Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.
Today's kind of a big day. "Auspicious," if you wanna get all wanky yoga-sounding about it.
I felt it on waking.
It's over. I'm done.
After 7+ years shaking martinis a couple of evenings a week — a gig that has slowly dwindled in the last year or so, such that sometimes I'd go two weeks without doing so — this is it. Tonight, baby. The bhakti-bartender-ninja chapter of my life will be officially closed, as of about 1 am.
It's with mixed emotions that I write that. I mean, hello: I'm thrilled. It's time. The gig has run its course. It's served me so beautifully in so many ways over the years: I mean, since back in the day, way back in grad school circa 2005, rescuing me from the onslaught of perpetual French cultural theory and endemic political correctness and endless academic obligations and returning me to the real world of sticky hands and sweaty foreheads and swearing and dirty jokes and a right arm perpetually soaked with gin.
Bartending was the last thing I ever thought I'd do.
But it was also one of those things, along with riding the rails solo across Europe (check) and driving a stick shift (check) and living on the West Coast (check) that I'd always had on my bucket list, that unofficial mental list of life experiences I wanted to tackle before it was too late.
And it came into my life unexpectedly, and wrought a lot of grace. It brought rich relationships and lifelong friends and a lot of laughs and a helluva lot more savings than I could've ever managed if I'd stuck with the various early "badass radical Marxist professor" or "pole dancer at the Lusty Lady" or "non-profit bleeding heart liberal activist" career paths I thought I'd take.
And though it's time — ok, let's be honest, it's past time — to let the gig go, to hang up my martini shaker forever, to throw out the nasty beer- and vodka-soaked shoes with the holes in the soles, to resign myself to cutting limes and lemons only for myself from now on — I can also only ever be grateful for those unexpected bits of grace.
Bartending was what got me through many dark years in my twenties: the headaches of graduate school and thesis-writing, the heartaches of being in a new city across the country from everyone I loved, and the immediate and lingering days of sorrow after my father died. It lent me community and spirit and laughter and fire, a true family of sorts. Oh, and a little baseball knowledge amidst a World Series win, and a few run-ins with random D-list celebrities, too.
So it's with bittersweetness that I say goodbye. I knew, oh, six months ago or so, that the clock was ticking. I couldn't take it anymore: the juxtaposition of my early morning yoga-teaching hours getting up with the sun and the late nights closing the bar, my preference for quiet and stillness as opposed to the chaos and agitation of a night behind the rail. In a life that had become increasingly mindfulness-centric, bartending — which for a long time felt radical and subversive, funky and fun, a real-life, gritty, down-to-earth counterpart to my philosophy-wonk self — had grown exhausting, draining, a chore. Being somebody's beer wench didn't quite jive any more with my pervasive sense of self as a writer, a teacher, a thinker, an intellect. I was tired of living in two polarities. There was a troubling disconnect, an unsettling lack of alignment, that I couldn't ignore any longer — and which showed up in my increasingly crabby attitude and my ever-tired eyes.
(This in spite of that fact, though, that as Stanley Kunitz and Matthew Crawford and Thomas More have each written so eloquently, there is something subversive, artistic, populist, beautiful, about work performed with the hands — its own moving meditation, a craft, a prayer. And that's an awareness from which I never want to wholly remove myself.)
But then, last month, when the company I work for fired my good friend J (the new mother of a 4-month-old baby boy, effectively terminating her family's health insurance along with her 7 years' standing as a model employee, all on the basis of a complaint), I knew the end was in sight. The thing is, over the years, the yoga's really taught me: you've gotta be authentic, you've gotta keep impeccable ethics, you've gotta be true to your heart, you've gotta use your labor, your voice, your breath, in a way that is sacred and life-giving and true. And, truthfully, my heart was no longer behind that bar, and my mind wanted to be writing about santosha and satya and Sarvangasana, not pouring the 16th whiskey sour for some kid just out of college going out and getting sloshed on his company account.
