"Love Me Back" by Merritt Tierce, or I Swear I have good reasons for only having read one book this month

I have been putting off writing about what I read in November, because the ah, amount is really embarrassing.

TO BE FAIR: It was my first month actually working full time at my new job, and update: I work a lot now. I worked maybe 28 hours at IHOP in a really big week, and now I actually get overtime. Nobody cares about how different restaurants are structured so I won't detail, but not only is this restaurant so busy that there is literally never the possibility of getting cut three hours early as there was at IHOP, but we also have a lot more to do after the shift is done. I love it so this is great for my sanity, but not as good for my reading time.

However, I'm sure I'll manage to get back to my usual average since I am no longer spending three hours of my day in bed crying (cry-hop.) The real problem was obviously that my best friend came to Southern California for 10 days, hence I got literally none of my usual mental work done while she was here. But this is of course not a problem at all because I miss her and wish she was here all the time.

Anyway, after all that explanation, here is the fact: I only read one book in November. For shame!

Book read November 2014

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

Luckily the only book I read this month was a great book which accomplished many of my goals in reading: contemporary literary fiction, check, female author, check, relates to my life an intense amount because it is about a waitress....check.

Obviously, two of those are traits that almost every book I read has. I pretty much only read contemporary literary fiction or essays and I would say ¾ of the books I read are by female authors. But although I often read books by women who have worked as waitresses (Emily, Cheryl <3) I don't often get to read a book where the main character actually is a waitress! Joyous day!

Love Me Back is the story, told in episodic lyrical prose, of a young mother, Marie, who is employed as a server at a variety of low to high end restaurants. The beginning shows her drifting between jobs at places from chains like Chili's to daytime cafes, and the bulk of the novel follows her time at a swanky steakhouse.  It interjects with passages exploring Marie's accidental pregnancy at age 16.

Since I only read one book this month, and the one book relates to my life, I will also take this as an opportunity for some commentary on serving. Every server has a holy grail, the job that is the top of their niche, and although we can obviously change niches. The high end steakhouse represents the holy grail of fine dining servers, or really anyone for whom fine dining is a realistic possibility, of which I am not one because I am bad at things like not having a personality and following very stringent guidelines.

I was very lucky to get my own personal holy grail serving job as only my second serving job in San Diego, working at one of the two busiest brunch places in the mid-city area, very famous in San Diego and actually in the world. Breakfast serving is its own niche, due to the pace, high turnover, and desire to get up early, get your shit/money done, and leave rather than the normal serving routine of doing...whatever during the day and then killing it at night. Those who know me would think I would prefer this since I don't think I ever woke up before 11 AM in college, and now I have to wake up between 6 and 7 on the reg, but I actually prefer this because then when I leave I can get everything done, rather than dreading work all day.

Anyway, the book also deals heavily in my other favorite topic...promiscuity! Only somewhat joking. I really do count women who do what they want sexually and don't give a shit what anyone thinks among my favorite topics. The character also happens to be a mother, but unlike I don't know, every book in the very popular motherhood cannon, her daughter lives with the child's father and the narrator spends a lot more time worrying about how to deal with the crazies at her job and the revolving door of men in her life than what type of diapers her daughter needs or generally spinning words out of the problems about motherhood. Which, as I'm sure I continually offend people by saying, is just not something I'm interested in reading because it is literally the textbook example of a problem you just wanted to have and then brought upon yourself and decided to spend forever complaining about.  (I am referring here to most of the books I find myself reading that involve motherhood, where the characters with children desperately pined for children and then went on to spend mucho time complaining about them.  Not about unwanted pregnancies.  I'd love to read a book about an unwanted pregnancy.  Please recommend one now.)

But this book is not a mother who pined for a child complaining about it and other middle class homeowner problems, it's the opposite, which is working class people with real problems that they did not bring upon themselves being baller and salt of the earth and dealing with their shit alongside other salt of the earth folk who entertain and destroy things simultaneously.

I found my first great line on the first page, which is always a good sign.

When discussing a date she went on - “The Gordon Parks exhibit was my idea and I knew it scored with him – maybe made him think of how I could be an accident, a good one lodged in the mire, just waiting to be sprung.”

Well it doesn't take an expert critical thinker to figure out why I like that one. I am obviously the good one lodged in the mire.

The narrator comes in from the beginning with a strong and distinct voice, a voice that if you heard the person talking in real life wouldn't come off as literary fiction but the author is so adept that you can read her skill even through the colloquial vernacular. Aside from the obvious solidarity of the smart waitress, Tierce also gives her narrator an inner monologue that I identified immediately with: as she does lines of coke off a surgeon's bathroom counter after she gets anxiety when they're about to have sex:

“Don't worry, I said to myself. We're leaving.”

As I reread the parts of the book I annotated while I was reading it, I find myself getting swept up and wanting to read it again which rarely happens, except anytime I let myself near anything by Emily Gould or Jonathan Franzen.

