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Friday
Sep032010

From an Office to a Bullpen

I saw the writing on the wall a year ago when my Girl Scout council’s office team moved from downtown Savannah to Pooler, a suburb of Savannah. As team members scurried with excitement to pack and choose accent wall colors for their new offices; I was informed that my office would become one of seven desks in a "bullpen". All membership managers would now be working from a "bullpen". "Margaret [our CEO] will be transitioning ALL offices to this model” we were told. "Margaret would prefer an environment where sharing is promoted" we were told. "Membership managers aren't supposed to be in the office any way" we were told, "you're supposed to be out in the field".

I arrived at my new workstation to learn that this "bullpen" was, essentially, a cut out of the hallway. The "sharing" that was to take place apparently meant a space for anyone in the entire office to come take a break, vent, talk on their cell phone, or socialize with their office visitors at any given time. I "shared" my work space in the above conditions as I and my bullpen-colleagues attempted to make business phone calls, concentrate on writing emails, or meet with volunteers.

Boxes containing my work life from the previous four years remained stacked underneath my desk. A brand new office that was promised to be bigger, contain program space for girls, and provide employees with free parking delivered on nothing other than the free parking and my newly condensed "work space".

As other members of the office team would pass us by- those who had been granted the actual offices, they'd try not to make reference to our sad situation. If ever a leadership team member would enter "the backside" o f the building, to ease her shame, there was always the mentioning of some highly anticipated work stations that someday we would be graced with; and would surely provide a bright side to this situation.

After about six months, the council was bestowed with the gift of used workstations from an office building ridding themselves of them from downtown. When they finally arrived at the office four were initially installed (2 of the seven bullpen members had by then departed from the organization). I and best friend and collegue (who happened to be the other chocolate-skinned-employee affected by this sad situation) happened to be out of the office on the blessed day. Needless to say, our work areas were not the first chosen to be converted. We returned to the office to learn that although we had not yet been blessed, we'd only need hold our breaths till the following week and our "prayers" would then be answered.

Unmoved, we took the property managers word. You see, as veterans, we knew that these workstations couldn’t sooner set us free than the truth itself. The decision to create a "bullpen" in the first place told us everything we needed to know about how the work we did was valued. These wokstattions were an effort, however to deflect our attetnion from that type of thinking. So, as super smart cookies we did what was not be expected of us. We nodded our heads and waited.

A week’s wait turned in to several weeks, which turned into another 7 months. Fast forward to present day; and it's been one year and 5 months since we moved into the new building. The last two work stations, which included my own, were installed two weeks ago.

Luckily, I was at a point where I so desperately needed a change. So, I did the only thing I could do-- I let myself get excited. After having taken an organizational workshop a month prior, I was so pumped to organize my new (well new to me) workstation. I "organized from the inside out". I ridded myself of old files, shredded old documents for three days, recycled every scrap of unwanted paper, and scanned all documents that I would keep to make for a "greener" work-lifestyle I set-up a desktop ticker file (yes, a ticker!) that included a file for each of the following- W, waiting for, A- appointments, N- Next action step, and P- projects.

This prompted me to clean-out my now 5-year old email inbox (and sent box). I cleaned out my “my documents” folder and organized every item in to a subfolder. I even went as far as to duplicate my "ticker" system in my email folder system as well as on my computer desktop. I was ready... oh so ready! Ready to begin the new recruitment season- organized. Maybe this workstation/ "bullpen" thing wasn’t going to be such a bad idea. I can handle this. I thought. I am more organized. I can find things. I am greener- all for the better.

As each new email arrived, I either moved it to the "ticker", its appropriate folder, or I deleted it (wanted to conserve server space too). I didn’t know what this new life had in store for me; but I knew one thing- I was ready. Ready... I was

*******************Incoming Email- 08/17/2010, 2:30PM***********************

"Outlook Meeting Request"

From: Jackie Ford

To: Anya Wallace

Meeting Date: 08/18/2010 4:30PM

RE: Discussion: Jackie's Office

***********************************************************************

I thought to myself…"sounds like trouble". I ran through my head a zillion things I might have, could have done that might have landed me in the "hot seat"- nothing. As I continued to rack my brain and turn my stomach into knots, I said to myself "Calm down. Think.". I made myself a drink to help ease the anxiety. "I've got it! Tomorrow's my 5 year anniversary with the organization. It must be some kind of surprise!” The thought eased my stomach for a few hours and allowed me to sleep through the night.

My anniversary-surprise theory might have gotten me through the night; but it wore off in easing my worries the following day. I busied myself throughout the next day reading, printing, and forwarding old emails I had decided were worth saving. After all, I had no pressing work as I was awaiting the recruitment rush to begin, and to dive in to my organizational system. The day drug on; but eventually 4:30 PM arrived. I picked up my "for meeting" notebook and rounded the corner to Jackie's office.

