Dear Prospective Employer – I’d Kill for a Job

I look as if I’ve just killed someone with my bare hands. It’s only paint but the dark brownish-red dots splotches on my palms and nails ringed in non-cosmetic scarlet are suggestive. Part of me wishes it were true. It would open up a range of new employment opportunities. Bodyguard. Assassin. Ninja. Gun for hire. Cage fighter. Maybe I could get a job as a prison officer. Or work for a private security firm in Iraq or some other high-risk location where wages are inversely proportionate to the value of human life. An unsqueamish woman with lethal fists could have a job for life with the CIA, or star in a Quentin Tarantino film. I could freelance as a butcher; become a safari guide, or a stunt woman, or…

Women too...

Not that I want to kill for a living but in the current economic climate it’s important to pursue every opportunity. In the last 30 days I’ve applied for 66 full-time jobs, 24 freelance posts, and sent 30-something pitches to newspapers or magazines. I haven’t asked to be an astronaut, elephant trainer, sommelier, CEO or pop star. I have soberly and responsibly applied for roles as reporter, web editor, deputy editor, sub-editor, proofreader, copywriter, personal assistant, executive assistant, administrator, online journalist, copy editor, report writer, and research associate. Jobs that all have two things in common: a) they require specific skills, education and experience, and b) I have the requisites. I’m not trying to waste anyone’s time, not trying to blag it; not getting ideas above my station. I have highly respectable undergraduate and graduate degrees and international work experience. At 31 I am young enough to be a good long-term employment prospect but mature enough to be reliable. I am willing to relocate; to consider part-time, contract and temporary work. I am flexible, personable, and well-presented. I speak two languages. I have management experience, recruitment experience, teaching experience and customer service experience.

If you are an employer advertising an editorial job and took the time to read the CV I sent you’ll know I write for national magazines including Mixmag, Real Travel and Mslexia; I write opinion columns and blogs; my essays win awards and my work appears in literary journals. I am a contributor to The Nervous Breakdown and a highly praised ghostwriter. I write about music, travel, media, literature, politics, food, fitness, pop culture, economics and women’s issues. I have worked in consumer and business to business publishing. I have managed websites and commissioned writers. I know InDesign, CMS, SEO, and social media. I can administer budgets, write reports, handle internal communications and external suppliers, deal with celebrities, clients and contractors.

For those employers seeking a proactive, organised, “good at liaising” executive assistant I have highlighted my organisational skills and project management background; they will know that I am good at multi-tasking and never miss a deadline. I have noted that working in different countries has made me flexible, open-minded and adaptable. I mentioned my dedication, drive, loyalty, and ability to get along in a team, and my work for leading brands.

Maybe you are looking for a food server, or someone to stand in a shop and smile when the doorbell jangles. Then you’ll know I have waitressed in casual and upscale restaurants; I have tended bar; run a coffee shop; and done silver-service catering. I have worked in shoe-shops, call centres, estate agents, warehouses, fast-food joints, schools and bakeries. I’ve been a football steward, a pet-minder and a babysitter. I can paint, too: houses, garden gates, and garage doors – that’s how my hands got all bloody-looking. I’m not persnickety. I’ve cleaned toilets and filled out marketing questionnaires for ten bucks a pop.

The one percent doesn’t support shit. Millions of people doing boring, repetitive, unrewarding, disregarded work is keeping this stove-hulled economic ship afloat. All those mediocre jobs that cover the mortgage and credit card minimums, keep food in the fridge and pay for broadband (though maybe not all in the same month) are holding off the deluge. Trouble is there are more hands than there are pumps and water is pouring in. It isn’t that people are too lazy, uneducated, inexperienced, fussy, or inflexible – there just aren’t enough jobs. I know. I’m looking.

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News of the World an Overdue Downfall

Last year I wrote a column for Snipe pondering the continued existence of News of the World

How the News of the World avoids prosecution under the Trade Descriptions Act is one of life’s little mysteries. The venerable tabloid stakes its reputation almost entirely on elaborate entrapment schemes designed to catch gullible semi-public figures with their trousers down (often literally)…. People have, thanks to years of shoddy journalism and media navel gazing, been conned into the tacit belief that if something happens and is reported upon it is automatically “news.”

It is awfully satisfying that NOTW finally collapsed under the weight of its own mendacity.

Snipe ‘Everything In Media Isn’t a Downer’

As I mentioned before, I write a media column for London alternative newspaper Snipe . I’d sort of forgotten about writing this column, but reading it back, I quite like it, and repost it here to prove that, despite my incessent bitching about the evils of the media, sometimes there’s good stuff too — and I don’t even mind admitting it.

