Job Applications

I detest writing job applications. Yet here I am doing it again, after swearing never to write another one in my life. I have a perfectly good job but something inside keeps niggling away. I’m sure I could do the job that was advertised, and it is only for ten weeks. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain – experience at a higher level, more options in the future and of course that little bit more money would never go astray.

I applied for the job and didn’t get it. No-one did. Unlike some of the other applicants who threw their hat in the ring, I called the convenor for feedback. She gave me lots of useful advice, including how to structure my paragraphs to make it easier for those on the panel to find key information. The first sentence is to introduce what I will talk about, the second to state how this relates to the selection criteria and the next sentences to give detail before closing off with the impact of my work. It sounds easy but is incredibly difficult to do in half a page with several examples.

I am not a fast writer and I do overthink things. The first application took a good couple of days. Rewriting this application, I started from scratch and put my ideas into an Excel spreadsheet under each category. Just that process took two days to complete and then another day and a half to rewrite the application within the limited space provided.

The job hasn’t been readvertised, but I am ready. I have asked my boss for some feedback, and we will meet tomorrow morning to go through what I have written. No doubt there will be more changes. I have come this far, so I can go the distance. There are no guarantees that I will be successful next time, but at least I have listened to feedback and learnt some useful tips in the process. Surely, that is worth the time I have invested.

Portrait

Portrait by Varosha: https://linktr.ee/Varosha

I never expected that I would have a portrait painted of myself. While I have sat as an artist’s model for a life-drawing class in my late twenties, the results were only sketches, and I doubt my face was the object of interest. In any case, I never saw the finished products at the end of the session, and I’m certain they would not have survived the passing of time.

Painted portraits are quite a different proposition. They tend to be the hallmark of people with power or fame. Why would anyone paint me? I don’t hold a position of authority and the only thing I’m famous for is leaving my belongings behind. So, when the callout came from the London Writers’ Salon for subjects willing to be painted during a writing session, I thought to myself, I’m in!

Varosha is a Bristol based writer and artist. She is currently Artist in Residence with the London Writers’ Salon, and her project is called ‘The Daily Faces.’ The concept is quite simple but oh so clever. Over the period of about a month, she will paint 32 portraits of people who join the daily Writers’ Hour. These paintings will then be laid out to look like two Zoom screens. In other words, they will look just like what we see when we log in – random faces all coming together to write in silent companionship for an hour.

I didn’t know when the actual painting would take place. Then, out of the blue, I received an email from Varosha to say that she had painted me during the previous writing session and attached was a photograph of the portrait. I didn’t expect to have such a strong emotional reaction to the painting. I absolutely love it. While I look more serious than I usually am, the likeness is astounding and reflects the way I look during the writing process. I also appreciate that when I study the portrait, I see that she has captured something of the essence of who I am. All this without having met me! I feel deeply honoured to have been chosen as one of her subject.

I am glad I had no idea when Varosha was planning to paint me. I am sure vanity would have kicked in and I would have chosen a brighter lipstick and maybe even tried to strike a pose or two. I certainly would have planted a fake smile on my face to ensure I didn’t look grumpy. As it is, the portrait is an honest portrayal for which I am grateful.

I invite you look at the rest of the portraits Varosha has painted during the Writers’ Hour, at: https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/thedailyfaces/?hl=en

My young travellers

My daughter and her boyfriend are leaving for Scandinavia tomorrow. They are typical of their generation in that they love travel and adventure. The more the better is their motto.  They have scrimped and saved for a year, booking Airbnbs months in advance and paying for smaller flights as they earned their money. As seasoned travellers, they are well-organised and have a knack for finding stunning places off the tourist track. Each of their days is accounted for, but they have left enough time to be immersed in nature wherever they go.

There are certainly similarities with how I used to travel in my twenties: bags packed at the last minute, doing things on the cheap, not worrying about getting sick or having an accident on the way. I comfort myself with the knowledge that they have mobile phones and that bank transfers are almost instantaneous. Today I gave them a last-minute present; four Apple Airtags in case their luggage gets lost. These are all advantages I could never have even dreamt of in the 1980s.

I was much less adventuresome than my two jetsetters. But then, I mostly travelled on my own. On my trips I tended to visit relatives, retraced places where I had lived as a child and met up with university friends who were on similar missions. I have mostly travelled to the same five countries time and again, apart from the occasional side trip to uncharted territories. What always drew me to a place were the people I knew there. I slept on friend’s futons on the floor and enjoyed their hospitality which I returned when they visited Australia. This pattern continued for five or six years. I still stay in touch with a handful of these friends and enjoy visiting them, whenever I can manage.

