Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Carpe la Femme

This seems to have been my year for falling out with people. First and not least there was my wife back last autumn, which I have been through, at length here. Then there the bust-up with my erstwhile friend and sole reader, which I also described here back in March. There was another erstwhile friend I unfriended on FB a little while back. He probably doesn't know why - just thinks I'm throwing a strop but it was a long time coming. We've had our set-tos a few time in the past, on line mainly and this was just the latest. I was already wary of a certain spitefulness of his if I said something he didn't approve of and I knew from past experience there would be no point trying to discuss it so this time I just decided it was time to call it a day. So it's felt a bit like a clearing-the-decks kind of a year. Cutting out the dead wood and so forth. And a good thing too.

So then there's the internet dating. That's been erm... interesting. I've actually had angry exchanges with six different women so far. Not funny. My previous experience online dating was pretty good - ten years ago I met my wife online, and say what you like about what happened more recently, we were very happy together for quite a while. And there was another woman at exactly the same time who I could have chosen - she took me home to bed on the second date. (My ex didn't wait long - probably the third date.) But it was the fact that I met my ex's kids early on (probably on about the fourth date) that swung it - not because I knew right away that I had to have them in my life but because I knew it was a big deal to meet a woman's kids and I didn't want to muck them about. Maybe I made the wrong choice? Who knows?
Prior to that I did a little online dating while still in Southampton and met Pauline, who is still a good friend.
So you'll understand when I tell you I was optimistic about meeting women online.

I don't know what's different now. Maybe I've changed. Maybe the world's moved on. I don't know.
I've had some ok dates - nothing spectacular, but pleasant and friendly, and it's almost always nice to sit and have coffee and cakes. One I met in Arundel I could tell was deeply disappointed as soon as she saw me and we had a desultory cuppa before parting. I didn't have many decent photos of myself at the time and she was going on one that wasn't very old (4 years maybe) but which I now accept was a little unrepresentative. I have better pictures now. Since then there have been a few 'just friends' type experiences - no spark/chemistry. I have a reject message ready to paste in for such instances - "I've been thinking about our date and, although I had a really good time, I really feel we'd be more like friends than lovers. I hope you're ok with that." I've had quite a few long relationships in the past that really should have been friendships but where I didn't want the woman to feel rejected (and I was afraid no one else would want me) so they went on far too long and created much worse hurt in the long run. So far my honesty has been appreciated I think.

Nevertheless, pretty much every woman I've had any kind of lengthy correspondence this time with has ended badly. Part of me is all too ready to take this personally. In fact with so many wallops in such a short space of time I find all my old insecurities coming back. It's been depressing how readily those adolescent miseries have been reawakened and if it wasn't for the work I've done on myself over the last few years I think I might be very miserable indeed. The fact that I'm damn near unemployed, as I explained in the previous post and am very worried about money doesn't help - that if not for my mum's generosity I could be homeless and alone, middle-aged and penniless is not helping, and yet it is still these rejections that hurt the most. And they really do. There have been times when I've just sustained another kick in the guts (which is very much how it feels) when it has seemed reasonable once again to think that there must be something deeply inadequate about me. It's a suspicion I have carried around most of my life but it has been balanced by the suspicion that there is nothing very much actually inadequate about me so much as that there is something about me that makes it difficult for other people to appreciate me - a certain social ineptitude, which is a lesser evil I think. I can at least feel ok about myself when nobody else is there.

