My co-worker K rings me crying on a Thursday afternoon, and my first thought is that someone is dead, because that seems to me to be the only thing that would make K cry. It is almost a relief when I find out that it is merely that council has withdrawn funding from the local tourism body, and we have all been sacked.
I have been working on farms for the course of my degree when I started volunteering at the information centre, driven by an interest in the other side of the region that I had previously only seen as an interloper, a transient, an itinerant, a seasonal worker. I have bought a house; I have committed to staying, and suddenly I see the region from a different perspective.
It is a novelty to be warm, clean and to have to brush my hair and iron an article of clothing to go to work. This novelty wears off rapidly. It is also a novelty to work in an environment of supportive women, and this novelty does not wear off; later I understand just how rare is this environment, this strong wish for each other to do things well.
Karen and Jane teach me all the things that years of working in male-dominated industries have not, and they educate me in the importance of communicating in job-share arrangements. Neither woman would describe herself as a feminist, but that is what I see in their careful sharing of information, their gentle corrections whenever I fuck up, which is reasonably often, their insistence on leaving long and incredibly detailed notes at handover, their willingness to show me new skills and their vocal acknowledgement of the one or two things that I actually do well. When they retire, I suddenly understand that this was a unique working relationship that I will always be attempting to replicate.
The first week after the sacking is the most difficult. I question my value. I whine to anyone who will listen. I worry about my finances. I cancel plans to go and look at the motorbike that was going to typify my mid-life crisis. I wonder how high my blood pressure is, but rather than checking, I run further every morning than I ever have before. The dogs hate this, and complain loudly when I eschew the turnoff that means home and breakfast.
The first weekend I have to go into work is dreadful. There is no point making any long –range plans. Some of my pet projects are obviously not going to go ahead, and I save them to my memory stick and remove them from the office computer, feeling like I am burying them alive.
The second week, something changes. I am talking with my friend R about work-life balance, and the things we could do if we only had time; specifically the mental filing cabinet we both keep of things we want to read, and the occasional fantasy about writing something. Suddenly I feel a sense of possibility. Which does not deter me from applying for the new job when it is advertised, and spending my alleged ‘day off’ over-preparing for an interview.
Competent friends give me good sartorial advice – the stylist par excellence among them emphasising a need to wear comfortable underwear. My friend M kindly offers me a patented ‘close of interview’ speech that he maintains has never failed. I wear shoes and makeup, speak in grammatical complete sentences, don’t swear and reiterate my competence in every way.
I return to the car to find I have left the headlights on and killed the battery. I ponder whether this need to groom for an occasion has in fact contributed to me behaving like a ditsy femme, and gulp outdoor air after an hour talking non-stop to a panel in a windowless room. Then I bail up a couple of tradies and ask them to help me clutch-start the Quoll-Hunter.