fate hi it's me i'm tempting you

I feel strange making a plaintive cry for help from the universe when I have already had so much help from the universe lately: so many aspects of my move here feel like I've gotten the appropriate nudge from fate and just followed without asking questions. Then again, I also worked v hard for everything that has happened to me in the past year, from spending six days a week at Hash House to save the money to move to New York to being the most nervous fearful human and talking to every writer lady I can see within a ten mile radius.

It's not that I feel slighted that I have to work 40+ hours a week at an exhausting job while trying to pursue writing. That's not new or special or different. Most people have to work full time while trying to build a writing life, and I've never minded it, not more than the next person. It's that – and as always I say this as carefully as I can with the knowledge that I could still be shooting myself in the foot – to maintain a writing life that has a trajectory alongside a full time job requires that many elements of both of those things (writing and paying job) be near perfect in order to allow them to exist simultaneously. When the circumstances of one (and you know which one I'm talking about) begin to actively interfere with the other, it sets off these red flags in my brain of nonononononono.

Everyone knows about this. Not everyone's thing is writing, but everyone is trying to build a life that doesn't have to do with their job, right? Even when I wasn't actively trying to pursue writing, I always dealt with this, and it was always difficult, it always gave me problems. Sometimes it was weirdly overly intertwined (trying to be a good academic and social Johnston student while working as a CA) and sometimes it literally got in the way of me even living a safe and healthy life, all creative ambitions aside (when working at that miserable camp in LA where all the horses colicked) but it's always been a thing.

Maybe I'm just especially terrible at having jobs. That wouldn't surprise me. After all, I am especially good at other parts of life, so it would make sense for me to have some consistent deficits.

But it's not like me being bad at my job is the problem here. I feel like I'm too good at my job. I'm always being asked to work extra hours, always being over scheduled, always relied upon. Maybe that doesn't mean I'm too good at my job, it just means I'm not a huge flake. (I miss being a huge flake. Those were the days.)

In order to stop myself from saying specific things about my current situation that would be unfortunate if in the wrong hands, I am going to speak about an overall qualm I have with the service industry that is directly in opposition of anyone trying to build a meaningful life outside of it while working within it.

There's this idea that waiting tables is a great job to have while trying to pursue art, and in the right circumstances, I think that can be true, but I feel like it's actually something people say out of convenience / lack of resources to find other jobs. Because the whole thing about being an artist is that you need to care so fucking deeply about the thing you are creating, and that doesn't leave much care left over for other things.

Which is like, the siren call of my life. I care about some things – not just art! (but not much else) – so much – art, human connections, weird experiences – but I really can't be bothered to care about much else. This is obscured a lot by the fact that I have such high anxiety which sometimes concentrates itself on random things that are not the above three. But I find more and more as the years go by that my response to any given event or stimuli that isn't something I care deeply about is some variation of the following: what? I don't give a shit? Who fucking cares? Whatever?

Now back to the artists in the service industry thing – the service industry is the royal family of caring about incredibly inconsequential things. Never in my life have I encountered people caring so much about things that are so irrelevant. At least at summer camps it was like ah yes these children SHOULD have a character building experience! But at a restaurant it's like wow, I actually just could not care less if some small thing happens that people are annoyed by.

And that's supposed to be the point! You're supposed to be a waitress so you can leave it behind! But the more restaurants I've worked at, the more obvious it becomes that it's really hard to find a place where no one cares, and the people who do care will spend all of their time trying to make you care, and that kind of pressure is not leaving the job at the door. I don't know who does like pressure, but I dislike it an exceptional amount, I back away from it like the plague and start acting out.

I mean the obvious problem is, there probably isn't an industry where people acknowledge the inherent meaninglessness of the things they do, so the pressure is probably always present. But lately every time I say something like 'oh I would probably hate an office job,' I'm like but wait, Becca, you haven't actually tried it, you literally haven't tried any job as an adult that isn't being a waitress. Preproclamations of hate start to seem less like actual opinions and more like fear that I am not going to be able to be paid to do anything else.

Specific reasons aside, I need to earn at least some small fraction of my income from doing something else. I have no idea how to make that happen, but I must. I understand that I'm still a while off from the dream lyfe, which is no specific schedule of anything and running around New York meeting with baller humans and building creative relationships and writing sick articles about modern society, all day every day, but I can sense that life becoming a possibility. I can also sense that if I dedicate too much of myself to a restaurant, I will lose the window of opportunity to make dream lyfe happen, and I would never forgive myself.

I need to do something that is not what I am doing. Whether that is a small change in schedule or a large change in how I am paid to do work to make rent, I have no idea. But universe, it is me, I am asking you for help – not for a job, just for a suggestion of where to turn, where to look.  