It would be interesting for me to have someone else read this book, because I'd like to know if the bits of knowledge and wisdom she drops about waiting tables are as interesting to the average reader as they are to me. A few of these gems -

“I didn't understand how to be a wife or mother. But there were rules to being a waitress. The main one was don't fuck up. Another was whatever you skip in your prep will be the one thing you need when you're buried.”

“You may think you'll be waiting tables but really your job is to walk fast in a circle for six to eight hours every day.” Truer words never spoken.

“To do a good job at a table you have to care. Whatever show you're doing, wherever else your mind is, you have to put a twist of real on the very end of it. The people are waiting for that and if you don't pull it out they know and they don't like it.”

“This is the thing about the service industry, you can get trained to be slick and hospitable in any situation and it serves you well the rest of your life. Once you figure out that everything is performance and you bow to that, learn to modulate, you can dissociate from the mothership of yourself like an astronaut floating in space.”

I love how Tierce elevated the very working class job of waiting tables to high art through her prose.  She took the truths of a profession that so many Americans do without any real representation in art and spun them into literary gold, inspiring to people like me who are continually trying to make our lives into art when our lives look from the outside like the opposite of art.  It's also so rare to find a female narrator who is in control of her sexual self and makes the choice to go against the culturally accepted chaste woman paradigm.  Additionally, the book is funny.  Again, I'd love for someone I know to read it who isn't a server so I can see how well the customer service humor translates to those who have not spent any time in our lovely little hell.  But I think it would translate well, because everything that Tierce describes in the book translates well, things I understand and things I've never known, brought to life by her electric prose.  

 

Please Don't Feed the Millennials

A few words from good old Google auto-fill to begin the day:

Millennials are lazy

Millennials are the worst

Millennials are doomed

Plug in an S and it gets even better:

 

Stupid

Selfish

Spoiled

Screwed

Apart from the occasional humor - “millennials are changing the wine industry” and truth - “millennials are poor,” every letter of the alphabet feeds you another negative thing that millennials are. But of course, this doesn't come as a surprise to anyone under the age of – what is it, 26, 25? What's the age cut off for the generation who haven't stopped hearing about how lazy, entitled, and selfish we are since we graduated high school? Or there's my personal favorite, that millennials are going to ruin the nation.

These statements and words have become such cultural touchstones to be considered the gospel. The dangerous thing about a blanket statement becoming the gospel is that people begin restating it as fact without evidence. And since my graduation from college, when this issue became of particular interest to me, I haven't found any examples or evidence – aside from the occasional mention of an overly-privileged millennial (which is an issue I will come back to) – that support this claim that has pervaded our national rhetoric so far as to be considered the truth.

What I've seen in the most reliable type of evidence, real life observations, is a generation who are fighting to not even swim, but just stay afloat against a tidal wave of societal circumstances seemingly engineered to fight their success, all while being flat out told that they are the ones with the problems.

Let's take an oft-quoted opinion: “Millennials are lazy,” and a few facts: “There are fewer jobs available for recent college graduates than ever before. The economy is the worst. 50% of millennials are unemployed or underemployed.”

It is routine to hear of someone my age applying for 70 jobs before they even hear back for a first interview. That isn't one person I talked to once on the train, numbers in that range are what you're going to hear from most every young person who has been on the job market lately. And that isn't necessarily applying to 70 jobs that someone wants and then eventually getting one. Oftentimes, that is applying to 70 jobs that one may or may not want, eventually beginning to apply for customer service jobs because we have to pay the bills, applying to 50 more of those, and eventually getting a job as a cashier, secretary, or server.

What about applying for upwards of fifty jobs is lazy? The research? The hours obsessively checking job websites, writing and rewriting cover letters, researching companies, and talking all your skills into a tiny box to fit what a random employer might want? This work not only ends in no pay but frequently in no acknowledgment whatsoever from the job postings. When I applied for 'real jobs,' I was happy to get a rejection letter, because at least it meant that someone was reading what I had sent them, instead of the norm, which was hours and weeks of work going into a void that might as well have been an empty computer in a walled off office building.

For some people, those searches pay off. Some get lucky. Many have a connection through a parent or relative, et al. But some of us don't have the funds to support ourselves while spending eight hours a day applying for these so-called 'real' jobs, or a well-connected adult who can shepherd us in to the working world, so we eventually have to start applying for the category of jobs that the news media calls 'underemployed.' These jobs are generally minimum wage or close to it. Most of them are in the customer service industry.

I'd like to find one person in America who has actually worked a customer service job for their livelihood who would apply the word 'lazy' to it. Is lazy running around on your feet all day, catering to demanding and often rude people who have connotated the word 'server' with the word 'slave?' Is lazy cleaning people's houses? Is lazy driving rotating herds of drunk people around for eight hours of a night? Is lazy having to reapply for temp jobs every other month because no one is hiring for long term?

