This is just a quick one while I have a rest from the relentless tide of progress.
I have a job interview tomorrow morning. Doing what I used to do four years ago, before I had the cracked idea of changing career. Twice. [sigh]
Aaaaaaaaanyway. I used to work in IT, which is fine and grand and all that, but you're supposed to Know Stuff About Stuff. So I have been cramming my brain to bursting with Stuff About Stuff for the last two weeks. I have already been made to sit three very difficult and technical tests, and I will be given another one tomorrow morning. This is a bit scary, especially as it feels like a bit of a blag (but that's only cos I don't believe in myself. I do actually know lots of Stuff About Stuff).
I have an interview on Monday morning, too.
I'm trying to think of tomorrow as the dummy run, and then it doesn't matter if I fall arse over tit. I find it hard to believe they will give me a job, but I guess anything's possible.
We also have some foreign visitors coming to lodge with us again for a few weeks, and I have got meself a private client in my New-But-Hopefully-Soon-To-Die-A-Death career, so hopefully that will stave off impending starvation and make up for all the days' wages I'm missing cos of job interviews and time spent preparing for them.
So, you know. Busy and tired and still pretty stressed, but definitely moving forward, and glimpsing a potential exit from the gloop of not-right-ness I've been stuck in all this while.
I'm back to doing agency work again, but have (almost) made a decision: I'm giving up on the new career.
For now what I'm doing is low-paid and untaxing, but is a toy version of what my career really entails, is very low paid and is temporary. As a family we are the poorest we've ever been, but the thought of getting a proper job in my supposed career fills me with dread.
Because of all the crap that happened in my previous job, it will be another year before I'm fully qualified. Another year of being judged, graded and scrutinised, and (now) being terrified that the same thing will happen again: I'll think I'm doing all right and then be informed at some late stage, most emphatically, that I'm not. Things in my career are getting considerably worse under the Tories and I just don't think it's worth it. So I'm (probably) getting out.
I've been looking into going back into IT, which is what I did four years ago. Before the miscarriage, before being made redundant, before losing my literary agent and failing to get published and failing to make a living as a writer and failing to get anywhere with this new career and (successfully, hurrah) having another baby.
I stopped doing IT because I was made redundant, and then because I was having a baby, and then because I wanted to be a writer, and then because I didn't believe I would be able to get a job easily in IT because of the recession and because my skills are out of date. But it turns out my skills aren't as out of date as I thought, and anyway brushing them back up again won't be as hard as I thought. I think. I haven't actually got a job yet, so I may be wrong. But the recruiters seem to think I'm onto a winner. So we'll see. Failing that I think I'd rather some random tedious office job, for now at least, than return to the new career. So, unless my confidence magically returns or I discover I really am not qualified to do anything else, I'm probably giving up.
I hate giving up.
But what's the point of carrying on, if the reality is so utterly fucking miserable?
And how ironic, if I can indeed just walk back into a job in IT, when I thought it would be so hard?
It helps that I am no longer distracted by novel-writing, by small babies or the attempts to make them.
Plus ca change, and all that.
Life is hard still, and full of angst and worries and woe... but I am finally looking forward to a future that I can believe could be enjoyable, instead of one that I believed might maybe ought to be all right at some distant point in the future... but maybe not.
Well, first, the boring stuff: After getting increasingly antsy and worried about not having work, I just landed a month of low-paid but easy and mostly-stress-free agency work. So that's good.
On a slightly more meta level...
I've been thinking about happiness. Because every now and then, I manage to get my head out of oh-fuck-shit-everything's-going-wrong mode, and start thinking things like, "Well, look at me. Here I am with beautiful children, out in the sunshine, and with no horrible job to make me miserable. This is quite nice. I can enjoy this."
And that's when the anti-happiness tzar starts shouting from the back of my cranium. "What?" he says. "Are you MAD? How dare you have fun? You're unemployed and completely crap! IT'S NOT ALLOWED."
The tzar is an embodiment of guilt and self loathing. I'm crap and don't deserve to be happy. But there's also something a bit more insidious: I'm playing a role. I tell people how crap things are and I want their sympathy, therefore I can't be happy cos that wouldn't fit the role. But... maybe I don't actually need their sympathy? Maybe things aren't so bad after all? Maybe this life, which on the face of it looks like a mess, is actually quite pleasant and stress free and not so bad after all?
But then I start worrying about money and the future and the fact that people have told me I'm crap at what I'm trying to do, and the stress returns and I can't believe I ever said I was happy...
Part of this is a typical me thing: I think in black and white. Intelectually I know the world isn't that simple. Not only do I know it, I appreciate its beauty. As a novelist I love the fact that you can have characters who are contradictory, who are both good and bad, cos that's real life, man. But despite all of that... somehow the basic me, the one who just reacts to stuff and doesn't think about it, wants everything to have a nice neat box to live in. And gets continually confused about whether I'm living in the Happy box or the Unhappy one. (both. I'm living in both. Why is that so hard to grasp? It's normal. I'M BOTH.)
