plumbing depths

I was waiting for her, not unusually.  She’d offered me a lift to the station but was still faffing with various things.  For something to do I embarked on washing up the breakfast things, filling the cafetiere with hot soapy water before casually tossing in some cutlery, new cutlery she’d given me as a birthday present the day before, stainless steel and heavy.  A knife punched its way clean through the base of the glass beaker, creating a neat hole in the corner.  I swore.

The day before had been one of my best birthdays as an adult.  The year before I’d visited Legoland with my nephew, his parents and both sets of grandparents.  We share a birthday and I was doing nothing else.  In previous years I had taken myself away somewhere, so as not to sit in a flat navelgazing about my stunted lonely life, but failing to avoid the thought patterns.  This year she was there.  She made breakfast and offered gifts and we went for a drive out of town towards the mountains, settling in a small town café bookshop.  Then we returned to the city and went to a local pub for dinner.

Smashing the cafetiere added to tension that had built up, a tension I couldn’t entirely free myself from even the day before.  This tension was because I was heading to London for an event which would also be attended by my main client, a colossal tit who I have come to demonise on these pages, but also a man whose medium-sized business had kept me solvent for the past three years.

The FuckThesePricks decision I thought I had made a couple of weeks ago; now it was time to follow through.  I had to do this.

My intention was simply to make him aware that I wasn’t scared to walk away from him and his business.  I was going to figuratively open a door and ask him if he wanted me Out, because being In wasn’t very comfortable or nice, and hadn’t been for a while.

Walking along the leaf thick pavements towards the venue I almost hoped he wouldn’t be there so I could win a reprieve and not have to go through with this.  Confrontation isn’t a natural strength of mine, particularly not face-to-face with a hugely deluded man of monstrous ego, a man many probably say negative things about, but rarely to.

So my heart sank upon entering the lobby and seeing that, amongst a sea of suits picking at a buffet, there was his distinctive bald pate, framed by those silver flecks.  It sank in the same way it sank whenever I saw his name in my inbox or on my phone.

Oh shit.  He was here.  I would have to do this.  My sphincter quivered slightly.  Stop it.  Man the fuck up.  It was going to be hard and scary but necessary.  In person would have more impact than an email or a phone call; it would be transparent.

I waited until the mid-afternoon break in proceedings before sidling up and integrating myself in his chat with a cool, good-looking young guy.  He said hello, slightly distractedly?  Offered one of his limp handshakes.  Then he barely offered me any eye-contact.  Was he slightly nervous, aware that his behaviour and that of his staff hadn’t been brilliant towards me of late?  The cool young guy excused himself to go for a cigarette and I heard a drum roll in my head.

If anything it’s possible I laboured my points a little too hard and was at pains to say I disagreed, I found him unpredictable, his colleagues hard to work with, I didn’t want to work with a bunch of guys who thought I was a prick.  At that last point, a shadow of a smile passed over his face, as if acknowledging this was a truth but for the first time seeing it from my perspective. He generally seemed stunned and his replies were weak.  People started filtering back into the main room and we agreed to pick this up when I was going to visit them the following week.  Without a proper parting gesture we turned in separate directions.  My heart was beating fast and I downed two glasses of juice before re-entering the room.

Fuck shit fuck bollocks.  What had I done?

The following day around noon an email dropped into my inbox alongside his name, marked with High Importance, the subject line: our chat. It began  Further to my “talking to”  yesterday.. and went on to explain a planned change in relationship, the full details of which remain to be seen.  The upshot is that I now need to look elsewhere for the majority of my income and I have not the faintest clue what is going to happen.  A large part of me wants to run away and go travelling, like I did when I couldn’t get a job around my 25th birthday.

I was having a new shower fitted when the email arrived.  After reading it several times and sharing it with my girlfriend, I chatted with my plumber.  He’s a good, bold, loud, geezery guy who I get along well with.  Like me, he’s a one-man band, and like me he’s also been subjected to difficult clients.  We spoke about life and work and difficulties at length.  We talked of how people perceive you or might try to sully your name to others if you disagree with them.  How some can naturally be more passive and agreeable, and get riled less by such things.  It wasn’t a chat you’d usually expect to have with your plumber.

I thought too again about how I’ve generally failed to win people over, both professionally and up until very recently, personally.  How people could glance at all the stuff at my CV and quite legitimately question how and why I haven’t stayed anywhere for very long.  Is he hard to get on with?  He can’t be a team player?  Probably a bit of a risk.

