Nico vs Life

The rambling thoughts and life attempts of Generation (wh)Y

05: down to earth

Some six weeks ago I let my fingertips fly across a keyboard and boldly proclaim that this new job was much better than my old one – and some six weeks ago that may have even been true. Unfortunately, I have come to the end of my working grace period where I am new to the job and the job is new to me, and everyone involved in the contract tries so very hard to impress one another. I am comfortable enough in my position to feel like I don’t need to be my best at all times, and unfortunately so is my boss. I no longer go on foot patrols four times an hour, and my boss no longer gives two shits towards the organisation of my roster.

This is always the very obvious hazard of casual employment. Without a contractual obligation to give an employee x number of hours per week, your boss can slam you with as many or as few as they very well please. You are the go-to for last minute situations (and in security work, with it’s emergency response shifts to break ins and robberies and it’s frankly unreliable workforce, there’s a lot of them). Never consider your rostered off days to truly be your own; someone will miss a shift, something will come up requiring one more pair of tired eyes, and you will be top of the list to be called in for it. And sure, you can say ‘no’, tell your boss you’re busy, you have other plans, you weren’t rostered on that day, you can’t just drop everything to cover someone else’s ass – but let’s be honest here: if you say that one too many times you are going to end up on their shit list. They will brand you unreliable. You will become that one employee who ‘never wants to work’. Bosses are kind when you’re helping them, but when you’re not willing to sacrifice your personal time to save them a little more trouble it’s a whole other story. And they will be underhanded, cruel, and incredibly passive-aggressive about getting back at you. Expect speeches on the phone about the way your company works, the expectation that others have of you, the teamwork that goes in to running a business, how damned privileged you are to have a position in that chaotic black hole that you call a workplace. Then, expect to have your hours cut – because they’re not at all contractually obliged to give you enough shifts in a week to even cover basic living expenses.

By all means, say no when your boss calls you in, but remember this: your time does not belong to you, and no matter how nice, how kind, how understanding your boss may seem, they will always take pains to remind you of that.

Of course, my new boss is far, far, far, far, far more enjoyable to work with than my last one, and the shifts that I have tend to take place in the same block every night rather than all over the damn place like they used to with SEC-1. And in a lot of ways, this job still is better than the last one. But I feel my displeasures in life far more acutely now than I did twelve months ago, and despite the step up that this job is, it’s still leagues away from where I want to be.

I feel like I don’t have the time to deal with my life anymore – not that I particularly dealt with my life when I was unemployed and had all the time in the world, but still. I work any number of weeknights (depending on how my boss is feeling when he writes up the roster and how many staff we have that week) from 10PM to 6AM, drive an hour to get home, kick around the house until I wind down enough to sleep (anywhere between 8 and 9, normally), and sleep away the daylight hours – you know, the ones where normal people go to school, or to work, or to catch up over coffee. If I want to do anything substantial before work, I’m out of bed by 2PM (3 at the latest). If it’s a weekend, work is 6 – 6 overnight, an hour’s drive each way – so forget being social, eating a home cooked meal, sleeping a full eight hours. Just forget having a life, basically.

Now, of course, I’m not rostered on every night of the week – but then, I work casual. So my three nights can turn into four, into five, into six – forget making plans with a job like this because you will never be able to keep them. And on that one day that I actually get off I don’t feel like doing anything, so there’s a night of lying on the couch feeling sorry for myself and waiting for my phone to buzz on the counter. Joy, right? Sounds great.

My phone rang on Friday night (rostered off, I was planning to go to the movies with a friend I haven’t seen since New Years) and as I pulled it out of my jacket pocket I felt that familiar cringe down my spine – you know: the one that used to accompany Darth Vader’s theme when I attributed it to my old boss. I haven’t given my new one a personal ringtone yet. I probably should.

This call didn’t cost me my Friday night, but he did ask for my Saturday. I said no, I was “busy” – and in part, that wasn’t a lie, I had been invited to a barbecue in the afternoon through to the evening and I was incredibly excited to go, to be able to spend my time with my friends and forget about my shitty life and how completely controlled it is by my shitty job. Mostly though, I just didn’t want to work day shift – the complete opposite of my 6 – 6 overnights (we’ve seen how switching sleep schedules screws me up, right? I crashed my car three weeks ago because of it). Also, it was in the city and I didn’t want to spend an hour’s pay on parking. Go figure.

My boss accepted this, and I hung up and spent the next half hour dwelling on the conversation, guilty as only I could be for the rare instance of putting myself before my job. Shouldn’t have been. He called back three hours later to tell me I now had a shift on the Saturday night. Wouldn’t make that barbecue after all. Dick.

I’m sure you’re sitting there, you’re thinking “surely if you just explained you had other plans it would have been fine.” True, my boss seems to be a mostly reasonable guy – certainly nicer than my old one. But here’s the thing – I’m twenty years old, I work casual, and I can’t take that chance. My car, despite the minimal amount of damage, was written off as a total loss by my insurance company, so now I need to buy a new one. My unintentionally insensitive older sister finds any and every way to get me to pay for her groceries, her petrol, and her pasttimes, and I haven’t gone to the dentist in two years now. This is the corner that most working bodies my age have been backed into, and it’s a hell of a tight spot. I need money, which means I need hours, which means I need to keep my boss happy. And if that comes at the cost of sleep, of socialising, of keeping a calm mind, then that’s what I’ve got to give up for it. You’ve got to pay to get paid – welcome to modern society. It makes me want to break something.

When I was younger – around my first decade in this world – I had a lot of problems with controlling my anger. My mother told me a few years ago that I would attack her in my rage, all harsh words, fists and feet. I don’t remember those times – they are blank spots in my memory, complete blackouts amidst the rest of my unsaturated life. I do, however, remember throwing books and sticks and other hard objects at my sister across the room whenever she stepped on my toes or hit a nerve. I remember how it felt to have my blood rushing in my ears, to hear my pulse thrumming in my head, to feel like I was burning up beneath my skin, all heat and anger and no way to release it.

I’m not like that now; my anger doesn’t get away from me, and I feel it far more dully; a simmer rather than a burn. But I often feel my muscles ticking beneath my skin when I’m mad – when my boss calls and my personal time is torn away like a rug beneath my feet. I have an image I associate with the feeling – a craving to take a baseball bat through glass or fine china. This isn’t something that I’ve ever experienced, but it’s the urge that always comes to mind.

In part I’m sure it’s about the physical exertion of swinging the bat – but I’ve tried exercising to deal with my anger, and my stress, and my general state of upset, and the last time that I did that ended up with me having a panic attack in the passenger seat of my mother’s car on the way home from the gym. But I am more of an artist, in my mind – a poet, if you will. And it’s because of this that I came to the conclusion that this urge is less about the bat, the physical motion, and more about the moment of impact. It’s the idea of breaking things that appeals to my mind the most. My life has been made up of moments, of experiences that carried enough weight to push me into new actions and ways of thinking, and far more of those experiences have been unpleasant than they have the opposite. Recently, it has felt like everything that can go wrong for a person in life has gone wrong for me – a pessimistic, fanciful, and ultimately self-obsessed notion, of course, but I’m only human and much like the majority of my race I have difficulty with controlling the way that I feel. I am stressed, I am tired, I have been backed into a corner, and it seems like the world is determined to crush me – to ply me with problem after problem until my psyche shatters under the pressure. It makes perfect sense, really, that if I am truly upset about something in the world trying to break me, I should want to break something in the world.