My daughter has gathered friends around the globe too. Like me, she is good at keeping in touch with them. Her friends are more mobile, but it has become much easier to connect with each other. In my twenties, I was sending weekly handwritten Aerograms and had to wait a week or longer for a reply. My happiest days were when a letter or two awaited me in the letterbox. I have kept most of these correspondences and they have become treasured mementos of the past. Technology sure has speeded up communication, but I miss the handwritten letters in the mail.

The young travellers have now departed to begin the first leg of their journey. I am left with my studio filled with their belongings and a much-loved dog to look after. I will miss the long evenings playing board games, the smell of new recipes emanating from the kitchen and the quick-witted repartee between us. Yes, I will miss them, but I am also grateful that they have this opportunity to travel.

Bon voyage and a safe return!

A reflective practice

Are still looking for a way to put 2022 behind you and stay positive about what this year could be like? I have a great practice for you that won’t take up much time and bring you some clarity about what is important for you to do in 2023.

  • Take a piece of paper and rule a line down the centre, as above.
  • Put a plus sign on one side and a minus on the other.
  • List all the great things that happened last year on the plus side.
  • List all the not-so-great things on the other.
  • When you finish, peruse your list, and look for themes.
  • List these.

You should gain some clarity on what has been important to you – family, friends, bushwalking – whatever floats your boat.

Aim to have more of these in your life this year and less of the things that don’t bring you satisfaction.

Now, ask yourself, what did 2022 teach you?

Here is what I found out through this practice:

  • I have a strong need for connection.
  • My animals bring me more joy than I realise.
  • When I have forced myself out of my comfort zone the sky didn’t fall in.
  • Writing plays a central part in my life.
  • Grief has accompanied me for a very long time.
  • I am in a state of ‘divine discontent’, which will no doubt push me forward to do more of what I want from life.

What I learnt last year:

  • Small steps daily lead to success faster than the occasional burst of action.
  • Kindness matters more than we realise as does gratitude.
  • I can be imperfect and still have successes.

Thanks to the London Writers’ Salon for this great idea.

When in doubt, throw it out!

Many years ago, I worked at a restaurant as a larder cook. I knew very little when I started, but over time, I learnt skills such as slicing, piping, and presenting food – skills that have stood me in good stead. Another thing I learnt was that left over food needed to be treated with care. The chef’s rule was, ‘when in doubt, throw it out.’ Obeying this rule has probably saved many from stomach upsets or worse.

I often cite this rule when I am faced with clutter. It applies just as well to plastic containers, useless gadgets, and the mountain of papers I have kept. Yet stuff accumulates and multiplies like weeds. Especially paper. As I write, my desk is cluttered with paper I need to sort, throw out or shred.

The end of the year is the time I tend to favour for a ‘spring’ clean. The days between Christmas and New Year are perfect for this job. Sometimes I throw out more than I should, but that is rare. More often than not, I don’t delve deep enough. This year, I am determined to go through papers I have kept because ‘they could come in useful someday’ and purge anything I haven’t looked at in the past year. Ten-year-old lesson plans and other teaching resources will be added to this pile. I’m not about to throw out sentimental letters or tax files – these will stay. It is the amassed pile of articles (now years out of date) and hard-copy work files that I will discard. If I have enough time, I will also tackle the computer and delete pesky duplicates and any unnecessary files!

I swore I wasn’t going to make a New Year’s resolution, yet this is beginning to sound like one. Could I call it some mad, end of year tenacious pluck, and avoid the weight of expectation?

I suppose it really doesn’t matter what I call it. All that matters is that I can reclaim my desk and eradicate feelings of overwhelm whenever I enter my study. I want to start the year with that fleeting sense of control.

Wish me luck!

Happy Christmas from Australia

I wish you all a glorious Christmas. In particular:

  • Harmony at the lunch or dinner table
  • Pleasant interactions with family
  • Equanimity if things don’t go according to plan
  • Gratitude for even the smallest gestures
  • Compassion for others and yourself
  • An expanding heart
  • Generosity of spirit
  • Acceptance of your own limits
  • Time out to recharge

Thank you so much for reading my weekly blogs, letting me know when you like something and occasionally leaving a comment. I truly appreciate each and every one of you!

Morning pages

There are weeks when writing is hard. I just had one of them. Illness, deadlines, and distractions all got in the way, and I didn’t write. Although, strictly speaking this isn’t true. I always write something, it just might not be a blog post. In this past week I have written a job application (not my favourite kind of writing) and I have written in my journal. It is the one thing I manage to do almost every day of the year.

