canadian millenial dream pen

Emily Gillespie
Content Warnings
"Handfuls and handfuls of cheap free pens, you know the kind I’m talking about right?"
Dec 28, 2020 9:51 PM

Handfuls and handfuls of cheap free pens, you know the kind I’m talking about right?

Mass produced pens, in bright colours, that splotch and ruin my clean crisp paper, or just explode in my nice purse, coating my lipstick and wallet in wet black ink on the way to a meeting I’ll now be late for

“Career training in only 3 months” “Get the job you want today!” “Apply for our one year graduate program!” Advertising, with promises of opportunities never to come, that aren’t meant for people like you or me, oh and the writing on the side of the pen, it’ll fade with every use, slowly colouring my skin and I’ll make my hand raw trying to scrub the dye off

The career fair pens and the grad school pens for programs I was never healthy enough to attend The Canadian dream pen, the lefty millennial non-profit pen that whispers there is hope, and you too belong somewhere, because there are enough opportunities for all of us

“It has a clicker” the promo person at a table will tell you, trying to sell you on the pen

I have pens from my first real job, program manager at a non-profit focusing on leadership and disability rights education, the job advertisement danced off the computer and called to me, me with my gender and disability studies degrees, education and research background, disabled body and fierce desire to do community work

I never got an introduction to that space, no training, heck I had to find the washroom myself on my first day, like I was snooping around at a party I wasn’t exactly invited to. Found the supply cabinet myself, old yellowing legal pads of paper and boxes and boxes of cheap orange pens from a promo campaign

It took me most of the year to understand what the organization does, as I read and re-read their website that hadn’t been updated in ten years

After signing my contract I learned that the job was promised to someone else, who was twice my age and more credible since she was visibly disabled

I later learned she’d already been in the job for months, but I was generously given two days per week of her five, since she had a second job after all, she kept the health benefits, but at least we shared the title, right?

I learned the person who had the job before us had died suddenly, and I was given the task of clearing the deceased persons belongings, memos, notebooks, pens to the trash, trying to make room for myself, even though there’d never be room, as I tried to understand my job description based on sticky notes of a dead woman

I wonder if she’d of liked me

The short-term contract dangled before me like jewels, flashed the hope of job security at my starved post-university depression nap self

“Congratulations, this is perfect for you” my friends offered when I got the job, but I warned them not to congratulate me yet

Three days a week would have given me health benefits, permanence, stability, career growth. They gave me two, but if I worked hard for the year, and they got the core funding grant and the entire board and staff gets my brand of Crazy...and I work through lunch, and I can prove that I work harder than all the other staff combined and don’t dare act disabled ....and and I had so much hope the first time I sat at my desk holding a cheap pen, in my mass-produced second-hand blazer that almost fit properly


I was told that if I worked harder, I would not only have the pen to hold, but a glossy business card with my name on it too, my name in bold ink, my name in a framed degree and a wall to put it on and

a nice solid oak desk to go along with my card, pen and frame, a nice window too with potted plants under it and a view of the city

So at staff meetings, I shot my hand up, volunteering to do the tedious jobs that no one else wanted trying to secure my place as a valuable member of the work family

My co-workers, who worked more hours than me brought flashy lists of what they’d accomplished to meetings, but how was I, working only two days a week supposed compete with that? This isn’t a competition I tried to tell myself at first, ohhh but it was

My disabled-self bends over in pain drooling at the thought of health benefits and I know it’s a popularity contest for survival I’ll lose

Half-way through my year contract, in a half-hearted staff bonding effort, the boss decided to re- arrange all the desks. But me, me, with my learning disability, panic disorder and attention challenges, needed my corner where I was originally housed, but the boss wanted me plop in the centre of the big room to “shake things up”

I quietly reminder her about my disability and access needs

She told me it was okay, I was only in two days a week anyway, it hardly mattered. So my cheap Ikea desk sat in middle of the open concept office as the boss and secretary with desks on either side of mine spoke over me, like I was the ball at a tennis match, and I wondered again, if my boss had voted in my favour at the job interview, or if only the board had wanted me