Work vs Work

It was shockingly easy to get a serving job in New York. Most people had prepped me by saying it would be difficult, because I didn't have any 'New York experience,' but that proved to not be a true inhibitor when I got approx five jobs within two weeks of looking. I picked the job that I currently have for a variety of reasons: female management, stellar neighborhood, ethos and business similar to my beloved Hash House, innovative menu, et cetera, et cetera. The job didn't start for a while because it is a new restaurant, so I had some time between accepting job and restaurant opening to chill and work on writing and explore the city.

You may notice that in the last paragraph I was uncharacteristically evasive – 'the restaurant,' 'the neighborhood,' 'the job I currently have.' I'm obviously not actually trying to hide where I work, if you speak with me at all I'm sure I've told you the name fifteen times. However, I've been thinking lately about the relationship between the different types of work – the work that I am paid for, at the restaurant, and the work that I moved here to pursue, the writing. They're not inherently at odds, but as I grow more serious about both (a feat in and of itself,) I continue to find ways in which keeping them and the worlds they inhabit separate is probably a good idea for the health of everyone involved, at least for the time being. 

There's a lot for me to unpack as I think about this. (Literally as well as figuratively – I just moved to a more permanent apartment in Williamsburg, but anyway,) the first thing being why I'm getting more serious about my paid restaurant work in the first place. The restaurant I'm working at now is absolutely, undebatably, a serious place. The owners, chefs, pastry chefs, bread bakers, pretty much everyone above me on the food chain, is well known and highly regarded in the industry. You may ask – why can't I just be a normal artist and get a job at Joe's Down the Street Bar where you walk with over a hundred a night just from peddling drinks and not giving a shit about the food or the business or the humans?

That's a great question. I don't know if I was even angling for a serious restaurant when I got my job at Hash House. I don't think I even knew what a 'serious restaurant' was. I can certainly say that I've always been attracted to intense, immersive experiences, whether that be recreational (Hoofbeat, although I suppose the years that I worked there can't really be filed under recreation,) educational (Johnston,) human (all my beloved friends,) but I've also been known to shy away from 'doing things I don't want to do,' which up until this past year or so has certainly included many of the aspects of working in the types of restaurants I work in, like getting up early, cleaning, having to act a certain way, being polite to rude humans, not lying down.

But I know that despite the aforementioned qualms, I loved working at Hash House. I miss it so much. From a conversation with a Human Who Had a Weird Amount of Involvement in this Saga -

“I have a bunch of days off work before I leave, I don't know what to do with myself”

“Do your favorite San Diego things.”

“....but my favorite San Diego thing is working at Hash House.”

(and friends, but this blog is about work, so anyway)

But that doesn't answer the question of why I loved it, does it? I realized one morning on the way to work there – I was not unhappy. That seems so small, but it was so large, because honestly up until that point I hadn't had that many experiences in life in general where I was on the way to going to something I was required to do and wasn't filled with dread. (Aside from anything in college, obviously.) Even though the hours were long and the work was hard (may I never forget the feel of a steel chair hitting me in the shin as I try to move it to vacuum,) I just genuinely enjoyed being in the restaurant. It has never bothered me that I spend 40 (or 50, sometimes 60) hours a week walking around a room carrying plates, because I was moving, because I was talking, because I was calm, because I was content.

Although the new restaurant is a bit stressful right now what with the opening, I truly believe that it has the potential to end up being a place that I end up treasuring and enjoying as much as Hash House. For many of the same reasons – as I said, that's a big part of why I took the job, but also because I'm really excited to be around such serious people who are so engaged in their work (hard to tell on that front with the other servers thus far, but speaking of the chefs / bakers / management / etc)

I love being surrounded by serious people, no matter what their medium is. It's inspiring, and people who are serious and successful also tend to be interesting. Others at work think it's intimidating, but I honestly don't care about that anymore. I'm not afraid of people who take their jobs seriously, I'd rather talk to them and be interested and engaged in what they do and hear about how baller they are than waste time being scared off by the fact that they sometimes are intense.

So at this point you're probably like cool, we get it, you're weird and like having intense jobs, fine, just go forth. I wish it were that simple, but alas, I feel that it is not.

The thing about serious jobs and serious businesses, is that there's a certain way in which you really have to keep tabs on and be in control of how involved you're getting. Because if you don't keep track of it – they certainly aren't going to. A job is unlikely to stop you from throwing your entire self into it, because they need people to do the work. Nobody's going to be like 'Becca, you're doing TOO MUCH for us! Go home and write tonight!'

At Hash House this was a non issue, because I needed the money. At the end of the day it didn't really matter that I was skimping on my writing to work 11 day streaks, because the money I earned from those insane hours was going to my savings account to move here, and moving here was in service to my writing. So even though I neglected it in the short run, I was really serving (lol) it in the long run.

