Five of Pentacles by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law
I’m happy to have a little bit of time to set aside and post in this reading series! Since I first began this series, I haven’t able to post in it as much as I would have liked – but that’s okay. Now, my aim is to post at least once a month. I can do once a month!
In truth, the last few months have been very difficult. The reasons for this are mostly economic, but thankfully I did get a job very soon after my unemployment ended. Since I was laid off, I applied for jobs that could either directly or tangentially relate to my degree in Elementary Education or my degree in Creative Writing. Nothing came back to me.
I wanted to get something in my field. I applied for teaching jobs across the board – early childhood, elementary, adjunct. I applied for childcare. I applied to be a nanny. I applied for entry level company jobs. Editing. Publishing. Writing in technical, medical, or scientific capacities. Nothing worked.
Then I applied for other things. Coffee shops, retail, restaurants, packing and supply stores. Every door I knocked on remained closed. My unemployment ended. And at the 11th hour, I got a job at a large retail store. I make slightly more than minimum wage. I am making less than half of what I received from unemployment. And on unemployment, I was already in the poverty range.
A few days ago, I had to buy a dress for my daughter for her graduation. I had twenty dollars to spend, and we were able to find a beautiful dress. But buying it left me with nothing. Today, I received my first paycheck. And I have to keep reminding myself that the amount I received is better than receiving nothing, which is where I would be without this job. I tried hard to get a job in my field. I am highly educated. I have experience. It didn’t matter.
I am grateful for this job. It was the only door that opened for me. But working in retail after so many years is difficult for me. My feet hurt at the end of my shift. My body aches from the constant repetitive movements the job requires. My brain is raging from this mind-numbing work, searching the positive and coming up short. I feel tired. I feel old. I feel out of place.
Nevertheless, I am a good worker. I always have been. I started working when I was 11 years old, wrapping “big cookies” in a neighbors garage on Saturdays, which she sold at a field market. The job was “off-the-books” and I liked it. I was the youngest of the workers, who were mostly teenage girls. I was a little left out. I was quiet. I listened to their gossip and stories and idle talk. I listened to the radio. Sometimes the cookies were broken, and at the end of the shift, we were allowed to take the broken cookies home.
After that, I continued to work steadily. I have always had a job, sometimes two or three at a time. I decided to get a masters degree in teaching because I wanted a career – I wanted to do something that I love. Both of my parents worked at jobs they hated, and I was always aware of that. My father worked in a warehouse and my mother was a secretary. They encouraged my education, encouraged me to take out loans, encouraged me to make something of my life – to make money, to do better than they did. Instead I am left with student loans in a broken economy, in a field that lays off more teachers than are hired.
So, recently I have felt even more displaced than usual. I’ve been very sensitive. After I leave work, I find myself in tears. I feel tested. Even the artistic communities that I am involved with … I am in the margins. I am different. When I was in my 20’s, I was raising children. I was already a single parent, struggling. Now, I don’t have the time or the patience for the clique mentality and group hierarchy that seems to accompany so many communities. Again, I am set apart. I don’t play “the game” – I never did.
I went to a K-8 catholic elementary school, and was with the same community of children for years. The group of friends I had since kindergarten decided somewhere around 5th grade that they were the “popular” group. They started making fun of others, being mean to others, excluding others. They started setting themselves above others by clinging together and creating an inclusive group. They were the prettiest, the most talented, the funniest, the coolest. They had inside jokes. They had a ticket to the golden road. They had power.
(I can actually apply this very analogy to certain groups I know at my advanced age, which I find desperately sad)
When this started to happen, I spoke out. I said it wasn’t right to be mean or make fun of or exclude other people. There was no reason for it, except to raise themselves above them. Even though these were my close friends, I was friends with everyone. But I couldn’t stop them. So I left the group. It was a conscious decision and there was a backlash. I didn’t care.
I’ve wondered about that decision at different times in my life. How strange that, as a child, I would choose to be a loner. All I had to do was play “the game”, play along. But I wouldn’t. I couldn’t. In some ways, I think my very nature is predisposed to displacement. Most times, it doesn’t bother me. But sometimes it does. I know that my nature and temperament speaks to the fact that I am a writer. I am myself in every social situation. I am who I am. I am incapable of being fake or manipulative. I am generally a kind and giving person. But sometimes I feel rejected by the world.
It’s been many years since I have been on this path consciously … the path of my life. I am usually a very positive person, which I always find funny because my realities are hard, really hard. Harder than I sometimes think I can deal with. But nevertheless, I keep going. I keep trying. I get up again and again, hoping all the while that the next time I will fail better.
Today, I want to share three old poems, all of which are a little sad. But I guess that is just the mood I am in. Sometimes I need to remember – I have been here before, been in places where hope seemed as dark as the blackness between the stars. And then, things change. The sun comes up again on a new day. Each day is an opportunity to create the world anew…
Click here to read these poems that speak to the darkness before the dawn.