This week I was a full time university student and a part-time editor.
On Wednesday I took two cold tablets, went to uni for 8 hours, came home, took two more cold tablets and fielded a dozen emails.
This week I ran out of money three times.
I’ve never minded working for nothing.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to be involved in projects that I’m incredibly passionate about. I wasn’t one of those people who were born with a passion for mining or stockbroking. The nature of the arts industry in Australia means that most of the people who work in it spend most of their time earning not-enough money. That’s the nature of the beast.
Take National Young Writers Month. That was an incredible experience. I learnt more in those few months than I think I did during all my classes at uni last year. I wouldn’t have missed that experience for anything.
Except perhaps (and this is the point) a million dollars.
Express Media is a organisation that runs on the passion and commitment of those involved. Not a single person is in it for the cash. The funding NYWM received covered a lot of costs. It payed for petrol and venues and phone bills and a lot of thankyou wine for the guests at Write Across Sydney. What it didn’t technically pay for was us. At a very rough estimate I’d say Rosie and I earned less than 20c an hour doing that job. To be honest 20c is probably optimistic.
Whenever the subject of working for nothing comes up people say the same thing- ‘it’ll look good on your CV’. The theory behind this argument is that working for free is a gateway to working for actual cash. But I’ve been doing various things for little or no monetary reward since I was 15. This year I turn 21. My workload has increased, that’s for sure, but my income hasn’t.
I’ve reached a point where I’m not sure I can do this much longer. I want to be a grown-up. I want to buy a kitchen table for our house. I want to buy cheese. I want to hand over my Visa card without having that awful moment of panic when you can’t remember how much is in the account.
These aren’t big things. I know I’m still young and I have all the time in the world. But I don’t think these are unreasonable goals.
I’m lucky enough to have amazing parents who have always wanted to support me. But my parents have raised me. They’ve spent almost 21 years supporting me. I want desperately to be able to support myself. More than almost anything else I want the money I’m spending to be my own. I honestly can’t tell you how much I crave that. It’s a little ridiculous.
So I should get a job right? Good point. Only one problem- I have a job.
I’m the editor of The Pun. It was a job offer I couldn’t say no to. And, while I’m not being paid in cash, I think the opportunities will more than make up for the work load. If nothing else it is allowing me to see more (and more exciting) shows while in Melbourne than I would ever have afforded otherwise. I am in no way complaining about the editor gig.
But having a job makes the act of getting a job significantly harder.
I don’t get anything from Centrelink. Apparently my parents earn too much. I honestly think that, as a grown woman, what my parents earn is TOTALLY irrelevant. More to the point my parents can’t comfortably support me and my brother. They’re not struggling as much as a lot of other people, I understand that, but it is by no means easy.
I had every intention of going to Centrelink last week. I was planning to go armed with printed and filed documents. With proof of my worthiness. I was going to be FIRM and CONVINCING.
Then I realised that they would almost certainly tell me that The Pun didn’t count as employment. The job I had just spent the better part of four days doing (well over 20 hours in total) would matter for nothing.
I did not end up going to Centrelink. I realised my desire to sob tears of frustration in Mayfield Centrelink was less than zero.
I am, given any reasonable definition of the word, independent. I moved out of home over a year ago. I do my own shopping. I pay my own bills. I buy clothes by myself. Yet I can’t be financially independent.
I can’t help thinking there’s something very wrong with this picture.