Poise and What It Means and Maybe Should Mean

When I first moved to Florida I had a job half way, sorta set up. After I’d been here for a week or so the job materialized and it turned out not quite the way I had expected.

As mentioned in a previous post, the owner was a dink, though I didn’t use that word.

In a small suburb outside of Tampa there is a seafood establishment that is owned by two very interesting gentlemen. During the summer months the place is not all that busy thereby dictating the space requirements are minimal. I believe the place can hold 100-150 diners maximum and it’s about impossible to maneuver and deliver trays when there are that many people scrunched into a tiny room.

When I began (and shortly thereafter ended) this food service employment it was as a hostess. Pretty typical for people to start out that way. I’ve worked in fine dining and especially busy restaurants so I have experience in keeping people calm and patient to be seated.

For all you servers out there, the secret is communication. If you are honest with your tables and keep them informed when things are going to Hell in a Handbasket they will be far more forgiving than when you duck and hide and stumble for answers when they want to know where their food is.

The snowbirds flock to Florida in the winter, of course, and when they descend on this town everything takes three times longer than it should. Traffic becomes ridiculous (there’s a switch that will turn your turn signals off as well as on), grocery stores are inundated with people who can’t understand why the same products they get at home aren’t available in a different climate (usually fruit and whatnot) and restaurants go from a no waiting time to anywhere up to three hours from my experience.

Rule of thumb at this place was to never tell a customer it would be more than 15 minutes to seat them. Regardless. Period. Basically I was ordered to lie to people and deal with the repercussions for less than minimum wage and only very random tip-outs from the servers. $4.66 an hour after taxes is, um, yeah, anyway.

Now, I’m a hyper worker. I want to be busy. I don’t care how much money you pay me, if I’m sitting around bored the money isn’t worth it. So in the busy times I wouldn’t have much to do while I waited for tables to leave. Have you ever had 75 people stare at you and will you to make a table open up? It really sucks.  To get away from that I would help bus tables. Oddly this became part of my job description and yet I never saw an increase.

Generally by the end of the night the soles of my shoes would be smoking and I’d have sweat through my work clothes twice. My calves and feet would be crying and all I’d want to do is sit down. For less than five dollars an hour, people. And that’s not even the point of this posting.

During the craziest times when people were staring, angry, demanding and wanting to know if they should just go to McDonald’s, it was my job to keep them entertained, patient and relaxed while maintaining a smile on my face.

Not an easy thing to do when two parties of 13 show up and the restaurant doesn’t take reservations but accepts something called a “call ahead” that pretty much screws everything up all around.

The main things I had to tell myself on these nights were 1) “This too shall pass, this is not eternal” and 2) “I can make this happen and I can make it work”.

It’s number 2 that is the important one, ultimately. If you keep calm and work through your options while breathing life becomes much easier.

During this multiple week nightmare I was pulled aside during many a shift (most of which were 10+ hours, ya’ll) by customers who wanted to compliment me on my poise. A few of them threw a few dollars my way which was unexpected and freaking awesome.

Eventually I gratefully accepted it when the bosses and I decided we weren’t a good fit and I moved on to my next project which was, of course, starting this blog and completing and publishing Freedom’s Treasure (now available exclusively on Amazon.com).

Now that I’ve woken from the nightmare and had time to reflect on it – what did it mean? Was that symbolic? – I’ve started to ponder many things about many customers but what comes back to me is the whole thing about poise.

I know what poise is. I’ve used the word before and I’ve even said it out loud. Amazing, right? I’m sure many of you know the definition as well. I went to Dictionary.com and looked it up. It’s the second definition I’m concentrating on today thought the obsolete one about weight has my interest.

a dignified, self-confident manner or bearing; composure; self-possession: to show poise in company.

I like that definition. I like knowing that people think I possess this when in my brain all Hell is breaking loose.

Being me, I like to change perspectives on things. It helps me when I’m writing and get stuck on something I need to get across to the reader. Several sections in chapters are written and re-written until I get the proper perspective be it the character’s or the reader’s perspective that I’m playing with. So I turned that magnifying glass on to the word Poise.

Dignified, self-possession. From what I’ve seen, the general contextual use of poise is the situations I described above. The entire night is going to Hell in a Handbasket but there’s that girl, with a smile on her face and saying everything is going to be just fine.

But what about the people who use it in the opposite fashion? They receive no gratitude or acknowledgment. Weird. And I’ll give you an example instead of just throwing the opposite view thing out there and ending this because I’m nice like that.

The same girl who had her butt handed to her at the cramped seafood restaurant has made a turn around that is amazing! The book is published and, lo and behold, copies are actually selling (you can find your e-copy here http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EAY37B6). She found a life companion who makes her happy and everything is coming up roses. Impossible NOT to keep a smile on her face and feel self-confident and dignified and all the nice things that are in the second definition., right?

But what happens when uber-happy girl is confronted by the fact that other people around her aren’t having everything come up roses? That they’re stressed to the breaking point, have received bad news, etc. Doesn’t poise actually equal the ability to not project super optimism at a time when that will only make others feel worse?

As I sit here practically vibrating with excitement I’m forced to remember that not everyone wants to see happy happy bounce bounce at a time when things aren’t bouncing for them. So, in fairness, I have to tamp that excitement down so as not to cause undue worry or added stress or resentment. Shouldn’t that version of poise, the version where everything is going well and is still balanced, be celebrated and acknowledged as much as the person who shows that dignified bearing when everything is awful?

Huh. I’m starting to figure something else out as I’m trying to wrap this up. Maybe this whole thing I just typed out is not actually about poise. Maybe it’s a sub-conscious reminder for myself and others that, whether things are good or bad in your life, it’s important to remember that other people have feelings that may not match yours. Maybe it’s a reminder to step out of ourselves and think about how other people are having emotions, too, and there is no law that says we can’t take their feelings and thoughts into account.

Nah! I just wanted to brag that an elderly couple admired my poise. Go me!

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