The Superfan and the Psychometric Test

img_6357Doesn’t that sound like a book title to grab the attention, if only for the wrong reasons? Maybe for my next book I should come up with a random title and then write the book to fit? Anyway I digress. The title actually refers to the highs and lows of my weekend.

On Saturday I had an ‘author event’ at our local library. Originally it was going to be a book reading and signing, but that got cancelled due to lack of interest (it was on a school night) and swapped for a Saturday morning craft session. Only I forgot to sort crafts. So at 5am Saturday, full of cold, I searched Pinterest for ideas, and produced craft unicorns, Minecraft Torches and bookmarks. I was still cutting out cardboard at 9.30am when I was meant to be leaving for the library! Me, disorganised? Hmmm.

Anyway, it was a bit of a washout. Five or six  girls made unicorns, but no one really knew why I was there. (The minecraft torches ended up being used for my son’s Nativity Pringle Pot, so not totally wasted!) Until a young lad came in, carrying a copy of Hope Glimmers. And next to him, his dad, who it turns out I went to school with. But they were there to meet Mandy Martin the author, not Mandy Jarman from school. The dad’s surprise when he figured I was me was awesome. The best part, though, was that Hope Glimmers had been purchased online and they’d brought it to be signed. By me. Like I was a real author or something. And when I said there was a new book based on Minecraft, the lad’s smile made my year.

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Nativity & Santa Pringle Pots

I read an article a while ago (written in 2008 and updated here) by a guy called Kevin Kelly, who said that what creative people need to succeed is a 1000 true fans; superfans who will buy anything you produce. I’ve never had a superfan before, generally my books are bought by people I know, or anonymously on Amazon, where without reviews you don’t even know if they liked it. I’m not saying this boy was really a superfan, but it certainly felt like it at 11am on a Saturday morning as I signed books for him.

My happy bubble was short-lived, however, when I received an email from Boots (a High Street Pharmacy Company, for non Brits) with feedback on a job I had applied for as a trainee pharmacy dispenser. Please note, ‘trainee’. As in, to be trained to do the job, surely?

This is my first experience of interview by computer and I’m not impressed. Having clicked ‘apply’ through the job website, they asked for my job (just one) and my education (just one), so I put Invigilating and a Masters in English, as my two most recent. No request for CV or experience or anything. Just an email with a link to a psychometric test.

Now, I hate psychometric tests, especially now I’ve been out of the work game for a while and am fully entrenched in ‘me’ because ‘me’ is a socially-awkward introvert who finds people challenging. But ‘work me’ is outgoing, confident, creative, innovative and all that jazz. So anyway I tried to understand what the questions were getting at, although that’s pretty tough in most psychometric tests as that’s the whole point of them. Except we’re not all black and white, either or, ‘this statement best reflects me’ without context.

I worked in a bar when I was a uni student, and loved it. In fact I wanted to be a bar manager when I graduated, but my first class degree actually proved a sticking point in the interviews I went to because the starting salary was so low. Anyway, six months after I’d been working in the busy train station pub, dealing with difficult customers and working alongside a team of twelve people, they made me do their psychometric test ‘for their files’. I failed. They said they would never have hired me because funnily enough it showed that I am a reserved introvert who doesn’t much like people. Thankfully they had six months’ experience of me being a complex human being who was able to act a role at work, convincingly too, and they trusted me enough to have me run as assistant manager for a while.

Given all that, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I failed the test from Boots. But I was. Surprised and gutted (the job was perfect for me). And angry. Because this was their response:

We’re sorry to have to let you know that you haven’t been successful on this occasion due to the level you attained for the questionnaire assessment.

You will need to allow a 12 month period before applying for a similar role as this will give you adequate time to develop your skills and experience.

Adequate time to develop my skills and experience? How do they know anything about my skills and experience? They didn’t even ask for my CV. See that I’ve worked front of house in Hotels, Restaurants, Youth Hostel, Bars and a Clothing Store. See that I’ve worked as a Marketing Manager with direct reports, worked in Communications and handled the grumpy ‘Letters to Director’ that were received. I could go on. And I did, in my head, at 3am, full of cold and disappointment and a little bit of despair. This was a trainee role, where presumably a person would be given the relevant skills and I didn’t even get a look in.

Sigh. Breathe.

It doesn’t matter. A company that interviews by bot is not one I want to work for. But it’s battered an already bruised confidence.

Thank goodness for superfans, that’s all I can say.

Definitely Drowning

It turns out teaching is a bit like parenting, once you make your announcement, people can’t wait to tell you how dreadful it will be.

Only whereas, as a not-yet-parent, I could dismiss all the scaremongering and doomsaying, now I know better. Parenting has taken me to edges I didn’t know were there and left me drained, frightened and unsure of everything.

Not a great position from which to make a great leap forward.

Yesterday I had my compulsory ‘Safeguarding Children’ training that I need as an invigilator. Only this time I listened with increasing horror as teachers swapped stories about neglect and abuse. One or two ‘examples’ of neglect – such as letting a child watch videos late at night – made me question my own parenting.

