Tag Archives: life

Taking Back the Streets

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I was walking to work the other day when just in front of me I saw a woman handing out flyers to people who crossed her path. I wasn’t in the market for a flyer that day as I already know everywhere and everything I like so there isn’t any point in showing me a new thing or place because if it was that good I’d already know about it.

The thing was she wasn’t stationary like flyer people normally are. Instead she was sauntering up the street and then pausing to give a flyer to a person who was too mentally weak to say no.

Not me! I thought. I’m taking control. There is no way on earth I will take one of these bloody flyers because if I do I will have to hold it all the way to work and I don’t need that kind of responsibility.

I was catching up to her. Every time she stopped I got a little closer, and because I was walking quickly and she was walking relatively slowly I was making gains all the time. My heart was beating faster in anticipation of turning down the flyer. I practised my lines in my head, No thank you! Not today thank you!

For a while I walked not far behind her. She seemed to speed up and I thought I would be waiting for ages until I got to turn her down. She veered into my path and in order to pass her I had to step onto the grassy verge at the side of the pavement but finally I found myself walking next to her.

This is it! I thought. This is my moment.

I turned to her, NO THANK YOU! I said to the back of her head. She stopped and turned, a confused look on her face. I paused and looked her in the eye, No thank you! I said again, pointing to her flyers.

I started walking, faster than before, leaving her in my dust. Well we sure told her! I said to myself inside my brain. Yes but…my brain started. What? I asked it. Well, you kind of messed up the timing and it made us look like idiots.

I had to admit my brain had a point. But I found the whole experience very exhilarating none the less and with practice I am becoming an expert at saying, No thank you! to all those street people asking for things.

Spare a moment to talk about our saviour- NO THANK YOU!

Hello madam, would you like to try- NO THANK YOU!

Would you like to help children with cancer? – NO THANK YOU! Although you’ve phrased that in a way specifically to make me feel bad and I think that is a bit unfair.

This is a Step Forward for me. Until recently I have wrestled with these people endlessly. It has wasted their time and mine. Rhys once came home to find a strange charity man taking my bank details, drying out from the rain with one of our towels draped over his shoulders. Now I have found the power. NO THANK YOU! I can say. NO THANK YOU!


Assertiveness Training – Part 2

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Soar means Situation, Objective, Action, Result, Reflection. There are too many Rs for this to work properly but no one minds.

Lunch. This morning I made the decision that today was the first day of the rest of my life and so instead of having Greggs for my lunch I have packed an elaborate meal of salmon and broccoli and wholewheat noodles. Because we only have half an hour and we are all the way up on the 11th floor we have to stay where we are or we won’t have time to eat. By now I am tired and a little grumpy and I wish today wasn’t the first day of the rest of my life because then I could have a steak bake and a fondant donut.

As I am the most popular people immediately flock towards my table where I am sitting, leaving the only other available table for the less popular people. I have been hoisted by own petard because though I crave solitude I now have to spend my half hour of lunch talking to everyone. When I open my lunchbox everyone makes impressed noises like, ‘Oooh’ and ‘Aaahh’ and I tell them what it is and how today is the first day of the rest of my life. I am glad they got to see that I am Eating Well because unless people actually see you eating this stuff you may as well not bother.

They ask about my book and I tell them about it. Irene – who does not need an assertiveness workshop and we don’t know why she is here – tells me if it isn’t any good in five pages she won’t even bother. Irene tells me I need to make it free to read on Kindle or she won’t bother reading it. I tell Irene that I am Poor and there will be no freebies until I can afford it. When everyone laughs I tell them, There will be no ‘lending’ or ‘borrowing’ of Red River until I am rich! And we all laugh again, except Irene who now has to find a new way to subtly undermine my achievement.

But I am tired and my food tastes horrible even though I’ve told them all how Really Nice it is. Luke is eating a Kit Kat and I want to slap it out of his hand and eat it from the floor. I am sick of talking about myself and so I ask everyone what books they like or what TV they enjoy but everyone is shy and says only the bare minimum. It turns out we have very little in common except for that we are all pushovers (not including Irene).

Luke talks about Game of Thrones and I make the obligatory joke that there are a lot of boobies in it and we all laugh until Irene says (quite inexplicably), I HATE IT WHEN PEOPLE TALK ABOUT SEX SCENES IN GAME OF THRONES AND I AM LIKE NO, NO, IT IS A RAPE SCENE NOT A SEX SCENE.