I try to follow Julia Cameron’s rule of three handwritten pages first thing in the morning. When time is tight, I will write one page rather than not write at all. As my friend Kellie likes to remind me, ‘done is better than perfect.’ When I write longhand, words flow from my pen as if my right hand was connected to my thoughts. Sometimes when I read a sentence back, I notice that I have written the first part of a word and finished it with the next one. It is fast, unedited, stream of consciousness writing.

Most of the time, my scribbles are not worth reading. They chronicle mundanities of life, sometimes strange dreams and on rare occasions, I might get some insight. Still, I persist. As Julia Cameron suggests, morning pages are for my eyes only and they are not meant to be creative writing but a way to clear the mind.

Weeks go by when I think that the morning pages have done nothing at all for me. Then I realise that getting those initial thoughts out of my system allow me to face the day without ‘stuff’ circling in my mind. I can leave all those thoughts in the journal. It is like having a container for loose change, only that in this case the container holds loose thoughts.

Every now and again, a solution to a problem presents itself in the pages. Granted, it doesn’t happen often. These are like little nuggets of gold that are left behind when all the dirt has been washed away. I can’t expect to find a nugget every day but when I do, I know that the process has worked its charm.

It takes me about fifteen minutes in the morning to write three pages. I don’t use prompts. I simply pick up the pen, put it to paper and let it glide across the page. I enter an almost a meditative state where I watch the pen do its work. I sit with a cup of tea, write, sip, write some more and finally close the journal. I rarely read what I have written, although it can be useful to go back after a few months and get a sense of how things have shifted.

I recommend the habit of morning pages. They allow you to clear away the cobwebs and start the day unburdened. You might find it the most worthwhile fifteen minutes of your day.

Hanging out the washing

Much of our lives is lived through insignificant routines. We shower, have breakfast, brush our teeth, cook, shop, do the washing, hang it out. We usually complete these chores the same way without ever questioning why. Most of the time we are on autopilot.

Take hanging out the washing for example. Everyone has a theory about the best way to do it. Whether it is putting like items together, not folding sheets, jeans to be hung from the top or T-shirts from the bottom, logical justifications abound. There are even YouTube clips showing the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to complete this chore.

Of course, I also have my way of doing things, but I have never been a stickler for rules. According to YouTube, my washing line would hardly pass muster. To me, if I’m in the right mood, hanging out the washing is a chance to act on a whim and see where my imagination takes me. I have had many favourite types of pegs for example. The colourful ones allowed for a myriad of different patterns – all blue one day or green and red the next. But I gave up on plastic pegs as they perish quickly and only add to the landfill. Next, I bought circular wire pegs from the Blind Society. The problem with these was that they were all dark green and I lost too many in the grass. I did wonder whether this was a cosmic joke played on us sighted people. Red would definitely have been a better choice of colour. Eventually, I bought some stainless-steel pegs which will probably last twenty years or more. They are bright and shiny and easily identified when dropped.

When it comes to pegging clothes, my underwear is suspended in rows like fruit bats hanging from a Morton Bay fig tree. My socks look like Christmas stockings waiting to be filled. The rest is hung higgledy-piggledy as my fancy takes me. I do like trialling different shapes that I can make with clothes, my favourite being a cow which requires a jacket and a T-shirt, as in Helga Stentzel’s washing line artwork (https://www.helgastentzel.com/). As I play with the different combinations, hanging out the washing is no longer a chore but a chance to be creative and escape the mundanity of a boring household chore.

The extra few minutes I spend give me a chance to enjoy a fanciful moment and smile at my crazy creations. I become playful, which is a feeling foreign to so many adults. I like that I don’t have a set way to hang out the washing, that I don’t bow down to the gods of ‘efficiency’ in my private life. There’s more than enough of that nonsense in the workplace without bringing it home.

The car park

There are times when spending a little extra cash could save your sanity. But then, what is your sanity worth when compared to a good story?

This story starts with my daughter Ella and I arriving in Adelaide. We drove around the block twice, looking for an entrance to the hotel carpark. There wasn’t one. The bartender/concierge advised us to park in one of the many carparks in the area.

‘There’s a cheap one right across the road,’ he added, noting my displeasure at having to drive further afield and pay for the inconvenience. 

While I took our luggage upstairs, Ella went to park the car. She returned a short time later with a smug look.

‘I was looking for the pay station and found a note saying it’s unattended. We can park there for free,’ she said, satisfied with her discovery.

The following day, I went across the road to look for a parking attendant. I eventually found a bum-bagged, dishevelled employee to whom I explained that we needed parking for four days. He grunted in a manner that a certain breed of young men has finessed.

‘Sixty,’ he said.

‘Can I drive in and out at any time?’ I asked.

