Sunday, March 8, 2009

Don't forget to look under the rocks

I haven't posted much, if at all, about the new job. And I guess that's because I was waiting for it to crystallize into something I could gush over, so my family and friends -- who've been so patient with my job laments over the years -- could finally get some relief from me. In truth, though, it's been a rocky road, probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. And after eight weeks of waiting for the waters to settle, the riptide warnings are still hard to miss.

It's not that I have a problem with hard work. I welcome it, actually. It's more that I fall short on the overall scorecard that I didn't realize came along with the position, at least in such pronounced ways. Cultural/racial identity: privileged, can't relate to discrimination. Religious leanings: insufficient, bordering on impiety. Zip code: outsider. Parenting status: null and void. Formal education: too much. Street smarts: not enough. You get the idea.

Now bear with this next digression, which I promise will lasso back by the end. Every morning I get off the train and walk about seven blocks to the office. My route forces me along two of the ugliest, busiest streets in the city: six lanes across, semis powering their way through traffic lights, lot after lot of chain-link fences, and the sidewalk chopped up to allow for car-wash entrances, fast-food drive-thrus, and gas stations. This footpath has become a sort of metaphor for the toughest aspects of my job, and I often let it demoralize me before I even walk through the door.

So the other day I decided, in the interest of my own endurance (because as trying as things may get on a given day, I still feel passion for the job and believe it's going to translate to meaningful work), I gave myself a challenge: If I can find beauty along this ungainly route, it's a sign that even my biggest hurdles are surmountable. If I can handle the task on a small scale, I can certainly tackle it when the stakes are highest. So I grabbed my camera and justified a 30-minute walk around the neighborhood.

This spiffy food truck was a good find not only for its general cheer, but also because it provides a lunchtime alternative to the cheap chop suey counter and local Subway sandwich shop.

This was once the storefront of what appears to be a defunct activist group. Those are sliced-up skateboard decks arched around the door.

This next one's a little hard to see, but in higher-rent districts, real estate signs often feature full-color photos of well-dressed realtors, just waiting to sell you a fancy loft in the next It neighborhood. Good old Israel Fuentes wanted the same effect but apparently couldn't afford it, so he went for a painted portrait instead (which is ironic, because the painting should probably be costlier than the photo).

Finally, I fell in love with these swanky foot pedals, part of a haul of musical equipment stacked up to be loaded into a van. Long story longer, I realized this job is going to be largely measured by what I make of it. If aspects are going poorly, I need to reposition myself to see things from a slightly different angle -- stand where the sun is reflecting off the windows or something. I can count on plenty of failures, I'm sure, but maybe some sporadic victories as well. As our good friend Justin, a labor organizer in NYC, reminded me: If it were easy, someone would have done it a long time ago.


leslie said...

Justin makes an excellent point. Rally yourself and know that you're doing good work, Christy! The neighborhood is lucky to have you.

tracy said...

I'm going to pull a Leslie and quote my favorite beautiful line:
"If aspects are going poorly, I need to reposition myself to see things from a slightly different angle -- stand where the sun is reflecting off the windows or something."

And while I'm glad you're in the trenches of community work, I'm oh so glad you still write, because you're damn good at it.

Christy said...

You guys are so great. In these days of feeling not exactly at home, it's good to have friends who remind me I'm not flying solo.