Archive for the ‘navelgazing’ Category

I’ve been made redundant. It wasn’t really a great surprise. Business was bad and not getting any better. We were not meant to be– you were a stressful, extremely detailed and socially-orientated job that required a great deal of mental exertion simply to get through the day, and I am an introverted, slightly warped nutcase. Given how unhappy I was in the job it’s not a tragedy, but it is rather inconvenient. Still, I’ve left a good working relationship behind, which is important considering how difficult it’ll be to find another job. Finding another job in publishing? Forget it.

My fairly chipper outlook on the situation has faltered a little now that my week of ‘holiday’ has passed and I’ve actually begun the soul-destroying process of updating the CV, looking for jobs, tweaking the CV, applying for jobs, contacting temp agencies, and wondering if I am ever going to find work again. The initial feeling of freedom has given way to stark reality: freelance work is hard to find, and without any contacts will probably be impossible. I have no qualification beyond my degrees and my skill with words, and let’s be honest: loads of people think they are write good. The last job was proof of that.

Again, as when I came back from my period of exile, I must face the possibility of leaving Brighton (over my dead body). I alternate between reminding myself that I found a pretty good gig during the worst time of year to look for work and thinking I will never find another job, oh god, will end up destitute on the street with a sign saying ‘WILL EDIT FOR FOOD.’ To be sure, the job listings in this area are scarce, unless I consider unpaid work a job (I don’t). I will stop myself going on a rant, but suffice to say if you won’t pay someone at least minimum wage to do work for you, I don’t think you deserve their labour. End of.

Anyway, one of the toughest things about being unemployed is finding a way to structure my days. A 9 to 5 gig may monopolise your time and make it difficult to do anything at the end of a day, but it does get you out of bed in the morning. What I need is a reason to get up. Something to be excited about. I’ve been thinking about what it would take to start my own publishing cooperative. I’m trying to think of this blank space as an opportunity to do something different. If only I knew what.


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I’ve started a new job. It’s difficult. Now that I’m into my second week, I’ve reached the point where think I know what I’m doing, only to find that I’ve fucked something up– sometimes something really important. This is doing wonders for my anxiety disorder, but I am trying my best not to let it drive me insane. I can’t, really. I need this job, I need to do well at it, and what I really need is to focus.

My boss said to me the other day, “I know you’re a bright girl, so you’re not used to getting things wrong.” I didn’t have a response to that. She’s right, of course. This is the first job I’ve ever had that really challenged me, and I’m kind of terrified that I won’t be up to the task. I want to do everything right. I don’t want to make mistakes. The problem is that I’m so fixated on not making mistakes that I, predictably, make mistakes. I need to focus on doing the particular task at hand right.

This is partly an issue of attention span. The internet has destroyed my ability to focus. In the midst of writing this I’ve jumped to other tabs and other programs at least a dozen times. Words make connections in my mind, so I leap to the next thought without finishing the first one. My system of thinking is not linear; it’s a web. This is all well and good, but it presents problems when I follow a thread somewhere instead of anchoring it where it needs to go.

So. Focus. This applies to my work (as opposed to my job) as well. I know I’m capable of doing this; the problem is that I get sidetracked with new ideas and possibilities and oh look a butterfly so that I lose the actual thread of what I was doing. This creates confusion. This confusion is a smokescreen for what’s really going on under the surface of my thoughts, and that is this: I don’t wanna do this it’s haaaaaard.

My habit of allowing myself to be distracted, of demanding that I get everything right the first time, in the end comes down to my own laziness and my own desire to be right. I was a really smart kid. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know and didn’t learn until much later is that being smart isn’t enough. In school I learned to rest on my laurels. I took the easy way out. I saw that being smart gave me the opportunity to do less work, and being lazy, I took it. I’ve spent the last ten or so years of my life paying the price.

But the time has come, the Walrus said. I’ve had enough of being a slacker. I’m thirty years old and have just now got my first proper job. I’m deeply in debt, and as of writing this, I’m still a hobo. I haven’t published a novel. I don’t even have an agent. I’ve got to sort myself out.

I have to focus, and part of this focus involves precisely what the title of this post describes. Instead of letting my mind flutter all over the place, I need to figure out what’s important and fucking let everything else go. One thing at a time. One task at a time, done correctly, equals everything done. This goes as much for my work as for my day job.

I’m proud to say that for the last four paragraphs, I did not open another tab or look at another program. I did not allow myself to be distracted. I resisted the little imp that’s tired of focusing and doesn’t want to think too hard, and as a result, I might have said something coherent.

One thing at a time.


Postscript: I’ve just seen a tag in my cloud called ‘talent envy.’ What I think I still fail to take into account very often is that what we mistake for talent is actually that habit called hard work.

