Saturday, January 18, 2014

a big thing (that is not baby-, book- or cancer-related)

I’ve worked at Poets & Writers (usually referred to on this blog as “my org”) for eleven years. Setting aside the continuously mind-boggling fact of how old I actually am, this also means that I’ve only had one job since grad school. It’s only my second professional job (if you can call writing about TV for a startup that has a video game station in the office “professional”). Sometimes I think about the story my mom told me once, about how my Aunt Vanessa once raised ducklings in a cardboard box, and by the time they were grown, their tail feathers veered to one side because the box was so small.

Duck in a box.
Having one job for nearly a third of your life feels a little bit like that, except imagine that the cardboard box was cozy and home to other kind, understanding ducks and often visited by famous and fascinating ducks, and that there were only three other cardboard boxes in your whole field, and you’d heard that two of them were totally dysfunctional.

All of which is to say: I love P&W, but I’ve been feeling like it’s time for something new. The past three years of my life have been personally tumultuous, and it’s been a godsend to work at a place that respects the needs of its employees, and is calm and quiet and predictable. At the same time, I want/need to believe that this is the start of the Next Phase of my life. And so I kept my eye out for other jobs.

I couldn’t ignore a posting I saw for a grants manager position at Homeboy Industries, an organization I’d admired from the first time I’d heard about it. The same is true for many Angelenos, but if you’re not familiar with Homeboy, they provide job training, employment and a bunch of feed-the-soul-type services for former gang members. It was started twenty-five years ago by Father Greg Boyle, a priest with a master’s degree in English (I feel like this is relevant; he delivers a good parable).

I applied for the job and got it and accepted it, and for the month of January, I am working half time there and half time at P&W, and it is as insane as it sounds. I’m still getting to know Homeboy. I have learned that there is a lot of work for me to do, and that the environment is the antithesis of P&W’s mellow, methodical vibe in ways that are both overwhelming and fun.

Homeboy Bakery.
I told the program director that it felt a little bit like a combination of Disneyland and church, and I’ve told other people that it feels like the Google of the nonprofit world (staff members get a discount at the bakery and café, and FREE THERAPY [“That’s perfect for you!” laughed Jamie, who is always seeing me duck out of work to see one of my three therapists], and yoga classes I can take alongside Jesuit priests and former gang members in the middle of the day).

But what it is, first and foremost, is a place that understands the whole person, and tries to break down the barriers between those who provide “charity” and those who receive it. Some employees have master’s degrees and some have murder raps, and maybe a few have both. I don’t know who’s who, and I’m not trying too hard to find out. Even though no one there knows me very well yet, and I feel a little bit like the new kid at school, I feel intrinsically understood, because my recent story is chalk-full of trauma and this place knows trauma.

What Homeboy isn’t is the place where Jamie and Cathy and D work. It’s not the place that asks about my writing morning or can snicker knowingly about McSweeney’s list of “Small Poetry Journal Names That Reflect the True Nature of Writing Poetry.”  (Examples: The Bi-Weekly Journal of Not Great Ideas and Expensive Marble Pen Set.) It probably won’t be the place that lets me leave to go to MacDowell for three weeks.

I did some car-crying last night, about the stress of the new and how much I’ll miss the old, and how I didn’t want to sell the little Honda that got me through so much. Then I had the thought that maybe I could sell it to one of Homeboy’s trainees who need cheap, semi-reliable transportation. It’s the circle of life, man, and it moves us all.


Unknown said...

This news makes me both sad and happy. You are such an amazing, inspiring, lovely soul. I guess fields south are going to be our new thing! Yes. They will.

Naomi Hirahara said...

Wow, congratulations! Your body knows when you need to let something new in. Glad to hear that you listening and the doors have opened for you. Lots of love.

Olga Garcia Echeverria said...

Thank you for sharing this. I think many of us can relate to the duck in the cozy cardboard box. Bravo to you for taking a leap. Your new transition sounds crazy-wonderful. Just think, regardless of the shifts and challenges, there will ALWAYS be bread (good, homeboy-made bread)at your new site. Felicidades y adelante, amiga!

Cheryl said...

D: One of the things I will miss most is my annual P&W trip to Fresno! But I think we'll find a way to keep in touch. :-)

N: I think that's true. And not just because my body knows that there are suddenly a lot of baked goods around.

O: SO TRUE. Thank you!