Several months ago I gave up my media job in San Jose and began waiting tables. The goal was to spend a couple of years carving out a career as a freelance writer. I was going to go back to my roots to put that magazine journalism degree to good use. I was taking a leap of faith in my own abilities, discipline and drive. I was prepared to be poor. I was asked what I wanted to do, decided, then threw myself into it whole-hog. I was going to write.
I've published nothing since. In 7 months I've earned not a single byline. It's not for lack of writing. There has been lots and lots of writing. But when I began to explore what I wanted out of this endeavor, what I was best at, where my strengths were, I discovered I didn't want to write articles for newspapers, websites and magazines. I didn't want to be a freelance journalist.
I want to tell my own stories.
Whether in raw essay form or barely hidden behind the veil of fabricated characters, the power of my voice exists within the stories I have accumulated. Telling you what happened, secrets and all, is what I'm best at. Telling my tales is where all the impetus lies, the real reason I sit down to write most days. Everything else distracts from this best goal.
Of course, coming to terms with what I am supposed to be writing meant coming to terms with the knowledge that people will be hurt. Telling one's stories means being brave and taking huge interpersonal risks. It means pushing down the voice inside you that demands, "This is off-limits. Stop your story." And that voice is very loud.
Deciding to tell my stories also means finding myself in tears on a regular basis. Or as angry as hot lava as writing a passage reveals more about that incident than I had previously recalled. Or dripping in self-doubt. Telling one's stories is a constant therapy session. It's exhausting.
Much like waiting tables is exhausting. I had forgotten how much it takes out of you.
I just remembered that I waited tables and tended bar while going to college. Surely, I could do that again and write on the side. Waiting tables would free me up to carve out that freelancer writer life I thought I wanted. Waiting tables would pay the bills while I created a sustainable income for myself doing what I love.
But waiting tables is fucking hard! Even working part-time, the work leaves me both mentally and physically worn out. It's stressful, high-impact and it leaves this nearly 35-year-old beat and with a backache. And it's certainly not as lucrative as I had imagined. You don't get to come back to the restaurant industry after a decade away, now living in one of the most acclaimed dining cities in the world, and get primo shifts at Michelin-star rated restaurants. I have friends who pull 80 grand a year waiting tables, but they have been working their way into these choice positions all along, and they are absolutely phenomenal at their trade.
Truth be told, I'm just a mediocre server. I was told by my dear friend Leo, a friend I made at the restaurant where I work now, "you're not a restaurant person." At the time I was offended. He refused to go into detail; that's how Leos do. But I thought about it for days: "How am I not a restaurant person?"
One beer-soaked evening (for those in the industry there are many), Leo indulged me and expounded further: "You care too much. You let people get to you. I can see you standing at your tables with Pissed Off written all over your face. If you let your tables get under your skin, you are not a great server."
He was right. And putting it that way made me feel less like a failure at serving. I'm decent at it. But I'm never going to get a gig at The French Laundry. Not happening.
And so, because freelance articles were not where I was focusing my writing efforts and because it became apparent that, for me, waitressing was a dead-end enterprise, I began to panic. OH MY GOD, I thought, I'm going to be a 40-year-old waitress barely scraping rent money together. The idea kept me up at night. How was I going to retire someday? Ever take a vacation? Have adequate health insurance, for fuck's sake?
Lucky for me--I am often lucky for reasons beyond my comprehension--a career angel came knocking at my door. A position for CBS Local Digital Media became available: Social Media Coordinator. And the guy who recruited me to come out from Tennessee in 2007 asked if I wanted to come back to the world of Twittering and Facebooking for the media.
It was an offer too good to refuse. It includes a 401K, sick days (!), vacation time and the most precious thing of all: subsidized health insurance. Mr. Dentist, it's been too long, here I come.
I start next Monday. I'll be back at Broadway and Battery where my tenure in San Francisco began. I'm thrilled. It's the smart, responsible path to take, and I'm so much more secure in my well-being knowing something more financially stable is around the corner. At present I fear a bone break or sudden illness like children fear closet monsters. A hospital visit would put me back so far I'd never recover.
And I'll make time for writing. If I want to get it done, I will. I don't need a part-time job to tell my stories, just the wherewithal to get my ass in the chair and put the words down. John Grisham managed to pump out best-sellers while working 100 hours a week as a practicing attorney. I can tell my tale and also work 40. A media career path does not preclude literary accomplishment. I'm going to prove this theory.
October 1st I'm back to an office job. My desk is huge, my co-workers awesome and my bank account is breathing a sigh of relief. I'm excited. I feel incredibly blessed to have the opportunity.
For now, that's all the life news that is fit to self-publish.