A Novel Good Morning To You

A “powerful woman but really want to get back under this blanky” vibe

What’s it like to be a morning person? And by that, I don’t mean that you necessarily like being awake in the morning. I mean, what’s it like to be awake in the morning?

Of course, I’ve been awake in the morning. But since the early half of 2000, I haven’t had to wake up regularly in the morning. Thanks to 20 years in the service industry, my work started at 4. Depending on the jobs, sometimes a shift would being at 10:30am and for a short while, really early, like seven or dawn, when working at an Irish pub for European soccer matches, but those lunch shifts were never consistent. If I’m up and moving before 8, (and by 8, I mean 9. Actually, 10) I either have to be at a doctor’s office or I’m getting on a plane. And on some extra special mornings, my sub-consciousness anxiety woke me up at 5am and I’ve been sitting on the couch eating French toast and waiting to be tired enough to go back to bed when everyone else is showering and starting their commutes. And, actually, that’s the same with flights – once we’re in the air, I’m asleep. Also, after a doctor’s appointment? Kicking off my pants and laying back down wondering when they’ll call me back with the test results saying I have every STD known to humankind – even if it’s the optometrist.

So, I guess I’m asking, what’s it like to be awake in the morning when it doesn’t feel like a novelty and then stay awake until bedtime?

Setting an alarm and having a consistent schedule has never been a thing for me. If that sounds glorious to you, maybe you could pull it off, but inconsistency has always rewarded me with a constant humming of slight to above average anxiety. Without a set schedule, sleeping becomes hard. It’s chaotic. And at some point, it becomes lonely. You’re moving opposite to the majority of everyone else in the world. Sure, I can hang out with co-workers, but there’s nothing to do except drink after work, which got old for me several years ago. In my twenties and even early thirties, sure, it was great being able to crank back drinks until 4 am and still get 8 hours of drunk sleep, which didn’t help the hangover at all. Probably because after only three drinks, my body goes into the shakes since I’m always eating refined sugar and really, no one’s kidneys could effectively manage with that kind of uptick in glucose.

I avoided early classes in college, but if I did have them, I had a favorite chair in the library I would pass out in. High school? Forget it. My alarm was set to the last possible second and even that meant I was doing 80 mph on the highway to get myself and my younger brother to school on time. Which is a tradition within my family. My oldest brother, responsible for getting us to school from 1994 to 1996, would jump behind the wheel of the van at 8:08, barely awake and barely dressed, while blasting Guns n Roses, to get us to school by 8:15. And if I overslept by even a minute in high school, I wouldn’t go. I tossed my car keys to my brother and bargained with my mom. All I had to do was promise to clean the house and do the laundry and I got a day watching soap operas and The Price Is Right.

I stopped having a consistent bedtime at, like, 10. Everyone was always wandering around the house in the middle of the night and sleeping whenever and wherever. Baking cookies at 3am? Sure, just make enough for everyone.

I’m asking what a consistent morning schedule feels like because I have to do this now. Waking up in the morning and getting to work. I mean, I don’t have to, I’m working from home – like almost everyone right now. I could still roll out of bed at noon and barely get my freelancing done. But that would raise questions and eyebrows from my boyfriend who has been successfully working from home for years. Also, waking up at noon means I have very time to get any more work done, so I’m limiting myself in potential new work.

I had just begun attempting this novel morning person persona, when COVID-19 was like, “Yo! ‘sup!” I know we’re being told to just relax and do what you can – it’s a pandemic. Unprecedented and no one knows what to do. As long as you put on pants – good job. And if you didn’t – eh, maybe tomorrow. Except, the majority of our workforce being forced to work from home right now is an odd timing for me. Like an undercover oracle, two weeks before the restaurants were shut down in Chicago, I quit my bartending job after 20 years in the industry. To work from home. Just in time for a never before seen global pandemic.

A week after the Illinois lockdown, my old boss told me, “You wanted to work from home. Now you got everyone else to, too.”

You’re welcome?