But anyway, trotting quickly past the confusion of what box I'm living in, there is another issue: Why on earth am I even trying to be happy? Isn't that just the most bourgeois self-indulgent thing you ever heard? Happiness? Pah! Most people don't even have the option.
Why do I think such a thing is even attainable? Why should I deserve it? What's so special about me? Why do I keep chasing after it, even though it's so obviously hard to find? Why don't I just accept that life is hard and that's the way it's meant to be?
A few people have said to me things like, "No job is worth this. You shouldn't have to go through this kind of shit. If it's making you this unhappy, just get out."
And I sort of did. I got out of one particularly nasty job, but I'm still flailing my fists at the door of the same career, hoping they'll let me back in, with no guarantee that I won't end up in the same old shit. Part of me thinks, well done me for escaping one bit of crap and still holding out to minimise any more... but part of me thinks, who am I trying to fool? What makes me any different? Why should I get an easy ride? - and how presumptuous of me to even aim for one.
I spout a lot of hippy shit to myself, some of it mangled through a second-hand Buddhist sieve, but it generally goes along the lines of keep calm, be nice to yourself, chill out, stop worrying, cuddle your kids... and poor and calm is better than rich and stressed. But let's face it, that kind of crap is the preserve of the middle classes - those people who have nice houses and spare time and can afford to talk like that. OK, yes, I have no job and no money and neither does my partner. But we're not poor like really poor people are poor. We have a big house and a small mortgage. We have qualifications and skills and connections and Nice Families and the gift of the gab and a million advantages that the truly poor people just don't have.
The irony is that the middle-class-ness both opens the door to the pursuit of happiness as well as slamming it firmly in my face with a guilt-clad chattering glove.
So, you know. Happy? Me? Well I might be, if I would only let myself.
People are strting to worry about me again, which I suppose may be justified, but I'm not convinced that blogging is really helping at the moment.
I'm in a slump, these things happen. But slumps never last and life is ever changing. This will all be in the past and forgotten about soon enough. I have so many different abilities, sooner or later I'll find some way of believing in myself again. Don't worry.
My 9-yr-old spotted a leaflet in Tesco: Some kind of competition for the best mum in the country. "You should enter that," he said. "You'd win." "Why would I win?" "Because you're the best mum." He couldn't explain why. A friend who was with us told him he should take the form home and fill it in for homework, but the form said the entrant had to be 18+, so I told him to get his dad to help.
The form is still sitting on the side, and I can't say what I want to, which is this: "Mothering is the only thing I have any pride in at the moment. There's no question of me winning, I know that. They're looking for inspirational stories of magical mums. But that's not the point. Between you, you and your dad could come up with some concrete praise, and it would do me no end of good, just being able to read it."
The only person who fills forms in round here is me, and if it can only be done as the result of my nagging, it won't work. So it sits there, unfilled-in and depressing. Another small dig at the failure that is me.
I bought new clothes. I hadn't done this for over a year. Because I had no money, and there's no point if you'll look just as bad in the new as the old.
Because I never have any time or confidence, because I look rubbish in clothes shop mirrors, because nothing ever fits me, because I always buy the wrong things, I do clothes shopping in a mad fool rush. I run into the shop, grab an armful of things which don't quite fit or suit, run out again. Go home. Try them on in front of the mirror. Despair.
But this time, a combination of Primark and the local market-for-the-downtrodden created one magical outfit which, I thought, was rather stunning. So I wore it, and nobody said a word. Even my 3-yr-old, who is normally very observant and says "I like that top Mummy" whenever I wear anything new (I know, it's fantastic, I'm hoping he'll be gay) stayed schtum. My conclusion: They're awful clothes, and everybody is being kind. I have terrible taste and the clothes I like are the ones everyone else hates. Another outfit from the recent outing only created the remark, "It's very you," said as though it was an insult. Of course it's very me. I am me. Fat, and old, and with terrible taste in clothes.
I'll have a piece of cake then. Sugar cheers me up.
I read a novel about a woman with a boring husband and a grown-up daughter, traipsing around in twinsets and pearls, a housewife, preoccupied with all her "middle-aged" occupations, everything about her being described as old. She was two years older than me.
I went for lunch with a friend, who told me about some new converted mill in town, with a nice courtyard and a performance space and loads of other lovely things. I had no idea what she was talking about and knew I was never likely to see it. I have no idea what's happening in the world, in my city, in the various arty circles I once moved in. I don't do stuff like that. We tried to make conversation but I had nothing to say. Beyond bemoaning my jobless futureless state or eulogising about my children, I have nothing to contribute.
I keep having conversations with friends, about how things are. I list the reasons I'm crap, my life is crap. Then I try to balance it, by thinking of redeeming qualities. "But at least I'm A, or I can B," I say. But I keep getting silence for a response, or on a couple of occasions, they challenged my interpretation. These friends are in no better situations than me. Most people I know are struggling with some deep malaise or other. I don't know whether it's our age, the times we live in, neither, or both - but I'm not unique. Maybe they don't think they need to validate my pronouncements, or are distracted with their own worries, or maybe I forget to notice the nice things they say (and I do, because they certainly sometimes do), or maybe I'm sometimes just wrong.