I subscribe to that old Kentucky* saying "If you go out and you come across a jerk, they're probably a jerk. If on the other hand you go out and everybody's a jerk, then it's probably you that's the jerk." So I've given what all these women have said a lot of thought, as you'd expect and come up with a few ideas. The main one is that I perhaps try too hard to be rational, which might sound like a good thing to some but I know how much it winds people up. It's really a topic for another essay but suffice it to say here that my attempts to get to the bottom of misunderstandings have not helped. I guess most people would just leave it and let it go but my instinct is to try to sort out the difficulty. My thinking goes this way - to me very often, these difficulties seem to stem from some misunderstanding of something I've done or said. In almost all cases the person is under the impression that I've said something judgemental or rude or prejudiced or insensitive perhaps, when in fact I've been trying to be witty, or my meaning has simply been literally misunderstood.
Obviously the ambiguities of the written word come in here - sarcasm and irony do not transmit well, but with people I've known a while I would hope they'd know me well enough to give me the benefit of the doubt. I'd hope they'd know that a. I have some intelligence, b. I have a sense of humour, and c. I am not a bigot, but apparently not. This is always a disappointment to me, especially with people I tend to assume a, b and c of. My suspicion is that many people simply skim read things and only register the things that fall into a fairly narrow set of pigeon holes and they assume that's what's being said. My problem is that I'm often trying to say something a little different to what is normally said (otherwise why bother?) My mistake, I suspect is to assume that the people I communicate with are as insightful as they think they are, when often, they're not.
The problem then, is that if I do just leave it, I'm leaving the situation with them thinking I'm stupid or obnoxious. If it's a debate, I'm leaving them thinking they're right when they're not - that they've won when they haven't. Why would I do that? For the sake of the friendship? But what's the point of a friendship where one person is looking down on the other? I may destroy the friendship by insisting on pursuing the argument, but is that worse than being friends with someone who thinks you're a fool or worse? I don't know the answer to that one.

There is a deeper problem here though in that I don't think most people want to think rationally about things - they just want to have their feelings and beliefs and express them almost as if they were a favourite dress or song or meal. I've talked a lot about reason and belief on here in the past and will do again probably. One of the big fallings-out I mentioned was with a woman who I'll call Amanda 2 who I'd been having a fairly casual relationship with since our first date. We didn't have much in common but the sex was good. The problem came because she believed that many of the phenomena science has not explained can be explained by alien intervention (the pyramids, human evolution...) I didn't pursue it (I'm quite prepared for friends to have beliefs I don't agree with. I have Christian friends and Pagan friends and conservative friends) but she brought it up a few times and seemed to want to have a discussion about it. Unfortunately the discussion didn't go the way she expected. In fact I'm still not sure what she expected. It came down to the fact that she wanted to discuss her understanding of human evolution with someone who knows a lot about about evolution, despite the fact that she knew almost no evolutionary theory, or biology, or indeed science. I'm not sure what she expected me to say but the gist of it was that she considered her beliefs about the subject to be equally worthy of respect and consideration as my knowledge and training. I suspect a lot of people would agree with her, but my point would be that there is such a thing as expertise. Some people simply do know more about subjects than others. No doubt she knows more than I do about what she does, and I said this to her as nicely as I could but she took it as me trying to make her out to be stupid. We had a bit of a row about it one evening when she invited me over to dinner but I'd thought we'd got past it and I was not keen to broach the subject again. But then more recently she sent me a link to that silly article about octopuses being aliens that was doing the rounds. I sent her a link to another, more scientific article and again she accused me of 'showing off' and thinking she was stupid. She was very angry.

Now, whatever the merits of the original debate, the problem here it seems to me was that she had a hang-up about people thinking she was stupid. Like I said, I don't have a problem with people having strange opinions - no doubt many of my friends think some of my ideas are a bit strange - and I certainly don't think of them a stupid, and I never thought of her as stupid (quite the reverse - she was much more worldly than I will ever be.) Of all the things I'll talk about here today, one thing I am sure of is that her idea that I looked down on her for being less intelligent than me did not come from me, and my strong suspicion is that it's her issue - something about people looking down on her, from her childhood, her school experience, ex husband, whatever. We all have them, I certainly do, as I've said at great length before. The difference, I would maintain, is that I'm aware of mine but most people aren't, or will certainly not 'fess up to them. They think because they feel something to be true it must therefore somehow be true, and to challenge it is somehow to disrespect them.
So when I try to 'be reasonable' with people, part of what I say almost invariably includes an attempt at an honest appraisal of the part my own hang-ups and misunderstandings have played, leading, hopefully, to a six-of-one/half-a-dozen-of-the-other type reconciliation, but no - the most depressing thing about almost all these slanging matches I've been in over this last year has been the determination of the other person to simply make it my problem. Without exception, none of them will accept any part of the responsibility, and I find that very hard to accept or let go of. Me just going on and on, trying to make them see how it can't all be my fault and they have their own hang-ups just seems to make matters worse.

