Elizabeth Bear posted over at Storytellers Unplugged: Those Consistent Inconsistencies about characterization. At the end of her great essay, she hands out an assignment–one I’ve already been assigned.
So that’s the writer’s homework for the year. Watching people. Really watching them. Stepping outside out own heads and trying to appreciate what it looks like from inside theirs. And then trying to compass their contradictions, with compassion and with an artist’s eye.
Recently, I made my way back into the workforce. I’ve been a stay at home mom since late 1998 and Phil and I just finished Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and we’re committed to changing the way we do things financially. (and I think we’re being tested) Phil has to have double hernia repair surgery next week and he’ll be off work for about a month. Rather than go into financial ruin–again–we decided I should work.
In the past, we’ve had limitations that in a sense forced me to remain at home with Zane, but this time it feels like all the pieces have fallen into place. I’ll be working three nights a week here. I haven’t been a server in about a decade and a half but I love it. There’s something in me that lights up when I’m serving people and I don’t think it has much to do with the job or the tips, though the tips are sweet at Kelsey’s.
Elizabeth’s post today brought it to the surface for me. It’s the people–serving them–that charges me. The 80-something year old man who blew me a kiss because he liked my service, the couple who came in for their 56th wedding anniversary, the newlyweds who sat for hours talking and loving like they were the only people in the restaurant. Or the guy who was brimming over and had to tell me he just bought the local hospital. There must be a reason they connect with me enough to share their life with me.
Its not all about me making up stories in my head about their histories or futures. Its more about having a few minutes to decide how to talk, how to offer what they want, reading their body language. Can I joke? Can I chit-chat? What makes them tick.
Most servers focus on the work, getting the order, refilling drinks, showing the dessert tray but when you’re at my table, you should know that it goes beyond that. Like the 8 people who came in, a mother, her grown daughters and their spouses, they came in after the funeral of their daughter, sister. I didn’t just say I’m sorry for your loss because it was something to say, I said it with my hand on the mother’s shoulder because I knew how hard it must be.
Connections are what’s important to me. And I think that’s something God’s been trying to teach me for a long time.
In pure God form and fashion in one swoop, He put me in a position of “testing” us after the financial course we took and also gave me the connections I needed to get this great job and then He wrapped it up in lessons for writing fodder. And I’m sure He’s got more up His sleeve.