Tuesday, November 25, 2008

looking at monsters

The brave quartet turns to face the medieval gateway, waiting for the monster to appear. Close-up on their faces: half-open mouths, widening eyes, hands reaching for other hands. And then the monster does appear, a howling, black-cloaked figure coalescing out of vapours, roaring and clawing at the air, its face a mask, its teeth like stitches.

Chloe sits next to me on the sofa, legs tucked up into herself. She quickly presses a cushion to her face and tells me to turn the TV off.

‘But see – Chloe – see how Sarah Jane keeps looking straight at the monster. She’s scared, but she knows her best chance is to keep looking. That way she’ll be able to figure out exactly what the thing is. She knows it’s only by looking straight at it, it’s only by keeping her eyes open and figuring out what to do next, will she have any chance of winning. Chloe. Because although it’s scary, it’s still just a thing, in the same way a dog’s a thing, or a ladder, or a car. Say a big dog suddenly appeared in the gateway. You’d be better off looking at it, thinking about what it’s capable of, and then acting on that. So really, it’s good to look at these things – especially the things that scare you. Because then you’ll be able to see what needs doing.’

Chloe lowers the cushion. Together we watch the scene play out, watch Sarah Jane challenge the demon figure, and use her wits to send it back through the gateway. Cue music and titles.


A few days later I get the letter I’ve been waiting for, the results of the paramedic assessment day I sat last week, the first stage of the application process for the next university cohort.

It’s a thin letter.

I rip it open with a sick feeling. It’s all laid out coolly and plainly. I failed two of the four components. I won’t be called for interview.

I spend the next few hours trapped in caves of disappointment. Voices and echoes, sickeningly familiar, some I thought I’d heard the last of, some I knew were sleeping like viruses, ready to be activated when conditions were right. How could I have failed? Easy. I fail often. It’s the one thing I’m reliably good at. What must people think of me? What must they think of these crosses I’ve got to tote around with me now? These crushing dismissals? Even the trainees I helped find their feet have moved on. In a panic I see myself left behind. I thought I could simply strike into the next phase any time I wanted, but in reality I can’t. What else do I feel confident about that’s actually hollow, maybe even rotten, in the same way?

Eventually the crisis precipitated by the letter levels out, the sting of it eased by my family and friends. And it helps, too, to remember that night on the sofa, Chloe dropping the cushion from her face to look at the monster straight on. She’s seven. If she can find it in herself to confront whatever it is coming through the gateway, to see for herself what it really is, then - well – I’d better just get on and learn from her, and do the same, too.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the para assessment mate. But don't take it personally, you must know by now our lot just want people to jump through increasingly more hoops.
From your anon reader about 5 stations along the coast. :-)

BenefitScroungingScum said...

Spence, I'm so sorry to hear you didn't get through to the next stage. I'm sure it's only this time though. All I can say is that as you know things you have to fight harder for are so much sweeter when you finally win and that secondly I hope if I need an ambulance I will be lucky enough to be helped by someone as knowledgeable, kind and sympathetic as you.
Good luck next time, BG x

Anonymous said...

So sorry you didn't get it this time Spence.

At the risk of sounding cliche and patronising............ keep going, keep trying and it'll happen.

Best of Luck

Spence Kennedy said...


I know I shouldn't take it too hard. There are plenty of paras - people I think really highly of - who failed a few times before they made it on to a course. And I don't want to sound too precious about it. I suppose it just tripped me up, like bad news sometimes does, acting like a depressive trigger. And when the ol' monster is out and looking about, it's hard to talk myself from behind the sofa...

Anyway. I really appreciate your support. Hopefully I'll have better news to write about sometime next year.


uphilldowndale said...

Be kind to yourself because you are worth it and go poke the monster in the eye with a sharp stick.

Spence Kennedy said...

:) x

loveinvienna said...

I'm useless at offering sympathy and advice, always sounds so cliched. I'll just offer you a sort of virtual shoulder-squeeze from Vienna and a cuppa. You'll get it next time, don't worry :) I suppose you'll also have another year of experience as well which can only be a good thing!

I'll happily donate the pointy stick to the monster-poking cause too :)

Liv xxx

Chris said...

Hard luck, and just take it as an indication of which areas you still need to brush up on

Better luck next time

Anonymous said...

Bad luck Spense - definately worth trying again though. Please keep blogging in the meantime xXx

Nicola said...

Hi Spence,

I don't know if it's any consolation, but I'm a true fan of yours all the way out here in New Zealand. I don't think there are very many people who write with your grace, skill and empathy.

You can try the paramedic entry exam again, right? Keep at it, and keep blogging all the while.

Spence Kennedy said...

I'm so lucky to have so many great people reading my blog and sending me such lovely comments! Thanks again.

I think I've regained my balance and perspective on this now. It's a setback - and God knows everybody has those either at work or home, to a greater or lesser extent. It's the way these stupid things catch you sometimes, making them feel worse than they really are. Which kind of comes back to the scary monster on the telly. If you look more closely you can see there's just an actor behind the mask.

I'll get feedback, find out where I went wrong and make sure I don't make the same mistakes again next year. Meanwhile - I still like the job. The people I work with are great, the job itself is interesting and worth doing. So everything's fine really.

lots of love

Anonymous said...

Just thought I'd add my support to the comments being given above. There's not a lot more that can be said except that exams don't test how good you are in the real world in real life situations. They're just a test of how well you can memorise the manual and whether or not the examiner is having a good day or a bad day.

Shade said...

Make the mistakes now and you learn from them so you can be better later. If it's something you want to go for - you'll get there and any extra time spent getting there is time to learn more and experience more so you're actually better off than had you got through straight away.

Good luck in the future!

Mary said...

Hope you're out from behind the sofa now. Ok, so it'll be a while before you're a para, but in the meantime, you still do a job that you can be damn proud of, making a very real and positive difference to people's lives.

Anonymous said...

Hi spence

I am doing very well professionally and I failed my interview first time for the job that started me on my career path. I only got it because they failed to appoint. My husband got to the top of his profession - and he failed his first year's exams at university. there's nothing like a little failure to bring out the best in people if we let it
so good luck

Spence Kennedy said...

You're right. There are lots of positives to come out of this. I'll get some feedback on what went wrong and then take steps to put it right. And I don't have to cast around too far to find loads of stories of people getting knock-backs and then coming up strong - perhaps even stronger - because of them. That's what I aspire to, that resilience and spirit of adaptation. Even more than the result itself!

Thanks for your comments & support

Anonymous said...

Your fantastic attitude is summed up in the above comment. You WILL get there. And please keep blogging. X

Spence Kennedy said...

Thx K!

~M~ said...

Brilliant entry!

I love Sarah Jane too!


Anonymous said...

I work in recruitment and development for a big company - my boss and I, when we're looking for talent, aren't interested in those who have nothing but A-stars, commendations, smooth rides, because all it shows about them is that they don't really know who they are, because they've never been tested. When you look at how people have responded to a setback, that's when you see the resilience that makes someone special.

Good luck next time, Spence.

Spence Kennedy said...

Thanks, POMH! It's encouraging to hear that.

It's certainly what I believe myself. And I've always felt more comfortable around people who've had to work for what they have. They seem more real, more accessible.