This is a Writers' Other Jobs post from Hollie Pich.
Image source: Flickr / opensource.com
The advertisement was short: Archer. Looking for sub-editor to work on humanities paper. Contact via email or phone. I was a recent Arts graduate, and desperate for work in something approximating my area of interest. I applied that morning. Five hours later I had three missed calls, an email, and an interview lined up for later that week. Two days, and an interview later, I had a job.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I realised this was not, in fact, a sub-editor position. It was at some stage during my first day, certainly. Perhaps during the first two hours, when Archer earnestly informed me that corruption was all around, and that we were going to fight it. Perhaps when he gestured to the precariously stacked boxes that lined his office, and told me they were filled with evidence. Certainly, by the stage we were sorting through decades-old documents, and I realised something was amiss. By that afternoon, as I transcribed a seemingly random collection of documents from the last sixty-years, I felt grimly certain I had been misled. Archer did not want a subeditor; I’m not even sure he knew what a subeditor was. Instead, he wanted someone to talk to about corruption, and someone to transcribe documents he was reading aloud. I captured such exciting moments as:
20.04.95. Letter sent from Archer to MP Donaldson, re: corruption in contract renewal. No response received.
21.04.95 Photograph of water system. Branch in water (evidence of corruption).
21.04.95 Fax received from MP Moore re: corruption.
21.04.95 Bank terms and conditions, as displayed on website
I wrote these things for eight hours. Time creaked forward in that room.
Archer was odd. He was fixated on the corruption of banks and politicians – and while I’m sure we can all agree ICAC has confirmed that many politicians are scum, and banks are always untrustworthy, he had elaborate theories about how this corruption permeated society. I once asked him to explain corruption in the Australian banking industry: two hours, an elaborate diagram, and several circular discussions later I was convinced that banks can be terrible, soulless institutions…but was no closer to understanding the corrupt conspiracies. I did not find insight in the dozens of banking terms and conditions he had collected, painstakingly highlighted and notated. Nor did the hundreds of letters he had written to different politicians, or the hundreds of bland responses he received, shed any light on the matter.
Archer was odd. While he would speak for hours about corruption, he offered personal information reluctantly. He spat out sentences like bullets.
His mother had died a week ago. She was old. It was expected.
His children were scattered around the world. They didn’t speak often.
He had run a business. Multiple businesses. Not anymore.
His siblings were contesting the will. He needed to speak to his lawyer.
I slowly formed a picture of Archer. His obsession with corruption had been sparked, almost certainly, by the loss of a major business opportunity. He was wealthy (or had been). He was frugal (one of the ‘matters’ we were working on involved office furniture he had lost possession of back in the ‘90s). He was lonely. He was odd, but also kind: the building, which smelt like damp and rotting, was cold in the way that only old houses can be. Sunlight shone weakly through the window, but carried with it no heat. I mentioned I was cold (mostly in a ploy to get the heater turned on), and he offered me a spare jumper. It was cashmere, and several sizes too big: it fell almost to my knees, and I had to fold it up several times to expose my hands. It was a faded green, and it smelt like must. I do not think he had worn it often. It was warm.
The old, cold building in which we worked was the local legal centre. I studied law for a few years. I hated it. It was sensible, and would likely lead me to a well-paying job, but I hated it. So I instead decided to ‘follow my dreams,’ just like all those inspirational graphics on Pinterest told me to. As I sat in those cold legal offices, sorting through papers brown with age, I thought about law. One of the lawyers at the centre – let’s call her Marie – had been in my year at law school. Each day I saw her help people, from the lovely postwoman with the red hair, who just found out she was pregnant, to the man with the booming voice and wispy hair. Marie was helping people. I was putting documents in chronological order, and cultivating an impressive layer of dirt and grime on my hands. This was not what I had imagined when I had decided to follow my dreams.
As I took one of many bathroom breaks, in which I hid in the crumbling bathroom and examined the fine cracks that lined the walls, I remembered something Neil Gaiman once said. He said our dreams are like a distant mountain. Every decision we make should take us toward the mountain. I started thinking about my mountain, my mountain of words and stories. I thought about it as I typed mindlessly, and sorted documents, and listened to Archer talk. I thought about the sub-editor job I had not been given. I thought about my mountain that evening at home, as I stared at the blinking cursor on my screen, and I thought about it as I lay in bed that night. I thought about it the next morning, as I emailed Archer my resignation. I think about it now, as I write these words. And in my minds-eye now I can see my mountain, just a little bit closer and clearer, on the horizon.
Hollie Pich (24) lives in Newcastle with her boyfriend and her books. After investigating the 'Real World' and 'Adulthood,' she has decided these are not for her, and is instead embarking on a PhD in History. You can find more of her words at adventuresofanapathetic20something.wordpress.com
Join us next fortnight for the next installment of Writers' Other Jobs, when Madeleine Crofts (of Jomad: I heard you like books? fame) tells us about life as a teacher.
If you can't wait until then, join us tomorrow in Newcastle at the National Young Writers Festival for a REAL LIFE Writers' Other Jobs panel.
Sam van Zweden was Writers Bloc’s Online Editor from 2013 - 2015. A Melbourne-based writer and blogger, her work has appeared in The Big Issue, Voiceworks, Tincture Journal, Page seventeen, and others. She’s passionate about creative nonfiction and cross stitch. She tweets @samvanzweden.