Alas, poor Yorick…
I think I got out of the wrong side of my sleeping bag this morning because this court jester is feeling pretty angry. However, as it’s Halloween let’s channel that anger and turn it into mirth in writing an account of the horror of depression and homelessness.
In previous diary entries I’ve recorded my thoughts on how employers don’t get depression (to clarify, that means they don’t understand it rather than suffer from it) and to revisit and illustrate that theme I’d like to tell a real-life story…
… Some time ago I had a boss whom I’ll call Hal Owen. How best to describe him? Let’s say he was so narcissistic he probably invented the selfie, and so far up his own arse he could take a photo of his bowel.
Anyway I’d been down with the dog and needed time off, a lengthy spell to boot, and my employers were admittedly pretty understanding in then allowing me a phased return to work. We were in a story conference discussing some tale about frozen pipes that caused a house to flood, and to draw from experience (which is what writers should do) I described a visit to a restaurant whose pipes had burst, meaning the pumps couldn’t serve beer and the bain maries were dry. To flesh out the story I explained that I’d been so down that my friends had taken me out for a meal to cheer me up.
“Bloody hell!” said Hal, “he’s supposed to be off sick and he’s out gallivanting!”
“Not gallivanting,” I countered, “eating.”
That’s what I said, but what I wanted to say was “Even those with mental illness need to eat, you ignorant, vainglorious prick.”
What stopped me from saying it? Politeness? Intelligence? Job preservation? Probably a bit of all three, but if it was job preservation I regret not saying it, because in the end I lost my job anyway so it wouldn’t really have made a difference.
… It’s memories like this that make me either boiling with anger or send me into paroxysms of laughter, because the sickest joke of all is that Hal is still working, costing the company tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, sitting at his warm desk and going home to his nice cosy house to don his carpet slippers, put his feet up and chuckle to himself at how easy is his life.
In comparison, I’m sleeping in a mummy bag, waking up for a pee at 3am and dithering uncontrollably, living on £4 a day and waiting for the phone not to ring in answer to applications for jobs I’m over-qualified to do, which I could do with my eyes closed yet those in power shut their ears to my pleas, and my home is a tin can called the Ottermobile which can’t be mobile at all because it needs unaffordable diesel to make its wheels turn round.
I repeat that this will induce either fury or laughter, so because I’m naturally more inclined to the latter, I am not asking for sympathy, I tell the story merely to illustrate a point. But more importantly on a wider scale, my aim is to posit the lack of awareness that certain persons like Hal Owen in high-up places demonstrate, yet those same people like Hal Owen are prospering merrily and blissfully. How do they do it? How do they get there? Well for a kick-off it’s not always about talent or experience, it’s often pure luck, or that their young faces fit, or that they have an innately impressive art and aptitude for networking.
It pains me at times to see this happening, where those untroubled by talent get on whereas others who’re brimming with it, don’t. A few nights ago a party of us travelled to North Wales to watch a production of The Wyrd Sisters, a vibrant, witty and brilliant story from the Pratchett muse, vibrantly, wittily and brilliantly directed by an old friend of mine called Martin, who has more ‘life experience’ and more talent in his little finger than a good many I’ve worked with down the years have in their entire bodies. Unlike me, Martin isn’t bitter, but unlike me, he’s housed and gainfully-employed elsewhere. But I mention him only because if I had the power to do so I’d hire people like him in my line of work and replace some of the mulch that’s unquestioningly allowed to blow along the windy corridors of power.
In those unnecessarily long, arduous and probably illegal days of dreaming up stories for the nation’s favourite soap for example, people like Hal might offer very little guidance, opinion, experience or even ideas for story and say “Pick the bones out of that,” and expect people like me to weave their magic and turn paucity of idea into rich story pickings for the audience. Like making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear or, as I prefer to say, turning a pile of shit into the greatest story ever told. Forgive my own vaingloriousness here, but that very often happened for me because I had magic to weave. And I still have that magic – while my belly might be empty of food, it’s a fiery cauldron of ideas that bubble and gurgle and fuel my soul.
So to be true to my loved-ones who urge me to see the positives, and to be bent on rekindling the fire beneath the cauldron, I will end this tale with an upbeat message: as long as he has his talent and self-belief, a writer won’t be homeless for ever. His career might be dead but it will rise from the other side and laugh like a court jester in the face of ignorance. Pick the bones out of that, Hal.