It’s made worse, I suppose, with the knowledge that following through with the urge isn’t going to make anything better in the long run. Perhaps for a moment I will feel relieved, lightened by the experience, but in the minutes afterwards I will doubtlessly remember that dropping a glass on the floor will not change the fact that I hate my job and I still haven’t found another one, that I am twenty and directionless in life. I favour goals as though achieving them will suddenly make my life work out – “when I do this one thing everything will be better”. That’s not true, life isn’t that simple. I could get a new job tomorrow, and it might be better than this, and it might come with a part-time contract and a lack of last minute call ins, but in reality that’s still not going to be enough for me. I will still have the nagging need for money (for the car I don’t have anymore, the dentist visit I’m dreading but can’t afford). I will likely still not be doing something that gives me the sense of purpose in life that I so desperately desire. And maybe I’ll like it more than this, right now, and things will get a little bit easier for a while, but there will always be something else – some other obstacle in life designed to sit on my chest while I sleep and steal my breath, some other “when I do this, things will be better”.

Breaking something is not going to fix my problems – and I know it well. Life is going to be a struggle until the day that I lay down and die. There are always going to be more problems. But I also know that no matter how many terrible days there are – no matter how many of them seem to be centred solely on me – they can be offset by that one genuinely good day. Enjoy the little things until something big actually finally goes right (I’ve got to be due for one of those things by now, I swear). Back when I was writing music regularly and a friend of mine was seriously contemplating suicide, I tried to be understanding – I would be more so now, what with the cacophony of negative emotions that I have been handling over the last three years – and like all arrogant teenage singer-songwriters I penned her a few verses to show my support. I understand better now where she might have been emotionally, mentally – entirely – and I may have sounded pretentious when I sang for her: “no more acting on all the good that has yet to come”, but I still stand by the idea. No matter how unstable I may have been recently, I still entirely believe that there are going to be good days, that there are going to be experiences and events and moments of impact that are inherently worth every bad day, every low moment in my life. And I believe that because I have to – because without those fleeting moments of happiness, or relief, of mere contentedness, what would be the point of life? Things can’t be droll all the time.

So perhaps then, for the sake of even a moment, to steady my shaking hands and slow my racing heart, I’ll buy a stack of plates from K-Mart purely for the sake of throwing them against the garage wall – and change my boss’s ringtone so I know when to use them.

04: convention floors and why they floor me (and a thanks to Katie Cassidy)

I was seventeen the first time I went to a convention – Supanova Pop Culture Expo back in 2011. Despite my inclination towards all things senseless in modern media and my wealth of knowledge when it came to San Diego Comic Con (the one thing I’ll always want to go to but probably never will), I never knew before that year that Australia held any even mildly similar events. One of my friends linked me to the expo’s website and brought up the prospect of going, and (lured by the idea of meeting any of the four Whedonverse actors that had signed on to the line-up for the year) I agreed. Two of my schoolmates pulled together their cosplays (one, the protagonist of American McGee’s Alice and Madness Returns, the other as Oogie Boogie from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas) and I pulled on my N7 jumper and said “maybe next year, when I have more money and more time,” (I’m still saying that, four years later) and we caught the train to Sydney at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning, tired-eyed and giddy at the thought of a brush with fame. It was a hell of a day.

We stood outside the Dome in Sydney’s Olympic Park – the chosen venue for the expo for the last several years, now – waiting for the doors to open and snapping photos of the frankly amazing costumes of our fellow line-mates. We were let in maybe an hour later to push through the crowds of the convention floor, eager to glimpse the work at the stalls in the Artists Alley, the packed shelves of King’s Comics, the toys and tokens and figurines of the rest of the pop-up stores. Eventually, we found our way to the token store – some two hours into the day when the line had shortened and the photo ops had started selling out. I had missed the timeslot for the photo with Sean Maher – my first choice for the day – and Amy Acker’s afternoon shoot had sold out, but I managed to get a token for a picture with James Marsters (Buffy‘s resident comic-badguy-turned-anti-hero, Spike), so it wasn’t a disappointment at all. After watching Sean Maher be a genuinely lovely human being through the duration of his panel, I watched my friend hyperventilate in preparation for her photo op with Harry Potter‘s Tom Felton. I didn’t really understand how the promise of a twenty second meeting with another person could drive my relatively level-headed friend to such a state – but then I stepped into the booth to snap a picture with James Marsters, noticed his bright smile beneath the equally bright lights, and for the life of me I cannot remember what I said to him between his kind greeting and his arm dropping over my shoulder for the photo I keep, four years later, locked away in my desk with all the other important moments in my life that I haven’t framed yet. Undoubtedly something short. Probably something stupid.

On the same day, after collecting my print and ruefully noting how much more photogenic he was than me (even pouting playfully at the camera, as he was), I grabbed an autograph token for Sean Maher, determined to meet the sweet man behind Firefly‘s socially awkward Simon Tam, and repeated the experience – only worse, now. Without the glare of studio lights in my face and a line-up behind me to rush me through, there was no real excuse for my speechlessness in meeting him. For the short walk up to the signing table I ran a hundred ideas through my head of what I would like to say to him, but in the moment we were face to face and he smiled at me across the table I found myself tongue-tied and able to do little more than introduce myself by name for a ‘personalised’ signing and smile awkwardly before walking away.

On that day I learned a lot about conventions – how easy it was to slip into other people’s conversations about shared interests, how quick it is to make friends who you will probably never speak to again, how many awesome artists there are in the world that will probably never hit it bigger than a market stall and rented space at the annual expo. But above all of that, I learned about how awkward it was for me to meet the people that I admired most in the world – people whose names I had known for years before they had even glimpsed my face, people to whom I will always be simply one of the thousands of fans accrued, individually important but mostly hidden in the bulk.

I thought on the experience for the while, and for the two years afterwards – returning to the Sydney expo and putting myself in the same situation (Jennifer Hale in 2012 and Karl Urban in 2013) I managed to curb my awkwardness in meeting these high-profile strangers to some extent.

Two years ago, my friend and I managed a short conversation with Jennifer Hale, convinced her to take a photo with us and thanked her for her time – and despite the small amount of nervousness that had coiled in my gut when we approached the desk I still had one thing or another to ask her about when we finally met. Now, perhaps this is a matter of aesthetics, and because she’s a voice actor (despite the fact that she is admittedly an incredibly gorgeous woman) I was ultimately less intimidated stepping up to a face that I hadn’t seen on my television for an extended season run than I was when staring at the familiar face of Simon Tam from that one show I’d watched fourteen times prior to meeting him. Perhaps instead, it was the fact that my knowledge of her work was extensive, I had pointed questions about particular characters, and I knew from interviews and from panels that I had seen of hers that she was as much of a fan of a lot of the projects she was involved in as I was. And maybe, even then, it was simply that meeting her didn’t cost money, didn’t require tickets or a stopwatch for the line behind you, and there was something more relaxed about meeting in that way – same convention, same layout, none of the hurdles to get there. Of course, most likely – and if you want to get really basic about it – my comfort probably came mostly from the fact that I met Jennifer Hale with my friend standing right beside me, and everything in life is a little easier if you don’t do it alone. But overall, for whatever reason (or combination of them), it was a pleasant experience, and I didn’t walk away from it slapping myself in the face and saying “why would you waste an opportunity like that?” the way I had with Mister Maher the year before.

