Sunday, April 19, 2009

On Striving & Strife

The following is an excerpt from my personal journal. It's self-indulgent and whiny, to give you fair warning. But I had a tough day at work and I'm exhausted and I need to hear from you lovely, supportive people out there that it's not all noise and worthless effort.... Because I have absolute faith you'll chime in to comfort me. Because you're wonderful like that.

I really do like my work. What I dislike, at times, is my job.

Which might sound weird, since most people who wait tables dislike the customers. I actually quite like my customers. Rarely these days do I meet someone who is just so awful and demanding and rude that it actually upsets me. Most of the time, a sincere smile and honest effort to be helpful will decrease the stress-level of even the angriest customer, and those few that can't be appeased or helped, well, they're only going to be there for an hour or so anyway at most, and then they're gone.

What's stressful is coworkers. Especially lazy coworkers who do nothing but complain about the work and the customers, and then turn around and complain that they don't get more hours or that their customers don't tip them better. Well, which is it? Either you want to be here more (and really earn the money you somehow think customers owe you), or you want to be here less and forfeit good tips because of a lazy, bad attitude.

What stresses me out is that, I love my work. I mean my real work, the work of writing and studying and engaging deeply with the world through an active spiritual and artistic life. And I do it for free, a measly three days a week and whatever other hours I can scrape together. The other four days, I go in (very early and always on time) to a job where, on any given day I could work my ass off for almost nothing, but where most of the time I wait on customers who like me and tip me reasonably well. I don't smoke (cigarettes or pot), I don't drink, I don't party, I don't drive, I don't have cable or even health insurance. I make tons of sacrifices so that I can squeak by working four days a week at a "real job" so that on my days off I can--what? relax? get high? go to the bar? No. So that I can write essays and poetry, meet self-set deadlines for book reviews and newsletters that don't earn me a dime, go to the park to be grateful for the trees, spend time in meditation and practicing guitar. I love my work.

Meanwhile, I am open to ridicule because I "never go anywhere" and I never "do anything" but "sit around and read books." Some days, even when my customers are kind, my coworkers make me feel like crying. I have the right to the choices I've made with my life, and I have worked hard at this restaurant for four years now, to earn seniority, to establish a regular schedule and familiar customers. So that in my spare time, instead of frittering away funds on things to help me escape reality, I can settle down into my life and learn to love it, learn to cultivate happiness and gratitude, and try my hardest to give back, to give freely and without need for compensation or reward. Because I want to be that kind of person, the person who can give freely, with no strings attached, because her basic needs are met and she's content.

It's been a long time since anyone loved me for my good intentions. You spend enough years at a job like this, and you start to think that the only thing that matters is what you actually accomplish, what you can actually do for others. They don't care if you're trying. And everyone wants something. The list grows, and the more efficient you are, the more they want. And gods forbid you're happy--because, certainly, they aren't, and they will want what they think you have, since it seems to bring you something they haven't found for themselves. So they will criticize your restraint and your modest lifestyle, and they will continually fight for those shifts you rely on to barely scrape by. How can you please them, how can you possibly ever give them what they want from you? They want you to be like them--to go clubbing, buy expensive clothes, blow hundreds of dollars on pot and cigarettes--and at the same time, they want you to make do with even less, to cut back so that they can have more. It's only fair.

But I'm tired. I work so hard, because I love my work. Still, every once in a while, I want to be loved just for trying. I want to be supported and appreciated because I strive, because every day, every moment of my life, I am always striving. Striving to be a better waitress, striving to be a better coworker, a better writer and a better thinker and a better friend. To be more independent, and to be more involved; to be more caring, and to be thicker-skinned; to be more confident, and to be more modest; to be more ethical, and to be more accepting; to be more outgoing, and to be more easy-going; to be more imaginative, and to be more realistic. I even try, idiotically, to be more helpful and efficient while maintaining a socially acceptable level of apathy and cynicism.

And yesterday, my best friend confides that he sometimes feels he can't talk to anyone because no one cares about the things he does, or at least not as much. So I want to care even more, to read and learn even more, so that I can be there for him and be someone he can talk to. Because he's important to me and I don't want him to feel alone. But I only have so much energy. And sometimes, I don't know what to do. I try to seek stability and health, so that I can be my best, so that I can accomplish all these things... but sometimes, I end up feeling utterly inadequate.


Last night, I dreamt that my best friend and I were at a parade, and he handed me a small brown pill. I swallowed it whole, like an inside joke, and it turned me into a donkey. And I just ran away from everything, ran on my four hooves striking the dirt, my tail swinging at flies and my long ears flopping, soft and gray. To be a beast of burden, to be soft and gray and free to be simple, to chew grass and stare with large eyes at the world.

So this is the parade. And I'm the ass.

13 comments:

  1. I don't have any sage words of wisdom or comfort (beyond our conversation last night), but yesterday my mom said something interesting: she didn't understand how anyone could want more than one or two kids, becausethe love you have just gets spread thin, and there's not enough of you to go around. In my experience, though, the more kids you have, the more love you have to give. Here, you're talking about all the things in your life you love (and it's an impressive list!), and being spread thin...
    It's a terrible quandary. People will tell you don't try to please everybody, don't try to be all things to all people, etc., but in a real way, these things one loves are one's children, and you can't abandon them by the roadside... At least, not without allowing some part of yourself to die.
    Maybe that's what's necessary sometimes. I don't know.

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  2. I appreciate what you do here, very much! You always make me think, and usually inspire me to try and be better... and I thank you for that. In fact, you've just inspired me to go give a general "thank you" to all my online friends. So thank you again! :)

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  3. Reading this was like someone had transcribed my inner voice when I was your age!

