Manic work

Cashiering is manic work.  You’re waiting on one customer after another.  You want to really show up for each of them.  You want to be alive, engaging, maybe even funny.  When I am manic, I am magic behind the cash register.  When I am down, I’m often really pretty lousy.

Until recently, my cashiering work has had no power to shift my down mood – if I arrived for my shift depressed I was depressed the whole eight hours.  But something has changed recently.  Several times in the last two weeks, I have gone to work a little depressed and over the course of my shift have moved into a little bit of mania – not a lot of mania, just enough to be functional in my work, enough actually to make me really good.

When I'm up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be - fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

When I’m up, my checkout line can be an exciting place to be – fortunately, lately, not quite this exciting.

I can tell that it’s not true biochemical mania because on days when I am not working I immediately drop back into a light depression.  A light depression! A little bit of mania! You have no idea how encouraging this is to me!

The obvious next question is why – what’s different? I have a theory. I’m actually pretty convinced that I know what’s going on.  Let me put it in another post.

 

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Put me in your blog!

Jessica, in the cafe next to my store, takes real good care of me (as do Beth and Richard the manager).  She’s friendly, attentive, efficient – and she has learned and remembers my name.  This morning she convincingly said that she misses me when I don’t come in.  I don’t totally believe it, but I believe that she’s happy to see me.  

When I told her about this blog, she got all animated (as cashiers typically do – “Wow, something about us!”).  She took that animation one step further and said “Put me in your blog”.  I said “Maybe.”  Really I was thinking “Well, you haven’t done anything memorable.”  Just typical world-class customer service.

Even I sometmes take really great service for granted.  That's not good.

Even I sometmes take really great service for granted. That’s not good.

Cashiering at its best is very personal work.  You really take an interest in the customer – you want them to have a good experience.  You’re putting a little bit of your heart on the line by not doing it by rote.  Jessica absolutely deserves a post – as does Beth, as does Richard, as does everybody who shows up to this work and takes a genuine personal interest in their customers.

All you do is make me like your store.  All you do is make my day a little better.  I, as much as anybody, ought to know that.

Nothing upset but the shopping card

I’m not working today, but I’m right next store from my grocery store – working at my laptop on the porch of the new cafe next to us (and eating one of their terrific burgers).  From here I had a great vantage point to view a little drama involving some of our customers.  I didn’t recognize the three Latina females: a young woman, middle-aged woman and an 8-yr. or so little girl – but I recognized the contents of their shopping cart as being our groceries.

However, when I saw their groceries they were no longer in the shopping cart, but strewn around the parking lot next to the upended cart.  My attention was first drawn to the sound of the cart going over.  What was absent in the sound profile was any expletive (I think I would have recognized them even in Spanish) or any sounds of upset at all.  As they were surveying the mess, the little girl uttered an appreciative, “Wow!”  Her mom and grandmother didn’t say “Wow”, but they were so apparently unflapped by the situation and the girl’s comment that I thought I heard them saying, “This is interesting.”

These babies make a lot of noise when they go over - made even more distinct by the lack of sounds afterwards.

These babies make a lot of noise when they go over – made even more distinct by the lack of sounds afterwards.

As soon as the mother had righted the shopping cart, the little girl climbed on the side of it.  I thought, “Now here is where the anger shows.”  Nope, not an iota.  She did sho0 her daughter off the cart, in Spanish words that sounded more musical and even playful than irritated.  The grandmother lifted the first (very heavy) five-gallon water jug into the cart – then her daughter helped her with the second one.  Both of these women were very slender and short.  I made a commitment to myself last week to not mess with these jugs after lifting one into a customer’s car bothered my low back.

Then they gathered up their produce, putting it back in the two boxes it rolled out of.  The abuela picked up the carton of eggs and never even opened it to look.  I can only guess at her inner process: “I bet they’re fine”?  “What’s done is done”?

Any generalizations about another culture are risky – but some of them tend to be accurate.  It’s when we assume they will hold true for any individual that we slip into stereotypes.  I know that it would be a good day indeed when I would walk through a situation like this with so much poise.  There would almost have to be at least a “shit!” and maybe some real upset.  I want to believe that something in these women’s cultural background made them immune to crying over the spilled groceries.

For Cheryl

Here’s the poem I offered – and briefly messed up – at Barry Barton’s dance performance.

