Weebles Wobble, But I Don’t Fall Down

For a significant time in my life, I tended bar and waited tables and eventually reached a level of mastery that only comes after years in the profession.  In order to get and stay employed at upper tier establishments, you must meet demanding criteria with excellence, and make it look second nature.  Once, a fellow apron-in-the-trenches, Raven, observed that while it may seem to someone peering in from outside or to a server-in-training all graceful and effortless, it’s actually harder than it appears, and can be interpreted as a more accessible job than it really is.  Cultivating an efficient, hospitable presence in the midst of crying babies, hungry diners, first dates, and VIP business deals calls for a complex recipe.  Oenophilic knowledge, reflexive prioritization, vast patience, and a fluid physicality with an intimately choreographed and fast-paced dance among tables, swinging kitchen doors and moving human targets are all ingredients that create an illusion of a seamless, well-edited film.  She was right, we made it look easy, and we earned our Oscar every single night.

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Despite proficiency and agility, it’s not always wine and roses.  Steve, another veteran colleague, adds one crucial perspective that can make the difference between a shift feeling like an Amazonian jungle drive with no struts or shocks, and cruising the Autobahn in a cushy, air-conditioned Beemer. In industry jargon, being ‘in the weeds’ means you’re on a sinking ship, you NEED HELP NOW, all hell’s breaking loose, and the wreckage is piling up.  Sometimes no amount of technical ability can save you from this kind of disaster.  With his signature wry wit, he offers this wise salve, “Kellie, you can’t be in the weeds, if you just. don’t. care.”

Contemplate that for a moment.

When pressure mounts – a raucous table tries to flag you down for their third bottle of wine, another wants to send back undercooked steak that they ordered rare, the chef is yelling for you to pick up hot plates, crema on an espresso is fading at the counter and your barista won’t be too pleased to make it over, and the host just seated an ornery family of eight in your station – it’s hard to all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.  The last thing that will help is grasping for perfection and squeeeeezing tight.  Instead, give up.  Stop caring about the mess, the stress, doing your best.  Embrace chaos and move through the madness.  Keep humor in your pocket; toss the-sky-is-falling panic.  Once you stop caring that you’re in the weeds, sanity and order swiftly return.

This is how I finally came to write.  For too long, I harbored lofty views of what writing should be – gazed up on vaunted writers as gods – Faulkner, Dickens, Hemingway, Twain – as anyone with literary ambitions would.  I intensely pulsed with visions of grand words and clever turns of phrase like the masters.  I toted high ideals, yet felt low and too intimidated to put pen to paper for fear that I could nary craft as expert a sentence as theirs.  Nothing I wrote would be good enough, much less perfect, so why even try?  In essence, my wish to be a great writer actually prevented me from ever seriously commiting.  What use is that?  So I alternated between fits of private prose and artistic abstinence, but always ended up disappointed in myself.  Journals got filled, shelved, forgotten.  Yes, Mr. Famous Author, follow me right this way to your corner table.

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Then I remembered how I did what I did for a living, and the philosophies of Raven and Steve.  There was the answer, the road to freedom. I acknowledged that it would take years to achieve mastery, if ever, and I stopped caring about being top-notch.  I didn’t need to be a great writer.  I didn’t even need to be a good writer.  I laid down striving for perfection.  Starving for expression, all I had to do was write.

At once, my first gig waiting tables, back when I was far from competent, came rushing into memory.  One night early on I dropped an entire tray of frozen pina coladas and other frou-frou drinks all over a poor little girl who had the misfortune of sitting beneath me.  Out of mortifying embarrassment I laughed uncontrollably, while she burst into frightened tears.  It was all so horrible, but I cleaned up the mess, got on with the shift, and went back to work the next night and then the night after that.  I persevered, got less clumsy, and built up skills.

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We’re rarely good straight out of the gate;  so when I ask a friend, a best-selling author, for beginning writerly advice he offers up the same, wise morsel – make as many mistakes as I can.  So I do, continually, and it’s OK because now I’ve learned not to care about looking foolish or amateur.  All I want to do is write and have fun doing it.

This week, I sit cross-legged in yoga class, prayerful hands in front of my heart, post-OM, pre-asanas and the instructor, about to lead the group in a series of balancing poses, suggests we set an intention for our evening’s practice.  Before I can think up one, she shares hers – to wobble.  She actually intends to sway, to teeter.

Let go, whispers the universe!

Kapow!  I finally get it… Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.  When we’re trying to ground, find steadiness on one foot, arms akimbo, torso bent forward, and we falter – indeed, that is exactly when to accept imbalance – it’s integral to the pose, and not as I’ve long thought, failing.  I’ll never be in the weeds again.

As soon as I embrace the wobble, the imperfection, I stop falling down, and finally begin.

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21 Comments

  1. Kellie,
    Deliciously put. Thanks for the reminder that we should all keep doing what we love, rather than worrying about how we measure up to others. In that continual effort we will find what we shine at doing and hopefully enjoy it along the way.
    Julie

    Reply
    • Julie~My perfectionist tendencies got in the way for so long. I was hogtied by them for more years than I’m proud of- but thanks to Raven, Steve, and so many others who consistently whittled that away, I gladly don’t care anymore – in the best way possible. Did you have a similar obstacle to writing?

