That’s what I heard. She actually said a slightly more rambling version of the above; something about needing someone with book keeping skills, compliments about my wonderful phone manner, a moan and a helpless shrug about the tight budget. She finished off with some sort of apology but by that stage I had checked out of my own body. It was obvious that she wasn’t having much fun either. I knew this was coming, but I still felt the unreal sensation of shock washing over me.
I remember the room felt horribly small. Trapped under her sympathetic gaze, I struggled to hide my reaction. Concealing my feelings has never been my strong point. Hard as I fought, I could not stop my facial muscles from crunching together and the tears from spewing forth in an ugly gush. She looked away. She wasn’t making eye contact any more. I mentally thanked her for that. She offered to let me finish up working that day, but although I would have salvaged my pride, I was desparate for money with Christmas just around the corner. I told her I wanted to finish my 3-month probationary contract. She told me she’d leave me to calm down for a bit. I don’t know which of us was more relieved when she quietly the door shut behind her.
I hid in the little front office for about half an hour, staring at the desk in front of me and crying to myself. It had been a hell of a year and I sorely needed a good cry. This job had been hard-won and a dream come true for me. After applying for more than 100 jobs and not getting a single interview, I managed to get a toe in the door by doing volunteer work in this community organisation. I had worked hard to get noticed so when I was given the job, I was stoked. The job was exactly what I had been looking for. It was part time, giving me just enough money to live while also allowing me plenty of time to follow my own creative pursuits. The staff had fruit delivered, weekly mindfulness classes in company time and an ethos of supporting the city’s most vulnerable. On paper, it was my dream workplace. The reality was a little different.
So what went wrong? How did I come to lose my job? I think my repeated failures to secure work for so long had really drained me of self-esteem. I have always been incredibly lucky getting work and because of this I assumed that I would have a job within weeks of moving to a big city. In fact, finding this job had taken the better part of a year. I had felt the sting of countless rejection letters and spent a depressing number of hours perfecting selection criteria only to hear nothing back. It was demoralising and I took each rejection badly. Coming into the job, I was relieved, but also terrified of ever having to go through the insecurity of unemployment again. I carried that baggage in with me on the first day of my job and it clung to me the entire time it was there.
I have always had an artistic temperament and a lot of nervous energy. While it is a blessing, vulnerability to mental illness is the crappy flip side. You win some, you lose some. It’s a bitch, though. When I got the job, I was insanely grateful, but also instantly obsessed with the possibility that I might lose it.
Honestly, my memories of that job were of putting extreme pressure on myself, to the point where I was going home every afternoon and crying my eyes out. Under my probationary contract, I knew I had three months to prove myself as a worker and in my heightened state, it felt like a ‘do or die’ type situation. Every time I made a mistake I beat myself up, convincing myself that my boss had seen. Deep down in my demoralised little soul, I believed I was too much of an incompetent booby to keep such a brilliant job. I drove my family crazy when I came home from work and rehashed my day, obsessing about all the things I could have done better. I convinced myself that this was my big chance to have a good job and if I blew it I would be screwed.
I also couldn’t face another bout of applying for jobs for months on end, while trying to fend off job agencies that were trying to force me to work in a factory or doing some other kind of work that I knew did not suit me. I developed such an attachment to keeping the job that I think I actually scared people away. I apologised so much I ended up getting berated by my boss for it. Honestly, she took me aside and told me I needed to stop apologising because people were finding it annoying. In fact, I think she might have said something along those lines when I was fired. I sucked up to people and grovelled when I made the tiniest mistake. Unfortunately, when you project that kind of persona to the world, some people are not kind. A couple of women in the office did not attempt to hide their irritation.
Still, I can look back now and know that I tried my absolute best. Anyone who has experienced anxiety and depression will know just how much effort it takes to put on that facade every day. I worked as hard as I could to look the part, ironing my clothing, putting on my best smile. The thing is, though, I always felt like a fraud.
