“Your Starbucks Cup is Not a Name Tag” and other findings among my penance served in the world of serving

Mostly I write a lot of junk poetry. It’s sort of my daily thing to clear head space. For the past three days though, and really since I poured it all out in the last blog, I’ve felt none too poetical, instead turning the introspective gaze to more solid wondering having to do with what it is to be a young woman in this time in history and all the other trailing ribbons of whatever that means. To help me along in these thoughts has been my spirit guide, Lena Dunham.

Lena Dunham, star and writer of HBO hit Girls, wrote a book called, “Not that Kind of Girl.” Asked to describe this book to a co-worker in 5-words, I gave the smart ass reply, “Not that Kind of Girl,” but in a way it also fits what Lena’s work is all about. I started reading it (and I stopped my daily writing…coincidence?) on the 17th and finished it on the 21st. The book feels like a pleasant coffee date with your BFF: the caffeine consumption allowing you both to open up more than usual, making casual confessions of things you never thought another person would (or would want to) hear. But as you talk, you find catharsis and an understanding of your history in relation to your whole self that’s thrilling, but also a little sad. After your friend goes home, you feel a little depressed and prone to cry at stupid inspirational videos on Facebook that you had no intention on clicking on, but find yourself committing to. It’s like that.

It’s like, on my dates with Lena, I found she was giving the kind of advice I’d only come to give myself after a shattering amount of heartbreak. She went through the crisis for me, and came out the other side with self-deprecating quips I recognize all too well. My favorite and uncomfortably familiar chapter was her “Girls and Jerks.” Lena and I have a painful insanity to throw our lot in with men who fall into this spectrum. So much so that it’s a wonder her (and my) chapter on “girl crushes” is so short.

Women of our age range owe it to themselves to read her confessions in NTKOG, but I want to include a sample of the work as well that hit me hard with self-identification of where I have been for the past couple of years. Here’s to hoping this falls under the fair use of copyright.

She writes: “It wasn’t just that these crushes made the days pass quicker or satisfied some raging summer lust. On some deeper level, they made it all feel less adult. I’d been thrust into a world of obligations and responsibilities, budgets and scrutiny. My creative process had gone from being largely solitary to being witnessed by dozens of “adults” who I was sure were waiting to shout This, this is the reason we don’t hire 25 yr old girls! Romance was the best way I knew to forget my obligations, to obliterate the self and pretend to be someone else”

There’s not a lot else I know to say about the book. It wasn’t the best writing I’ve ever read, but it spoke to me. Sometimes that’s enough.

I’m trying to transition more gently in my blogs, but my topics are most times unrelated and so you may have to just accept the hard breaks in consciousness until I learn to think and write in better ways. Like just now…I had a yellow jacket land on my notebook. I patiently waited on him to leave and then I took a drink from my coffee, startled myself on a large piece of ice unexpectedly coming up the straw, and spit it all over my pants front in compensation. Only a couple of students saw it, so all is well.

Another hard break….and it’s a real hard break. Luther Masingill. If you live in Chattanooga, you are probably well acquainted with his name and legacy. Our whole town is mourning the passing of the 92-year old radio legend, who worked 72 years on-air in Chattanooga for the same station, on-air during both Pearl Harbor and 9/11.

I have an opinion and (surprise) it may not be the most popular. I respect Luther for his work and dedication to the field of communications and to the town of Chattanooga. I enjoyed hearing him describe the latest lost pet. I am touched by all the wonderful stories of his kindness to others from his role as a mentor and even stories of him paying for college tuition of several.

