Sunday, 31 May 2015

Strange situation

It's hard to write about looking for a job in 2015 without sounding a) more than a touch defeatist, and b) like a whiny "millennial" with a raging sense of entitlement. The trouble is, the whole job-seeking process - from firing off application after application, to the cold-sweat awkwardness of interviews - is the most evil of all necessary evils, and everyone has to go through it at some point. There's no way round it, but it is soul-grindingly bleak.

And the most frustrating part of it is the fact that once you've got a job, and are happily tucked up at a desk with a computer and a phone and a stained mug, you realise how easy it is to have a job. All you need to be is 1) not a psychopath, and 2) able to follow instructions. And if you're aiming to be CEO, I wouldn't worry too much about the odd psychopathic tendency, tbh.

When you take a moment to think about it, it's a strange situation we're in - and by "we" I mean those who've graduated since around 2008. We spent most of our academic lives being told "you're bright, and you work hard - so keep doing that; do well in exams, go to university, and you'll be able to choose what you do with your life". It's strange, when you've done pretty much everything you were told to do - you've done almost everything right - it's strange for it to not be enough, not even nearly enough. In darker moments, it makes you think - well, I wish I had gone off the rails a bit. Had myself a proper teenage rebellion. I don't think I'd be any worse off. When you've had some sort of employment since your early teens, you've got a degree and maybe a Masters, and you want more than anything in the world to be starting to put some sort of career plan together, knowing you should feel lucky to have a job at all is a little jarring.

I remember it so clearly: watching the news in halls in the early weeks of first year, seeing the financial crisis unfold. I remember thinking, so naively, "it's fine... I've got three or four years before I have to deal with the rest of the world; they'll have sorted it out by then. We won't be utterly fucked." And then coming out of uni after doing an MA that put the love I had for the intricacies of language into a pretty serious coma - that it's only just coming out of now - and trying to find some kind of employment. Taking a couple of stop-gap jobs because I wanted the money and needed a reason to get up every day - even if it was to go and sit in a tanning and beauty salon - and on days off, sending out applications and CVs and cover letters, only for my mother to tell me on a weekly basis that I wasn't trying hard enough. (Mind you, she still says that - maybe that's just mothers. Or just her.)

But how many times can you explain that yes, you're applying for retail/waitressing jobs too, because no, you don't think you're too good for jobs like that, but potential employers know fine rightly that you won't be sticking around and will subsequently take a 16-year-old over you, because they'll get at least a couple of years' work out of them? How many times can you explain that trawling round the town centre with copies of your CV is, largely, not the way it works anymore? How many times can you summon all the enthusiasm you possess, channel that into an application that makes you cringe yourself inside out, only to not even get a "we have received your application and will be in touch in due course" email when you do submit it?

At the moment, I don't know what to do. I don't know what I can do. I really don't - I think I'm quite good with words and writing things, but at this point, I'm not even sure, because my life is taken up with an admin job that's turning out to be more stressful than it sounds when I describe it. And that's OK - I can deal with being in a busy, pressured workplace - but it's not quite what I want to do long-term, and I feel that at 25, I should be thinking long-term, and making big, grown-up plans. I want to move out - to Bristol, as you're probably sick of hearing by now, but God I adore that city - but how do you find a job in a city you're not in? If I were more of a free spirit type of person, I'd just go. I'd hand in my notice, find myself a little flat in Bristol and take it from there. Start temping to pay the bills, and then figure things out. But I'm more of a caged spirit, really - I like the routine and structure of work, if not the actual job itself - and let's be honest, I like the money. You can't do much without an income, and I've never been good at doing nothing. The general consensus is that it's rather silly to give up a job without anything to go to, and I agree. Especially now, under a Conservative government - I do not trust there would be much in the way of support if things didn't work out for me. I might be wrong, but I'd rather not have to test the theory.

I'm not expecting it to be easy - of course not. I know that a lot of people dabble in and out of a few things before they find their niche, and having a "not thrilling but it pays the bills" job is pretty much a rite of passage. I'm just scared that by continuing to believe that something better will present itself, I'm setting myself up for disappointment. I know I'm still young, but time only marches on.

