I can’t be the only one who’s ever been bored/curious/sad enough to Google my own name. If you type the word “Parkin” into any search engine (yes, other brands are available), somewhere on the first page there’s an article on Parkin (Ligase) – a protein coded into the human gene. It interacts with a lot of things, but nobody knows what it actually does. I think that just about sums things up.
The day before my first visit to the Jobcentre, a few people decided to offer me some warnings.
“It’s the most depressing place you’ll ever go.”
“You can feel your will to live abandoning you at the door.”
“Seriously, you think you know what ‘depressing’ is, but you have no idea until you’ve been there…”
It’s alright, I thought. I can face this. It’s a necessary evil until I get that magical first job – which of course will only take me a couple of weeks, because I’m hopelessly naive – and then I’ll pay so much income tax I can erase all memory of the place from my mind and complain about early mornings again. I can do this.
Seriously, I thought I knew what ‘depressing’ was, but I had no idea until I’d been there.
It’s a hard enough sell at the best of times to explain to people just how worthwhile and important it is to spend years studying books. You walk into a party; when the inevitable “So, what university did you go to?” conversation reaches the “what did you study?” point, it’s usually 50-50 whether your answer will be met with “ooo, interesting” or “so what exactly do you expect to do with that?”. From there, the conversation goes one of two ways. Either you find yourself discussing the finer points of Martin Amis with a total stranger (of course, being an English graduate, you excel at talking about authors you’ve never read), or you offer an impassioned defence of the arts to a stony-faced accountant with the kind of enthusiasm that can only be demonstrated by those on a quest for self-validation.
How do you make this conversation more difficult? You do what anyone with nerve-based verbal diarrhoea would do. You mention the extra year you spent specialising in very old books that nobody else has read.
“Hi, I’m Sarah. I spent four years becoming moderately knowledgeable in medieval and Renaissance literature. Would you like me to name every surviving Shakespeare play in under three minutes?”*
Now, just try and imagine this conversation at 10am on a Monday morning, with a tired-looking middle-aged man across the desk from you, trying to hide his silent despair at the fact that of all the people he could have been given, he’s ended up with you. You, who he fears will be stuck in his caseload forever because all you can do is read and write. I mean, reading and writing. That’s the minimum anyone expects. The database is going to hate you. He might disappear at lunchtime for a swim in his own frustration, if he wasn’t worried about getting lynched by the chavs outside.
The problem with these artsy-fartsy people, he’s thinking, is that you can’t pin them down. This girl has just spent five minutes telling me what she gained from her degree, and none of it’s in a drop-down menu. What am I meant to do with her? So he does the same thing he does with the other artsy-fartsy people: by mutual consent, the pair of you pick some suitably generic job functions, appease the sacred Database of Destiny and get you out of there sharpish. See you next time, and have something better for him then.
It’s well documented that there are thousands of people out there in exactly the same position, and relatively speaking I’m very lucky, so before everyone starts pelting rotten tomatoes and ordering me to stop moaning, I should clarify that’s not what I’m trying to do. However, like the rest of the 20.5% in the youth unemployment statistics, I’m sort of looking for things to do; like a sizeable chunk of those people I’m also in mourning for my so-called ‘academic career’.
The natural consequence of this, as someone who misses writing essays in the knowledge that at least one person is obliged to read your response to a topic, is that you’ll have to put up with me constantly reminding you that I wrote about something, and wanting you to nourish my underfed ego with your reading.
Yeah, sorry about that.
*Slightly fabricated. I normally wait at least three minutes before pulling that trick out.