Last year (back to an autograph token at forty dollars a pop), having given up on waiting in the monstrous line to meet Alan Tudyk and standing in front of Karl Urban, I lost my social footing again rather quickly – but still managed to mention how excited I was to see Riddick be released later in the year – and we traded a few lines on the subject (stunted, but pleasant nonetheless) before I retreated from the table and let him get on with his work. I felt awkward about the way the words had left my mouth, but proud that I hadn’t just grinned creepily over the table when he swirled his pen across the paper. Something was always better than nothing, after all, and I felt more comfortable talking to him in some capacity than I would have by standing there silently and waiting for him to be done – and I’m fairly certain that as long as the dialogue didn’t express any feelings of lifelong love and devotion or something equally uncomfortable, it made him feel less awkward about it too.

Still, there was something lacking in my approach to the situation – some cause of my nervousness that I didn’t understand – and it wasn’t until this year (standing silently in front of Katie Cassidy’s signing table and feeling mortified at the fact) that I really began to comprehend the reason that I trip up in the face of celebrities. And it’s not the fame, really.

Anyone who has read with me up to this point has got to be the least bit aware that I am at a point in my life where I am struggling beneath the weight of a non-existent career, a lack of aspiration, and a certain feeling pervading most of my free time and my working hours that seems a lot like misery. So when Supanova came around this year and my exhausting work life left me with funds to spare, I threw an exorbitant amount of money away on a special ticket assuring me a photo with all three attending stars of Arrow. “Why?” you ask. “Why would you spend that kind of money for a photo? For a couple of panels you could probably get into anyway? Why?”

The answer is actually incredibly simple: success. That thing that most celebrities are defined by.

I am a person who is lacking in passion, in motivation, in dedication, and in the belief that I will ever find something that will spur those things in me. And there is no one better in life to give you hope that you can find that thing, that you can be passionate about something, and motivated, and dedicated, and excited about your days, and your job, and your life, than someone who already is. And actors – people in the entertainment industry – they generally are those people. It is incredibly difficult to become a renowned actor, to become successful in that field, even if you are willing to pay heart, soul, and health to do it, and it is this – this commitment, this avid pursuit of a goal, of a life dream – far more than it is the hollywood good looks, the overwhelming talent, the pedestal we put them on, or any other aspect of a career, that I truly admire. It is what makes meeting them important. It is the reason that, stepping into the photo booth this year and being greeted by three of my favourite people on modern television (Manu Bennett, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, what a trifecta), having Katie Cassidy ask “how are you?”, all I could stupidly stutter out was: “starstruck”.

I felt a little dumb, yeah. I wanted to explain that I was struck, not by their fame, their looks, their reputations, but by their success – by the things that they had achieved, the experiences they’d had in their lives, their goals and the hard work they had done to reach them. I wanted to say to them that for someone so afraid of never finding that one thing, there was something refreshing, something vital, about meeting people who already had.

But I smiled at the camera instead of explaining these things, snapped my shot and scooted right the hell out of there, away from these successful people who reminded me so much of what I’m not and so much of what I have the potential to be.

Later, stepping up to meet Katie Cassidy for a fraction of a second more, I ran through a number of things that I wanted to say to her – not the least of which, praise for her work on Arrow, for bringing this character to life on the screen with so much emotional depth, so much development. I thought to tell her that Laurel had become my favourite character on the show, to ask what her favourite scene had been to film, for some hint on the way the next season was meant to go, any number of things related to the show that had answers I probably already knew or probably wasn’t allowed to. I knew the conversation I wanted to have – though deep life considerations and career aspirations as I think of them are probably a little heavy of a topic for a convention floor anyway – but no idea of how I would start it, and in the moment before I got to the table I came to the realisation that there was probably nothing I could say to her that she hadn’t heard before – hadn’t heard on that day, in fact – and somewhere in my head that quiet, critical voice whispered “if you have nothing important to say, don’t even mince words”. I had only slept for forty-five minutes that morning, after work and before catching the train down, so I listened to that voice and shut my mouth – and regretted it for the next half hour.

“You should have asked her,” I told myself, thinking of my job and how I would have to return to it two days later, thinking of the online course I have signed up for and still not heard anything about, thinking about every conversation I have had with a stranger in the last eighteen months, “how she knew what she wanted to do with her life.”

Thankfully, that was not my last chance, and at her panel the next day I managed to get the first question from the crowd. Unsurprisingly, it came out awkwardly – no matter how used to microphones and PA systems I got over the years of music tutoring and school performances, there was something so disorienting about hearing my own voice echo back to me over the speakers. But she took the question in stride, and when she answered she kept looking back in my direction, and for that moment it felt like perhaps she was answering me more than she was answering an audience – like she understood that her answer held some kind of gravity for me, personally – and I considered it a kindness. She said she had known since she was twelve that she wanted to act, that she had seen a specific performance that had stuck with her long after. Her answer wasn’t a revelation to me – it was reminiscent of what my father had told me when I asked him the same thing: a moment of epiphany that set solid all the following years. But hearing it from her didn’t come with the added frustration of twenty years of relation and resentment (or my father’s standard mildly condescending tone), and when she finished the story it made me more hopeful, I suppose, that I would have that moment one day too – which, ultimately, was the whole reason I was so set on meeting any one of these people in the first place, so, mission success, I guess.

I would have liked to throw the same question to John Barrowman, or Manu Bennett (or any of the rest of the stars assembled, really), but I was unfortunately unable to attend either of their panels the next day. More so, I would have liked to ask Katie as a follow up if she had ever doubted her path, or if she had stayed it, steadfast, all the way – but alas, I had already spent my autograph token on speechlessness and awkward, purse-lipped smiles, and didn’t get the chance. Instead, I nabbed a signed picture from Agents of Shield‘s Ming-na Wen and held a short conversation with her on the direction of the next season, and then met up with my friend who weaselled a free photo out of Wolf Creek‘s John Jarratt and got him telling us stories about his experiences frightening fans after the film’s release.

Overall, I left the experience with no more purpose in my life than I’d had going in, but on some level I suppose I got exactly what I wanted out of it anyway – the reassurance that one day I could. And perhaps, sometime in the future, when I have figured out where I want to go in life and clawed my way there through any obstacle, Katie Cassidy will return to the Sydney convention scene and I will find myself in a position to meet her once again, and this time tell her that in June of 2014 she did me the hugest favour she could in life – reminded me that there was a point to it.

03: car wrecks and cigarettes

So, I had an accident on the way to work the other day, if the heading didn’t clue you in.

Working nights, bad hours, tallying your sleep against your fractured social life, it kind of becomes the cautionary joke – the “drive safe!” your mother calls when you’re walking out the door in your uniform, a laugh in her words and fear in her eyes. Sleep deprivation is a huge part of security work, and you learn about it very quickly – your coworkers will talk about their sleeping hours like it is a competition to have had the least, your drink of choice will change from coffee to coke to cans of energy drink, and your workmates will recommend caffeine tablets to keep on keeping on in the early hours of the morning. I briefly (during my time at SEC1) developed the beginnings of a caffeine dependency far worse than the addiction to Coca-Cola that I had borne all through high school, but I could never down more than one can of Mother a day and the subsequent burning in my chest didn’t bode well for my health so I stopped. Still, my work schedule lately has been, at base, taxing, and coupled with my chronic incapability to function without some level of social interaction (difficult to organise around twelve hour night shifts and the two hour transit to and from my workplace), has resulted in me losing sleep to see my friends. It has not been uncommon for me to stay up for more than twenty four hours at a time, reverse my sleep schedule for the sake of seeing the day, and this last weekend I tackled forty four hours at work over four days, with maybe twelve hours of sleep split between them. So, logically, my car accident? Not that much of a shock.

