I’ve been looking for a full time job for a while now. Almost 3 and a half years. Nothing. And I wonder, what happened?
These last few years have been somewhat liminal, at best, in so many ways. Coming adrift. There’s all those personal things like getting older, useless knees, not being physically in the centre of things but living by the far away sea (although these days this isn’t as much of a difficulty as it once might have been), being a bit odd (but who isn’t?), perhaps being a bit less . . . good at things (and I wonder and I wonder) . . . of course, there’s also things like the pandemic and all that’s entailed, and before that the existential dread of the oncoming storm of Brexit, and now the lowering, bruised and bloodied cloud of another war. Which causes me to simultaneously scream “so what?” and whisper “all is filled with wonder”.
And I wonder, what happened?
This is a crisis I knew had to come; could sense, imagine, touch. It first crept into the corner of my eye, on the tip of my tongue, under the fathoms of my dreams, 5 years (longer in different ways, but 5 years a shadow of a presence) since wondering what will come next lurched from an unmitigated joy to creeping unease. Or rather, cosmic possibility became a vacuum. A really good job lasted 6 weeks; what was both a bit of a dream and a lifesaver financially, vanished in moment with a flourish of corporate merger occultism. All falling apart at the first, merest touch. I’d experienced something similar before but it was far less disconcerting, more a necessary departure; this time though, it hit hard, unsettling, destroying a possibility of balance that had appeared from the blue and really really seemed good.
Here, it could be useful to explain that i’d left a well-paid job about 5 years prior to this experience- made redundant- but that had been a while coming and got me out of what was a horribly stressful situation that had grown by immensely slow and stealthy increments. I had some money and there were options, but over the following 18 months very little happened; work (and money) dissipated and I couldn’t see why. Then another job that started out wonderfully, then grew more and more uncomfortable — both because I was becoming increasingly unmoored and the work was entirely defined by its inconsequence — until it became poisonous to the point of sudden illness that took some months to recover from, although I think that this experience saved me from something far worse.
A couple of years of sporadic freelance and here we are, back at the wonderful job that fell apart so suddenly, and me staring into space mouthing “Fuck”. I suppose I should at least have wondered if it might be something to do with me; for example, when I worked for a long long time with a group of friends, working almost entirely — mostly entirely — for myself, I’d take a nap on the sofa in the studio for a bit in the early afternoon. It never occurred to me that, if I ended up working for someone else, this might not be particularly appreciated. There’s also the possibility that I was, am, and always have been, not that great at what I do. I’ve got no idea. Well, sometimes I have an idea.
The first thing to happen after that liminal redundancy was a longish project for an agency i’d wanted to work with (again) for years. That turned out to be an intimidatingly underwhelming disappointment- another example of lip service to the wonder of creativity, a truly ordinary workplace grinding in the most dull and wearying ways towards the absolute middle ground.
I was foolish to ask for so much. Or rather, I ask for nothing and would give everything in return. So, I went back to freelance, and another linkedin possibility, another message to some recruiter, another echoing silence. Screaming into the hollow earth. Is this the role that you wanted to live? A couple of freelance projects happen- one, the first time I’d ever been stitched up on a fee, and two, the (fairly unfocused and aesthetically addled) client asking can the work be “more creative”? A valid question perhaps, but I thought what I was doing was OK at the very least. Which is rare. More projects- a horrible unforeseeable photography crisis and a pitch that turned out not to be a pitch but the real thing, which obviously caused massive headaches. Something unsettled occurring out in the far ether. Something I’d not really experienced before. Strange interlude.
Although things can’t all be dung, not always; so yes, a wonderful identity thing with an equally wonderful client — actually, 2 wonderful identity things; one massive and large and cosmic, the other small and exquisite. And also as well these gnostic tarot card things that turned into a book and a poster and readings and all that wonder; and and and here’s the best thing of all — this book, a limited edition guide for these gnostic tarot card things with all beautiful printing, it turns up, 100 copies all ready for me to get out into shops and to sell, they all turn up at the end of February in the first year of the Pandemic, a month or so before lockdown. Most of them are still under the bed. They’re really nice.
