“Bars are the places where life in the city reveals itself…where ordinary people go have a drink, ponder the weather, and are always ready for a chat. Buy a newspaper and enjoy the ebb and flow of people.” -Paulo Coelho
Ah, the ebb and flow of people. Simultaneously enchanting and monotonous, especially from the perspective of someone partially responsible for the flow. Working on and off as a waitress for the past four years, a gig that’s helped me stay afloat through college and the aftermath, I’m no stranger to the bar habitat. I refill water glasses as strangers become friends, watch as people sip their first legal drinks, cut customers off who’ve been drinking for as long as I’ve been alive and behave like it’s their first time, clean up puke, watch break ups unfold, clear off plates at the end of a successful Tinder date, and so on. I play a part in the lives of strangers, peek into their existence, but only from a safe distance. I’m mostly a means to an end, but I’m used to it.
Last night, as I was asking a young man for his food order, he interrupted me mid-question to ask if he could take a photo of me. He was drunk. I was busy with other tables and didn’t feel like having my picture taken, not that I needed to explain myself. As I made my way to another table, I heard him say to his friend, “What else could she be busy doing? Making nine dollars an hour?” And much like those of us responsible for the flow often have to, I bit my tongue. I know how to pick my battles, and this newly 21-year-old wasn’t worth the breath – no matter how much I wanted to retaliate.
In the midst of my fury, my growing desire to tell him off, I watched his friends feel genuinely ashamed to be seen with him. I have to admit this felt good, but not as good as the choice to be bigger than them, to keep my cool under pressure. And that’s truly the key to serving it seems – keeping your cool, problem-solving with patience and empathy first. Skills that have taught me to understand why people behave the way they do. I often feel like a zookeeper tending to her animals, both maintaining a quiet sense of authority and assimilating to their energy. It’s intuitive and strategic, absolutely nothing like being a customer on the other side of the bar.
Funny how much a bar transforms when you’re shift’s over and you can finally have a drink. You’re primal again, free at last. These are the moments you really get to know the regulars, your coworkers, the locals and strangers who no longer expect anything from you. You’re a person again, as wild as the other animals on either side of you. This is when I find truth in Paulo Coelho’s words about life in the city revealing itself. All of that strategic patience and empathy displayed during the job bleeds into your off time and pays off. Suddenly, though you might never have imagined it, these “strangers” respect you, trust you, unload onto you, buy you shots in appreciation if you’re lucky. You’ve made an impact in their lives, however big or small.
For so long, I focused most of my energy during server shifts feeling angry and disappointed in myself for being stuck in a job that didn’t align with my passion or calling. I would overlook the experiences with strangers and coworkers, conversations that made me see life differently, and the day-to-day challenges that helped me grow up. As soon as I walked out of that world, I’d miss it. The people and the world they contributed to latched onto me.
My first legitimate serving gig introduced me to incredible people, which led to some of the best experiences I had in college: steak dinners and wine at my boss’s house, bringing out pancakes to fellow students and friends, blasting music and pregaming at the diner before party-hopping on campus. The fast-paced environment, the constant problem-solving, provided me with a new, thicker, and far more resilient layer of skin that prepared me for the future. I owe a great deal of my evolution to bars and restaurants – the truest union of souls revolving around our most constant and dire needs: food, drink, and companionship. What could be more human?
Painting 1: Michael Flohr
Painting 2: Alvaro Castaganet
“The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.”
When was the last time you sat in silence and felt yourself slip into nothing? Do you ever tune out the noise around you and pay attention to what happens next? If the answer is ‘yes’ and you’ve allowed yourself moments to stall out, this cryptic message taken from a fortune cookie might stir something inside you.
The more I write, the more the yin and yang of human existence comes up as a theme. It almost writes itself. It’s no surprise, as you can probably tell by my latest blog posts, that I’ve been struggling to find my place in the world after completing my education. It was all too cozy being intertwined in structured collegiate strings – classes, professors, friends, clubs, all keeping my mind and soul active. As I walked across the stage during graduation I felt the strings snap and release their hold on me. It took feeling the diploma in my hand, celebrating a once-in-a-lifetime achievement with my family and friends, and simultaneously suffering the grief brought on from losing the safest chapter of my life for me to understand life’s dark sense of humor. It’s a hard pill to swallow.
