Among the places I’ve applied to work in the last year are: a writing school, a regular school, a college, a publishing house, at least two other publishing houses, a literary agency, a cosmetic surgery clinic, an STI clinic, a garden centre, a bridal shop and a funeral home.
And half a dozen libraries. If there was any semblance of direction in my job search, then libraries was it. Because *fans self* books. Shelving. Cataloguing. The Dewey Decimal System (I am so turned on right now).
And finally, finally, one of them has hired me. It’s the cutest little village library out in the sticks, with a staff of about five, and a group of ladies who meet there once a fortnight to crochet. And the best part? Somebody makes a round of tea every. thirty. minutes.
It’s a couple of afternoons a week, and a few more when cover is needed, so I won’t be able to afford a holiday or a new laptop any time soon (please don’t be sad old, faithful laptop. We’d had some good times, but the sun started setting on our love affair around the time your m and v started sticking, and you spat out your first DVD in disgust) but, as strange as it may seem, everything has changed.
I’ve said this before, but stagnation comes easily – easier than you may think if you’re a properly functioning adult in motion – and change does not. I was nervous about a new job in as many ways as I was itching for one. I even feared that the basic skills required – communication, professionalism, initiative – might have atrophied like unused muscles. On the worst days, when future employment felt like an impossibility, a voice in my head would whisper this is just who you are now.
And I guess, in the end, that fear was the crux of the crisis I’ve been circling for the last two years; that despite my impression of myself as smart and capable and a quick study – and a history of being those things once upon a time – that I’d fallen down a hole people don’t escape from. I’d become lesser.
Plot twist: I haven’t. I’ve adapted like a champ. I’ve remembered that I actually like a new challenge, a new set of seemingly insurmountable skills to master. I love that moment when it clicks and I feel like I know what I’m doing. And it’s been so long since I got to do it that I’m not sure I even was that person the last time. I’ve never got to appreciate this part of myself before.
It’s been one of those moments when the smallest thing makes you realise you can do just about anything. But the strangest revelation this new job has led me to is that I was, actually, never stagnant at all; the reason it’s taken me this long to pin something down is a matter of opportunity aligning with need. Two years ago, I was looking to put my proof-reading qualification to use so that I could work from home and choose my hours. Last summer, I was applying for part-time admin jobs so that I could divvy up working days and writing days. In December, I was thinking of moving to London. If any of those desires had coincided with a stroke of luck and the right job, I’m sure I’d have landed on my feet. Each one was right for my writing at the time, which ebbs and flows. I’ve learned to let it, and for my pains have found myself whizzing my way through a project I’m more enthused about than anything I have been previously. Enter, the library; the perfect job to compliment me – touch wood – finishing a novel for the first time in three years.
I don’t believe in fate, just in being where you’re supposed to be, and things working out when you give them the space to. I still don’t know what life will look like a few months from now, but that’s a feeling I can appreciate now. It feels like a good place to be.
I just need to voice something we have all known since the dawn of time: job-hunting is soul destroying. Worse, since – as I’m starting to understand (that’s right, sixth admin job this month, I can take a hint) – I am unemployable.
You may be tempted to congratulate me on reaching what you might assume is not an easily attainable status. Like the low score at the pub quiz that might earn your team a consolatory glass of sweets, surely you need to have had an unmitigated shocker to do so poorly. You have to know, two or three rounds in advance, that you’re tanking this and there’s nothing left to play for, nothing to salvage. The most gormless of us have that much self-awareness, right?
Well, a word from the wise: not that hard. Take time off work, and everything that you are, all you have accomplished, the very years of your life up until that point, will vanish. Not to be dramatic.
Okay, I don’t know that that’s what’s happened to me here, not for sure. But with every day that I roll out of bed at nine and give my time to a vocation that’s not yet a career, I’m becoming more paranoid. How quickly did they dismiss my CV this time? Is it my use of the Oxford comma that’s turning them off? Has this been an elaborate, stress-induced delusion? Am I in fact mailing pages of achievements including ‘used to hold a perfect downward-facing dog but got lazy’ and ‘has committed to winged eyeliner every day for four years, ask all my friends’, in crayon, to random addresses?
I left my job going on two years ago with no idea of how, when or where I would find employment again, which even I am sometimes tempted to look back on and call naïve. But it wasn’t that. Whether the choice was prudent or not was beside the point. I still get what 2015 Hannah was doing. She was being unafraid. She was sacrificing security and independence for the sake of her aspirations. Or rather, future Hannah was making sacrifices for her. And now I’m here, and the welcome-to-the-real-world fairies have come to collect. I thought nothing had gone that drastically wrong, but I was mistaken. At some indiscernible point in my recent history, I became nothing more than an uncompelling CV.
I’m being melodramatic, but if you’re lucky enough to not be job-hunting right now, I want you to know on behalf of the rest of us that this is what it feels like. I want to grab the people turning me down and scream ‘MEET ME IN PERSON, I’M A CATCH’, but I don’t know who they are, or even if they’re there. The architect of this battering my ego is taking is the faceless, generic, oftentimes signature-less contents of my inbox. It’s dehumanising.
And, I’m convinced, malicious. Can we talk about those online application forms? The ones which make you pick your qualification from a drop-down list, and your subject from another drop-down list, and then fill in the dates over and over and over and you know what I’d rather be destitute. If you wanted to test my endurance, interview me on a treadmill. I’m game. If it’s about who wants it the most, like some last-one-standing Hunger Games scenario – at this point I might even be down for that too. I’m surprised they don’t ask you to scan and upload your GCSE certificates, alongside a selfie with your former boss, holding their ID and that day’s newspaper. Please have mercy. Everything you want to know is on this meticulously curated, single sheet of paper that you haven’t even asked for, because I was erroneously led to believe that brevity was the key to this whole circus.
And breathe. The more times I go through this, the stronger my sense of the countless others I’m invisibly fighting and their identical struggles. I applied for a single position last month that had over 260 applicants. It’s going to take time. Unless I have truly ceased to exist, then someone somewhere will eventually notice that I’m smart and hardworking, and worth more than my two years of ‘unemployment’ (quotation marks because I wrote a novel but NO BIGGIE WHO’S KEEPING SCORE).
I’ve been thinking I might move away. I need to breathe new life into this corpse aka my existence, and maybe I’m willing to do that at the expense of my writing. Not critically, and not forever. But – and this may come as a shock to any of you who observed me narrowing my only viable career option down to drug lord – I am interested in and capable of a lot of other things besides writing. There’s got to be balance or the whole thing falls down, and right now I’m wobbling on a heap of half-finished manuscripts and nothing is holding me up.
One of my biggest fears is that I can’t sell myself without justifying my unemployment, and I can’t justify my unemployment without sounding like my heart’s in something else. But the funny thing is, last month I started a new novel, and I’ve been enjoying writing more than I have in a year – and that’s what’s making me crave something new. I don’t know if I can explain it, other than to say that writing can’t happen in a bubble. Life feeds it, and maybe my stores are running low.