Now, here, now here, I ought to say — throughout this, I’ve been looking and applying for full-time jobs, both being headhunted occasionally, and mostly getting in touch with recruiters, that echo sounding into the void unanswered, rare responses just scratching the surface of understanding, the barest attempt from the middlemen to communicate and discover beyond their own cramped expectation, their assumptions about this universe of creativity (the immense wonder of it all) meagre and cruel.
Covid happens (this was the last time I saw my son and daughter, 2 years ago, that February before the pandemic; the last social gathering I went to before Covid the funeral of a very very special person to me, a human singularity now unending) and so that’s what happens. Watching Beverly Hills Cop movies at four in the morning. Walking up and down the road with hiking sticks for an hour or two. Making carrot salad and bread (rubbish) and pounds of chicken liver pate and writing a novel based on a TV treatment I had lying around. A couple of small bits of work. Very small. The closer and closer I get to finishing the novel, the less paying work appears. Then disappears. I finish the novel. Sort of. It could go on, if I wanted, but I start to approach agents, publishers, to see what’s possible. A couple of responses, rejections- which is fine. I don’t expect this novel thing to explode into mass cultural glory immediately. At least it gave me something to ponder in those stretches of in-between weeks and months.
Punctuating these ever stretching moments, there have been fleeting possibilities of full-time stuff; almost, nearly: things seeming solid then evaporating, misunderstanding chats as interviews, trying one approach then another until it seems there’s no map, no waypost, no route . . . I wonder. Wondering what it is, what I’m doing, what is wrong. Age? Attitude? The work? Is there really anything out there? Or is it all bogus, phishing for contacts? Has it all become so dull, so mundane? Does what I’m looking for, what I love, what I want to do — does what I do even exist anymore?
And then I think I might have lost a year. Sort of. Almost. It seems vague, now. Adrift. From too much political social media deranged dishonest disingenuousness to not enough reading and feeding the mind, the year after the first year of Covid was this mist obscured set of suspended and creeping impressions of an unknown country somewhere below time. I think I was getting stressed in slow motion. Going off at an angle to the waking world. A short film, an extended music video that I’d directed sometime around 2000 — can’t remember exactly — that was never finished suddenly reappears; the music has been finished. 20 years later. I panic, losing sleep, dreaming about the thing looping over and over, because all I have is a relatively low resolution file and it’s visibly crunchy, rough with digital glitches and I have no idea how it gets fixed. But a friend does, and by literal absolute real magic its cleaned up and shiny and beautiful and everyone loves it.
Summer came and went, and it was September again. Just in time to pay for some seriously late bills, a freelance project appeared, working with good good people. The planet revolves among all these stars, just getting on, getting along.
So here I am.
I don’t know what’s next. I’ve written this to attempt to conjure sense. As a ritual to banish these experiences. To understand and quantify. To tell a story and see what happens. Find a way to articulate, which has been genuinely hard, a struggle. I don’t think this story is any more or less worth telling and hearing, any more or less important than anyone else’s. I’m trying to remember, to retell, to remake and remodel. I’m trying to grasp some things that I really don’t understand. Why I can’t find work. Why there are so few responses from some recruiters to job enquiries. Why creativity is so so damaged. Why it seems the future is so far away, why we’re not there, nowhere near. Why this doesn’t yet mean it’s all over, not quite. Not quite. I don’t know what’s next. I could get into all that startup side hustle NFT meta grifting unending vacuum of hope and joy and wonder anti-art anti-heart slurry and flail around for a bit but I want to keep something aside, quiet and safe, while I can.
What now? A friend of mine, a wonderful wonderful being who inspired me so much, once suggested that I “tone down” some of my writing that I put out into the ether. This from someone who was, to me at least, a wild creature of instinct and immediacy, unfettered by expectations, by assumptions, not easily swayed by tropes and buzz words and phrases, someone open to everyone in every way, accepting of all idiosyncrasies and particularities always. I really didn’t understand at all what they meant by saying I ought to “tone down” what I write. The comment made no sense to me and confused me.
I’ve ignored it.
I co-founded the creative studio Tomato, and was ECD/Design Head in a couple of agencies. I’ve published some books.
Posters and stuff at https://brickinternational-shop.com/