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.