And yet, in practice, I was more than surprised. I have always been cautious of the effect my perpetual exhaustion has on my ability to concentrate, to drive, to handle life, and the possibility of an accident is something that I have always been aware of but never thought would actually happen. So when the car in front of me slowed to a stop at a merge point where I (more used to the road, to butting in to high traffic and taking small windows) would have accelerated to take the opening, my tiredness and my distraction with looking over my shoulder for my own cue stopped me from seeing it happen. I faced back forward just in time to jam my foot on the break and careen, nonetheless, into the back of the other vehicle.

Three years on the road has taught me many things: how to deal with shitty drivers, with high traffic, douchebags in fast cars, close calls and sudden stops. Three years on the road had not prepared me for this.

It wasn’t like I’d been going sixty kilometres an hour and tailgating a car that came to a sudden stop, and so it wasn’t a harsh crash, or the kind of thing that would result in injuries – but the loud thud of metal and plastic colliding brought my world to a halt with a bang. All of the pre-shift anxiety, the irritation at not having slept enough, at having to do anything at all, disappeared and left me with the stark, sober, and stunningly intelligent thought: “Oh, shit.”

And then I felt nothing but fear – that I might have hurt the other driver, no matter how soft the collision, that my car would be wrecked beyond repair, that theirs would, that I wouldn’t get to work on time, that I wouldn’t get to work at all, that my already busy bank account would not cover the cost, that my insurance would fail, that I would give them the wrong information, that I would lose my licence over it – and above all, that the person in the other car would be your common asshole, angry and completely lacking in understanding.

Somewhere in the haze of thoughts and loud fears I managed to hit my indicator and after a moment the car I’d rear-ended did too. I followed them off the main road, onto the lawn of some mystery citizen unluckily housed on one of the busiest roads in the Newcastle area, and with a huge amount of trepidation I opened my door, stepped out into the evening air and crept forward to look at the front of my car. I found that the front bumper had cracked colliding with the other’s towbar, and the hood had been warped – crushed beneath the back of their high rear bumper, the lock stuck in the crush of metal, unable to be lifted to expose the engine.

A quick look at the back of the other car told me that it had suffered some scratches, and the towbar had been knocked out of its regular alignment, but my car had obviously taken the bulk of the damage – and this realisation came with both a level of relief at the lack of inconvenience to the unfortunate victim of my short distraction and a quiet illness in the depths of my stomach at the thought of the money I would undoubtedly have to throw away just to pry my poor sedan open again. Luckily, the other driver was young, still on her red provisional licence, and ultimately more level-headed than me (though, as I was a fraction away from hyperventilating and tearing my own hair out while the rush hour traffic swept by that probably wasn’t her most difficult achievement) and rather than throwing accusations and harsh words my way at the end of her work day she clapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was alright, where I was going (work, another thirty minutes out of her way), and offered me a lift the rest of the way if I didn’t think my car would be functional. While crashing in the first place wasn’t exactly what I would call a show of good luck, at least the universe allowed me to run into possibly the nicest person in the world.

I refused (crashing into someone and then making them drive you to work seems more than rude to me, and honestly, considering my frankly volatile emotional state, if my car hadn’t survived the crash I had no intention of going to work at all), thanked her for the offer, and somewhere amidst spewing apologies at her and staving off an anxiety attack I gave her my number to exchange insurance details the next day. We parted ways, and I let myself hide away in the rush hour traffic, listening to the uncomfortable roar of the wind through my crushed hood and the occasional clang of some dislocated part I couldn’t find. The damage was mainly aesthetic, and I arrived at work to find that this was simply not my day – I had been locked out of the lot again and would have to wait some few hours for my supervisor to arrive with the key, had been locked out of the office within (with it’s microwave and the promise of a warm room in the cold night and a warm meal in the twelve hours spent there), and then later in the morning, that my relief had not shown up on time (when I would be back again in twelve hours, dear god).

And like any adult in a trying situation, I did the mature thing: I called my mom and cried to her over the phone for thirty minutes while she assured me that everything was okay. And at base level, it was.

But mentally, those twenty-four unfortunate hours of my life became the prime example of how little life is working out for me. The epitome of my bad days; the proof that my world is falling apart.

New jobs have a habit of turning into old jobs very quickly. For the first few weeks you try to impress your boss – be the best worker you can be – and for the first few weeks your boss tries to impress you. But eventually you all get sick of trying to impress each other and start relaxing into the situation you’ve gotten yourself into – and that’s when everything goes to shit.

I, for instance, have let go of my eagerness to please over the last two months, and no longer sit in the wind, out in the yard, for the entirety of my shift in order to see when my boss is going to drop by and visit. And my boss has stopped giving me rosters.

Security work has a tendency to be on-call work for two reasons: firstly, static work often pops up in the case of emergencies – guarding a building after it has been broken into, for instance – and secondly, it is an industry made up of unreliable personnel. I am called into work far more often due to another employee skipping out on a shift, or an error on the roster, than because it is an emergency response job. And lately, I’ve been getting called in for a lot of shifts.

Night work, desperation to see the day, isolation, and bad eating, has left me with any number of cravings I can never seem to fulfill – primarily sleep, socialisation, cigarettes. The first two, I should be able to handle with some serious time management – the last is ultimately more difficult. Because (and don’t mistake this for me equating myself to an addict, or a quitter struggling with addiction, because my ‘craving’ absolutely pales in comparison and I swear I’m not pretentious enough to think otherwise) I have never smoked a day in my life.

I have, however, spent eighteen or so months regularly standing on streetsides and industrial yards inhaling the second-hand smoke of workmates and site patrons, and I can distinguish, now, between the scent of a good cigarette and a bad one. I associate the smell (and the accompanying taste in my mouth) with the stress that comes hand in hand with my poorly chosen occupation, and the relief from it that my comrades-in-shitty-uniforms have always found in an inhalation. And truthfully, this disgusts me.

Smoking has never been a habit that I have considered. Ever. My interest in music and dependence on functioning vocal cords for it always barred the notion from my mind, and the idea of inhaling something as toxic and addictive as nicotine is one that I find – have always found – fundamentally unsettling. Why would you put that shit in your body? (She asks as she kicks back at the work desk with a can of coke as though it’s not at all damaging).

Well, now I know. I have never had a cigarette, but most of my days now I want to. Some little thing that calms your nerves, occupies anxious fingers and worrying teeth (god, what I would give to quit biting my nails), relieves the stress, easy as breathing. And I have never wanted one more than that evening, staring at the crushed hood of my car and dreading the consequences.

02: crossroads

Finishing high school left me at less of a crossroads in life and more of an airport terminal, where the possibilities were endless but they all came at their own costs. There are too many options, too many places you’ve never even heard of, and it’s jarring. And sure, you can go somewhere far away, somewhere fun, somewhere exotic, but it’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg, and no one likes to go through customs, anyway. It’s easier to choose somewhere smaller, closer to home, within your budget and minus the long transit.

