Monday, 30 January 2012

Waiting for My Real Life To Begin

I’ve often thought about the natural arrogance of youth, which the youngsters would never imagine may later come crashing down around them as they become just like the adults who bore them, their teachers, their parents—-ordinary people with mortgages and unexciting jobs that they didn’t win on The Apprentice, living without fame or fortune. And I see now that even I have fallen into that trap of naivety. Not just in that I’ve always expected there would be more than this—and still do—but because, when I was made redundant from my job some months ago, I saw it as an amazing opportunity to embrace, a chance finally to return to the plans I originally had before I was sucked into the 9 to 5 (well…9 to 7 and then some), to return to the dreams of youth that I was sure could be realised with untapped talents that I could finally engage and show the world.

Yes, kids in school are so confident, looking down on their teachers because they are merely teachers and thus losers compared to the footballing heroes or X Factor winners that they intend to be. They are confident of this destiny because they have not yet been proven wrong. And by the time they are, they are the 40-year-old teachers or accountants, either full of regret or with changed priorities, like getting their kids into the right school and ensuring they can afford that with steady work. Yesterday, I watched the Blu-ray release of The Breakfast Club, a seminal film for my generation, and was reminded that the janitor, whom even the lowly geek is embarrassed to acknowledge, is pictured during the opening credits as a young, bright, promising student who no doubt also imagined he was destined for great things.

I feel as though I was like an arrogant child when I left work months ago, full of hope and excitement, and now I am the trapped “accountant” in a rut with a mortgage, not the writer/actor/singer (or just worker in an interesting business) that I was destined and determined to be. Colin Hay’s Waiting for My Real Life To Begin—and I recognise the tragedy of it—relates well to me. I am not even a trapped accountant (and my skills don't lie there)—I’m not anything, much to my shock and chagrin. In the face of financial ruin within two months if I don’t find work, I found myself looking at the fairly intelligent janitor in The Breakfast Club and almost envying him his job. He has a job; I do not. Still, clearing up after kids, or just being around them en masse, would hardly be delightful, and I doubt it would pay the mortgage, plus the school would not normally be as peaceful as on that Saturday. And he was fiction. But I’m a workaholic who, I believe it is safe to say, had an excellent reputation and was respected at my previous job, yet I am still unemployed, with the last bit of money I have about to run out completely.

And Word magazine has not looked out from its pages to beg me to write for it; Hat Trick hasn’t called to commission me to develop my fun script idea; no publisher has given me an advance on my excellent, ground-breaking novel; no label has offered to help produce my album of the many songs I wrote years ago (back when labels made offers and helped to produce albums); TED haven’t asked me to curate their music acts; Absolute 80s hasn’t asked me to DJ (nor any fine station that would let me play songs everyone should know but few people do); Hollywood directors and advertising agencies haven’t rushed to me to find the perfect songs for their projects; and the casting directors for Rev, Miranda or tomorrow’s next big drama have not given me a call. The latter is particularly weird because I’ve walked around London a lot, giving the powers that be plenty of opportunities to discover me, but they’ve squandered those chances. It’s outrageous!!

It’s true that I’ve not been in touch with any of the above about my potential, sending off my drafts, getting agents and going to auditions, the sort of thing that I suppose would be a first step equal to purchasing a lottery ticket if I wanted to win the lottery. Really, my main goal was to get a job that better employed my degree in Journalism—be that writing, editing, reviewing the arts, advertising, marketing or research. However, I have no portfolio to show, although I know I can write (please don’t assume my stream of consciousness rants in this blog are representative of the finished professional work I would produce before a deadline), nor can I afford an entry-level salary in a new career, given my crippling debts. But rest assured my efforts to find a desk job have been much more reasonable and proactive than the above efforts of waiting to be discovered, if not more successful as I am still unemployed, something I never dreamt I would be. But I do feel I stand here with my dreams dashed and my time squandered, which I find nearly as soul destroying. I am furious with myself for accomplishing so little somehow (How do I accomplish so little whilst off when I’m such an unbelievably hard worker in my job?), and I am terrified of losing my home and my precious rescue cats when I have nowhere else to go.

What made me feel so confident when I began this journey? (This journey, of course, was not of my own volition. A chairman, mentioning me in his speech at a dinner to which he kindly invited me after I’d left work, referred to it as “having a career break”—which I’d have to amend to “having an enforced career break”).

People at work were tremendously kind leading up to my departure. They went from going a bit pale when they heard that I was going—as they said if it could happen to me, then no one was safe—to contributing generously to my collection and throwing me a leaving do (well, my boss paid for it; but so many kind souls came to it). Most noble of all, they all patiently listened and laughed throughout my incredibly long leaving speech about my time there. In fact, it was that that had many people suggesting that I go into the media (or write a sitcom), which I always assumed I would do, but got trapped in a temporary job I took right after university. I always get caught up in my work, whatever it is, but I did manage to escape after getting caught up in retail management whilst at school, so I should have been more motivated to look elsewhere when I became submerged in administration. But having security (as I did for so long) and paying the bills can rather take over an apparent coward’s life.