We sit quietly until it is time to go back to the classroom.

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An eagle soaring confidently.

Sunita separates us in to groups for more role playing. This time we are given a scenario and must act it out, taking it turns to be the one who needs to be more assertive. For our group we need to ask our boss for time off in lieu because they’ve made us come in over the weekend. It is my turn first and I am the employee and I am reasonable and assertive and do a good job. When I’ve finished someone gives me feedback and says, I just didn’t feel like you were invested enough. I nod and agree although feel this feedback is more about my acting skills than the content of my answer. Next, Luke is the employee and he goes from 0-100 and immediately starts threatening his boss with official complaints about his incompetency and selfishness. I say, Okay this was good but maybe you need to be a little less defensive? Luke agrees and has the look of someone dazed, as if he doesn’t know what came over himself. The woman who told me that I wasn’t invested enough praises his performance.

Finally, it is the turn of the quietest person I have ever met to be the mean boss and I think, Ugh this’ll be tough. But she surprises us all by suddenly becoming a total bitch and we all make noises like we are a Jerry Springer audience when she says things about being a team player and saying, Well you did ask me for more responsibility but now that you have it you’re asking for time off! It is a remarkable performance and when it’s over I tell her that she is a Secret Bitch and hides it well. We all clap.

The classroom is now hot and stuffy and there is a brief Palaver when we try to work out the air-conditioning and fail. A man from the office below is summoned to switch it on and then we all complain that it is too loud and the air is too cold. We are tired and don’t want to be here any more. Sunita asks two people she identified as the Best at the role playing exercise to show the class how it’s done. At first I think, Whatever, this will be totally boring. But it turns out they really are good at it and in turns I laugh and become angry and feel great pity for the one playing the employee. It is so good that it goes on for ages and we could all watch them for a long time but Sunita tells us we must get back to work.

I am given a piece of paper with a Feelings Wheel on it and we are asked to identify how we feel in the situations where we need to be more assertive. It feels like the kind of exercise they might give to children who have violent outbursts in classrooms. Nevertheless, I obediently write my situation down on my notepaper and consult my Feelings Wheel to choose my emotions when I’m in that situation (Anxious > Insecure). Then, we choose alternate feelings that we aspire to in that situation. I choose, Happy > Confident and we write down a way to get to those feelings by acting differently.

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We are all desperate to leave and cannot remember what it felt like to have the wind in our hair and the rain on our skin. All we know is the whir and clunk of an aged air conditioner and the smell of Nescafe on each other’s breath. We have already played so many roles today that we have forgotten who we are and why we are here. Am I a mean boss or am I an overworked employee? Did I just dream that I was an author?

A girl next to me opens a can of Coke and I whisper, Where did you get that? Is there a vending machine? And she tells me, No I brought it with me. My heart sinks. I sip the lukewarm water from the broken water cooler and remind myself that we can finish at 4 because we only had a half hour lunch. At least, I think, the role playing is over with.
Sunita claps her hands together once, There is just ONE more exercise I want to do today, she says, and we all die a little inside. This time, we must be interviewers and interviewees. We must use a technique with the acronym SOAR(R) when we give our answers to the interview questions.

Exhausted, our group dutifully interviews one another and provides feedback. This group is lovely and we all lavish one another with praise even though by now none of us give a shit. But when someone finishes speaking we all say WOW! You are SO GOOD. I can’t believe how good that was! And it’s so sweet and kind that I am buoyed for a while by the generosity of human spirit we are all showing. However, we all decide we can’t be bothered when we have ten minutes left and instead we just sit there and talk about our jobs and how stupid job interviews are. Sunita comes in and expresses disappointment that we have given up on the task but I tell her, We are tired, We have pushed ourselves all day and now we have nothing left to give.