‘Uh-huh.’

‘We’re leaving on Sunday,’ I ventured

‘Mm,’ he acknowledged without looking up once.

I moved my car closer to the entrance of the unlit, cavernous space. With its broken windows and filthy floors, it would have made a perfect setting for a British murder series. I couldn’t help but look for the acid bath which surely was hidden in a corner somewhere. It didn’t help that Ella and I had listened to a whodunnit while driving to Adelaide. In that story, the body was stuffed into a freezer in a basement.

The following day, I ventured across the road to retrieve my car. I was glad I had parked it close to the entrance as there wasn’t a soul in sight. Not even the young grunt. I drove to Port Adelaide, walked along the schmick, renovated wharf and went past a house where I had lived in my late teens. It was still there but across the road were the ever-multiplying modern townhouses. The area is still far from genteel, but it has climbed up a rung or two in the property market. I took a couple of obligatory photos while the next-door dogs barked incessantly. It was time to leave before someone peered out from behind a curtain and called the police.

I was tempted to drive to the beach but decided against it. The beach could wait for another day. I drove back to dingy parking lot, locked the doors, and bolted across the road to the safety of the hotel.

The next morning was Saturday. We slept in and Ella was running late.

‘Could you drop me off?’ she pleaded after downing her triple shot espresso. Not that it seemed to make much difference to her demeanour.

‘Sure,’ I said, planning a day at the beach with a good book in hand.

As we crossed the road, Ella was first to notice.

‘The roller door is shut!’ she cried.

It is uncanny how a day can turn 180 before the mind has time to absorb the consequences. Ella was already jumping into an Uber while I stood fuming in front of the locked door. I called the number on the sign and listening to a message.

‘The person you are calling is unavailable. No message will be left as the mailbox is full.’

I dialled again in disbelief. Unsurprisingly, I received the same message. Over the course of the next six hours, I became intimate with the recorded voice.

I accosted two police officers in Rundle Mall and explained my plight.

‘Yeah, that’s a pretty shonky outfit. You’d be better off parking in one of the other places. There’ve had a few break ins and I guess that’s why they locked it up.’

‘But it says 24 hours!’ I said.

‘Go back. I’m sure you’ll find that they’re open by now,’ the friendlier of the two advised.

I walked the four city blocks to the carpark, buoyed by the optimism of the boys in blue.

There’s nothing more shattering than false hope. The roller door was still firmly shut. In desperation I asked the bartender if he knew about their opening hours.

‘They’re usually open. There’s a side door off a lane you can try,’ he said while polishing beer glasses. I don’t know whether he seriously thought I could drive my car through a side door, but I investigated anyway.

The lane was heavily graffitied but harmless in daylight. I found the side door jimmied. The deadlock bolt banged against the splintered door frame. Without thinking, I entered. A shaft of light from the open door allowed me to see my car in the distance. The only other vehicle was a white van.

‘Hello?’ I shouted into the void. No answer.

I felt a shiver go down my spine. Surely, it was safer to leave now and come back with Ella. My fingerprints were all over the jimmied door by now. Was I breaking and entering? Surely not. It was broken already. Entering? Well yes. Maybe my partner in crime could work out a way to get the car out.

Ella wasn’t given a choice when she returned in the afternoon.

‘We’re going over,’ I said. ‘I have a plan. We could try to lift the roller door.’

Undeterred by her mother’s crazy idea, Ella jumped into action. We entered the carpark, called out in case an axe murderer was about to make himself known and made our way to the front. The chain on the roller door was padlocked and I was ready to admit defeat. Sure, I had thought about ramming the door, but my car would have come off worse. As satisfying as it would have been, a thin thread of sanity stopped me from doing a full Thelma and Louise job on the carpark.

‘I can’t believe you are going to give up,’ said Ella.

At moments like these, she is truly my daughter. Of course, we wouldn’t give up! We made our way to the back and found another roller door. No padlock on this one! I tried to pull on the chain, but my exertions led nowhere. Ella on the other hand could move it about 10 cm. At that rate it would be midnight before we could drive the car out. Still, she was a determined young Quasimodo, pulling the chain with all her might.

I went out to see whether I could help push it up from the outside. No hope. That’s when two curious young men walked past. One looked back at me, so I said hello.

‘Do you need a hand?’ he asked.

What does it look like, I thought but I was savvy enough to offer a huge smile and coo ‘Yes please!’

‘We don’t need a hand,’ came Ella’s muffled voice.

‘Oh yes we do!’ I answered as I implicated two innocent men in our trespassing/ breaking and entering operation. The taller one was clearly gym junkie. It took him less than a minute to pull the door high enough for me to drive through it. He even pulled it shut, which I certainly wouldn’t have done. After our heartfelt thank you and waves goodbye, we drove off never to see the men again.

