Looking for Labour in Lockdown

I knew I had to leave my job in October. I was sick with stress, harassed by managers who did not know how to support a remote worker, feeling gaslit by the constant scapegoating and ‘accidentally’ cc’ing me into emails critiquing my performance. By January, my doctor advised that moving from 36 hours over five days to 31 hours over four days might mitigate the isolation that my working condition caused; the management said this was untenable and unreasonable. So I looked at my savings and didn’t look back. I would be fine for as long as it took a person with a doctorate and years of experience in education, arts, and the charity sector to find a job in the fastest growing city economy in the UK.

In February a global pandemic hit. In March my country went into lockdown.

By this point I had written dozens of applications already. In the first week or so of March every one of them responded saying they had paused recruitment while the situation unfolded. They thought, like me, that it would unfold quickly and linearly. I tried not to let those emails gut me too much – I was in a position of immense privilege financially and in terms of my support network that I was able to not be in work for a while. My husband, suddenly classed as an essential worker, continued to go out every day. One day I looked on a job search engine and the only job available in my area was a mushroom harvester. I am allergic to mushrooms. I bookmarked it anyway.

When adverts for jobs in my field – which I was defining more and more broadly every day – started reappearing in July and August, I made job hunting my job. I foregrounded my experience working and delivering remotely. I advertised my services as a freelancer. I forensically applied to be a project officer, a diversity coordinator, a marketing assistant, an intern. My spreadsheet of application information shows I applied to sixty professional jobs between July and October. When I started applying for supermarkets and call centres, I didn’t even note them on the spreadsheet. I just went through the churn of national insurance number, no prior convictions, I am a team player who loves to learn. I started to feel like I hadn’t done the right thing. After all, every staff member at my old job was now a remote worker. They had to have been handling it better now, right? But how could I have known? I couldn’t have gambled my health any longer. I couldn’t have known how devastating the emerging health crisis was going to be. As stressed as job hunting made me, it was nothing compared to how injurious my previous situation had been. It was the first time I had had time off since I was sixteen, and I couldn’t even go outside.

Eventually, there were interviews. Some of which I was obviously unqualified for – I don’t know anything about climate change or corporate fundraising, but who am I to argue with the esteemed charities who wanted to hear my thoughts? – and some of which I was crushed to be rejected from, certain I was perfectly placed to do the job well. As if the universe knew I was building to a crescendo, in one particularly frenetic fortnight I had four interviews.

I received three offers.

I couldn’t even be mad at the people who made jokes about buses.

In the end the job I went for was an easy decision. I had been interested in working in community development, which was a route it offered me, and the organisation in question also offered cast iron stability. I had never quit a job without having another lined up. I had never turned down a job offer. I felt like a whole new person.

Looking back at my applications, I realised I had written this successful one in March. It had been waiting for me all summer.

February Bookshelf: Finches and Flamethrowers

“And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky – so the space where I exist, and I want to keep existing, and to be quite frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair struck pure otherness and created something sublime.”

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I am writing this on the evening of World Book Day, which I celebrated by finishing my novel on the way to work and having nothing to read for the rest of the day or for my commute home; an uncommon horror. Continue reading “February Bookshelf: Finches and Flamethrowers”

January Bookshelf: Sing, Lost Child

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”

Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading as therapy recently. Bibliotherapy is what I do for a living, but even in our day to do lives, outside of a specifically therapeutic contexts, reading is healing. Why is that? What is it about getting out of our own skin for a few hours that allows us to come back refreshed and ready? Continue reading “January Bookshelf: Sing, Lost Child”

October Bookshelf: Men, Women, and Normal People

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”

Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

What book lover doesn’t love Halloween? Either you’re a horror fiend (like I am) in which case you want nothing more than to be chilled by Shirley Jackson or MR James, or you’re timid to the holiday’s proclivities, in which case a book is the perfect distraction. What could be better than a book and a hot drink when the moon is full and witches are abroad?  Continue reading “October Bookshelf: Men, Women, and Normal People”

September Bookshelf: Descent into Idiothood

“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”

Philip Pullman

September was spent on a train, I feel. I commute almost an hour to work in the morning, and though it eats up a lot of my day I find myself not really minding (though I at least partly credit it for the increase in colds I’ve had recently). Continue reading “September Bookshelf: Descent into Idiothood”

August Bookshelf: Modern Rest and Relaxation

“No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.”

John Donne, ‘The Autumnal’

August has been an odd month, chez Glover. I’ve hardly been home, and I don’t read a lot when I travel. Between a weekend at the hospitality of Stendhal festival (where I did read quite a bit, in fact, but it was The Very Hungry Caterpillar to an audience of rapt five-year-olds) and my annual retreat to the cinema for five days at Arrow Video Frightfest, I’m afraid I’ve been more of a square-eyes than a bookworm. Continue reading “August Bookshelf: Modern Rest and Relaxation”

July Bookshelf: Sour Stories of Heartburn

“Did you know, Putnam, more people are murdered at ninety two degrees Fahrenheit than any other temperature? I read an article once — lower temperatures people are easy-going, over ninety two it’s too hot to move but just ninety two, people get irritable!

Sheriff Warren, It Came from Outer Space

Let us just agree that June didn’t happen. It was a sweaty, stagnant month and I spent too much of it depressed and not reading. Continue reading “July Bookshelf: Sour Stories of Heartburn”