Saint Nicolas

[Note: This post took me over a week to write and relative time references in it are inaccurate.]

If you follow me on Facebook (and you should because I’m interesting af) you might have noticed my latest status update: I found work. And not just any work, no.
When I got back from the United States, I had quite the task ahead of me. Despite all my promises and symbolic efforts, I had made zero progress towards a stable income and a sound financial support for my baby momma. So I got right to work and lo and behold, along came the mother of all job openings: Stage Technician in the city theater of Sint-Niklaas, half an hour drive from home. I applied, together with 30+ other people, 2 of which I knew from classes and work. It was a rat race like no other, with 3 rounds of exams. Within the first 5 minutes, 4 applicants got up and left. The exam was hard.

I made it to 2nd place. In other words, I didn’t get the job and I would get included in the reserve. I tried to take the rejection positively but honestly, it really bummed me out. If it wasn’t for my job coach slapping sense into me, I would have lost motivation for a lot longer. I’m quite embarrassed of that now, in retrospect.

So I continued applying, with a few highs and many deep lows along the way. Slowly, I was changing field from ‘stage business’ to ‘any damn business’ but as tends to happen, the interesting jobs got taken by other people. I did get into a company maintaining parking lots, and I seriously would have taken the job if the lady on the phone hadn’t sensed my reluctance when she mentioned I’d have to clean up urine and vomit off the floor when deposited there by tenants.

It felt like I was selling my soul, cheaply, one application at a time. I’m sure I used those exact words in my writing at some point. But then came an email: Almost a year after my very first application in Sint-Niklaas, there was another opening. They wanted to check if I was still interested.

Externally, I calmly typed,

Dear Madam/Sir,

I am still looking for similar work and the position at the city theater seemed exceptionally interesting to me- still does. So yes, I am still interested.

Currently, I work as a freelancer so I am available immediately.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Kind regards,

Sent with smoke signals
Maarten De Pue
Stage Technician / Photographer
(phone number)

One week later, I was employed by the city of Sint-Niklaas as a full-time, fully paid stage technician. I don’t know who in the mechanics of the establishment I have to thank for this, but I might hunt them down and kiss them.

I have no illusions, this will be a difficult transition. After 11 years as a stagehand with (most often) zero responsibility, anything else will feel like prison.
And you, yes you there, I see you rolling your eyes, just like whenever some idealist compares work with imprisonment. And I’m here to tell you that you are dead wrong. Just because you chose to let your childhood dreams fly in order to adapt to the little square space society had reserved for you, doesn’t mean you are right, regardless of how many of you there are.

Much more than a recognition of my skills and talents, I see this as a gigantic confirmation that I was correct all along. I was right to quit school, I was right when I told myself I was different, I was right when I decided, on a whim, that the army was the next place for me to go. I was right when I dreamed of that job in stage business, and to think that the sparse money didn’t matter. And I was right, when the time came to find  financial stability, to fight for the job that I wanted. This is important to me because near the end of my search, my resolution was cracking and I was willing to compromise in regards to job satisfaction. Luckily, I hadn’t yet.

What this is also, is the suggestion that I was much closer to accomplishing my goals than I believed. Since this was my first application, I could have chosen to sit on my lazy ass for a few months and the end result would be the same. Instead, I went from door to door to have them all slam in my face.
In a sense, my methods proved to be overkill.

Many people sent me news about training or job openings that might look attractive, but weren’t what I wanted in the first place. I turned almost all of them down, with no other excuse than “it’s not what I want” when prompted why. I was right to dream, god damn it, and I was right to resist the perpetual nag of the system to fall in line and conform to something that betrayed me so fundamentally when I was young. And you were wrong, just like you are wrong to think that getting any job is a step forward by definition.

Not that it isn’t a step forward, mind. And that isn’t just because a job is what I needed, but because I seem to have stumbled across some of the most driven, competent people in the business. I have been impressed repeatedly this week, by both the work and the result put down at this theater, with such apparent ease. I’m being careful about cheering too soon, but it would appear that I have hit the jackpot.
It’s a high level to rise up to. I have to drop the habitual disrespect for artists, as the theater has a strong mentality of treating them as a customer rather than a passing nuisance. While stagehand cynicism got me this far, it will obviously need to be dropped like a bad habit (which it is) before we can continue.

So at this moment, my workweek (of 7 days, followed by 7 days off) is one continuous prayer that I don’t fuck up. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’m so focused on details that the most basic things elude me entirely, and the moment that I am finally included in the memo that Maarten hasn’t got the first clue how to do his job, also happens to be the one where I get my ass fired.

What took me completely by surprise, although it shouldn’t have, is how differently I feel around my son. He is sleeping under a tree as we speak and although nothing physically changed much, it would appear that a small mental landslide took place this week.
In the past, when I visited the family in Czech Republic, there was always some shadow present. Especially in the beginning, when I came by bus and I was even more dependant on my hosts, everything had a subtle taste of failure. All I had were empty promises and ditto pockets and even in the best moments between the little one and myself, there was a gaping hole where my confidence as a father should be. Now that this change with the past is showing itself, I am ashamed to admit how clearly I projected my feelings of inadequacy onto the people around me, including my boy.

I was playing in a park with him just yesterday and a familiar reflex kicked in, a little part of my personality that double-checks whatever the hell I’m doing and if things make sense in the bigger picture. I consider it a good habit but as you can imagine, it can spoil the moment when not everything is in order.
But in that moment… everything was. And that little piece of brain sat back down in silence and I watched, as my son sat laughing on my lap, how long-lost pieces fell into place and created a new horizon. A feeling of wholeness washed over me and it surprised me how deeply I enjoyed the idea that I could be more as a father, than a playmate who visits every month. Finally, the foundation was laid for me to become the father I aspire to be.
Tomorrow I may lose my job, or my car might break down. Possibly both. But today, shit is going well.

Have I told you that my very first job after school was in Sint-Niklaas? I was on my knees, scratching gum off the stairs of the local shopping mall. I did this because I believed there was nothing else for me, and I believed that because it was the only thing people told me, to no end. Words my son will never hear from me. Like I did the hard way, he will learn that there are places for him even in today’s society, where he will fit in perfectly instead of pretending to be someone else.

There is a place for me. And it is here, where my weaknesses are my talents, where greatness is achieved through love and care for the job. It is where I belong; if not in this particular position, at least in this environment. To be given the chance to flourish here, is the greatest gift in the world.


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