I am obsessed with time. Is there time to vacuum? When will I fit in the washing? Can I clean out this cupboard? When will I read that book? How will I find the time to pack for the holidays, wash the bedding, fill in those forms, renew the insurance, tidy my study, prepare myself so that I'm ready for some unpredictable future which probably won't happen anyway? And how can there be so little time, when I don't even have a job? (Answer: motherhood. But my children are my saving grace, so I can't use them as an excuse).
There's not enough time to live even this unremarkable life.
I've been acccused of being solipsistic. I can't deny it - it's always been true. It's obvious, especially when my first complaint is that nobody has praised my clothes or entered me into a Best Mother competition. It's all about me, even when that me is a reduced little creature who does nothing and hates herself. I don't understand how people aren't solipsistic. Surely, in your own heads, you're all thinking about yourselves, your lives, how you're going to get through? Is it just that other people don't admit to it? Of course I think about other people. All the time, particularly the ones whose forms I fill in, whose clothes I clean, whose lives I try to make easy, who I try not to burden with my self-obsessive whines. I care about them, I worry about them, I want them to be happy. But yes, I think about me too. And I know, have always known, that I do it more than others. I can't deny it, but I don't think I can change either, and it's just another reason that I'm not quite right, am less than the person I'd like to be.
I thought I was doing OK. I was chilling out, pottering about, fixing and sorting and enjoying my children. I probably am OK. And then people ask how I am, and I feel as though the answer should be "bloody awful", because objectively things aren't great. No job, no real clue of who I am or who I want to be or what the hell I'm going to do with my life. Yes, I'm still trying to succeed in my chosen career. I'm not convinced I'll ever get there, or that I even want to. But I don't know what else to do.
So, there are two little mes in my head. One of them is saying "Oh God, what a mess," and the other is saying "How nice, not having to go to work." The first says, "I can't cope," and the second says, "Look how well I'm coping!"
The truth is, I am. I haven't fallen apart. Not yet. But today I melted a bit. I say to myself, "why aren't I falling apart?" and suddenly I am. Damn those self-fulfilling prophecies. But I'm like one of those little wooden toys held together with elastic. You push the button underneath, they crumble and fall. But if you release the pressure? They bounce back into life.
Everything fine here. Nasty in the centre of Manchester but nothing where we live. I was coincidentally in the main shopping street at the moment the riots started, and had my 3-yr-old in a pushchair, but it was pretty simple really. I heard the banging from further down the street as they started battering their way into a shop, but all I saw were people running (well, trotting) in my direction and saying "Get out", so I turned round and got out. Was a little freaked but went home, summoned hubby home and quickly realised we were going to be fine.
PS: Rather than attempt any political comment myself, I recommend you read this, which I think is pitch perfect. Explain, but don't excuse.
As for the rest of my life... I still have no job. I'm spending a lot of time with my kids, and they are great, which is helping to keep me sane and prop up my flagging ego. But there is an underlying current of "I'm a waste of space", and a rather disturbing dread of actually getting another job in the career I'm supposedly still trying to establish myself in. I'm writing more about that elsewhere - email me if you don't have the link.
Just had the job interview from hell. Fucked it up in about as many ways as it's possible to fuck something up. Walked in there already knowing I wasn't properly prepared and didn't have a clue what I was doing.
Still have no job. Everything they told me at the last place seems confirmed. I'm crap at this.
Here I am, 42, no job, no career, no skills, been a while since I was any good at anything.
I used to have such grandiose arrogant dreams. I really thought I was something. Why did I think that? What was it based on?
I have lovely children. I might not conform to some people's ideals of what a mother should be, but they are gorgeous and happy and I can take some credit for that.
This is what happens. The "job for life" is a dwindling concept. Many of us arrive on this pebbled-and-cold East England beach with no idea of how we got here or where we're going next.
Most of us don't achieve our dreams.
Consoling? Or depressing.
I finished reading a book yesterday. With hindsight it was not the best book to be reading. I was avoiding the failure of not having the ability to prepare well for today's interview. The book was gripping, and well-written, and I wanted to know the fate of characters that had wormed their way into my thoughts. The ending was bleak, pessimistic, and very sad. I cried a lot, and suddenly I wasn't just crying about a young boy's suicide. I was crying because I'd fucked up.
The book was written by a friend of mine. She had her first book published at the same time as me. She got the deal I narrowly missed, or so I used to think. Her publisher gave me an encouraging "We like you, but..." rejection just as they signed her up. Our books were similar. We were similar. But she's better than me. I don't have what it takes, in talent or commitment.
I'm just not good enough.
But most of us aren't.
Here we are, not halfway through but already over the hill and slumping down the other side, muttering and sighing and nursing our aches and pains, blaming everyone/everything else for the sheer bloody fact that hope, dreams, energy, creativity... none of it lasts. And it dies with a horrible speed.
