Saturday, July 17, 2010

The World out there

Its been quite refreshing and also in a sense a little shocking to live for 3 weeks now in the twilight zone after paid employment, collecting modest but gladly received little payments from the state. I knew redundancy was eventually going to head my way, I just didn't know when. When I started my last job it was on the same day that a bunch of guys in a different dept were being laid off. And 2 of us started that day. I knew full well that a company that refuses to consider its existing employees for new roles is a company that one day is going to drop you right off its payroll. It was just a question of when, not if. In the end I think I went out on the 5th round of layoffs in under 4 years, 2 of which my role was euphemistically "at risk" - corporatespeak for "you are fucked sooner or later."

I very briefly signed on in the UK into a regime like something from a 3rd world banana republic and this shaped my expectations. In particular, my experience of DWP in the UK set an expectation of lack of logic, cluelessness, disregard and ineffeciency. To my surprise, I've discovered on the whole not only mostly huge efficiency but massive respect for the newly unemployed. The sad thing is, this isn't replicated everywhere. For example, before I left Cork I was warned that there was a 2 week waiting list to get an appointment with Fas. I decided to wait until I arrived back in Swords to try Fas. They saw me in as long as it took them to read the form. Likewise, a lovely lady who came to explain to us how to fill out the forms for the dole was not only happy to take the forms from HR, we didn't even have to call in - a letter arrived within a week telling me my sign on date and payment day.

As my rent was about 38 euros over the threshold and stingy landlords like mine tend not to take kindly to requests to reduce the rent by nearly 30%, I decided it made most sense to move home until a job offer comes through. I started applying for work in Cork in March and by early July had applied for about 50 roles at least. In the first 3 months I managed to get just 1 face to face interview. By early July this had increased to 3 more f2f and 2 more telephone interviews. It might be interesting to note that of the very small number of direct applications I've made to companies, about 1 in 3 or 4 seem to turn into interviews as opposed to maybe less than 1 in 10 for agency referrals.

Moving back to Dublin has brought up a few mixed feelings. In many areas in my life, Cork has delivered so many riches, but in one important area it has always failed - dating has simply been a near impossibility. Dublin in contrast, just has an openness that makes it so much easier to hook up. It also nowadays has a huge variety of very different events and groups which makes it a lot easier to find people you might have something in common with. And way easier to avoid people you just don't like. That counts for a lot when you are single.

The one thing that people just don't "get" about being unemployed is that job hunting is really quite exhausting on a psychic level. You have to deal with the constant awareness of non-replies as well as sometimes several rejections in one day, and feedback that sometimes can be very contradictory. Exortations from people who live in cloud cuckoo land to "work for free" (where?) and "follow your passion" (I did - and unfortunately I had to erase as much as possible of it from my CV as doing so in the REAL world makes you have bubonic plague as far as many ordinary recruiting decision makers are concerned).

Going to interviews is exhausting. I've one habit of always leaving about an hour early to mitigate against possible congestion or getting lost as my concept of Dublin traffic is of the high congestion years between 1997 and 2001 which means I often find myself ridiculously early. Why is it that about 90% of the IT work is south of the Liffey and almost all of the rest is around the East Wall? (Something similar exists in Cork where most work is concentrated West of the city). 2 or 3 in one day while awaiting feedback is tough. Knowing when to start applying for the next batch of jobs is hard. Researching companies is time consuming. But its careful and important work that needs to be done right.

I would very strongly suggest to people under NO account "follow your passion" to get started - instead find a day job you can tolerate and work on your passion part time and perfect it before trying to turn it into cash. I've seen so many "nice" singers who really though they could make it big, and its very hard to bite your tongue and not tell them the truth - that not only are you mediocre, you're just one of dozens, if not hundreds of fairly mediocre singers all fighting for a small bit of occasional work. And you are up against people doing it for free, people with huge social networks, students who need experience, and frankly, people who are a lot better. So I say - keep your day job - practice your passion like mad, and if one day you really do find that you are near the top, then is the time to unleash it. The thing you need to face up to is that for most people, following their passion means a subsistence career of getting by, and unless that is something you can sustain over decades, things might get hard. In fact, for most artistic careers, you really do need a rich Mummy and Daddy who can help out when work dries up, or to help out with essentials that otherwise you'll struggle to have - like a car on the road or a roof over your head. It is that tough.

That said, I've been surprised to discover how expensive it was to sustain the living alone, city lifestyle I led down south - I reckon I was paying out 1000 euro a month just to rent a modest flat, run a car, pay bills and eat a little. Credit repayments (now mostly cleared in full) ate another 800 a month leaving me barely 800 a month to cover everything else. With most of that gone I'm finding it possible to survive on 196 euro a week. That has been a surprise, though I think a lot of it was down to having to pay such a high rent and a few self indulgent holidays.

There is quite a lot cheap or free in Dublin. I have nearly everything I need, and enough family around to avoid an itch to venture out. I've been looking at the Running Amach group and thinking of going along. They seem nice. But thing is, Dublin now seems so HUGE to me compared to what it was like in 2000/2001. I recall marching in the pride parade in 2000 - I think we'd a couple of thousand - now its 22,000! And thats just the people who walk - lots of others don't bother because they are working or are not into street parades. The womens scene is at least 10 times the size of what it was in my day. So I am seriously tempted to hang about for a bit.

I've been pretty disciplined so far and have avoided squandering my hard saved cash on socializing. But a lot of it is just not knowing where to start. I mean once upon a time there was really just Kiss. And a few years before that there was Oslo, which was just one of its names. And there was Stonewallz before that, and Libida, which still has a special place in my heart, though I see its promoter is back with a new set of ideas. Wonderful! But now. There is Miss Match. There is Cake. There is Minx. Where do I start!!?

Plus lots of other groups, formal and informal. And there is Twitter, Facebook groups, lots of other stuff that barely existed. I mean, I used to occasionally drop into Outhouse on Capel St for a coffee. But man, there is way more to all of this now. Pantibar is fab, it truly manages to fuse being a really cool venue with serving the community with the same loyalty it gets. Rory has done a fantastic job there. Its all so much richer than the old days of getting hammered in a rented out pub in Christchurch once a month and on special occasions. And yet so many women around I remember from a decade ago!

Unfortunately its hard to do much socialising on JSB - so I haven't scratched the surface yet. But maybe I can manage a night a month. Just which one, I don't know.

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