20140218-122606.jpg They watch as I craft and draft short stories.
‘Ssh’, I say. ‘I’m working’.
‘Are you getting paid for that work?’ one of them, and then another, echoing, asks.
‘Yes’ I say.
Payment in kind my sons, payment in kind. Your mother is semi-sane courtesy of the crafting and drafting.
‘How much?’ they enquire.
‘Enough’ I say and they can take that any way they please.
‘Now ssh’.

One of the stories was broadcast and that had me on a cultural capital high for a while. Economic capital is important too, it seems, and now that they’re all in school perhaps they have a point. I could be getting paid. I could set about making my big return. So I went ahead and applied for a job. A lecturing job. Except that there were 2 jobs, one senior and one, well junior I suppose. I had all the specified requirements for both. Except that I haven’t supervised other people’s PhDs for the senior one. So I went ahead and informally enquired, via email, from the head of the school about where I might pitch myself. Gave him a few details about my background. The jobs are in a different but related area to mine and he doesn’t know me as such. I received an email back immediately requesting to meet for a chat about this.
‘Wow’ was the expression coming from everyone I happened to mention it to. Wow in a good way.

I prepared as if for an interview. I bought a new bright accessory scarf and dangly fresh earrings. Toyed with the idea of a hair cut. Ditched that. Save it for the actual interview. I sauntered into the old institution and absorbed the vibe. Sat with the hip students for coffee and prepared some more. Imagined my own boys here in a few years and got excited for them. Got excited for myself bumping into them between lectures. As my Dad used to when I was a student. I marvelled at how little the place has changed in all these years. Just that the students sidle up beside you and plug in instead of queuing somewhere odd for a computer terminal.

I took a deep breath and knocked on the door for the ‘where do I pitch myself’ chat. The very nice man was, he says, very impressed with my details, particularly a fellowship detail. But then he wanted to know what I was currently doing. Did I currently hold an academic post. He was surprised that I didn’t. I told him I’ve been chiefly at home with kids the last few years, editing academic works for others, some ad hoc research pieces (didn’t mention the short stories, save that for a light hearted bit in the interview). Did his eyes glaze just a touch when I mentioned home and kids? A little disconnect perhaps? I switched to my ten years of super relevant work experience in a senior role in the job description area. Would this hurtle me towards applying for the senior post?

He sat back and laid it bare for me. The sub-text of everything he said seemed to be ‘but surely you already know this’. It is extremely difficult to break in from the outside. These jobs are gold dust for current academic staff let alone, well, (read: stay at home mother outsiders). Once someone completes their PhD they beaver away within the institution for years, (note to self: they do not run for the hills and procreate wildly and expect to pick up again when it suits them), publishing away and hitting certain markers that will stand them in good stead when a gold dust job crops up. Except that when one does crop up there are hundreds of applicants who are all qualified, all with PhDs, fulfilling all mandatory markers, within the system, and most of these will be left very upset until the next job is advertised…

Snowballs chance in hell came to mind. I think if I read studiously between the lines he was telling me, kindly (you poor deluded thing you) that I hadn’t a hope of either position.

It was aptly snowing as I left the old institution and stood amongst the lovely hip students waiting for a place on the bus. They didn’t grumble when the driver could only take one person and he pointed his finger into the crowd and called me forth. That cheered me up, until I realised he was probably selecting the oldest person there for priority treatment and not because he liked the pretty new scarf and earrings.
‘Are you a doctor in there?’ he asked, which was a bit odd, and a sore point even if he was referring to the medical type.
‘No’ I said. ‘I’m a mother, off home to my kids’.
‘Ah, there’s nothing like it for the kids, having a mother or father at home. Sure that’s what I blame all the problems with the teenagers an’ all on. No parents at home…’ and on he rambled as I played with a brand new idea for a short story in my head. The Displaced Person I thought I might well call it. I googled it as a title idea and found that American writer Flannery O’Connor beat me to it back in 1955. Now I’m going to go ahead and take that as a good sign…

Ellen Kelly

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