Ignore me. I have these lurches. I'll be chipper and perky and annoying again tomorrow. What can you do except look forward? Even if it's not as shiny as it once was, it's still there in front of you. Pulling you along, because time has no sympathy and no interest in your moans.
I was wondering the other day, whatever happened to my creativity?
I'm not writing anything and I'm mostly not that bothered. I don't feel the urge to write, and when I do... well, it's hardly jaw-dropping.
Life, I guess. Not true for everyone, I know, but I don't think having kids has helped.
Still. I've been asked to sing a song of my choosing at choir on Monday. I utterly failed to write anything new (not that they were expecting me to, but it would have been nice), but did manage to write some nice harmonies and new words for something I wrote ages ago. Quite looking forward to that actually - hearing the whole choir sing sumfink wot I rote. What was I saying? Oh yes, I'm not very creative at the mo. Oh.
Anyway. This blog has no bite and no edge. I apologise for that, but any kind of solution seems beyond my reach. I've gone soft in my old age.
I ran ten kilometres this morning. My legs ache. It made me cry, all those women with their messages to dead, dying and not-dying loved ones taped to their backs. But they were all cheerful and wearing pink, so it was fine.
I might write more about it later. First I have to vacuum floors. The Chinese teenagers go home tomorrow. We'll miss them. We like them. We have a new batch arriving on Thursday. I've become a housewife. But I still can't cook. They don't think much of our food (they pretend they do, but they obviously don't) and I can't really blame them.
Thankyou to the kind person who enquired how I was - I am fine! Just busy. We have Chinese teenagers staying with us at the moment - we are playing host family to Chinese pupils over here for a summer camp - and I have some short term agency work which is keeping me busy (especially as I have to cycle nine miles to get there every day). Still no permanent job, which is a worry as the agency work will end in a couple of weeks and there's no prospect of any more. But there you go. Oh, and my computer has broken (and I can't afford a new one), so I'm not on the internet so much. Apart from that I'm quite enjoying the summer, and looking forward to more summer niceness.
This weekend I'll be running the 10k Race For Life. Sadly my training programme fell by the wayside when I got this agency work, but I'm cycle 18 miles most weekdays, so I figure that must be helping. I'm a teensy bit worried about my poor knees, but I daresay they'll cope (Note to self: do knee exercises).
And then on Sunday it is Birthday Barbecue time, for me and the littl'un, so that should be fun.
By rights I ought to be happy. For months - no, years - I've been bemoaning my lack of spare time and wishing I could just find time for this and that and the other. Tidying, sorting, organising, relaxing, spending time with loved ones. Now I can do all that and more, but am I happy? Am I bollocks.
Of course there is the small matter of having no job or income in the midst of a global recession and having been told I was rubbish at what I was trying to do with my life... but I'm managing fine financially for the time being, and I'm pretty confident I'll get a job soon, and the job application process has actually done wonders for mny career-based confidence, as I've had three interviews from four applications and two of them went really well and I very-nearly got jobs out of them, and they were for good employers. Which is why the number of applications is so low - I'm being very picky about what I apply for, on the basis that I don't want to end up back in the same hole I've just clawed my way out of.
The Things That Make Me Happy, however, are frustratingly complex. I need exercise, I need human company, I need positive feedback, I need to feel productive, and I need time to relax (but not too much of it).
My worst problem is decision-making. Not only can I not decide what to do from one minute to the next, I can't stick with those decisions once they're made. "Tomorrow I will read a book," I say gaily, only to find mnyself durfing the net. "Tomorrow I will sort out my finances," I quip. And then I read a book. I plan to get exercise and sort my finances out instead. They are all good things to be doing (well, maybe not the surfing the net bit), but I can't allow myself to feel good about doing them.
I either feel depressed because I haven't been productive or anxious because I might be called upon to do temping work in an alien environment or - and this is the most ridiculous of all - guilty because I'm finally managing to enjoy myself and I'm supposed to be jobless and miserable!
Oh well. Today I will mostly be... faffing. fretting. fidgeting. failing?
Gah, I am hopeless at this. I don't like asking people for sponsorship.
I'm running a 10k Race for Life event in Heaton Park (Manchester) in July, and haven't actually asked anyone to sponsor me yet. If I'm honest I'm doign it because the events themselves are really enjoyable / moving and I needed a way to make sure I kept doing exercise (without spending money on it) while unemployed.
[geeky numbers bit] I've been running several times round the local park, once or twice a week. So far I'm up to 8 times round, which I calculate is about 4 miles, or 6.4km. I reckon if I go 13 times round, that will be 6.5 miles, which is just over 10k. So I have 5 weeks to up the ante by one lap each week. This week I have to go round 9 times. That's this afternoon's project.
The exercise is just about keeping me sane. And it would make me feel slightly less of a numpty if I do actually raise some money for charity as well as keeping myself sane. So, um. There you go. It's a good cause! Cancer charities, innit.
Email me if you want to sponsor me, and I'll give you the guff. Or just go to Race for Life and search on my real name.