Off Fleet Street: everything in media isn’t a downer
Sunday 3 October 2010

For the most part, the media consists of slick sales-pitches. It wants us to buy something, believe someone, serve somebody. Occasionally, however, a piece comes along that offers more than platitudes and does more than prescribe. These magical little moments occur when, and where, they are least expected. Recently, I picked up the October issue of Red for a swift goggle at Vanessa Paradis and came across ‘Why Giving Up Is Good To Do’. A brief, but imminently sensible article critiquing the notion that whatever it is you’re doing, you have to keep doing it till the bitter end. Author Anna Pursglove’s remark that: “The sky… does not fall in when you admit that you never should have done it in the first place or that it worked for you once, but doesn’t any more,” was exactly what I needed to read at that moment.

Other chance encounters have radically altered my way of thinking, have given shape to half-formed ideas, thrown me a life-line. Once, for no good reason I can remember, I bought a copy of Hello! There, in a very small column, lay a quote that still echoes in my head. Tilda Swinton, when asked “Do you take life as it comes or do you try to arrange it actively?” responds: “There are only two questions in life: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How shall I live?’”

Those few words flashed like neon amidst the pages of consumerist nonsense and celebrity gossip. That was the first, and I think the only, time I’ve seen a philosophical question on the pages of a weekly glossy. I tore out the page, folded it up and stuck it next to my passport; it comes out when I start to drown in details need to be reminded that ultimately life is a creative act of self-definition.

Interviews can offer sublime moments. American style mag BlackBook ran a Q&A with Chrissie Hynde that has become a fixture in my scrapbook. In it, the great Pretender levelled on the ridiculousness of competitive consumer culture, saying: “I left the States when I was 22 [because] I saw that I was going to be trapped into buying a car so I could get to work so I could pay for my car, and I thought, that’s not for me.” Later, she remarks: “I just tread my path and stick to the plan. And if anyone wants to come along and be part of it, that’s fine, and if they don’t, fair enough. I’ve never left my philosophy to join someone else’s.” Hallelujah. “I just tread my path and stick to the plan,” is a sentiment worth digging through hundreds of hair tips and restaurant reviews to find.

Media is in a bind. The more people are exposed to radical ideas about self-realisation, creativity and shunning consumerism the less likely they are to spend time and money to gawp at TV presenters and philandering footballers. Luckily, media can be delightfully self-defeating. The powers that be want to sell, sell, sell (ad space, ideology, whatever) but they sometimes do good despite themselves.

Channel 4’s Faking It is a case in point. Though it unapologetically light entertainment, it conveyed the message that—given determination and the proper training—anyone can do almost anything. The sugary reality TV format coated the sharp political truth that most people are constrained not by inherent inadequacies, but by social and educational opportunity.

Ultimately, for all its absurdities, media can still be transcendent. There is a line in my favourite book—Franny & Zooey—in which the narrator refers to: “the rising of a truth, fragmentary or not, up through what often seemed to be an impenetrable mass of prejudices, clichés, and bromides.” Such moments of truth are rare in the popular press, but thankfully not yet extinct.

Daily Pennsylvanian: Taking Aim at Gun Violence

Originally published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Autumn 2000

Columbine. I remember the day that name became a national byword, much in the same way I remember the day Princess Diana died or the way those slightly older than I remember the Challenger disaster.

They didn’t know, at first, how many were dead; estimates ran up to three digits. There were no commercials, I recall. And the images didn’t change much, as they obviously couldn’t get cameras inside the building. As the afternoon trickled on they began interviewing survivors, weeping schoolgirls, football players still trying to be macho through their residual terror.

Fifteen dead, including the two kamikaze killers whose innocent-seeming faces would stare posthumously from the covers of every major newsmagazine in the country. Faces whose secrets the world would try, too late, to understand. Blame TV, heavy metal, black trench coats, video games, lax parenting or poor social skills. Invoke the word “evil,” so long out of fashion until now.

Whatever you do, though, don’t blame guns. Guns don’t kill people, people do. To take the guns out of peoples’ hands, to prevent mere children from purchasing weapons, that would be an unreasonable — unconstitutional — infringement of civil liberties.

Americans are not the only ones, though, who have seen hell break out in their schoolyards. Just three years before Columbine, in the little Scottish town of Dunblane, Thomas Hamilton walked into a primary school with four handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Minutes later, 16 kindergarteners and their teacher were dead. Hamilton committed suicide.