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new year

Writing about the New Year is a cliché I guess, but I don’t give a fuck. This year is important to me, because my personal crisis more or less began with last December. One year, seven months in exile, god knows how much money, a lot of misery, anxiety, rage, and isolation. I never used to understand why exile was such a horrible punishment. So you have to leave. What’s the problem? I don’t wonder about that anymore.

People kept asking me, what’s so special about that place? Why do you want to go back? Is it so much better than here? It was hard to explain that my attachment to this place isn’t about a list of pros and cons. It’s about my experiences here and the people I know. It’s about the fact that everywhere I go in Brighton, I remember a friend used to live there or that I went to a party there. It’s about the fact that right after I got off the train when I came back to Brighton, I ran into someone I know. It’s about the sea and the stuff that I find washed up from it. It’s about fireworks the night after I came back, the shops that change, and the fact that there’s a big fucking ferris wheel on the beach now, which somehow seems appropriate. It’s about finally feeling that a place is home.

There are things I want to write about America, funny things and sad things and weird things. The place where I grew up is surreal. Brown fields and boarded-up shops and drive-thru nativities. It’s a foreign country to me. This is home, and I hope I never have to leave again.

I don’t usually do New Year’s resolutions anyway, but even if I did, I wouldn’t feel the need to this year. I’m back on track. All things considered, I’m doing pretty well. That’s the thing about feeling as low as you imagine you can go. Things can only get better from there. And they have. And for the first time in a while, I think they’re going to keep getting better.

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When I’m not busy wallowing in misery about the state of my own life, it occurs to me that quite a few of my friends are having a really hard time of it right now as well. Unemployment, debt, deaths, loneliness– it’s probably just my imagination that everything seems so shit at this particular point, but the illusion does remain. It’s gotten me thinking about what I do and say when someone pours out their troubles.

A friend of mine sent me an email today that was basically just a ramble about the problems he’s been having, and it made me realise that the important thing about being a friend isn’t trying to find the right thing to say. When someone talks about how shit they’re feeling, I think too many people feel pressure to say something that will be comforting– which often ends up creating the opposite effect.

For example: “I’m feeling really stressed out right now. I can’t find a job, and I’ve got no money.”

Friend:  “Well, at least you’re better off than someone starving in a developing country!”

Whether said with a chirpy, ‘chin up’ spirit or the patronising tone of a parent trying to get a kid to eat vegetables, that sort of thing usually doesn’t help. I don’t know why it is that you can say these things to yourself, but hearing them from someone else provokes rage and depression. I guess it’s because if you’re feeling too horrible to tell yourself ‘it could be worse,’ the last thing you need is to hear that from another person.

This is not to say that our personal problems are always the mountains we make of molehills, but sometimes they are very mountainous indeed. Things could always be worse, but that’s not the point. The point is, when you’re upset about something, you don’t necessarily want platitudes or empty promises that Everything Will Be Okay.

I think what it comes down to is that too many people want to say the right thing when they probably don’t need to say anything at all. When someone you love is in trouble, you want to do something to help, and if you can’t, you at least want to say something that helps. It’s hard to know whether to say anything at all. But what’s more important than getting answers from people is just acknowledgement. To feel a little less like you’re shouting into a void.

The hardest thing about the last few months for me is when I encounter puzzling silence from people. That silence itself may not have any meaning, but the problem with any blank is the temptation to fill it in. Are they quiet because they don’t know what to say? Because they don’t care? Because they’re preoccupied? It’s mental, but then again, so am I. When you’re already feeling down, it’s easy to read darker meanings into things than they already have. It’s ridiculous and irrational, but so are human beings.

I guess if anything I just wish there was a brief way to acknowledge that you empathise with someone, that you care about what they’re going through, that you don’t have answers, that you wish you could do something to help, that you love them, and that you want things to get better for them. Although I guess you could just say exactly that.

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I haven’t been updating much, partly because my life is fairly repetitive right now (rooms, reception, lunch, laundry, Star Trek, dinner, sleep) and partly because I am pretty sure that a post consisting of nothing but OH MY GOD WHAT IS MY LIFE WHAT IS HAPPENING OH MY GOD OH MY GOD would not make for good reading. So instead let us have a brief segment of Things I Would Like.

  • A visa. Pretty much my entire, ahem, adventure this summer is part of my quest to actually be allowed to stay in the UK and work. I don’t care about benefits (in case the gubmint was wondering), I would just like to be able to earn a living. I still live in perpetual anxiety and terror that somehow, some way, I will be denied, so I try not to think about it.
  • A job. For all my anarchist principles, I am pretty tired of being a hobo. I don’t need a luxurious lifestyle, just a living. It would be swell if that job could be ‘writer.’ I’ve got a couple of queries sent out, so some interest from an agent/publisher would be a nice change from things so far.
  • A place to live. Again, no luxury required, just some stability would be nice. I’ve pretty much had my fill of moving every six months or year or whatever. I hate to use the phrase settle down, but that’s more or less the shape of things.
  • Cats. Specifically, my cat plus at least one more. Hey, I like cats.

