Warning: this is a long post. You might want to make yourself a cup of tea first. It isn’t going to be pretty. Don’t say you weren’t warned…
The big news today was my meeting with my boss about my contract. It got off to a bad start when she told me that the college had picked up more stuff about suicide that I had apparently posted when blogging on my lunch break at work this week. This surprised me, as I thought I had mainly been working on non-blogging writing this week and I haven’t felt suicidal for ages anyway. It was perhaps this post and the statement that “I feel that I can’t go on much more. I’m too lonely, depressed and hopeless to live like this forever.” (Thanks to one of my friends for remembering that.) I’m still slightly surprised their software got it, though as it seems pretty vague to me. I don’t think I was thinking of suicide when I wrote, just being exhausted and worn down by work and my life. It is a bit scary that I wrote that without thinking that it was particularly suicidal. I still don’t feel it’s particularly suicidal. That’s just how I am and how I’ve been for years. Which I guess is sad.
Then my boss spoke about renewing my contract. It was positive inasmuch as she said that there was still a strong chance that the college would renew my contract, but, because of the reorganisation and the transition from contract work to permanent work, the job would effectively be an entirely new job. I’d work all year round (rather than having most of the school holidays off), but the hours and salary would be the same because I’d do a twenty-four hour week instead of a twenty-eight hour one, with one hour less per day, but one late night (probably midday to 8pm). I will sometimes have to go to the other colleges in the super-college, but will probably be mainly based at our secondary campus. I will be in a new role, being in charge of some of the day-to-day running of the library (I think, I’m not sure about this), interacting with librarians in the other colleges, starting and managing projects and seeing them to a conclusion. I will give talks to students on things like information literacy (I think) and will try to develop strategies to ‘sell’ the library to them. I will have responsibility for purchasing and weeding books in a particular area, possibly across all the colleges in the super-college.
I don’t mind losing my holidays, as I just got depressed in them, but gaining one hour a day seems a waste: not long enough to do anything productive with it when I come home tired. The late night seems very disruptive to my sleep pattern and if it’s on a Thursday (it will be Tuesday or Thursday) I will have to miss shiur (religious class), which is my main social activity, plus, because of the length of my commute, I will get home from work half an hour after I’m supposed to start getting ready for bed, even without having dinner. Our secondary campus makes me feel depressed, as it’s a horrible dingy old Victorian school that smells of school dinners, although the badly-lit library is being refurbished and will hopefully be airier.
Above all, I don’t think I can do the new job. I don’t feel capable of running a library (although I don’t think my boss used the word ‘run’ – I stupidly didn’t take notes in the meeting because I thought it was going to be a much shorter and simpler thing, just, “We want to renew your contract doing the same thing as this year; what hours would you like to do?”). I don’t feel capable of making up new plans to run a library out of thin air and I don’t feel capable of project managing them to positive conclusions. I’ve done public speaking before, but I really don’t want to do classroom-type teaching or even extra one-to-one interactions with students and I can’t sell anything. Even the interactions I already have with the students make me incredibly nervous: I start worrying that I’m going to start shaking and I sometimes make stupid mistakes and say the wrong things, which has caused problems in the past. And I’ll be more isolated at our secondary campus, depending on how the college reorganisation develops, potentially without the team-mates that I rely on for support and advice.
Added to all this was the fact that my boss reiterated that while in theory I could take Jewish holidays off, in practice that was not an entitlement and I might not be allowed if there was some sort of schedule clash. Jewish holidays aren’t negotiable for me. It’s not, “I want to be with my family.” It’s, “If I do this, it will be an incredibly serious sin.” I’m trying to think of a secular or Christian parallel in seriousness, but it’s really hard. There isn’t anything that’s not quite murder, but only just. I guess it would be like being told to rob a bank. It’s that serious. I could lose all hope of having Olam HaBa (reward in the next world). So that panicked me too.
My immediate reaction was that I was already barely keeping all the balls I’m currently juggling in the air and now I was being asked to carry on juggling those balls while also juggling some clubs too, and burning ones at that.
I think my boss saw how worried I was looking. She said the work I had done on the catalogue this year was good (possibly the first time she’s really praised me since my end of probation report nine months ago) and the fact that I was being offered a new role is a sign of support. But she also asked if I really wanted my contract renewed and if I really wanted to be a librarian, which is less positive. She also made it quite clear that she doesn’t think I interact well with the students and that the new job will involve a lot more of that.
