As I'm sure most people who studied writing with in undergrad spend a huge portion of their time doing, I think (worry) pretty constantly about how (if) I'm ever going to “make it” as a writer.
I don't even know what I mean by “make it.” I don't know what I want, and I know even less of how to get there. As far as I can see, there isn't a handbook out there for this. Most of the advice I get is “keep writing,” which isn't bad advice. It's great advice in terms of life, but it isn't step by step giving me any idea of what to do next. And alas, it isn't providing me any concrete plans for how I'm going to get the hell out of waiting tables.
It shouldn't shock anyone that being a server is frustrating. Beyond the well known difficulties of the job, it adds another layer of frustration that my specific restaurant stresses me out so much, because now that I'm out of college and in the land of the jobs, I have to spend a lot of time at work and numerous hours of my time not at work thinking about work. I really dislike that aspect of capitalism, that we're so tied to what we do to earn our money. I also dislike that I have literally no options right now for doing any kind of work in the things that I love. I don't have any of these supposed 'networking connections' that everyone talks about. When people wax poetic about networking they seem to forget the millions of people who don't have the privilege to have anyone to network with. Oh, the hungover guy who I was hamming it up with today at work who was complaining about his contracting business? Yeah I'll ask him for some advice about making a life in the arts straightaway!
I plan on expanding this in another essay, working title - “The Bullshit of Networking.”
All I'm doing now is throwing myself in any area I can see. I write every day, I take the steps that I can to decrease my stress from work so that it doesn't ruin my ability to do my real work, of writing and painting. As the months pass, I'm realizing that I'm willing to ease up on things I used to love like going out and generally spending too much money to preserve the things that I don't just love, but that are the thing that beats inside me, the arts that I practice. I'm trying to get involved in the arts community in San Diego – it's happening slowly, but getting my piece accepted for the VAMP showcase this month was a start. I loved doing the reading, met some cool humans who I'm going to creepily email for more advice and ideas, and remembered how great I feel when reading in front of a crowd.
But still, every day, I worry that it isn't going to go anywhere. That I'll be waiting tables until my knees give out. That my livelihood will depend not on the things I know I am skilled in, but on the whim of strangers who do things like not tip me after they find a hair in their bananas foster and I comp the entire dish – when the short black hair clearly didn't come from my obviously long blond head. That the majority of my social interaction will always be with people who bark “coffee” at me when I ask them how they're doing, instead of the creative and energetic people who I know I love being around from my time in school. That the possible years of this will erode what was once optimism into what's become humorous cynicism about the human race into a true pessimism that will fundamentally change the person I know myself to be.
Tonight I was so stressed out by my job that I utilized some of the creative techniques that I've taught myself to escape anxiety – turning on playlists I made in college, the most comforting time to remember, and reading gobs of things from my writer crushes on the internet.
I know myself well, and the tactic didn't disappoint. After sending emails filled with worries about the future, I followed it up with “Oh my god you have to read this interview! I wish she was my friend! You will be able to tell all the ways it eases my stress!”
This all in reference to Emily Gould, who, if you speak with me, you know I'm obsessed. I knew a guy I went on a date with was destined for doom when he asked what she wrote and I said "Now I'm reading a book of her essays," and he asked what a book of essays was.
I went from the interview to Gould's blog where I read an entry that literally soothed my pounding heart. And inspired me to write this post, giving love and gratitude to the only people who can truly calm me down when I worry about this – people who I've never met, women to be specific, writers I admire who say literally the exact right thing to the youths out there who have no idea what is going on. Emily Gould, Cheryl Strayed, and Mary Karr, Anne Lamott – to name a few.
I would highly advise reading the Emily Gould blog post that almost made me cry, because I'm too afraid to quote it here because I know very little about copyright and what's okay in terms of quoting even with links. Because the nightmare would be to upset someone who I greatly admire, am I right?
The blog post is on www.emilymagazine.com , entitled “It's the Good Advice.”