Now I have to be more careful. Of course, I still need a shitload of money to survive in New York, but I certainly don't need to be working 6 or 7 days a week or picking up shifts every time someone asks or generally getting over invested in the job. I need to be really cognizant of how I'm working to preserve my writing time, because as I mentioned, certainly no one else is going to. Nobody would stop me from throwing myself completely into this job, just as nobody would stop me from never writing again. I'm the only person who gives a shit about either of those things.

And to be honest, I'm just extremely wary of getting institutionalized. Not in the sent to a mental institution because I've been working too much sense of the word, in the 'drinking the kool aid' sense of the word. Again, I'm sure this is just as prevalent if not moreso in office jobs than in restaurant jobs, but it's so easy to become a kind of lifer / spokesperson / cronie / cog in the machine / whatever word or metaphor you want to use.

So there's the element where I have to be very careful about how I allocate my time, to my writing and to my job, but I also want to be cognizant of keeping the two separate in other ways – mostly, the internet. As I publish more writing online, I want to be intentional about how I relate to my job. Of course, the dream is that everyone will eventually find out that I'm actually a serious writer and be like 'oh my gosh yay good for you look at your articles you're great we love them,' and there will be no conflicts of interest and everyone will be happy and joyful and maybe we can all become friends and drink together and laugh (which would be great because I need friends,) but I want to keep in the back of my head that that's not the only possible outcome.

I don't exactly know what a negative outcome would be, but you know, it could happen. So as much as I want to show my cool hip managers that I am also hip and cool by telling them about the recent articles I've published, I'm going to sit on that information. As much as I want to facebook friend everyone so I can stalk them, I am going to stick to scrolling through instagrams of people I don't follow and hoping that I don't accidentally like a picture. As much as I want to instagram every piece of food I eat or take home from work and tag the restaurant so they can repost it, I'm not going to for the moment. Because I'm kind of a weirdo on the internet. There's a good chance that everyone will accept that – everyone at Hash House did – but I don't know. And I have to make money. And I like my job.

Going back to the splitting of the times, if I can manage to be a baller 'restauranteur' and a baller writer, that'll be the dream, because I'm sure it would be a more stable income than just being a baller writer, but I know that if in ten years I realize that I was more invested in someone else's dream of a restaurant than my own writing, I'd want to set myself on fire. I didn't spend four years and thousands of dollars to go to alternative college so that I could become an executor of someone else's business. I hope that what I learned in alternative college was how to make a living and help excellent people in someone else's business while supporting my art and always keeping it as my primary motivator. 

Compilation Selves

Today I was on a run, and I was contemplating how life and I have been on great terms since I moved to New York. It's been a little over a month, but already so many things are happening, and so many opportunities are presenting themselves, that just make me excited to be involved in the world and to finally be in/at a place where I can actually take concrete action to create the type of life I want.

I've known for quite a while – since the end of college – that the primary thing I want in life is not in the realm of traditional measures of success or finances or weird domestic trappings. At the core, what I want is to consistently be interacting with interesting, intelligent humans, having fascinating conversations, while concurrently consistently producing good work that I am proud of. To always be thinking and engaging, alone and with company. To have an equally rich private life of making and consuming art in tandem with a thriving social life, talking about said art and the making and consumption of it.

Now, I can feel that I am relatively close (comparatively speaking) to achieving that. At least, I'm taking the steps I should be taking to make that happen, and the days are rich with possibility and joy. But then, of course I have to reflect on the time since college that was spent, somehow or other, not doing that, even though I have known this was my goal for quite some time.

The things that happened to me directly after college certainly aren't tragic, or dramatic enough to warrant a memoir, but they are good examples of Person Not Having a Great Time and Not Being in the Correct Location. You know, quitting the summer camp when half the horses coliced, being a sad human with no friends while traveling, lots of interaction with idiots, lots of anxiety and crying alone, whatever, dumb. (And some great things, like awesome friends and interesting jobs, but whatever life mixed bag)

I don't regret anything that I did in the past two and a half years, because it got me to where I am now. If there's any 'lesson,' it's that not all environments are fertile grounds for consistent dank conversations and art making, and that once you realize an environment isn't a fertile ground for what you want, you need to take the steps to get to a new environment. 

But now I think of how I'm finally at this place in my life where I feel close to the point of being able to be my best social self, which I haven't felt since college, and it's crazy to me that all the people I've met and gotten to know and love in the past two and a half years don't even know me at my best social self, the one where I'm making weird ass connections and applying social theory to parties and taking the steps toward building literary community. The friends I made at the summer camp, the people I met while traveling, the people I worked with at IHOP, and of course, my lovely amazing coworkers who I miss SO MUCH from Hash House – they never knew this version of me. And that made me sad!