In his chapter on "The Economics of Soul," Thomas More writes that
Sometimes we refer to work as an "occupation," an interesting word that means "to be taken and seized." In the past this word had strong sexual connotations. We like to think that we have chosen our work, but it could be more accurate to say that our work has found us. Most people can tell fate-filled stories of how they happen to be in their current "occupation." These stories tell how the work came to occupy them, to take residence. Work is a vocation; we are called to it. But we are also loved by our work. It can excite us, comfort us, and make us feel fulfilled, just as a lover can. Soul and the erotic are always together. If our work doesn't have an erotic tone to it, then it probably lacks soul, as well. (182)
Whether we really acknowledge it or not, work — especially the kind we do employing our bodies — can be sacred. Work can be holy. Work can be that divine expression of purpose, of dharma. It can be that embodied yoga-asana, yes, that draws us more deeply into our bodies, into our breath, into the moment. And I'll always be grateful for the ways in which my years behind the bar did exactly that. All those late nights sparked divine connections, dear friendships, lifelong memories for which I can only ever give thanks.
And now? Now we just shift that dharma, that spark, that sacred sensuous labor, into a different arena.
Now it becomes about the writing. Now it becomes about the teaching. Now it becomes about the really listening, really living well in this body that is mine for just this brief moment in time.
I sat across from my friend J at lunch two Fridays ago. She had her sweet son on her lap and she was sitting, serenely, self-possessed, a changed woman from the twenty-something friend I'd shaken martinis with and cut off drunk old dudes with for so many years. She's an artist, she's a true creative. She's got the Masters degree to boot. And she'd put all that on hold all these years, caught up in the pace and the ease and the lure of the industry, with its instant gratification and its kind of ridiculously high-paying income and its lack of responsibility. (We've all enjoyed that aspect of it, for sure, and for awhile, it serves. That high income, that lack of responsibility: they're what allow us room to create our art. They're what allowed me to dive deeply into yoga and philosophy without financial fear. And they're gifts, in plenty of ways.) But at some point, those benefits no longer serve. And my friend J, she sat there across from me and talked about how in the last unexpectedly jobless month, she'd realized how much time, years really, she'd wasted there behind the bar, when she could've been creating art, following her passions, pursuing her true dreams. That she wanted to do something her kid could be proud of.
And that knowledge hit me hard, in the belly.
Because I knew it was true.
I knew she was right.
And I knew I didn't want to waste any more time.
So I didn't.
Two days later, I gave my notice. Since then, life's been a flurry of new plans, unfolding opportunities, and the prospect of lots of unfamiliar space — not to mention the long-awaited pleasure of a normal bedtime. And it's been with gratitude and a light heart that I've said goodbyes to all of the warm folks who have been my tribe, my family, in so many ways, over the years. And I will do the same tonight, one last twilight, before clocking out for good.
Because it's time. It's time to get the goddamned 900-some pages of writing to agents. It's time to wipe off the dusty piano keyboard and play again. It's time to teach the hell out of this yoga that I love so much.
Because we only get one shot. We never really know when those breaths will end. And we owe it to ourselves to do work that is life-giving, and rich, and full, and in line with our ethics, and our dharmas, and our hearts.
The grit and the hustle and the humor of this wee bartending gig of mine will always linger in my cellular memory. And I will ever remain astonished by the unexpected surprise of finding therein a subversive source of embodied work, a moving meditation of a social kind, a sensuous labor that brought me into my body and wrung it out, shattered it, on a nightly basis.
It was a teacher, this. A guru, in a zillion ways.
Your yoga doesn't have to live on a mat. It can hide behind a bar, in front of a stove, behind a copy machine, under a broken engine, behind a dirty toilet, beneath a flowerbed, if you let it.
So here's to the years. Here's to the chatter. Here's to the endless spilled beers. Here's to the infinite glasses of wine poured, the champagne corks popped, the bourbon mopped up, the glasses polished, the barbacks trained.
And I'm even more grateful to see that bartend-asana becoming laptop-asana, studio-asana, garden-asana, art-asana, music-asana, full-time, full-throttle, baby, no beers poured, no martinis shaken except for the ones I sip whilst knocking out late-night paragraphs.
Cheers. And good night.