The other thing I do wrong is get too involved too quickly. I know this is my problem - it always has been a problem and it's disappointing to say the least that it has come back just as strong as ever to screw up my attempts to be with any woman I'm genuinely attracted to. I mentioned before how so many of my past longer-term relationships were with women I should, by rights, have been just-good-friends with. The reason these relationships have been so 'successful' is I think partly because I didn't care too much and I didn't try too hard. I'm not saying that the women in question were responding to a 'treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen' approach (although that might be partly the case) but that when I feel like I stand a chance with a woman I genuinely fancy I go slightly nuts. I just can't seem to wait for things to play out. I start visualising my foreseeable future doing things with them. In short, I become infatuated and a little obsessed. When I was young I went into deep and protracted periods of misery, going over and over imaginary conversations and even stalking them a little. I had two first dates in quick succession just a couple of weeks back where this happened. I am more in control of it than I used to be and most of my obsessing happens away from the woman of my dreams (this wasn't always the case) so she doesn't get to see it.
The first of the two was a very lively woman of Latin parents (let's call her Blanca), born in the UK but grew up in Vegas. Very in-your-face, extremely talkative, quite loud. I have found most of the women I've dated this year to be big talkers. I've got used to mostly sitting back and trying to look interested and to ask relevant questions. It's not ideal but at least this one had something interesting to say, plus she was very lovely to look at (much better looking than me). She really had some sort of charisma and at the end of the date, one of the best kisses I ever had. The problems started because she had an eight year old daughter who she was not prepared to tell she was dating. Plus she had no family nearby to help babysit and was unhappy about asking too much of her friends so it quickly became apparent that we weren't going to be seeing each other again any time soon. Instead we had phone calls. Now I hate long phone calls. It was one of the reasons my relationship with my ex went sour so soon after she left for Canada. Even with people I know well I find it difficult. I think I need to be able to see their face and their body language, and with this one, I really wanted to be able to touch her. Plus I am sure phone signals are much worse than they used to be, or my hearing is worse, and my arms ache holding the receiver for more than about three quarters of an hour. My fault in a way - I should have cut the conversations short but I just wanted as much of her as I could get, and I didn't want to put her off. In the end the conversation just became not fun. So I emailed her the next day to 'explain'.
The next phone call in less than a week is better initially but then gets much worse. I try for a little sexy talk (something I've never been very at home with, much as I'd like to be - I am my mother's son after all) mentioning how one girl I knew liked to be spanked and she proceeds to tell me in some detail and in very earnest tones all about the four year BDSM 'lifestyle' she lived with an older man back in the 80s, and how Fifty Shades of Gray is the story of her life (only her life would be better written). I try to play along - be cool with it. I have nothing against BDSM per se, although probably not into it myself (and to be fair she told me she probably wouldn't ask it of anyone again), but thinking about it afterwards I'm not sure I'd want to hear about any girlfriend's previous sex life in anything more than innuendo, and certainly not after one date. Again I tried to be cool with it but it wasn't good and again I tried to 'explain' the next day by email. In return I got a shitty email about how I was judgemental and hypocritical and I sent back an equally shitty reply and she blocked me.
Would it have worked if I'd been cooler? Probably not - I suspect she'd have worn me out quite quickly. I was out of my depth and we wouldn't have shared the necessary wry humour to get past it. I could have done with some more of those kisses though. Those days though - waiting to see what would happen with her - less than a week - really horrible.

