Temp Jobs with Permanent Conditions

I’ve been looking to fill a hole. Not an emotional one. The kind of hole that a temp job can fill. At least theoretically. You know, the kind of job that helps you stay somewhat employed, somewhat confident, somewhat socially and emotionally engaged while you wait to dig your ice shoes into a 7–4 or 9–5 or 4–12 that will really pay the rent.

You see, I was away for a short while. Away from every-thing. Life had really gotten me in a knot. On top of that, I couldn’t stop working because school and I couldn’t stop school because work. I’d lost sight of the ground, and even weekly hikes and books about bugs couldn’t help me realize my own nature.

I found it via an independent route, but it involved somewhat of a hard reset. I did my best to keep from burning bridges and luckily there are still a few people around in the city who are supportive and understanding of my situation, but if I’m to do things right, ultimately I know that I will have to do them by myself, and I’m somewhat comfortable with the crippling fear that this realization causes within me.

Which is really the only reason I’m holding it together. The last few months back have been rough. I’ve been pretty much chronically unemployed, despite not having any really valid excuse to be. Pickiness is definitely a factor; I’m afraid to get into a bind that I can’t get out of, because I’ve been susceptible to situations like that before. I hate quitting. I hate disappointing people. And I’m proud of my adaptability. That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with it.

I don’t think I’m too proud, though. I worked at a construction site for a week. I didn’t have any subtle ideas about what I had to do to keep my momentum going. Go to a temp agency, get placed, do the hours, get the paycheque. It was simple and I even invested money in some equipment, because it seemed worth it at the time.

But as usual, I felt like I was in the wrong system. The work, while physically demanding, and extremely degrading, was simple enough. But the interactions on the job were extremely uncomfortable. In the end I couldn’t continue because the dust on the job (even though I was wearing a cheap mask) aggravated my breathing and I am still suffering from inflammation almost two weeks later. Perhaps my years as an academic didn’t prepare me for the shitty air of working in the “real world” (in a shittily constructed apartment from the turn of the last century), but I feel more like the barrier that I am fighting against now is a result of perspectives, and not specific to the temp job itself.

Temp jobs are typically the worst jobs imaginable, in every field. You’re treated like dirt, people will take out the bitterness they feel about their own situation on you, and this is the part that completely baffles me: the people around you are constantly wondering if you’re considering sticking around for the long haul! In fact, it seems like the expectation is that you actually want to. Nobody could possibly want to work day-to-day, especially in a shitty job like the one you have, so when are you planning on cashing in to get that useless qualification that will allow you to move “up” to my privileged position. Scare quotes because the people asking these questions generally hate their own jobs, and seem to work simply because they see no way out of their shitty situation.

When I was “away”, I realized this wasn’t true. No matter how simple and repetitious the work, there is no reason for it to be uncomfortable. I really enjoyed the “shitty” work I ended up doing last year after I quit, even if it didn’t pay very well, and the social situation was less than stellar. But work is work, and as long as it doesn’t make me sick, mentally or physically, I don’t see why it should be such a contentious issue.

Now that I’m back in the city, though, it’s so obvious that people don’t have this perspective, and temporary, boring work is extremely hard to find, and is generally a gruesome undertaking when it is, as a result. I’ve taken to volunteering a few times a week, just to remind me how fun work is. Volunteering at a homeless shelter with drug addicts and crazy people. And it’s positively blissful. Most of the other volunteers aren’t in my situation though. They are generally volunteering because they’re either too young to have responsibility, or too old to need to worry any more about things like money.

I have to constantly remind myself that my situation will get better soon to avoid crippling anxiety. I get what it’s like to be homeless and unemployed a little bit now, I think. The system doesn’t let you “wade your feet” into job-fullness. It tempts you with a lollipop and then handcuffs you to the fence beside the dumpster if you’re desperate enough to take a job that doesn’t require you to be already entrenched in some ridiculously specialized industry.

And people with mental health issues, physical handicaps, or additional non-work related personal issues? I can’t imagine the hurdles they must have to jump through. As it is I am constantly ashamed by the number of people who assume things are going to go well for me. I am constantly fearful and there doesn’t seem, from the outside, to be any rational reason to be.

So perhaps it is an emotional hole I am looking to fill, indirectly. If everything goes well, I am sure I will look back on this unemployment hole and be glad it’s over, or maybe I will regret not having as much free time anymore. But as long as the availability of casual, healthy temp jobs (with real hours) to workers without specialized skills isn’t there, I have to face that I will be buffeted constantly by waves of anxiety, obfuscating the clear waters that lie out in front of me, just beyond the beachhead.