    I realized over the years, even when you do receive or find love, support and appreciation, it won't give you the strength that you need. Only the love, support and appreciation you give to yourself will be sufficient to crowd out those criticisms and feelings of inadequacy.

    Nurture and cultivate your uniqueness; never hide it. Flaunt it in the face of criticism, if you will. Reward yourself and ignore the bitching of others (they're just attention-seeking; if they were serious, they'd do something about it). To thine own self be true...and go heavy on the compliments! You're the only one who knows all the things you do and how hard you strive; only you know all the nice things you want to hear -- so say them! Send yourself a beautiful card; heck, add a few flowers, you're worthy!

    Being happy and complete within and all by yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Everything else is party favors; maybe there'll be some, maybe there won't, maybe you'll get to take some home.

    LMAO at your dream interpretation!

    Faerie blessings,

    Kat

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  4. See, I knew you guys wouldn't fail me. ;)

    I'm feeling much better today, probably because I was determined to focus on the good and maintain my center and my perspective. Mostly it seemed to help. I'm sure I'll still need to work on staying in that place of grounding and optimism, but if I make it a goal, I think things will become easier in time.

    Jeff, I think in general you're right, the more love you give, the more there is to go around, like priming the pump in a way (I've experienced this with creativity and poetic inspiration, too: the more I write, the more ideas come to me, until I exhaust myself trying to keep up!). On the other hand, while giving love to all aspects of my life shouldn't spread me thin, external demands on what I "should" be giving my time and energy to can wear me down, even if only because I must constantly be shrugging them off. Seriously, try shrugging for, like, five minutes straight. It gets tiring real quick. ;)

    But it is nice to know I have a few days off. And those days will probably be rainy, which means I'll have no beautiful weather distracting me from these posts I want to write (including the response to your comment from way back at the beginning of the month, Kat!). So it really is a blessing to know you're out there, guys. :) Thanks for that!

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  5. Reading your words over the past several months has changed a great deal in my own life. First I had to give up that arrogant pride of not being willing to learn from someone younger than myself. Once I did that the rest came a bit easier but has been a constant battle with that inner arrogance of mine. I envy so few - you are one of that small group though.

    Each day is a do-over if you don't like the direction it's taking. Wake up each day as though it were on purpose and give it the purpose you want to pass on. And maybe, just maybe, knowing that those countless numbers of us who are affected by your words will make things seem a bit more positively productive than they did just a few days ago.

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  6. Desiderata

    Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
    and remember what peace there may be in silence.

    As far as possible, without surrender,
    be on good terms with all persons.
    Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
    and listen to others,
    even to the dull and the ignorant;
    they too have their story.
    Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
    they are vexatious to the spirit.

    If you compare yourself with others,
    you may become vain or bitter,
    for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
    Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
    Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
    it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

    Exercise caution in your business affairs,
    for the world is full of trickery.
    But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
    many persons strive for high ideals,
    and everywhere life is full of heroism.
    Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
    Neither be cynical about love,
    for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
    it is as perennial as the grass.

    Take kindly the counsel of the years,
    gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
    Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
    But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
    Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

    Beyond a wholesome discipline,
    be gentle with yourself.
    You are a child of the universe
    no less than the trees and the stars;
    you have a right to be here.
    And whether or not it is clear to you,
    no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

    Therefore be at peace with God,
    whatever you conceive Him to be.
    And whatever your labors and aspirations,
    in the noisy confusion of life,
    keep peace in your soul.


    With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
    it is still a beautiful world.
    Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

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  7. Ali,

    I really feel your words here. I am in a similar work/life situation (though I am not a writer).

    It get's old when others constantly question why you don't live a more public and popular lifestyle.

    "What did you do this weekend?" "Oh I read, did laundry, did yardwork." "Oh, sounds, um, nice."

    "What did you do this weekend?" "I cleaned my house, read, did yardwork." "Oh, ummm, sounds nice."

    And they are wondering why you never go to clubs or to church or to movies or ...

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that you are a wonderful, talented woman and you deserve to be told that.

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  9. I've just started reading your blog recently, and I've already found much to touch, inspire, and challenge me, both in your words and in the insight and integrity that shine through them. From here, as a reader, it certainly looks like what you have chosen to do with your life is beautiful and worthwhile. Thank you for sharing your truth.

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  10. First of all Ali,

    Breath.

    Breathe deeply and remember your nourishing nouns! The people, places, and things that feed your soul.

    You are loved, and appreciated, and your writing feeds many souls other than your own. Someday I am convinced it will put food on your table, you are smart and tallented and thoughtful.

    There are so many unhappy people in the world who are not willing to face their fears and who run from their lives with parties and drugs rather than facing their challenges.

    It is neither easy, nor hard, to sometimes get tired, to be worried and worn by all those who would push or drag us down in our everyday lives; that's called being human.

    Breathe inspiration,
    Exhale Doubt.

    Peace,
    Pax

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  11. While we are on the topic of your general fabulousness, I for one would be mighty surprised if you couldn't make some gainful employment from this writing thing...

    just sayin',
    More Peace,
    Pax

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  12. We love you as you are. Your words always bring me back to the present moment and set my life in perspective. I have so much respect for the work you do and think it's fantastic that you fight to keep to the choices you've made.
    Offering your strength at this time,
    ~Rose.

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  13. Pom, Deb, Kisses, pollicino, Ben, Pax, veracious, everyone... wow! The outpouring of support from you all is just so wonderful and heart-warming. :) Thank you! It really means a lot to me to know you're out there, reading and thinking and responding. You guys are just fantastic!

    And I expect you all to go out and buy a copy of my inevitable book, whenever I finally get off my ass and write one. ;)

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