But after two minutes of being sad about that, I also thought about all the strides I've made as a person in that time frame, and how the people who knew me at my best social self, in college, did not know me at my best taking care of myself self. I used to be well known for being late, and always rushing into things at the last minute. Now, I am generally early or on time. In my second month of work at Hash House, someone called me punctual! What! I exercise regularly, I take care of myself – I actually shower these days. One of my professors from school didn't recognize me the last time I went to visit – in her words, because I looked 'so polished'- the nice way to say thin, recently showered, wearing a nice dress instead of a bandeau and booty shorts. I have a skill (a meager one, but a skill nonetheless) that enables me to go to work every day and make money to pay my own rent and pretty much whatever else I want at any given time. These are all small things, but put together they make me into a person who can accomplish what I want to do without having to worry an excessive amount about if my lackadaisical habits are going to get in the way. These things were probably necessary in the process of becoming a functional adult person.

So perhaps it isn't that I lost my best self in the past two years, but that I had to spend some time concentrating on other aspects in order to be able to move forward and be a productive adult human. And a great thing about having all that time not spent socializing, was that I spent that time doing something else – being a huge nerd and researching on the internet about writers and writing and, eventually, New-Yorky things.

I went to a writing workshop last weekend with Chloe Caldwell and Emily Gould, two badass women essayists who I am obsessed with. Of course, that was a crazy invigorating and intense day and I left with so much inspiration but also so much hope for the future and all these overwhelming emotions, and of course I listened to Welcome to New York by T Swift and started crying on the sidewalk.

My immediate reaction to my own tears was – who do I thank for this? Do I thank my professors, or my writer friends, or my family? But then I thought about it, and I thought – who told you to read Emily Gould or Chloe Caldwell? Nobody. I sat alone in my bed in San Diego and went into internet wormholes looking for great current female writers, and I found them myself. Who gave you the money to take this workshop or to move to this crazy city? Nobody. You worked six days a week at Hash House and put that money into the bank. Who sat with you while you wrote words and blog posts and essays and emails? Nobody! You sat alone that whole time, and it was lonely at first but then it was good for you, and then it became necessary, because learning how to be alone was just as necessary as learning how to charm strangers or throw a kick ass party.

And of course I'm so fucking grateful to my professors and my writer friends and my family, for so many things. I absolutely know that I would not be the person I am today if it weren't for my parents and my friends and my professors, for giving me books when I was five and teaching me how to socialize appropriately and giving me the attention and creative spaces to hone my writing (respectively, but also overlapping.) And there are people who have directly helped me with my life here already – my friend Abby who invited me to the facebook group that connected me with a bunch of these things, my sister and uncle for living here and existing, the friends who have chilled with me, the people I've met who have been so kind and welcoming. I will always be looking for ways to thank the people who have been there for me, but I also acknowledge that I owe a lot to myself, to what I've done while sitting alone.

So what I hope now, is that this is not the end of a self (the self sufficient, clean, hard working Hash House self) but the compilation of many selves, my social self and my efficient self and my creative self. All I really want is for this to be the start of that process, of learning to balance all the different aspects of my life, and not having to pay so much damn attention to each one, so they can all serve the grand purpose of making good art while having great conversations. It takes longer than I'd have imagined, but I can certainly say now that I'm on the way.  

Just me interacting with some humans I admire

Today, I took a truly excellent one day writing workshop at Catapult with Emily Gould and Chloe Caldwell. Anyone who has listened to me nerd out on contemporary women writers over the past two years can guess that this was a v meaningful experience for me, that may or may not have involved a cup full of tears while walking down 6 Av listening to Welcome to New York afterwards. But I'm going to save that particular bit of emotional absurdity for another time.

We did a bunch of short generative exercises, which was actually perfect for me right now because I keep trying to work on these large expansive essays that say so much about my experience as a college educated service industry professional and gentrification or sexual dynamics in the 21st century, which are all important topics but really hard to focus in on. Thus writing these short really focused excercises really reminded me that I can just – write. And, coincidentally, my sister and I had a hilarious time last night which just happened to translate very well into one of the prompts.

I've decided to transcribe it here, because getting back into blogging and New York times and writer times and the things that happen.

So we were writing based on our horoscope from Friday, and mine was something along the lines of - “you're inspired to connect, have an intense evening, but you shouldn't start conversations that won't end well.”

Here she is -

“My sister and I stood outside Cowgirl, on the corner of Hudson and West 10th, debating over whether to go inside.

“I mean, I think it's fine,” I said, “There probably isn't a wait and you are impatient.”

“But it looks like they're serving the food out of baskets...” she said.

Suddenly, a distinguished older woman rushed past us, looked at the restaurant, blurted “Yes!” and ran inside.

My sister and I locked eyes and immediately followed her.