1) You focus so hard on selling yourself that you start to convince even yourself of all your amazing qualities. 2) You spend so much time reading employers' bigged-up descriptions of the roles they offer that you are reminded of all teh things that attracted you to this career in the first place. 3) Your glorified descriptions of your own talents and strengths also serve as a reminder of all the reasons you wwere attracted to, and are suited to, this career. 4) you are reminded of how exciting it was to first enter into this career, and how excited and inspired you were in your first weeks in your last job. You have hope that you can feel that way again.
Disadvantages of applying for jobs:
1) When you are 41 years old, it takes FOREVER to list every single detail of your life for the last twenty years. Why do they insist on knowing so MUCH about you? 2) Every form is in a sligtly different format, so copy-and-paste won't do and you get really really bored of filling forms in. 3) Every application has to be tailored to the specific employer and workplace, then edited for space. This is stressful and time-consuming. 4) The formatting. Oh, the formatting.
I was so pleased with myself when I first started filling application forms in electronically. Finally, I could just copy and paste all those tedious names, addresses, dates and other details. I wouldn't have to spend hours writing cramped details in pen. But I'm pretty sure I spend longer filling the bloody things in on the computer than I would with pen and paper. No two application forms are alike. They have all been designed in Word using tables which won't stretch properly to fit what you want. The fonts are never right. You have to keep jiggling and juggling and rearranging and watching out for bits of bold, italic and other stuff which sneaks in when you're not looking. You have to keep repaginating so that info doesn't weirdly cross page boundaries. I have spent ALL DAY today on one sodding form! It's ridiculous!
Still, I have now successfully completed and printed one job application. I'd hoped to get more done, but it's the job I want most of all out of the four I'm planning to apply for.
They're interviewing on Thursday next week! The closing date is Monday. I'm going to have to deliver it by hand. Wish me luck. [eek]
The three of them, along with Joan le Mesurier and Hattie's lover John Schofield, were amazing people, all connected via marriages and affairs, and their stories are fascinating. John le Mesurier and Hattie Jacques were people you wish could have been your auntie and uncle. Since I was a child I've been fond of John le Mesurier, who reminded me of my grandfather. They were a year apart in age, physically similar, and both had the same deep but understated humour, immense dignity and composure.
So, his death made me cry. Because it's sad. Because he reminds me of my also-conked-out grandfather... but for unrelated reasons too. I'm a compulsive armchair psychologist and can never take emotions at face value. I assume underlying reasons for all my outbursts, and today my own life is making me cry. It wasn't even subconscious - the catalyst was John le M, but the thoughts were about me.
I left work four weeks ago. I had a couple of weeks' grace while I hung around with my son on his easter hols, but since then I've been bumbling about, alternating between being productive and worrying about not getting enough done, until last night it dawned on me that I've been so effective in sorting my finances that I don't actually have to Get Stuff Done 24 hours a day. I could sit back and chill for a bit. I've earned it, and given an acceptance of poverty as my baseline, I can afford it. But that leaves room for the guilt, and the self-doubt...
For the last eighteen months I've been working my arse off to become qualified in my new career. 6 hours' sleep a night was luxury, and 3 hours wasn't unusual. Success or failure was in the hands of others, and I had to submit myself to assessments every few weeks - sometimes more frequent - in which I was (more recently) routinely judged to be lacking.
The bigger picture of my life over the last few years ran like this:
I had a job, well-paid, in a stable career. I wasn't brilliant at it, because I wasn't motivated to give my all to it, but I was pretty good and found it relatively easy, and above all it was a stable, reliable life. Even better, I could afford to drop to four days a week and use the extra time to write a novel. Then I had a baby. Pregnancy was horrific and I took a year off from the career as well as the novel-writing just to cope with the physical demands of pregnancy and childbirth. But when my first son was still very young, I returned to work and returned to novel-writing, and not long after that, my first novel was published. So far, so good.
The novel didn't do brilliantly, but it was a small publisher and I was happy with it. But now I had a baby as well as a job and a writing career, and I was trying to write my second novel, and then my son started school and I fiddled with my job to start work stupid-early every morning just so that I could pick my son up from school, and the strain started to tell. But I was coping.
Then I decided I wanted another child. I had a miscarriage. I lost my job. I tried to be a full time writer, but quickly got pregnant again and ill again. My second novel was published, but only in a foreign language. My second son was born. I failed to earn any money from writing. It was all just a bit too difficult. So I retrained in a new career, and that's when the eighteen months of pressure and not enough sleep started.
And now here I am, in a sudden lull. Pleased to have escaped from my most recent job, but still not fully qualified. I've registered with an agency that will get me the odd bit of work in my new career. But it'll take a few weeks to sort out the paperwork. I don't know how long. They might have work for me next week. I need something to balance the books and pay the bills, and up to now I'd assumed I'd have to drop everything and run as soon as they find anything. Actually I can afford not to work every day, although probably not at first. The work itself will be demanding and unpredictable, but short term. I struggle to believe I can do it.
