The hardest decision of our lives

It will change everything. I don’t know how it got to this. But now we are at a point where we have to make what feels like an impossible choice. It feels so hard because it will change the course of our lives entirely. It’s terrifying. 

A week ago our Canadian visas were approved. Our flights are booked for a month from now. One month to move our entire lives to Canada. We don’t have the money this time. There’s no going back. But if we can’t find decent income, a house, an au pair, all the stuff that goes along with settling, we fail. Who knows where we’ll end up. The kids get dragged around the world. It’s not good, not what we’d hoped for. Even if we do find enough income, we won’t save money. Which means we can’t buy a house. Which means continued instability. And even if we did eventually save the down payment, we’re getting to that age where a 25 year mortgage really isn’t viable. We’d be working far beyond normal retirement age. We’ve left everything so late. 

I actually have regrets. I really can’t believe I do but it’s true. It’s so counterproductive to have regrets too. I need a fresh start, drop all that past and just begin afresh now. 

So then we stay. We build up more savings until we have a decent ten percent deposit in 12 months. We find a place in Melbourne. We buy it. We move. We settle. We make it our own, as close to anything we could get in Canada. We stay forever and have a happy, comfortable life, casting aside our discomfort at hot summers and mediocre seasonal traditions because we’re comfortable. We don’t have to worry much about money. We cruise along and forget all about how much better it might have been as Canadians. 

Is this it? If we stay will we never achieve anything else? A Melbourne future used to be my dream for many years. And then I lost it, for the sake of a new and illogical yet idealistic dream. Can we return to the happiness we felt at the prospect of moving to Melbourne five years ago? We need to decide now, tomorrow is the final deadline. I have no answers and neither does Mr Chewbacca. This is so very hard. 

Soundtracks

Do you ever step out your front door and a soundtrack begins playing in your head, as though you’re in a film? I do it all the time. It happens sometimes when I slam the car door shut, the music starts, something’s beginning. Often I am actually hearing music through my earphones. I see a lot of my life as a film, like I’m an outside observer. It’s full of cliches; both my life perceived this way and the actual act of doing this. But whatever. Before I did that unit on scriptwriting I thought I’d be really good at it, but it was such a disaster. It was part of my Grad Dip in writing. I had this teacher whose experience seemed to revolve around having written Neighbours episodes and she was one of those people that I just clashed with. Not in an angry way, we just didn’t really get each other. I felt like everyone else in the course was cruising along and writing up all these great ideas and mine was just poo, awful story about nothing written like a kid, terrible. It was such a rude shock, that scriptwriting could be a total disaster. But that’s actually what writing was for me for a long time, a total disaster. I always had talent, and I’m good with languages and spelling and grammar, but I’ve always been very immature, a late developer.

Anyway, I digress. I actually wanted to write about the future, or the next steps. I am about to complete this MA and I really don’t know where it’s going to lead. Potentially nowhere, which is a bit freaky really. I think the reason that’s possible is because I’ve never done study with a view to getting work. I was explaining this to a Walmart lady the other day, when she badgered me about applying for a credit card and I explained that I’m not eligible for a credit card because not only am I not a permanent resident of Canada, I also don’t have an income. She asked what I was studying and I explained and she asked where that leads career-wise. When I told her I wasn’t sure and that I’d never done any of my study with a view to getting a job, she was shocked. It was like it had never occurred to her that people did this. When she realised it was about happiness, she calmed down a bit and seemed to understand where I was coming from. But when I walked away, I realised I truly didn’t know what the hell was going to come of this degree, and that was because it was never what I really wanted to do. And what I really wanted to do, writing, was not what I got into. Because I haven’t shown myself to be good enough at it to warrant doing an MA. Italian, yes, I’m good at it, and this degree has been incredibly enjoyable and rewarding from a personal perspective, but I don’t want to do further study in Italian. I never wanted to do any study in Italian! Gosh that’s a hard thing to admit openly. But it’s true.