And then within a week another really good first date - let's call her Denise - an on the face of it lovely freckly red-haired woman who I chatted to for ages in a coffee shop in Hove - and no, she didn't just hold forth like some of the others - we had a good equal balanced conversation and then I offered her a lift home to Burgess Hill and we spent the afternoon talking and kissing and listening to music in her lounge and then I went home (because if not things might get 'too complicated'. Fair enough.) I sent her an email next day just to say 'Had a great time, looking forward to seeing you again. X'
I still don't really understand what happened next. I got no response all week and began to go 'slightly nuts' again, wondering what was happening. I sent her a 'good luck' message for an interview I knew she had and she wrote 'Thanks' back. I wrote another (I hoped) humorous message then about how she'd maybe gone off me for being too short. Apparently the first email hadn't arrived but she said she understood that I thought she'd been ignoring me. We tried to arrange another date but I managed to insert an extra digit in the phone number I emailed her so she couldn't call me all day to confirm (although she already had my number from the first date). By the time I read her email (about 6.30) it was apparently 'too complicated' and too late to go out. We tried again for the following week - a meal out in Hurstpierpoint. A few hours before the date I texted her to change the arrangement because she was a veggie and I'd been round the restaurants to see if they did a good veggie option and they didn't. I made a reservation at a place I know in Henfield. (Neither Henfield nor Hurstpierpoint are that far from Burgess Hill.) Anyway there was some confused texting and me trying to phone her and her not picking up and long story short, by the time she eventually got in contact she told me she'd been home gardening (so she could have picked up the phone) and it was again 'too late' and she suggested meeting at 9 in Hove. I was furious - after all that, to go all the way into bloody Hove. My guess was (and is) that she just wanted enough time to dump me and then go and see some friends living nearby. I wrote back to say no, 8, and I suggested a pub nearer to both of us. So again I got a shitty email completely rewriting what had happened to make me the baddie - that the email about her going off me was 'rude' and I wasn't really 'committed to dating' and how she was pissed off that I'd changed the arrangement for the meal (even though it was in order to make the evening better for her) and it was just all 'too complicated'. Needless to say I sent a really shitty email back but nobody needed to block anyone because her account on the dating website had expired.
I don't know. Again, maybe if I'd been cooler - less emotional? I should have asked if she got that first email instead of assuming she'd changed her mind. She told me it was 'too complicated' three times but really, there was just a missing email and a typo. That doesn't seem very complicated to me, if she'd really wanted to see me again, as she assured me she had. But by then it was too late.

Finally this week I had what I thought was an ok first date (we'll call this one Amber), although she told me off for interrupting right at the beginning which immediately set off alarm bells, but by the end of the date it seemed like we'd laughed it off and were going to see each other again. I'd thought at the time that the reason I had to interrupt was that she tended to go on a bit, but as I said above, I know a lot of people who do that. If I objected to that I wouldn't have many friends. Anyway, this time I didn't get a shitty email. This time it was merely patronising - about how she finds men who really listen (and don't interrupt presumably) very sexy, and she thought I should get out more, presumably to get some practice at not interrupting people. I sent back a shitty email about her inability to have a normal conversation and called her an arrogant cow. Then I blocked her.
There have been a couple of others - one (who we'll call Noelle) who lived too far away to date but who I had a very lively conversation with online. A time came when our conversation was getting quite graphic and I was starting to think 'It's only Oxford. It's not that far...' but she slapped me down by telling me no, she needed 'an alpha male' and 'only a silverback does it for me'. I'm not sure how she thought I'd react. I tried to explain how offensive and hurtful I found that with predictable results. I tried to take back some of the things I said (manipulative and spoiled for example) but that was that.
The only other example was the first woman (who I'll call Amanda 1) I went on a date with after the split with my ex, who after a very enjoyable and drunken first date and ending up in my bed, started making plans to move over here. I really did attempt to talk her down kindly because I know what it's like to get fixated on someone but she was angry with me and told me that I didn't know what I wanted. I told her I did know, and it wasn't this.

That's enough. I know nobody reads this but on the off-chance you have, I apologise for my verbosity. I know also that you're only getting my side of the story. The fact remains though that according to me, over this time I seem to have met nothing but jerks. Does that make me the jerk?
Trying to learn from my experiences I look for the common thread so that I can either try to change my behaviour or accept myself as I am and the fact that I will quite possibly never find a woman who will put up with me.
What do they all have in common? As I said, I get way too involved way too quickly with any woman I really like but that only applies to two or maybe three of them. When I feel things might be going wrong I try too hard to explain and reason out the situation.
I think what really stands out though from all these is that there isn't really a common thread. Apparently I am judgemental and hypocritical, I think women are stupid, I interrupt, I change plans and am not 'committed to dating', I am not an alpha male or a silverback and I don't want to commit after one date.
Man I must be the worst most horrible date ever. What a loser!

Or maybe what we're looking at here is a whole bunch of women and their screw-ups projecting their preconceptions onto me. It's not a sexist point - men probably do it too - I wouldn't know. I never dated a man. My hang-up, I know, is that I expect people to change their mind about me pretty much on a whim and that makes me extremely anxious and too keen to please, or if not, then too keen to explain why I failed to please. For that I take full responsibility. But that doesn't explain much. In fact it contradicts most of these criticisms, which centre on me not trying hard enough, which I think is what they expect from men and what they're looking for and what they unerringly find and then blame the men for - assuming my experience is not unique.

