Tuesday, 26 April 2011

On Being A Nothing

I should have started my new job today. Should have been working, properly, full-time, earning real money, and defining my place in the world. Instead, I’m at home. So far I have slept, spoken to my Mother on the phone and established that I am causing a lot of worry (and probably caused even more by being too outspoken), eaten the cut-price Easter egg I bought yesterday, and nearly fallen asleep a couple of times. I’ve also failed to get my accounts done yet, but will make a really big effort when I’ve finished this blog post.

The eventual answer to the question posed at the end of the last blog post about what I was going to about the school job is that I resigned – completely. After much discussion and consideration, it seemed to be the only sensible course of action – to get better properly and then to make a fresh start.

So, what is this “nothing” about?

Well, you know how, at the beginning of TV quiz shows, they go round all the contestants and each contestant says “Hello, my name is BlowBroth and I’m a SuchAndSuch from WhateverPlace”? Yes? Well, I’m struggling a bit with the “SuchAndSuch” part of that sentence.

This is not to say that I’m going to appear on a TV quiz show – I’m not, mainly because I’m terrible at quizzes and would surely lose on the first round – probably because I didn’t know something about football or films or literature or something. However, I am struggling with the concept of what I actually AM.

Maybe it would be best to start with what I’m NOT. I’m not, as I thought I would be, a maths teacher, since I was unable to take up the job owing to ill health, and even though I remain in possession of a PGCE and QTS (Qualified Teacher Status), I can hardly define myself as a teacher, since I’m not actually doing the job at the moment.

So, if I’m not working, am I a housewife? If you saw the state of our house then you’d definitely say not. Furthermore, I do not have my husband’s dinner on the table when he gets home from work – he’s much more competent in the kitchen than I am and it is he who cooks the dinner each night.

Owing to some accident of biology, neither am I (nor shall I ever be I suspect) a mother. Admittedly, I take some part in the care of our cats, but, like with the food, the Wonderspouse does the main share of the work there too.

So am I a “lady of leisure”? Well, again, not really. There isn’t any way in which I fulfill the requirements of “ladyship” and leisure doesn’t accurately reflect my life either – I’m always trying to do something or other, whether it’s washing cat pee off my travel bag, or doing the laundry, or doing my accounts or playing the viola or studying maths or going to numerous medical appointments or buying groceries or whatever. It’s not work, but a lot of it isn’t exactly “leisure” either.

Neither am I a “lady who lunches” on similar principles, and also on the principle that my life is often too chaotic to include lunch. I go round to my friend Scharwenka’s from time to time, but there isn’t anything ladyfish about it – we’re more likely to behave like a couple of small boys than anything else!

So, I play the viola, but I can’t really call myself a “viola player” as a career option, since I don’t get paid to play. I often wonder what would have happened if I’d been less academically inclined and hadn’t followed the academic music path, if I’d ONLY been able to play the viola. I suspect life would have been much much better and I still long to play really, but there are so many younger, better and more confident than me that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make a living doing it.

And I study maths, but the phrase “maths student” doesn’t adequately describe me either. Yes, I still have a Led Zeppelin poster affixed to the landlord’s magnolia wall with blu-tac, yes I still eat Ambrosia custard out of the tin and call it a “meal”, but I’m not really a “student” in the traditional sense – partly because my course is only part-time, and partly because I’m a bit long in the tooth for real studentism.

Perversely, the greatest amount of money I have so far earned this year has been the royalty payment from a book I co-authored last year, although I have never called myself a writer. And if I DO decide to call myself a writer then surely I’d better spend my days actually WRITING something?

So, we come to various phrases such as “self-employed” and “portfolio career”. The self-employed thing may be the way my future is headed, but, as yet, I’m NOT self-employed since I’m not earning anything from doing anything myself. And I can hardly say I have a portfolio career when my portfolio is empty!

And after considering all these options, I can only come to the conclusion that none of them applies.

I am reminded of a scene in one of those arty foreign subtitled films that the Wonderspouse likes. A terribly stylish Frenchwoman goes to rent a flat and is asked “what she does” by the estate agent. Her response is “nothing”! Just “nothing”, simple as that. When I watched it I thought it was deeply cool, and I’m still trying to practise saying it myself. However, she is a slim, cool, stylish Frenchwoman of independent means. I’m a stout, uncool Englishwoman who is scraping by on benefits at the moment and “nothing” sounds lazy rather than cool when I say it!

Maybe I need to work on my delivery or timing or something?

And, in the meantime, I’m grateful I’m not scheduled to appear on a quiz show, because I don’t actually know what I am. This situation has also driven me to think anew about the way that society pigeonholes people according to what they do for a living. For years I’ve been telling people I’m an admin clerk and watched them move on to talk to someone else, someone who may be a “viola player” or a “maths student” or something more interesting than any of those. I’ve grown accustomed to saying “Well, I stuff envelopes for money during the day but what I’m REALLY doing is…”.

And now, when I try to work out where I fit in to society I draw a complete blank. I know of some people who make up their jobs, who say they are something they are not in order to deal with this situation. I can’t bring myself to do that, so I’m stuck. I also believe that we SHOULDN’T be judged by the job we do, but we are – it’s one of the first things people we meet ask us.

So I’m now searching for something to do (or at least trying to get better enough to start searching again) and I realize that yes, I DO need the money rather badly, but I also need something in order to define myself and let those casual enquirers know where I fit in to society.

Of course, that’s probably the nub of the whole problem – I DON’T fit into society very well. So, I end up coming to the conclusion that, as far as society defines “I’m a SuchAndSuch” I’m not actually anything at all!

Hence: I’m a nothing! Not in that I don’t exist (I just pinched my arm and it hurt, which would suggest that I DO exist – in the colloquial way anyway, although I’m certain I could find a philosopher to argue the converse) but in that I am not an anything. Not at the moment anyway.

Again, I’m going to end a blog post with more questions than answers. My mind is misbehaving at the moment – it sometimes feels like it’s made of jumping beans that won’t keep still, and it sometimes feels as though somebody has opened up the top of my head, put in a big spoon, and stirred the whole lot up.

The result is confusion, and, it seems, a complete inability to define myself!


  1. I think there's something in the air.... minds are misbehaving all over the shop! I ponder your question too. Am I a writer if I'm not really Writing right(write/rite) now? Labelling is so important to us humans - our egos require it... but really, you are a you, aren't you? And a wonderful you that wonders about such questions when so many don't... :) Be you. Who really needs a label? xx

  2. I think the technical term is "Resting". It has the advantage that it is both mysterious AND true. :-)

    Them: What do you do?
    You : I'm resting.
    Them: From what?
    You : Oh, this and that.

    As to real jobs? What about private music tuition - there's bound to be plenty of people in the Cotswolds who want little Harriet to learn Violin/Viola/whatever. You can control tightly how much you do and then build up from there.

    Another lucrative one is doing private maths tuition - both remedial and cramming for grammar school / private school entry exams.

    P. x

  3. Yes, definitely understand what you say here. I don't think you should worry about defining yourself, though. It's more important to - step by step - find the "answer" that will help you get better properly and permanently.

    It seems that your health is the sticking point for everything else. And once that is under control, you can then think about, and be able to manage, whatever captures your interest.

    I'll define you here: A very lovely woman whom I would call a friend if I met you in real life.

  4. You are currently a blogger and social media personality.

    Most of all you are the only person I've met in real life who I immediately wished was one of my family. Not even Andy got that response. But then I tell people I am a poet - so my judgement isn't necessarily one to be relying on. You are also one of the very few people I like hugging. XXX