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.  

A Caricature of the Writer as a Young Idiot by Becca Schuh

It's strange how one single day in life can be so singular and yet they all end up blending together anyway to create a year slash a life. I perhaps think I had such a day today. It's not as if so many spectacular things happened, rather the space between what goes on in my brain and what happens with the humans I interact with was much closer than usual.

This probably happens to me more often than most people because I'm apt to fall prey to a suggestion as soon as it happens and yet then let the consequences emotionally affect me much quicker and at a more intense rate than they would to a normal human.

I don't know what phrase is the best one, for society or for myself, so I'll say: there is human who I met several weeks ago who I have been seeing on a relatively consistent basis for adult sleepovers and we have things in common that most people don't have in common with me re: reading and writing.

I was telling him last night how I was at my critique group. Which is a fab group of feminist baller writer ladies of different ages and circumstances who have somehow found each other to have a great writing workshop. Truly amazing. Anyway, today he asked me to send him what I wrote for the group.

Funnily enough, what I sent to the group this week was Night Mares, which is –

Basically one night in college I sat down on my couch and wrote the best essay I have ever written in twelve hours and it is centered around womanhood and beauty and shame and desire and what it means to understand yourself, but it is also at its very core an exploration of two feelings, immense beauty and disgusting terror.

And another way to describe it is 'periods sexuality entrapment discomfort exclusion fighting desire reality acceptance”

One last way to describe it is “not an essay you would ever send to someone you are sleeping with”

And so I began to go through the other options. There are a fair amount, but the challenges of adulthood set in: the essays I wrote in college are unquestionably better written.

Because I had time. They're more lyrical, more evocative, they reveal my soul in ways that I could only do when I was living my soul in daily life.

My writing now is more accessible, it tells interesting stories in ways that people can understand. But I wanted to show him the best, because I know what I am capable of.  And since you never really know how good someone else is, you need to assume they are great and send them the best you have.  So I sent him not Night Mares, but my second best essay which is also intensely personal but not so much 'periods sexuality loneliness despair' as 'things that I don't talk about on the internet re: other people's privacy.'

And so I found the old file in my email and did a decent edit, cried that I am not as good at writing as I was at age 21, penned a quippy email to go along, and hit send.

I thought I would be fine, but I also knew I wouldn't.

Reading about the environment didn't help. It already gives me panic attacks. I just saw numbers and statistics and they all went through my brain without consequence. I got hungry. I walked to the kitchen and without any external stimuli the panic attack set in.

What was I thinking?

When someone asks me for something I want to give it to them, but how could I not think of how much this would scare me?

Let me be clear – I did not care if he liked my writing. Liking is such an irrelevant emotion to art. Liking something is similar to liking a pretty flower or a friendly dog. Sure, that's great. But serious art and literature is not about the arbitrary emotion of like. (This is all majorly inspired by musero uno, J Franz, Jonathan Franzen) I don't know what exactly it's about yet, but it's not about something as asinine as whether you like something or not.

I did care, on some level, about if what I sent him was too much. But I told him from the day we met that I write personal essays. I have repeated this fact. He is adept at remembering things more than most males I have met. He asked me. He must have known.

And yet, I was still so afraid. I haven't cooked in days but I started chopping up tomatoes and peppers and mushrooms and kale and opened a bottle of wine and watched the oil start to bubble and threw the pepper into the heating pan.

And I paced around the kitchen and the panic grew.

I planned on putting the organic version of Buffalo wing sauce, Bella's, on the vegetables. Until that point in the 'recipe,' I kept pouring on salt, hoping the vegetables would char, and trying to grasp if I could taste that this was a Cabernet Franc or if it was just my imagination  that I knew anything about wine.

Of course, at this point, I could no longer talk alone to myself about this predicament. I had to start radiating my anxiety outwards to my friends.

Which, if you know me, you know I had already done before I sent the essay. I'd been discussing it with my lifeblood long before I'd hit send.