So I did, at the time. And three years later, I look back on my decision to take the short trip and stave off university indefinitely, and I wouldn’t say that I regret it, specifically – I have met so many great people, gained so many stories of my own in the time since that I wouldn’t trade for anything – but at the same time I wholly admit to looking back on it with a wry smile, knowing I could have done something else and thinking that it could have turned out better. I live with the certainty that I made the decision that was best for me at the time, but I will admit that the threads of ‘maybes’ and ‘might have beens’ tug at my mind in all the quiet moments now.

Choosing not to continue on to tertiary education following graduation was easy for me. This wasn’t because I didn’t enjoy learning, or because I was incapable of it – I was intelligent enough to take on the task, and provided the subject was engaging enough I would soak it up like a white shirt to a wine stain. Rather, I had spent the majority of eight years ruing my school days, grumbling about getting out of bed in the morning, of learning things that I would never need in life. My senior year of high school was the both the best and worst year of my schooling life for any number of reasons – not the least of which was my step-mother’s death and my subsequent self-imposed social reclusion – but for the entirety of it I worked with the knowledge that at the end of the year I would graduate and finally find my way to freedom. No more getting up early, no more alarm bells through structured days, no more uniforms, no more homework for me to ignore, no more assignments for me to put off.

No matter how different of an experience I had been told university would be, the idea of signing up for another three to six years of education so quickly after finally escaping the first twelve (fifteen if you count preschool and kindergarten) never truly occurred to me. I had been promised a release from the structures that had held me for so many years, and the thought of forfeiting that reprieve seemed alien to me – foolish. On top of this, I had no idea what I would study even if I had decided to continue on – I briefly considered a creative writing course, though I had no intention of moving to Canberra for it, and other than that nothing particularly struck my fancy. I decided I would take a gap year to work, to travel, to consider my options, and then sign up for a course to start the next Summer. This, obviously, didn’t happen.

I have always had a number of problems with the way we run our schools – first and foremost: the curriculum, which seems to promote analysing century old texts instead of teaching kids to form a sentence correctly, encourages lecturing on trigonometry but never tells you how to fill out your tax forms. When I rejected the possibility of continuing study, I essentially decided that this was the time I was going to name myself a full adult, put myself in the real world and make it work. In that year, and the six months of unemployment that struck me right in the middle of it, I quickly came to understand that all of my cynicism during high school regarding the point of what we were being taught, the usefulness of it in the world outside of hulking black gates and academic expectations, was not entirely baseless. I had jumped into reality head first and found myself crudely unprepared.

In the last three years I have stumbled through day-to-day tasks, things I never thought would be an issue before, like calling to book my car in for a service or applying for my tax return at the end of the financial year (prior to graduation, I wasn’t even really aware that there was a ‘financial year’, which is equal parts due to my lack of pointed education and my personal proclivity towards obliviousness). Filling out any kind of government form has still not ceased to be a hassle – as I discovered while applying for VET-FEE HELP only two weeks ago – as they are all written in some kind of complex version of modern English, where the author has taken obvious, clear questions and replaced them with far too many unrelated words. I have not gone to the dentist in over two years now, firstly because no matter how I budget I never seem to have enough money for even a check-up (let alone the removal of my wisdom teeth, which I am no doubt going to be advised on during my next visit), but mostly due to my anxiety about speaking to people over the phone.

This may seem an odd thing to be stressed about – after all, it’s only talking to people. But the particulars of phone etiquette have always escaped me, and I am mildly uncomfortable with any situation that requires me to speak to someone – particularly a stranger – without being able to see their face. Something about gauging emotion, I guess. Simply put, I don’t enjoy calling people – I find phone lines unreliable, the quality far too reliant on the fabled happenstance of ‘good reception’ and I don’t like being misunderstood. For all my knowledge of written words and how to put them together, I am essentially incapable of stringing together a complete sentence when speaking to strangers, or acquaintances, or even my closest friends – or anyone, really, if you’d like to be specific. And since I have enough trouble communicating effectively face-to-face, the last thing I need is the subtraction of visual contact and the addition of static overlay to my already stumbling words.

Ultimately, if I had been offered a class in high school that strove to teach fundamental social skills, I would have taken it. I have apparently never truly mastered the art of small talk – I’m not even slightly adept at it, in fact – and if I were ever assessed on my ability to talk socially, let alone professionally, over the phone I would probably never grade above 35%. This is incredibly unfortunate, particularly considering the large percentage of job interviews, invitations to job interviews, work calls, school calls, appointment making ventures, and lord knows how many other things in the general day to day that require vocal communication. So thank you, education system, for failing to instill in me the abilities ultimately most valuable in life. But I’m sure I’ll use trigonometry all the time.

These are not the only things that I was unprepared for – that I am still struggling with now. Three years has not been enough for me to truly venture out in the world, and I am still clinging to the safety net that home provides – that it has provided all my life. At twenty and in the current financial climate – where renting a place comes at the price of two thirds of your paycheck and buying a house will cost you your entire income for the next three decades, your immortal soul and your firstborn child – it is entirely understandable to anyone in my generation that I am still living with my mother. And I’m incredibly lucky in the fact that I don’t pay rent, bills, or for groceries, and that my hard earned money is currently only used on my car, my phone, and my social outings. Of course, at twenty, it’s also entirely understandable that I have every intention of moving out as soon as I possibly can – but don’t think for a second that I am at all prepared for that, because I certainly don’t. I don’t know how to manage my time, let alone my bank account, let alone a household and all the financial and legal draws attached to it, and I am honestly and completely freaked out by the lot of it.

Basically, I have a lot to learn before I will be even remotely self-sufficient as a human being, and even three years after high school – after picking a path and throwing all else to the wind – there is nothing more daunting than the idea of being an adult and facing the future. Getting older hasn’t suddenly made me any more capable of handling my life, and I am crucially aware of that.

When my ‘gap year’ came to an end, I had two weeks of study under my belt and a licence and a certificate for Security Operations to show for it, and no intention of going on to university. I had a new job, basically full time, making money (originally with the intent of saving up to travel, then with the intent of saving up to quit), and I figured that I didn’t need to rush things. After all, a lot of the reason I had forgone university the year before was that I simply hadn’t known what to study, and in twelve months that hadn’t changed.

When I was younger I had entertained a large number of ideas of what I wanted to be when I grew up – a pirate, a policeman, an author, and so on – but over the years I outgrew them. Piracy was the fantasy of a five year old, and by the time I was ten I understood how terrible human beings could be and how much the police have to deal with that, so obviously I didn’t want to do that anymore either. I wanted to be a teacher for a while, until I was a student myself and realised that I didn’t even enjoy being amongst kids so I certainly wouldn’t want to herd them around and try to instil decent values in them by the dozen. Later in high school I started to learn to play the guitar and took up vocal coaching for a time, intending on pursuing a career playing acoustic gigs at local venues and writing original music to sell online, and while I quietly and slowly still pursue aspects of that idea I don’t really follow it with dedication. Ultimately, I never gave up on the idea of being an author, writing novels about grandiose worlds and entirely ordinary people (writing escapes for kids like me), but studying for it seems redundant – the only way to succeed at writing is to do it, to practice until it’s good and let people slam it until you get better. It is another avenue I still pursue, though I tend to put my ideas for it on the backburner because I’m “just not ready for it yet” and “I don’t want to write it until I know I can write it properly”, and because even if I’m successful eventually I still need an income in the meantime.