So she gathers everyone back to their desks and starts to round up the day. I am so excited to leave that I can barely understand what she’s saying. Only ten minutes left, only six minutes left, only four minutes left, only one minute left!! Okay, I think, we have overrun by two minutes now. Five minutes. Has she forgotten her promise? If we had a half hour lunch, she said, we could leave at four. But now it is twelve minutes past and we’re still here. Quarter past. Twenty past! By now I am apoplectic. I have not refreshed my email for several hours and this is something I like to do at least every 3 minutes if possible. I think of that blissful few seconds between refreshing and loading where there is a possibility of a new email with exciting news before the disappointment of seeing that there’s no email or only junk email and it is like actual drugs to me. I am jonesing for a refresh and Sunita has lied in order to con us out of half an hour of our precious lives and none of us are saying anything because we are all total pushovers and the whole day has been completely useless! Is this another one of her Derren Brown mind experiments or is she just pure evil?

Soon it is 16:34 and she is handing us more pieces of paper and everyone is shifting in their seats and when I am about to scream she finally says, Thanks everyone! Have a lovely evening and when you get a chance please fill out the online questionnaire that I’ve emailed to you all!

Chairs are pushed back and everyone crams their handouts in to bags and says goodbye even though we all get stuck in the lift together anyway and have to make small talk all the way down eleven floors. There is no signal and I cannot refresh my email. When I am finally outside I have to put up my umbrella because the drizzle is turning to heavy rain. We all say goodbye and I enjoy the fresh air, taking big gulps and remembering what it is like to be a real person again. I look at my phone: no new email. If I was to check my feelings on the Feelings Wheel I would say I was Happy > Cheerful.


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Lovely canteen in the workplace

Lovely canteen in the workplace

You can stop your incessant emails and comments, a new blog has arrived. It isn’t that I have forgotten about this but rather because I have recently re-entered the workforce and have been very busy.

Sometimes I stop and I think, This is absurd. I think this because of times like five-thirty a.m on a Saturday, which seems like such an unfair and unnatural time to be active. Also, moments where I catch my eye in the reflection of the computer screen and stop to consider for a while that I am in a place I do not want to be, where I can’t read a book or have something to eat until I’m told I am allowed.

There are good bits, like when I get paid and I can buy things. I’ve bought a lot of great things and also some great stuff so far and I look forward to buying more.

But it is still weird. In work, I had to have an unflattering photograph taken and now I have to wear it around my neck all day when I am there. If I was to do this outside of work I would be labelled eccentric or even a narcissist, but in work it is just normal.

This isn’t one of those jobs where you have to wear smart lady trousers with no pockets. Here you can wear whatever you want so long as it is appropriate. If you’re confused about what is appropriate and what is not I have an anecdote which will serve to illustrate the difference. So here is the anecdote then. (Please skip ahead if you feel confident with appropriate casual work attire.)

A woman who works with my mother once arrived at the office wearing a t-shirt that said, simply, DYKE, in rhinestone lettering. Though this sounds like a very nice t-shirt and shows she is comfortable with who she is (right on, sister!), it is actually inappropriate. It is not the rhinestones that are inappropriate – they may seem more suited to evening wear but it is actually acceptable to wear them on a casual t-shirt in the daytime – but the word DYKE. There are many other words you can have on your t-shirt if you want to make a statement, perhaps test these on friends and family if you are unsure.

Because of the loose guidelines I start every morning wondering if I am dressed too casually. See, it is important to me to feel as though I am wearing pyjamas, as this reminds me of being at home and watching TV. That is where I am happiest.

I miss this at work. I sit back and think of my cats, lying in rays of light on the carpet, half asleep. I miss them so much. After work I buy them gold tins of cat food with fancy names, Ocean Fish in a White Sauce with Spinach, because I love them and I can afford to now. At home I serve it to them like a waiter, saying the full title of the dish before placing it down. They do not leave a tip.

After a long period of unemployment, it is normal to become accustomed to your own company. Also, it is normal to become unaccustomed to other people’s company. You spend so many days talking only to yourself and your cats, doing a fart whenever you have to, that it can be difficult to re-assimilate with society.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

A heron, free to spend his days however he wants.

It is strange to suddenly spend up to nine hours a day surrounded by people who are forced to be in your company. In many ways this is a good thing and you realise that despite our differences we are really All the Same. Except for people who are Just Awful, and you must spend time with these people too. You must smile and talk to them even if they have just slagged off all cats.

You must be nice because we are all a team and we are working toward a common goal. You may not care about the goal, it probably isn’t what you planned for in life. Your own personal goals might include being a best selling author and marrying Ryan Gosling when he stars in the adaptation, but while in work you must pretend you care about Their goal.

