Writers and Waiters—A brief and shoddy defense of the dissolute life: A guest post by Vanessa Veselka
In Zazen many lifestyles are represented because I wanted to force Della, the narrator, to navigate a world overwhelmed by options. Career-wise, though, it’s kind of like a job fair at the Rapture—public health nurses, academics, vegan cooks, sex party planners, union organizers, small business owners, waitresses, yoga instructors—but I wanted a spectrum.
Beyond jobs and what we do to survive, the city fascinates me, by which I mean The City as an idea, something ever-changing. Kio might have said it best in Follow Me Down:
"The city is shifting, it blurs, and then reforms itself whenever my back is turned…"
Still, like most writers, I’ve had a lot different jobs and imagined myself living many different lives. Admittedly, repeatedly leaving one job or place for another is a lousy path to sustainability. It leads to being 42 and renting a house with five other people who aren’t sure if they want to pony up for heat. But it does give you a wealth of detail upon which to draw. I know how vegan restaurants store tofu. I know what the final days of a doomed union election campaign look like. I have heard yoga teachers on Manduka™ mats like pulpits and watched noted paleonotologists nearly get in a fistfight over something that happened 68 million years ago. To quote Roy Batty from Blade Runner “I've seen things you people wouldn't believe…” But of course so has anyone who has worked a string jobs. So as bad for solvency as my tendency towards personal decline is, I can’t complain about it as a writer.
Having worked in restaurants and bars on and off since the age of fourteen, I find them a very natural setting to write about and write in. The vegetarian restaurant in Zazen, Rise Up Singing, is entirely staffed by people who should be banned from ever holding a food handlers permit. Mirror, one of the servers, is possibly the worst waitress in history. She eats off people’s plates before she serves them and refuses to switch on the OPEN sign because, “If you turn it on, they’ll just come in.” In many ways, she’s my hero. The waitress I wish had the guts to be. It was a great joy to write her. I have an unshakeable respect for a shameless disinterest in servitude.
I blame literature for my dissolute tendencies. The characters I love the most are always driven by desire. When faced with life’s obstacles, they come up with plans like killing pawnbrokers and selling teeth. Bardamu, Emma Bovary, Raskolnikov—these are not exactly the most career-minded folks on the planet. In fact, I would love to see the job interview where some HR person asks Raskolnikov to give an example of a time when he went above and beyond his duties to accomplish a task.
“Does the idiot half-sister count?”
Or asked Emma Bovary to tell them about a time when she made a mistake and how she corrected it.
“I’m so sorry, Monsieur, but nothing comes to mind.”
With such role models, how is one to become an upstanding, job-holding member of society? Still, it leads me to wonder if fecklessness is really a misunderstood form of commitment? I function entirely on a sincere and abiding belief that there must be something better. And for that, too, I blame literature. I have been ruined by novels.