12 Months

I have been out of work for over a year now. True, I’ve not been looking or wanting to work for a good period of that time, but my last pay check was mid-August 2008, and my last day at work was at the end of that month.

Twelve months is a long time away from work, and after a while that length of time really distorts your thinking towards the whole subject. A friend was reminding me last night of how on returning from l’Abri at the beginning of May I was talking mostly about lifestyle as the number one priority. The type of daily life  – the pace, the ecology and morality, the community  – was far more important than what work I did. On these pages I blogged about living in the country, about getting a dog…

Yet, in time, your focus shifts. You get consumed by the process of applying for work; of judging between jobs, and being judged re your abilities. For me, that meant very quickly being consumed by questions of hours, remuneration, time, location… Each job is judged by internal questions: is it better or worse than my last post? Does it pay more? Greater or lesser responsibility? A move up the career ladder, or a sideways step?

Last week, I had my first interview, for the 30th position I’d applied for. In many ways it ticked all the boxes. It was a job at my old workplace, so I knew the team and the environment. It was a definite career move; more responsibility, great experience for the CV. It paid (a lot) more than anything I’d done before. All good.

Only I didn’t get it.

For the last month or so, I’ve been in conversation with a small company in Chichester about a possible role. A semi-rural market town. A small team doing varied work. Easy access to the country.  There hasn’t been a clear job description, or an obvious application process to go through. Talk of pay has been hazy, right up to the last minute.

The contrast has been pretty clear, really. A career choice, and a lifestyle choice. One plugs me rapidly back into the high-pressure, fast-paced life of London. The other takes a step outside of that, and explores a new beginning in a new location; close to the country and close to the sea. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the one possibility has largely prejudiced me against the other. The prospect of moving outside of London, away from existing friends, to a completely new place, to do a job which pays a good £10k less than the one I was interviewed for last week… Lets just say that I haven’t been exactly enthusiastic.

On reflection though, over the last couple of days, I have begun to rethink my perspective. Since when has money been a motivator for me? Yes, I want to be rewarded for the work that I do, but this isn’t exactly a return to the poverty of working for CGC. And there is a reason for the London Weighting. The South East isn’t as cheap as Birmingham, but it isn’t as costly as the East End, either.

Plus, there is the issue of quality of life. There is a reason why that phrase was on my lips so much after returning from l’Abri. Slowing down, taking stock, building a rhythm of life that included time to breathe… Life at the Manor House was a revelation, especially in contrast to the metropolitan rat race. And a good quality of life, with good people and a slower pace… That is more important to me than money.

I’m not really career focused either. Faced with countless job adverts, you have to find a way of choosing between them, but I didn’t come back from my sabbatical with a burning desire to progress my career in the charity sector. Yes, long term I want to do something different. But as yet, I don’t know what (currently I’m stuck on trying to work out if writing and directing films is a remotely feasible possibility – and as I am only halfway through my first script, I think that question is going to be unanswered for a while). So a job is, as has been suggested before, primarily an income and a set of possibilities and opportunities. It is a better step forward than living at home with my parents, moping and fantasising about unachievable ideals.

All this is to say that my perspective has shifted over the last few days. I have decided to try and stop examining the dental work of the equine gift in front of me. The company is small, ambitious, worthy. Ethical. Enthusiastic. They’ve worked hard to change their perspective on this role in order to accommodate me; they have pursued me, to a degree, and I am honoured and grateful for that.

I’ve only been to Chichester once. I don’t know anyone there. I have no idea where I will live, who I will meet. It is a scary, nay terrifying, prospect. But it is also pregnant with possibility.

After a year out of work, after four long months of looking for employment, I am eager to get going. I want to work, as much as anyone does. I don’t know what this will pan out like, but for the next three months at least I’m heading south.

Wish me luck…

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Writing

…is quite fun, actually. This week, alongside completing an application form, beginning a negotiation with another possible employer, visiting my brother in Sheffield and taking a couple of mini trips out with my parents (who are on holiday), I’ve managed to produce 21 scenes, 54 pages and 11500 words of a screenplay. This one is on relationships currently under the working title of “Breaking up is hard to do”, (but again, it probably won’t keep it).

I’ve really enjoyed the process of writing this. Thus far it has flowed quite smoothly. It hasn’t always been easy to sit down and write, but it hasn’t been quite as hard to discipline myself as I expected. I reckon that, on current evidence, I could do this, as long as it wasn’t all I did. A job in a pub, or a part-time job elsewhere, and this might actually work…

Taking up the Challenge

So, Kat issued me with a bit of a challenge: can I use the time I have, as an unemployed individual, to try out the process of writing as a job. If I can stick to it for a week or two, maybe I can work out if this writing lark is dream or fantasy…

Well, after some encouragement, I’ve made some baby steps from an initial state of being somewhat freaked out, towards actually taking up the thrown-down gauntlet. First step was actually getting out of bed.

