Yesterday I went to the second session of the anxiety group at Kaiser. As I was doing the homework this morning, I started thinking about the ways in which my anxiety has gotten the better of me in the past. I started thinking back to about ten years ago, when I worked in the kitchen at a cafe in San Diego in a gap between teaching jobs. Actually, I took the job at the cafe because chopping strawberries, making fruit salads and building sandwiches was just the respite I needed after the anxiety and stress of teaching high school on the Navajo reservation for two years.
I lived in a punk house with a bunch of other people – artists, creators, musicians and students. I was writing, mainly short, undeveloped pieces that I would self-publish in zines, but I spent much of my time, when I wasn’t working, fretting about whether I should go back to teaching, worrying about money, worrying about men who didn’t want me as much as I wanted them, and thinking about writing without actually writing. In short, I let my social anxiety get the best of me.
A story that best illustrates this is The Day Mike Davis Came Into the Cafe To Buy a Piece of Chocolate Cake.
Mike Davis is one of my writing icons. He writes about politics, class, ecology, history, California, and labor with grace and wit. Well, one day, Mike Davis stepped up to the counter at the cafe where I worked and ordered a coffee drink and a piece of chocolate cake. I was flabbergasted. I served him the cake, dying to say something, but I froze.
He showed up again a few days later. It turned out he lived in the neighborhood; he’d stop in after a morning or afternoon run. Finally, one day, I got up the courage to talk to him. I was embarrassed as all get out, but I ended up chatting with him, working up the courage to ask him for writing advice (he told me to get a copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style) before mentioning an essay that I’d just started working on. The essay, which ended up being published in a City Works Press anthology, was ostensibly about the gentrification of Golden Hill and Sherman Heights, the working-class neighborhoods around the cafe that were swiftly becoming hipster playgrounds, thanks in part to the very place that I worked.
Towards the end of our conversation, Mr. Davis gave me his email address along with an encouragement to send him a draft of the essay.
Did I send it to him? No. I chickened out, convincing myself that I had nothing to offer, and no real skills as a writer or an intellectual. Epic Fail. What I’m trying to say is, looking back, I wish that I’d spent that precious period of freedom writing like a madwoman, reading, studying, devoting myself to learning the craft of writing- instead of worrying about whether I was good enough, or had the right to take a seat at the table, before leaping into the next teaching job that was dangled in front of me because of my overwhelming money worries and fear of looking like a loser for working in food service. Lame.
Which is to say, anxiety in its many ugly forms sucks, and there’s no time like the present to defeat it.
Was there a time when anxiety got the better of you? Did you learn from it?