Personally, Luther wasn’t very kind to me. Granted, I encountered him briefly each week and always after a day of work at the radio station as he came into the grocery store where I worked. I say this not to besmirch a legacy, and I’m sure many will find my words petty, but I say them just with a reminders than being kind to those in the service industry is also a measure of character. It’s easy to be a personality on air and kind to those in so-called respectable positions, but taking time and effort to be caring to someone at society’s ground level is something more. I don’t really fault Luther for not being who I expected or respecting some chunky teen behind a cash register. I just wish that I didn’t have these memories of someone who is essentially beloved by all. I’m posting this on the date before Luther’s memorial service at Engel Stadium. By all means, I encourage all to go and hear the wonderful things that will be said about Luther. Many people I respect in turn respect Luther and his legacy, and my words are in no way designed to change the tide of opinion on him or his work. It’s a blanket generalization on our fumblings at human interaction, and we all know how well generalizations work.

Now that my name is on every Luther-lover’s head hunting list, I want to continue to talk about what the serving/food service industry means to me. As before mentioned, I’m leaving this industry, hopefully permanently or at least long-term, for the second time in my life.
I first left retail and barista work in 2009. Straight out of college, I got an assistant editor position at a weekly newspaper and worked there, had weekends off, the whole deal, for two years. I returned to server life when I was laid off and have been there since. Friday is my last shift as a server, and my feelings are mixed to say the least.

Mispy has graciously weathered the storm with me as I passively lament my freedom this week. His innocent comment that maybe I could return to barista work in January or later if ends weren’t meeting between teaching jobs, set off a firestorm in my brain that culminated in me curled on his bed, crying about missing my barista co-horts and stressing irrationally about how I would fill my weekends away from the cafe, while simultaneously wondering aloud how much I enjoy helping a student get proper synonym usage. Bless him for knowing that it’s sometimes best to just pat a girl on the back in the midst of conflicted brain clashes

Here I am reveling in my wingspan as I get positively beside myself explaining the Industrial Revolution to a student. All the while, I’m looking longingly at the automatic espresso machines and wondering if I can justify $8/hr for my time dedication in lieu of a weekend or off days of any kind. And why?

Well, it all comes back to the debate raised earlier by me (mainly as a sort of punch line): “Can Nihilists ever really experience job satisfaction?” Sure, there are varying levels of Nihilism, but it all seems to come around the belief that nothing we do has much, to any, effect on our surroundings, future course of events, or people’s fates. I subscribe, wearily (is there any other way?) that things are going to be what they are. People are going to do what they do, and my effect is minimal. I teach a student a concept, and maybe they take it further than the classroom. They use it to get to college, they get a job, the world turns, and nothing much shifts. We all still end up at the Cemetery Gates. It’s not so bleak unless you make it a central precept of existence, and even then there are concessions around it so you don’t end up offing yourself. So where’s the satisfaction in any of it? Why work if there’s no reason other than to keep the machine on and churning out the same copy of its inner cogs design?

Well, I think, for my part, the job satisfaction has always come not from the paycheck that usually just allows enough funds for you to continue working and living. Neither does it come from the job itself of delivering caffeine or education or whatever to your customers, patrons, etc. The satisfaction is what I got from my barista work that makes it hard to leave. It’s the beautiful, casually loving, camaraderie and shared experience of melodrama and human condition that interactions with co-workers (and less frequently) with customers/patrons/students. It applies to every job. For me, my angst at leaving the absolute tripe I have experience in serving, comes from a similar leaving of the laughter and connections and experience of living among the real and flawed and beautiful people I’ve had privilege to work with in my three years there.

I’ve introduced a co-worker to feminism from the basic definition and worked on building a foundation of knowledge there. I’ve shared relationship woe with every sympathetic ear in the building. I’ve had romantic relationships with these people. I’ve formed best friendships with some. I’ve ribbed an employee until they have become an inside joke that even they are fond of. And yes, I’ve learned that many customers consider their cup to be a nametag of some kind whose alternate spelling thereupon will shake the ego in such a way that they can’t help spelling aloud to the poised Sharpie, “B-A-I-L-E-Y.” They’ve all produced a strange shared life within our team. And I’ll miss this. I guess that’s enough of a reason to do any job, even write a blog…just hoping for a shared experience, a social interaction that delivers an imagined impression of meaning. That’s the satisfaction of a job well done. Even if it’s all a beautiful meaningless mess of paint on some abstract unknowable canvas.