As you will know by now I pride myself on having quite a feminist turn of mind but I am getting sick of this easy assumption that if things don't go according to plan in a woman's life then men must be somehow to blame. Blanca expected to be judged and condemned and felt justified in dismissing any men that did not respond with complete acceptance to what she said and did. Denise expected men to be a bit useless and careless and felt it was ok to dismiss any men that weren't completely committed to her having a nice time. Amanda 1 expected men to use and discard her and she could not understand a man who wasn't prepared to enter into a full on committed relationship with her and Amanda 2 expected men to look down on her and dismissed anyone who didn't take seriously whatever opinions she might come out with. Amber expected men to not be interested in what she had to say and felt free to dismiss anyone who did not pay full attention to everything she said. Noelle thought the only men worth bothering with were 'alpha males' and she was free to mess us about as she saw fit.
There's a feeling of entitlement in all these cases - that they are entitled to a certain standard from men which is to be expected without any particular effort on their parts, except perhaps to dress nicely and put on some make-up. I guess it's a seller's market but that's not a good basis for a caring and respectful relationship. Amber did not feel the need to take into account the listener - she just went on and on saying what she wanted to say and would tolerate no interruptions (I think she's quite a successful business person, so I guess she expects to be listened to). Denise did not seem to feel the need to go half way in setting up the arrangements. She just expected me to have everything ready for her. Blanca didn't have a clue about how other people might react to her revelations and didn't feel the need to make allowances. Noelle assumed men are all confident and strong can take whatever she chooses to do to them. Amanda 1 is the one I feel sorry about - clearly she'd been through some tough times and she just needed to be loved. I was as nice as I possibly could be with her but she was still angry. No doubt all these women have had their share of troubles, some of it at the hands of men, but haven't we all, and that's no excuse for crapping all over me. I know there are some horrible men out there and they've done some horrible things, but it wasn't me! It doesn't help to take it out on me. Maybe they take it out on me because I am actually quite a nice sensitive guy and an easy target, unlike the actual culprits, who'd probably slap them around for it. Maybe that's what they want...

Maybe some bitterness is what I've been lacking.

I don't think so. It doesn't suit me.

* well I got it from an episode of Justified anyway

Friday, 14 August 2015

Sits-vac and Thinks of England

These last few weeks have been a bit more trying than I'd like. Brought back a lot of nonsense from before. Two old gremlins have come a-knocking - work and women. I shouldn't have thought I was 'cured' I suppose but on the other hand, these are problems I was not having to face this time last year so, on the positive side, maybe it's time to apply something of what I learned then to the new situation.

Last week was awful. I'm not sure I've ever been truly suicidal but I have certainly considered seriously the advantages of not being around any more. Two things stop me - one, I can't think of any method that might not leave me crippled or brain-damaged if I get it wrong, and two, I wouldn't do that to my mum and my bro. There have been so many times though over the last few years I just wanted to not exist any more. But then there is number three - I do always have some hope. These days it is less easy. I feel like I'm running out of time. I know I know, I'm only 52, but I don't have that sense that there is time to make something important happen now. In the absence of ample time any big plans I might have now would require ample funding and I know my talents, and making money is not one of them.

So, in May, Miss Green died. I had a month's notice and then I was unemployed. I've found a few bits of work since but nowhere near enough, and last week the car failed its MOT and I had to borrow off mum. The flat I live in is too expensive for me really but I can't face moving again. At the same time I had two awful dating experiences, culminating in both women knocking me about with fuck-you emails. I came back at them equally hard, which was slightly satisfying, but the whole experience left me feeling misjudged and resentful. The whole thing felt horribly reminiscent of being a teenager again. I was extremely low for a while there and for a day or two went back to my old ways of trying to explain things to people and get some answers.

So - where to begin - work or women?
The main difference between them is I want the latter and enjoy thinking and talking about them, whereas the former is merely a necessity. I've never really talked about work problems before so I guess that's where I'll start. Save the fun for seconds.