I’ve actually had something of a routine the last few months, but a routine that involves a not insignificant amount of being in bed. Each day I would wake whenever I woke, mess around on the internet for a while, then shower, make coffee, and struggle into wakefulness. Occasionally this pattern would enable some work to be done before lunch, but most of the time, it didn’t. Instead, I would walk my mum into work (she works half days), come home, make lunch, and settle into work around 2-2.30pm. I’d then press on with the job hunting process until 5 or 6pm.

So, a working routine, but nothing close to a real working day. Part of Kat’s challenge is actually putting in a full days work, and that means dragging myself out of bed before 9am.

***

This is how it’s gone thus far. Yesterday I got up at 8am. By 9am I was on my way out of the house, walking into Harborne. I went to WH Smiths, and purchased myself an A4 notepad and some new pens. Nice, long walk home, and down to ‘work’.

The morning I used my new pad to write down the basic outlines I had for script ideas. A total of seven projects, most of them only initial ideas, or very rough outlines. But at least now there is an ‘idea’ and a working title to each locked on paper. Somewhere to start.

After walking Mum to the office, the afternoon was spent writing the precredits and credit sequence to the first idea. It’s currently running on the working title of “A Very British War Movie”, although I can assure you that it won’t keep it. It’s not even a great indication of what the film is about, but at least sketches out the genre (ish). 1700 words isn’t bad for an afternoons work, although probably still short of Kat’s target.

Today I also managed to drag myself up before 9am, and I’ve written the opening to another project, working title “The Farm”. Only 630 words, but then there’s no dialogue.

***

So, not a bad start. Although, now things are going to grind to a halt. I really have to concentrate on an application form, over the next couple of days, and so that will distract me from writing. I hope to get back into it next week, although I may note down some thoughts in between moments of staring blankly at Job Descriptions.

The other problem, is that these two opening sequences were the only scenes I already had written in my head. Everything from this point on has to be genuine new creativity. Can I do it? Can I take these ideas and run with them? Will writing itself become a chore? At this point, I don’t know. I’ll keep you updated…

Plan B from Outer Space

The job hunting is not going well. Thus far I am up to 27 positions (that I have recorded, there may be others I forgot to note down). And no interviews. And that, is kinda depressing…

plan9It doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a job that I want, or one I don’t. One I think I could do with my eyes closed, or one that would be a stretch. I write cover letters and applications, I send them in, and then I hear nothing back. I mean, seriously! I know it’s a recession and all, but what does a guy have to do to get an interview round here!?

Thus far, the plan has been get a job, get any job, put some money in the bank, and think about the future next year. Well, Plan A (as we’ll call it) hasn’t been working. I’ve mainly applied for charity comms jobs, because that’s where my experience is at. There seem to be plenty of them out there, but far, far too many people going for them. I keep persevering, keep turning the handle hoping that a job will fall out in the end. But they aren’t, and each passing week it is harder to motivate myself to get back on the treadmill.

I’ve been at my parents for 3 months now. 3 months of seclusion, away from friends and a real life of my own. It has seemed like the ‘sensible’, pragmatic solution to the problem of employment seeking et al, but there is only so much of this I can take…

So, Plan A is failing. I need a plan B (and maybe a Plan C), ready to move into when I can’t take any more of this. Trouble is, I’m not at all sure what they might be…

***

I’ve had some great conversations with friends about this over the last week. Suggested possibilities include setting my sights lower (a few steps back down the ladder, so to speak); moving into another field; retraining; getting a basic job (like bar work), at least part-time; and going off and doing something more interesting for a while. And, all the suggestions are worth considering.

I’m seriously musing on the retraining/moving into an alternate field thing. I’ve been tired of the charity sector for a while (if I’m honest). There is plenty there that I still find worthy, that still inspires me, but there is also a lot that frustrates. Too much reinventing the wheel. Too much of a silo mentality. Too great an expectation that staff should work harder, for less money, than any other sector. If Plan A featured the possibility of getting out of the sector in a years time, then why not think about it now?

So, another sector. A completely different career. Sounds good. But what?

My problem has always been that I am interested in too many things. All it takes is a blog post or a magazine article to get me excited by a new field. I can think of about ten things I’d like to try, a dozen jobs that I’ve thought, “that might be fun!”

But at this point in my life, I’ve got to be a little more careful with my career decisions. I can’t do the pick’n’mix thing. With one degree under my belt already, any new training is going to be expensive. It’s going to mean taking on debt. And, if you’re going to take on debt in a recession, you’re really going to want some assurance that you can pay it off. That means not only training in a field that has some guarantee of work in it, but also that you’ll actually like the job you’ve trained for!