Some girls are really great in offices. They love the whole process of dressing up, applying lippie to their already naturally sunny faces. They always look neat and they never seem to sweat or have messy hair. They take messages in perfectly rounded bubble writing with a little smiley face at the end. They are sweet and socially well adjusted, well-liked and do not appear to be tortured with self-doubt. This was the role I attempted to play with all my might. My neat office clothes were a costume I tried desperately to maintain. I was forever catching myself in the mirror with messed up hair, crumpled clothing and something in my teeth. I tried to write neatly but I still scrawled like a doctor. Even if I did know how to apply make up, nothing could have hidden the dark circles and worry lines that seemed to dominate my artificially smiling face.
Which brings me to the Christmas costume that wasn’t a costume.
Normally I am not the type to enjoy costume parties. Well, honestly, I’m not a fan of parties, period. I am far too introverted for all that attention. People tend to drink a lot, which I don’t do, and then they bustle around switching conversation partners with a speed that does not agree with me. You know the person who ends up tucked away in a corner peeling books out of a shelf? That’ll be me.
I am especially not keen on costume parties in offices like the one where I used to work. As I recall, I wore my Christmas costume on my very last day of work. Not exactly a happy day, you would think. Yet, to me, it was my gentle way of saying to myself, “You know what, Ruby? You might not have fooled anyone, but you tried. Now, take that constricting mask off and have yourself a little fun.”
By this stage, I had gotten used to the idea that I was not going to keep my job. I knew another torturous job-hunting session was in front of me, but I had decided it could wait until the New Year. Call me a tacky semtimentalist, but an overwhelming Christmas spirit was bubbling over in my soul. Awww! Like I have done so many times in my life, I realised that I did not belong with these people and for the time being, I didn’t care one little bit. The silly season was here, and my inner child had taken over.
Don’t get me wrong, I still detest those tacky Santa hats and holly earrings that people buy from K Mart to wear for a day. My inner grumpy curmudgeon hasn’t entirely left me. I tend to be that person who puts the rellies offside with my ranting about sweatshop labour, cheap toys in landfill and our overbloated consumerist society. Let’s face it: there are too many people banging on about that at Christmas. Christmas has turned into a time of insanity, greed and waste. That’s old news. Enough soapboxing. These days, I tend to be less vocal about my beliefs, choosing to live them instead. I am big on handmade and second hand Christmases and I do love this time of year.
Enter, wonky handmade costume. If I was going to leave my job, I wanted to do it with a bang.
Something was in the air that summer and I couldn’t resist. The theme for the office party was ‘snowflake wonderland’ or something equally unseasonal for our Christmases here in subtropical Australia. We were tasked to transform our workspace into the most beautiful, Christmassy display we could manage. Each department competed for a gift voucher for lunch out.
Rock and I had already been cutting Christmas snowflakes like there was no tomorrow. No handmade Christmas is complete without strings of paper snowflakes dangling over every possible surface. In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a handful and began stapling them to my red dress. I grabbed a paper chain too, and added it around the hem. I thought the result was pretty cool.
As it happened, we won the competition. I got a special mention because of my costume. My boss at the time said she would make sure I was invited to the lunch even though I would no longer be working there. She knew she was lying. I knew she was lying. I smiled and thanked her.
I might have lost my job, but I was grateful to be able to unmask myself for a day; to ditch the primly ironed officewear that I detested and show up at work covered in homemade paper snowflakes. I felt that I had shed a skin that never suited me anyway. It might have been a costume, but I felt more like myself than the entire time I worked in that office and it was so very liberating.
In fact, maybe I wasn’t in costume, after all. Maybe, for the first time, I was actually unmasked as the craft-loving eccentric who hated ironing all those shirts. I tried to play the game and I failed. It felt pretty rotten, but it was sort of liberating as well. Some people are built to wear ironed clothing and some should be wearing handmade costumes. What a shame the world is ruled by people in the former category. They miss out though, they really do.
