In an effort to do the thing I love every day without exception, I’ve decided to start writing 500 words per day. Warning: this is the very first draft. This is something that was written quickly. Instinct writing sans perfection. If you’re seeking perfection, move along.
Which leads to today’s topic: ego.
It hit me in the face today.
As the daughter of two meditation teachers and theatre artist I feel ego is always around. “Thou shant have an ego.” “Thou shant be an asshole.” “Thou shant covet thy neighbor’s eggs even though you really know how to make delicious frittatas and they do not.” “Thou shant make angry faces on the dance floor whence your twerk is greater than theirs.” And so on and so forth.
For thirty years my entire understanding of ego has been the inflation of confidence variety. The kind that makes you feel right all the time. The kind that makes you feel like a badass. The kind that makes you feel like you’ve had two lines of coke ALL THE TIME! My understanding as been (conveniently) short sided.
Along with being meditation teachers, my parents are also always the first to admit they’re wrong. Which is great! Often that admission of “wrong” turns into “I suck.” Which makes them Boehner equivocal egomaniacs. Of course through this admission and (face it) that judgmental remark, I too have become an egomaniac of the latter sort. The kind that sucks. Often I find freedom through this ego because since I believe everything I do sucks I may as well sprint along all over the place in case anyone else believes it doesn’t suck. Eventually I’ll be able to make a life off of things that don’t suck and have fooled them all! Of course (ouch) I am utterly fooling myself.
Admittedly my ego hath taken over.
Around 7 a.m. this morning I had a panic attack. I was at work (I work the room service shift at an expensive hotel off 5th Avenue. Technically I work in the kitchen of the restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant is impressive. My start time is 5:30am; there are boundlessly talented chefs who work there. Everyone yells at everyone. I am constantly terrified.)
I was at work and prepping fourteen breakfasts for the two parties of seven that walked in the restaurant area of the hotel at 7 a.m. Loads of eggs were being plated. Heaps of potatoes. Mounds of bacon. I was in charge of the toast. There were six orders of the Full Breakfast; five with multi-grain bread one with white. There are two slices of bread per order of toast. One must toast the bread before slicing in order to solidify the number of toast in the toaster oven and increase slicing time. Forget about everything. Where is the bread?
Terrified I started to slice away. “We’ve already gone through an entire loaf of bread!” “Go in the freezer” the chef said. Terrified I run back to the freezer while six pieces of bread toast in the toaster. Ten minutes go by. The cook is yelling at the cook who plated two pieces of bacon rather than three. The chef is saying, “there’s no more bacon!” The chef yells “pull out the ham, make thin slices and grill it!” The terrifying chef takes his sword blue ice eyes to mine. “Where is the toast?” “In the oven.” “No it’s not.” What? Yes it is! There are six slices of bread in the toaster oven!!!! We need six more slices of bread for the order! Fuck.
My manager dips in and starts to prep the toast. I run upstairs to help the server for a moment. I run back downstairs and stand awaiting order, terrified to move lest I do something wrong. “What are you doing?” the chef asks. “I don’t know” I admit.
“Where’s the toast?” he barks.
“Carolyn’s prepping it.” I reply with efficiency.
“Carolyn’s prepping it?!? Carolyn?” he asks me again. This time without any clue where to go and not wanting to knock dear Carolyn out of the way to complete this task I wronged I stood still. I froze. Stared into his blue ice eyes and could feel it.
Yes I could feel it, I could feel it. Here they come.
Fuck! No. Not right now! Later! Later!!!
Not later. This is coming right now. My water broke and I’m not talking about my amniotic sac. I’m talking about my eyes. Then my nose – a little.
Looking down I scrambled to try and run the new plates of food. Carolyn sees my wet face and says “just keep prepping your station! Keep prepping your station!”
Attempting to breathe only worsened my situation. My breath cut out like a slasher movie, my jaw started to tremble, my face was an ocean and I couldn’t breath.
Umpfh. Umpfh. Umpfh. Umpfhm. Mmf. Mmf. Mmf. Mmf. I! I. Mmf. Just. Mmf. Didn’t. Mmf. Kn-kn-kn-kn-kn-kn-know. Mmmm-Phf-Phf-Phf-Phf-Phf where the bread went. Mmmf. Umpfh. Umpfh.
“Okay breath. We all make mistakes. We all made a mistake today.” Carolyn said as she leaned in to hug me. She help my shoulders as I gasped for breath in her arms.
I’m. Umpfh –umpfh – umpfh –having a – mmf mmf mmphf – mild – mmf mmf mmphf – panic attack.
“It’s okay” she continued, “This happens to everyone.” Later Carolyn admitted to me she once went to the ice room where no one could hear her and screamed her fucking face off during a shift before returning to the floor smiling and ready to go.
Carolyn is my fucking hero. My panic attack passed. The events began to mortify.
There are several people who at this restaurant, get screamed at everyday and realize its all part of the job and stay focused. They are each my hero. Each of them with the ability to realize “I fucked up. This does not make me a fuck up.” If you have ever had that thought may flowers be thrown at your feet. You have overcome the other side of ego.
After my shift I sat down with Carolyn (confession her name isn’t really Carolyn) and said that I rarely get panic attacks and that maybe the kitchen atmosphere isn’t the right place for a sensitive dough like me. Then she sat down, and with a great deal of kindness, talked about ego. We talked about the kind of chef who may get scary during service, but who leaves it at the door. The type of manager who may not believe in herself but gets the job done. We’re talking about checking your ego, whether it puff you up or knock you down, at the door. Through my tears, through my mistakes today (and many days) I hadn’t considered my fear is coming from my ego. Through this conversation I realized that Carolyn was right. Each day I’ve gone in there I’ve been terrified. I’m an actor, a writer, a tech savvy person at times, a teacher at others – I am going to be terrible at this job! One of our specialties is bread and I can’t even eat bread. What the fuck.
More often my thoughts are not the practical real reasons I’m at the job. I’m in between acting, writing and teaching gigs. I’m still paying off artists from a play I produced some months ago. I’m finding a way to earn money in one place for a while so I may go home and write and produce and move forward.
Usually my thoughts run more like “it’s 5:30 in the morning, what the fuck am I doing? Guess I’m fucking up.”
The reality is, this job has nothing to do with my worth as a person but certain (mostly) financial realities facing me right now. My degree has nothing to do with my worth as a person. My work has nothing to do with my work as a person. My income has nothing to do with my worth as a person. And yet so often the aforementioned are used to build us up or knock us down.
My life isn’t destroyed because I have a degree and earn a living running food. It doesn’t mean I fucked up. Believing that would be the same as discounting every other person in that restaurant, and people who work at restaurants are not fucked up people. They’re just people who work at restaurants that day you went in and started to judge them.
Do I love that job? No. Would I rather be doing an artistic project that covers the cost of rent for the next two or three or ten months? Fuck yes. Does taking this job actually destroy my soul? No. Do my tormenting thoughts? You bet ya.
“No one can hurt your feelings without your permission.” I think Emily Dickinson said that but I learned it from watching The Princess Diaries at the summer camp I taught at over the summer. And that’s true. The world isn’t happening at sensitive and doubtful people. We are part of this world and while some things hold great meaning, usually those meanings aren’t “this makes me a good person” or “this makes me a bad person.” And walking around wondering that all the time probably means you’re putting a great deal on hold. Or maybe that’s just my ego talking.