it is a story i have told thousands and thousands of times with wrists and foam. each slightly different than the last, but of a shared nature. today i pass the story to someone else, but the telling takes time and learning the narrative even longer. i forget that i know it by heart.
repetition has been theorized in many ways. there’s the butlerian track, the idea that the thing we call identity is actually the accretion of the repeated performances of given actions, speech acts, expressions that already possess cultural and symbolic meaning. i have repeated this story full-time for over five years now; the hellos, how are yous and LATTE FOR HERE, CAPPUCCINO TO GOs. am i become customer servant, barista from the persistent and exhausted repetition of these acts? have i dug myself into an identity trap?
two years ago i was on track to be an academic. but, academic is a word, a trade, an identity that never comfortably adhered to me. now i am overeducated. now my intellectual potential feels, well, underutilized.
and there’s the bunk, yet oft cited notion that 10,000 hours of repeating the same activity is the attainment of mastery. let’s see, 40 hours per week, 52 weeks a year (minus those three weeks of vacation i took to have top surgery, but who’s counting?), for 5 years adds up to a cool 10,400 hours. i have spent 10,400 hours of my life doing this one strange thing. sad, and yet is this the very definition of mastery? have i done something truly incredible here? and, now having achieved mastery, can i turn back to pass the process on to others?
i always said i didn’t want to be a teacher, because that’s what my mom and dad did and they both seemed stressed out a lot.
seems i can’t help myself.
how do i make meaning from my work? how do i resist making my work mean when it comes to my self and my identity?
i experience tension, pull from two sides. on one is the desire to do my work well and with care. from each detail, the grind, the tamp, the pull, the steam, the pour. i take care of each customer and take pride in doing my work well. because nothing is worse than spending the pittance that is your wage on an overpriced espresso drink, only to find that it’s bitter, acrid/sharp, overfoamed, underfoamed, melted, undrinkable. i have always tried to be the best at everything i do. but, that’s a holdover from my anxious youth. that’s a holdover from being raised as a woman, being told repeatedly that i had to work harder and do better to receive the credit and respect i was due.
barista is a transient occupation. people enter and exit at all times. it is hotbed of mediocrity. which i both love and hate.
on the other side is a punk, anticapitalist ethos. i want to slow down. i want to fuck up, spill, fail, a refusal to line someone else’s already overflowing coffers. i want to resist hierarchies and let things slip. i want to shout in the faces of people who treat me like an overly complicated cash register/coffee making machine. i want to banish coffee from the united states for the ecological impact of its transport and the economic impact on the folks who farm it for too little pay. i want to refuse to participate in the caffeine ideology that says we must always be rushed and productive, even if it means locking ourselves in jittery and unhealthy drug cycles.
a few weeks ago i took on a promotion. i took up a position of power, a slightly higher rung on the workplace ladder from employee to management. i feel, at long last, respected for the talent i have and the effort i put into my work (which is no doubt in part a result of my being perceived as a man now). but, i wonder whether management is an inherently fraught subject position. is it possible to be a “good” manager or have i tacitly consented to participate in an irreparable capitalist power dynamic? or, if we’re stuck in this moment of capitalism where labor is structured in this particular way, is it an act of harm reduction to have someone in a management position who is interested in creating a safe and healthy work environment for their staff?
of course, the new position has also come with an increase in my pay which is a contentious point as i navigate the choppy seas of neoliberal capitalism. increased pay and a managerial role are a boon when it comes to weathering my crushing student debt, my vulnerable position as a member of class that faces employment and housing discrimination, and the precarious nature of service labor. but, an increase in my pay stands on the backs of others receiving less. i watch my pay rise while the cooks and dishwashers who motor the entire food service industry in new york continue to be overworked and severely underpaid. the notion of deserving seems a moot point.
what does it mean to be successful? do i want success or is it just another chronormative ideology of progressive achievements that i would do well to critique/analyze/resist?
or would success look like something more simple? would it look like having friends and lovers, good food, peace and clarity, space for creative expression, space for contemplation of philosophy and the cosmos, a sense of meaning beyond who i am and what i do?