It’s July 2016. Every morning I park my car in the car park at work, and give myself five minutes to cry before I get out and face the day.
Today is no different. What was a dream job when I started has become a nightmare I can’t bring myself to face, but can see no way of escaping. 2 years under a manager who was psychotically work-obsessed to the point where the three co-ordinators who worked under her (I am one) would take turns in being the first to talk to her, so we could report back which personality we were dealing with that day, have taken a toll. She left some months ago, but has been replaced with someone even worse– a career monkey, utterly disinterested in the welfare of her staff and of the projects being worked upon in the name of her section. She ignores vital paperwork, distributes blame in buckets, throws her co-ordinators under buses on a daily basis, is untrustworthy, cowardly, and is ruining everyone around her. Already, of the two co-ordinators with whom I’ve worked for the last 4 years, one has left to take up a job with another City. The other will soon fall pregnant and take a year’s maternity leave. Me? I’ve cracked under the stress. I’m seeing a work-appointed therapist, and I’m on a work-management program. I can’t sleep. I’m eating every piece of badforme in sight. I’m drinking. I’ve used up all my sick leave. Writing is out of the question. There’s no hope.
Today is a therapy day. My therapist asks me a simple question: What would you be doing, if you had the choice?
I’d be at home. Writing. But it’s impossible.
I have a mortgage. I have a wife who studies. I have children who have to attend school. I need to feed everybody, clothe them, give them a better life than I had. It’s this new thing called ‘the real world’.
Yes, he says. I’ve heard of it. But why you?
It has to be me. My wife studies. She needs that support.
Have you talked to her about that?
What’s there to talk about? This is just the way it is.
Why don’t you find out?
So I go home, and tell Luscious that I can’t take it anymore. She knows what’s happening at work, but this time, I unload the full deal. Everything that’s been happening. All of it. I can’t take it anymore, I tell her. I’ve been at this game for almost 25 years. I’m depressed. I’m burned out.
I don’t know what I’m expecting: sympathy, reinforcement, a bit of ‘screw your courage to the sticking-place’. After all, this is just the way it is. I’m the income earner. Everybody else has their own things they’re trying to achieve. What I’m not expecting is for her to point to the house around us and reply, “Well, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m burned out, too.”
I hate my job. But Luscious hates hers, too. Yes, she’s studying, and she loves it. But she wants it to lead to something. She doesn’t just want to be a housewife with a degree. She wants to be out in the workforce, making a difference to the world at large.
She wants to work. I want to be at home.
I look at her. She looks at me.
And that’s when we sit down and start to put together The 18-Month Plan.
Put simply, it’s this: if I can hang on for 18 months– through to January 2018– Luscious will graduate her Bachelor of Arts and enrol into a post-graduate teaching qualification. She’d love to be a teacher. It’s something she’s thought about doing on several occasions. She’s had to fight for a long time just to get to the point where she can contemplate completing a degree, and now that she’s about to, she’d love to keep going for another year. Give her that year, and when she graduates, she’ll take a job in the country. She’ll do the standard two-year tour of duty, re-enter the workforce, and be the primary income winner for the family.
As to me, I’ll stay at home. I’ll cook the meals, do the cleaning, run the household, and write.
And that’s what we set out to do.
We’ve had some good fortune. Luscious graduated her degree with marks so high that she was invited to undertake an internship at a school, giving her invaluable ‘live’ experience that will place her at the head of the employment queue when she graduates. The hated manager fell pregnant, and her maternity leave replacement is a brilliant, experienced manager who understands what my team and the department we belong to is about. The atmosphere in the office has improved immeasurably. Work is enjoyable again. But I’m over it: I feel no loyalty anymore. I’m counting down the days. And there aren’t that many left.
Luscious has one more term left. After that, assuming she isn’t successful in the job applications she’s already making, she’ll be appointed from the graduate pool in the time-honoured fashion. I’ll hand in my notice. We’ll leave. By the end of February, we’ll be in a town somewhere in the Western Australian countryside. Luscious will be a teacher. And I’ll be at home. Writing. Looking after the house. Putting my twenty-five years experience in the arts industry towards setting up a consultancy and curation business. I have a completed novel that I couldn’t bring to edit because of the depression. I’m 2/3 of the way through a children’s novel that’s taken far too long to complete. I’ve got a list of incomplete projects running to nearly 60,000 words in total. Over the next 2 years I’ll get the chance to resurrect my career, and watch my beloved wife achieve the recognition and respect she has long deserved. We’re one phone call away.
We’re 15 months into the 18th month plan, and I’ve gotta wear shades.