It’s the fear and the nerves which are the most difficult to manage, as well as the tedious, endlessly disappointing necessity to earn money.  While it’s liberating to know I won’t have that man’s name constantly infecting my inbox and social feeds, there’s the fear of not finding anything else.  If, a few months from now, I have nothing sustainable, then it will look a brave but stupid act.

At semi-dramatic, unsettling times like this pop music can be powerful.  Selecting the right sort of light track with quirky lyrics on your iPod can offer a rejuvenating “it’s-all-bollocks-anyway” type of perspective.  You can smile to yourself in the street like a simpleton or slump to your knees in tears.

For now I’ll try the smiling thing.

And investing in platitudes like “I’m sure it’ll work itself out”, “something will come along”, etc.

And hoping.

Actually no, hold me.

Sob.

 

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in decision

Things have been unsteady on the work front recently.  I’ve been unsure what is happening with my main client, and remain so.  I’ve been a malleable bag of nerves.  I’ve been angry and glum and scared and bitter and resigned and hateful.

A couple of weeks ago I thought a decision had finally been made.  Fuck these pricks now, I eloquently decided, really.  They, and particularly he, had done it this time.  That was it.  I was better than this now, I told myself.  I like myself more than to keep putting myself through this, subjecting myself to him.  So I’d be taking a big risk, throwing huge caution to the proverbial wind if I burnt bridges and told him where to go – his medium sized business has sustained my solo operation for the best part of three years now.  It provides my financial backbone, but if he’s making me so miserable, why should I keep it going?

Because it’s money and I don’t know what else I’d do.  Jobs aren’t easy to come by, nor are clients as reliable (to date), and I don’t want to be poor or have to begin to make lifestyle compromises.

They had recently hired another freelance marketing communications person; a prettier, blonder, more female, cheaper, less jaded version of me.  (In all fairness she is a competent, well-written, perfectly pleasant young mum who speaks northern English better than me, and is hot).  They were delegating more and more work her way.  Less and less work my way.  Everything she provided was wonderful off the bat.  Everything I provided was attacked and ripped apart.  They had grown even more unpleasant and unreasonable and harder than ever to work with.

So I thought: Fuck These Pricks.  That’s it.  I would feel immensely liberated to know I would never see that one name in an inbox ever again.  Especially at 11.30pm on a Friday night, saying something ridiculous or totally pointless, which I am inexplicably unable to ignore.  (My brother recently said it sounds like I have the worst of both worlds, before prescribing some typical brotherly advice; advice which may work great if he is advising a duplicate version of himself).

Anyhow, that was a couple of weeks ago now and not much has changed – except my ever diminishing workload, more indicators of their confidence lost in me, and the confidence grown in my fellow freelancer.  She has the measure of me now, a couple more large bites and she’d swallow me altogether.

In the immediate aftermath of FuckThesePricks I did apply for real jobs, and luckily bagged a short stint of freelance back on a university campus.  It’s debatable whether that helped or hindered my current outlook.  I was doing interesting academic research copywriting which engaged me, educated me.  I was working around more pleasant folk with less bulbous egos, sentient beings, nicer people from the south of Britain with whom I could effectively communicate.  It served to highlight and exaggerate what a total raging man-child buffoon my main client is, how equally dense, slovenly and not terribly pleasant his staff are.  I briefly enjoyed my work.

But it was only ever going to be a short term thing, and now everything has quietened again.

I sought counsel from business associates and occasional partners who I do rate and like.  Their basic advice was that by being small you are also nimble, you have no overheads or children or major responsibilities, so sit tight and don’t seek full-time job again.  You don’t know how you might react to that after having such independence for so long; you might regret it.

Having faith and needing to have faith that “things will be ok” can be a struggle, particularly if you are naturally risk averse.  Blindly trusting that stuff will somehow work out produces nerves.  It’s impossible not to ask “but what if it doesn’t?” and sigh like you sigh in the face of any lazy platitude.

I find some kind of solace in knowing professional paths are rarely simple; much is down to chance / nepotism / accident, we all hit troughs and, maybe not quite “peaks” as such, but still fairly steady inclines too, and that’s all ok. We’d probably get even more bored otherwise. It could be that our caveman brains are wired to only cope with straighter paths, and that’s is why hilly unpredictable tracks can feel so tough.