Thursday, July 26, 2007

Grub Street: A Romance

In honor of Grub's 10th anniversary celebration this Friday, I wanted to share a love story with you. It's a simple tale, filled with lucky coincidences, temporary break-ups and gushing praise, and has--as all good love stories do--a happy ending.

And who, you may ask, is the object of my affection? Dear reader, in this post it's Grub Street. Perhaps you'll find this love a bit unconventional: Woman and Organization, some hot female-on-nonprofit action. But bear with me, it's not as sordid as you might think (and if you were actually hoping for sordidness, sorry to disappoint).

The story begins with me, fresh out of college, my shiny new liberal arts degree hanging on the wall of my rat-trap apartment bedroom, which I was sharing with a friend and subletting for $250 a month. (In Davis Square. 5 minutes from the T. Just to give you some idea of the level of rat-trap-itude.) The moment I graduated I became one of those lost souls, the kind of person who sees adulthood stretching out in front of them as one long uninterrupted stream of mundane desk jobs, broken only by the possibility of paid vacation time increasing from 2 weeks to 3 when you hit your mid-thirties. I missed, more than you might imagine, the rhythm of the semester system, the promise in a new course catalog, the excitement of a fresh stack of textbooks. As I mail-merged and reformatted, I could actually feel my creative energy drying up inside of me. Like Tantalus, my thirst for knowledge seemed permanently thwarted.

But living in Davis Square put me in close proximity to Grub Street's first (and short-lived) plastic advertising kiosks, which were set up next to the T station and filled with shiny workshop brochures. Here, I realized the first time I picked up a brochure, was my salvation: 10-week-long courses in fiction, offered in the evenings at the end of the workday. One semester out of school, I signed up for my first Grub Street class, taught by Chris Castellani and held in Brookline's Temple Sinai, where we sat at diminutive desks and wrote and wrote and wrote. It was heaven, and Chris remains--after countless courses and two years in an MFA program--one of the best teachers I have ever had. I still have the two single-spaced pages of typed comments he wrote on one of my stories, and marvel at the dedication he showed as an instructor.

Over the next few years, I took a few workshops, all of them great, volunteered a bit and became acquainted with the Lady Behind It All, Eve Bridburg. I went to her apartment in Somerville, out of which she ran Grub Street for many years, and felt as if I was peering in at some secret club of cool, hip writers. (Part of why I felt this way was how cool Eve was. Even her apartment oozed with cool: the guest bathroom on the first floor had a clawfoot bathtub in which she had laid a mannequin's arm. Just lying there in the tub, like some sort of avant garde art installation. How awesome is that?)

My fantastic Grub Street teachers wrote recommendations for me when I decided to apply to an MFA program, and in the personal statement portion of my application, I wrote that I planned to move to Denver after I graduated to start a non-profit literary center--modeled on Grub, of course. While in school, I subscribed to the early days of the Grub Street Rag, and read it hungrily--and with a bit of jealousy and nostalgia--each week. As graduation loomed, and the same panic overtook me that I felt when I left college, I responded to a posting in the Rag for a grants intern. The director at the time, Jamie Hook, took a chance on an unknown gal from Seattle who promised to be there in July after driving her possessions across the country, and I started as an intern in Grub's old office space, a converted toilet paper factory outside of Union Square, Somerville. Then a new executive director started, Ron MacLean, who hired me on as a full-time administrator. For the first year, there were only the two of us, set up at rickety old folding tables with an odd sticky scrim covering them (I refuse to acknowledge that this substance could be anything other than the adhesive residue from Scotch tape). We had a photocopier that was so old you had to bang it to turn it on, which sat--for some unknown reason--UNDER a desk, so that when you wanted to copy something you had to sit down with the dustbunnies and old chewed pen caps on the floor, bumping your head on the desk above.

Those days are gone, and now here I sit, over three years later, in Grub's swanky digs at 160 Boylston, at a desk I assembled myself after a long and arduous trip to IKEA. How Grub has grown over the years! As I type, a few members are scattered around the space working on their writing, our summer interns are hard at work (thank you guys!), and Grub's--gasp-- multiple other employees are cranking out all the great work they do that makes Grub as special as it is.

It may seem weird to be in love with an organization, but that's what it boils down to for me. I love all of the people I've met here. I love Grub's scrappy history, its irreverent attitude towards all things that smack of stodge (if that's a word). I love everyone who works here and how we sit in the same room and interrupt each other every five seconds yet still manage to get TONS of stuff done. I love that we work hard because all of us Absolutely Love What We Do. I even love that we all talk about "making time for our writing a priority" but have trouble making it happen because there's so much good stuff to get done in the office. And most of all, I love that Grub Street is a place of happy coincidences, a place where a student and volunteer has found a place that feels as much like a home as any workplace ever could.

Oh, and the vacation time's not that bad either.

In dread,
Whitney Scharer

P.S. See you at Grub Turns Ten on Friday, right? Right?
P.P.S. I promised you "temporary break-ups" in the first sentence of this post. For that piece of my not-so-illustrious Grub history, send me an email and I'll give you the scoop.

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