Slowly after this shift, I began to look to myself for guidance. The discipline came to me in “the emptiness of everything” — from the moments when I had let my life become cyclical, structureless, and empty. By that I mean, clarity would find its way to me when I was stuck.
When I was a freshman in college, I developed a hip fracture from a combination of dancing for 10+ years of my life and gaining a drastic amount of weight too quickly. I had to drop out of school for a semester to live at home and keep the weight off my legs. Though this could have easily been the worst time in my life, the solitude and quiet gave me time to get to know myself again, to let my mind wander, and to make plans for a better future. It was in those few months that I dedicated time to this blog, wrote poetry every day, painted again for the first time in years, took care of my body, and got accepted into Salem State University where I would eventually complete my education.
I often look back at this time and use it as fuel when life feels uninspiring again. I remember the yin and yang and that I am solely responsible for pulling myself out of the hole, for bringing passion back into my routine. We tend to move so quickly all the time, always set to autopilot at work and in our relationships. It’s easy to lose yourself if you’re not paying attention to the voices and urges inside you. I had to learn that the hard way. I now make time for myself a priority.
When I graduated I let the ensuing emptiness consume me by neglecting the things I loved to do most of all. I stopped writing and felt the strain of that on my entire body. Nothing was expected of me anymore, no schedules were put in place to keep me in line. It was on me.
I’m writing this because I wish it had been available to me around the time my life shifted drastically and I couldn’t keep up. I’m writing this to remind everyone that “the greatest medicine” in life is you. It’s remembering to read, write, think, sit with yourself and feed your intellect, even if no one is expecting that of you.
It’s ironic how much we hate going to classes, dread doing a homework assignment, and can’t stand being graded constantly throughout the majority of our lives, but feel dependent on it all when it’s gone. Most people won’t admit it, but the void is there.
Long story short, sometimes a fortune cookie from last night’s take-out can lead to an epiphany — but only if you give yourself the time necessary to reflect. Though I don’t have anything figured out yet and feel stuck quite often, I am steadily emerging from the fog. Adulthood is intimidating and isolating, but it won’t overpower you if you fight back. Listen to yourself.
Last night I picked at the dry skin on my bottom lip and stared at the ceiling for hours until eventually, around four in the morning, my eyelids felt heavy. My mind was frantically planning an emergency escape from the absolute dry spell of inspiration and adventure that my current life had become.
Oftentimes, when I’ve reached the deep end of a low point in my life, I experience random bursts of inspiration. They seem to come to me from an outside source, usually before bed, and they beg to be the fuel for something productive. Sadly, they often go unused and unfulfilled. During last night’s episode in particular, I found myself watching a TEDx Talk by Caroline McHugh called “The art of being yourself”. It was through this that a couple of things became clear to me.
To start, I’ve wasted too much time comparing myself to and appeasing others. McHugh attributes this habit in particular with a female-driven desire to be liked and appreciated. As a child, I never cared what people thought of me and it made me seem bizarre to other kids, especially to other young girls. In fifth grade while my “normal” female classmates were learning to straighten their hair and passing notes to the cute boys in class, I was designing identification cards for my three best friends as official entry into our magical world. We were young witches in a Harry Potter-based universe one week and ghost hunters trying to break into the haunted house behind the gym the next. I remember mustering the courage to ask the one boy I had a crush on if he liked me back and he laughed in my face. “No. You’re weird,” was the response I got before he sprinted back to his herd of cool boys. I shrugged and walked back to my friends unscathed. We had adventures to continue and the rest of our lives to fantasize about. Sure, it would’ve been nice if dreamboat Nick liked me back, but his opinion held no power over my confidence. I’ve been searching for that strength inside myself ever since. (P.S. Nick has since added me on Facebook and flirted his way into my messenger.)