Other things may have also contributed to my failing to accept quite how hard it would be to get a job in this climate. First, I was approached and offered work within weeks of leaving by someone who had worked with me and wanted me on board with his small team for a start-up net company, which he hoped would be the next Google. It would have been fascinating and given me new things to put on my c.v., but I didn’t take it in the end for numerous reasons (including it being a low-paid “self-employed business opportunity” with taxation issues for what would be a temporary job if the company didn’t take off).

Second, before I left my job, the head of press kindly encouraged me to fill a maternity leave cover for a senior press officer, but complications relating to my redundancy agreement meant that wasn’t possible. Plus by then, I was keen for a new start elsewhere, wanting to embrace new opportunities (and perhaps, frankly, new appreciation given the redundancy) and go somewhere less stifling and more atune to my original plans. Which is why, when someone else who knew my work mentioned (at another dinner to which a kind past chairman had invited me) that he knew of someone who needed a project manager, I felt reluctant to get excited as I wanted something new and different, but I did ask him to send me the details, though perhaps my foolish reluctance showed too much and put him off.

None of those were perfect—not that one can afford to wait for perfection—but coming so quickly at a time when I was leaving, and having heard of complaints being made about my going--perhaps gave my subconscious the impression that I could take a bit of time off to relax, recharge my waning batteries and go to exhibitions and lectures to enjoy London, and then work harder at finding something ideal. I also hadn’t counted on a few expensive emergencies and, with no savings and massive debts, the redundancy money just disappeared. So whilst I did get to numerous lectures, I imagined I’d have time to learn my DSLR better, practice wildlife photography, learn to play my electric keyboards, maybe use an app to record the less awful songs I’d written, update my neglected music website and blog more, and crucially write a few chapters of my novel and send it off to an agent, for what it’s worth. But I’ve spent a great deal of time trawling for jobs and completing applications, trying to improve my c.v., coming up with things to sell and ways to save or make money, cancelling things and contacting creditors to try to make the dire financial situation slightly less terrifying briefly. And then stressing about it; I’ve spent a fair amount of time on that when I should have been thinking creatively and being more productive.

Taking such care initially over my next step is perhaps linked to the fact that I slipped and fell into something unintentional before I even left University, and ended up doing that job for pretty much my whole adult life. And crucially, when I was younger and interested in moving around, it was thought that demonstrable loyalty was preferable, but now that I’ve worked in the same place for aeons, everyone seems to treat people who have stayed largely with one company as though they are dull, idiotic sticks in the mud. I know that I am capable of greater things and should be doing interesting things, but I may have blown it. I don’t feel shame about the Enforced Career Break (most of my team was made redundant and are being replaced with cheap young labour and new magical software); I mainly feel disgusted with myself for having nothing to show for my time off, a break and chance I would have dreamt of in the past.

I’m disappointed in myself for not having pulled together the scattered scraps of papers and chapters in my head and just written them down, or even less realistic things, like record on the PC some of the better songs I wrote long ago, particularly now that 80s sounds are doing well and some were written then. Nor have I read the dozens of unread books around me or watched the many DVDs still in their wrapper. Or changed the world.

I have at least started sleeping, which is something I barely did before, and it’s neat not to feel run-down and ill all the time now. But as bits of my dreams come crashing down around me, leaving craters from which hideous financial realities and pressures from creditors emerge like poisonous hissing snakes, it’s exhausting to carry on. I get occasional advice from friends and professionals (eg PayPlan), and I see I’m inclined to bury my head in the sand and say, “I hear what you’re saying, but that’s simply beyond me; I can’t do that, it’s too awful”, and sometimes I even get a bit tearful in private when faced with this despair. However, by the next morning, I’m usually raring to go and up for the next challenge, and do what I must no matter how unpleasant.

Whenever today’s hurdle seems impossibly high, I must face that it’s not going to get any lower and I can’t win the race if I go around it or just sit down and refuse to take it. Only I can get myself through this, as much as I long for some amazing benefactor to give me a grant to work on my cathartic future Booker-Prize-winning book for a year, or give me (preferably interesting or at least not devastatingly awful, though I’m no longer so choosy) work with pay that would cover my tricky outgoings, or a decent-sized lottery win. Those things aren’t happening. So I’ve got to find strength I didn’t think I had and leap over the hurdles, perhaps praying a bit as I do so, and with luck I’ll reach the end before my life is completely destroyed. I have my doubts, and I’m devastated when I face up to the reality of financial ruin in the very near future when the money just totally runs out, even if I find some simple temping jobs, but I’ve always had tremendous hope and, combined with the bursts of drive I keep discovering, I usually manage to save myself just in time. Somehow. But occasionally I fear that this hope and drive is no different than the dreams that have led me through life all these years, waiting for my real life to begin. And they can’t solve everything.