He asked me to send him the writing as I was walking to the bank. I was wearing black shorts with lace trim and a black t shirt with wolves on it. I had recently gotten off work which is the story of my life most days. Today I was supposed to be serving the cocktail tables but another waitress was having some v. serious issues and the restaurant was slow, so for the first two hours of the day I food ran and tried to make the bartender who was expoing love me and then I took over the other waitresses section and cried because if you've ever been slow and then slammed its really hard to get your shit together.

But I did great because I am an excellent server. And I think in the first two hours of the day of no tables I did some good friend making. Which has been a v. stressful topic for me of late at work.

At the end of work my checkout seemed off, it looked like I'd only made 70 off 1000 which even though our tip out is 7 percent is still off. And everyone tried to help me but sometimes its just a mistake.

And then I realized there was a 20 slipped between the 50 and 100 in the money I owed the house. A portrait of the idiot.

My boss and I laughed about it and I walked home and got ready to go to the bank.

At the bank I was depositing 2020 in cash and something like 350 in checks. I've never deposited 2020 in cash before. I wondered if the teller wanted to ask if I was a prostitute. Meh, he's probably used to it.

Then I started walking home and stopped at two bookstores because recently my father told me about how Kurt Vonnegut called sports 'grandfalloons' aka meaningless events that people gather around so I was like for sure I need some more Kurt in my life. But the first one which is always so fucking disappointing even though I always want to like it failed miserably by having no Kurt or anything else which offends my sensibility because I try to always buy something from a used bookstore. And the second one didn't have Cat's Cradle but I got Timequake and Welcome to the Monkey House and a new ish Sylvia Plath Biography.2

Which is funny because she is who man and I spoke about when we first met

Great.

And then came the times of stress at home - 

because I thought he would think it was weird that I was being so personal and run away? But how could he do that when he had been the one to ask me for an essay, I reasoned. But also he could - they always do.

And everyone kept saying to me 'he will like it.'

But I need to repeat.  I didn't care if he liked it.  Yes, as I said, serious art isn't dependent on liking.  But more than that: I know it is good.  I don't know what kind of good or what directions it will reach or how far I need to go to get to my desired destination, but I know that it is good.  I don't need his validation - if I wanted that, I would have asked him if I could send him an essay.  But I didn't.  He asked me.  I don't know if he was curious, or judging, or interested, but it doesn't matter.  

And how do I know if I trust his opinion? He hasn't sent me any of his writing. Should I just trust it because he's a man?

But here is the thing, the thing that was giving me so much anxiety was not really those things. It was this:

This is me as a person.

And you are either going to take it or leave it.

And at the end of the day it doesn't really matter which, because whichever one happens is the on that was supposed to be,

But that is a very pivotal moment.

And hence the fear

And as I said to Natasha,

“Even if he bails tomorrow, it still exists that I've never done anything like this before I've never sent a guy I'm sleeping with my writing and that I think is a good thing even if its not …. and I think I trust him a little bit but I also trust no one

And eventually he replied: "I got it it's good you're a strong writer

and I know, that's nice – but -

What are you, a professor? I didn't ask for your opinion. You asked to read one of my essays. I know I'm a strong writer. Actually, I don't even care if I'm a strong writer. I am someone who writes with raw honesty, with joy, with love and with passion. If I had wanted your or anyone elses opinion, I would have asked for it. And I do – in the aforementioned critique group, with my writing peers from college, with Leslie and Alisa and all my other fabulous professors. But me offering you this after you asked for it is a gift, not a judgment. And a positive reflection is still a judgment. And also, I know. I don't need you to tell me.

What I need is for you to accept me. Because if you are going to ask to read what I write, you need to know what you are asking for. It is such an intense and visceral part of me, that you are on some level accepting responsibility as you ask for it. I did not offer this to you. You asked. And I am a person who wants to give the things I possess away, but you need to be prepared since you asked.

And we've been talking in the hour since, and it's great, and it's fine, and it's mediocre, and it's more and less than what I expected.

But what it shows me, above all else, is that I am a person with a carriage. Everyone says baggage, but it isn't all so negative. Yes, there are complications, but it is mostly intensity and engagement with the world and emotional vulnerability and a willingness to be who I am regardless of – anything. And that's not baggage. That's a carriage, and it is heavy, but it is beautiful and it will take you on an adventure and it is what it is. You can hitch your horses and pull it along or you can pick a lighter load. 

