Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Non-Day Job

Art Gallery Opening in Hells Kitchen
Looking in the window of a Hell's Kitchen gallery opening

So you know how I used to catalogue books for a neuroscientist/ yoga instructor/ Indian folk-song singer, right?

Oh, perhaps I forgot to mention that.

Well, I was introduced to the aforementioned Renaissance man through a mutual friend who thought that I – a lover of books – might be able to help this man who is an owner of books. Lots and lots and lots of books. Wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling shelves full of books. Books that needed to be scanned into a database, for both insurance and organizational purposes.

And so it came to pass last January that I was handed a key to his Hell’s Kitchen apartment along with a cataloguing software package, and I got to work.

The arrangement, though seemingly arbitrary, felt a bit providential. I didn’t need a part-time job, but what I did need – as it turns out – was space and structure. January was a heart-hurting month for me, and the routine of going to his apartment in the evening after my day-job gave me some structure with which to order my days.

I would ride the elevator up to the 42 floor (penthouse!), let myself in (he was rarely home), put on some music (Van Morrison, mostly, because his voice is downright curative), and then I would glide in stocking feet back and forth over the parquet floors, dragging armfuls of books from the shelves to my work table, which sat in front of a window overlooking lower Manhattan and the Hudson River. Van sang to me, and the lights of taxi cabs flashed below me, and the cataloguing software went “beep, beep, beep” as I scanned in each book.

Sometimes I thought. Sometimes I didn’t think. Sometimes I cried, and sometimes I sang along to “Tupelo Honey.” There was space for all of it, there in that room with a view. And all the while I scanned. I was keeping busy, and sometimes that’s the best thing for a hurting heart, you know?

But in February I got distracted by other activities, and the Renaissance man got seriously busy with other activities (including but not limited to proposing grants, recording a cd, and making a sculpture in Berlin) and the book cataloguing project fell by the wayside.

Until last week when the book-owning Renaissance man contacted me again to finish the project. His timing, once again, is rather providential: my improv classes haven’t yet started up again so I have a little free time in the interim. Plus, who can’t use a little extra cash after the holidays?

And so I found myself back in the evening routine from exactly one year ago. Which naturally led to some reflection upon last January - how some things have changed, but how some have not. How my heart has healed in some places, but hardened in others. How I’m wearing different shoes, but still walking the same streets.

Part of me wasn't entirely comfortable with this return to last January’s milieu. Part of me wished that more had changed in the past year, wished that my life looked more drastically different, or had moved farther forward. Part of me worried that I was just treading water, one year later.

* * *

At the end of my first evening back on the cataloguing job, I walked down 42nd street to catch the train. A now-familiar walk to a now-familiar subway station.

But when I got to the station, I realized that an important part of this routine has changed - I no longer take the same train home that I did last January.

Rather than begin an interminable & frustrating commute back to Brooklyn, I instead ride the 1-train just a few stops uptown. Exit at my cute neighborhood. Walk a quick block to my cozy apartment. Hear my sweet roommate call out "Rosie!" (because she calls me 'Rosie') as I open the door to a home that is so much better - so much homier - than where I was living at this time last year.

January of 2010 certainly trumps January of 2009 in terms of living situations. I remembered (and celebrated) that the other night, waiting for the 1-train to take me uptown.

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