Rachel and I are not normally prone to making decisions based on the choices of elegant older women, but we'd immediately recognized this particular one as Sharon Olds, who we'd just seen read at the Pushcart Prize 40th Anniversary reading.

We put our name in and took a seat at the bar, ordering one strawberry margarita and one habanero.

“It's been a while for her to be in the bathroom,” I said. “Do you think she's actually eating here?!”

“I assume so,” my sister said, gesturing to a back room just out of sight.

“Wait...do you think they're ALL here?!” I said, quickly calculating that, if this were the case, I would be in the same breathing space as Zadie Smith and Ben Marcus for the second time in one night.”

“Dude, that's what I thought when we followed her in here!” my sister replied.

We began taking turns canvassing the restaurant – pretending to look for the bathroom or being on our cell phones. I recognized with my superior creeping skills that about half the people working the event appeared to be eating in an anterior dining room, and a few more trickled in, waiting for another table.

“I want to buy them a drink but they're probably already on an expense account, so it would be pointless.” I sighed. “And I don't want to be a total creep.”

'Total Creep' around distinguished people was, however, in my repertoire. I'd befreinded all my college professors by schmoozing with them at free wine events, eventually asking them out to fancy dinners with the generous help of my best friend. We'd ended our senior year with telling one of them the details of the keg race tournament we ran for the rest of the school and possibly revealing the names and relative transgressions of underclassmen we'd had certain relations with.

As it turned out, not everyone involved with the ceremony was at the after dinner – aka, Zadie and Ben never reappeared. I speculated:

“Zadie lives in SoHo so she probably went home, and Ben splits his time between here and Maine and I mean I'd probably want to get home too if I was married to Heidi Julavits...”

My sister replied: “Yeah...it's probably good that you didn't have the opportunity to talk to them again.”

Instead, we made a strategic plan for how I'll convince my new restaurant to host after event galas for authors in our private room, thus giving me a future excuse to speak to the people I admire with a good reason: I'll be serving them food.

And plus, Zadie Smith had already given me the most affirming line of the night: when she was signing my anthology, I told her:

“I sent my ex your essays, and you're the first woman writer he's ever loved.”

She gave me a quick look, and then said in her deep, posh accent: “Well it's good that you two broke up then.”

 

General Existential Malaise

My facebook every day likes to stealthily remind me that I haven't posted anything from my blog in 35 days. Some days I'm like fuck you I work everyday, other days I'm like who reads the things I say anyway, but most days I'm just exhausted (see: working every day) and can't think of anything to say other than: “I'm bored and depressed and nothing particularly sad is happening to me but a lot of sad things are happening to people around me and it is bringing me down, yo.”

I've been working so much that most days I'm not even clear headed enough to think about how I really feel beyond the word tired. Various ways I have described my brain on these days: cottage cheese, jelly, a void, mashed potatoes. (Coincidentally, the food I eat almost every day at work.) In theory, I like working a lot, because it helps keep my anxiety low and then I am in the flush re: finances, but lately it's been so much that I can't write. Obviously that's not a sacrifice I can make forever, and realizing that has been important, but it doesn't help me get anything done.

And of course there's the inescapable fact that it's not just working a lot, it's also a very potent cocktail of boredom and general existential malaise and anxiety and – whatever else the problems that I hear are endemic to this age are.

The thing I want to pinpoint out of all of those is the boredom. I'm slowly accepting that I really do not react well to being bored. I think of this like a dog left alone at home all day who then destroys everything, or a horse who chews wood and makes himself sick. This isn't altogether shocking, but I think that I did not correctly estimate my own threshold for boredom. I thought that I could be happy going to work every day, coming home, reading, writing, seeing friends occasionally, and that things like the beach and the sun and whatnot could contribute to a general feeling of contentment.

The time is coming where I have no choice but to admit that that isn't true. I'm not content, I'm bored, and before I realized that boredom was my problem it drove me to attach ferociously to things in my life that did not want or deserve ferocious attachment, and then to make those things into problems that eventually led to feeling rather miserable a lot of the time.

Although it feels somewhat good to recognize this as part of the problem, it's not much of a route to a solution. Because I should be content and not bored with what I have. I have a great job with amazing coworkers that keeps me up and energetic all day; I don't have to sit behind a desk and zone out. I make enough money that I can afford the new books I want to read and the clothes I want to wear and the rent on a nice place.

But I can't deny that it's not enough for me. Perhaps it's a shame that I had such a good time in college that I am not content with less. But I'm not talking about the things that everyone has in college – the friends constantly around, how easy it is, how much time you can spend doing what you want. I miss all those things, but I understand that you can't have that when you're an adult. The part of college that's missing from my life now to the point where it's driving me insane is intellectual stimulation outside of my own brain. Because books are always going to be there, and I'm always going to read them, but if books are the only thing I have, I start to not be able to read them. I get so bored and sad and caught up in my own head that I can't sit down and read anymore.

