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.