Some have suggested that I consider marrying a sick wealthy elderly man. I think not. I love my independence, although when I’m living in a cardboard box on the Strand, I suppose this option might hold more appeal, although I won’t then hold much appeal to these sick wealthy elderly men. Though I could never imagine spending money I didn’t earn (or win, should the lottery be so unusually kind). A friend used to say that explorer Benedict Allen would be my perfect man, as he was away nine months of the year, and I’m afraid that’s true—the being away, I mean; I believe Mr Allen is safely off the market and there are others who would interest me more, provided they’re gone a lot. Are there any sick elderly wealthy men who are never home and keen to get married quickly and go away immediately? Actually, I couldn’t do it. I’m too committed to things I take on, with a strong sense of duty, and there’s nothing worse than being trapped in a miserable loveless relationship (she says from experience). As I said, perhaps check back once I’m trying to support two fluffy Persians living in a cardboard box on the Strand soon, but for now, nah….

And yes, I have signed on for benefit, probably too late but I didn’t wish to be a burden when I hoped I’d find something quickly. But that’s so very little money, it’s just a drop in the ocean of what I owe, although I’m terribly grateful for it (once it’s finally paid). But how do the people I keep reading about who claim £40k a year in benefits and live in great houses for free do it? Why do people who have never worked seem to have better televisions than I do? It's so little money--is that all just a myth? And how do people less tolerant and educated than I am cope with the intimidating forms that one must work through to see any benefit? One agency keeps sending me more and more complicated forms and requires intricate details of decisions I don’t remember taking years ago when I remortgaged. I think the plan is that they keep asking for more and more obscure information until my house is repossessed and they don’t need to pay out. But seriously, I’m grateful for any assistance, I really am. I’m just struggling and slightly down!

This precarious situation with possible impending doom does wake me up to the uselessness of all my possessions—not those small family things with sentimental value, but the general clutter. I sit surrounded by myriad shelves crammed with unread books (never mind the ones on the Sony eBook Reader and the iPad), towering stacks of unplayed CDs, Blockbuster-competing numbers of unwatched DVDs (when could I find two spare hours to stare at the screen?) and hundreds of videos (is there no charitable home for those now? Must they be landfill?). Some of the credit card balances (at 30% interest) may have gone towards these, although most of the balances were just living expenses and a distant escape from the negative-equity former matrimonial home. Yet some of the unwatched DVDs have been shown on the telly, and the Blu-ray versions are cheaper than what I paid years ago for the plain ones. So I’ve recognised that I’m a fool, and they’re all pointless (other than a bit of music, which is always important). If I ever recover from this, that realisation will be a valuable lesson and ensure I am no longer Amazon’s biggest customer.

So that lesson is a good thing, and more important things I’ve managed have made me a bit proud, like finding considerable savings (though not enough), cutting out all the magazines and the big Virgin telly package and V+ box (going from being able to rewind television to only having three static-y channels with a broken aerial was quite an adjustment), living off cheap pasta and tins of beans (I miss my fresh fruit and veg!), and getting painfully rough loo rolls at the pound shop. And any time I’m tempted to push the boat out and spend even an extra pound on food, I think of it as stealing from orang-utans and suffering animals that would have had that money had I not just had to just cancel all my monthly charitable donation direct debits to the WWF, WSPCA, RSPCA etc, which was utterly galling, but I hope somehow just temporary.

But I digress. And have made this sound depressing. I’m spending hours looking for jobs and tweaking my c.v. and applying for them, though there will be hundreds of other applicants who always seem to be a better match on paper, and there isn’t much call for my Sir Humphrey Appleby skills. I’m working on developing a LinkedIn profile and will do some speculative letters soon and, with luck, will find something suitable for a salary on which I can scrape by where the employer will in turn find me. But there’s not much time left, and soon maybe I’ll be looking for that elderly, ailing millionaire after all. At least then, I might be able to write my book full-time, which will be worth reading, not like my meandering stream-of-consciousness blogs. And I could give loads to charities, which I long to do. But….ugh.

In addition to whingeing too much, I’ve said some immodest things in this blog entry, most unlike me, but true. I know my strengths, all two of them. I’m an excellent worker and, although I don’t demonstrate it here, I can write. I know I deserve this despair that I’m driving toward but I do so wish I could have a second chance, and veer away out of the dark forest unscathed. I would do so much better this time. Do people never get second chances? A single person won £40 million on the Euromillions lottery the other day, which I think is a shame as that could have made 40 millionaires—preferably one being me--but I at least hope they’re altruistic and share the wealth. With charities, I mean, not with me. That’s a second chance. J K Rowling also took a second chance when she was unemployed, writing Harry Potter. She took that chance.

I know I must work harder to find my second chance, but I fear I’m almost out of time. Meanwhile, I’ll get back to applying for jobs like that great one at the LSE that I know I could do wonderfully well, even though these jobs would be resuming the path I was taking after having been diverted from my creative goals in my youth. But really, I’m starting to long for that path now, and if I am fortunate enough to get back on it, I’ll suppress my arrogance of youth that feels I should be doing more magical things. It’s barely visible anyway. And maybe, with a new job and a new determination, I could work on those dreamy things after hours. I just want to keep my house and my cats and just manage to live—that's my main goal now: to be able just to live my life. I can wait until later for my real life to begin.

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