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: 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.   

An Ode to Robin Williams

I knew that someone had died from my Twitter feed, because it abruptly became full of links about how to get help and statements about how the funniest people seem to have the deepest darkness living inside them. At first glance, none of them said who it was. I quickly went to Google news, and didn't even have to enter a search term – it was already there, the third item down. “Actor Robin Williams found dead at 63 of apparent suicide.”

I was alone in my room at the time, but I still involuntarily shouted “No, no, no” into my unfurnished house. There's always a certain amount of sensationalist excitement when tragic news hits the media, the rushing to find out who it was, how it happened, how the world is responding to it, but you never expect it to be one of your favorite inspirations, one of the tokens of your childhood. There are so many celebrities out there, and especially in the slightly bougie crowds I run in, we don't always like to parade our attachment to them.

Thus my shock and literal screaming into the empty abyss when I saw that Monday's death was of one of my favorite actors consistently since childhood. His death feels personal, in a way that I want to talk and think and do something about it moreso than I can remember happening since Patrick Swayze died my freshman year of college and one of my good friends first impressions of me was finding me writhing on the floor in a black dress crying.

But Robin Williams feels more tragic and close to home than Patrick Swayze even, although now I'm not writhing on the floor, having become slightly less dramatic in the past five years. Robin Williiams films are the backdrop of me growing up, he has felt like a personal character in my life since I can remember.

So many of his films reside in my memory as family emblems that I immediately called my dad, who hadn't yet heard the news. He reminded me of a time that him and my mom saw Robin Williams in San Francisco, years before I was born. I texted my mom and my sister, and shortly after I got off the phone with my dad one of my friends from home called, and asked if I had heard.

“I don't know why you're the person I wanted to call, and I can't talk for long, but I'm just so sad.” She said, and I was glad that she'd chosen me and repeated what I was thinking.

Of course as an artist, the way that Robin Williams most resonated with me was through his films. I still hear lines from Mrs. Doubtfire in my head that relate to anything I'm doing and unconsciously quote it the way I do Friends or Titanic. It's one of the first movies I remember watching repeatedly just because it was funny. It was a touchstone of our family entertainment for my entire childhood.

My dad would blow up air mattresses so my sister and I could stand with them and fling ourselves down onto the floor to imitate the characters falling through the doors in a flood in Jumanji. My camp friends and I still yell JUMANJI at each other as an inside joke because of the summer that we were planning a theme night and, stricken with excitement in a moment of inspiration, I yelled it at my friends out of the blue. At work, I quoted it to my old manager to try and describe waking up early: “What year is it??” Those are just small examples of the way that movie worked its way into the fabric of my life. But Jumanji wasn't just a kids adventure film, it was also an emotionally resonant piece about family and time. That's what all my favorite Robin Williams films are to me – movies that entertain while having a strong undercurrent of the truth about life.

Like every emotional and academic teenager out there, I watched Good Will Hunting repeatedly and it changed the way I thought about the world. I think we don't give enough credit to popular movies that really emotionally resonate with people, especially young people. Once they reach a certain level of fame, we tend to discount them – for being too popular to the masses, because it's cool to make fun of things that everyone likes, for being overwrought or trite. But we forget that part of the reason these films are so popular is that they connect with people on a basic level, and in the right circumstances, like Good Will Hunting, that should be celebrated instead of scorned.

Good Will Hunting tried to teach youths and adults alike all over the world what it meant to live with courage and go forward with love. To all the scared young idiots out there, which I know I was when I saw it, it was life changing. I obviously can't connect my success in building a life I loved at college completely to repeatedly watching Good Will Hunting, but I do know that all the great art that taught me the kind of person I wanted to be had a huge part in who I am today, and Good Will Hunting, and Robin Williams part in it, was definitely part of that chorus.

