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. 

Welcome to / Here is / I'm in New York

“Suppose nothing happens to you. Suppose you lived out your whole life and nothing happens you never meet anybody you never become anything and finally you die in one of those New York deaths which nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway.”

This is the voice I keep hearing in my head. Harry / Billy C on repeat, goading me that it's entirely possible that nothing will happen to me in New York, where I have finally arrived after many moons of planning. It's not as if this anxiety is a surprise. I knew I'd feel this way; or at least something along these lines, when I arrived in New York, I never saw it as a solution to my problems, rather that my problems were past the point of needing to be solved, that my life was on such a pointless course that solving the problems would solve, in effect, nothing, and thus I may as well go somewhere and gain a new set of problems, and where better to go to gain problems than New York, home of the 99 most famous problems. 

Thus far, (only a week and a half so don't quote me on this) it has not been as hard as I expected it to be. I probably sound both naive and like a jerk saying that, but I mean it in a different way – the logistical things about moving to New York have proven themselves to be easier to solve than the mental logistics of what it means to actually be attempting to, as they say, follow one's dreams. People mostly talked about A. how expensive everything would be, B. how hard it was to get an apartment, and C. how hard it would be to get a job without New York serving experience. 

As for A, there are some perks to moving to the most expensive city in America from the fourth / twelfth / whatever most expensive city, all the lists are different, but San Diego is definitely up there. Thus far, prices have been relatively similar, and I no longer have to take Lyfts ever so that cuts out a huge expense. Also, can't forget the whole being single / having few friends / no kids / no pets perks of my financial situation. 

Maybe it will be hard to get another apartment, but I got this first sublet very easily. I thought to myself, hm, I bet people who have a weird sublet length will be more willing to have someone who is moving to the city. And then I found a six week sublet. And then I emailed them and then we talked on Skype and then it was mine.

As for jobs, it's not like I'm going to be working at Per Se or Les Halles, but plenty of places have been happy to interview me (I've actually turned down some interviews) despite my lack of 'New York Experience' and two of them have offered me jobs, so I'm actually more anxious about picking a job than about getting one. Again, they aren't the dreams (pour one out for Hash House) but I'm happy that someone is just willing to pay me and that my amazing interview skills haven't worn off in the past year. 

So it's strange that even though I seem to have the three main concerns on lock, I'm still very anxious and overwhelmed. I guess part of the anxiety does have to do with the jobs, with picking jobs and knowing if I'm making the right decision (historically a challenge for me) but still different than what I expected. What else is the anxiety and overwhelmation about?

Back to my opener – this fear that even if I do everything right, get a job and an apartment and feed myself, and not go into obscene amounts of credit card debt, I still won't meet anyone or do anything exciting and that living here will be just a carbon copy of living anywhere else, that I won't write anything or meet any writers or find any artistic companions or get involved in the arts or generally do anything that I came here to do. No adventures, no accomplishments, no interesting conversations. And that would be worse, in some way, than not having those things in San Diego or wherever else I could have lived, because in that case I could write these things off as not existing in any given city, but here in New York I know they exist I just don't know if I'm going to find the access points to tap into them myself. 

I guess it makes sense then why I'm more anxious about that than I am about logistics, because the internet is very helpful for logistics. Pretty much everything one would worry about logistically can be worked toward through Craigslist. Like you can make progress within an hour on Craigslist towards jobs and housing, and even if you don't find them for a few weeks, you still know you have this consistent option.

But there is no Craigslist for finding adventures, or artistic companions, or intellectual stimulation. There is no Craigslist for a fascinating life. Sending out a resume, even if you get no response, seems like a step in the right direction. I don't know what the steps in the directions are to the above amorphous qualities. And even when I try, I don't know if they're going down a path, or down no path, or possibly worse, going down a stupid path. I have no idea. And then, how do you know if the logistic choices you're making to facilitate a living are cutting off choices in the other areas? They probably always are at some level, for those of us without magic benefactors, but there's no way to know which things that you're cutting off are mistakes and which are necessary.

One thing I'm grateful for is that I haven't given much / any thought to anything that happened in San Diego, re: regrets or sadness. I mean I miss my coworkers from Hash House, and I miss Desmond (may he rest in peace) and I'm sure that eventually I'll miss the sun, but I don't have any lingering preoccupations or the sense that I left anything before it's time. It's almost as if the answer to every question there was just to let it go. I already was missing the person that I'll miss, being across the country is actually simpler. In terms of the people I saw on a regular basis, well, all the people I love are already spread out across the fucking country. Like when I lived in San Diego I had x friends and I missed y, a, b, c, and d friends and e and f family. Now I am closer to b friends, e family, far away from x, still far away from y, a, and c, but that will be my life forever after Redlands. I'm sure that everyone I love will never be in the same place again, so I'll always be missing some and having others. Plus, I always hang out by myself anyway. 

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.