Anyone who has actually done these things can certainly tell you that no, it actually requires a large amount of energy, stamina, and willpower. To spend four years in an intellectually stimulating environment that preps you for a certain kind of life only to graduate and find that that life is not now, and may never be, available to you, and to put this mindset that you were trained to have to work in a placid, negative environment and try to retrain your brain every single day to accept your new circumstances is not lazy. It may be a fact of modern life that we will have to learn to accept, but it is absolutely not lazy.

Another category of millennials is those who work in unpaid internships while holding down a day job. I would have thought it was obvious that the concept of working for no pay inherently makes one not lazy, but I suppose to our elders this is not clear. I'll illustrate it as such: if you aren't getting paid to do something, why would you do it? A few reasons come to mind: dedication, passion, belief that hard work now will pay off later. None of these are even close to synonymous with 'laziness.' If you go to work at a low paying job for forty hours a week, only to use your precious few hours of time off to do more work for which you receive little to no recognition and certainly no pay, then you might be called crazy by some, too optimistic by others, but lazy only by people who have never tried to live a life like yours for even a day, even a second.

I can't speak for millennials who got jobs through their parents, or who work in unpaid internships while being supported by their families. What I can say is this: it seems silly to blame the young people who were given something great when everyone around them has shit. It's hard to blame someone for being entitled when they were brought up to be that way, perhaps by their parents funding their every move. Sure, a few of those millennials may be selfish, but they are in the minority, and shouldn't we question the adults who trained them to act that way?

Speaking of which, aren't those adults of our parents age the ones calling us lazy and selfish and entitled in the first place? (I will note here since this is on my blog and thus I am allowed personal sidenotes that my parents are excellent, have never called me lazy, selfish, or entitled, have expressed great sympathy for my unfortunate employment situation, and raised me to work hard and take responsibility for my situation) It seems that this generation is the primary group of people who are so keen on blaming the end of everything on this new generation that has barely had enough time to gather the materials to begin to make their mark on the world, let alone had enough time to full out wreck it.

I'm not going to suggest that the baby boomers purposefully engineered a societal movement to blame the problems of the United States on the millennials, but I am going to say that it seems pretty convenient for them when some of the problems we are facing now can actually be traced back to choices that they themselves made.

Let's take the problem of not enough jobs. Not enough jobs? Maybe there aren't enough jobs because there are too many people. Thanks to the knowledge of my man Jonathan Franzen as communicated in his novel Freedom and the subsequent research and readings it led me to, overpopulation is indeed one of the if not the greatest problem facing the world today. Of course overpopulation has much more catastrophic consequences than a lack of jobs for young people, but this is certainly one of the tangential effects.

Why is the United States overpopulated? All these millennials who have come of age and thus need jobs didn't just pop out of thin air. Oh yes, we were birthed by a generation who decided that they could have as many kids as they wanted without regard to the future environmental or socioeconomic affects of their actions. What's a word that one can apply to people who do things in their own self interest without regard for the future consequences? Selfish and entitled, two that are ironically often applied to millennials, are the ones that come to mind.

Is it possible that part of the reason that this generation spends so much time bemoaning ours and claiming that we will be the death of society is that they are trying to cover up the fact that the damage we're supposedly inflicting was already done by their own hand?

It's worth thinking about. Why the rush to blame so many things on a group of people who have barely had time to understand the modern world, much less make it 'doomed'? Shouldn't the attitude towards a group of people who despite their high levels of education are more likely to be serving you food than learning from you at work be sympathy, not derision? It seems it would be smarter to support our generation in the hope that we will gain the strength to fight our nations problems, rather than waste time in what is effectively talking shit. Extremely well publicized and funded shit talking, but shit talking none the less.

Honestly though, I'm not that worried about being a millennial, and I'm not going to spend any of my precious non working hours considering how we are doomed or how we are going to be the death of the nation.

Instead, I'm going to use my customer service job to learn how to deal with frustrating humans, befriend people from different backgrounds, and work so hard that no one can ever call me lazy to my face. And in my free time, instead of waiting for someone from the last generation to teach me how to do things their way, I'm going to write essays and stories and create things and ideas and communities that help me find my own branch of what I define as success, instead of going by the arbitrary and clearly ineffective parameters set by those before us. The reason I'm not afraid for my generation is that I know I'm not alone in this.

All around me I see people willing to work for no pay for causes they believe in.  People going to law school to challenge societal inequality, teaching in low income neighborhoods to try and provide better opportunities for the next generation instead of claiming they're screwed from the get go. People drive for Lyft or Sidecar during the night and build websites that help them realize their dreams during the day. I'm a lucky member of a herd of buffalo who got four years training in making something incredible out of bare bones material and challenging the problems with the patriarchy and society. I don't have any fears about my peers in my generation, because we've all already figured out the solution to this 'millennial problem' – our identity is no longer tied to the jobs that we can't get. We work hard at the jobs we can get, and then we go home and apply ourselves doubly to the real work, the work that is going to prove to those who have been wasting time predicting our demise that we're not selfish or lazy, and certainly not doomed.