I’ll not deny that it hurt to lose my job, but that day I felt like I reclaimed myself, the person who wasn’t trying desparately to be someone she wasn’t. You are not alone, black sheep. We are out there, also feeling like we are trying to belong in a world that wasn’t geared for people like us. It’s not easy. A suggestion though: if you ever get the chance, go to work with stuff stapled all over your clothes. At the very least, don’t iron them. It feels great!
For me, light and shadow make Christmas even more magical. What could be more Christmassy than lighting a festive lantern? We made these lanterns to go on the table and we also lit them up every so often just to make the room look even more pretty.
The lantern design is actually a combination of a number of other ones I checked out on YouTube. I think it worked pretty well. You will need black cardboard, waxed paper, jars, tealight candles, pencils and a few sharp stanley knives for the adults and bigger kids. Cut the card and waxed paper into a rectangle. You want to be able to form a tube out of the rectangle that covers the jar, and for the waxed paper and card to be the same size. Get the kids to draw a design on the card that you will cut out for them.
The candle light will shine through the holes. Once you are happy with the design, glue the waxed paper to the card and then tape it, card side out, around the jar. We had jars with fat lips above the neck, so we were able to safely wind some thin wire around to make a handle, but this isn’t essential.
Pop a tealight candle in the lantern, light it up, and turn off the lights – voila! Handmade Christmas magic.
Click on photo for a closer look and a cute slide show 🙂
Home made ginger beer – a perfect festive gift for the budget-savvy.
I’m making my friends homemade ginger beer for Christmas this year! Shhhhhhh!
It’s dirt cheap because it’s only got three ingredients: sugar, water and ginger root! Double shhhhhhhhh!
We’ve made a batch already and it is DELICIOUS; definitely of comparable yumminess to any commercially produced ginger beer (although maybe not as alcoholic).
I got it from my newfound fermenting Bible, Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
So, how do you make it? First, you need bottles… these may be obtained from around the house, as we did for our first batch. However, if you want a more professional set-up, you can also purchase and drink a carton of beer. Tim put up his hand for this particular task… it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
We’re buying crown caps and a capper from a home brewer supplier. You don’t have to do this, but if you don’t, your bottle lids don’t seal as well. Your ginger beer will still be delicious, but won’t be as fizzy as it would be if it were tightly sealed with proper caps.
Next, you need to make the beer starter, or ‘ginger bug’ as Katz calls it.
This is what you need for the starter bug:
Two teaspoons of fresh, coarsely grated ginger (I used a lovely organic root).
Two teaspoons of sugar (I used raw)
One cup of water (I used filtered, slightly warmed).
You also need cloth and rubber bands, but I was far too disorganised to think of that and rubber bands seem to be abundant in my house until I actually need one, so I used mesh and wool!
Stir the ginger and sugar into the water, then cover with the ‘cloth’ and ‘rubber band’. Put it in a warm spot. As I am definitely NOT dreaming of a whire Christmas here in sub-tropical Australia, it wasn’t too hard to find a warm spot. However, if you’re somewhere chilly, you could try putting your bug on a water heater or in a room that stays warm or something of that nature. An oven light is meant to be quite good.
I made two bugs. Aren’t they pretty? Now, I just leave the bug to do its thing for a night. Tick-tock-tick-tock!
This recipe for home made ginger beer was originally published in Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. I have reviewed his book more extensively in a cook book review, but suffice to say here that he is something of a guru on the ailing art of fermenting food. Katz points out that the post-refrigeration generations have abandoned a process of preserving food that had been part of our cultural practices up until that point – whereas now we freeze foods, or load them up with chemical preservatives, generations past used fermenting to culture healthy, protective bacteria to prolong the shelf-life of food.
Katz believes that this bacteria can support healthy immune function, enabling our system to build better defences against pathogens. As a result, we become more robust. While I cannot verify the science behind Katz’ claims, he does make some very plausible arguments – and the proof is in the pudding, perhaps; Katz continues a healthy and active life despite being diagnosed with HIV more than a decade ago.
Whether or not his claims are true, I can attest that his recipe yields damn good ginger beer – not too sweet, pleasantly gingery, alcoholic enough for an adults-only rating without overwhelming the consumer. Give it a go!