And then the lovely teacher delivering the training explained that, as adults working with children, we can be held personally liable for a failure to report or disclose a concern. Suddenly I felt like I was standing on a sea wall facing a tsunami.

But I know my anxious brain magnifies worries and turns everything into the monster under the bed. So I went to talk to the charismatic teacher, who clearly loved his job, despite everything he’d been sharing. Tell me about teaching, I pleaded, everything I’ve read and heard makes it sound terrifying. And he said it was rewarding, and gruelling and disheartening and very hard work.

And then he said, ‘As long as you can engage with the students, you’re fine.’

I’m screwed.

I’m the least-engaging person I know. People confuse me, and I spend most of my time trying to second-guess what they’re thinking and feeling. Which I don’t even get right with my family most of the time, so goodness knows how I’ll manage with hormonal teenagers.

My husband’s very pragmatic – take it one day at a time, it’ll be fine. But so far I dipped my toe in the idea of teaching and got swept out to sea. And you have to ask, if they’re so desperate to drag you in with mentors and bursaries and personal plans, what are they not telling you?

Working as a train driver is starting to sound appealing.

Waving Not Drowning

Hellooo! I can’t believe another month has blustered by in a swirl of dead leaves, and still I haven’t blogged. Rubbish. I feel like I’m strapped to a dinghy and I’m travelling down a grade five river, out of control with too much sensory input and not enough breath to scream.

Well, actually that’s all a bit melodramatic, but I’ve been gorging on Sky Arts painting programmes as better for my mental health than murder-mysteries, and the language is quite hyperbolic and addictive. They’re always looking for the bold and innovative and brave (the opposite of little guinea pig me, darting at shadows).

That said, I’m making decisions that will shape mine and my family’s future, so hyperbole is perhaps not misplaced. And actually it started with the art programmes. Having decided that my 42-year-old brain couldn’t handle learning C and Python, I was back to square one. I decided to brush up my Microsoft skills, since I find excel fun to use, and needed a backdrop to drown out noisy neighbours. So Sky Arts.

I watched Portrait Artist of the Year, Landscape Artist of the Year, and The Big Painting Challenge. And remembered how much I love art and how I should have done that instead of History. To cut a long story short I investigated all possibilities of doing A Level or Foundation Art, with a view to teaching, and realised it was too expensive.

But teaching has floated as an idea since forever. Dismissed because I don’t do people, and fifty-hour weeks trigger my anxiety. But so did the idea of going back into an office environment. What to do?

Suddenly I’d applied to observe lessons in a school (next week!), with a view to teaching English (obvious really), and now I’m on a crazy train of potentially starting Teacher Training next September. How did that happen? No idea.

Which is all good, except I’m still typing, invigilating, have an author event this Saturday, and a karate exam the following weekend. And Christmas, which any mum with school kids knows, is a full-time job for the next four weeks of carols, fetes and fun stuff (for them!)

Cue panic city.

So I had this crazy idea of increasing the dose of my marvellous anti-anxiety meds. Except I forgot the first week of change is hell. I feel sick, woozy, jittery and basically a little surreal. Idiot. I’m working on Friday and right now it’s a challenge to get out of bed at 5am to let the pup out. But I recently read this quote from the artist O’Keeffe (one of the class names at my kids’ school which are all named after artists) and I try to keep it in mind.

I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

Bravery is my watchword right now. I entered the karate championships two weeks ago and not only did I win two trophies, I discovered I rather enjoy sparring, even if it means getting bopped in the face. For someone who can’t stand physical contact much of the time that’s a little bizarre, or maybe that’s what gives me the edge to defend myself. Who knew!

And the author event gives me the heebees but what is there to lose? And I might sell a few books. So teacher training could just be the next big adventure. As long as I get through the psychedelic weirdness of upping the meds. I’ll let you know!

Pesky Pets and Puzzling Programming

September didn’t get much better. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or a change in meds supplier but I was (am) fragile as a poppy. Any attempt to process more than one thing and I crash like a crappy computer.

So far October is okay. I did four hours of karate training this weekend and, while my body is broken and I can’t walk, my soul feels replenished.

I reached a nadir last week and decided a proper career shift is essential to my sanity. I put out a query for career paths where people skills are not a key aspect, and programming was the answer. I did go for a programming job as a new graduate and got 87% on the paper. Unfortunately the pass rate was 90%. Apparently I needed to slow down and read the questions better. Funnily enough I say the same thing to my son every time he gets stuck on his maths.

So it isn’t completely crazy for this ditsy arts student slash author to try and learn something as methodical as programming. But the brain is soooooo slow at 42 (even if it is the answer to life, the universe and everything!) I’m doing an online course from Harvard and have already nodded off during a lecture.