Stunned, shattered, the nation and the government were determined it would never happen again. The parents of the murdered children threw themselves into a campaign to ban handguns. “Impossible,” an American would say. “Unfair!” cried the sport-shooting lobby in Britain. Yet the government implemented a ban on high-caliber handguns, resulting in more than 100,000 weapons being surrendered to the authorities. By early 1998, the ban was extended to all .22-caliber and lower handguns as well.

This legislation was in no way universally popular. Shooting aficionados were outraged at having to give up their weapons. Gun enthusiasts rightly protested that they — the responsible sportsmen — were not the problem. But in the end, despite their feeling that injustice had been served, they handed over their guns and got on with it.

Nearly four years have passed since Dunblane and nearly two since the legislation banning handguns came into effect. The shooting fans are still grumbling, yes. There is still gun-related crime, yes. However, there has been no second Dunblane.

Will we be able to say the same thing four years after Columbine? I doubt it.

Because it wasn’t just Columbine. It was Jonesboro, Ark.; Springfield, Ore.; West Paducah, Ky.; Pearl, Miss. A trail of blood and anguish, the children with guns in their hands and blank eyes. And every time it happened we were horrified, the images running together in a montage of huddled parents, weeping children, stone-faced politicians.

Those were just the disasters epic enough in proportion to become catch phrases. In mild-mannered Portland, Ore., a boy was stopped outside my brother’s school, the trunk of his car full of guns. In South Dakota, my friend’s sister got the day off of school because of a bomb threat. Multiply that by thousands, the number of incidents that border on the knife-edge between near miss and front-page horror show.

This is all because Americans cannot live with the idea that their precious right to bear arms might be infringed. Even if it means that the litany of names will continue into a new century — the names of the dead, the names of the guilty, the names of the communities devastated by violence.

In Britain there is one name — Dunblane — and there was one reaction: banning handguns. A knee-jerk reaction, some have said, but since then no one has turned on the BBC evening news and seen blood-soaked children fleeing out of schools — unless they were watching the Columbine coverage, of course.

Like it or not, the ban seems to have worked, and it stands as a rebuke to America’s selfish unwillingness to make radical change in the face of tragic persuasion.

Daily Pennsylvanian: Loud, Obnoxious and decidedly American

Thanks to Google I’ve just stumbled across a column I wrote for the Daily Pennsylvanian some eight years ago. I was their foreign correspondent for a term, while studying at London’s King’s College. An excruciating tutorial there formed the basis for this column.

All I could think was that I’ll never be able to open my mouth in this class again. He was ruining it for me, ruining everything with his grating tone, his blatant rudeness, the patronizing way he kept interrupting other students to correct their opinions. If only he was German or French or Dutch or Spanish, I would have been all right. But he was American. As much as I wanted to light into him, my tongue was tied by the sudden awareness that my voice and accent would betray me in an instant. It wouldn’t matter what I said, my accent would stamp me just as quickly as his had identified him — and equate us beyond my power of control.

Until that mortifying hour in my critical theory class, surrounded by British students who were — justifiably — looking daggers at this specimen of Americana, I hadn’t realized to what extent language shapes and projects our identity.

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Dummy: Dan Sartain

Originally published in Dummy

Dan Sartain

Dan Sartain


Dan Sartain plays rock’n’roll. Real rock’n’roll. Like young Elvis did, like his hero Chuck Berry did. Onstage at the Astoria he first looks small and very alone; almost obscured by stacks of equipment for the next band. Then he smashes out an opening chord and his sole accompanist beats furiously at the drums and the sound blasts through the smoke and the chattering crowd like a jet taking off. Suddenly he’s channelling Chuck’s knock-kneed shuffle, spitting out raw three-minute sagas of love and death with sweat-soaked fervour.

Off-stage he smokes fast and talks slow in an unexpected West Coast accent. His gaunt face and mischievous eyes hint deliciously at a picaresque past. But the Birmingham, Alabama born and raised singer claims he had a typical childhood, playing with Transformers, eating Vienna sausages from the tin. Birmingham, for all its sordid racist history, is, he says, just like anywhere in America. And like many grown-up American kids he loves big glossy cars, sport, hip hop, and getting stoned.

Still, at not-quite 25, Dan seems old for his years. A little roughed up by life, already. Maybe that’s how you get, living with as-yet unrequited dreams.

When did you first get into music?
My dad was a musician so he had a guitar around, always. He taught me how to play my chords when I was about eleven, and that’s when I got interested. And I’ve got a cool big brother. He’s probably my biggest musical influence, as far as getting me good records and shit. Sonic Youth, Pixies, Rocket From The Crypt. What else do you need?

