“I was going to try. One last time.”
Emily Garside could never shake the idea that September meant new starts. So in September 2017 she took a huge leap into the unknown. For 100 voices for 100 years, she shares the story of what happens after you give everything up. An inspiring piece about ups, downs and taking chances.
Dr Emily Garside started her professional life shovelling manure but it got better... For a while she was a historian but came back to her true passion of theatre while living in Montreal. She completed an MA at RADA/Kings College and after short diversion into academic administration and Secondary School teaching she undertook a PhD, which looked at the role of theatre as a response to the AIDS epidemic. This work focused on Tony Kushner’s Angels in America and Jonathan Larson’s Rent as case studies. In 2017 she was able to work on the National Theatre’s production of Angels in various ways - from advising director Marianne Elliott, to education events and writing an essay for the programme (“It’s my favourite”- Andrew Garfield, 2017). Currently she manages a demanding day job with her ‘real’ job, writing a play about HIV, a book about Angels in America and being an occasional theatre critic by night.
September always feels like the time to start again. The compulsion to buy school supplies and start fresh hangs in the air. For someone who has spent far too many years in education- both as a student and a teacher it’s a feeling I can never quite shake.
In September last year, I walked out of a job, at the end of yet another fixed term contract and said ‘Never again. I’m starting again.’
I was not going back to another office job I hated. I was going to try. One last time, to do something I wanted to. This school year was going to be the one that changed things.
A few weeks became a couple of months. No sign of anything or anyone who would employ me.
Christmas retail temping came around. A chance to work in a bookshop, a childhood dream. And while it wasn’t exactly a dream job- as retail jobs rarely are. It was enjoyable, a sense of camaraderie among colleagues. We were all a bookseller and something else. A director, many writers, or just people still looking for their path. And so, when I had to sell my old boss a book, it didn’t feel so bad. So, what if she thought she’d been right all along and I’d never amount to much. I knew all of us behind that counter were something else as well.
As the darkness of December drew in, I gave in. I went to an interview for an admin job. It felt like the eyes of the world were pressing in on me to ‘get a proper job’. And so, I went to the interview. It was a disaster from start to finish and still I got the job
For a month in the admin job nobody talked to me. I wish that was an exaggeration. I’d sit, 8 hours a day and only be directly addressed when someone wanted something. Eight hours of isolation, and whispers if it looked like I was daring to use the kettle. Temps aren’t allowed coffee.
Within a month I was called into the office and promptly fired. For having too ‘substantial’ a twitter profile. And thinking I was too good for their job. And January was the darkest month I have known.
In February I gave in and signed up to a temping agency. One that had been nice to me many years ago in another bout of unemployment. They gave me a job that started the next day. I cried all the way there. I was scared- that people would be unkind again, that I wouldn’t last the day because they’d find something wrong with me as everyone does. On the way home, I cried because they were so nice.
It’s not perfect. I wear a uniform and occasionally get shouted at by the public. I have to call people Dr So-and-So every day while they have no clue I also have ‘Dr’ before my name. It pays minimum wage. But it’s the best thing to happen to me in a long while.
Because for a few months I have been able to hit pause on just searching for something, anything to pay the bills, and concentrate on doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. Because while my paid work was falling apart, I was getting closer to my real goals and my dreams. But I was too busy concentrating on the rest of it falling apart to notice.
In September, weeks after I lost my last ‘proper’ job I got offered my first play commission. In December while I was busy selling books to other people, I signed a contract for my first book.
I was going to write the book of my research, a book on the play I had loved and researched for a decade. I might not be an academic any more, but I was writing the book I became an academic to write. I was going to write the play I’d dreamed of writing instead of doing my PhD.
Jobs will always come and go. In 10 years of fixed term contracts I’ve learned that much. Eventually you will find something to pay the bills. But ten years of waiting for the door to open a crack has taught me opportunities to do the thing you’ve always dreamed of don’t come along every day. And when it does you have to kick it the rest of the way in.
September felt like starting again. By December I felt like giving in. In February I had given up. In March I got a chance to chase the things I need to. ‘Never again’ sometimes takes a few false starts to get there.
So, I’ll take the uniform, and minimum wage the being invisible until someone wants to shout at me, I’ll take the fact that I pretend not to be a Doctor while so-called real doctors think I’m a dumb receptionist. I’ll all take that to go home and be a writer.