21st Century Brontë #33 by Brontë Bettencourt
The Money Problem, Part 3
In 2017 I worked three separate jobs. I wondered why I chose Creative Writing as my major. I told myself, “Misery is excellent writing-fodder. Pay attention and learn.”
In a previous post I talked about leaving the security of a corporate job since it was too stressful. Three employees (myself included) shared a small office, spending hours staring at a screen. Already writing is a solitary practice; I couldn’t handle all those hours to myself with the outside world taunting me through the window.
I returned to food service, back on my feet, handling hundreds of customers and leaving the stress of the job whenever I clocked out for the day.
I had been at the Huey Magoo’s at the University of Central Florida, located in the high-traffic Student Union food court, making just enough to get by. The allure of a low-maintenance job to focus on my writing wore off. I had more time to write with a low wage, dead-end job. It was difficult to write with bills to pay and mounting grad school expenses.
I worked about a year and one week before the health department shut us down.
A lot of long-range thinking occurs when there isn’t a form of income: what the hell can a creative writer do in the workforce?
Can I be a writer if managing fast food is how I spend most of my time?
Why haven’t I written a book yet?
Are my mom and grandpa proud of me when they’re not entirely sure of what I do?
In writing, I have some control over the narrative’s outcome. If there is suffering, there can also be triumph. In real life, there is no cause and effect relationship that can be guaranteed. My life is still a work in progress that can’t be edited when it’s finished. Not by me, anyway.
In February of 2017, I was hired to work as a busser at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium at Universal Studio’s Citywalk.
In this steampunk-themed restaurant I was one of over 100 extras to the story of Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome and her robot assistant Jaques. Gears whirled on the walls, precariously stacked ice creams and shakes sat behind glass, and quirky, upbeat tunes played at all hours.
I worked for tips by cleaning and resetting tables, stacking glassware, and folding rows and rows and rows and rows of linen. I worked manic eight-hour. I developed a pain in my leg, calloused hands, and biceps strong enough to co-muscle a couch off a moving van.
Once, I slept for two hours in my car after a shift. My boyfriend Alex was alarmed when I told him. Again, part of me thought, “How could I use this in my writing?” I squeezed in my schoolwork during breaks and between shifts, and when I wasn’t congealing in horrendous I-4 traffic.
A busser once dropped an entire tub of dirty dishes, and like ants, servers and bussers alike picked up the broken glass and towel-dried the floor, unprompted. It felt like a musical number. There was something magical with the unpredictability of every shift. The restaurant thrived with life and so many people. Once I clocked out, I left the stress of work behind me.
I planned my day around the hectic drive to Universal, leaving extra early to write in coffee shops, or I’d re-enter the Citywalk after a shift to write instead of fighting my way through rush hour.
I would’ve stayed longer if not for the hour-plus long commute with tolls, and the financial unpredictably of a wage of tips.
But my old boss from Huey Magoos called me. He was brought on as a general manager for another location. They were searching for an assistant manager.
I hung up my steampunk goggles and rubber gloves for a steady paycheck and closer commute. Surely this would be the end of my job hunt. I’ve corralled hordes of Anime club goers and actors for theater productions. Managing employees must work the same way, right?
For months I kept assuring myself that this was the smartest course of action, even after one shift, where a fanatical, religious, homeless guy meandered into the store for a sermon, and a guest who was stalking one of my cashiers bought the guy a meal.
And after the day when one woman cut the line and blew mysterious white powder all over the counter.
Even if the work atmosphere feels toxic, I can always repurpose those feelings for my characters.
I wonder if leaving Universal was the right choice. I wonder if leaving the realm of unemployment law was the right choice. A steady nine-to-five with a potential for growth and benefits seems luxurious compared to food service. I once wrote, “I want to believe that my time creating is more valuable than a paycheck derived from data entry,” and here I am, leaving Huey Magoo’s.
Insane, leaving jobs and expecting different results. People work dull jobs to fund their passions. Yet I had to walk out of a lecture in my summer residency because despite being in another state at the time of a secret shopper report, management blamed me for a low score. The thought of returning to my current job broke me.
In that residency a few days later, I attended an open discussion, where several alumni answered questions regarding their experiences in publishing. This was my chance to ask about agents, or query letters, or editors, or any other steps in the publishing process. But when I got a chance to speak, I asked about their writing processes. “I know that everyone has a different process,” I prefaced, “But it’s nice to hear what works for others. So often I read that ‘oh if you don’t write every day, you’re not a writer,’ and then I don’t write, and I beat myself up and I eventually spiral into a pit of despair…”
A few audience members laughed. But the alumni were quick to respond. They expressed their hatred of the “write a day” tenet, because a writer who is still discovering his or her habits will automatically discredit his or herself. One stated that she simply did not dedicate every day to writing. Another mentioned setting stupidly easy goals, like committing ten minutes to writing. Setting impossible goals creates a resistance to write, while easy goals not only creates little pressure, but usually lead to exceeding the time set aside in the first place.
“Be kind to yourself,” the alumni stressed.
I feel like this advice is great not only for the writing process, but a general lifehack. When I was a teenager I was told that life would settle down once I entered my 20s. Now that I’m here, an online post mentioned that my life won’t settle until I’m in my 30s. At this rate, I’ll be settled a decade after I am dead.
Since that summer residency, my current job has leveled out. The pay is decent and the stress is better (those employees quit or were fired). And the strange happenings still make for excellent material (we had one woman ask us to substitute each tender for an extra toast in her meal, because she stated she’s a vegetarian. We’re a chicken tender restaurant).
But I’ve searched for another job because I need to be kinder to myself. I need to find a creative solution to my employment, one that will allow me the mental clarity to accomplish more. I need to be less harried, in order to be able to answer some of these questions.
And I believe I will with my new job, not as a shift lead, but as a Sensei. I have been hired by Sus-Hi Eatstation, a create your own sushi restaurant that started in 2011. The employees and guests are called Ninjas. When guests top their rolls with cheese and bacon, they literally have the option to set their food ablaze via blowtorch (to which the employees yell FIRE!).
The owner stated that it’ll be over a month before I’m fully comfortable in my role, which includes front of house, back of house, and management operations. I’ve adorned my uniform with Fullmetal Alchemist pins, which are permitted. And we are encouraged to make mistakes, because once the mistake is made, we can learn the procedure the right way.
I haven’t had much time at Sus-hi, but so far, I think I’ve taken a step in the right direction. A change in setting is a change of story, after all.
Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34, Episode 221) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. She’s currently pursuing an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University. When she’s not writing or working she’s a full time D&D enthusiast and YouTube connoisseur.