Thursday, June 20, 2019

a few words of summer

Yesterday my department had a four-hour meeting at WeWork. I arrived in a pissy mood because I'd spent the first three hours of my workday putting together a mailing list and the fourth on a series of freeways.

The Culver City building that housed WeWork was across from the Sony Pictures lot, over which a giant fabricated rainbow arced. I imagined a team of producers and diversity-committee types saying, "We have this leftover rainbow from the set of [something Sony produces]. Can we repurpose it for Pride?"

The lobby of the WeWork building was decked out with bright lounge chairs, palm trees made of balloons, and an old-timey ice cream cart. It screamed "summer selfie." It also screamed: "Haha, you're not at the beach, you're at work."

It's been almost a year since our department was reshuffled and I was moved from a higher-ranking position to one that seemed like a better fit for my actual strengths. Except my org likes to proceed with caution, and the transition has been gradual. Glacial, I would say. Thoughtfulness and thoroughness are attributes; my last org was much more of the "Let's throw shit at the wall and see what sticks, and write grant reports suggesting that everything stuck when almost nothing did" variety.

But caution has its limits. And I'm getting impatient. And we've been without administrative support for about half of the past year, and guess who's admin support in the wake?

I feel like I'm swimming upstream toward my Preferred Job Description, battling giant waves of mailing lists and database management and post office visits and data entry and reports and seating charts, and those waves keep getting bigger, and my destination is shrinking to a dot in the distance.

I tell myself that all learning is good, and I have learned a lot about a lot of fucking databases. I tell myself that all work that supports a good mission is noble. I tell myself I'm paid really well for an administrative assistant. I walk off my rage in the park next to my office and see the dozens of people who live there in tents and old vans and would probably appreciate a job as an admin assistant. Or maybe they already have one, and it doesn't pay the bills.

I also see my coworkers getting (hard-earned, well deserved) promotions. I see my writer friends and writers on Twitter pounding out #1000WordsOfSummer a day. I remember when I went to MacDowell thinking that writing for eight hours a day was impossible, but after a short ramp-up, I was writing eight hours a day. I imagine what I could do if I had the time, at work and outside of work, and I crumple.

Everything in life boils down to the serenity prayer: What can I control? What do I need to accept? All the work is in knowing the difference, and I panic whenever I start to feel like I've made a stupid, risky bet. Did I miss the boat by not pursuing a career as a freelance writer? There are lots of reasons why the answer is "no" (the pay is usually shittier than nonprofit work, I'm not a good reporter, I'm not a good hustler), and a few reasons why the answer is "yes" (I'm better at writing than anything else, and there would be no mailing lists).

I've been thinking about futility. And the privilege and self-delusion that made me think I had control over my life, even for a minute. I mean, I have some. I want it all. Late last night, as I bitched to AK and Alberto, I toed Dash's trucks into a perfectly straight line. Alberto laughed at me, and I laugh-sobbed, "It's the one thing I can control!"

I always wear my struggle on my sleeve, and it's no secret to anyone I work with that I'm wilting under the weight of mailing lists. At our planning meeting, I did my very, very best to be honest, firm, and leader-like. I tried to Be The Preferred Job Description I Wish To See In The World. But when someone brought up "revisiting" our the roles and workflow we've spent months finessing, I wanted to scream. And cry and whine and perform all my usual unbecoming responses. Instead I got mad--in what I hope was a professional way?--and said no, we just have to do this. The time is now.

When I came out of the meeting, the summer set-up had been wiped clean from the lobby. I'd thought it was a regular seasonal display, like a Christmas tree in December, but apparently it had been there for a specific, two-hour party. I felt strangely relieved. No more pretending. Back to work for everyone.