Regrets are a waste of time and I refuse to entertain them for even a moment. All I can do is look to the future, to where I want to be, and work towards that. It’s not Italian, and it’s not writing. I’d like to continue my editorial career in a freelance capacity, which will take discipline, and I think my study this past year has helped with building that. So that’s something. But as for my long term career, I’m not sure. Will it be teaching? I’m told I am good at that. I did a presentation a few weeks ago on King Lear and my fellow students all commented on the way I read the Shakespeare, how I engaged my audience. And I really enjoyed it. But teaching, that means I’m more like my mum than I’d like. That freaks me out. And teaching requires energy, giving of oneself. I don’t know if I have what it takes.

For now, I have less than a month left of classes before I finish this MA. So I’ll keep walking to my soundtrack, writing my snippets of stories, my to-do lists, my goals. One thing is certain: I will write a book one day soon.

The next step

So I’m over halfway with this super speedy, non-thesis-based MA. It’s in Italian Studies, of all obscure things. Unfortunately because of a scheduling conflict I won’t get to complete the collaborative program in book history which is kind of annoying as, although some of it was boring and pointless, some has been awesome and it would look good on paper.

So what next? After I graduate in May (or June), what do I do? I can’t work immediately in Canada as my study visa is restricted but regardless of whether we stay or go home to Aus, I need to work out what my plan is. I kind of feel as though I’d like to be at home with the kids but I don’t think that’ll be possible if we want a mortgage. Thumper has happily adapted to daycare so I have no issue with her continuing. So I’d be able to work.

But what will I do? I have no teaching qualifications, not that I’d really want to teach but it’s often the pathway chosen after a language MA. So if not teaching, what? Something academic? I have no idea. This degree is not the kind of thing people do to get a job. My Italian really isn’t good enough to be a translator or work professionally with the language. I think I could do coaching and beginner tutoring but I can’t say those prospects thrill me. I will be keeping my eye on the prospect of doing a PhD but that will not happen immediately, not while the kids are little.

I had a tentative look around online for jobs today and I found myself gravitating back towards digital and editorial stuff! Seriously, I thought I’d left all that behind, the online sphere and content production. I can’t imagine why anyone would look at what I’ve been doing and give me a digital role or something writing or editing copy. It’s an odd thing actually, that what I have the discipline to focus on and study is not actually what I want to do in terms of my work, and I have zero motivation when it comes to doing any sort of writing or editing training. I know I won’t be able to afford to do anything, but I feel like I should complete some professional skills courses on the practical side of things so I can go for jobs involving those. Ideally I still want what I’ve wanted for years, something flexible that involves writing and editing that I can do from home sometimes. I know, dream job, as if that’s going to happen. But you’ve got to aim high, I believe, you have to aim for what you want or there’s no chance you’ll even get close to it.

I’ve decided my first step is to begin publishing as much as I can, and that will begin with an essay I wrote recently for one of my courses at uni, the one about the migrant diaspora. There’s a bit of work to be done to get it to publication standard, and my professor is keen to help out on that and is very picky when it comes to correct English (which is great!) so that will be a nice win on the board. This blog is fun for me, it’s just me keeping a record of what’s happening, but it’s not really worthy of publication. I don’t edit before I post, I just kind of vomit onto the screen and hit publish, so writing with a purpose and to a standard will be a good for me. I do believe I have something important to say, or at least I can make a worthy contribution, so I’m going to give it a go.

How not to return to work after having a baby: part 1

One of the most significant challenges that has presented itself since having the Dude has to do with my work. I’ve not been working now for over a year and it’s a new experience for me but feels really right. The issue is that surviving on one income is not easy for us and we didn’t really plan well so now financial issues are putting the pressure on and I’ve been toying with the idea of somehow going back to work. But at my core I don’t think it’s the right thing.

I feel like I need to give a bit of background here: I never knew what I wanted to do career-wise and was always a bit anti-career, at least in terms of the whole ‘independent woman’ thing and making big money selling my soul etc. While I’ve never felt very maternal, I have always considered mothering to be an important element of female identity. Now I’ve had a child, I’ve come upon the realisation that having babies and bringing up children, real wholesome family life, is not in keeping with living in modern-day western society.

