My job involves health-risking long hours for barely above minimal wage and the company’s ethos regarding staff can be summed up as: squeeze whatever you can out of them then sack them. You may be surprised, therefore, to hear I’m looking for a change. Ideally, I’d like a job that puts my degree to use – something in editing or writing or communications in general – but I am also considering another ‘it’s not my dream but it pays the rent’ job and my dad found me a couple of possibilities on the job centre website. One of them looked promising – it involved kitchen and front of house, including dealing with customers and handling money, the hours were better and so was the pay.
Now, if you’ve never used the website or the jobcentre, you might not know that sometimes certain details are withheld – you have to call a special number to find out the employer name and how they want you to apply. Well, I rang that number today and guess what? The email address they gave me to which I should send my CV ended with ‘@UEA.ac.uk’. The reality of what this meant only struck me as I wrote it down. It’s a UEA email address. UEA is my old university. I’d be serving students at my old university in the cafeteria.
Part of me is thinking: ‘don’t be silly, Louise. It pays much better and I’m sure you’d be treated like a human being, rather than some sort of trained animal/ robot built solely for WS’ use – by your employer, anyway. You’ve got experience so you could get this job. It would only be until September.’
However, for the most part I’m screaming inside. I mean, has my life really come to this? Is this really what I’ve become? Am I now one of those dinner ladies in their hair nets and tabards?
I just can’t get this mental image of me serving one of my classmates – one of the really clever, pretentious ones – or worse (nd more likely) a tutor. Imagine having to smile my way through some sort of conversation with Cowen (my dissertation advisor) about it being better than nothing and the recession and how there are no jobs for graduates. Imagine having to go through that with Rutledge – I just asked him to be my referee for MA applications – he liked me – I think he even thought I was bright or something.
Worst of all, I keep imagining serving my younger self (obviously this is completely impossible – but it’s a metaphor – work with me here.) How disgusted I would be with the present me.
Thing is, though, I can’t deny that it’s a better version of what I’m doing now. It would be a step up in my current career, in a way. I can’t apply for it, of course – there’s no way my dignity would survive – the risk of serving an old tutor is too real. But that reality – of it being better than my current job – that is what’s making me scream. I want to quit my job right now – nothing would be better – but I can’t because of the other reality – the financial reality. My overdraft expires in June and without a job I have no hope of getting and staying out of it. With this job I should be out in a couple of months. I’m not sure what will happen in September but technically I’ll be a student and therefore eligible for a student account – overdraft and all…I hope.
I’m sure there are loads of people in similar situations – graduates and redundant business types all having to degrade themselves to scrape together a living. Supposedly this sort of thing is meant to be character building – we’ll all come out stronger for it.
Will we? Because I don’t feel any stronger. I feel as though my intelligence and confidence and spirit are draining away, like every day my character shrivels a bit more. I feel weak – in my body and soul – I feel weak.
And all because some giant house-shaped bubble in America burst.