At the end of my gap year, considering studying again was as fleeting of a thought as it had been twelve months prior – I still had nothing I wanted to study, nothing I wanted to commit three years and forty thousand dollars of my future earnings to. I have always been the kind of person to be interested in a lot of things and dedicated to nothing, and a year struggling for cash didn’t change that. Yet another year later, nearing the end of 2013 and marking two whole years out of high school, unemployed, flat broke, I made the same decision – and avoided cementing anything to do with my future.

I considered it, though – studying. I looked at the possibility of studying Sound Design and any number of derivations therein, but the only places offering it in the state were a two hour commute away and I wasn’t prepared to make that trip more than once a week. I briefly toyed with the idea of film studies, learning cinematography, making short films, but Newcastle isn’t exactly the centre of artistic subject studies, and I figured that if I wasn’t dedicated enough to a subject to follow it forty minutes or more down the highway then I probably wasn’t dedicated enough to follow it eighteen months into my future, either. Digital Media Technology isn’t what I want to do with my life, honestly, but returning to the job description I swore I never would effectively backed me into a corner – security is not what I want to do with my life at all, not even what I want to do with my next six months, and designing websites may not be something that I see myself doing forever, but it will be a damn sight better than working nights, neglecting my failing social life and feeling exhausted all the time. And eventually I’ll study for real – not by correspondence for a job anyone can get, but for something I actually want to do. Something I’m equally interested in and dedicated to. Eventually I’ll know what that is. In the meantime, this is just about getting by.

I’ve asked a lot of people around my age about what they want to do with their lives in the future, and I’ve always been astounded by those who come straight back with an answer – some definite future they’ve already planned out to the second. I don’t identify with that certainty; I have never known what I’ve wanted, I have never known what it is to be sure. My mother and my father are the complete antithesis of one another on the subject of careers. In her fifties, my mother still struggles with things the way that I do now. She was at university when I was in primary school, has worked in reception, in administration, in social work, now owns her own business and is studying, again, to be hypnotherapist. She had a life before she had my sister and I as well – other jobs, other flights of fancy. Like me, she does what seems best at the time, and I don’t think she regrets any of the experiences that have been born from that lifestyle, but I’m not sure that it makes her entirely happy, either. Still, she has her family – her two daughters who love her, her friends, god children, practically part of the family anyway – and I think she draws her lightness from that.

My father, on the other hand, has only had one job through the entirety of my lifetime – working as a pilot for QANTAS – and he loves it. I asked him, the same way that I have asked so many other people that I have met in the last three years, how he knew he wanted to do what he’s doing now. And I have never been angrier in my life than when he looked at me and said “I knew I wanted to be a pilot since I was a kid, and I stood in a cockpit for the first time. I’ve never wanted anything else. I don’t understand how you couldn’t know.”

My dad is happy with his job – the career he always wanted that turned out just the way he planned, the life he pursued with reckless abandon – but I’ve always wondered if he’s actually happy with anything else in his life. To my knowledge, he was never really home when we were younger – always working, always seeing other parts of the world, jetsetting around the globe. And when my mother left him when I was four I don’t think I even noticed his absence. He was dating another woman six weeks later – the woman who would eventually become my step-mother – and when she died some twelve years later he, again, was dating within six weeks. His place down in Victoria is filled with material things but, until my younger half sister got old enough to venture out of her bedroom and leave her toys and her drawings and her socks around the house, it never really felt lived in. My father spends more time in the air than he does with his feet on the ground, and I think he has trouble growing roots. For all his happiness with his career, I can only see my father’s aching loneliness – his inability to connect with people, always at war with his desperation not to live without them.

His overwhelming certainty may have helped his career, but I’ve never seen it do anything but hinder any other aspect of his life. His unflinching dedication to his job, his inability to compromise, his lack of sensitivity to the emotional needs of his family, were what ripped ours apart in the first place. He is always so sure – of his career, of himself, of his opinions – and it’s because of this that my older sister won’t give him the time of day. My dad has never apologised for anything in his life – he is certain that he is always right, that his world view cannot possibly be incorrect, cannot ever be questioned. Conviction is not a bad thing with regulation, but he has too much of it, and it’s damaging. When I was fifteen I watched my father and my sister turn a discussion into an argument, an opinion into a personal attack. She was seventeen, and he brought her to tears. She never spoke to him again.

With the both of my parents showcasing these completely opposite values, I would have expected to land myself somewhere in the middle of the both of them – adopt a world view, a way of thinking, a way of approaching life, that took the best qualities from the both of them and applied them in moderation. Of course, as with most things in the genetic and psychological lottery that is life, I actually should have expected for that not to happen at all. In a lot of ways I take more after my mother – I doubt my decisions, I’m pragmatic to a fault, I have never been certain of anything. But like my father, I hint at footloose. I do not wish to stay home. I pursue the idea of finding something that I am ‘meant to do’ with the same vivacity that he does what he thinks he is ‘meant to do’. And as much as I am like both of my parents, I do not wish to end up like either of them.

When I was younger I told myself that my father was lured away by the call of adventure, of distant lands, of cultural immersion. When I was old enough to go with him on his trips it was these things that I sought out. But when I was sixteen, able to comprehend even a fraction of the complexity of human emotion, and my dad took me on a week-long trip to Japan, I came to see how desensitised he was to the wonders of other places. He took me to his favourite sights around Tokyo, and I realised that in twenty years of travelling he had never really deviated from tourist attractions and cheap tricks. Two years later when he invited me to spend a month town hopping in Hokkaido, I watched him spend every day on the ski slopes, and every time that I suggested exploring, seeing the sights, he shrugged the idea off as though it were a joke. He had gone to another country purely for the sake of powder snow and the way it felt beneath his skis, and he had no interest in seeing anything other than the downhill sprint. I have always romanticised travel – exploration, the destination, the journey to get there – and finally, I realised that foreign soil to him is simply just another place, that he had never left us behind for the sake of adventure, of nature, of discovery – but instead, simply for the skies. My father lives out of hotel rooms, and a house that has always felt like one, and truly, I do not believe he feels at home anywhere but in the air.

Ideally, I would like to find purpose, the way that my father has, and follow it with conviction – but I will never do that at the cost of my friends and my family. I am harsh, and brash, and realistic under the guise of honesty to the people around me – if I am asked my opinion I will give it, unfiltered, because to me sugar-coating is akin to lying, and no good relationship lives on fallacies. But if I ever lose my sense of empathy the way that my father has, I would become, essentially, one of the things I hate most in the world. Similarly, I want to draw the same strength from those around me that my mother does from her friends and family – though perhaps I should like to rely on it less. But if, like her, I have still not found my path in thirty years, I will probably consider myself a failure – not that I think that of her, because I don’t, but that I expect something else of my life and know that I will be deeply affected by not fulfilling that expectation. Friends will come and go regardless of how you hold onto them, and as much as I would like to keep them for a lifetime I cannot live my life directionless. It is my biggest fear, and it tightens it’s hold on me every day.

A friend of mine asked me recently ‘If you could do one thing without regard to likelihood, to cost, to circumstance, what would it be?’ She had hoped to hear me mention some career point, some life dream that I had buried beneath my cynical views of the world and my place within it. Something to talk up and work towards. When I didn’t immediately mention stardom, or singing on a stadium stage, or writing novels for a living, she seemed momentarily taken aback. But she heard me out nonetheless, as I told her:

“Space. I would go to space. Regardless of time, of cost, of consequence. If there was one thing I could do it would be that – not as an engineer, a pioneer, not for the sake of discovery, but just to drift for a little while in the silence. To be weightless. To see the stars from amongst them, the world as it is meant to be seen: in it’s entirety.”