So, retraining sounds like a possibility, but one that I’m pretty cautious about at this point. And what, you may ask, would I retrain as? Well, the current possibilities include eco-building/eco-energy (good for the ethical part of me, and for the practical, engineering brain), and some form of land/estate management (y’know, to fit somehow with all that dreaming of farms and manor houses and the like). Possibilities, but involving some serious study (and cost).

***

There are other things I could do, too. I’ve always been interested in project management. This might be an area I could retrain in, or it could be one where I try and find a lowly job, back down the pay/responsibility scale, with an organisation that might train me in the not-too-distant future.

Other possible alternative plans include going and doing something random for a while. Like working on a farm. Or travelling (although cash flow issues would probably stymie that one). I’ve even thought of getting a lowly, barely-paid-at-all job with an organisation like the YHA, purely because it would involve working in some great locations…

***

So, there are possibilities, and there are dreams.

In a great conversation about all of this with a friend on Sunday morning, we got talking a little about career ‘dreams’ we have though of pursuing. My friend confessed to having a dream of writing for glossy girlie magazines (a little more glam, and a little less respectable than her current job!). But in the midst of the confessions and the dreaming, she had some wisdom:

Of course, if I really wanted to do it, I would have done it by now. I’d have given up my job, and taken the lowest paid, bottom-rung position, just to get my foot in the door. I would have done whatever it takes. I think that’s a good measure of your dreams, really

Now that, is wisdom.

Y’see, amidst all the interests and the ‘what if’s’, I have had my dreams. I want to write. And really, when I’m most honest with myself, what I want to write is film scripts.

I have an overactive imagination, and I have a lot of ideas. Most of them never get out of my head onto paper, not even in sketch or outline. But part of me still wants to believe that I could do it; that I could be a scriptwriter for Hollywood.

I dream of writing that killer drama, or that new Sci-Fi adaptation. I dream of which directors I would want making my work, or which actors I would cast in which roles. Of all the many things I have considered or wondered about, this last year or so, it is this dream that is the most persistent. By far.

And yet… I haven’t done it. Despite being unemployed, with time on my hands (at least theoretically) and plenty of ideas in my head, I have thus far failed to produce more than a (small) handful of disparate threads. There is no big, killer script brewing, and no hours are being put in to achieve this dream.

I watch films, read film mags, and talk films with friends, but I am no closer to writing one now than I was five years ago. Over time the dream has grown and become more nagging, more persistent, but the painful reality is that no real effort has been put it on my part. It remains nothing more than yet another fantasy in my (very active) mind.

***

So, as I sit here, bashing out another blog post instead of, say, applying for a job or writing a script or short story, am I (in reality) any closer to Plan B? Possibly, but probably not.

Writing these posts is often rather cathartic for me; it helps me think. But not really any more so than having the conversations I had over the long weekend in London and Greatham. I still need to research the possible options, and work out which is really attractive and viable. I still need to kick myself out of my malaise. Writing this is better than spending an afternoon playing Zuma, but probably not by that much…

So, still job hunting, still wondering about the future. If you are a friend, and have any realistic career suggestions, or just want to kick me up the backside again (Josh), you know where the comment stream is…

Thanks for reading.

[Oh, and if you don’t get the title, then look up one of these two films. Classic!]

Tired

Life has fallen into a bit of a rut recently, and I’m tired.

I’m in Birmingham still, still at home with my parents, still unemployed and looking for work. Still broke.

Each day I drift into conciousness, drag myself out of bed, drink tons of coffee and try to motivate myself to apply for work. Look at the RSS feeds, see what’s advertised. Try and select what looks possible from the impossible and the improbable. Fire off CV’s (that’s Résumé’s for you in the states), fill out applications forms. Send them off, hear nothing back.

Three of the beautiful people I had the privilege of visiting at the Manor House

Three of the beautiful people I had the privilege of visiting at the Manor House (Photo credit: Kari Rosenfeld)

That’s the pattern, with very few interruptions. I’ve become a tortoise, retreated into my shell, only coming out to do what I need to do, then escaping away again, into bad TV, trashy movies and Wimbledon. I know few people here, and I’ve made no effort to see them. All my limited energy is focused on what I need to do to get onto the next step. A step that never comes.

Still, there are some things to take delight in. The sunshine. My parents garden, a genuine oasis in the city. Letters, CD’s, emails and skype calls from dear friends across the water. A trip down to the manor a couple of weeks ago; a friends wedding in Norfolk this last weekend. Phone calls to good friends. All these things are good, refreshing; but the day-by-day remains the same, monotonous, insular slog – and thus far there seems to be little to show movement on the horizon; little hope of change.

Change will come. There will be a job, and income, and a roof over my head of my own choosing. Eventually. But in the meantime, I’m tired.

One day at a time, huh?