For Cheryl

Your father took the poison pill
Of hate for self
He swallowed it and went away
Was struck dumb and then could not
Speak on your behalf or his
He did not wield his pen of truth for you
When they served to you the same sick drug
Toxic with their shame and pain
They saw your lovely innocence
And tried to claim it for themselves
They carved in it their names
“If I scar it, then it’s mine
Let me leave a handprint on your face
Or a mournful dream of your small hand
Placed on me against your will”

But the twisted trying there
To wrest from you your life, your love
By those who loved so wrong, so wrong
Could not quench your fire, your self
The would-be spirit breakers did not know
What spirit truly is – nor saw your soul
Or they would have touched you not those ways
For fear your angels would have struck them down.
The gold of that sweet soul was not destroyed
Just melted and formed new again
Nothing burned away but dross
You wanted gone so long

And when you felt your most alone
And when you were the most at risk
Of saying yes to that last dose
And lying in the fitful sleep
Of those who dream when they were real

And when you felt your most alone

And when you felt your most alone

Your truly faithful dad – long one with you
In the bonds of suffering and fierce love
Somehow coughed up his toxic wad
Smiled his warm and human smile of old
And said to you, his precious child
“Don’t swallow, darling girl of mine
You must not follow me
Into this silent truthless place
I need your words so bad
They are my legacy
Perhaps tomorrow I will find my own, but now
Rage at what they’d have you eat
You are my little queen
All the forebears of your mother’s and of mine
Salute you as you spit this back”

And so with raging, potent, loving words
You gather to you us
All of us who hold our own
Toxic dose of pain
Carried still in pouch of silk
“When all else fails eat me
I will kill you fast or slow
But I am all you really know”

You say to us with loud ferocious tones
“No-no-no-no-no-no!
Give me those precious pouches now
This whole sad pharmacy of fear and lies
Place all these pills together here
On this basement floor within
Flush them with our healing tears
And we who have been sick but have not died
Shall come away the stronger still
And make a pact to grasp those pills
Wherever they be found
And give that purge to all the lost
And bring the de-pilled people home
Into our sacred tribe
And love ourselves and our poems
And each other – and the children we create
And our parents too, who need it most

“Because I say so
And I am Cheryl
Triumphant and alive
And innocent and good.”

How does it feel?

To have crashed and burned?
To have lost it halfway through performing my poem?
To have completely blanked out on what came next and spent five minutes – OK, maybe 30 seconds – trying to get it back?
To have humiliated myself in front of friends and associates?

“How do you feel?”  The question was asked me in a very solicitous way by a woman I didn’t know, in a tone that suggested to me that she expected me to feel crappy.

The answer took a while to get clear for me, then came through loud and clear….”It feels thrillingly human.” It feels like a relief.  It’s something that I knew had to happen sometime.  I have been performing poems at Jubilee four times a year for ten years and I’ve never had a poem not hit a home run.  I’ve had little ripples – times when babies cried and it threw me off my game and I would lose a line.  But nobody would ever know.  I always rallied and took it home.

This time I did rally also and finished strong.  And I did once again have people say that it worked for them – and that my stuck place, which in this case was totally obvious to everyone, did not take away from the impact of the poem, that the poem meant a lot to them.  One person said that it was her favorite part of the whole show.

So, thrillingly human – someone who can make mistakes.  There’s no safer place for me than Jubilee to make mistakes.  This poem opened the show for a dance performance – a very sweet movement and story-telling show filled with amateur dancers.

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy - and my poem sprang from a friend's legacy of being abused as a child..  The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang.  Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

My poem opened for a dance performance on the topic of legacy – and my poem sprang from a friend’s legacy of being abused as a child.. The choreographer and dancers, familiar with my track record as a killer poet and performer, expected me to open the show with a bang. Was it a terrible thing that I fell apart delivering my poem?

What if the worst had happened?  What would have been the worst?  The worst would have been for me to not recoup – for me just not be able to get it together, and to slink off the stage in shame.  That would be the worst.  Maybe not the worst though – because even that I could have recovered from.  Tonight I feel OK with that.  The worst, maybe, would be if that was not OK with me – if my infraction tonight stirred my self-hate – that would be the worst.  But even that wouldn’t have been so awful, because it’s human, because I go in and out of it all the time, because I’ve developed more skill in recuperating from self-hate and I bounce back from it.

In truth, what happened was not so awful.  In truth, it provided the audience with a wonderful experience – a chance to reach out to a performer, to be pulling for me.  Is it not possible that them opening their hearts to me, right at the beginning of the program, gave them a chance to be an even better audience for the rest of the show, to really open themselves to the dancers and the storytelling about their lives and their innocent, heart-felt,amateur dancing? I think that almost certainly this was true..

So the worst happened and it was OK.  No, the worst didn’t happen because I was OK with stuff that I surprised myself by accepting.  I fell apart in a way that I would have told you in advance was terrible and it was not.  In fact, it was perfect.