In parting I want to toss out the ideas for what you will be seeing here in the next month as I prepare to participate in National Novel Writing Month (National Blog Writing Month as well).I am debating between posting a thread on Facebook to ask for 30 topics for the thirty days in November and write on one of these thirty each day. Or I thought I could ask for a topic each day via Facebook and the first person to comment or message would be the one whose topic I would write about. Both are designed to be more interactive with my audience, thus continuing this shared experience I desire from my blog space. The third option is I just shower you all with the junk poetry and novel writing scraps…1,666 words of that each day. How’s about ya’ll leave me some feedback on this so that we don’t all suffer with some rhyme about caffeine consumption or lack thereof.

-Anna R Kotopple

This blog is dedicated lovingly to my fellow baristas of past, present, and perhaps future. Once a barista, forever a barista.

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The Evil Tick of the Clock

It is almost impossible for me to write anything longer than a page or more substantial than a resume when I’m working at home. Even typing out that sentence was brutal. Not counting the fact that I pay $50 a month for an internet service that works only when the planets align and I make an offering to the digital router, it’s just so difficult to get out writing that seems to flow when I’m by myself, at home, with a definite absense of good coffee. The biggest irony may be that, although I’m a barista with often praised drink making skills, I can’t make a decent cup of plain coffee at home. I blame my ancient, cheap coffee machine. Alas, every attempt I’ve made at homemade coffee on this dollarstore equipment has ended in a hot pot of disappointment

Absolute proof of that is that that one paragraph was all I could manage to do while sitting at home. I have taken to the coffee shop, and the presence of the cup of brew at my side alone as well as this wood table and the others that are here type type typing away is helping this blog entry along. I can already tell this post is going to not come easy, kicking and screaming, into this world. The first paragraph alone had the word “imporrible” in it that I didn’t even notice until now, almost two hours from putting it on screen.

Perhaps, this is all because at the back of my mind I don’t feel like I should be here at the coffee shop blogging, nor should I be blogging at all, even if it is part of an obligation of sorts I’ve locked myself into with this NaBloPoMo thing. Here’s what I mean. I’ve got some guilt at this self-serving behavior I’ve been indulging in for 16 days. I’ve been literally dropping all the problems in my world, the to-do lists that now have to-do lists of their own, and everything that is not related to getting at least 1,500 words out of the ether and into your life. It’s a selfish thing, I think, even if it is supposedly building my habit to write everyday and/or/nor making me a better, more developed writer by proxy. Even now, I’ve got Rachaele asking me to lunch and I am going to have to put the blog on the shelf when she gets to this side of town because I don’t want to blow off my human connections for a darn rambling session of philosphy I feel I may be embarking on.

It could be that because I’m reading Joesph Campbell’s 24-hour interview with Bill Moyers in book form, that I feel I am running out of time to make my mark and to fill my life with the experiences that make the life mean something. Ken says it’s a common feeling among everyone, this feeling that I’m a terrible manager of time and it’s slipping away from me before I can put the things I need for it to have to move forward in my life in it. Take for instance my need to buy a new car or a reliable used car. I know I have this need, but I can’t seem to devote the day hours to getting it accomplished. Add in the fact that I also don’t really have the salary to add a car payment to my monthly budget and the fact that my car is an object that is quickly moving towards its expiration date.  How does one balence the missing funds, the need, and the lack of time outside of work, eating, sleeping and remaining sane? My word, I’m never allowed to complain about boredom again. Because I think the car is the least of the list of must-do’s. 