My fixation on what others were thinking of me or what others were doing with their lives only held me back. Instead of allowing myself the time necessary to focus and think about who I wanted to become, I filled my time with Youtube videos of other people making their dreams come true. I soaked up the lives of the fictional TV and film characters that I adored and envisioned seeking out the same adventures and success. I’d often say things like “I could easily do what she’s doing!” or, after a random surge of inspiration, attack my parents with lists of ideas and dreams I hoped to accomplish to which they would nod and reply “It all sounds great Mariana. I want to see you do it.” I don’t regret soaking up all the inspiration, but I do regret not giving the same attention to myself that I gave/give to the people I admire. I realized that I need to build a relationship of admiration with myself to start making real strides.
Self-discipline is a bitch. I’ve been struggling with it my entire life, but more as a postgraduate than ever. Someone recently told me that talent is only 30% of what we can each rely on. The rest is how much work and dedication we are willing to put in every day to bring whatever dream we choose to fruition. I had been failing at this miserably, blaming bad luck and fate for how stagnant my life had become. The truth was right in front of me and I knew it all along. I was the one thing stopping me from moving forward.
So, what now?
As the title of this post would suggest, my path to pushing my limits and “making my dreams come true” is still a work in progress. I plan to make this blog my guinea pig, a place where I can track my creative productivity. I strongly suggest anyone who feels road-blocked or lost to watch Caroline McHugh’s Tedx Talk. She reminds us that we each have something powerful and unique to bring to the world. The first and most crucial step is to see it.
I know I haven’t posted in a while and that’s honestly because I have not been writing enough. I was sifting through my journal today and came across an entry I wrote in January when I was battling with what I believe to be some form of depression though I’ve never been properly diagnosed. The older I get the more I’ve come to realize that I am constantly battling a toss-up between extreme highs and lows, which I’m sure is “normal”, but something that I know I could monitor when I decide to take the initiative. I am trying to search for insight, so I’m sharing this in part to see if anyone’s felt this way and because I need to set it free. This isn’t my strongest writing, but it’s true.
January 17, 2017
I think disinterestedness or indifference is as debilitating as depression. Whether it be a specific moment, like sinking slowly into a couch watching your friends comfortably interact with one another and feign confidence before you, or multiple days that drag into one string of monochromatic images. Nothing and no-one can do anything for you. You’re not bored, because it’s about more than just feeling like life is uneventful. Disappointment is where it begins, realizing that all of the love, time, and intimacy you’ve fed someone leaves you barren and clawing for something that won’t come any time soon – not soon enough anyway. Disappointment creeps in like cancer when you see your family for what it really is. When you see the unforgivable faults in a parent who is beyond repair, who selfishly drags it’s better half into purgatory. When childhood dreams gather dust and your body fails you. When you see the darkness in your friends’ eyes and it collectively leaves you wondering…where do I fit into all of this? The worst part is that by the time you’ve reached the point of asking yourself this, you’ve already seen too much. No amount of alcohol can black out the reality, the endless images tucked away. As the folder of images fattens your walk begins to change. You carry yourself closer to the ground with every step. You attempt normality by going to the parties, meeting the people, reading the books, writing the stuff, eating the food, trying the things, but you are heavy.
I never want to lose my soul, but I’d like to travel into a different body. I could be the Moon, I could be a blue jay. I could be everywhere all at once, absorb light, and bleed into every moment for the rest of time.
I took a much needed long walk around my local pond not too long ago. I had begun that day sulking about not knowing what my particular path in life was (typical 20-year-old bullshit). My plan for the day at that point had been to eat and sit on my ass. Seeing me like this, my mom urged me to go for a walk around the pond, to clear my head. I agreed that a change of surroundings would be beneficial. Thus I began my walk on a secluded path entirely surrounded by trees and looked up at the branches above me. I listened to the sound of the nature living around me, singing and breathing. It was beautiful. I felt my tension vanish.
While strolling along my favorite bridge, admiring the scenery, a petite older woman about to walk past exclaimed “I’m having the most beautiful day. What a beautiful day!”I assumed she was speaking to me so I responded “Yes. It’s lovely isn’t?”. Just like that, the two of us began to chat like old friends.