So I guess it’s great timing for me there’s an influx of advice columns telling us all how to work from home. Oh, and that I didn’t lose my income like my co-workers*. Except I’d rather everything was back to normal. I’ll happily fade away into the night again.

And sidebar, one thing I learned from the coronavirus was a new use for the word ‘novel’. How many times have you heard the phrase “the novel coronavirus”? Like a billion? You don’t normally hear novel as an adjective, only as a noun, as in “Josh has been trying to write his novel for years.” But novel means new. Ironically, because of the novel coronavirus, we’re all having a novel experience, like learning to work from home or experincing collective trauma on a global level.

Neat!

I’m trying to get up earlier and earlier. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, meaning most of the time, when my boyfriend’s alarm goes off, I sit up straight in bed like a jack in the box with bed hair and sheet lines tattooed into my temples, stare blankly at him through sleep-swollen eyes like I don’t who or what he is and then I flop back into the bed like a jumping fish falling back into a lake. Everything is a process.

Slowly but surely we’ll all get there. There might some days when I say fuck it to stress baking, roll butter in sugar and watch Letterkenny all day. There might be days when the alarm goes off and I get up, too.

So far, I’m in the middle. Waking up an hour after he’s scrumming away. Scrolling through IG for twenty minutes. Finally getting out of bed and groping around for my glasses and pants. Puttering around the kitchen for another 30 minutes. Jumping up every twenty minutes to find a distraction, like snacks or to sing to the cats (they like it. So do our neighbors).

Whenever I did wake up early, back when Earth was open for business, the world always looked different to me. It was a novelty. The sun hit differently. The air was crisp. Sounds were more sharp. Everything was new and ready to go. I was used to commuting to work in the middle of the day when everyone else is inside their offices and Earth was getting that 2 o’clock feeling. And then coming home, when it’s night and there’s no one around again, but more ominous. In the morning, on the way to an appointment or a flight, I’m watching everyone move with everyone else to the trains or inching down the freeway. Everyone’s together. And each morning seemed like it was giving Earth a mulligan. I liked it.

Man, I want it to hurry up and come back so I can join it.

*If you’d like to help those out of work co-workers I mentioned, donate to the Osteria Langhe Employee Relief Fund gofundme:

From Bartender to Freelance Writer: How to Prepare for A Career Change

I’ve been in the service industry for my entire adult life, except for one eleven month period when I got out. The phrase “got out” pertaining to someone leaving the hospitality industry is, I imagine, almost synonymous with a felon leaving prison.

The recidivism rate within the service industry is probably lower than most correctional facilities because, in prison, you can at least sit down every so often and punch someone in the face if they complain about the food. My first attempt at getting out of bartending sputtered and stalled, for several reasons.

I failed because I wasn’t prepared. I had money saved, but there was no budget. I lacked the emotional maturity so any rejection or hiccup sent my anxiety soaring. I would give up for the day and drink copious amounts of pinot grigio from a jug while watching HGTV and checking my dwindling bank account. I didn’t have a supportive partner or even close friends in the city I was living in. In hindsight, it’s no surprise I returned to bartending, serving (literally, ha HA) another seven years, or as they say on the inside, 84 months.

Now, it’s time to get out- for good. This will be tricky because I don’t have a job in another industry lined up. In fact, there will be no single job. I’m going from slinging drinks to freelance writing. Not a decision to be made lightly, I’ve been planning for this for a few months.

Make The Decision

I bartend in a corn maze

To be fair, I never liked my current job. Never mind the inconsistency, the low stipend for playing the role of bar manager (really, an inflated title they gave me to compensate for having to deal with a three compartment sink), or the exhausting physical aspect of it, what always bothered me was the low-grade sexism of the place. I’ve worked in places where the sexism was really blatant, which, frankly, would be welcome at this point.

Pointing out that a tank top for female employees reading, “Eat my pie,” is bullshit versus explaining that everytime I ask a question, turning away from me to face the nearest man to give the answer is much harder. Or wondering why male employees receive their supervisor pay on a different check than myself. If I wanted to be gaslit all the time, I would go back to my alcoholic ex.

