Going full creative is still not quite here yet. I do wait tables a couple of days a week. This covers just enough to buy groceries, and gas during the month.
Why waiting tables?
I’m keenly aware of the danger of total isolation for someone like myself. While I chose to live in the woods to cut down on static in my life and free up creative energy, the flip side of privacy is noxious isolation.
Labels like “introvert” and “extrovert” are simplistic and not entirely accurate, but for ease, I’ll say, I’m on the extroverted side of the scale. Even extroverts need rejuvenation and quiet sometimes.
Still, between the knowledge that mental and emotional health lies in some connections to community, plus the very real problem of being a fantasy writer living in my own head and forgetting the line between reality and fiction sometimes – I knew I needed to anchor myself in connections to humans at least twice a week.
These days also force me to shower, change my underwear and be somewhat aware of my surroundings. The days I go to town for a shift (40 minutes each way), I use to check my email and internet, run errands and meet with friends for dinner. This allows me to maintain relationships and get caught up on other business efforts before going back into the forest.
Bossguy, the owner of the restaurant where I serve is also an artist, and gets the struggle. While he frequently comments on my mental organization and preparedness…he also comments on my difficulty connecting. He’s aware that when I first come in, I’m often struggling to go from the silence and serenity of the woods and my creative work, to the loud cacophony of noise, smells, and urgent needs of customers. It’s sometimes a rocky transition for about half an hour.
Waiting tables again brought me right back to one of my first jobs. When you have server experience, you can take it anywhere, and fall back on it anytime. My first waitressing gig was at Oscar’s on the Waterfront, in Valdez Alaska when I was fifteen. It was almost twenty-five years ago, and it’s a lot like riding a bike, you just pick it back up.
I’ve worked some lucrative corporate jobs, some mediocre corporate jobs, some odds and ends, tid bits, and such. But waitressing is one of the best people watching and character study opportunities in the social paradigms of our world. I make a lot of character notes.
Further, the beauty of waiting tables is that you don’t take your work home with you. You don’t check work emails before bed, or while you’re eating breakfast. There are no crises, or emergencies that can’t wait until your shift. The occasional sick co-worker who needs a sub is the worst interruption you get when you’re in a serving position. No weekend or evening chaotic damage control sessions that tend to take place in a poorly run corporate environment.
As a server, you clock in, clock out, and you’re done. Back to the creative life, un-encumbered by the management failures of your employers.
I’m honest enough with myself to know I need connections to living folk, I’m also aware that financially, and emotionally, I can’t be a waitress for that much longer. It’s been a really nice escape and reset, but I do need to be getting on with my work.
That being said, how do I still get the necessary connections in while being a full-time creative? I don’t have an answer for that yet. All I know is the necessity, so I’ll keep working the problem. The other part of that problem is that I will need stronger more meaningful connections in the near future. Human interaction in speed format of serving is great, but it offers little substance; especially in South Tillamook County.
Working the connection to community into my life and practices might seem unimportant to some. Balance is important to keeping my creativity free and flowing, so I make the effort because I consider it part of my craft; in the same way an actor or actress puts energy into appearance, movement and body—my craft and daily exercise includes mental and emotional centering, which by the nature of my craft and self…includes relationships and interaction.
Until I figure out a solution to the connectivity regularity, I’ll be serving breakfast and burgers to passersby on Highway 101. I get tourists from all over the world, regulars from the county, and a lot of lost folk. I get famous movie actresses and travel bloggers. I get adventure mavens, and final stage cancer patients crossing off bucket list items. I get farmers, salt of the earth folk talking about politics and the almighty wall, next to a table of interracial lesbians and their adopted children talking about the nature of kindness and acceptance. Neither table seems aware of the other.
I get hipsters singing ukulele, and an old gruff logger with his battered guitar sharing music tricks together at the bar. And I get a lot of old timers who just want someone to tell their story to, and reminisce about how different the world used to be. And regulars who are lonely and need a place to sit, and someone who seems to care.
I know the feeling. So, I smile, serve coffee, and ask about their day.
The restaurant roof leaks (badly), there’s a change in the floor pitch where the building is leaning toward the river. The interior is a greasy spoon diner with red vinyl bar stools and black booths. The food portions are large and oily, and the hours are rarely what are posted. And yet, people who walk in always comment on the atmosphere, “I didn’t think places like this still existed”. “It’s like a piece of Americana.”
I smile, “You’re right. These places are fast going out of service. Times are tough for the old-fashioned menus. Can I get you started with some coffee?”
And when I drive home I don’t take any of my day with me except for the knowledge that I shared a time, space, and mutual need with humanity for a brief moment.