I was greeted by Jackie herself and Vicki Warner, our HR director. The surprise I received was not my expected anniversary gift. "Anya, as you know, blah-blah-blah... You're position along with many others is being reclassified".

Huh?

I thought back over the past few weeks, months, the last year. I thought about the events that lead up to this one, especially the most recent. As I strung them all together I realized how perfectly unreal this all was.

I'd recently been involved in a battle over the issue of Sexual Health for girls with the leadership of my organization. In the mean time, my girls were "dropping like flies" to the vortex that is their environment- being poor, black, uneducated, and bored. Pregnancies were arising quicker than I could pass out free condoms. The girls that had made it through, meaning graduated from high school, were now looking at me with blank, sad stares that read "What now?". I had immediately been catapulted into a state of deep depression after coming to terms with a truth I had not wanted to admit throughout the last 5 year-neither I, in this position, nor this organization had anything else to offer them.

During a brief vacation home to Florida, I was able to meet up with two former teachers and dear friends that I hadn't seen in about 5 or 6 years- Mr. and Mrs. Aloma. Mr. Aloma was now the Executive director for Food for the Poor, a nonprofit organization in South Florida. Mrs. Aloma, now Dr. Aloma, is acting as Vice Principal of my former high school. I hadn't realized how much I had missed them until I had the chance to interact with the couple for the few hours we were in each other's company.

I was later invited by Mr. Aloma to tour the Food for the Poor facility. He brought it to my attention that, over the past years, a few positions had come open at FFP in which he or Mrs. Aloma had thought I would have been a perfect fit. Though a job wasn’t currently available for me, a photography job specifically, he wanted me to come and take a tour, to learn about the ministry he had helped to build over the last 10 years.

My tour of the Food for the Poor facility set me on fire. As I toured the 2 story, 300 employee facility I was on a whirlwind. The photographic images that graced the walls, the sculpture, the Haitian water colored paintings I encountered instantly jerked me from the coma I must have been existing in over the past several months. I remembered in that instance that I was an artist.

So, as I walked home on the day I had learned of my "reclassification" (and consequent lay-off) with the Girl Scouts, I remembered this encounter with the Alomas and my visit to Food for the Poor. I remembered that few nights after I had gotten home from the trip to FFP, while I stood in the shower that I had cried uncontrollably. I remembered why. I remembered that I cried because somehow I had forgotten what it felt like to be truly loved and appreciated by people that were not family or my best friends. I had forgotten that that kind of love and admiration could really exist. Al though I knew I was doing amazing work with and for girls, I had forgotten about the weights of injustice (mine, theirs, their parents) that I had become used to walking around with on my back. I had forgotten what it was like to put the load down for a little while. Here the Aloma's hadn't seen me in at least 5 years, and they knew without question of my passion for life; and that whatever job, whenever, wherever, I could handle it with love and grace. I had forgotten what appreciation and trust truly meant.

I remembered, as I called my parents to inform them of the semi- sad news, that in addition to the sobs that night in the shower, that I had channeled my energies to the highest possible being and made a plea. "Get me out of here!” I didn’t want to get fired or leave in a shady way, that would only make me lose momentum; but I wanted out in such an incredibly desperate way. I took a deep breath and remembered that I had actually asked for a way out; and right in front of me it was being provided.

As I sat on the couch contemplating my fate, one of my favorite movies, Mona Lisa Smile, played in the background. I focused my attention; and realized something I had never honed in on in the eighty or so times I had watched this film. Absolutely nothing has changed since 1954 (the year in which the period piece was centered around)! In many “girl-focused” arenas the white-faced, heteronormative, dominant paradigm remains supreme. In shock (how I manage to still shock myself, I have no idea), I allowed my memory to finish what it had begun.

I remembered that when I looked into my future I saw myself working in the service of women and girls; but I did not see myself here, in this place. I remembered that I longed to delve into an environment of researching, learning, and studying my craft. I have plans to earn a PhD. I am an artist; and combined with my field research and study in underserved communities in Savannah over the past five years I have something to say, something to give, something to create for and with girls of color. I had made a silent promise to my girls that together we would do, create, be better than what we were being offered. I have a need to locate the tools necessary for making this promise a definite reality. In that instance I was reminded of all that I desired.

Finally I understood that everything that had happened in the last few weeks, months, year was, it seemed, in right order. Thinking from the recent organization of my home and office, the sorting of my emails, the fact that I had even begun outlining a writing sample, my reconnecting with the Aloma's and visiting Food for the Poor, to my breakdown in the shower; I had unknowingly been making preparations for this transition that was about to take place in my life.

So, here goes...

Reader Comments (1)

Those son's of bitches did you a favor pumpkin. Bullpen my ass! They had you in lockdown until your cell was ready. I'm so glad you emerged from the pit. Talk about a blessing in disguise. May your days be full of light & inspiration. God will restore all!

September 4, 2010 | Unregistered Commentergeenie81

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