Job hunting for me is a miserable experience - the worst thing I ever have to do, including public speaking and exams. I believe I'd rather sing in public than job hunt, if it came to it.
Why? Is it because I'm lazy and don't like hard work? I hope not. The 'common sense' view I was brought up with about people who fail to live up to expectations is simply that they are not trying hard enough - they are perfectly capable but simply choose not to bother. Thus everyone else (family, teachers, employers) can neatly avoid any responsibility and leave the person to suffer on their own with just the occasional taunt to get them to buck their ideas up.
But like most people I think I'd very much like to have something worthwhile to do with my life - something that is satisfying for me and makes a difference to others (and pays the bills). I love having something I really believe in to be getting on with, and when I do I tend to go at it almost too much and wear myself out. I'm one of those full-speed or stop people - no good at relaxing or pacing myself. If I have something I'm really motivated by I wear myself out and often get a migraine next day. I've had to remind myself to eat enough, drink enough, even to go to the toilet, and generally take breaks, but it doesn't come naturally. I have had to learn to relax in the evenings which I do using DVD boxed sets. But I'm not one of those people with tons of energy all the time, even when doing something I love. I really envy those who do but I need a lot of sleep and space in between activities. The busy-busy, work-hard-play-hard lifestyles you hear about sound awful. I also hate those jobs where you spend a lot of time trying to look busy or where people spend a lot of time skiving off. If I'm at work, I want to be busy.

So no, I don't think I'm lazy. I am perhaps a little conceited though. I do feel that I should have a job that is worthy of me - not just some crappy thing that someone else wants me to do. That does sound conceited doesn't it, but I think I am realistic about my abilities. If I was just some gormless slob with no motivation, creativity or intelligence perhaps I would be expecting too much, but I don't think I am. I actually think I'm capable of a great deal and yes, I do feel the world owes me a living - not because I'm an entitled elitist, but because, well, why wouldn't it? If a person has all this potential why wouldn't the world want to use it? Just ignoring it because it doesn't quite fit their preconceptions of what an employee should look like seems to me like cutting off their individualistic noses to spite their free-market faces.
Yes, if I really was desperate of course I'd have to take whatever job was on offer, but it hasn't come to that yet. I know the capitalists would like us all to behave as if life was terribly hard and none of us has enough and we all have to work all the hours to survive, but that isn't the case and I hate to have to behave as if it is. Funny how the capitalist right always talk about freedom (especially in the US) and yet expect us all to do whatever it takes to make money and to tie ourselves up in financial commitments, and call us lazy if we don't. Something about that infuriates me and makes me refuse to give in to it.

But there is more to this anxiety about job hunting than simply being a refusenik. The very act of looking at the sits vac makes me feel like running away and crying. Whether online or in the local paper I feel overwhelmed by the choices. I feel I simply don't know where to start. No matter how I try to read and think, I find I am simply observing shapes on the page. They don't mean anything. I feel a panic rise and the more I try to force the words down my optic nerve and into the relevant part of my brain the more my mind slides off and wants to do something, anything else. It feels like a waste of time. It feels futile. It feels like what these people are writing about has absolutely nothing to do with what I can do, and, at its worst, is designed to exclude me. A lot of the job titles mean nothing to me - mostly, I guess, office jobs. Those that do make sense are either things I'm not qualified to do (teachers, mechanics, nurses etc) or menial, so it tends to be the menial ones I end up looking at - cleaners and labourers, shelf stackers, fast food and kitchen porters, sometimes landscapers and garden centre staff but all minimum wage or little more. It's a miserable experience. There is nothing about what I find in sits vac that feels interesting or promising. It is a dreary trudge, looking for something that will be boring or frustrating, and which will barely pay for the basics, and then only if I spend the vast majority of my waking hours doing it. And we're expected to be motivated and optimistic about job hunting! Hah!
Most people don't seem to feel this way though, and I'm not completely sure why. I heard my relatives and their friends talking about work when I was a kid and knew then and there that I wanted no part of it. What a waste of a life. I think I decided long ago to not have kids and to avoid the many other financial ties that go with being a grown-up (mortgages, cars, insurance, pensions) so that I could spend less time at work and do something that meant something to me. Mostly I've managed to do that, until now. Now I have the flat and a car and the business. Still, at normal self-employed gardeners' rates (£16 - £20/hour) I can live on three days a week, plus whatever the nursery brings in, and until Miss Green so selfishly upped and died, it worked. Three days a week. £300 a week. It doesn't seem too much to ask. I don't need much. I'm not asking for much, until now.

