requests for new trays (they never had to ask me to clean more trays when they were serving, when it’s your job to make your colleagues lives easier, you do it, being a colleague yourself, do unto others and all that jazz…. I guess always having a stack of fresh trays under their counters must have indicated the presence of some magical cleaning fairy to them though).
My kind manager, being well aware that certain others (albeit with extensive café experience – well, you could work anywhere for 5 years if you weren’t actually having to work, couldn’t you?!) were not pulling their (hefty) weight, he said “look, you’re not well” (indeed, I’d been coughing all week but nobody seemed to think it enough of a health and safety breach for me to not be there – it took me a month to get over that chest infection, and in my run-down dehydrated state I developed a subsequent (painful!) kidney infection too), “there’s already enough staff on today” (too many), “you’ve had a bit of an ordeal getting here and having to do other people’s work isn’t helping, why don’t you leave early and I’ll have a chat with them, how does that sound?”. I had to reply that at that point it didn’t matter if I worked the next two hours or didn’t, I still had another 20 miles to cycle in the rain before being able to collapse. That I was disappointed that the other staff members knew that the (hefty) two were shirking their duties (again) and I was doing the work of three, yet hadn’t done a thing about it (bad management). I was sad that my manager was such a nice person but unable to do his job and subsequently displease anyone. That I was expressly told I wouldn’t have to work on Sundays without ample warning yet had no choice but to cycle all that way in the rain on the very opening weekend of the new branch.
All in all it was a disappointing experience, I met some good people, and my manager and his assistant manager/best friend were lovely guys, I just couldn’t understand that he had been given the chance to interview and select his own team, so, his choice from day one, and he chose certain people with experience on paper but no people skills or self-awareness, types of people he admitted to not understanding one bit, the types of people who ignored or bullied him in school, who did things wrong then blamed others… who wants to work with these people?!
Even though the job wasn’t particularly stimulating itself (where are those jobs anyways?) it had the potential to be enjoyable, when I worked with certain people in certain branches, my goodness I had the best working days of my life! I even said to Joaninha, someone I became very close with, after a lovely day pulling our respective weights and putting the world to rights, not having to fake smile at customers because we were actually happy, that I wish everyday of my working life could be that way, that I would happily die a Caffe Nero employee if I got to live like that. After those days, you just went home on high, even having to travel 2 hours by bus and train before getting home. The days where someone had come back to the counter before leaving to congratulate you on a perfect cappuccino, those Welsh-speaking customers had been thrilled to hear another Welsh speaker’s voice in a busy city coffee chain that they’d offered to buy you a little badge saying Welsh speaker so other’s could know too, where everything was smooth and nobody was angry because nobody was under pressure. You could just go home and your head wouldn’t be worrying about what the next shift would have in store for you. Anxieties over fresh prevarications and procrastinations.
I feel let down, but perhaps most of all with myself, for believing that work could ever be sustainably ok.
That being written, being out of work, without money, with no pride to speak of, feeling downtrodden by the media and generally useless and hopeless is pretty gruesome itself. The only thing worse than a bad job is having no job. Having to trawl the dregs of the internet daily and realizing that there’s nothing out there and that you have no specific skills and thus no worth in the eyes of society. In a society where being disabled is being worth-less according to the minister for Welfare, what is being jobless (without being less medically able as a reason)? Surely less than human. Even prisoners can better themselves with education and take part in the labour exchange. I have no access to more education to make me “work fit” because I have no money and already possess a worthless degree, no second chances for losers like me who made a bad decision going with their hearts first time around. If I want to “better myself” I need to win the lottery (I can’t excuse paying money for frivolities like tickets though) to pay for courses or take out excruciating loans for which I probably wouldn’t be eligible anyway. I am not eligible for re-training or instructing because I did what I was told in school. I bought the lie that if you got five good GCSEs and stayed out of trouble you’d be all right Jack. Well I got 10 great GCSEs, 3 A Levels (not a C in sight), a Diploma and an Honours Degree. I don’t get a do-over because supposedly I already did it right. Follow the rules and there’s no rehabilitation.
I am worse than a criminal. I am unemployed.