I was looking for a job and then I was looking for a job and then I was looking for a job and Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now….

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In the grand scheme of things, career-search wise, I’m doing OK. I have a degree, I have experience including an internship, I actually know what I want to do, and I’m not subject to racial discrimination in my job search. However despite my constant searching and applying  on Indeed all I’ve got back in two months is a handful of rejection emails from the few companies who actually bothered to send them. Oh, and a call from a company offering teaching work in China which I absolutely don’t want to do but genuinely considered.

Inamongst all the thinkpieces calling millenials entitled, or making fun of them for having ‘fake’ sounding jobs involving social media or having ‘digital’ in the name (someone took the time to make an actual sitcom on the topic), few seem to question why so many of us still live with our parents. I know one person my age with the same education level who is in full time work. The rest are doing masters degrees or working menial jobs in the hopes of finding something more fulfilling. My sister graduated in 2012 and found every job she wanted demanded years of experience and every job she applied to as a short term money maker felt she was overqualified and would have no loyalty. I’ve found the same problem, despite the fact I have a three-month journalism internship under my belt. In truth, the hunt for a job feels like a fruitless, crushing dirge.

Dramatic-sounding perhaps, but hear me out. My recent internship (a piece of driftwood just about keeping me afloat in a sea of career hunting) was not my first flirtation with intern-ing. Back in the summer of ’16, towards the end of my degree, I was delighted to get a call from a local company in Hull who were interested in getting me to work as a content writer for 8-12 weeks. Unpaid, of course, I couldn’t possibly expect to get paid now could I? Their promise was 8-12 weeks with a ‘very real chance’ of a job at the end. Twelve weeks is a long time but it would just about cover the rest of my student flat contract and I was almost guaranteed a job at the end. I went along for the interview in high spirits, it was a nice office in the city centre, and the staff seemed laid-back with lots of freedom. I was told that I was the most qualified candidate. I had a second interview, involving a basic competence test, all was well. I got a call from the recruitment agency woman who had called me in the first place saying they were offering me a week-long trial to check I was right for them. A little annoying, considering I was repeatedly told I was the best candidate, and it was an unpaid internship (I was essentially being offered a trial FOR a trial) but it was still amazing to get such an opportunity considering I hadn’t even graduated yet.

So I went in with my coffee and pencil skirt feeling very business-like. I wrote some blog posts, transcribed a few radio bits they did, had to do some ‘business to business’ copy which was about the most soul crushing thing of all time but hey ho. I felt all was going well. However, after going home on the third day the recruitment lady called me again. ‘They don’t know how to go about training you’ she said (they perhaps should have thought of that before they hired an intern). She told me to take the rest of the week off while they worked out what approach to take. With a furrowed brow I agreed, but told her I felt fine with how things were going.

Two weeks later, I had heard nothing. I emailed the recruitment agency woman asking her if, when I did come back, I would be coming back to an actual job or I would still be expected to work 12 weeks on zero pay. She told me it was the latter. ‘They’re only a small company, so they can’t offer pay at the moment’. I was tempted to point out that this was at odds with how often I had been assured of their rapid growth as a business, and to ask if everyone else who worked their was lucky enough to actually get paid. I replied that I had to decline coming back at all, that 12 weeks of no pay would essentially leave me homeless for a while. She understood. Oh, by the way, that ‘job’ was at a company running a search engine FOR JOBS.

I’m happy to report the second internship went far better. It only required one interview, I was able to work from home, I was paid £70 a week, given one-to-one training, and had to the opportunity to do cool stuff like interview comedians and write previews for art exhibitions. I came out the other side with solid skills and a sturdy addition to my CV. One month later, I still have nothing. Trawling through Indeed.com every day is a Groundhog-day like affair. Content writer, marketing, social media executive and so on and so on. Most are offering more internships, usually only pointing out halfway through the job description that they won’t actually pay you. Particularly with any kind of creative endeavor. They offer ‘experience’ and ‘exposure’, but such things do not put tofu on the table. Those that will pay are rare, and mostly require a candidate with 5 years of experience in the exact same job, preferably at the same company, and a relocation to London.

When you find one that seems imperfect, but you actually have a chance of getting, it sends you to a 10-page application form that needs filling out. You have a CV with all the same information the form is asking for handily put on one page, but they still want you to fill out the form. Call me a lazy, entitled millenial, but when it’s the fifth job application of the day and you don’t particularly want it in the first place, the impulse to give up on page 4 of the application is very strong.

Also while these companies ask a lot of their candidates, the effort is not reciprocated. Job descriptions are often quite badly written out, some with glaring spelling mistakes. Plus, they are often written so cryptically, so ridden with vague business jargon, that it is impossible to tell what the company does and what they want you to do. Take this for example:

“The role of Digital Marketing Executive will be to implement the content marketing strategy for this prestigious business, devising creative campaigns which will help to increase awareness, brand and drive sales and play a key role in driving the next phase of growth.”

Can anyone tell me what the even heck that means?