At meetings, I watched people race to give the boss a pen that actually works

The cheap promo pens are already broken, the clickers will only click so many times, and every fifth word turns into an unreadable ink blob, on my nice birthday cards and letters

Part of my job was to host monthly leadership workshops that were quite popular

“This is running all summer right? I’m trying to plan my camping trip” a participant asked

And all I could respond with a lump in my throat was that I wasn’t sure yet, because I still didn’t know if I’d have this job in the summer, let alone may vacation schedule

And when I repeated the participants’ question to my boss, she stalled

Booked and cancelled the meeting to discuss the future of my job once a week for over a month, and I, I the good employee trying to keep my job, or at least get a good reference, had to tell her “no problem” with a shrug every time she re-scheduled

And finally, finally she told me there was no job, didn’t get the core funding they were hoping for, besides she wasn’t entirely happy with my work performance, but she may have some smaller jobs for me, and could give me a good reference letter

And it was too late for the perfectionist in me to ask how can I do better? Cause I’d been asking all year

I doubt she remembers my name now that a few years have passed, and she looked through me when I was at the desk beside her, probably having decided from the moment the board hired me that like the placement students, I’d be gone soon, a brief fling, not worth knowing

The invitation to join the work family was like an invitation to prom from the cutest guy in class that I savored, turning over in my mind, and for the first few months I eagerly delivered an elevator pitch about the organization whenever anyone asked about my job, like I was swooning about my prom date, yes I belong, loyalty marked my enthusiastic words

But then I was gone, no empty reference letter, benefits, nor fancy business card

In the year I was there we had multiple meetings about cards, how our names and titles would be written, colours, and graphics, but the card which I dreamed of was never printed

The business card holder with my name on it, that I got as a grad present sat forgotten in a box And while the students who I supervised on placement had goodbye cakes and parties filled with best wishes and nice reference letters written by me, I slid out the door like a one night stand, no cake for me, just piles of pens in the place of my confidence, like the crinkled dress from the night before

And that was long ago, and those people have climbed the non-profit ladder we aren’t supposed to acknowledge, have moved on to other, better jobs. I’m likely a forgotten name that they see on LinkedIn from time to time,

But, oh if they’d taken the time to get to know me, train me, I’d likely still be there, with my oak desk and business cards, city view, and drawer filled with pens

My co-workers were social workers with poor social skills, skirting eye contact, welcoming the public into the office space with sing-song voices and sweeping arm gestures

But they were always quick to turn down offers of coffee or lunch

I was the competition they didn’t want to risk knowing, liking or god forbid helping me with my career, for I was younger and more educated

I was so good at hiding my education for them, like with guys I meet online who want me to shave points off my IQ to make me fuckable not threatening

And somehow, though years have passed I’m still finding these pens

Bright orange

Fucking bright orange,

Like a true millennial, well versed in the 3 Rs, I take them out of the trash, but I feel bad for recycling them, I dump them into the supply cabinet of the non-profit I volunteer at and a student brings them to my class

I see them reading the side of the pen, and I once more eye the trashcan

And despite my efforts to banish the pens from my life, I keep finding them, like the tiny bit of faith that remains in the capitalist dream

And now, all I have left is shattered glass on my degree frame from moving one too many times In a box at home in a small basement apartment, no corner window desk for me

At home where I spend most of my time, my nerves are too shot for work now, and besides, I already had my dream job...

I once had a boss who taught at college and won awards for social work and community leadership who looked past me, I was there, all awkward clumsy, begging for mentorship, direction, she could have taught me so much, but she just waited silently till I left, biting her tongue on the secrets of the industry, offering no goodbye, then leaving herself a few months later

And to her I must have been cheap and disposable like the pens

And now all that I have left from that dream is pens that only scratch the page, inkless This is my Canadian millennial dream pen, but I no longer call myself a dreamer

Emily Gillespie is an author, activist and daydreamer. She has multiple visible and invisible disabilities. She has an MA in Disability Studies. Most of her writing involves exploring themes of mental illness and disability justice. Dancing with Ghosts (2017) is her first novel. She is currently working on her second book. Her writing appears in several anthologies.