The occupation of struggle

Today, I got a phone call. My course coordinator passed my name on to someone in another department who is looking for an employee to do everything I’ve spent the last six months doing, pretty much. It’s a six-month contract, two and a half days a week, at school – it couldn’t get more perfect, to be honest. This job would allow me to work part-time, to set myself up as a freelance writer part-time, to take up a unit or two in a Bachelor of Communications part-time, to take on the challenge of a large publication, to get real longer-term project experience under my belt. It’d even allow me to renew the lease on my apartment, and it would mean I don’t have to spend the next three months scrambling to find work (and applying for retail positions out of the fear I won’t find anything). Just to have someone ring up and basically cold-call me about a job is incredible.

(I’ve been finished with school for three days. I’m still working on three projects; I’m preparing for an upcoming week of book launches – my own books! I haven’t even begun to do more than think about work yet.)

So I’ve sent in my resume and examples of my writing, and I hope I get to have an interview on Friday, and I hope this all works out because I can do everything they want in this job. I mean, I’ll survive if it doesn’t. I’ll just be right back where I started, and I’ll have to deal with the disappointment, but that’s something I’m going to have to learn to deal with as I start applying for jobs, so why not get over it as soon as possible? I have a psychologist to help prop me up as I navigate this whole new aspect of being an adult (I’ve worked and applied for jobs before, but not as the person I am now, not as a person now trying to get into the industry I adore – I’m after a career, now, not a job, which is quite a different thing) and the only way I’ll learn to cope is by actually doing it.

(The universe generally likes to throw things at my feet that I’m not quite ready for. A few weeks ago, my first major public speaking role happened to be in front of TV cameras. I don’t get rehearsals; I just get to figure out how to swim while I’m landing in the ocean.)

Listening to other people talk about jobs and finding work and problems with interviews is quite disheartening; it makes me feel like I don’t have the right to feel hopeful about this amazing opportunity. I’d like to think that I’m different, that I’m more talented, that I’m better, that I work harder, that I’m special and who wouldn’t want to hire me (because I am not perfect, but I am awesome) and therefore it won’t be so difficult for me, but I can’t help the feeling that everybody wants to think that way; everybody wants to cling to the idea that they don’t have to struggle. Which leads into a whole tangle of thoughts and ideas I so need to discuss with my psychologist for the umpteenth time – is it arrogant to think I am that little bit more awesome? Is it that ugly kind of arrogant-insecurity to think that I am not? At times I feel like I’m being torn between the part of me that’s now starting to feel like I can do shit and do it well because I have a whole set of skills now, and the old me, the part that is horrified that I can ever admit that I am anything more than ordinary (and how dare anyone ever act as though they’re more than ordinary).

(Therapy isn’t about moving from epiphany to epiphany. It’s about having the same epiphany over and over again, pushing it a little further each time, until things start to seep in. And then experiencing that same epiphany again and again even when you think you have everything figured out, because you never quite ‘get’ everything. There’s always somewhere further to go. Always.)

The funny thing is that … well, I do struggle. I struggle all the time. I struggle with most of the things people are supposed to take for granted, and I’m so used to struggling that it doesn’t even feel like a struggle any more, just the status-quo. Case in point. I get anxious every time I get on and off trams because hauling my mini-trolley – which I use for shopping to avoid putting weight on my wrists – up and down the steps is difficult. This is ableism: trams should be accessible for people who use canes/crutches/wheelchairs/other aids, and my trolley is my doctor-approved aid in this instance, but the anxiety is so omnipresent it took me about six months to realise that this anxiety indicates only the difficulty I face in using a tram, and it shouldn’t be normal. I’ve got challenges to face any time I do just about anything, and almost all of these challenges come with anxiety, which is its own challenge again. Nothing has come easy for me (if I write well, these days, it’s because I’ve spent thirteen years in the learning) and anything that has, like this phone call, has happened because of – well, because of all the time I’ve spent overcoming struggles in the quest to be awesome.

It doesn’t seem like struggle, though. It’s just my life. As with the trolley, a lot of the time I don’t even notice it; it would be as absurd as forever noticing the colour of my hair or the placement of freckles on my skin. This is sometimes not a good thing; it shouldn’t take me six months to realise that I am struggling because the trams in my suburb weren’t designed for anyone with mobility difficulties.

Really, if this whole thing were to go down perfectly, and I get the job and have my whole summer set before me in a brilliant combination of part-time work and part-time writing (which still won’t be easy, but nothing is), it won’t have happened because I’m lucky. I am not lucky and I have never been lucky. It will have happened because I’ve spent blood and tears and countless hours of therapy in the quest to be as awesome as I can be; it will have happened because I’ve been in pain of many kinds and gotten things done anyway; it will have happened because I work hard, and I give a damn, and those things matter so much more than something arbitrary like talent. Talent helps. I might even have some. Talent, though, doesn’t get words on a page. Stubborn determination does.