She explained that walking helped her feel more active and that it cleared her head. I told her I was walking for some piece of mind as well. She looked up at me for a long moment and with dewey eyes told me that I resembled her daughter. This woman missed her daughter terribly but, because of an old argument, had no way of reaching her. She had also lost her husband years ago. Simply put, she was alone.
I felt her pain and wanted to aid her in some way. My advice to her was to travel. We talked of places she had never seen and adventures awaiting. I explained that traveling could be like starting a new chapter in her life and her face lit up. This woman was seventy-two by the way. Her soul seemed much younger. There was a moment we shared in which, discussing her daughters, she began to cry. “You’re so beautiful,” she said to me over and over. “Just like my daughter. So true and kind” she said. We exchanged hugs and parted ways but not before the woman thanked me for being her “daughter”.
I’m not accustom to speaking so freely with strangers but this moment was different. I trusted my instincts. This woman even invited me to dinner, which was strange but also not at all. We, as people, are so quick to assume that others have negative intentions. Why can’t we see the the good in people as easily as we see the bad? It might be cliche of me to admit this but I feel like this interaction was a sign. I honestly believe that we can attract particular events or people into our lives based on what we think.
When this woman came into my life, even for that just that brief moment, I was pondering my place in the world and my loneliness. Upon thinking this I ended up having a long conversation with a woman about her own experience with aloneness. It was a wake up call. I was forced to step out of myself in order to feel what she was feeling. I understood her and cared for her because we were one in the same; two momentarily lonely people, needing to connect with someone. That’s what we’re all searching for though, isn’t it? – Human connection. Funny how a “stranger” fulfilled that feeling of unity for me so easily that day.
Have you ever felt like doing something in a specific moment that would be utterly insane and ridiculous to everyone around you? This feeling comes and goes in my life. It creeps up from the depths of my unconscious, threatening to break free into my civilized day-to-day life. For example, earlier today I was having a normal conversation with a friend at the dinner table. Out of nowhere I felt this undeniable urge to pick up the cup in front of me and throw it at the wall. I don’t know where this urge came from and why I felt the desire to do this. Yet, the temptation to be uninhibited and “ridiculous” in that otherwise average moment is so inviting. Freud insisted that we had all of these thoughts, beliefs and desires repressed in our unconscious wanting to make themselves known in our lives. I’ve always found this theory fascinating because it implies that there’s more to all of us as individuals than we fully understand. We’re like incomplete puzzles, completely unaware of where our missing pieces are and what the finished image would look like.
Sometimes, these random bursts of temptation to do something completely out of the ordinary make me feel alive, almost primitive in a way. If you think about it, humans have found ways to fill this void by doing things that don’t quite make sense but that feed the temptation. Such things like skydiving, bungee jumping, reality altering drugs, etc., mimic that feeling of losing control. Why else would we do these things if not to feel completely uninhibited and why does that make us feel so good? I also find it interesting that for me, personally, moments of temptation come mostly when I’m in formal settings, social settings or in situations where I want to conduct myself well. It’s almost like part of me unconsciously strives to “misbehave” or desires to stop following any kind of guideline or social rule.
I’ve been in countless situations around big groups of people where I imagine myself screaming “FUCK!” at the top of my lungs. I visualize what would happen if I did it and how the people around me would react. Other times, in business settings, I’ve wondered what would happen if I started taking my clothes off, mainly because of how absurd it would be in that moment. I realize all of this might make me sound insane. I honestly thought there was something wrong with me until I asked my friends if these thoughts ever crossed their minds. To my surprise, most of them laughed when I asked and shared the temptations they’ve encountered in their own lives. One of my friends shared her desire to jump when on the ledge of a tall building or bridge. She insisted that it wasn’t a suicidal temptation but something that came from wanting to feel weightless, like flying. Research I’ve done also shows that I’m not alone in having these “absurd” temptations. All of this makes me want to look more into the subject of unconscious temptation. The human psych fascinates me, especially the areas we don’t know much about or fully understand.