Ethan Switch - Wednesday, 31 December 2003
A clean, unbroken run of ninety-three weeks will soon come to an end early in 2004. The streak forms part of the disillusionment of existing in a world that is the hungry realm of ambition and entrepreneurial vigour. The track in this case is that of the lifestyle of a writer, one that is sectionally braced and funded by the Australian tax paying public.
With the Eternal Kitten Experiment on hold and the Magic: The Gathering cards firing up glowing edges, there was time to note how easy it is jumping through the hoops of the government. Things were looking fine and a third year was in the cards with a breathe toward a forth. It seemed as though the cracks in the system had been sealed by another batch. One that would hopefully draw the investigations their way. This was not to be. Now, red flagged as a man in dire need of a fruitless distraction benefiting the government, a 100 week milestone will go unreached.
Here's roughly what happened...
Gestation (weeks 1-24)
The first few months of the run were a simple breeze. Reason being that of minimal distraction in the form of tertiary education. Part-time studies at the university. Though it may vary according to the scaling methods employed between universities, part-time is usually regarded as being that of half or less than the usual load taken up by the full-time crowd. One or two subjects are the norm. In the extra time-out period it was one. One where, if given any sort of drive, a distinction would have been a certainty. But such is the folly of academics and no matter how high the final mark, the average wouldn't be affected all that much. So the seats were already locked in the recline mode.
Given the assumed preoccupation with studies, seeking full-time work was reasoned not important enough to interfere with the studies still being carried out. Or at least one reason. As such, the radar swings well above the head and cares not for the gaping hole of preparation in the event that the studies are eventually drawn to a close. Jumping the hoops are less of a concern for all concerned as nobody cares.
The Carousel (weeks 25-54)
Once the shackles of education were shed, there was the full on support of a midday morning and variable mark for sleep. The same as uni life really. One requirement of continued funding was to sign up with a job network member to help out with the search. It's believed that a sympathetic organization would likely increase the casual chances of finding employment. The Salvation Army's Employment Plus was chosen. Their slogan of "We never give up" at first seemed daunting. But then a glance at their listings yielded a white board filled with positions of jobs that needed TAFE certificates and diplomas, previous industry experience in the blue collar field or junior roles.
The time spent here was damn easy. Their idea of "intensive support" is throwing 30 people into a room with a window to a car park and a water cooler in one corner with 20 newspapers and 5 pens. The pens kept getting stolen every session so it's no wonder they kept the numbers low. Attending this nightmare of an obligation was casual and made for extremely light times. All was fine. Week after week the only obligation was to turn up, get marked present, and have someone occasionally look over your shoulder as you read the obituaries for two hours.
Each client that signs on with the Salvation Army's Employment Plus are asked to sign a contract. One where they agree to undergo the "intensive support" program as described. The contracts last for a maximum of three months. Ideally after such time, if no improvement has been sparked in the soul-destroying endeavours of employment, other things are added to the contract, such as more proactive means of searching. But it is not an ideal world, instead, what happened was the re-signing of the same contract with the same terms and conditions. It was like Groundhog Day or the short story, Annual Annular Annals in the Jan/Feb 04 issue of Analog. Essentially, the three month contract ended up being one for nine. Signing with the Army was one of the best moves ever.
Then came their trial workshop.
Pizzas, Mints and Initiative (weeks 55-59)
Random clients were selected as guinea pigs to participate in a career development program. The aim was to align the minds into championing themselves toward a career that they might enjoy. One that might return some sort of satisfaction. With no drive or ambition or at the very least, a dream, this was the most infuriating time of the whole process. But it did give some breathing room. Those taking the daily classes were exempt from spending time pounding the various avenues and whatnot. With plenty of narrow markets to choose from it was simple enough to take one and use that as the propellant toward drowning a client manager. Only because taxidermy seemed rather far-fetched compared to floristry; Writing the profession, publishing the industry. They hammered the belief and goal of looking only for a job that would at first satisfy emotionally and creatively and then financially. Great stuff to listen to against the realities of ever morphing dreams.
There was free lunch and free packets of minted chocolate every once in a while. There were a few hairy days. Days in which the task was to cold canvass people in the industries listed in the Yellow Pages. This type of forward movement, an aggressive action toward ending unemployment was harrowing. A mind game wherein the ultimate loser would be the constrained passive receptionist. You play the game, you accept the rules. At the end, a limp-wristed ceremony or graduation. There was free food there too.
Vacancy: Free and Easy (weeks 60-69)
There were many fallouts as a result of the shake-up of contracts given by the government. One of which were those who never gave up. Without their lucrative contract they no longer could afford their time to help out the unemployed. And so, they moved on to greener pastures leaving behind a wave of free walking people.
Still registered? Yes. But with the added relief of a technicality wherein visiting the agency was impossible due to the fact that the agency itself was no longer there. Vanished into a shell of motivational posters and dusted outlines. What kind of confidence does that instil in someone when the organization they seek help from folds and runs away leaving nothing but an empty shell of an office? Another provider was already chosen from an intended list, and since they were yet to even establish, no body cared what happened until they finally opened their doors.
Sequel Rules (weeks 70-90)
New offices, new people and a new trip on the carousel. Non-denominational they claim to be, Mission Australia are a Christian organisation. Seeing the operations of a new provider were weird. Each passing fortnight for a few weeks would also bring about the appointment of a new member of their team. As they grew so too did the feeders coming back week after week to tables strewn with barely there newspapers and neutered computers along the walls.
Instead of the sectioned room as previously experienced with the Army, this layout was open plan. Located in the middle of the floor space the people would have eyes from all eight corners of the office. At first the phones would only work if the outside number connected to a government agency, then they were upgraded. With that and the people also came the stunning amounts of earwax lodged onto the ear pieces. About the size of a 5 cent coin. Beyond scary. They employ a cleaner but she spends most of her time walking around with a vacuum cleaner set-up and hasn't been seen working yet.
Essentially the support this Christian group give is the about same as that of the Salvation Army only with a few things away from the clients and more toward the provider. Now, having grown used to the idea of looking for fulfilling work Mission want to squash that and force the idea of taking up anything that comes along no matter how boring or how dangerous. Their aims are clear, to make themselves look good. Screw the workers. With this in mind, any one hanging around their tables and in direct line of sight are approached with all sorts of menial labour located in areas unreachable without private transport. It's not unusual for one or two of the client managers to actually shepherd people dangerously six to a sedan to attend interviews in such industrial waste sites.
The trick was to sneak in, sign in and sneak back out when they were preoccupied filing their files and talking to each other about how they can't seem to properly adjust the gauge on the air conditioning. It wasn't always smooth sailing. A few confrontations and offers were dismissed with the sheer fact that driving a manual was a major prerequisite.
That must have been where things went wrong. When they address you by name you know they've been keeping an eye on your so-called efforts in the game. The expected renewal of the contract terms turned sour as the newly assigned client manager printed off a fresh copy and noticed the literally blinking screen shouting "89 weeks on benefits" as she waited for the printer to heat up. Perhaps if they had run off a stock batch then things would have turned out differently and it would have been a few days short of 150.
A community project now looms as the breaker of the run. No thanks to the new regime. At least the past two years were the most laid back ever. There's always the chance to try the run again later in the future.
Give in to dreams and brace reality. With no desire, there is no drive.
By Ethan Switch
Feel free to drop a note if you have anything you'd like to say. Or even to comment on a piece of toast you've had this or any other morning.