(At times I’m very close to being the thing I abhor – the inspirational disability narrative – and that comes with complications and struggles of a different kind. I run into the kind of entitled people who think I can do and overcome everything, with a smile, all the time. I guess that’s why I like to blog about my fear and my anxiety and my insecurity; I want to show the ugliness of what it is I am. I don’t want anyone to mistake me for being that all-conquering image of someone who never doubted or cried or flailed or broke under the weight of my own pain and despair. I want people to see my awesomeness, yes, but part of that is showing to the world my failings. I am more awesome for not being that mythical creature that mainstream TV likes to parade across the screens: I am real and honest, and this kind of real is more beautiful. I am ugly, and in my ugliness I am beautiful, because I am not an illusion.)

This phone call has happened because I have struggled, and, through struggle, I have become determined.

The thing is, though, I’m not just up against the challenges a majority person faces in the job market, in a job market that is increasingly difficult for the school-leaver, in an age where editing and creativity in general is undervalued – I’m quite aware that finding a cushy in-house position anywhere is damn difficult. No. I’ve sent in a writing piece talking about my gender identity, and another referencing my psychologist. I’ve mentioned my interest in queer equality on my resume. I said during my phone conversation that I injured my left wrist at my old job  (so I have a WorkCover history). I’ve done all these things because anybody can find this blog if they try; I don’t have secrets. I spent twenty seven years as something I was not, and that made me sick, so I’m not doing it again. I’ve spent a lot of time working on being out and open in all respects (and that itself is a struggle; that itself takes courage) and I know my best writing is my honest writing, so why would I submit anything less than me at my best?

I shouldn’t have to feel afraid that all the awesome parts of me – and my pain and my mental illness and my queerness and my lack of gender do contribute to my awesomeness because I could not be who I am without them – might keep me from living, and for most of us, employment is a vital part of living. It’s not just about paying the rent; it’s also about personal satisfaction and contributing, in some way, to the world – at least for those of us who are able to step into a career. I know that nothing of what I am, in a reasonable world, is a reason not to hire me (it is, in fact, discrimination, but only if it can be proven) but I have been the victim of discrimination before. I’m not idealistic, although I wish I were. I know how hard it is for transgender and gender-non-conforming people to find employment. I know enough, have experienced enough, to be afraid.

All of this is in my mind when I hit ‘send’, and it’s not dissimilar to the anxiety I face when I get down off the tram with my trolley and wonder how it is I’m going to get down onto the road without falling. I’m daring to move through a world that isn’t set up to accommodate me, and the consequence of this is that sometimes I’m going to fall. Sometimes it’s going to end badly. Sometimes, though, I get down off the tram and shake my head in amazement that I didn’t skin a knee, trip over my trolley, or get hit by a passing car. It doesn’t actually stay the anxiety for the next time around, but it does mean I didn’t fall.

There’s no epiphany here, no conclusion, no realisation that makes this situation better. I’m just scared and hopeful and praying that this time, I don’t fall – just like every other person in the universe. We’re all afraid of falling. Some of us dangle a little further away from the cliff edge, though. Some of us realise that the only meaningful way to live is to jump off the damn cliff and deal with whatever happens when you hit the ground.

(But if I fall, I will survive. I have survived worse. It won’t be easy to take, but I’ll figure it out. I have some practice in awkward landings.)

No, wait. I do have an epiphany. It’s not the kind of bright, sparkling realisation that one likes to end a post with, but it might be all the more real because of it: even if I get this job, even if I have one fabulous moment of repayment for everything I have put into this year, it too won’t have come without its struggles, without the anxiety to overcome, without the tears shed and the courage required, as always, to just be myself. For all that the phone call came out of nowhere, it hasn’t come easy. Just sending that email was as difficult and complicated as everything else.

Believe it or not, that makes me feel more comfortable with the whole idea. I can’t trust it when it looks easy; maybe I’m too used to the struggle. Maybe that’s not at all a bad thing if it makes me the kind of person who gets phone calls from people who want to discuss employment.

Now – now I get to see what happens. It will be a lesson either way.

And tomorrow, I think – tomorrow I discuss with my psychologist why the thought of being invalidated for my writing, my editing, my gender and sexuality and health status still has the power to make me hesitate in the process of simply being myself, because that’s the ugly truth lurking underneath all this.

I know what she’ll say. But there’s no epiphany so fantastic it only needs saying the once.

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