There’s also the ever present desire to send my writing off to publishing houses, which itself might be an exercise in futility without the services of a publishing agent. And how does one employ an agent without funds? The cycle continues. As the Internet says: The struggle is real. Oh, what else is on this bitch list? There’s the job situation that is on there that begs a chunk of my non-existent time as well. I need a REAL job that utilizes at least one of my degrees and a bit more of my brain, and yet, I need time to network and go to non-profit charity events to find said sweet job. And to get invited to these parties of potential jobs I need to have an internship (and be a college student again somehow) or to be volunteering (more time) or to have more experience in the field (duh, I need a job people). I’m thwacking myself in the head upon remembering the networking seminars I attended as an intern for the chamber of commerce and how boring I thought these were as I snacked on mini cheese cubes. Will my moments of indifference to life be my downfall? Or should I just give up on sleeping and get all this nonsense knocked out this week? (…7 day later, life is completed! I’ll send everyone invites to the wedding! Ha)

It’s funny that I’ve heard Lanks lament all these issues before but I thought he was exaggerating and didn’t really see the scope of the problem when he said things like “I have no time. I have no money. I have no future.” I kind of brushed this off as melodrama, and again touched it with the sin of indifference. Now, I’m seeing things from his point of view, which is very similar to my own at this point  and I’m wondering what does one do in this situation? I feel as though we are trying as hard as we can to get out of our individual ruts, but we can’t move, and we are constantly placated by people telling us “it’s not that bad, everyone is going through it, keep at it.” To those people, no offense (I was one of these not too long ago), what other choice do we really have than to “keep going” ? I mean, we can lay down in the road or accept the retail job in electronics, but I’m balking at both of these so hard. I think that those of us blessed with intelligence and a means to communicate it owe ourselves the struggle, the weight on our chests of continually hitting the wall, constantly trying to accomplish massive tasks and completing 0 to 1% of our struggle per day.

If anyone has any advice for us to find our job, our place, our center in the universe and it’s different than the motivational poster of a frog’s arms choking the neck of bird that’s trying to consume it, please pass that along. Colleges and Universities send all these motivational speakers to campus to try and give students a reason to keep struggling, but I think the real need in the community these days is for motivational people (who perhaps have actually attained a level of success we can admire) to be out speaking to 20 somethings who are struggling to make sense of it all AFTER the school years have ended. It’s a bad thing to feel lost in a world that has seemingly undergone no real change other than your perspective. Could it be any wonder that people “give up” or give in to depression or drugs or alcohol or any other means of coping? I can’t judge that too harshly, honestly. Whatever gets you through the night. The Beatles always know what to say.  

Well, it looks like the coffee shop has stimulated the writer in me again, at least. If nothing else, this experiment in writing publicly and at great length on the daily is allowing me to delve a little deeper each day into my own thoughts. These are thoughts that remain hidden from even me most of the time, and I only really realize I am thinking them when they spill onto the page like an overturned ink well. Messy. But maybe you’ll learn not to fill your well so full in the future before you dip into that and spread some out into open air. 

Speaking of the subconscious, it was yet another night for a remembered dream. Again, I was back in high school. (Do I keep utilizing this setting as a means of starting over? ) I was sitting at one of the long lunch tables with my assigned class, perched upon those hard blue circular seats with a tray of rice and chicken. I’d chastised a fellow student for taking too large of a portion, and not leaving enough for the rest behind them. I’m not sitting alone, but I don’t know anyone at my table. I look across to the table opposite, and there sits the beautiful and cooly reclining Lanks, making those cafeteria torture furniture looking like fine upholstry. He smiles at me, the nervous and supportive one he sometimes gives. Then he comes over and sits beside me, and I put an arm around him in uncharacteristic PDA as he leans into me. As he cuddles into me in silence, I don’t want to take my attention from this warm body against me. I’m hungry, but I don’t want to even move my mouth for fear of disturbing his cheek against mine. As we stare off into space, a silent musical interpretation band is setting up. We listen to their silent music and tap our feet to the beat. 

With dreams like these and thoughts like these being brought into the open and into my throught plane now, I’m begining to get the feeling that there’s only a small percentage of people who are actually crazy. I think we are all just a little confused, searching for some kind of clarity with the hours that aren’t even real, the time that exists only in our head, all of us working towards these goals that seem impossible until they lay completed before us: a closed book with our name on it, hundreds of pages of our struggle tucked within. 

-Anna R. Kotopple