This woman couldn't sound more perfect if she tried.

This is a song I should probably take to heart.

And I've just stumbled across this, seems pretty good. That voice. Damn.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Election reaction part 2: still mad as hell

It took me six days to find a bright side to the election result. It may take longer than that for me to find something else to write about, mind, but I have at last stopped wandering around saying "that election result...jeeeez..." to every man, woman, child and pigeon that happens to cross my path.

In that six days, I felt a genuine sense of despair. A grey cloud, the nagging fear that the UK just got a little more selfish, a little colder, a little more unforgiving as a nation. It's been hard not to take the result incredibly personally - but maybe that's always the case when the party you vote for doesn't get in. I can't tell you how many times I Googled "how to start a political party" and "emigrate to Sweden" last weekend - my internet history suggested I was writing the next Nordic noir sensation, with a political slant. I couldn't keep away from the news, from Twitter, from the analysis, the think-pieces, the reaction articles. I positively wallowed in the doom and gloom.

Articles like this made me furious – and though I've calmed down considerably since I first read it, I still think it’s far too simplistic a response. To conclude that the reason a huge number of voters are incredibly upset by the election result is because they are merely bad losers is plain wrong. No-one is disputing that the Conservative party won fair and square. We absolutely believe that they were democratically elected – you can tell this because no-one is calling for a nation-wide recount of the ballot papers. We have the right to vote exactly how we choose, but we also have the right to ask questions. The right to freedom of expression. We have, in short, the right - and the reason - to be angry.

Because at the very heart and roots of most anger lies fear – it's fear that’s been backed into a corner and brought to the boil – and there are plenty of reasons to be fearful. It is not as if the Conservatives don't have previous when it comes to instilling fear in people, unintentionally or otherwise. How many more times to we have to bring up benefit sanctions, food bank use, "anti-homeless" studs in city doorways, corporations being able to skip the "tax-paying" bit while the young, the poor and the vulnerable have crucial, life-saving support ripped out from under them? Forgive me, but I am still a little baffled as to how a vote for the Right can be anything other than an "I'm alright Jack, let's keep things the same" vote.

This thread has helped a bit - a lot of the responses refer to good local MPs, and voting for them, rather than ideologically. Which I can respect; it makes a lot more sense than "well, my parents voted Tory so I do too".

In a way though, this could be the best thing that’s happened to the Left. (I hesitate when using the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ because most people don't think in those terms any more – at least not among the younger generations – but we don't really have any other words yet.)

Best case scenario: this could be the thing that moves people from online activism to real action. Sharing articles and signing petitions is great, but it's ignorable. You can't ignore several thousand people marching in the streets (well, you can try, as was shown last Saturday, but it comes out eventually). At least one person I know has joined the Electoral Reform Society as a direct result of the election. A number of good friends are planning on going on the People's Assembly End Austerity Now demo on 20th June (myself included). The test will be in maintaining that sense of urgency, that restlessness, that desire to bring about change, and sooner rather than later.

The 'Left' are perhaps always going to be at a slight disadvantage because real change involves stepping into the unknown. We can, in theory, go anywhere from here - it is, to quote Sara Bareilles, all uncharted.

I've said it before but it can withstand repeating - the people that have brought about real change in this world are the ones everyone else thought were mad to even try. The people who were, in short, way ahead of their time. I think the next two or three years might see a slightly angrier, more vociferous, more obviously politicized generation start to emerge. People will step out from behind their screens, having absorbed all the stories and information and other points of view that the internet has granted them access to, and will be all the more open-minded for it. And it will be them - well, us - who are the driving force for genuine change, fuelled by impatience, bored of waiting for the older generations to catch up.

It's not that we were bad losers, you see. We're just ahead of our time.

In the spirit of defiance and not backing down and whatnot, have this.

And I don't know if I've completely missed the boat with this track - the fact that I keep hearing it in Dorothy Perkins suggests, yes, I have indeed - but I am obsessed with this dark, sexy, mildly-threatening-in-the-best-possible-way little number.