I never did any study to get a qualification that would get me a high-profile, money-making job. I only ever studied what interested me. So after my degree I didn’t really have a plan. As most Canberrans do, I ended up in the public service (yawn), and although it took a while to find a role that I was even vaguely interested in, I got used to the job security, decent pay, and other employment conditions that made working fairly cushy. I operated at about 50 per cent capacity at best, and enjoyed being lazy. I had no idea how good I had it. But the downside was that public service achievements are only impressive within the government sphere, which isn’t really in the real world. This means that although I was working my way up and getting into more editorial roles (the kind of thing that really held my interest), I wasn’t really getting ahead. Editing some corporate magazine which could easily get axed with a change of government and contains stories about some nerdy freak working in the public service for so long that he got a framed bit of paper from the Secretary of the department saying how long he’s worked there is really not that impressive. You end up having arguments with your non-editor but nonetheless power-tripping boss about why meaningless jargon like ‘departmental executive briefing paper’ shouldn’t be written with initial capitals and the only story you considered even remotely compelling was canned because it might encourage people to drink too much at the Christmas party and create a public liability insurance nightmare. It’s a whole other world, the Australian Public Service. There’s a book in that… Or at least another blog post.

Anyway, the government stuff did stand me in good stead when I went to London to live in 2007. I got work fairly easily and although the pay wasn’t fabulous, it was good enough to live as I wanted and spend too much on cheap crap from Primark. I didn’t pay a lot of my Aussie bills while overseas, so I came back to a dodgy credit rating in 2010. I made an attempt to sort this out early on when I discovered it while trying to apply for an extension to my mortgage to finance our wedding in April, but then I couldn’t get in touch with the obscure company my debt was referred to and the wedding happened, then I was pregnant four months later and the rest is history.

Mr Chewbacca and I didn’t really plan the Dude’s conception, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, and one thing just happened after another so quickly that suddenly I was facing a countdown to having no income and relying entirely on Mr C’s contract money. It’s reasonable money because he’s on a contract but he gets no holidays at all which makes it tough. We moved to the south west suburbs to save a bit but even that seems to have cost us more, or at least as much as what it cost us living in the ritzy eastern suburbs. We now live virtually week to week, with me regularly getting in trouble for spending too much on groceries. I have a bad history with money, let’s just say that. There is a whole series of blog posts in that!

A few months ago I was offered a freelance role out of the blue. It was perfect: digital copywriter, kick ass creative agency, government project, and I negotiated a good daily rate. It was to be 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, for two months. I tried to work out some agreement about working from home but that didn’t fly. So I looked into care. Fuck! Daycare was pretty much off the cards as soon as we considered it. There’s no way I’m putting the Dude in with twenty other kids and getting him infected with god knows what. Plus being away from me and from his familiar surroundings all day every day would just be unfair. So we looked at family daycare, which was a similar type thing. Not doable. My dad agreed to come and care for him while I arranged something, and Mr C managed to negotiate one day a week working from home which was fantastic. Eventually, after finding nothing suitable in terms of daycare, I interviewed a young nanny who was just awesome. I figured we wouldn’t be able to claim government daycare money but I’d be being paid so much that it wouldn’t really matter. I hoped that in the second month I’d get the chance to work from home more.

So… it all fell through! The project I was supposed to be working on was put ‘on hold’ (I’m assuming this means a government agency couldn’t justify that kind of expenditure of a website) and that was it, back to square one.  Oh, I was so happy!  Okay, don’t get me wrong, I wanted to work, and we really need the money, but the whole crazy scenario made me realise just how much the Dude needs me and how important my time with him is. I realised that this time is so very short and it could make a big difference for the Dude.  As I said at the beginning, I firmly believe that the way we live isn’t conducive to an entirely healthy attachment to family and upbringing, so mothering my son in a natural way is all important. But there are sacrifices to be made in order to do that. And so far, returning to work just doesn’t seem the right thing to do.

Integrity and the career dilemma

So now I’m really only a month away from moving back to Australia for good and I’m thinking about what I want to do job-wise when I get there.  I can’t afford to be out of work for long – in fact, the truth be told, I can’t afford to be out of work at all!  But realistically I have to be for a bit.  If I get a job by the end of January that will be an absolute miracle, but I can’t assume anything in that respect.  I am impatient and I want a job and a house within a week of getting there, but it’s simply not possible for things to happen that way.

