Friday, 10 May 2013

Because depression is merely anger without enthusiasm

So many things to catch up on, right now. Haven’t been on this blog in months. Reasons? Well for one, I’m in the process of polishing one book and cutting up and re-writing another one (except that’s ground to a halt; you’ll see why later). Secondly, tumblr is too distracting. But seeing as the new Star Trek film comes out today in the UK and we don’t get it until next Thursday, I won’t be on tumblr for a week to avoid spoilers. Because people just can’t help themselves - or they just don’t care about anyone else. I believe the latter.

Anyway, reason I’m here today? I’m fucked off. I know - it’s a shocker. I’ve noticed how phrases like ‘you know what pisses me off?’ and ‘this annoyed me today’ have slowly become the norm over the past year or so - or more. It’s why I’m leaving Hong Kong in about two and a half years’ time. You know that feeling when you should have broken up with or divorced someone before you got to the point where you wanted to kill them? Yeah. Me and Hong Kong passed that awkward moment about… ooh, last year. Now we’re into killing-it-in-its-sleep territory.

So what’s contributed to this? Home? No - great flat, excellent location, mostly quiet - apart from the ubiquitous jack-hammering and drilling and general MTR-building noise going on from roughly eight a.m. until whenever they feel like breaking for tea. Life? Not so bad - have had a few school holidays so I’ve written the most I’ve had time for in my professional life. Good times. Also, archery is becoming as much an obsession as writing, despite the fact that I can’t afford to buy any kit of my own due to my job.

Ah, now we get to it - job. Yes. It’s all about the job. It’s not even the job, but just the job. Actually teaching small kids is not as bad as it sounds - and working with the teachers is manageable. As with working in any large place filled with 1,200 people, you get by. It’s not actually all that bad. The fact that you’re paid one third of the other NET’s salary in the school is explained away by contracts and circumstances and failures and choices you made because you fooled yourself.

Back up. That’s what it is. Let me start at the beginning:

A year ago, I learnt the place I was working for - a language centre on Hong Kong island - was closing down. Friends and colleagues felt the need to advise me, and I felt the need to listen. For the first time in my life, I believed it when people told me that I should not continue with the company and simply move to the other, continuing branch, but get shot of the company altogether - because I was ‘better than that’, and I was ‘wasted’, and I ‘deserved better conditions’, and here’s the real kicker: because the place I had been at was ‘taking the piss’ out of me. Now, Old Me would have laughed and said ‘do you realise how much you’re over-estimating me right now?’, but no, for some stupid, blind, ridiculous brand of self-delusion, Jaded Me ignored Reliable, Trusted Me and believed people. I believed them when they said I could find a new job easily, what with all my experience. I believed them when they said I could join the EDB NET scheme and be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. I believed them when they said I could do a 5-day week and get paid more than I was on - because I was experienced, qualified, knew the territory.

What the hell, I thought. I went trawling for jobs. And that’s where it all fell down.

I applied for two, and the first one jumped at my application - an agency, that promised two part-time schools a week, for roughly 20% more salary than I had been on. I thought about it. I couldn’t believe how easy it had been to find. I factored in the travelling times and costs. I considered it some more. I took it.

The contract for the first school via the agency went ahead. It was hard. It was alien. It was just plain frustrating. But having survived by my own wits and pessimistic planning for the last… ooh, twenty years?, I got by. I’m still here. The contract for the second school fell through a week before I was due to start on campus. The project was never replaced. Every week I get the digest of schools looking for teachers. Every week I get asked why I haven’t asked to be considered for any of them. And every week I e-mail back the same reply: these jobs clash with my other contract that you provided me with. A friend on the NET scheme knew of a place that needed someone; I forwarded the details I had to the agency and they got me half-day work. Which, after two months, was reduced to just 90 mins of teaching. For one day. A week.

I also applied to the government NET scheme. I provided all the documents, I did the interview, I did the on-spot tests. I was rejected; my qualifications are ‘not enough’. Yes, I’ve looked into courses and degrees and all that shite. No, I’m not eligible for any course. No - I really am not. Don’t tell me what course I can and can’t get onto, because I’VE WASTED MONTHS LOOKING FOR SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE, THAT WILL TAKE ME. In any event, it’s moot - see below.

