Eve Of Instruction

I’ve been offered a Full Time Proper Job.

Okay, that’s given you time to pick your jaw, and indeed the rest of you, up off the floor. We’ll go on.

My job title is “Reader & Editor, Night Shift”. With a private company that provides tailor-made ‘media monitoring’ services to various clients. Reading news stories on a screen, editing them to fit a morning press pack. Seven nights in row, then seven off, then back again. 10.30pm till 6.30am each night, in a large office building opposite the Tower Of London. Fairly intensive, battery farming-like work, too. (Nightingales: ‘No one here but us chickens’). No one talks or surfs the Net or goes on Facebook. No phones. Only the Work. Reading, typing. Conventional employment that’s not quite conventional.

How much am I being paid? On finding out, my first thought was similar to that moment in Big, when Tom Hanks’s boy in a man’s body gets his first pay check, and yelps out aloud like he’s won the Lottery. The co-worker at the next desk along replies miserably, ‘Yeah. They really screw you don’t they?’

Thanks to the dole, and the long-term dole top-ups one gets just by getting older (a kind of state compensation for being increasingly less pretty) I’m currently living on about £70 a week, after I’ve paid my rent. That has to pay for everything else: food, bills, Internet, phone, travel, dry cleaning, wine, going out and general London living. I’m rather hoping the post-tax wage will be a bit more than that. Lately I keep messing my dole up, overspending in the big Sweet Shop that is London, and having to borrow from friends and family, trying desperately to stop rent cheques from bouncing. Yes, I do know what it feels like to actually starve. It’s no Picnic, or even a Lion Bar. So the thought of more money coming in is very much a relief.

But then I calm down and remember there’s also that initial period of getting used to arrears payment, when you have to work and somehow survive for a month, perhaps more, before the first lot of cash finally comes through. At which point you realise you’ve been deducted Emergency Tax until the Revenue sorts it out. More hoops to jump through. Work really is too much like Hard Work.

But it might be fine. It might turn out to be more money than I thought. I might find it suits me, that I ‘perform’ well (which always has connotations of a seal getting its fish), and have my wages increased. I may even (whisper it) be able to start Saving. And then perhaps I won’t live in a bedsit forever after all. There’s only one way to find out.

(Though, yes, I know… it IS a bedsit in Highgate. It’s all relative.)

Anyway. Money, schmoney, as not nearly enough people in the news are saying right now. There’s another reason why I feel the job will be good for me. For the last year or so, I’ve had all the time in the world, yet I’ve become unproductive to the point of drying up completely. Even my diary entries have become sporadic. With no one else to prod me out of bed, I’ve tried to impose self-discipline, but the little voice in my head that constantly whispers ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘do it tomorrow’ has been winning all too frequently.

Once I have finally convinced myself life is worth getting out of bed for, I’ve found it impossible to settle my mind on doing any one thing. The mere idea that choosing one thing to do – to THINK any one thing, has made me brood on how this means every other possibility is being missed out on. Every alternate thought, every alternate sentence to write, every alternate way of spending the day, the evening, the month, the life. The harsh inevitability that whatever you do, you will miss out on a million other things. The sheer nature of being able to do anything has left me doing nothing at all.

Sounds close like madness, but it’s more a kind of mental build-up. There’s a recent Doctor Who episode where Catherine Tate’s character finds her newly-enhanced mind is starting to come terminally undone, in classic Flowers For Algernon style:

‘You know who I’d like to meet? Charlie Chaplin. I bet he’s great. Shall we, Charlie Chaplin? Charlie Chester, Charlie Brown, no he’s fiction, friction, fiction, fixing, mixing, Rickston, Brixton’. [she gasps]

Well, that’s the way my mind is all the time.

And normally I can work with it, enjoy it, be creative with it. But it needs a slap every now and then. Ideally, administered from somebody else. Hence the job.

My anxiety has also taken a turn towards physical manifestation lately. Though I’m never been a proper self-harmer, I have started to pull manically at my eyebrows when trying to concentrate, plus I’ve developed a severely itchy scalp, for which the doctor has given me both pills and a water-based steroidal balm. I didn’t know you could get pills for an itchy scalp until this week.

The skin on my arms has also become itchy: I keep checking there for insects, even fleas, but never find any. Might just be an allergy, but it does rather sound like just another anxiety outlet. My skin is crawling, and I’m crawling up the walls too. Something has to change. Hence the job. It can only be good for me.

The job will, one hopes, force me out of this rut, and sharpen up my faculties. The work is all about concentration, focus, reading speed, comprehension, English usage, grammar, deadlines. I can do those things. I can be very good at those things. I just need a bit of regular, external coercion to do them every now and then.

So I don’t really see it as just a job. I see it more as a kind of intensive, vocational college course. And I need it.

Training starts tomorrow morning, 10 am. Wish me luck.

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