Boss level

clump of mushrooms on a log

I spent all of last week trying to reflect on twelve months in this new job, in this new place, but I kept getting distracted by everything else going on. I have a lot of highly stressful things to deal with at the moment and my nervous system is absolutely shot to pieces but it’s like no! really! I promise I am happy here! Moving to Victoria is still the best thing I’ve ever done! I just would like things to stop happening to me please. I want the stability and quietude I came here for.

Strangely, for the most part, work is not one of those stressful things. My boss is retiring tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to working with my new interim boss, who also manages our discovery team. I feel like I’m achieving good things at work, like writing my first ever functioning Python script that wasn’t 100% cribbed from a tutorial (more like 85% cribbed from two tutorials, but hey! at least I understand what it does!) and overhauling our ebook and streaming media metadata management. I think I’m getting a bit better at this whole team leading thing? My team appear to not be completely miserable? People hide this sort of thing all the time though. Everyone has a lot on their plate.

I like working here. I like working somewhere that isn’t prestigious, because prestige is a scam, and I’ve learned the hard way that prestigious institutions often lean on that good name to justify treating their staff like crap. This place is largely unburdened by legacy and expectation, notwithstanding the fact we’re named after a notorious racist, and it employs people who punch above their weight and contribute a lot to the profession. I like that we aim high.

Clearly I don’t blog like I used to. I’m certainly a lot busier at work now, but I also have more institutional power and agency to do a little something about systemic problems. Public screaming has its uses but is also exhausting and corrosive. Turns out that if I speak with a normal inside voice, people still sometimes listen to me.

I sensed that I was likely to need more support this year so I signed up for the CAVAL Mentoring Program, this being the first year I’ve worked at a participating institution. My mentor has turned out to be an inspired match: she has the back-of-house library management experience that I requested, but also a lot of life experience that lately I’ve found deeply helpful.

She went to a lot of trouble last week to help me see myself in kinder ways. People often say to me ‘stop being so hard on yourself’ but I have no idea what that means, or how to do that, or why I would want to. My mentor didn’t say that. She affirmed that yes, I really have got a lot on my plate right now, and yes, it’s all a bit shit, and yes, being autistic without much practical support is an added layer of difficulty that most people don’t have. But she also pointed out to me that even as I hit roadblock after roadblock I’m still taking stock of where I might go next. I haven’t given up. I’m still figuring things out.

We also discussed how exhausting it is now to go to conferences, to simply sit in chairs and listen to people speak. I suggested that this feels particularly draining because not only are we expected to listen, but we must also be seen to be listening. It’s considered rude to fidget, or knit, or stare at the ceiling, or close one’s eyes, because most speakers would generally find this off-putting. We talked about this in a zoom call where she was knitting underneath the camera’s view and I kept the camera off entirely. I sat at my desk at home fidgeting with a pen and staring at the workmen tinkering with the gas mains out the front of my house. People at work have mostly stopped hassling me about turning my zoom camera on. I often think about how people say zoom meetings make it hard for them to read a room and receive implicit feedback from others. Being autistic means my whole life is like this.

Things are certainly better for me than they were twelve months ago but they are also always a lot. I hope we can all rest soon.

Under new management

‘Congratulations – three months have passed! Time to check in and reflect on how things have been going,’ chirped the automated email. I looked over to the taskbar calendar for confirmation. Seriously? Already? I swear I only just got here.

It has been a very large three months. I spent the first month living in a highrise student residence, an experience I had mercifully skipped during my undergraduate years. It got very old very quickly, especially when the fire alarm went off three times in 24 hours (2am, 2.30am and 6pm) and lockdown meant I was confined to an apartment with a revolving door of total strangers. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. It was a place to stay, but not a place to live. Especially at my age.

I finally found a permanent place to live after weeks of furious searching, a lovely older place in a nice part of town. A bigger house than I really need, but my rental budget goes a lot further here, and I decided after years of existing in a crappy shoebox flat that I wanted to live somewhere nice. Especially if I was going to be home all day.

People around here are fancy, but friendly. Friends had promised to help me move in, but lockdown forced them to cancel. I need another pair of hands to put the bedframe together, so I’ve been sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I also don’t have anywhere for visitors to sit. Probably just as well there aren’t any.

I was warmly welcomed into my new job, a delightfully non-toxic environment where for the first time in my career I feel my role ticks all the right boxes. I have plenty to do, but also a lot more agency over how I do it. I have supportive colleagues and a library-wide culture of deep care, for each other as well as the service we provide. I don’t have time to be bored, or to muse about how I would do things differently. I’m too busy actually doing them.

Every day here is a learning experience. I’m learning a whole new library management system, which is great in some ways and frustrating in others, as well as new and better ways of sourcing, processing, loading and maintaining bibliographic records. Most importantly, I’m learning how to manage a team—and do so remotely. (It’s fucking hard.) I recently farewelled a team member after 35 years of devoted service. I’ve never met her in person.

I see another human being in the flesh once a fortnight, for a masked-and-distanced lunch in the park. She’s the only person I knew in greater Geelong before I moved here. I am thankful for her company. I wish it weren’t all I had.

Like so many others in Victoria I feel myself languishing, watching the days flick from one lockdown to the next, not daring to raise hope for when I might see my friends again—the friends I moved here to be closer to. For me the difference between lockdown and not-lockdown is one of small tradeoffs; I can pop into the office to use the photocopier, but shopkeepers harass me more often for papers proving I don’t live in Melbourne. They expect to see a driver’s licence, which I don’t have, so instead I now carry my lease agreement everywhere. It’s getting a bit tiresome.

Here I continue the reclusive life I moved interstate to escape. I’m very used to being a shut-in who doesn’t leave the house and whose friends all live elsewhere. It makes the present more tolerable in some ways, but it’s hardly the dream I had looked forward to for so long.

And yet I am the happiest I have ever been. Despite our current troubles (and those of the organisation I now work for), I have more to look forward to here. I feel more settled and ready to do good things. I am no longer routinely plagued by horrific anxiety—I really don’t miss that—and there is more sunshine and nice old houses to look at. Plus everything is cheaper here. Even therapy.

It’s good to be here.