      Reply
  2. Jill Rowe

     /  28 February 2011

    Truer words were never spoken- and I concur with Julie’s observation. Everything we do has merit, whether it is wobbly, or strong as an oak. It’s all about committing yourself to yourself and helping you through each step- remember those days of riding your bike without the training wheels? The fear of lifting my foot off of the curb and putting both feet on the pedals, but when I did there was no stopping me then. The joy as I teetered down the street trying to keep my balance , but I did it! I was riding!

    Reply
    • Jill~Wow, you remind me that I never even had training wheels! I just sat on my bike and rode it down the hill on our front yard over and over again, until I stopped falling off. How fearless we can be as children…xo

      Reply
  3. Valerie Gurley

     /  28 February 2011

    Your post is eloquent and insightful, and I’m grateful for your timing…I’m swimming in similar seas. As I plunged the sink-drain in my bathroom this morning, it occurred to me that the only thing stopping the clear water of inspiration from flowing through my life is the unresolved, un-dissolved crud of my own regrets, resentments, and resistances. I let those negative things stick to my soul and slow me down, as if holding on to them will make me a better person. The hardest words for me to say (and mean) are these: I DON’T CARE. Why do I care what others think? Why do I care if I “do it wrong”? Why do I care if I make mistakes? Thank you for reminding me that what’s important is that we show up, that we do what we’re here to do, and that we let things unfold as they will.

    Time to develop a Teflon Soul.

    Namaste.

    Reply
    • Valerie~ First, thank you for visiting and commenting :) Might you have a blog to share with me – I’d love to check it out, if you do?
      Second – Let’s all hike to the top of our snowmounds (mine here in Maine is gettin’ pretty high!) and yell “I DON’T CARE!” And yes, timing is maybe not everything, because I think preparation counts too, but this is MY TIME now, for letting go of those 3 R’s you mention. Here’s to the unfolding of a clear path for all of us. Yippee!

      Reply
  4. mikki

     /  28 February 2011

    love love love.

    Reply
  5. I think perfection is a barrier to many of our goals. But we are all human; we all make mistakes.

    Reply
    • Jess~Yes we do. And I’ve learned more from making them than from avoiding them. Here’s to breaking down those barriers together!

      Reply
  6. Wow this is such a beautiful passage! So glad I came to your site. I’m doubly glad you are writing. I relate to so much to this.

    Reply
    • Heather~Well, I’m glad you came, and doubly glad you commented -thanks for visiting! You’re certainly an inspiration for letting go – all the wonderful things you’ve done, I’m sure you’ve much to share about the creative process…and climbing mountains. Bet that there was some wobble on Kilimanjaro. xo

      Reply
  7. This is a great story about learning from one life lesson to carry on with the next goal. I love this sentence, “Validity exists in shakiness as much as in stability.” It gave me chills after the way you set the blog post up previous to that comparison and is SO true.

    We have to make mistakes. We only grow when we do, and it IS hard. Somehow we keep thinking life is supposed to be easy and we’re not supposed to make mistakes, and that’s where we get stuck. The last couple of years I’ve grown so much, and they’ve been the hardest of my life.

    Reply
  8. Stifled ~
    The interesting thing for me lately is that after years of doing things the hard way, now that I’ve surrendered…I’m all about finding the easy way. Not the easy way out, but the path with least resistance. No more making it harder for myself, just for the sake of learning. I’m still making mistakes, but they’re new ones, and not because I’m not listening to my intuition, which never steers me wrong.

    Thanks for swinging by, and leaving your comments. Hope to see you as a subscriber soon!

    Reply
  9. What an amazing discovery you made – just stop caring about perfection and get going. Thank you so much for sharing that – I will work to put it in practice for both writing and painting! Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Susan,
      Our inner judge and worrier gets too much attention often. Better to acknowledge them, and pass them by. Good luck with your creative pursuits in 2012! I think THIS IS OUR YEAR!

      Reply
  10. Yes! I think when we see that the wobble makes everything more fun, we can enjoy life more, and, just as importantly, release the choke-hold on the people in our lives.

    Reply
  11. Ara~
    Choke-hold! Yes, I can’t tell you how often I felt in that suffocating place, and finally realized it was I who put me in it. Geez…reminds me that humor is such a salve in these situations. Hail the ice-breakers!

    Reply
  12. Kellie, You are a harbinger of hope. Thank you for this freeing perspective. Wondering where and when the constraint of perfectionism begins to tighten its choke-hold (nice, Ara). It doesn’t seem inherent in our childhood experiences. Kids seem to be naturally hope-full and not deterred but the wobbly. Where do we lose that? Hmm… something for another post?
    Hope on Hope

    Reply
  1. What To Do When Your Creative Work Isn’t What You’d Hoped | off~peak
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