Monday, 12 July 2010

fear and dis-peers

After a wonderful two weeks spent over sunny stateside with my beau (our first liaison in six months, since the proposal) it's a hard adjustment back to GMT times and to the quotidian. After one weekend of jet-lag erasing sleep in my (very humble ex-council) countryside abode, I went for a tightly scheduled jaunt to the city to catch up with old uni friends - slots of tea with friends, followed by slots of tea with more friends, followed by scheduled fun, sleep and more of the same. Perfect.

I started by having tea and cake with two friends from uni, and talking about the head-rattling bureaucratic processes of our state. The first friend had just found herself breaking the surface of a paper ocean after a brief spell treading water on Jobseeker's Allowance. We regaled the box-ticking, form-filling, phone-etiquette, and life administration associated with signing on and signing off (not to mention the hopeless isolation that seeps into one's sense of being when it's sign-on day).

The second friend is working as a temp in a government office, with all the box-ticking, form-filling, phone-etiquette and life administration associated with the position (not to mention, etc etc).

I can empathize only too well with both situations. In the latter, I once did an experiment with a piece of paper that entered the system, and tracked its journey, but that is a story for another time. In the former, I once did an experiment with a person that entered the system, but I was lucky enough to be able to exit that system and tell you about my journey since, here.

All I could say was "It does get easier. I promise. I don't mean that it gets easier to cope with, but it does lead to better things eventually. That's all I can say." I remember joking about being unemployed or (a term I learned recently) underemployed, but it was a bitter-tainted humour. Truthfully, I had really resented anyone with commodities and frivolity, and it made me become more selective about the people I spent time with. It sounds incredibly bitter indeed in writing, but it was incredibly hard to hear about some peoples' sailing stories while flailing and treading water myself, no matter how much I liked them. I think, at some really low points, I lost some friends along the way. Those who stuck by me really stuck by me and I love them for it, but I don't really blame those who backed away (I wasn't much fun).

I learned that a kind of social hierarchy has developed amongst some of my peers. People have clumped together according to their socioeconomic status: those without jobs, or those in unrelated/poorly paid jobs, don't speak to those who are doing internships because they resent the fact they they can afford to do internships in something interesting, and those who are doing internships don't talk to those who have career enhancing jobs. It's not nasty, but it's borne out of jealousy and despair, mostly. Moreso because there's a public sector hiring freeze in the UK now. I totally understand it.

It's tough. It's sad, regrettable, but not unpredictable. I'm only now slowly reconnecting with some people I lost connection with, even if we had lived very close by we were in very different worlds.

On my second day in the city I had lunch with two different friends who were embarking on new adventures after breaking the entry-level job period of their lives. One's going travelling, and the other one had received both a great job offer and acceptance to a perfect postgrad course during the previous week. It was truly exciting to hear about the way their lives were going to pan out over the course of the next year. It was wonderful to listen to them talk with such happy anticipation because they had both waited three years since graduating to find themselves in these positions - or, to put it more accurately, to have worked themselves into these positions.

To those at the bottom of this hypothetical hierarchy, I'm not sure if it comes as a comfort to learn that patience and hard graft are eventually rewarded, even if it takes three years sometimes.

And it's easy to isolate oneself while in a rough situation, thinking that everyone else's lot is better. It's probably not, but you might not find out until you pluck up the courage to meet up for coffee one day down the line.

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