What was the first record you bought?
It was either Alice Cooper’s Greatest Hits or AC/DC Who Made Who. I still have both those tapes and listen to ‘em all the time.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
An athlete. American football or boxing. I had the heart to do it but I didn’t have the body.
But I come to every practice and tried as hard as I could.

Were you popular at school?
Yeah, probably for the wrong reasons. I was either making fun of people or getting made fun of myself. The biggest class clown there was.

Is that part of why you got into music? To show off?
There is a certain buzz you get; it’s like a high, playing onstage. It kicks in the same endorphins as being an athlete. Except you get to be drunk and do it, so that’s cool.

How did your debut album, Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes, come about?
When I was about 19 I made a record myself called the Crimson Guard, and I gave it to [California-based label] Swami Records, the one record company I ever tried to get on. They liked it and wanted to put it out so I rerecorded some old stuff and did a bunch of new stuff. It felt good. I felt validated as a musician.
I don’t know what would have happened if I’d gotten knocked back. Luckily I didn’t have to worry about it.

Who or what are the ‘serpientes’ of your album title?
It’s just, uh, snakes. Dan Sartain versus the snakes. All the snakes of the world. It’s cooler to say ‘serpientes’ than snakes.

You’ve been compared to Johnny Cash and Elvis – is that exciting or intimidating?
It’s nice, ‘cause I like Elvis, and Johnny Cash. But Chuck Berry’s better than both of them.

So who are your musical heroes?
Ol’ Dirty Bastard. [Jazz/blues musician] John Reece. Chuck Berry. And the people that I get to work with.

Is there any music you don’t like?
Most music. You gotta dig for treasure, you know what I mean. You gotta dig through all the stuff to find one jewel.

How important is your image to your music?
Not that important. But I like to look nice. I try to wear something with a collar.

What would be your dream gig?
Oh geez. I wish I’d seen the Ramones.

And to play?
There’s so many gigs that you play that you think were the perfect gig. My 21st birthday was good. You get to drink when you’re 21 in America, so it was like a big milestone. Was I drunk onstage? Oh yeah. Well, we were the first band so I wasn’t too tossed

What’s on your rider?
Towels, water, fruit. Nothing too exciting. I’d like to get lobster and pistachios but that ain’t gonna happen.

One reviewer wrote that you were probably destined for ‘cultdom not stardom’ – what do you think?
I agree with ‘em. I’d like to do enough to get some money though ‘cause I don’t have any money. When people say they don’t have any money they got something. They got some Christmas money put aside or something but I ain’t got no money. I ain’t got no money.

How does it feel to be working these last few years, putting out records, and still be broke?
Well, I can’t do anything else. And I can say that in all honesty, ‘cause I tried. I’ve been a pizza maker, done manual labour stuff, everything but office jobs.

What’s the worst job you’ve had?
The worst job I ever had was cleaning out the showers at the YMCA. They were obviously full naked men walking around. I’m not homophobic but then again, they weren’t homos. They were just naked dudes and it made me uncomfortable.

On MySpace you list your influences as Mike Tyson and THC – can you elaborate?
I just like to get stoned and watch Mike Tyson knock people the fuck out. Yeah! He’s the greatest champion of our life time.

Doesn’t the ear biting count against him?
One time he bit that guy’s ear, I guess. But Holyfield shouldn’t have been head butting him. You don’t head butt Tyson and expect him to take it lightly, you know.

Do you take any shit off people?
Never. I’ve been in fights, yeah. I’m not proud of ‘em. I usually win though. Hit someone in the nose and they get all bloody and they don’t want to fight anymore.

Who would play you in a biopic?
Sal Mineo, maybe. [Rebel Without A Cause co-star, murdered in West Hollywood thirty years ago.] I’d like to choose James Dean, you know, but you can’t choose somebody that’s more handsome than you.

Would you rather be famous now or well-remembered in the future?
What has more money? Famous now? Then famous now.
I’ll tell you this much, people that are rich and try to play it off – do everything very moderate – those are born rich people. But poor people, when they get rich, they’re like all these rappers. They’re like Elvis. Elvis was a poor person who became rich. He was like, I’m eating whatever I want, anytime. I’ve got three Cadillacs, got all these jewels in my belt.
I’d do all that. I’d do the lobsters, I’d do the rings, I’d do all that shit.

Dan Sartain vs. The Serpientes is out now on One Little Indian. His new album, Join Dan Sartain, is scheduled for release in Sept 2006