In 2011, I decided to quit my career thing and go back to school full-time to finish my creative writing degree. I stashed as much money as I could and then stared at the numbers in my online bank account and felt impressed by the numbers, like I could trust the numbers, as if they would be there to protect me, prevent me from starving to death, like I could maybe ask them for life advice, what kind of shoes to buy.
Two years passed. I graduated and wrote two books and read in cities that weren’t Montreal and noticed that I was feeling happier with my life, or a better way to phrase that would be to say that I was now feeling empowered by what used to make me feel incredibly shitty. The numbers in my bank account, meanwhile, suffered heavy losses, started to look like they were on life support. I felt bad for them a little, the way you would for a pet that needs surgery. “Hang in there,” I thought. “Starving to death,” I thought. “Dollar store ketchup,” I thought. I made a little money by taking on freelancing contracts, then began telling people that I was “freelancing,” which sounded good except what I probably meant by that was, “70% unemployed.”
In August, I decided, in a sincere and deliberate effort to dynamite my life, to move to Toronto on a “trial basis,” simply because I felt like I had reached a ceiling of what I could accomplish in Montreal. I knew that moving there would mean an increase in cost of living, so I made a plan in my head to look for a job as soon as I settled down. “It’s time,” I thought. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about re-entering the distorted, petty, emotionally damaged world of steady employment after two+ years of school/writing books/nothing/“freelancing,” but figured that I could “experiment” while waiting for my novel to come out next spring.
My first week in Toronto, I started looking for employment by applying to what seemed like imaginary jobs on job websites. I targeted positions related to writing, including proposal writing and document preparation, and avoided applying to videogame jobs, my former career, feeling like I had been there, done that, and didn’t want to go back. Though I felt like my resume was attractive and solid (published author, University educated, bilingual, years of experience in an emergent industry in creative and/or technical roles), I kind of realized, through trial and error, that 1) the Toronto job marketplace was overloaded, black friday-like, irrational and moody, 2) my resume was not basic enough for some jobs (I have “experience”), not specialized enough for others, and maybe even too confusing in general (because my life has taken weird tangents, my resume lists items related to two different fields, which makes me harder to pin down) and 3) my degree was apparently worthless from a capitalism standpoint, something me and potential employers disagreed on.
I contacted bilingual job agencies and applied to jobs through them. One agent at a job agency advised me to lie on my resume and present myself as a “recent graduate from Concordia University,” removing all my experience, “because employers want someone they can groom from scratch.” I went to a job interview for some office thing and got mostly negative feelings about the company and then was called back for a second interview. “Do I really want to go through with this,” I thought. “Nothing to lose right now I guess,” I thought.
For the second interview, I sat in a chair in a conference room and reviewed a document that said many demented things about water heaters, air conditioners and “reverse osmosis filters.” “Save the environment,” said one bullet point about a water heater. “You don’t save the environment, you just pollute it less,” I thought. The last two pages of the document were dedicated to company values and claimed that it was, “the possibility of making your dreams come true that makes life interesting.” “Is selling water heaters supposed to be my dream,” I thought.
In the room with me were two other bros wearing dress shirts they didn’t seem comfortable in. A woman with a heavy accent, who immediately explained that she was originally from Romania, entered the room then gave us a brief explanation of the type of products the company was selling, drawing on a whiteboard as she went on. I glanced at the bros, who were both smiling and obviously trying very hard to be liked, faking enthusiasm and asking various insane questions to appear motivated and highly interested in the position. A man with spiked hair and wearing a yellow shirt walked in the room, talking loudly to interrupt the Romanian woman.
“Allright, hello all,” said the man. “My name is Silver. Yes, this is my real name, as amazing as that sounds. As you know, we won’t be hiring all of you, so you need to impress us today. Ask questions! Be dynamic! This is a tremendous opportunity for you all. Now, who here has the best attitude?”
The bro to my left and me didn’t move. I thought, “I would rather kill myself than have the best attitude right now.”
Later, I thanked the water heater people for their time and explained that I wouldn’t be pursuing this, thinking I would “wait” and “could do much better.”
In September, I worked in another office for about a week, one that “sold insurance,” but felt highly uncomfortable with how morally bankrupt everyone there seemed to be. The two best salesmen in the company were frequently and casually referred to as “thieves” by a senior employee, who meant this as praise. Simply being in this environment was causing me anxiety issues. That same week, I went to another job interview, which, I felt, went very well. Wanting to escape the anxiety, I decided to yolo my life and abandon the office job, thinking I would get the other job I had interviewed for. A few days later, I received a very polite and respectful email from the other job thanking me for coming in for an interview and notifying me that they wouldn’t be moving forward with my candidacy. “Goddamn,” I thought. “I guess yolo-ing my life didn’t pay off, but at least it felt good,” I thought.
I went back to job boards and job agencies. I received a paycheck from the insurance office, allowing me to pay rent in October. I bounced around from weird job to weird job a little. After working on my own stuff for so long, it seemed challenging to just be sitting there doing things for someone else, thinking things like, “This isn’t my life, my life is writing, this is so strange and stupid, why is everyone here doing what they’re doing, can’t I just go back to my life already?” It felt like I could be president of Wal-Mart or something and it would be the same thing, like I would be sitting in a meeting with wealthy investors and thinking, “Who cares about this, can’t I just go back to my novel?”
Through a friend, I was hooked up with a temporary ESL teaching job at a “conversational” school. I had amicable, simplistic conversations about various pre-determined topics, like global warming, with well-meaning Korean students. Most Korean students thought global warming was “bad.” I liked the conversational school.
Then I bounced around some more. Currently, I have a little stability, but I am anticipating that I’ll be staring at job boards again in early 2014. Right now, I feel like I am surviving more than thriving. It seems like everything I own is falling apart, like my pants, backpack, coat, headphones, etc. Still, I am grateful for the last few months as a form of ego cleansing. Though my first instinct was to turn down a job because I felt I could do better, now I just think things like, “Concentrate on surviving for now” and, “Buy new pants.” Channel surfing from job to job has been both frustrating and enriching, and I feel weirdly inspired by interacting with very normal people who aren’t writers or artists again, seeing how they live their lives, what they value and take pride in. I have no idea how I’ll make money in 2014, and hopefully my financial situation won’t get incredibly problematic, but for now doing random shit has definitely renewed my drive to work and to try to find meaning in work.
(This is my backpack. It has a huge hole on the side.)