Tell People/ Find a Support System

In order to make the decision real, i.e. not back out, I told people. So if I did back out, it would also be embarrassing on top of soul-sucking. Telling people what I want is hard for me so this was a good exercise. Plus, I could read their reactions to see if I was making a huge mistake.

To my surprise everyone’s responses were positive and told me to go for it. My partner offered to help as best as he could. Friends were excited to hear the news. I was not expecting an overwhelmingly positive response, but more on that later.

Create a Budget

Creating a budget is like cleaning out your closet. You find an old sweater you were missing (or money) along the way and at the end, even though maybe you tried on an old pair of pants and they’re way too tight (or it costs more to live than you thought), you’re at least facing the truth. Terrifying but cathartic.

To track what I’m earning and spending, I made an appointment with a financial consultant at Next Door, which is free and run by State Farm. How is this free? In return, they use your data to create entertaining commercials starring character actors and beloved quarterbacks so we buy more insurance products from them. Tit for tat, baby.

After a nice woman collected data from me (College? How did you get here? Rent?), she handed me a worksheet. The sheet listed expenses into categories: fixed, variable and non-monthly. Fixed is a set amount you spend every month like rent, variable would be bills but they vary a bit, like groceries or utilities and non-monthly would be clothing or gifts. After you tally those, you add them up and subtract from your monthly income. Hopefully, you have money left over, which would be either disposable income or savings. If not, you scream until you figure out what you can cut from your life. Actually, regardless, there will be internal screaming.

A seagull, after seeing his monthly clothing budget

Since I’m going into freelance without clients, my income would become me paying myself from my savings. Awesome because I can give myself a raise whenever I want to the detriment of my boss, me, who will simply ask more out of me, the employee.

Make a Plan

All right. I made the decision, I told people, and I created a budget. Now. What’s the plan? What needs to be done to start getting clients? I wrote things to do on Post-It notes:

  • make your website look professional, i.e. take down drunken rants from three years ago (but save as drafts; they are money)
  • find a domain name that isn’t stupid
  • start an Upwork account
  • research other avenues to find clients
  • start blogging
  • create more specs
  • decide what kind of work you want to do

Panic

Deciding on a domain name took me two days. Then I tried to redesign my WordPress site, which again took a lot longer than the 45 minutes I envisioned. “This theme? No, this theme? This theme? No, this theme? No, this theme.” Researching revenue streams took me down Clickbait Avenue. Trying to decide a niche for myself was another 48 hours of listing things I knew and then asking, “But do I really?” With a timeline of six weeks to get everything together and quitting my job, I needed a sense of urgency.

Rip Apart an Elephant

Do it

What’s the saying? It’s easier to eat an elephant by tearing it limb by limb than biting into the whole thing?

I’m pretty sure that’s it.

When faced with too many things to do, I freeze. To unfreeze, I broke down my to do list into bite sized pieces. I compared it to running. If I’m planning on a 45 minute run, that seems daunting. But if I tell myself to make it to the fifteen minute mark and then the 20 minute mark, then the thirty, it’s not so hard.

So, instead of just a “Organize WordPress site” post-it note, I broke it down into multiple post-it notes: “Draw website”, “Write Copy”, “Organize Pages”, “Write Specs. I accomplished two of those in the same time frame as it would have taken me to procrastinate by baking cookies.

If you hit the proverbial elephant with a grenade

Expect Good Things

Always expecting the worse has been my mantra for the last several decades. While this has given my humor a knife sharp edge, my negativity is exhausting and not much fun. Changing my outlook to positivity is a must.

Generally, people don’t dive into a pool expecting to hit their head on a rock and severing their spinal cord, rendering them a quadriplegic and becoming a burden to loved ones. Usually, as a diver arches their way into the shimmering blue water, they anticipate the cool splash and the suddenly absence of sound, replaced with the gurgling of water. Then you rush to the top, with all your limbs still working and your face breaks through the surface back into the world and you breathe that sweet, sweet air.