So here’s me, struggling - yes, actually struggling - on what has amounted to (or sunk to) a 33% pay CUT compared to my last job. Things like eating out and going to the pictures have become luxuries, my flatmate buys all the food at home or I’d be eating plain red rice for every single meal, and I can just about afford my archery lessons if my private students (which I’m not allowed to have under my agency contract, but what they don’t know can’t hurt my wallet) don’t cancel their lessons during the week.

This all got tired a long time ago. Family members, back in England, have told me that they’ve noticed this is ‘the lowest you’ve been in all the time you’ve been in Hong Kong’ - which is eleven years this August, if anyone’s counting. I hadn’t noticed till then. Because you don’t. You just get on with it - you just work and work and try to afford things day to day. When you live like that, it’s never-ending and all-consuming. I can’t believe it’s been a year - but then, yes I can, because of all the bank angst and worry over not being able to afford my rent next month and the scraping together of bus fares and waving goodbye to things like clothes. But you get by. You soldier on. Because anything else is whining. Keep calm and soldier on, bitch.

Contract season is coming around again very soon. I have to somehow come up with money to pay for a flight to the UK during the school summer holidays to go to a family wedding. Which is a very good thing and I’m very happy about it - as well as the chance to get out of Hong Kong just when I really need to. Oh, and I have to pay for two months’ rent and bank loans even though my school contracts finish for the summer and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Great.

But it’s contract season, right? It can all change for the better, right?

When the school says things like “When you get back here next school year, we’ll give you a different desk”, I say they don’t have to - they can’t afford to pay the agency to have me 5 days a week instead of 3, and they can’t afford to pay me the going rate. So no, I won’t be back. I’m looking for better. As I did last year.

When the agency says “We have lots of summer gigs starting in July which we’ll send around in May, and we can renew your contract with the school you’re at”, I say I’ve seen your summer gigs and I need degrees\qualifications in law or drama or business to teach those courses (because that’s what the clients want, not the agency) and unless the school takes me on for at least 4 days and bloody well ponies up what everyone else gets paid in my position, you can look for a replacement for me.

But amidst all this, I have friends. People trying to be helpful, and pointing me in the direction of replacements jobs or part-time gigs. I appreciate the chance, and I do consider every one. But when I need to replace the job with something full-time that pays more than 20p and a packet of Polos, it’s not helping. And again, much like last year, here comes the advice:

You should tell the agency to get you a proper gig.’ - No, really? I haven’t tried that. Thanks.
You shouldn’t settle for less than 5 days a week.’ - Thanks, Einstein.
You’re worth more than this and you know it.’ - No, I’m worth whatever someone will pay for me. It’s a buyer’s market. Deal with it.
You could get something better than this.’ - Yeah, just like I did this time last year. Do you see a pattern forming?

All this amounts to me feeling guilty, because people are your friends and they’re trying to help. They care and they try to find something, anything, that could be useful. When that’s about as helpful as teaching someone about Einstein-Rosen bridges as they actually fall into a wormhole, what can you do but say you understand, reassure them that you’ve listened and you’ll take it under advisement - and then quietly roll it up and throw it in the bin when they’re not in a position to see and be upset that you're ostensibly ignoring them.

It’s the peer pressure that’s the worst. When I say I don’t want to go out because (1) I hate people, (2) I’d rather be writing, and (3) I’m broke, people do their best to get me out anyway, and then pay for me. Because obviously that’s helping me. I absolutely love to feel like my friends can pay for my night out, because I need their help, their charity, and most importantly, their pity. Yeah, love that last one.

But if you say this to anyone, you’re whining. You’re ungrateful. You’re looking gift horses in the mouth. You’re spiteful. You’re rude. You’re selfish for not thanking people and taking the help they’re offering.

Or perhaps you’re just flat broke and sick of putting up with it, tolerating it, dealing with it, planning around it and surviving it, relieved if you can pay this bill or that bill. And all the time, there’s August and September’s rents looming, knowing I can’t pay them. Or the other bills.

Did I say depression is merely anger without enthusiasm? Maybe it’s just the crushing weight of wishing you could give up on life - and then realising that you can’t afford even that.

~ ~

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