She considered this for a moment, and then continued the conversation in some other direction, but I thought about it for some time afterwards. The part that I didn’t say, the reason that travelling and seeing the world has always been important to me, akin to the somewhat romantic notion of being enlightened purely by experience. I want to see the world, in all it’s little details, nooks and crannies. The wide expanses, the roaring heights, the low plateaus. Cities, bright lights, small towns, fields stretching as far as the eye can see. Colours, cultures, people. I want to see how big the world is, so I can realise how small I really am within it, and aspire to be bigger.

01: where i am/where i’ve been

I have only been working in this new job for six weeks, but like all things that happen to you after your eighteenth birthday it feels like I’ve been doing it forever. When I resigned from my last job, I did so while loudly exclaiming “I will never work in Security again! Never!” and crying to myself on the couch because finally – finally – that terrible, horrible experience was over. I would describe myself during that first week returning to the industry (head bowed in defeat, the scoreboard reading 1:0 in favour of my bank account) as ashamed. I had gone back on my word, and broken one of the most avid promises that I have ever made to myself. Further, I was morose – my experience working for the last company was so horrible that when I came to this new one, despite the change of uniform, of name, and of supervising staff, I expected the worst: more of the same.

I can gladly say, of course, that these first six weeks have presented a far more pleasant workplace than any of the other three that I have worked at throughout my life. My boss is ultimately quite a lovely guy, my roster doesn’t change by the day, and my pay is both on time and (obviously the biggest draw here) almost double what I made previously. And I don’t mean to complain when I say that this is still not an ideal situation – on paper, all these things seem alright, and in reality they’re more than fine – it’s just that, honestly? Security work? This isn’t what I want to do with my life.

For the first six weeks at my last job – let’s refer to it as SEC1, just for propriety’s sake – I went through my days happily. I had an income for the first time after six months of unemployment, and it was a decent one – since I was typically working more than forty hours a week. Sure, I was somewhat awkward about showing up at random sites without any procedures or manuals imparted upon me, without any training from the company, without any direct supervision (SEC1 wasn’t particularly by-the-book in the way they ran their contracts). Further, I was somewhat disconcerted the first time that I showed up to look after a roadside construction site overnight only to find that there was no bathroom, no port-a-potty, no room to sit in for twelve hours and pass the time. But despite the fact that seven out of ten sites required me to call in to a woman I had never met in a control room I had never seen and ask permission to go to the bathroom as if I were still in primary school, I was thrilled. The promise of a paycheck blinded me to the potentially downhill situation I had signed myself up for. Here was a job where I got paid to literally do nothing – to watch movies in my car, read books, play games. What more could you ask for?

Perspectives have a habit of changing over time, though. And unfortunately, so do managers. I met my boss, the owner of the company I worked for, only once in the entire ten months I worked for him. Other than that initial meeting he was only a voice on the phone. He had employed another man to manage his company for him, in the beginning – we’ll call him Carl – and for the first few weeks, back in September of 2012, they were both lovely men and I mainly dealt with the latter. When we got to November I asked for a Saturday off – the first time I had rostered anything off within this company – and at this point, two weeks beforehand, Carl said ‘that’s fine, yeah, that’s okay, no problem’. When we got closer to the date however, and he rostered me on that night, the ensuing phonecall where I mentioned my lack of availability turned into more of a shouting match from his end of the line, whereupon I was told how selfish of me it was to take a night off on the weekend, the time of the week security work booms. And further, how dare I, because I always take the weekend off, and that’s just not okay.

Add a few swear words in there, of course, some exclamation marks – and then you’ll have it a little closer to how it was actually said.

Carl was a harsh guy, not above bullying his employees into doing what he wanted, more than a little free with his vocabulary over the phone (thankfully, I never copped the worst of it), but at the very least he was organised – with his rosters, with who he wanted to call in. When he left the company some months later, and the owner stepped back down to do the dirty work and write up rosters for his ninety or so employees, the change in management was drastic. My forty hours dropped to twelve, then to twelve rostered with eighteen called in, then to twenty rostered with twenty called in, then to me not even looking at my roster because I got called in every day, sometimes more than once, and suddenly I was working over sixty hours a week, making over a thousand dollars each pay and promptly watching it wash straight back out of my bank account, into petrol and fast food because I was never home. To make matters worse, my hours were never the same. I would work 5 – 5 overnight, then 7 – 5 during the day, then 4 – 9 in the morning, 3 – 11 in the afternoon, random three hour shifts in the middle of the day, split shifts, night shifts, day, morning, all the time. I stopped sleeping properly, stopped sleeping often, stopped sleeping enough. My eating habits deteriorated. And then, when I wasn’t at work and I wasn’t tossing and turning for three hours in my bed, trying to catch up and see straight, I was at the gym, sweating out my toxic lifestyle for a half hour before getting right back to it.

It was sick. And it made me sick. And when I asked for time off work for it, my boss said it was fine, gave me a week, but called me back less than a day later to ask if I could pick up a shift for him that night. In an attempt at levity, at breaking the stress, I set his ringtone to Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars, and it was funny the first few times, but now I can’t watch the movies without cringing every time it plays. By the time I reached the last two months of my employment with SEC1, even the buzz off my phone against the table made my heart drop in my chest. That ringtone would constrict my throat, crush my lungs, and by the time I got through a phone call – having agreed, again, to give my night away for the lure of money I couldn’t seem to save, for the fear of landing on his shit list and losing hours the next week – I would be hyperventilating, close to tears every time. The feeling of never having enough time, of being lonely, of never being left alone, of working too much at doing nothing, was the most exhausting thing that I have ever experienced. So you can understand that when June 2013 came around and I finally quit – when I called my boss and told him I couldn’t do it anymore, I wanted the time to look for another job and I didn’t have any of it while working for him – it felt like all of the weight, all of the heaviness of his expectations and my financial stasis, my inability to cope with life, lifted right off of my chest. For a moment, I could breath again.

The first two months afterwards are something of a blur to me now. I’m fairly certain I slept for a large percentage of them. And in those first few months I lost weight, I ate better, I saw my friends for the first time in a long time, and I did all this with the comfortable backing of the five thousand dollars in my bank account. But gym fees and phone bills and repeated social visits to the local cinema saw that fund steadily deplete, and the freedom that I had longed for fell into decline. I had the time, now, to do all the things that working weird hours, working all hours, had robbed me of – but now I was finding myself constrained by my financial ability.

I had quit with the thought in mind that I would have another job within six weeks, as if that first six months of unemployment that had led me to security work in the first place had just ceased to exist as an experience in my mind, as if I had no indication of how hard it would be. In all honesty, I probably could have had another job within six weeks – there was no shortage of interviews in those first few months – but my interest in the ones I was offered was flighty at best, and my luck with the others was just shy of non-existent. I interviewed for a job in marketing, perhaps a week after resigning, that led to a three hour trial as a door-to-door salesman for a national charity group. At the end of it, their on-road manager took me aside and asked if I would be interested in the job, and I have no doubt that had I said yes I would have been handed a company shirt and told to start the next week. At this time, though, I still had the safety of my meagre savings and my hefty tax return on the way, and I had already had enough of dealing with shitty people and walking around in the rain. I had no interest in working commission, door-to-door, and I told them so. Farewell job opportunity. I may not be where I want to be yet, but I don’t regret turning down that first offer – if I’m on any level unhappy doing security work, I am a hundred percent certain that sales would make me miserable.