Ain't that a bitch? When the official judgement is that you're crap, but you know it was probably a biased judgement and based partly on external and unfair factors that are nothing to do with you. Independent witnesses reassure you that you are not as bad as they say, and your own knowledge confirms this. But what if those independent witnesses are just being kind? What if you are kidding yourself? Every time you tell people the details of your tale, they go "Awww" and "Grrr" and "Haven't you been treated badly?" and they tell you of other similar tales they have heard. Other people from the same workplace had similar treatment, and the sheer numbers are enough to suggest that something isn't right and you've had a raw deal. But...
In the back of your mind is always the knowledge that these sympathetic listeners have only heard your side of the story. That no matter what they say, at least some of them must be wondering. Maybe it was all perfectly reasonable and I am just a bit crap. It's embarrassing, humiliating, has made me question myself.
I'm 41, I have two children and a secure home, shouldn't I be at a point in my life where I have a stable career and some knowledge of the things I am good at? Shouldn't I know who I am? Isn't a bit late in life to be trying new things and, yet again, failing?
But I do know who I am. I am kind, and clever, and talented. I am, at least some of the time, capable and organised. I am a good mother. Sometimes I'm a little bit funny. I can sing.
The biggest thing I have to master is balance. Balance between hyperactivity and lethargy. Balance between productivity and leisure. Balance between preserving my mental health and securing some sort of income. Balance between accepting that I need, and have earnt, a rest... but that I'm happier when I'm active.
This all boils down to those small decisions and motivations, from one minute to the next. What should I do now? What can I persuade myself to do now? Am I surfing the net because I'm looking after myself and have earnt a rest, or because I'm avoiding doing some other thing which I not only need to do but would actually prefer to do, if only I could find the confidence and motivation?
Then there are the bigger questions. Have I really earnt a rest, or am I just terminally lazy and self-indulgent? What makes me think I deserve to have such an easy ride? Whoever said that happiness is even possible for anything other than brief fleeting moments? Isn't it just selfish and unrealistic to think that life should be comfortable, easy or enjoyable?
And there's the adrenalin hangover. I've become so used to being manically busy, I can't get used to not being. There's all this stuff that needs doing, and right now, otherwise I'll run out of time! I have to blast through the house and clear all those surfaces covered in piles of pushed-to-one-side crap! I have to do the gardening! I have to do my tax return! I have to apply for jobs, and organise all my career-related resources, and do reading and research and planning to make sure that when I return to my career I am Really Good At It and finally get qualified without any further failure! I have to get some exercise! I have to make time for family and friends! I have to be creative! I have to get out of the house! I have to avoid spending any money!
I enjoyed crying this morning. I am a crier, an inveterate spouter of tears, and a connoisseur. There are as many varieties of lachrymosity as there are of rain. After one of my recent job-related assessments, I locked myself in a toilet and sobbed. I couldn't stop. I had to do it silently because people were coming and going in the next cubicle, and I didn't want the humiliation of drenching my colleagues yet again in my hyper-emotional state. I can be very emotional and yet hardly make a squeak. My shoulders heaved and I couldn't breathe. I went through half a toilet roll. In the end I waited for a quiet moment and removed myself to a locked and darkened room in another corner of the workplace, because there were only two toilet cubicles and queues kept forming. I carried on sobbing for a while. It wasn't nice.
But this morning they were soft warm comforting tears. I practised the Buddhist loving kindness thing. I observed my emotional state, accepted it, let it happen. It needed to happen.
I don't know when the agency work might come in, or what kind of work it will be. I don't know what I should do, what I will be able to do, what I will want to do, from one day to the next. I've emerged from an immensely stressful period. Things are insecure. But I have ability, and I have time. I can say no to work. I can sort the garden out, sort the house out, sort myself out, and it doesn't have to be in a rush.
Maybe even, one day, I might know what the hell I am doing with my life. But really, does anyone?
Today I am feeling ever-so proud of myself because I have been through my finances with a fine-tooth comb and reduced every expense I could think of. This has meant an awful lot of faffing with broadband providers, gas and electric suppliers, mobile phone contracts etc. I have shopped around on ALL my monthly outgoings and saved myself a shocking amount of money. A veritable mountain of faffery - which is why I haven't got round to it before - but it feels good.
More generally, the heebie-jeebies are pecking me on my shoulder. Today I have kept them at bay with the above-mentioned faffery. I know all too well that if I don't get cracking first thing on my to-do list, I will just get more and more despondent - and less likely to get anything done - as the day wears on. I learnt this many years ago, but I still struggle to act on it. Still, today I did. So go-go me.
There are two big items on the list, though, which I have today avoided by focusing on the previously-referred-to faffishness. I can refrain from hitting myself with the big stick I use when I'm not being pecked by heebie-jeebies, because the faffing was Useful and Necessary, and is one in the eye for the heebie-jeebies, who are currently feeding in about equal parts on Financial Panic and Professional Insecurity.
But the other two big items will have to be tackled if I'm going to take away the Oh Shit I'm Rubbish At My Job fodder that those heebies so love to quaff. They are: (1) Apply for jobs and (2) Prepare to be Good at any jobs which get chucked in my direction.