I need people to talk to about the books. I need people to talk to about the observations and the life issues and the dumb shit I think about all day. But I need more than that too – I need to be able to go to events that take me out of my solitude. Being alone more than I was in college is fine, and probably the only way I'll ever get anything done, but being alone and without stimulation and engagement as much as I have been lately isn't good for my brain.

I feel like there's this undercurrent of American thought that's like just deal with it homie you're never going to be intellectually stimulated this is life get over it. But I don't think I'm ready to accept that yet. I loved my writing group before it disbanded, and I enjoyed my time speaking frequently with a human who also liked books. I know there is hope out there, I'm just starting to think I may not be in the right place for it.

Because I've gone to art openings here, I've been in readings, I've been to dance shows and the like – but none of it made me feel the way that I did after I saw Ira Glass with Victoria, or after I read Emily Gould's writing for the first time, or even after I saw Birdman.

I want energy and I want art and I want stimulation and discussion, and I just don't know if I'm in the right place to find it. But when do you keep searching in the same place and when do you accept that it's not working and move on?

The thing is, I'm pretty sure I already know the answers to those questions. They're hard to swallow but I am training myself every day to accept them. The harder thing for me, on a daily basis, is how to deal with the short term boredom, not the long term. I know what I have to do in the long run – and it's hard but I can deal with it. What I'm having serious trouble dealing with is each individual day. How to keep myself out of boredom induced depression so that I do more with my day than lie in bed and cry. How I push out of the fog that feels like it's taken over my brain every day to write anything, even if it's something stupid or useless. How I accept that there are things in my life that I had such hope for that just aren't going to work out.   

Let Us Now Praise (the advice of) Female Writers

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.”

http://www.emilymagazine.com/?p=914

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.    

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: Empathy, Judgment, and no we don't serve 'green juice'

 Miguel has been sassy lately, for my last two shifts he has refused to make my breakfast – normally a morning routine – and passed the duty on to Adan, who all the servers hate for a reason probably similar to the reason I started saying only Miguel could make my breakfast, which is to say, none at all.

The daily spin of eggs with jalapenos, avocado, and peppers doesn't taste as good as usual, I can't tell if it's Adan or the egg whites I chose over my usual real eggs in fear of cholesterol – since I eat between 6 and 9 a week, working at breakfast restaurant.

The eggs/veggie combo is on of the last things I'll eat at my restaurant, the others being red potatos and discarded blueberry cheesecake waffles. Soon, it will be nothing – well, I'll probably never fully give up the discards. Miguel was really the only reason I still ate at work, having a personal chef who will make you anything you ask for was too good to pass up. Now that our flirtation has turned to everyone from bussers to other cooks asking if I like him, and him refusing to make my food, I don't have a reason to keep eating on my breaks. I'll just as soon fall even deeper into my Californism and wolf down some of my fat-free Greek yogurt or make a kale smoothie before work.

This will represent the last visible severing of ties between my life and the lives of my customers as they eat at my restaurant – not that me eating two eggs with veggies cooked inside, 'omelet style' (the cheaper way to get an omelet) bore any similarity to 90% of the menu items.

It didn't used to be like this. I didn't used to be like this. I used to go out for brunch at chains too, I used to eat out on holidays. I never went to the gym, I didn't buy or cook vegetables – I barely prepared my own food at all. I'm pretty sure my diet in college consisted solely of eating out, shitty commons sandwiches, green salsa, quesadillas, goat cheese, and beer.

Some of this is adulthood. Perhaps some of it is being a snob, but I think it must be fairly universal that waiting tables is a many months long class with daily coursework in “Who I do not want to become.”

I'm not talking about eating at chains anymore. That is convenience, and the fact that I never go out to breakfast because I'm working breakfast.

What I'm talking about now is the grander themes of the people we become while we're not paying attention.

I'm sure it's easy, with the media on child rearing the way it is, to become a parent who scowls when I say we don't have skim milk or snaps at me to not put any butter near their child's plate, but apparently has no cognizance of the fact that they're teaching their children to be rude to people of lower social classes working in the service industry. Or that they're teaching them that chain breakfast food is a fun reward, a habit they'll spend the next ten years trying to break.

I assume it's painfully simple to become a person who complains about hash browns under another table, a syrup smudge in front of you, or a piece of avocado on your waffle, but doesn't give a single thought to the factories the meat you're so happily consuming was prepared in. It's hard to research how the food you're consuming is produced, hard and scary. It's easy to complain about something meaningless that's right in front of your face, and it's easy to tell yourself that you are important because you can tell a waiter or a busser to clean it up for you.