So where does this seemingly incredibly unsustainable system lead? Ultimately, it means only the children of the rich can get jobs. If you can’t find an internship you can do from home like I was lucky enough to get, you have to hope Mum and Dad are willing to pay your rent. After several such internships, you may finally get a full time job that pays, congratulations! Better yet, a close relative of yours works at the company, instant stability!

This market ultimately has to collapse in on itself. Denying  many young people the chance to support themselves for the convenience of businesses who are somehow disgusted at the thought of paying a living wage simply isn’t sustainable. It isn’t just Wetherspoons that takes advantage, but cozy white-collar office jobs. It’s a symptom of late stage, unregulated capitalism. Everything to appease the bosses, even if it means literally not paying a wage. Recently, a screenshot of an unpaid job at a London anti-slavery charity went viral. It’s gotten so bad that even my classically conservative grandma is shocked and appalled at the state of things. Colliding with other problems like the eye-watering rent prices in most cities and the accumulating student debt of those doing masters degrees to stave off the daunting search for a job, something has to give. And when it does give, I just hope it’s not the workers who bear the worst of it.

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The bright side of being sad

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me being sad

Will Graham expressing my coping methods.

“There’s no room for demons if you’re self-possessed” 

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that’s unacceptable”

(Both the wisdom of Carrie Fisher)

If I was going to describe the year 2015 for me, instead of using actual words I would probably just scream and punch something for half an hour. I had a devastating breakdown in my mental health, I had to deal with the fallout of that.  My stepfather’s illness got steadily worse and I heard the news of his death in the train station at eight in the morning trying to get home to say goodbye to him. No one in the station stopped to comfort me. One woman picked up her bags and walked away.  I spent Christmas with a family in mourning and read his eulogy while most people were buying stuffing. Even in the calmer parts of last year I dealt with my Mum’s appendicitis, my family moving house without me, and other slaps to the face. My family now joke that we’re cursed. As Carrie Fisher once said “the situation was getting worse faster than I could lower my expectations”.

It’s no coincidence that this was also the year I took up amateur boxing.

So now it’s 2016 and nothing that terrible has happened yet,save for the death of my great uncle Joe, who was in his late eighties. OK so that was not ideal… But, like a character in a movie with a hastily written tragic backstory (or an X factor contestant) I have changed a little.

I’ve always had a pretty sunny outlook, despite outward appearances of being quite grouchy. At heart, I tend to assume things will get better, or at least assume they can’t get any worse. This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with a lot of crap in my life, but still I’ve always kind of kept on truckin’. I tend to be calmer and happier than most when things are ticking along smoothly, possible down to denial, possibly down to just being glad bad things that happened in the past aren’t happening right now. Having knowledge that life can be terrible can make you pessimistic, or it can just make you extra grateful when things are less than terrible.

This attitude isn’t always a good thing.

Flashback to early last year. I was living in my crappy, cold, dark house, with the knowledge that my beloved stepfather was terminally ill. If I felt bad about all that, I managed to push it right on down and ignore it. I looked at the positive. I had freedom, I was a university student living with my friends, young, healthy and I had my own double bed for the first time ever. I was no longer a bullied teenager living in a godforsaken comatose backwater village enduring my parents tempestuous divorce. I could come and go as I please, my stepdad was ill but he was doing ok at the moment, and I would often get good news about how his tumours were shrinking. Maybe he would be ok after all. So I just kept smiling, went out for the odd drink with friends and basked in the glorious fact that I could come and go as I please.

I had these little OCD ticks, but whatever, they would get better.

Spoiler alert, they did not.

So before I knew it I couldn’t function on my own, and I spent most of the day exhausted and in tears. I believe this is partly down to my refusal to just be sad already.

If I had just said to myself “hey, your life is crap right now. That doesn’t mean It’s gonna be crap forever, although it may get crappier yet, but instead of being lil’ miss happy sunshine giggle fairy, just brood a little bit and acknowledge that you’re not happy” I may have spared myself a repeat prescription of prozac.

I’ve always joked that I would make a great goth (I have the colouring for it) but I’m just “too chipper”. Well maybe forget that.

So surprisingly enough, this year I’ve found myself feeling sad sometimes. I’ve recently been putting up with this super fun chronic fatigue thing my body is doing, and a year ago I maybe would have just ignored it and told myself sleeping to much is better than having insomnia. The urge to do that still comes up. “Oh I’m fine besides that, it’s just a little bit annoying, you know?”. I don’t want to worry other people, and I don’t want to worry myself, so part of my brain goes “leave it, hun”.

I have pledged to myself that I shall not leave it. It sucks that so tired my eyeballs hurt. It sucks I can hardly face a 9:15 lecture. It sucks that in third year, when I have work piling up, all I want to do is curl up in bed.

And about that, it’s not just tiredness, even when I don’t feel the need to nap I want to snuggle up in my bed and act like the world is on pause. And it’s only expected that I should feel like that. I’m grieving, goddamnit, I’m recovering from a serious mental health episode. I am now going through life knowing it’s potential for random, sustained cruelty. I have threads of real sadness in me that weren’t there before.

