I felt the vice-grip release. Finally, after three and a half years I had knocked off an undergraduate degree. Submission of my last essay - a 3,000-word discussion of Japanese war memory - led inevitably to browsing jobseeker websites.
A plethora of employment opportunities sprung onto my screen.
"HAVE FUN, EARN GREAT $$$"
"Is it time to be your own Boss? Join us for an insightful free webinar to learn more today"
"Are You a Customer Service Superstar with a Competitive Flair??"
My dream of a writing career dissolved with every incidence of punctuation mark misuse. If the jobseeker realm's disregard for my predilection for punctuation-pedantry was the first sign, the absence of advertisements mentioning the word "writer" was the second.
Image source: Flickr / emdot
The subject of this blog is supposed to be a reflection on how I, a recent arts graduate, am muddling my way into a grown-up career. How perhaps I'm faking it 'til I make it. I saw a call for blogs on this topic on Twitter and instantly thought - having graduated and signed an employment contract in September - "Wow, yes that is exactly where I am right now!" But when I considered this topic I discovered how the potentially nonsensical opposite - make it 'til I fake it - fits me much better.
I’m not muddling into a career. To me, 'career' implies I must proudly identify with my position title, that my commitment to it transcends work hours; that it is an intrinsic part of who I am. In my current position 'job' seems more appropriate term than career: it certainly doesn’t feel like a vocation. Perhaps I could call it a 'temporary role' or the more patronising ‘stepping stone’ - semantics give me strength.
I am at work. I sit in front of a keyboard with worn letters and a misfiring ‘2’ key, one loud clicking mouse and single monitor (everyone else has two) at a wide off-white desk alongside other wide off-white desks. When I roll my chair in, I knock my knee on the perplexingly positioned steel bar that runs across the desk’s underside. To my right is a wad of lined paper, under-utilised trays, and a cup of pens. In the three drawers to my left I store paper clips and rubber bands, clean forks and teaspoons and a jar of ground coffee (no work-supplied International Roast for me). In absence of passion for my occupation I attempt to arrange a semblance of belonging through the accumulation of office essentials. Yet for all the accoutrements I add to my workspace I still don't feel I should be there. Perhaps that is just too much to ask. Perhaps I need more stationery supplies.
Too often I find myself staring blurry-eyed, not at my screen but at the photocopy paper stack on which it rests. The stack raises my screen to an ergonomic eye level, but it also acts as a daily reminder of all the writing I’m not doing. Not that I don't write at work: I do send a lot of clear, well composed, correctly punctuated emails (sans-emoticons, I might add). I mean the kind of writing I imagined I would be doing after university. The kind I feel I should be doing: writing that I think matters. Something deep inside me rages against having to detach ‘work’ from ‘writing’. "But it's ok," I say to myself. “At least at work I get a chance to read.”
On my lunch break I tuck my nose into a beautiful hardcover copy of Doctor Zhivago, complete with a black-spine, red cover and crisp off-white pages. I sit on the couch in the break room entangling myself with Pasternak’s plot. Microwaves beep. Cutlery clatters. Pleasant thoughts of my former university library’s silent room are interrupted by the news bulletin droning from the wall-mounted TV. In my head I shout, “Hey! Hey colleagues! Lets shut this box off and discuss Russian literature!” But if I’m going to remain in the workplace, I must suppress my desire for discourse and the optimistic expectation that the workplace is not the only thing I have in common with my colleagues.
Despite the adjustments I am yet to make, I admit my job can be satisfying. In the transition from uni to work, I exchanged poverty’s persistent sense of dread with the delightful comfort of financial security. I can pay rent and bills on time, which is hardly an overrated concept. Nor is that of paid maternity leave and guaranteed employment post-birth. Plus sick leave and annual leave. And simmering under the surface of how I reconcile my job with the sucking of creative-energy it entails, is the guilt of not appearing to value one simple fact: I am employed. How tremendously selfish and ungracious is it to criticise full time employment when current statistics highlight the fortune of my position.
I am grateful. But I am also resentful.
Angela Nikulinsky loves bath time and science fiction. She is currently studying a Master of Arts and lives in Hobart.
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.