Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: Why I like it

Recently I had an interview with the Reading Institute for a job teaching with them this summer. One of the primary questions I was asked was what I liked about a book that pulled me in. I stuttered over fragmented reasons, using words like "metaphor" and "description," completely forgetting that the institute is not interested in analysis; it is interested in the simple truths that draw a person into a book.

Sadly, I was not accepted into the program. But I learned something: how to stop overanalyzing.

I became absorbed in a classic from the 1940s; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, transported me to a 1920s Brooklyn in the mind of a young girl: Francie Nolan. I got to follow her to the junk shop where she and her brother sold junk for change, and then to the candy store where they spent precious pennies on sweets. I felt her shame when the doctor discussed her filth to the nurse in front of her, and the shame of being poor and lying to get what she wanted: some pie or a doll that everyone else was too proud to admit they wanted. Her family was quirky and loveable, and she loved all of them unconditionally, unaware of their faults until she got a little older.

I read her thoughts like they were my own as she worked things out; why did her mother like her brother more than she? And why did daddy get so dunk all the time? Her mother had worked hard to make Francie into a thinker--and it paid off. Francie worked hard and found good jobs. She found herself a possible husband. She's known hunger and fear, and joy and love and heartbreak. She's learned the histories of her family. I've always wanted to know my family's histories.

She visited the candy store where she and her brother always went as children, and asked to buy every bag of candy on the wall, determined to find the prize that the owner had always claimed was there; but he argued with her, and she made him put a doll in one of them, so that some kid someday would win a prize. She even paid for it, just to give some other child hope.

Although I have compassion for the days she went hungry and lived in shame about her family's money problems, I am jealous of Francie for getting to know her home and her family so well, while I'm lucky to see my family a few times a year, and feel that I have no place to call home. While I suffered with Francie in her story, I suffer in my life for not having one quite the same.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Green Tea

I used to snack on

mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Any brand, any texture, from any store.

It was all the same: fairly dull, sometimes sweet,

and always made me feel a little sick later.

Then I found green tea.

It took a while before I was given permission

to drink;

But once I did I was hooked

Like a soda-addict, or a chipaholic;

I no longer wanted mint chocolate chip

I have green tea.

If you don't love it, try to like it

I don't love my job, but then, who does? It seems that every time I get a job, I hate it, and as soon as it ends, it was the best job in the world. For instance: I worked at a ranch in Idaho this past summer. It was an amazing experience with a lot of firsts: first time in the real west, first time dancing in public, first dating without going steady.

My job was simple. I brought people their food and refilled their waters; the most work we had to do was mop the wooden floor in the mornings and rearrange tables. All of the things I hated the most revolved around those I was stick working with. The chef was highly stressed, especially with my indecipherable handwriting, and two of the servers and I just didn't understand each other. One was from the country, and he called me "city girl," whereas I'd made a mistake with the other--a comedian--I hooked up with him.

Immediately after I decided to end our relationship, if it was that, he began to hate me. On numerous occasions I asked him a question to which he always laughed and set me on edge. On the last day, I asked him one more time. "Do you hate me?"

"I don't hate you as a person," he said carefully, as though weighing his words, "I just don't like working with you." The joy this sent me I now find embarassing. I was so happy to know that he didn't hate me, that I was practically wagging my tail like a puppy; like a puppy that was just beaten, and is now petted.

During troubled times, former jobs, like every former situation, look wonderful.

For me, life is full of amazing, spontaneous things, and my summer job was amazing because I was always doing something, and even if it was miserable at times, it was hardly boring. My favorite memories from there are those of dancing and dumpster diving, meeting strange Irish guys, and climbing rocks with people I didn't know.

I currently serve (waitress) at a corporate Italian restaurant. I'm sure you've been to one; they are across the country. I don't love my job, but I don't think I hate it, either. The worst parts are pretty standard: strict rules, short-staffed, asshole customers and managers; but the best part is the people I work with. There are over 70 of us. Because of our great numbers, learning names has been challenging, but I'm finally doing it.

Jim is Irish. He's usually pretty quiet. He likes to say my name whenever he sees me. Maybe he likes saying it. "Artemis," he says, "what are you doing, Artemis?" He's one of the only servers to tell me when I'm doing a good job, so I like him. Sometimes he says "Be quiet," to spice things up, I guess. I ignore it.

We have a slew of college kids, and an older generation as well: people in their 30s or 40s. While we're supposed to have only three table at a time, Maria, who is of the latter category, sometimes takes on six tables. For a while she was my role model. I admired her dry humor and get-out-of-my-way attitude. I thought to myself, just be like her and don't make mistakes; don't freak out. Then one day she had a breakdown. I felt betrayed at first, because if Maria could panic, then so could the rest of us, and it meant there was no way to be perfect.

It's usually in times of great distress and fear that we realize we might not be able to do this and--oh, god--why go on? But somehow, we tend to push through it. Money can help. A few weeks ago I worked two nights in a row and I felt a strong, strong desire to quit (although I have no experience with such things, the desire to rid myself of the job might have been akin to that of a laboring mother who desires to push out the child within). Even after counting my tips, which were of a substantial amount, I felt cheated, angry, and desperate to leave.

A few days later, the intensity lightened and all but went away. Focusing on the aspects enjoyed is the best treatment for a disliked job. That was when I began memorizing faces and names and getting to know the people I work with. Like a bi-polar person finding the right prescription, all felt right with the world. For the moment, at least.