Anyway, the main point of this post is to talk about my moral dilemma in terms of my career.  I stumbled by accident into web editing, and have been pretty reluctant all along to embrace it completely, despite being a lot better at it than even people who have made it their career.  And now I seem to have stumbled across marketing, which I briefly considered a couple of years ago but which I feel so morally opposed to in so many ways it’s not funny.

Marketing is such a transparent, cheap, superficial career. Account managers are responsible either for promoting, say, one product, or one company, or one class or series of products, or in the case of the organisation I work for, promoting the excellence of a certain group of companies within a particular industry, or promoting that industry to companies.  At least it has a vague moral base in terms of boosting the economy, but even that just doesn’t sit right with me.

The more I think about it, as must as I’m really morally opposed to advertising and selling non-existent or intangible products or services, I think this is more about me than about some overarching moral or ethical argument.  While I don’t agree with all that sales/marketing rubbish because it’s trying to force people to buy things they don’t want and spend money they don’t have, I also don’t feel as though I could do that, knowing full well that I am so opposed.  I can’t sell my soul… As Kath Day-Knight says after speed-reading a book, ‘Yes… it was good. I don’t agree, but it was good.’

It’s tough, because I know what I’m capable of, and I know I’d easily be able to do what those stupid marketing bimbos do – flog something with clever words and earn shitloads of money doing it.  But I can’t bring myself to do it, regardless of the money. 

There’s more to it than that.  The job I currently do is hardly important.  Yet I am vaguely interested in it, and I’m good at it, I’m very much a valued member of staff and I do a lot more than I’m required to do.  I actually do enjoy it.  In the grand scheme of things, however, it means nothing, achieves nothing, and the world would not even be remotely changed if I didn’t do my job, never mind whether I do it well or not.  The main difference would be that fellow members of staff would be slightly more stressed because they had to do work they didn’t understand and shoulder a burden that I’d otherwise I have sorted out.  But in terms of what my job is about and what it achieves in the world, it means nothing and doesn’t contribute or change the world.  It’s not even really that creative, just pretends to be.

And that’s another thing that shits me about marketing people. They claim to be all ‘creative’ etc etc – what crap!  Marketing is not creative, it’s not free, it’s sly and insidious.  It’s wrong.  The kind of people involved in marketing are more interested in whether they’re wearing the latest fashion accessory than actually contributing something in the world and saying something worthwhile.  Marketing is just sweet talking, it’s basically lying as an artform… so I suppose in that respect it is creative!  The sentiment behind marketing is like, ‘oh I didn’t lie, I just adjusted the truth ever so slightly’.  Bullshit!  A lie is a lie, end of story and I think anyone who can pretend what they do is okay when really it’s just lying for a living needs their head read seriously.

Gee, I’m really angry about this apparently!  So, back to my initial quandry: what do I do when I get home, how do I promote myself career-wise? What do I want to do?  That is the question.  Actually I know what I want to do, but I just don’t know how to market myself, given my current skills, or at least given my visible experience, to get the kind of job I’d want.  I think I can do it though.  The editorial industry is quite competitive and the marketing monster rears its ugly head at every turn!  I found that out the hard way when working for a publishing company, B2B.

It’s hard really because I’m 31 now, no spring chicken in terms of building a career, and while I know it’s always possible to change one’s career nowadays and do something different or tailor skills to suit, the editorial and writing sphere is rather hard to break into without starting right at the beginning.  And of course, being a typical artist type, I’ve got no discipline or ability with really putting in a hard slog and dedicating myself to making the best of things, putting in the effort and working hard to build my career.  I just float about and fall into things, and somehow the editorial sphere hasn’t been one of those things I’ve fallen into.  I need some contacts, some friends in high places with influence, who can help me place myself in the right context and move in the right circles to get me where I want to be.  And it’s hard as well because I haven’t actually done the sort of work I want to do, not just that anyway – I’ve always done bits and pieces.  How can I say I’m good at things but not actually demonstrate it?  That’s my question to myself.  Now to find a mentor I suppose… I could easily find a protegee… but a mentor?  What’s in it for the mentor?