But the question you must be asking is "Surely there must be something else you can do? It can't all be office jobs and minimum wage" and I have to agree. I find this perplexing too. I have two good degrees, and, as I said a whole lot of other good qualities going for me and yet I can't for the life of me think what to do with them. I'm sure most of the people I graduated with have had good post graduate jobs and taken it for granted that that was what to expect. The economic climate has probably lead to many disappointments but through no fault on their parts. They just expected to get good jobs. Why not me? Why is that so unimaginable for me? I expect also that many of them have found jobs that have little to do with what they actually studied (transferable skills and all that). I expect most of them are on salaries far higher than mine, and that many would be able to work freelance, self-employed or as part time employees, which would suit me fine. Why have I never even attempted, or even been able to imagine attempting to get into a similar position? I have simply never had a graduate level job (except for a brief and ill-fated sojourn in teaching in further ed.) Isn't that odd?

I think I have a distorted view of what it's like to be at work. I actually have a deep fear of what it would be like to be in that situation. It's not exactly a phobia, but I don't think it's particularly rational. Even so I can't seem to get past it. I think I fear that if I'm put in some position of responsibility, that sooner or later I'll fuck up and let everyone down, and the humiliation will be awful. That is pretty much exactly what happened with the teaching. I was fine for a while, although I had more of a sense of winging it and getting away with it than of feeling competent and confident. Then the summer term came around and things began to fall apart and my confidence just dropped away completely. I couldn't think clearly. I just wanted not to have to do it any more. I said some stupid things, made some mistakes. I couldn't talk to anyone - I tried but they just looked down on me, and got increasingly exasperated with me. I was on my own. Bear in mind this was my first teaching job and the college in question (Plumpton) had no arrangements for mentoring a new teacher - they just wanted fully formed staff to just get on with it. But even so, I don't feel other people in my position would fail so completely. Something else would have happened. I don't know what. The same sort of thing has happened in the past when I have had any kind of responsible job. I interview well, interestingly, and then I go in with confidence and energy, but then sooner or later things start to go wrong, and sooner or later they find an excuse to be rid of me. Partly I think perhaps when things start to go wrong I become defensive, but it's not like I don't ask for help. I ask too often perhaps. There is a phase early on when I am almost too keen to please.

Maybe I burn out from the anxiety or maybe it's just a periodic thing - every few months I just go into a phase when I can't function properly and I just need to coast for a while. I'm prone to periods of depression and low energy even when I have something good to do but employers above all want employees who are consistent, and I'm not. And it's not just the employers - it's the colleagues too. I think a lot of people, even if they don't particularly like their job or their boss, at least enjoy the company of the people they work with. I feel though, at some point, they will all be looking at me and wondering what is going on, and judging and dismissing me. That's why I hate work - because I feel that that time will come, sooner or later. Maybe I fuck up or maybe I just lose my energy. Either way there seems to be no way up, or at least, I've not found one yet.

And yet I don't really believe it has to be this way. I don't know how it can be different but I'm sure it doesn't have to be that way.

I have had two jobs that weren't this way - Miss Green's garden and a garden centre job I had back in the 80s. People seemed to accept and even like me. I fucked up sometimes but it didn't seem to matter too much. They left me to it, and it seemed to work. Of course both were fairly menial. There were no real ramifications if I did badly, and I did ok at both. Miss Green had no problem with me starting late and finishing late - a timetable that seems to suit me well. Why are so many bosses preoccupied with starting work early? I can force myself to get to work by 9 or before but they won't get the best out of me. I naturally wake at about 8 but it takes me a while to get going and I like to take the morning to potter about getting household stuff done, having a proper breakfast (usually about 10) and generally getting my brain in gear. If I'm forced to move around too fast in the morning I just get clumsy and irritable and I'm no good to anyone. On the other hand I'm happy to work til it gets dark because evenings are a bit of a waste for me if I've been working hard all day. Miss Green was fine with this. I think she felt she got her money's worth. Even one winter a few years back when, thinking back on it, I must have been very depressed, instead of working in her garden I sometimes just went for a walk in the woods. There was nothing much to do in the garden and Miss Green seemed happy with what I did do. This last year though we got loads done. I got on well with the other staff and although I mostly worked alone I miss them now. They were a good bunch.
I think I need to be trusted to get on with things even if I'm not always at my best. I like to think my good times easily make up for my bad. When I'm on form I am really very good - very hard working and very bright, but I'm not like it consistently, and I'm certainly not like it if I feel my boss or colleagues are looking askance at me. That way leads to The Plughole of Doom described above. The more people push me the worse I do.