And of course Dead Poet's Society was another beautiful example of that. When Good Will Hunting told me about emotions, Dead Poet's Society told me about art, and explained to me why I loved books and paintings and films so much. I haven't seen the film in years, but it has stayed close to me as a love letter to young artists to remind us of who we are and why it's important to do what we do. More importantly, why it's okay and wonderful to do what we do in a society where everyone is telling us to go to an office and get a real job and start working for some fabrication of the American Dream that we can feel in our hearts is hollow compared to the truth that the art we love shows us is out there.

What Dreams May Come strikes me as the most poignant and tragic in light of the tragedy. It's less popular than his other films, it certainly isn't a comedy. It's a beautiful and devastating story about a family whose two children are killed in a car accident, and in the midst of the parents grief the father (Williams) is eventually killed as well. In the aftermath his wife eventually commits suicide. The film shows him in an artistically rendered heaven, fighting to go to hell to bring her back to the beautiful side with him due to her manner of death.

I don't need to explain why that is so hard to swallow now.

But more than the individual films he was in, Robin Williams emanated an energy that connected the world and made me feel more okay about being a human. When I thought of him, which I did often, in the years before his death, it wasn't as any specific character in his films. Of course I didn't know him personally so I don't know what he was like, but I don't think you can fake the genuineness that made people feel so connected to him.

It shows in the way the world is reacting to his death. I've never seen so many people be genuinely sad and broken up over a celebrity death, and across so many different sectors of humanity. My friends and I have basically created a support group-text about it. On Tuesday at IHOP, one of my regulars came in and when my manager asked how she was, she replied “Oh just terrible! Aren't you?” and when the host and manager looked at her, she replied “Because of Robin Williams!” We talked about it for a while before she ate, and in addition to my sadness I was just so humbled by the idea that this man's death could create such similar reactions in a young liberal wild child waitress and an elderly military wife who reads inspirational bible books when she comes into IHOP.

One of the things that I've noticed in the outpouring of sadness and support is the proliferation of links to suicide hotlines and telling people to get help if they are considering suicide. While I think that this is an incredibly important thing to remind people who may not have access to resources about, I wish that I had an answer to additional things we could talk about in light of this specific tragedy.

The fact of the matter is, Robin Williams certainly had access to the best that mental health has to offer. Reports seem to indicate that he was utilizing the resources he had to the best of his ability. And yet what happened remains. I don't think it's enough to remind people that help is available, because the help we have to offer, unfortunately, isn't enough. It reminds me of reading about Steve Jobs death to cancer, my thought process being if Steve Jobs money couldn't get him enough updated and newfangled treatments to cure his cancer, then cancer is much more terrifying of a demon than I ever realized. (Obviously, but anyway.) The comparison isn't a perfect one, but nevertheless – the best that we have to offer in mental health still left Robin Williams with no way out of his depression. The phrase that comes to mind is from David Foster Wallace, another great genius lost to suicide -

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

I come from a family where mental health disorders are common, and I count myself lucky that my own mental health troubles are mostly rooted in anxiety rather than depression, although of course they are related. This quote is the thing that has helped me understand depression more than anything else I've ever read, and that terror is something that anxiety sufferers know in a different form. But my point from above is this – for the depressed person, standing at the window, the suicide hotline might draw them away this one time, but they are always going to find themselves back at that terrifying window until one day the jump is the only choice they feel they can make. The 'solutions' we are publicizing and offering are coming too late.

There needs to be more research to understand what makes the depressed person reach the agony that Wallace describes. We need to find out if it is something created intrinsically in the brain with genetics, and move from there, or if it is something that is developed or worsened in life and figure out how to change our society so that we create a healthy environment where people can forge mental health. That is what I hope comes out of this tragedy – that this horrible disease has taken someone so prominent from us will make us question what creates this mental state and what can be done to help the people who currently suffer from it as well as the countless souls in the future.

I'm not a psychologist, I'm not a brain researcher, I don't know where to begin with the societal fight against mental illness. I'm just a human, an artist who has loved and suffered from mental illness and whose life was altered by a truly great artist and gift to humanity, Robin Williams. The only thing I can think to do now is find comfort in the fact that he united so many disparate people, and be thankful that we were given the gift of him on this earth, and in his memory love each other, continue to create, and mourn.