9am on a
Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever day it is today.
I’m doing my makeup and hair, finding smartish clothes, brushing off the worst of the cat fluff, and hoping that someone will fall ill today. No one specific. And not badly. Just sick enough not to be able to work.
I know. What a cow, eh?
The reason, not that it’s a good one, is that I’m really underemployed, and if someone at my one-day-a-week job takes ill, then I might get a call to go in and cover. It’s happened once or twice before. So I get ready, and I check for the umpteenth time that my phone is charged, and the sound is up full. And I wait for a call, which may or may not come.
“I tend to divide the day into combing the jobs pages online, filling in applications, and trying to ignore every nagging thought.”
If it comes, I go to work.
If it doesn’t, and it usually doesn’t, I change my shoes to something more bike friendly, and I spin into town. I’ve found that the quickest way to boredom induced madness is sitting in the house all day, waiting for my husband to come home from his interesting, challenging, and fulfilling job. So I go out.
The wifi at the library, or the cafe that judges me least for buying one espresso and staying all afternoon, is as good as that at home. I tend to divide the day into combing the jobs pages online, filling in applications, and trying to ignore every nagging thought.
How the hell did I end up here?
Is it because I didn’t work hard at school?
No. I have a drama diploma, a good degree in History and Literature, and I’m nearly done with my Masters. I was also lucky enough to land an amazing, paid, year long internship at a museum soon after I graduated. Book learning = big tick.
Right then; it’s probably because I don’t have any work experience?
Well, again, no. I’ve been working since I was 16, which is quite a long time now.
Is it because I chose the wrong career?
Possibly. Until last year I was a full time museum educator; a job that I absolutely love. Sadly though, the funding across the arts and heritage sector is getting cut off at the knees ,and many jobs, including mine, are going, going, gone. The job vacancies are few, and the competition is fierce.
It’s just after 11am. I’ve scraped together a few coins for coffee, and I’m trying to ignore a flight of messages in my friends’ group chat about plans for the weekend. One of the irritations of working irregular, part time shifts is they tend to be scheduled at the weekend. It looks like they want to go out for dinner, so I couldn’t afford it anyway: I send a cheery ‘I’m going to have to pass, sorry!’. Considering I have all the time in the world right now, none of it seems to be free.
Have I made a fistful of terrible decisions?
Almost certainly. I have no end of medical and engineering friends that point out that my arts-y-ness is to blame. They’re right of course. The society I live in doesn’t value or reward creativity anywhere near enough; but other than inventing a time machine (unlikely when your degree specialised in medieval Scottish poetry) and slapping my hippy, fifteen-year-old self back into the math classroom, there isn’t a huge amount I can do about that. I’m also pretty sure that would have made me miserable, but then feeling unemployable is no champagne on the beach either.
So here I am, it’s 1:30pm, and I’m sitting with a coffee thimble that’s been stone cold for nearly two hours, applying for everything I’m even tangentially qualified for. There’s one job which looks perfect, but it’s over an hour away, and I’ve just done some sums for the commute: the results are unpleasant (does 28% of the salary going directly to the train company sound reasonable to you?). I’ll keep looking. I’m ready to accept any job right now.
It’s sad and it’s shaming and so, so frustrating. And I have no idea how to fix it.
Sometime after 3pm I get back on my bike, and take a detour along the main street to see if any of the shops have a ‘staff wanted’ window advert. There’s one in the bookshop looking for someone to do 12 hours a week. Things might look up yet!
I spent my twenties getting myself an education, and a truck load of experience, but I find myself working one day a week in a role that isn’t doing much for my c.v, bank balance, or my self esteem. Sitting around at the age of thirty, hoping that the cold that’s going around, might land me an extra couple of shifts this weekend. It’s not a lot to boast about.
Although I might be feeling a little sorry for myself, I’m genuinely not complaining, because I know there are a hundred others who are just like me, standing outside, waiting to take my place.
Laura Macdonald is a writer and performer based in Glasgow, Scotland. Mostly she drinks coffee and daydreams, but sometimes she gets cross and takes to twitter – you can find her @TheYellowBrolly