Sadly they are both the kind of tasks that, although they will help to alleviate professional insecurity, require me to have a certain amount of security if I'm going to tackle them in the first place.
For months I have whinged that what I really needed was some spare time, so that I could sit down and rationalise all the useful information and resources which I've acquired and ought to help me be better at my job, if only I could remember what I had and lay my hand on the relevant bits at a moment's notice. Now that I have that time, I'm too scared to use it effectively.
It's the same fear that prevents me from writing fiction when I lay time aside for that. What if I can't do it? The fear of failure stops me from doing it in the first place. What if my job applications are rubbish? What if my brain is too woolly and useless to be able to find the right resources, make sense of them or be able to put them in any kind of sensible order?
If only I did these jobs, I would feel better. I know that. So therefore I should do them. And I will! I'll just check out that car insurance comparison site...
Ha! I am having a nice time (she said triumphantly).
Good God, but ain't life a funny thing. I spent a good few months of my life losing an awful lot of sleep over the potential disaster that was Losing My Job, and now it's happened and it's the best thing to have befallen my sorry arse for a goodly length of time.
1) The sun is shining.
2) Yesterday I went to my grandparents' house to rescue some items before it is sold, and now my own home is full of things I have known since I was teeny-tiny, and I find them immensely comforting. Silly small things like a broken bear, a flour tin and some small cracked pink dessert bowls. And lovely bigger things like a wooden highchair I once sat in myself. I'd assumed this last would be purely decorative/sentimental, as my littlest stopped bothering with such things a year ago. But as soon as he spotted it, he wanted to eat his breakfast in it (he is still only two, although nearly three), and luckily he fits in it nicely. We ate breakfast together in the garden. Hurrah.
3) I am Getting Jobs Done, and they are all jobs I Enjoy Getting Done. Today I am mostly Dong My Accounts, which is something I have always found greatly satisfying. Yay.
I left my job the other week. I am currently jobless and don't much care - I am taking time off while my son is on school holiday, despite the fact that my partner is also on a reduced income and I have no idea what I'm doing next.
It was getting so corrosive there. I'm going to continue in the New Career for the time-being, and am hoping it was the workplace rather than the job itself, but there is a possibility that I'll end up having to give it up altogether. The sense of relief is immense, and the optimism is returning. I'm enjoying just living from day to day and spending time with my children, not to mention getting some sleep and reading some books.
I was pushed as much as I jumped; I wasn't really welcome to stay. I have a million* possible reasons for why I didn't get on there, and of course "I'm bloody incompetent" is one of them. But I'll never know for sure and I'd rather look forward than dwell on it. The irony is that I've already been invited to talk to people entering into this career about my experiences. I think I might become an Expert in How To Be Inexpert. That would be a laugh.
Five weeks after a Major Shock Event At Work which was the cause of my current crisis of confidence, I think I may finally be coming out the other side. I guess there's room for several more dips and wobbles, but today at any rate I had a Good Day at Work for the first time in a long time.
Thanks to friends, who have convinced me that maybe I'm not a waste of space after all.
Also the following Survival Thoughts:
1. I'm doing this for me. Not them. There is no point spending my whole life worrying about whether they're going to stamp FAIL on my forehead. Their opinions are arbitrary and capricious, and don't deserve to have such a big influence on my life. I will get what I can, learn what I can, use this to become bigger and better. If that means I stay here, doing this, at the end of it all, all well and good. If not, then sobeit. I just have to focus on me, and on the people I can help along the way.
2. Just the fact that I'm still there, means I'm winning. They tried to force me to quit. They failed.
3. Small achievable goals. I had two small goals for today. I achieved them both. Rah me.
"Love, you are one of the most amazing people I have ever met"
This was from one of my lovely commenters, and is especially appreciated because it was from someone who has only met me once or twice. Although... my thou-art-worthless head could say that's WHY she thinks I'm amazing... because she doesn't actually know me properly...
But anyway. I just re-read my "RAH" post and was surprised to find myself describing myself as amazing. Because I don't mostly believe that these days.
It's not just the new career. It's been several years now since I really succeeded at anything. I used to think of myself as a person who could do anything she set her hand to, but that has been disproved several times over now, and in several different spheres.
One of the worst things about my current predicament is that for a while my colleagues were saying, "You're too hard on yourself."
They've stopped saying that. Because people in positions of power and authority, who know what they are talking about, are being just as hard on me as I ever was, and are confirming my own most private and worst suspicions about myself. And I know that other people are thinking, "Oh yeah, come to think of it..." And the more I am criticised, the worse I perform, and the more I worry about being perceived by all as the "drain on resources" I have been described as, and the more I agree with it myself...
The other day there were interviews at my place of work. Such is the nature of the job that some of us got to observe some parts of the selection process. I watched those interviewees and thought back to my own interview. I put on such a good show. Afterwards I said to a small number of colleagues, "I was very confident that I had got this job. I know my interview went well. They were very keen for me to start work here. It must have been such a disappointment when I turned out to be so rubbish." One of the people at the table blushed and hid behind her hair. The image stays with me. And it was my own stupid fault and God, I hate it when people say loudly in public things like "I'm such a waste of space," which puts the listeners in the horrible position of having to either deny or avoid, and is such a needy thing to say.
