Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

Killing the Soul

Or: working in retail/food service.

Making it "Retail: Killing the Soul" felt even more melodramatic, but on second thought, the title I stuck with is not much of an improvement. Relevant, though, because this is all about writing, even if it doesn't seem like it for the first few paragraphs.

I don't remember if I talked much about writing while working at Starbucks, and how it basically didn't happen at all. I worked there for about a year and a half, and during that time I wrote once or twice; plenty of story brainstorming went on in my pocket notebook during breaks, but when it came to actual prose, i.e. stringing enough words together to make a story, the practice didn't exist for me. Why?

Because I was so fucking tired.

When people--myself included--talk about the soul-killing nature of working retail, I think we're usually referring to the corporate element, or the customer service element, both of which are miserable. Every day brings good people, tons of neutral people, and one or two bad ones, so not everything is bad... although you always remember the bad ones, especially when they're outrageous about it. And everyone complains about the dictates that come down from "corporate," many of which are dumb and tone-deaf on the local level. Barnes & Noble, for instance, used to insist on mimicking their New York displays in every single store, even when the topic wasn't necessarily relevant anywhere else. (They might still do this, but I don't know anybody who works there right now.) Starbucks insisted that we push the current hot variety of coffee bean (example: the Anniversary Bled), even on the morning shift when customers were emphatically not there to buy coffee beans for any reason. District managers will ding you for not up-selling.

Never mind not getting paid enough for this shit, the lack of control over one's schedule, absence of sick time, and the trouble one could make for oneself clocking a piddling five minutes of overtime.

So yeah, all of that is shitty. None of that made me feel so bad I couldn't write, however. Asshole customers suck in the moment, but become epic stories later on. And, in the end, you don't have to take your work home, because you're definitely not getting paid enough to worry about it off the clock. What sucked, what killed my ability to write, was being tired. All the time. I hesitate to call it exhaustion, because I could still get up in the morning and function, but... it was a cumulative effect, like a gathering avalanche. Miss an hour of sleep here, two hours there, get up most days at four in the morning and try to sustain eight hours of constantly moving, lifting, talking, smiling, smiling again when some asshole thinks you should know how many pumps of mocha it takes to make something "super sweet" (anything from the regular three, all the way to the twelve I should've told the barista to put in there, because fuck that dude). Smiling again when another asshole asks for pastry recommendations, and then looks me up and down when I say I don't know (couldn't eat them for allergy reasons), and says, "yes you do," implying I was too overweight not to know every pastry in the case. Smiling some more every time I was called "sweetheart." And then being told by management that I don't smile enough and should work on that for the next review cycle.

I was tired all the time. I got home and went to sleep, got up to make dinner, and then went to bed again, and got up tired the next morning at four to show up for another eight hour shift. Lunch was at eight AM, unless the timing was wonky that day and I had to take it at six instead, which meant I didn't get to eat later when I actually needed it. Every once in a while I got scheduled for a closing shift and then an opener, precisely eight hours apart...but not always. Technically you're not supposed to do that (which might be a state-level law, and not the same everywhere), but it happened. All the time.

Starbucks treats employees surprisingly well, but don't be fooled by all of their publicized effort on behalf of employees: they still don't pay their people enough for the effort they're expected to put in for the customer, and the philosophies they're expected to swallow and then parrot back. You still can't live off of your earnings, at least in NorCal. Most of my coworkers had second jobs, or lived with their parents, were in a relationship with somebody who made more money, or had a roommate or two. More than you might think had advanced degrees, some in fields like chemistry, that made me wonder why the fuck they were working at Starbucks when they could have a real career. Only, it was for the same reason I did: there weren't any other jobs.

Eventually, I had to quit because my knee wouldn't stop hurting, and my insurance didn't cover shit like that. It wasn't a work injury, so Starbucks wouldn't have done anything about it--and that's fine, I didn't expect them to. For what it's worth, I know that the company does step up when necessary, because coworkers of mine have been hurt on the job. I just didn't qualify.

Once I left, I started writing again. Once I didn't need to sleep so long, that is. Once my life wasn't work, sleep, do all the cooking and shit, sleep some more, work some more... Some people can write through that, but I just kept getting sick. I don't think I do my best work when I'm sick or exhausted. I did what I could, when I had a few moments awake that didn't also involve some kind of work, but for a year and a half I didn't produce a story.

I don't feel bad about it. Or, to be more truthful: I do feel bad about it (or I wouldn't be writing this entry), but I am determined to kill that guilt, because I think it's misguided.

Fuck anybody who doesn't like that, in fact. I'm not interested in showing myself mercy most of the time, but in this case, I have to admit: it's awfully hard to write when you're asleep or in constant pain. By the end I couldn't straighten my right leg (too stiff, too much pain), and that took a few months to clear up and stop hurting. I once was forced to take a week off because of intense abdominal and/or back pain that they never found a reason for, but which inspired my doctor to tell me to find a different job. I caught every flu virus making the rounds via ringing people up, because god forbid anybody sanitize their hands after they sneezed into them, but before they handed their credit card to me. I never got enough sleep, and was always on my feet. I was so fucking tired it took me a month to learn how to function like a normal human being after quitting, and even then I couldn't walk without pain. So yeah, about that writing?

I decided it could wait.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Tags: public: writing

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