Friday, 8 May 2015

This is not a selfish anger

God, it's been a strange day. Personally, I've wandered round in a headachey daze - when I wasn't in the office - unable to meet anyone's eye in town, because I know that over 20,000 people in the Horsham constituency voted Conservative. Of course, I knew Horsham was a safe Tory seat, but when you see the figures in black and white, you have to accept that the people who surround you in the leafy streets, in Boots, in Sainsbury's, have voted for another five years of... well, you know. It's an odd thing when your hometown becomes hostile, as @florencedora put it so excellently on Twitter when the exit polls were announced:
And Twitter was the place to be last night - if only for writer John Niven's timeline, who needs to be awarded the title of "Most Creative and Inventive Swearer in the Known Universe", and who did a tremendous job of articulating the collective sense of frustration and anger. It was reassuring, really, checking Twitter at intervals throughout the night - everyone was as confused and worried and angry as one another (I mean yes, it helps if everyone you follow agrees with you). Say what you like about social media; if it helps people feel less alone during dark times, I'm all for it.

And it has been a dark day, really. I don't know what I was expecting - a non-decision of some sort, I think; days of confusion followed by a coalition. The one thing I've been saying as the election campaigns have gathered steam is "another five years of a Conservative government genuinely scares me". It's been hard not to stop people on the street today, and grab their arms and say "do you know what you've done?"

Let me be clear - this is not a selfish anger. This is not the sore-loser sulking of people who voted for a party that didn't get in. We're all adults here, we can take losing. I am not worried for myself - I'm fine, I have a job and a supportive family; money coming in, friends, a stack of books to read. I'm worried for those who can't work, who do not have supportive families, who have physical and/or mental health problems that mean life is that little bit harder for them than it is for other people. For those who are currently unemployed, for young people who have not grown up with loving parents in warm homes, for all kinds of minorities. It feels like everyone who voted Conservative yesterday voted selfishly - "I've been OK for the last five years, and that's what matters". I understand that it's a human tendency to stick with the familiar when the alternatives seem like a gamble, but come on. Five more years of increasing food bank use, of benefit sanctions, of cuts to health services? Where's the compassion? As DB said, "how can you expect compassion from people who support a party whose very name means the opposite of progress?"

Scarier still is the rise of UKIP, who received over three million votes. Mind you, it does make you think - if that tweedy racist rabble can call themselves a political party and gain actual seats, surely we could start something at a kitchen table, based on kindness and good ideas and intelligence?

And I'm OK with seeing the Lib Dems become largely irrelevant. I hope it becomes an example to other parties - if you're going to u-turn so blatantly, then by God, you will pay.

There's three things we need to take from this. The first is this - can we agree, here and now, that if they try and dismantle the NHS completely, we kick up an almighty stink? We get revolutionary. If shit needs to burn to keep a national health service, so be it. It may currently cost the best part of a tenner for a prescription, but you don't have to pay to see a doctor in order to get it - for the love of the NHS, let's keep it that way.

Two - we need to remember this feeling. The anger and the disappointment - remember it. I have a wine-soaked, half-baked theory that it might, in a strange way, be good for us, like flossing. We will remember how it felt to not get what we hoped for, and use that feeling to motivate ourselves to always always always vote. And to encourage others to vote, and to tell our children to vote. We mustn't let how we feel today turn into apathy and disillusionment when we're forty. You know what changes when you sigh, sit back and huff, "ah well, nothing changes, they're all bastards anyway"? Nothing.

And three. The most important one. We must all be very, very kind, and much, much slower to judge. For the next few years, we're going to be governed by a party that has, time and time again, shown itself to be so very UNkind, UNcompassionate, UNcaring. We must make up for that. In spades. The next time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental about someone, just think "their life is different to mine. They had a different upbringing" and leave it at that.

I still believe that change is going to come. We’re just going to have to hang on a little longer than we thought.
But I’d be lying by omission if I didn’t say that it’s what happens in the meantime that worries me.

This track and its video fill me with joy. And this song - by the same artist - might cheer you for a few minutes.