Acknowledging this brings a strange freedom. I find I’ve become bolder, more assertive, more motivated (when I’m not napping). All the inspirational facebook posts in the world had nothing on the motivational power of an awful year. I say things like “fuck it, we’re all gonna die anyway” and I mean it and I do the thing.

And when I feel sad? I let myself be sad. I listen to sad music, and I cuddle my stuffed rottweiler puppy Ronnie (who I definitely didn’t get as a Christmas present just this last year) and I just let it happen. I keep an eye on it for bigger problems, but I let it happen. I think about all the reasons I’m sad, I have many, and I just let myself be a moody bitch. I’m experiencing the effects of grief, the fatigue, the irritation, the infamous “seven stages” which are meant to follow each other in an orderly queue but instead hit you all at once and just swim around, not making a whole lot of sense.

Sometimes I’ll remember something arbitrary I did with my stepdad once. I’ll remember the time we had a carvery on my way back to Uni or when we went to a beer festival or when I found him holding his hand in pain by the fridge cos the chemotherapy made him extra sensitive to the cold. And sometimes I cry. And I just let it happen. Same with horrible memories of my illness. Memories of my stepdad will come from nowhere, when I’m cooking, when I’m trying to sleep, and It’s like a big knife in the chest. Grief likes to ambush you, and it can hurt physically. I’ve decided not to ignore that. That sadness will be there forever, and trying to forget it would, as I’ve learned, be very unhealthy.

Obviously sadness can take over your life, sometimes to the point of crisis. But It’s a natural emotion, and I’ve always believed emotions are a part of us, they are not separate, they aren’t switched on and off through sheer force of will, they are us. So now I’m practising what I preach, and I’m letting myself feel bad as well as good.

 

Nitty Gritty Pretty One – writing angst

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The running theme through my life has been organisation, structure and my lack of them. My handwriting is an illegible mess. The old idea of an infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite amount of typewriters? My freehand looks like an infinite amount of monkeys with an infinite amount of crayons. Caused problems between me and the kitchen when I was a waitress. My various bedrooms have always looked like a piece of art entitled “dire need of storage”. I hardly ever have my week organised and I never keep a diary.

One of the many reasons I have chosen writing as a career is that my remarkable lack of logic and order shouldn’t bee too much of a problem. My skills of making stuff up far exceed my ability to retain facts. New technology means people can actually decipher my writing as it comes in a handy menu of fonts and save for windings they are all readable. In front of a keyboard I can let loose my scattered brain and dress it up with bitchin similes and make a fortune. The fact I never developed a left side of my brain is a help rather than a hindrance.

I got some feedback at University this week on a piece I wrote during exam period last year. My prof, a bouncy enthusiastic type, praised my ideas and saw what I was “trying” to do but once again came out with the critique that has followed me around my whole life. I lack structure. I need to work on my sentences and their varying lengths, my paragraphs need to be paragraph shaped and my prose style needs streamlining. I understood entirely what he meant and nodded along. I could tell here stood a man who has read enough rambling stream of consciousness pieces from me to bewilder him forever. He told me read the guide books, read some essays from Orwell and other accomplished types, work out what you’re trying to say and edit.

Editing is my first problem. After I write I’m reluctant to go through it again, sure I’ll find some glaring flaw and cringe at the thought of anyone else reading it. Inevitably when I do read through my work I vary between “this is worse than fifty shades of grey” and “hey I’m pretty good!”. As they say writing is rewriting, I simply need to force myself through my work and adopt an objective eye and kill my darlings, as Hemingway said. This ruthlessness is not in my nature, after struggling to find the right word for ages deleting it later on can feel counter productive. The scenes in ‘Throw Momma from the Train’ where Billy Crystal’s writer tries to come up with the end to his opening  sentence “The night was…” are extremely relateable. The word, in the end, is ‘sultry’.

My best writing fuel is actually being passionately involved with what I’m writing. If I’m looking forward to what I’m about to put down it can come out fully baked in a single session and I still look at it with pride years later. If I’m staring blankly at the screen trying to find my ‘sultry’ I normally give up. However when you’re doing it as a degree you don’t have the option to give up on certain things. They have to be finished and before the deadline. What results is a disjointed waffling that I want to forget ever happened. Perhaps structure is not something I need to achieve but something I should free myself from. Script writing comes with its own structure which oddly allows for more freedom. I don’t have to worry about it, it’s been hollywood law for years. Poetry as well has a rhythm which is discernible to writer and reader.

The main struggle is getting the grand vision in my head down on paper. I can’t do the George R.R. Martin trick of intricate and interwoven plots which pay off spectacularly, at least not yet. I can lose steam quickly when I don’t know how to shape my ideas. The best way to work is backwards, a mildly exciting idea that grows out like ivy and becomes something much bigger than you originally designed. It’s a brilliant surprise and a great ego boost. Then comes the boring stuff. The nitty gritty, the editing and rewriting and making sure it makes sense to your readers. This, I’m told, I have to learn and now. I’m capable of it, It just needs to become natural.