You know the feeling when someone you respect and admire literally says the things that you repeat to yourself in your head every day, hoping to a god you don't really believe in that they're true? That's the feeling I got when I read the the post. It reiterated my thoughts about why I'm here, in San Diego, working at a restaurant and emailing strangers in the arts instead of holed up at home trying to write so I can apply to grad school – because I know, for me, going back to school right now would be hiding. (And because I'm afraid paying for another degree that won't get me a job.) I know it makes sense for some people, but not for me, not right now, not for what I want to do. I didn't ask to love narrative nonfiction writing. Given the choice, I probably would have picked something that isn't seen by men and the world as narcissistic. I probably would have picked something that would let me be content with a normal 9-5 job and normal people and a textbook life.
Except I know in an even deeper part of myself that that isn't true at all. I wouldn't change a thing about any of the things that I love, because as hard as all of this is, I could never live the alternative. I don't want to be content in the ways that that type of normalcy implies. I'm glad there are people who are, because the world can't be full of people like my friends and I (I think it would explode) but even as I sit here, alone at home on a Saturday night because I'm too stressed out by a circumstance from my work to go out, every fiber of my being tells me that I'm doing something right. That's echoed by my friends, two of whom I spent the majority of the night talking to. Finding my school and the friends I made there is the sole factor that's made any of my life make sense thus far.
The friends, and the professors, who have become friends. During my senior year, I was serving on a sophomore grad contract committee and two of my favorite professors told a student not to become a high school teacher if she wanted to be a writer.
“Then...what should I do?” she replied in a panic.
They looked back at her and said “Write. Work at a coffee shop. Do anything that gives you the mental space and time to write while paying the bills.”
Without knowing it, they literally went on to endorse the life plan that I had begun to formulate in my head that fall.
I knew I was never going to get an office job. There's still time, but I know I'm not going to get a career track full time office job in some random field – if I do, I'll temp, or something. I applied for them, sure. I also interviewed for residence life jobs and quit a horrible summer camp job two weeks before it was over. But some part of me has known for a long time that I was going to join the grand tradition of starving artist / customer service 'professional' / picker up of random jobs that give you the time and money to practice what you love without being mentally drained.
The obvious reason is, of course, because I'd be terrible at an office job. I'm really terrible at most jobs, but I can fake waiting tables pretty well because there's a high enough charm component. Moreover though, I knew it because I somehow knew that it was part of the path of my life. That spending so many hours in a week with my favorite cook Miguel and learning to be patient, to listen and understand the stories he tells me, was a necessary thing to happen to me. That cleaning a milk machine with a toothpick was a vital way for me to make money because even though I'm not privileged in having familial connections, I'm incredibly privileged to have gotten a mostly free undergraduate education. That my skin needed to thicken from someone who I would have never have looked at before working at a restaurant putting my job in jeopardy by complaining for 20 minutes to my manager on a day I could barely walk because I had such bad cramps.
I'm terrified that this will be the rest of my life, but when I get past the fear, I can almost believe it won't be. I have too much faith in the world to believe that. It's the same thing that I tell myself when I fear (frequently) that I will end up alone – if out of all the colleges and people in this huge ridiculous country, I could be drawn to Redlands and Johnston in ways that are so obscure and random that they literally feel like magic, finding the humans who I was meant to be friends with, the only people in the world that make it okay that I live here, if that can happen, I won't be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I don't know how or why or when it will happen, or what will happen, but I can feel it out there, this nebulous future that keeps me going when strangers are so rude to me at work that I can barely stop myself from screaming, crying, or both.
Honestly, I don't think that it's a coincidence that all this advice has come from female writers. I haven't read any words like this from a male writer, and my experiences with male writers in person are even more disheartening. An extremely famous humor writer told me I should work at Hooters. Funny, but is it? (Not really, for those of you not used to the rhetorical question IS IT?) The author of several of my favorite books was more interested when I told him about the egg mixture that breakfast places use in omelets than he was engaged when telling me to keep writing. Those are both writers who I still love, but I think that something about male privilege, especially the fancy East Coast privilege of the Ivy League and being taught by famous writers, disables you from giving deep and empathetic and honest and heart healing advice that Emily Gould or Cheryl Strayed or Mary Karr or Alisa Slaughter or Leslie Brody give.