Moral of the story: Park in a reputable carpark.

Alternative moral 1: Be prepared for any crazy eventuality and act accordingly.

Alternative moral 2: Never be afraid to ask for help, especially when doing something slightly mad.

Alternative moral 3: When in doubt, go for the option that offers a memorable story.

A brush with the Law

In 1977 it was hard to get a job. Only a year before, students like me who had finished school with a Leaving Certificate could find work in the major banks, the post office or Telecom. But times had changed, and unemployment was on the rise. On Saturday morning, I bought the Age, circled jobs, and waited until Monday morning to make my phone calls at a phone booth. The jobs were often gone by the time I got through. One day, I saw a job as a court clerk. I had done Legal Studies at school, and it was a subject I really enjoyed. I loved learning about different legal cases and the precedents they established or built upon. My enthusiasm must have landed me the interview.

As I had no work clothes, I borrowed a blue wrap around skirt with matching shoes from Cat with whom I shared a flat. The shoes had a wedge heel which was a novelty for me. I had exactly 40 cents left for the week which was the cost of the tram ride from the top of Milton Street to Flinders Street station. The solicitor’s office was located in a turn of the century building on Flinders Street near Elizabeth Street.

I walked up two flights of marble stairs, holding onto the heavy wooden balustrade so I wouldn’t go over on my ankles. On the landing was a heavy wooden door. I stepped into a small office and his secretary ushered me into the solicitor’s room. A kindly old gent sat behind a desk piled high with folders, tied with pink legal tape. He invited me to sit down and tell him why I wanted the job.

‘Legal studies was my favourite subject at school. I love reading about cases and the stories they tell.  You know, like Donoghue v Stevenson. That snail in the bottle, and she actually won! Duty of care and all that.’

He smiled. ‘Tell me about yourself, about your family and what you want to do with your life.’

‘My father died a couple of months ago and I’m looking for work now. I’m a real hard worker, you won’t regret giving me the job.’

‘Can you see yourself finishing your studies?’

‘Oh, yes! I’d love to finish my HSC and maybe go to uni. I’d love to study Law.’

‘Well, in this job you will be getting files ready and taking them to court. There’s a lot of running around but you will meet interesting people. It’s a good start for someone interested in the Law.’

‘Does this mean I have the job?’ I asked hopefully.

‘Well, I do have another couple of girls to interview but you are definitely on my shortlist. You don’t have a phone number, do you?’

I shook my head.

Well, give me a call tomorrow morning at nine and I’ll let you know.’

I shook his hand firmly with good eye contact. I had this in the bag.

Outside, the sun promised a beautiful day ahead. As I had spent my last 40c on the tram ride, I began my long walk home. The tram ride had been a pleasant half hour trip but the walk in Cat’s shoes proved much more arduous. It seemed to take forever just to get to Domain Road and there were still a few kilometres to go. I walked past all the modern office blocks and hotels on St Kilda Road, feet aching, and mouth parched. I walked past wolf-whistling construction workers, eyes firmly fixed on the footpath, self-conscious about how I looked. I walked past confident men in suits and tall women in tight skirts trying to keep up with the pace.

I walked past the boarded-up factory where my father once worked, and eventually reached St Kilda town hall where a few years earlier I had requested permission to keep a bus filled with animals in front of St Kilda marina! There were memories everywhere I looked, yet I still had quite a few more blocks to walk. All I wanted to do was to take the shoes off and drink a glass of cold water.

Finally, I reached Milton Street and the block of flats where I lived with three friends. When I arrived home, the girls were out. I put Cat’s shoes back into her room, wiggled my blistered toes and sat down, tucking my feet under my bottom in one of our large 1930’s armchairs. I sipped on a cup of instant coffee with two and a half sugars and closed my eyes. I never borrowed Cat’s shoes again.

The next day, I took some money from the kitty to make the phone call.  I was excited for my first real job in a lawyer’s office. The phone rang three times before my future boss answered.

’Thanks for ringing back. It was a tough decision. I can see that you would make an excellent court clerk and I’d love to have you on board. But when I got home last night, my neighbour came by. His daughter is looking for a position and, well, I’ve known the family for over 30 years. I felt I had to give her a chance. I’m sure you understand the position I’m in.’

I choked on my words, said thank you and hung up. It was a moment when my life could have taken a different turn and I was fully aware of the chance I had lost. I never did pursue a legal career. In one of those odd turns of fate, it was to be my daughter (above right) who would finish her Law degree and be admitted to the Bar.

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