It's hard to be a service worker and realize that you can no longer use putting other people down to justify your existence, because it's done to you so many times a day that you lose count, and all you know at the end of the day is that you never want to be that person, and you're going to have to figure out some other way to give your life meaning. But that kind of hard can't just be thrown away like a pamphlet on meat consumption, that kind of difficulty must be confronted every day when you go into work and another person tells you to “go get someone to clean this up,” and you have to turn around, go to the kitchen, grab a wet dish rag, and watch them avoid your glance as you stand in front of them, cleaning the tiny 'mess' that they presumably thought you were going to go grab someone of even lower perceived social status than yourself to deal with.

Unfortunately, waiting tables hasn't only given me perspectives that make me want to live a more intentional life. It's also made me impatient. When I'm in the weeds with two new tables and someone tells me they're ready to order and proceeds to spend ten minutes looking at the menu and saying 'hmmm' as I watch my manager glare at me from across the store, I don't feel sympathy. I resent every time in my life that I've been this person, I resent this specific person for having no awareness of their surroundings, but mostly I just want to tell them that it's basically all the same.

It's made me a worse person in some ways – I shamelessly laugh at people who ask if we have mint lemonade – “Oh yeah, let me just go pick the mint out of our in house herb garden.” Someone once asked if we had green juice. Or my personal favorite, when a woman asked if our tilapia was wild caught.

I'm afraid that it's making me more judgmental and rude, because of the way I regard these idiotic questions. At the same time, it's making me less judgmental in an entire other way. There was certainly a time in my life when I couldn't have named a single person in my day to day life for whom English was their second language. Now, the lack of him cooking my recent breakfasts nonwithstanding, I consider Miguel to be one of the pillars of my everyday life. You can laugh, go ahead, but name how many people you spend 25-30 hours of your week with. The people who you'd call screeching to them “Where were you today! I was so worried about you! I thought you were dead!” when they don't show up somewhere they're supposed to be. The people who you look forward to seeing every day, who you shoot glances at when other people are being crazy. Not only are Miguel, and all my coworkers – servers, bussers, cooks – my support system in that context, they've also taught me something incredibly important about all those words I've been throwing around – judgment, sympathy, empathy, compassion.

The reality of the service industry is that you're forced to acknowledge that every person, from 16 year old bussers to hosts going into the air force to servers with three kids to the divorced cook that you actually find yourself with a real crush on, has just as dynamic and complicated a life as your own. You don't get special privileges because you made your own degree or read five books a month or don't want kids because you hate the prioritization of the American family unit. Everyone's life and excuses for missing work and hangovers are equal, if anything yours are a little bit less equal because your problems are usually more selfish, you have parents who can bail you out in an emergency, and you have no mouths to feed but your own.

And it just may turn out that when every man you meet is a jerk and you've told some of the regulars in your life the same story three times before they remember it, Miguel asks you questions about your old roommate going crazy and your new house, things you barely remember telling him. Your coworkers remember every story of a man wronging you and curse them just as vehemently as the friends you've had for five years. You stop in to see your old manager and you wonder why you feel so great after the long talk you have, and realize it's because it's the first time you've sat and talked to someone for over and hour without the conversation halting because you're doing an activity in weeks. It makes you understand their lives and the legitimacy behind them with a love and urgency that you hope one day, you may just be able to extend to the next rude customer.

 

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: The Fear

I get asked on a fairly regular basis why I don't have a 'real job.' (Or told to get a 'real job,' depending on the rude level of the person I'm talking to.) I'll address the use of the term 'real job' later. Their reasons have ranged from: I should get on a career path, I'll have to start at the bottom if I want to go anywhere, waiting tables will never give me benefits and/or a retirement package, I'll never be able to get a job I want if I don't start getting experience, et cetera, adult things, typical rat race mumbo jumbo, et cetera.

My responses have varied each time I've had the conversation. Sometimes I talk about the stark reality: I'm trained for nothing, I have no connections, I don't know where to start with looking/applying and nobody has been able to tell me. Other times I go with the logistical: I probably couldn't find a traditional office job where I'd make more than 10 to 12 dollars an hour, and I can't survive on that right now with my rent where it is.

I also have no particular interest in the jobs that people suggest to me. I don't want to write product descriptions or pamphlets or whatever else copywriters do.  I respect it as a profession but unfortunately I don't think I could manage it - my traditional schooling didn't go so well, so I don't think being required to write textbook words about random things would go so great either.  The only other job that people have suggested to me is random office jobs, which due to their lack of detail sounds like a not real thing anyway.  Even if they do exist, why should I do them over the job I have now? People say it could get my foot in the door somewhere, but where? What is this elusive door and where would my foot be eventually leading to?

