This is the work.

When I told my friends two years ago that I was moving from Washington, DC to Columbus for graduate school, they often said: Columbus? Ohio? It was then that I started to notice that in movies and TV shows, when characters would say they were from Columbus, it meant “generic midwest, middle of nowhere place where nothing happens.” But certain friends, friends who had lived in Columbus or had passed through it, lit up when I told them I was heading (mid) west. “First stop: Jeni’s,” they would say. “North Market! Go to North Market!” they’d exclaim. “You’re so lucky you’ll get to go to the Wex,” others would dreamily reply. Early on, I got it. I went to dinner and didn’t spend my whole graduate stipend on one meal. I went to the Wex, the Riffe, Schmidt’s, Jeni’s, Surly Girl (may she rest in peace).

Having lived here two years now–hardly enough time to truly know the city–I see my first year favorites as an intro level course on Columbus. Gateway drugs, if you will. The siren song that draws you into the water before you even know you’re soaking wet.

In my life prior to graduate school as professional dancer, I visited city after city, often spending weeks at a time in one place working on large-scale projects in which we worked with people of all ages (some trained dancers, some new to dance) in the community to make dances about the place where they lived. What I only began to understand toward the end of my time with Dance Exchange is that actually, the hard part is not coming and going from these cities, the hard part is staying.

Having spent eight weeks now at Actors’ Theatre, I feel settled in here. I have my tasks and my routine, my spreadsheets and my daily walk around the park to take a break. I’ll admit that my initial glee for data and numbers has faded a little as I’ve discovered that so much of this work is simply staying organized. On Wednesday I spent most of the morning searching for a duplicate entry in the database. It was super annoying. It lacked the thrill of my first week here, when everything was new and I was getting to know this place and how to do my job. But it mattered. And you know what, I found that duplicate survey result, and I deleted it triumphantly. And then I did some other work.

FullSizeRenderAnd this is what it is to stay, actually. I watched Melody Reed, ATC’s office manager, spend her whole afternoon today on the phone attempting to get something sorted out with a grant application. I’d bet that today was not her favorite day by any means, and when she left the office today the problem wasn’t fully solved. But this is the work. There’s always a sharp thrill at the beginning of something new–a new job, a new place, a new romance–but what I’ve noticed this summer is that the grit and heart show up long after the first day, or first month even. When the curtain is slowly pulled back, you glimpse the real questions underneath the day-to-day work: Do I care about this? Does this matter enough to me to keep doing this? What am I willing to invest of myself in this place? In this person or group? What am I willing to take in and take on and give out? How is this work doing something in the world?

I love these questions. They never really get answered. And many of them are central to working in the non-profit sector, where so much of the work, it seems, is about going for another day, another week, another year in order to serve the community. Melody left the office with a sheet of paper with notes scrawled all over it, ready to keep working tonight if she needed to in order to make sure our grant got in without problems.

I’m thankful I’m among people here at Actors’ who just show up every day and make it happen here in Columbus.  They’re showing me what it looks like to commit to an organization and a city and most importantly, the people here, day after day after day. From what I can tell, it’s messy. And completely worth it.

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About Sarah Levitt Ramey

I'm Sarah Levitt Ramey, a dance artist living in Columbus, OH.
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