Some weeks later I was asked to interview for a new company opening up in a shopping centre twenty minutes from my house. The store was new to the area, and sold a lot of products I was interested to work around (and, let’s be honest – get an employee discount for), and for the week after the invitation I was thrilled about it – and moreover, absolutely certain that I would perform so well in the group interview that they would simply have to employ me. Unfortunately, on the eve of the interview I came down with possibly the most horrific stomach bug I’ve contracted in my life – like I said, unlucky – and when I woke up to pray to the porcelain god the next day it was only just in time to realise that not only had I missed my alarm in the morning, but the interview was scheduled to start in four minutes. Four minutes. Even if I had been in any state to leave the house I wouldn’t have made it. With only a contact email for the recruiters, I sent them my sincerest apologies – right when the meeting was supposed to start. It was almost four days before I got a response: “We’re sorry, we understand these things happen. Unfortunately, we will not be doing any more interviews, but please feel free to reapply in the future.” Code for “hell no, you unreliable little snot.”

By Christmas my bank account had depleted to nothing, and my mother had started footing my bills. Nonetheless, I faced the holiday season and it’s inevitable wealth of casual job opportunities, with a healthy dose of optimism (and an incredibly unhealthy amount of desperation). Yet still, despite the near dozen callbacks and interviews I managed to get, my ten months of conflict management, of crowd control, of customer service, of dealing with drunks, of team and solitary work alike, were not enough to get me a job. There was always someone better qualified, always someone more outgoing, more fitting, more right for the job.

I can’t argue that last part. None of the jobs that I applied for – bar one – were actually anything I wanted to do – rather, like security was then, and is now, all of these things were just a stop-gap, a step between here and somewhere else I haven’t sorted out yet. But even so, we all require stepping stones; eventually, despite my adamance that I would never return to the front lines of the war that I knew so well, that I would never turn nocturnal and abuse my body in the way I had before for the sake of money, I did.

My friend, working in the industry, told me that the company he was working for had lost staff recently, and he could put in a good word if I wanted some work. By this time it was late March, coming on ten months (as long out of work as I was in it), I wasn’t making my gym fees in time, and the financial weight hunching my shoulders had made me re-evaluate, again, the importance of doing what I wanted to do in life versus doing the things that I needed to. I buried my pride and nodded my head, and that’s how I’ve found myself here.

I’m working nights again, which is a hassle because I had only just gotten myself back to a regular sleeping schedule when I got the job, and honestly no matter how many hours you sleep afterwards, staying up until seven in the morning every day doesn’t feel good. But the work is simple, is easy, and for thirty dollars an hour, isn’t a current situation worth grumbling over. But it is still just a momentary thing – or, it’s meant to be.

I normally say that working at SEC1 was fine until the management went to hell, but that’s not specifically true. I can still remember the moment that the whole thing lost it’s shine: the only beach patrol shift I ever did, walking from Nobby’s to Merewether, long sleeves in the middle of Summer. My similarly uniformed partner for the day was named Paul, in his late forties, kept his fishing gear in the back of his car for the slow days and wasn’t above a mid-shift run to Maccas. He asked me what I was doing in security – me, this supposedly bright-eyed nineteen year old girl, seemed intelligent, could do anything, so why this – and I told him what I’d told myself when I went for my licence, when I went for the job, every day when I got out of bed: “I’m just doing this until I do something else.”

I’ll never forget the way he stared at me, smiled at me, like he recognised something, told me he’d been doing it for fifteen years and said: “yeah, me too.”

And so I suppose, if I’m honest – and I am, brutally so – the reason that I’ve found it hard to slip back into this lifestyle, this job, this chore that I complete four to six times a week for the sake of a ‘better tomorrow’, isn’t that I’m too proud, too ashamed to have rescinded my promise, too disappointed in myself for not doing better this time around – though those are all things that I am definitely feeling. Instead, the real reason I’m having so much trouble simply getting by is fear; I am afraid that the same convenience that drew me to this job in the first place will be what keeps me here indefinitely. I cannot imagine how it really feels to have a stepping stone turn into a long road, a pause turn into an ending – and truthfully I hope I never do. I may not know what I want to be five years from now, but I do know what I don’t want – to be stuck, to be doing something so mundane, to be doing something convenient. I have always wanted to leave my mark on the world, make an impact, make someone’s life better, live comfortably and help others do the same – but I’ve never been specific in the ‘how’ part of that goal. Yet I know I will never manage any of that while living the way that I do now.

I have always been good at making goals for myself, but not at making plans – and this is why most of my ventures in life don’t tend to pan out. I have a lot of ideas that I never make realities – entrepreneurial schemes that might amount to something if I gave them the dedication they require. But I am a fickle thing; I desire immediacy. I don’t like to work for things – and you can probably see how this might be a problem in terms of following a career path, should I ever find one that I connect to on whatever innate level it is that I am waiting for.

Working nights, coming back to this dead end job again (despite the higher income and the better conditions all around) has only reminded me of how long it’s been since I felt like I had purpose, of how long I’ve been waiting for it. I’ve been forgetting things lately – little things, nothing important – like the day of the week, or what I had for breakfast, or whether I’ve locked the door behind me when I leave home. Time warps when you sleep through the days, and nothing seems to be in my head in order. I feel like a passenger in my own life, like I’ve left my body and I’m just watching it go through the motions, pass each day by as well as it can. And I don’t want that to be my life.

So, I’m trying to give myself direction.

I signed up to study online the other day – a big step for someone who scoffed at her friends when they spoke about university and said “maybe after I’ve seen the world”, because I’ve seen a lot of Newcastle over the last three years but nothing beyond it, nowhere I want to go. A Diploma of Digital Media Technology. A piece of paper that says I’m qualified for a job I probably won’t even get, and $22500 of debt. And it may not be what I want to do ten years, or five, or even six months from now, but it’s something. Progress. Some kind of step towards seeing the sun in the sky instead of just watching it rise and set, glaring at me through the windscreen whenever I go to work or drive home. The new job is brilliant, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to be doing this twelve months from now, and certainly not five years from now, and maybe a diploma comes with a new black hole on my tax form that grabs at my heels and sucks in my money for the next decade, and maybe I don’t even work in that field when I’m done, but for now – for this moment, where nothing feels more alien to me than my own day-to-day – it feels like movement, like reality setting in, like I’m taking control of my life in some minuscule way that’s going to make waves in the future. And for someone like me who has been floating, caught by currents, caught by finances, by circumstance beyond their control – someone who has been in stasis since the age of sixteen, who hasn’t made a decision worth shit since high school – this is freeing. And it’s just the beginning.

My worst habit is making goals for myself and falling down before the finish line because I haven’t properly measured the distance. Now I come to a crossroads in my life – a point where I can either try harder or fall back, give up and become what I fear most. Since I refuse to be a deadbeat at 21 years old, I’m going to set myself a path, a set of little things to work towards. I am coming to terms with the fact that life will often require me to choose the things I need over the things that I want, but I do not believe that this is justification enough for letting all the things that I want to do fall to the wayside. And with any luck, twelve months from now I will have crossed off a whole list of tiny achievements and found myself better off for it.