I don't see the point of getting a job with the purpose of using it as a stepladder to this idea of a future job, when I know already that I don't want that future job at a random office or copywriting for anyone.  I'd rather figure out how to do the things I want for money than get a job that will only lead to working in an office for the man.  Sure, there might be office-y real jobs out there that I would enjoy, but a random job as an assistant or copywriter isn't going to put me on the path to those anymore than working consistently on my writing in my spare time is.

These were the reasons I always cited when having this conversation, but I knew that there was something else that made me feel it was the correct choice for me right now. I figured it out the other day: it's the fear. If I put all the energy toward getting a 'real job' that I put toward my writing, my art, and settling into my house, I'm sure that I could find one. I probably wouldn't like it, but sometimes I don't like waiting tables either. Maybe one day I would like it, or at least be content with it. That contentment is what I don't want. If I grew content with a 'real job' that paid well and seemed like it was on a socially acceptable path, I might accept that life for myself, in whatever field I ended up in. I'd have weekends off, so I'd probably spend them hanging out with my friends instead of how I spend my days off now which is generally working on writing. I'd grow used to the 'real job' and the lifestyle it offered, and I might forget how important an artistic life is to me.  I'd probably be all set up for a decent life, and I wouldn't be afraid that all my other efforts wouldn't pan out.

That's the thing. I'm terrified that I'll be waiting tables for the rest of my life. I'm terrified about turning 26 and not having health insurance, and that in ten years I'll still be where I am right now. But I need that fear. Because of that fear, I think constantly about how I'm going to get myself to the type of life I want as an artist. Because of ze fear, I spend almost as much time working when I'm not working as I spend at work. (Figure out that tongue twister.) I write, I paint, I read, I try to research how to make these things go anywhere. That research part isn't going so well, so any help there would be appreciated. I look for ways to get involved in the San Diego creative community, I've contacted strangers to ask if I can be involved in a literary magazine.  (And they said yes!  Stay tuned for future news on this.)  

If I got a 'real job,' then I'd know I wouldn't be waiting tables for the rest of my life. But it would be no guarantee that I'll eventually find a way with writing or live the artistic life I want. And in the end, that's the real fear. A 'real job' would be a nice way to placate the fear and learn to accept another life, but I don't want to do that. I want to figure out how to make it work with writing and art, and the fear that waiting tables gives me is the best way I know how to push myself every day. I don't want to get so comfortable that I forget how important this life is to me.

And that's not even touching on the fact that with this supposed 'real job,' I would probably have far less time to pursue art and writing. If in five years I'm still waiting tables but have produced a large body of work, it will have been worth it. There's a grand tradition of creative types supporting themselves in the service industry, and I'm happy to join it even if it's getting less common with the techie-rat race-longing for traditional forms of success-thing that seems to be happening now.

Lastly, fuck 'real job.' I've been using it because it's the most common term, but seriously, fuck that. I not only work hard, I also am becoming practiced in a myriad of skills that although I don't know how to list them on a resume I probably wouldn't get from this elusive office job people tell me to get: dealing with insanely rude people day in and day out, prioritizing six tasks that all basically need to be done immediately, walking and working and smiling through cramps and other forms of pain, sacrificing holidays to go to work and generally have people be assholes. Working with people from very different walks of life than myself and spending 30 hours a week with them, learning just how real this job is in their lives and getting close to them. So let's retire this phrase, yes?

A Portrait of the Waitress as a Young Artist: Labor Day, Literally

I've been stewing on the idea for a while of blogging about my life as an artist who happens to be employed as a waitress and the dynamic of that lifestyle. Here I am, making good on that plan.

It's a big topic in my life with a lot of intricacies, but I'm going to start with just a short musing on the day that will be now in 20 minutes: Labor Day.

A holiday about taking a break from the hard labor of life, you say? Not so for service industry workers. While many Americans get a break from work, we work harder to serve them while they relax. They get annoyed if our businesses are closed, so our managers keep them open to make more money. Then they get rude if service is slower than their expectations for their glorious day off. A day that should result in higher tips often ends in lower ones because people have unreasonable expectations of service workers who get slammed on a holiday.

Of course the real irony is that many of the people who have labor day off work a jobs that are much more revered and cushier than service industry positions. The people doing the most labor in the first place end up being the people who don't get a break at all, and continue to be the servants of the higher classes.

This is every holiday in the life of a service worker, but it takes on special significance with labor day. When I walk home from this coffee shop, I'll pass numerous bars where youths with better jobs than me are out celebrating that they have the day off tomorrow. I'll be heading home to sleep so that I'll have my wits about me when they're glaring at me because their food is taking too long and they're too hungover to be polite.  Not to mention the more common offenders, large families who expect you to pay attention to no one but them because they are white, privileged, and important. Don't get me wrong, I like my job. But I do wish that people thought a little bit more about how they treated their slaves, I mean, servers. And that I'd occasionally have a holiday off. Alas, that's the price one pays to get off work early and have time to pursue a creative life.