Welcome to the Salon


Last week I began a part-time job working the front desk of a salon.

Ever since quitting my job this spring to become a writer, I have mostly been unsure of what I’m supposed to be doing during the day. When do I write? When do I do regular stuff, like chores? When do I start making money, and how?

I toyed with the idea of working as a bartender on the side. This will work out great! I thought. I’ll have all day to write, and then I’ll go to some dark bar in the evening and be a badass who knows how to make cocktails.

 Yeah, okay.

Turns out, people don’t want to hire potential bartenders who don’t have any previous bartending experience, no matter how many forearm tattoos they have.

In fact, most people in the service industry don’t want to hire a 25-year-old who has no prior waitressing experience. Which, to me, was confusing. Wouldn’t you rather have an employee who can hold a pleasant conversation with someone than hire someone who’s only life skill is to know which wine pairs best with fish? (White wine, by the way.)

I didn’t want to get a part-time job. It felt like I was already giving up on committing to this whole writing thing. But I was scared of misusing the money I had already saved, so I half-heartedly tried to find a job that would allow me to keep going to the movies and buying almond butter.

So I applied to a local coffee shop and interviewed with the manager who had a poorly-hid hickey on her neck and who told me she didn’t put up with any drama. I never heard back. I was glad.

Then I applied to three different Starbucks. I even milked a contact I had at one. Still, nothing.

I searched Craigslist for writing jobs. I searched a good part of the Internet for writing jobs. I applied to some of those jobs, and never got any response.

Truthfully, I had given up before I even started because I didn’t want a job that wasn’t all mine, me, in total control of what I was doing and when I was doing it. I wanted the life I had quit my old life to achieve. But I hadn’t yet figured out how to make money doing that.

Then I was getting my hair cut a few weeks ago. As I sat with my head in the sink, I told my stylist, who has fabulous canary-yellow hair, about my reluctant attempts to find some extra money.

“We’re looking for someone for the front desk,” she told me. “You should apply.”

So despite my best efforts, I got a job working 20 hours a week at a front desk of a high-end salon.

When I was younger, I dreamed of being a film actress (I still dream of this, actually).

I imagined as an older person what I would do if I didn’t find immediate success. I had always carried the impression that for grown-ups there was a great deal of shame attached to not having instant results when it came to pursuing one’s dreams, but I knew that on my way to being a successful actress I might have to take some smaller jobs on the side. I knew I wouldn’t care what everyone else thought, because the end goal would burn in me like a glowing gem, leading me onward.

But the idea of this is far more romantic than the day-to-day life of such realities (as is the case with all things we only look at from a distance).

Getting a part-time job working the front desk of a salon in the same city I thought I would have left by now was not something I pictured myself doing.

In fact, within the weeks this new job came about, two of my close friends received word that they had been offered jobs as a lawyer and flight attendant in the types of cities I dreamed of experiencing.

I went from a leadership job with benefits, an adjustable schedule, mostly unlimited vacation, influence, and a role as a valued voice within the organization to the last on the totem pole in a world of haircuts and colors, black clothes, and commission.

I may have drank a little too much wine one night and cried about this, this confusing feeling of both slamming myself wholeheartedly into my dreams while also wondering if I am somehow slowing down or moving backwards.

But then I thought of Cheryl Strayed. I thought of Glennon Doyle-Melton, Anne Lamott, and Laura Jane Williams; writers and women of depth and breadth who’s stories were never really that linear, who did not move from one success or piece of perfection to the next but rather stumbled, went back, thought again, tried to move forward. Women who tell beautiful, powerful stories because the stories are not ones forever advancing forward, hop-skipping from one solid achievement to the next like glistening lily pads all in a tidy row.

Cheryl Strayed says it best in her book Tiny Beautiful Things:

 “The useless days will add up to something. The waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”

When I think of this, I smile. Even as a sit in bed, face unwashed, kitchen full of dirty dishes and already anticipating the week ahead and feeling the restless, accusing jab of, “Why aren’t you writing more?”

I smile because I know that this, all of it, is my becoming.

This job I never pictured.

The days of only writing for 15 minutes and wondering why I am not always energized by the adventure I tell myself is taking place.

The scary, guttural wondering if I really am about to get stuck, distracted.

It has become perhaps one of the greatest struggles of my person to find breathless wonder, even contentment, in the unexpected normalcies of life. I can easily revel in the highs of loud, impressive achievements, or even appreciate the grandiosity of soul-searching in the darkest valleys.

It is the routine, the normalcy, the un-glamorous that stings my soul into fear and discontent.

But all the uncertainty, all the avoidance, all the wondering, all the tiredness and jealousy over the flashy lives of others and the unbelief in myself and yet the proverbial belief in myself; it is all these things that feel so accidental and unimportant and like roadblocks that are already adding intrigue to the story.

It is here, in the detours and the terrifying normal, that the plot is unfolding.

7 replies »

  1. If you haven’t already (and I’m sure I’m not the first to mention it) but you should definitely read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The book is about exactly this and I found a lot of value in her words. I find what you’re doing so brave, and I’m sure it’s hard, but don’t lose sight of the dream.

  2. Every part of this blog sounds so familiar. I write full time, and unless I’m writing 24/7, it still feels like I’m not doing enough. That internal narrator is a real bitch, but she’s also scared to death of what I’m doing. As Steve Jobs once said, ‘We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?’

  3. As always, I love your writing, Julia. But some of your words this time truly take my breath away. “Breathless wonder”, “unexpected normalcies” – these are the things I know my quiet, mundane, and in some ways small, life is made of. I’m ok with that. I believe that our merciful and wise Lord can take any tiny thing I offer and make it large enough to be His. I also firmly believe that you most certainly are ” slamming wholeheartedly into your dreams.” I believe it because I know you, and because I see the proof in your actions and words. Love you! 🙂

  4. Hey Jules,
    I have never heard the phrase “These things are your becoming” before…clearly I need to stop looking at your list of favorite authors and actually READ some of them!! But I find the phrase empowering and validating – even at the ancient age of 50.
    Being banished to teaching middle school, after years of teaching high school AP and varsity coaching was devastating. Almost unacceptable, even if eventually I saw that it was answered prayer – just not “my” answer. But I have learned much in this new gig; and I can (now, with your help) see it as part of the “things I am becoming”. So thank you!!!
    Also – worrying is in our DNA, just embrace and roll on. love you!!

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