I spoke to my parents about this and tried to make clear that I don’t think I can do it, to their dismay. They genuinely can’t understand why I don’t want to do this. For one thing, it would give me money to allow me to continue living away from home, otherwise I have to move back in with them. Beyond that, my Dad is impressed that I’ll be running the library at the secondary campus (I’m not sure that the word ‘running’ was used and if it was I find that even more terrifying). They see the opportunity as a vote of confidence in my work, which wasn’t how I felt my boss spoke about interpersonal skills. They are sanguine about my ability to cope with changed working hours and late nights. They say I’ve done public speaking before and well, which is true, but I haven’t done it for years. I can’t remember how depressed I was last time I did it, but it wasn’t to a hostile audience of teenagers and it was on a subject I knew and loved. They didn’t really comment directly on my other fears, but seem to think I am turning down something that would be very positive for my career and finances in the vague hope that something else will come up or that I can find a way to make writing work for me. I said to them what I said to my boss, that it wasn’t one particular fear that maybe I could resolve, but the cumulative effect of a load of problems that might not be deal-breakers by themselves, but when loaded together become insurmountable.
The discussion got quite heated and basically turned into an argument where I couldn’t understand why they didn’t empathise with my fears and they couldn’t understand why I wasn’t excited about this opportunity and was actively looking for ways to get out of it. Then I had to try to calm down as I was having dinner with some old friends from Oxford days.
I had a good time, but I ended up speaking a lot about the job. I also ran myself down quite a bit, I think, not just about the job, but about my upcoming holiday, saying I’ll probably get lost and fail to find the kosher restaurants (in New York!) and when one friend suggested putting me in touch with an old Oxford acquaintance who lives in New York, I said he wouldn’t remember me and wouldn’t want to meet me, when really I was scared that I he would remember and would want to meet and I wouldn’t know what to say and would feel bad that he’s now married with children while I’m struggling. For what it’s worth, my friend did seem to think that old Oxford acquaintances would remember me and want to see me; she was quite insistent on this, actually. I do find it hard to believe, though. This week I’ve had several run-ins with old acquaintances who I either avoided from fear of not know what I should say or fear of what they would say or who apparently didn’t recognise me (but maybe would have if I had shown recognition of them), including one in the restaurant.
I got pretty morose on the way home which may have come from eating a rich dessert and then crashing (I’m not sure whether this is really something I susceptible to or not and don’t eat out often enough to really be sure – it could be that something else about eating out brings me down e.g. seeing friends and family, seeing couples). I was noticing a lot of couples, frum (religious) and otherwise, in the restaurant and on the bus on the way home, which always makes me feel lonely. The book I was reading on the bus didn’t help; a collection of stories by James Thurber, who is usually very funny, but I happened to be up to two stories in the book that weren’t funny. One in particular was about a failed (ish) writer who is lonely and thinks society is made for couples and wonders if he could have married his ex-girlfriend if he didn’t over-analyse everything. So that didn’t hit home at all, no way…
The thing is, I think the only thing I come anything close to actually enjoying in my life is writing and I don’t know how to do it in quantity (to get published) while working, but I don’t know how to support myself while writing. I even enjoy writing little jokes and things for myself without telling them to anyone, mostly because not many people get my sense of humour and not all of those understand my references. For example, today on my way home I was making up jokes about Donald Trump (I do this a lot) and for some reason (I know the reason, but it would take too long to explain) was thinking about what his coat of arms would look like. I decided on a tweet rampant over an adult film star couchant (but not dormant), complete with his favoured use of the bar sinister*. This amused me a lot, just thinking about it. I get blocked with my writing sometimes, sometimes for long periods, but often I have a lot to say and just don’t have the time and energy to write it down, or the forum. I have two blogs, but I also have a restless, curious mind and things I think about don’t always fit neatly into The (Jewish) Depression Blog and The Doctor Who Blog. Just today at lunch I started writing something that could probably go in either, but I can’t cross-post as one blog is anonymous and the other isn’t. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to finishing it, however. I really wish I could find a way to make writing work for me or find a library/information job that involves reading and researching more than interpersonal interactions and physically maintaining a collection.
* This was a joke on the Muslim ban (ban = bar) and a pun on the two meanings of sinister, but on googling just now to check that bar sinister is a real term in heraldry and not something I half-remembered, I discovered that the real bar sinister is an indication of bastardy…