I believe this summer is what is euphemistically referred to as ‘a growth experience.’ To be honest, I could do with a little less ‘growth’ and a little more ‘chilling the fuck out.’ Perhaps in the near future I will be able to tell myself that it was good fun (it is, sometimes) and a good experience and all that hoo-ha, but there are times I really really really really just want to go home. I caught myself referring to ‘where I’m from’ the other day as the south of England, which makes me sad in several ways.

I have been really crap at staying in touch with some people. I meant to buy more postcards and send others, and I have done neither of those things. I’ve also realised that I will be here on my 30th birthday. It would have been nice to be amongst my friends that day. I’ll just have to make up for it by having an insane party in September. Who’s coming?

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Everything changes when someone you love dies. Everything is wrong. The unfairness and impersonality of the world become, for a little while, completely irrefutable, and you are left without words. Nothing will suffice. Solemnity feels self-indulgent but gaiety seems frivolous. There is nothing you can do or say or feel that is right. Everything is wrong.

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.

Genuine grief makes self-pity look like the pale shadow that it is. There’s no guilt in this revelation, either– just the knowledge that life and love and work and happiness and anything that means anything does not emerge from a cowering anxiety about everything. Death reasserts your priorities.

I’ve lost someone that I love very much. It hurts. And I would slap anyone who said this to me, but it has made me realise that no matter how awful things are, I still have my life. I can still make words, and it is time that I stopped making excuses.

I have to be honest. I have to face the things I try to look away from when I write. I am not invisible. Who I am will emerge in every word I type onto a screen or write onto a piece of paper, and what I have to do, what I must do, is stop fucking apologising for it. It’s a stupid way to write. It’s a stupid way to live. It’s not productive. It’s not meaningful. What could be more tedious than a work that constantly apologises for its own existence? What could be more tiresome than a person who does the same thing?

There is nothing respectable about insecurity. There is nothing admirable about guilt. You can’t pre-empt everything, and it is a pernicious exercise in self-defeat to even try. Stop it, cut it out, and knock it the fuck off. Life’s too short for this shit.

Filing this under ‘advice to myself.’

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Over the last month it’s been interesting to observe the state of my mental health. All things considered, I should be a wreck. Immigration trouble, unemployment, poverty– just one of these things is usually enough to send me rolling downward like a coin in a funnel. But apart from the short daily squeeze of anxiety and the occasional rage at people who think immigration is a ‘problem,’ I’m doing quite well.

It’s hard to think of myself as a resilient person, but I think I am. Given how long I’ve struggled with crippling depression and anxiety, it’s kind of astonishing that I’ve picked myself up and kept moving. I think there are a few reasons for this.

One is the support of my friends, who have been incredibly generous and concerned about my situation and have offered to help however they can. I’ve never had the luxury of this kind of social safety net before. It’s kind of astonishing. Kind of puts a dent in my lone wolf attitude, but come to think, wolves run in packs anyway. What a rubbish idiom that is.

I have a plan. Even if ‘the worst’ happens and I have to leave the country, I’ll come back. I might spend a few months faffing around Europe and do the travelling I’ve idly thought about doing but never actually done. There’s a lot I want to see. I’m planning to whittle my possessions down as much as I can. I’ve always been a bit of a pack rat, so maybe it’s good for me to have to part ways with a lot of things I have and don’t need.

I’ve started freelance writing. It’s difficult, because a lot of people want to do it, and a lot of people are willing to work much more cheaply than I am. I think, rather than competing with all the other people writing SEO articles, I’m going to stick with what I know I can do well and accept the possibility that I’m not maximising my income. It’s already encouraging that the amount of time I’d spend applying for admin jobs and getting no response at all has already netted me two freelance jobs.

Freelancing, even in the short time I’ve been doing it, already feels loads better than my last job. I don’t have to commute, I don’t have to sit in an office on a crummy industrial estate, and I don’t have to do a monotonous job with no hope of variety. I hadn’t realised at the time just how much my minimum-wage drudgery was wearing me down, but it was. It coloured my whole life. Almost a quarter of my week spent making quite a lot of money for someone else. Nearly 10% of it spent on a bus because I couldn’t afford the train. Get up, go to work, be a cog in the machine, come home too dispirited and tired to do anything but go to sleep.

I’ve realised that I can’t go back to that sort of schedule. I’m at an age where I just can’t do it anymore, especially when it doesn’t even guarantee a living wage. I have a long-standing fear of unemployment (that American Protestant work ethic), but given my feelings about capitalism, I don’t think I can ever go back to 9 to 5 jobs.

If I’m lucky, I’ll soon be able to call myself a ‘writer’ in the actual occupational sense, instead of it being a kind of postscript to small talk, the thing I want to do but can’t. I’m going to be a paid writer. Actually, I think I might be already.

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