I joined a gospel choir a couple of weeks ago. It's lovely. It's something I can do, and do well. And it's not about ego and nobody gets the limelight. We just sing together, all concentrating hard on not standing out, on being part of a whole that makes something beautiful. And they're such a great cast of characters. They just accepted me instantly, without asking questions or expecting anything obvious of me other than that I join in and sing, and learn my harmony with the minimum of fuss - which is something I happen to be rather good at. So, there you go: Something I haven't failed at. And which is uplifting and gorgeous.
I'm an atheist. Not everybody in the choir is a Christian. I don't know the proportions - nobody asks or seems to care, although it's clear there are a fair few believers. Personally I'm quite happy to piggyback on the benefits of religion. Spirituality, for me, is about celebrating all the wonderful things we humans are capable of, and - thank God - (haha) that includes music.
So, anyway. Am I amazing? Not so much, not right now. But I tried to do something really difficult, under difficult circumstances. So I'm brave. And I'm still doing it, despite a horrible amount of pressure and some unnecessary unpleasantness. And I'm still trying, and I'm still smiling, some of the time, including at my tormentors (every chance I get, I smile at them. I am bigger than them) (I'm not, I'm smaller, so much smaller, but my smile can be big). And I can sing.
My biggest coping strategy at the moment is to Think Positive.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but it does mean that I need to counter that last blog post. I'm still an amazing person who can do, does do and has done great things. There are objective reasons why I'm not doing as well as people would like me to, but I can rectify this and I WILL get better. If I have to I can leave. Other doors always open. I've been immensely strong so far.
And nobody has the right to invade my thoughts and my confidence to the extent that just one person has. They have not treated me well, and it won't help for me to internalise everything and think of myself as a waste of space. I am NOT.
I know, I haven't been here a while. What can I say?
My life is pretty shit right now. It's as shit as it's been for quite a while, and to be honest it's a while since it's been good. I think. I don't know. I function on a different level these days. Everything is so day-to-day difficult that I am getting better at finding small moments of pleasure in the midst of it all. Appreciating music and trees and cuddles with small people that sprang from my loins and shit like that.
I saw a woodpecker today. A real one. It was a bit boring to look at if I'm brutally honest, didn't seem to have any colours or anything, and a bit smallish and nondescriptish, but it was silhouetted against the sky so what do I know. I really know very little about woodpeckers. I didn't know you got them in inner-city Manchester. I suppose I couldn't even swear it was one, but it was pecking loudly and fastly at some wood with a long pecky beak, so I think it probably was.
Last week was worse than this week. Last week I was in a semi-permanent state of anxiety and nearly gave up altogether several times. No, not suicide. Just abandoning this stupid career I've somehow found myself in. But it's not that easy. I have three dependants, and no other obvious sources of income.
People are telling me that I'm no good at it, that I'm never going to be any good at it, that I'm a waste of space and a drain on resources. But other people say that's not true. I think it might be. But I hate giving up, and anyway I don't know what else to do. But if I don't improve soon they're going to sack me anyway.
It's a hard enough career, without having to do it without the support of your employers.
It's not fulfilling. Most of what you do will be rubbish.
It's not satisfying. You'll never get published, and even if you do you won't sell, and even if you do, you'll get marketed wrongly, and even if you're not you'll have to prostitute your very soul to make people like you, and even if you don't you'll never know what the future holds or whether they'll still like you ten minutes later.
Don't do it.
But if you do do it, break all the rules. ALL OF THEM.
This ever-so-slightly-drunken rant was inspired by Tania from TaniaWrites, who in turn was inspired by Anis Shivani, who writes about it all very eloquently here.
I've said what I'm about to say a few times now, but I think that as writers we are often too caught up with Successful, Popular, Famous.
Hmm. Not just writers...
But anyway. Why do we care how many people read our books? 100 people is a LOT of people, but not in the world of publishing. If you did something good and that many people praised you for it, or paid attention to it, wouldn't you be pleased? If you were responsible for some really amazing project at work, and you got that kind of acclaim, wouldn't you be happy?
You can't make a living like that. But should you want to? Why does creative endeavour have to be a profitable enterprise? Why does it have to fill your days? Happen quickly? Why NOT take ten years to write every novel? Why not write in a different genre every time? Take risks, make mistakes, observe no deadlines, FAIL every now and then?
I go back to work the day after tomorrow, after a break for Christmas, etc. I'm not looking forward to it. I'm mostly terrified. This year may easily be the hardest of my life*. Many difficult things are on the horizon.
Oh well. Never mind all that. I finally got round to reading @karlpmole (aka Bete de Jour, aka Karl Webster)'s Christmas story just now, and loved it. Heartwarming. Festive. Here.
*I won't be alone though. I'm not sure if that's helpful or just even more depressing. That global economy thing ain't pretty.