What else could I do? I'm good with deadlines and I'm good with having one task at a time to complete. That's why I was good at uni. I'm quite good in a crisis but I don't function well with constant nagging and suspicion. I'd like to work from home, freelance, part time, working late? Surely people do that don't they?
This is when the other problem kicks in - which is that I suspect the people who do those kinds of jobs come from a different social background than I do. My background, as I've said before, was all about getting a 'proper' safe secure full-time job. I knew, as I said, from an early age that that wasn't what I wanted but I never knew how to do anything else so I've been scrabbling about around the edges ever since. I'm fairly solitary so I don't have contacts, and I don't have much professional confidence so I don't 'sell myself' well. I'm neither one thing nor the other. There are various possibilities I can imagine for someone who writes reasonably well and knows a lot about gardening and ecology and so forth but I wouldn't have a clue how to go about 'putting myself out there'. I've made some tentative steps but, as with job applications generally, I don't seriously think they'll amount to anything. It feels like going through the motions.
The nursery is the only thing I can say I really know how to promote and make the best of but it's a very niche market and I doubt it will ever make me a living. I've had this idea for being a kind of planting consultant - working with garden designers and landscapers (who often, bless them, don't know much about plants, although obviously I can't point that out to them) but deep down I really don't believe in it. Like my novels - I love them and think others might well enjoy them too but I've done no serious PR, and only attempted to approach publishers once. On the one hand I am excited about what I do and believe it could be really good. On the other hand I don't really genuinely believe it will happen. It doesn't matter how positive I feel about what i do because i don't really believe anybody else will be interested, or if they are it will only be in a way that makes my original idea so distorted and dreary as to be no more worth doing than some menial repetitive chore. They'll just make it about money, or they'll dumb it down and make me do it their way (even though they know massively less about it than I do). I have no real trust in collaboration or teamwork.

Maybe I have too high an estimation of my abilities. I don't feel particularly intelligent but I think I have a certain originality of thought and creativity that could be valuable if anyone chose to use them, but they can't be forced into a mould or they won't work. If as a boss it is more important to you to have things done your way than to foster individual creativity you won't get anything out of me and we will both have lost out. You will also miss out if it is important to you that I look the part (so important that you are prepared to reject me on my appearance, no matter how able I might be. And when I say 'appearance' I don't mean clothes or grooming - I mean my ability to look positive and confident when I don't feel that way.) Apparently we're all on the sales team these days. Of course there are jobs that genuinely need people to work well under stress (doctors for example) and to be highly competitive (sales perhaps), to be 'team players' (sports, obviously), to always appear confident and charming (hospitality) and to turn up early every morning (farming), but probably not nearly as many as is often insisted and I suspect these things have just become a fetish of bosses who are under the delusion that everybody should be like them.There is no longer a place for the gifted misfit in the back room, except maybe in IT. Perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone was like this, but we're not. Does that mean we aren't allowed a decent job? Anyone who took me on would have to accept me as I am - not due to some egocentric arrogance on my part but because I simply don't seem to be able to be any other way. 

I'm sure I'm far from alone in this. I've met enough gifted weirdos in my time to know that there are a lot of us, excluded because we can't conform and don't know how to do it another way. Many of us turn to drink or drugs or maybe move into some alternative lifestyles, claiming benefits, doing a little cash in hand here and there, frustrated and anti-social or harmlessly stoned. I don't do any of those things. I keep holding it together, making it up as I go along, living as small as I can so the little I do make (and pay my taxes on - it's become a point of honour) is just enough and I have time to myself to do the things I really care about (and there are so many things).

I dare say some more gardening work will come along - it's just a matter of time. I only need another day or so. Mum seems finally to get me now. She doesn't want to see me lose this flat or the nursery but I hate depending on her.

What I learned last year was to see myself clearly, and instead of subconsciously giving myself a hard time for being that way I would be able to look at how I am with understanding and compassion - not as a failure but as just another human being muddling through. So today I accept that although life would be easier if I were more biddable and able to hold down an ordinary job, or better if I were more confident and able to hunt out the work I'd really like, instead I am this person who cannot be either of those things. Some other way will have to be found, but for now, acceptance of how I actually am, with understanding, patience and compassion rather than contempt, disappointment and frustration, is what I need.

I'll talk about women next time