Mind you, the pesky pets have a lot to do with my exhaustion. Puppy is growing, and can escape from her pen and scramble past the stair block. She came into our bedroom six times last night, and when I finally locked her into her crate, she cried non-stop. Don’t be fooled by her cuteness, she’s a clever little minx.

And even my therapigs are being pickles. I keep trying to combine them into a herd but I have one that’s a bit of a bully. In my advice emails from the lovely people at Wood Green, they said that some gps are just like that and “it’s great that she has a companion already.” Ha! She’s basically me: impossible to live with and lucky she has a life partner who will put up with her. What it does mean is they stay in separate cages, so two lots of mucking out and laundry. Perhaps I need to stick to the guinea pig Mum gave me for my birthday.

Writing is still happening, in between all the chaos and mayhem. I gave Esmerelda Smudge an overhaul, using the awesome Save The Cat book, and renamed it Dani and the Djinni. [As an aside, I’m quite excited to see there’s going to be a Save the Cat book for novelists, although the screen play version has revolutionised my writing.]

I’ve submitted Dani and the Djinni for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and, if that goes nowhere, it will be the next in line to be illustrated. I’m doing a book signing at my local library next month so I need to keep plodding on with the writer bit of writermummy.

In the meantime, I’m surviving on coffee and beautiful sunrises. The only benefit of a 5am start.

Too Many ‘Me’s

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My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

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Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

Cramp

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Healthy work habits

If I continue the analogy that I used in a previous post, of this year being about swimming away from Mummy towards Amanda, I think it’s fair to say that I now have cramp.

I’ve always been a bit all-or-nothing. My therapist said it was the cause of my poor mental health, that I see everything and live everything in black and white.

January was no different.

As well as working on the project I managed to secure through Findaproofreader, and planning and executing my daughter’s 8th birthday party (you know, making a glitter ball pinata and glitter jelly and glitter ball cakes and a playlist and all that jazz), I’ve also been buying and selling furniture to get our house where we want it.

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Knitted pouffe

Oh and knitting my daughter’s pouffe for her birthday. And trying to stay on top of all the domestic stuff like cooking and ironing (yawn). So, in the end, there’s been no time for actual swimming.

It turns out proofreading someone else’s novel takes a hundred times more energy and concentration than editing your own. To begin with, I only managed a couple of hours a day before my head was ready to explode. Thankfully it’s a good story, and so I wanted to know what happened next. I sent the finished work off today, on time and on budget. Hurrah.

But what’s really giving me cramp? The juggling.

I have always known how very lucky I am not to be a working parent. But there is one thing knowing you’re lucky, and another living the other life for a while. Especially at a time the school decided to double the kids’ homework (grrr to homework full stop, but especially for six and eight year olds), never mind Beavers and Brownies and karate and clubs and parties and play-dates. Oh my goodness, I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Easter (or whatever that lovely phrase is).

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Amazing space

But it’s also great. I love having work to do. I am living the saying, ‘if you want something doing ask a busy person,’ as I’m getting much more done in a day than I used to. And I’m managing to work for more than a couple of hours a day, as my brain adjusts. New glasses help! (Turns out my eyes are getting better – there had to be some compensation to getting older.)
The best bit is spending my wages on a new wardrobe for my daughter (although that caused its own drama), not just to make her happy, but to sort out her room to make me happy.

Of course I’ve probably spent my wages about eight times over, but that’s not the point! The point is I have wages to spend. And let’s hope there is more to come, because I’m so jealous of my daughter’s fabulous wardrobe, I want to do our room next!

But in the meantime, I’m actually glad it’s half term in a week. I could use the rest, and perhaps, finally, get a chance to go for a swim.

Proofreader: Found

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All lovely things I’ve bought

It’s no secret that I’m a complete shopaholic.

It’s a terrible thing to admit in a world devastated by frivolous consumption. But I am a true child of the 80s and shopping makes me happy. Especially finding charity shop bargains or nabbing a deal on marketplace sites.

But life as a self-published author is not exactly lucrative. It’s a good year if I break even between what I make selling books and what I spend on editing and cover art.

What to do?

Well the obvious solution has always been get a job. But it isn’t that straightforward. Our life works because I don’t. We’ve made choices to allow me to be at home, running the house, and my reward for large amounts of tedious boredom and no income is huge amounts of time to swim, read and knit.

But oh, the shopping.

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Cutie Caramel

I miss guilt-free ‘it’s my money, I earned it, I’ll spend it how I like’ shopping. It doesn’t matter that I know part of my husband’s income is due to me for the cooking, cleaning, ironing and childcare. It’s not the same. That’s just pin money.

Until now.

Through a series of marvellous coincidences, I started working last year, transcribing audio, and then editing a memoir.

This year I decided to take a risk and pay to advertise on Findaproofreader. And, what do you know, it worked! And now I am working too.

So if you or a friend need a proofreader, editor, audio-typist, or writing buddy, look me up. You’ll be helping me make my house beautiful and my kids and guinea pigs happy. Of course, I’d still rather sell books than time, but both are awesome.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shopping now…