Mandatory Work Activity can seem like a good idea from a certain perspective: give the unemployed person an up-to-date reference, evidence they can work a stable schedule, maybe even useful skills. But for me at least, it is an evil coercion with no obvious benefits apart from that fresh new reference. Even there, I feel like I question the value of the reference, since it is due to coercion, and in my mind anyway it feels like that devalues the meaning for an employer. And it gives me no reward but at the cost of being an ill-fitting figure and an introvert in a high-pressure team role (indeed, the most relaxing times are when I am on the till: there, I need only smile and handle customers!) without even the benefit of being paid a half-decent wage. It uses spoons at a prodigious rate.
Be that as it may, I find myself working in a charity shop again, in the same high-pressure, people-encroaching environment, and despite the people being very pleasant it is still exhausting. I tweeted on Monday that there would be no blogging for the foreseeable future. That remains true, but this is about something that came up and I need to get off my chest. I can’t actually write about it here, in a public space but I can write about why I can’t.
The thing about charity shops is that everything is something that someone once had, and everyone is seeking something they need or that they would enjoy if they could afford it. It is a nexus of human stories. And I am a writer.
Sometimes the stories have to be imagined (again, I’m a f’king writer, imagining stories is, like, my thing!) and sometimes you are privileged to be able to talk with people and learn something of them. But there is never the whole story, never enough to know how it ends.
Mostly it is fun to imagine how things came to be, or how they will be put to use. While donations may be made due to bereavement, the stories I imagine are about the life that collected them. When a customer buys something, you see how it adds something. But sometimes you see another side, or find a story that is less happy in amongst.
It is inappropriate for me to say what I saw or why it troubles me. That is someone else’s story and unlikely to be for public consumption, however much I may have seen and was unhidden. But still, it troubled me, for various layered reasons, but deep in them all is compassion and knowing it’s not my place.
I can say that whatever the story was of which I caught a glimpse, the story (or continuation of it) that had a charity shop purchase in it was a happy one, for and of the future.
I still suffer by having to do the work, but even in a bad situation there are positives. When I work the till, watchthe shop floor, I see how other people at least, find things that delight them. Sometimes when I shop in charity shops I find the same delight (like with my little black dresses, or books I couldn’t find anywhere else, or… anyway)
Anyway, I wanted to end on that positive note even though this post was all about feeling stressed, and troubled. I am glad of the good.