This is a good starting-off point for any working relationships, knowing and accepting you are all pretending to care about the same thing, you will always have this in common. If you need to engage with someone while you are waiting for your sports bottle to refill at the water cooler, try asking them about themselves. If they reciprocate, respond enthusiastically about their life! Not too enthusiastically because this can be frightening to more timid colleagues.

Several times a day you may ask yourself, Am I weird? because often you will say something and you will notice that your conversational partner has pinched their eyebrows together in a quizzical manner. Most of the time this will be about nothing and you will determine that you are not weird but everyone else is. But once in a while you will think you are weird and you will have to tell yourself to tone it down until you get home and you can fully be you again, talking to your cats and farting, happy in your DYKE t-shirt.


Kill the Poor

Who’s got two thumbs and watches tons of poornography? This guy! No, I haven’t made a typographical error, I meant to say that. What is it? It’s a word I made up to describe television shows including but not limited to: Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole, BritaIMG_3533in’s Benefits Tenants, Benefits Street and Benefits Estate. Others have called it Poverty Porn but I believe mine is better, even if it does require a little more explanation than Poverty Porn. To avoid confusion, emphasise the oo, Poooornography. I will let you practice saying it out loud a few times now so you can tell your friends about it later.

I watch a lot of poornography. There’s an influx of it lately because we are supposed to hate them for stealing all the money and living the Life of Riley while we all slug away on zero hour contracts for a pittance until we’re eighty years old. Well, you do anyway, as I am temporarily unemployed. I’m still allowed to feel superior, though, because I’m not Claiming Taxpayers’ Money. Only my mum’s. However, I don’t watch them to feel superior. I like to have the television on all the time, so there’s noise. It helps because sometimes, as you’re job hunting, you may think you value your happiness too much to apply for an outbound sales job in a call centre; but when you see the abject poverty in which some people live you feel like you should probably just do anything and be grateful for it and all.

I wonder why people think they’re living the Life of Riley when it always looks like they’re having a terrible time. It isn’t fun to not have a job. You look at things and you think, Ooh that’s nice, and that’s the part where you’d normally buy the thing but you can’t because you have to buy food instead. You apply for jobs and more often than not you don’t even hear anything back. It is a bit like screaming into an abyss, if you can find one. It is thankless. Interviews aren’t fun at all. And afterwards they tell you that you are the Reserve Candidate, Well done! But this is a bit rubbish to be honest and you think it would be good if the other person could get abducted by aliens or win the lottery. Then you think well if we’re wishing for people to win the lottery why don’t we wish to win it ourselves? You probably didn’t think that right away because your dreams have gone smaller because getting even an entry level office job seems so far away.

It is important to keep a routine. This is where many people will struggle. Do not sleep in, you must get out of bed and say, Today is going to be an Okay day! Remember that daytime television is a sinkhole. They will distract you with people who say Silly Things to get you wound up. Don’t let them derail you, instead look at all the jobs you could do. You might start to feel a bit, What is the point? and do a lot of big sighs, but try to hold yourself up like you are the person you always wanted to be because the Fuck Its aren’t conducive to job-getting.

When things seem unfair it is because they often are. If you think about it too much you might feel crushed by the weight of the unfairness and stay in your pyjamas all day eating biscuits, I wouldn’t blame you. Best not to think about it at all, if you can help it. Just put your head down and write another cover letter. Say, This could be the one! before you send it off and imagine yourself walking from the train station in the morning with a Brand Name coffee in your hand and a nice suit from Next. Try not to think about how Next won’t pay a living wage, it will depress you again.

Appreciate the things you’d miss if you were at work. Take an afternoon walk and say Hello to the other people on their afternoon walk. Pay attention to the way everything looks on a Tuesday afternoon so you can think of it when you can’t see it any more. Watch your cats sunbathing in the neighbour’s garden and break up a fight between two magpies on the street. Save a dog from running into the road and imagine your unemployment has a Purpose because you’ve watched too many films.

Do things you Love. Do writing. Do painting. Do exercise. You might forget what you like about yourself if you don’t. Try to imagine you are the beginning of your movie, the bit where everything is bad, and you have to have this bit so your character is Relatable. Then imagine the rest of your movie, when your book is published to much acclaim and your boyfriend Ryan Gosling is on about what an inspiration you are. Smile to yourself. He is handsome.