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I have not had a job, even part-time, for over two years. Of course I don't mean to say that I've not worked. On the contrary, I've worked harder than ever these past two and a half years (and I plan to write more about the distinction, as well as my stint with "unjobbing" for the Matt 6:24 blog). I've frequently put in eight-to-twelve-hour days chock full of writing, busking, performing, recording, teaching, promoting, video editing, and so much more. I've even started and maintained five different blog sites, including this one - The Kitchen Sink.

I've written about the importance of washing dishes and I've tried to put my money where my mouth is in my various living situations here in NYC. For me, the dishes were always symbolic of the dirty work that we all have to do - yet nobody wants to do - when living in community. I, like so many activists before me, stood begrudgingly before the kitchen sink and washed dishes, regardless of whether they belonged to me.

"Everyone wants a revolution, but nobody wants to do the dishes," I'd remind myself.

But I still did not consider this task to be a job (I certainly wasn't paid for it), or even my work. I didn't include dishwashing on my daily schedule. And it never took longer than, say, fifteen minutes. It's another thing entirely to stand before a sink full of dirty dishes for eight hours a day. 

Welcome to Darling Coffee.

When I finished recording the raw material for my new album #Heliotropism just a few weeks ago in North Carolina, I returned to the city ready to pound the pavement of Washington Heights, to seek out a job, to become gainfully employed.

A friend and fellow volunteer at Word Up told me of this coffee shop on 207th street that she worked at, mentioning that they were short-staffed and that I ought to apply. I e-mailed the owners, expressing my interest in dishwashing. They then invited me to come in for a couple trial shifts. Within a few days they agreed to add me to payroll.

The past week I worked five eight hour shifts and I've been telling people about my new work. "I'm a dishwasher…"

Almost invariably they furrow their brow in pity and disappointment. Even a co-worker came up during one of my first shifts, asking how it was going. 

"Well, you know.. I'm washing dishes."

She suddenly looked very sad for me, like I was a puppy who'd just been run over by an SUV. 

"What? Why are you making that face?" I asked. "I love washing dishes!"

She couldn't believe it, she said that I have "dishes zen". Sure, I've taken notes from Brother Lawrence, who I'll surely revisit and write more about. But it's truly a great honor to serve my neighbors and my co-workers in this way. There's no shame in the work I do - I hold it in high regard, as it blesses people that I care about, even if only in a small way and behind the scenes. Throughout my few days working there, I've already seen six different neighbors that I know from Word Up, TGC, and the Inwood Greenmarket. 

Most importantly, I know that I've not made any ethical concessions. This coffee shop is incredibly conscientious - much of their coffee and food ingredients are locally sourced, they go to great lengths to recycle and even compost as much as possible, and the owners are a young married couple with a baby just hoping to support themselves and provide their community with a welcoming space to meet, work, drink, and eat gourmet food and drinks.

Though I worked a full-time schedule this past week, it looks like I'll be averaging twenty hours per week in the foreseeable future. This is a perfect schedule for me - I believe that I'll be making more than enough money to pay my bills and even begin to climb out of debt, while still allowing plenty of time to focus on my many creative pursuits. This job has already been a huge blessing to me and I look forward to dispensing the blessings back out to my community as I wash the dishes and keep the dance party going at the kitchen sink.


 
 
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I've always been right on the edge of straight edge. I didn't drink until after I was 21 or smoke weed til much later than that. I've never smoked cigarettes or cigars and I avoid all kinds of drugs and foreign substances other than food and water. This generally includes caffeine, prescription medications and high fructose corn syrup as well.

Still, I was sure that when Mike, one of my friends and mentors at TGC Washington Heights, suggested I was an "edge piece" in the community, this was not what he had in mind.

He first mentioned it in December last year, hoping to keep me in the Heights for the foreseeable future. He explained that the church community counted on me, they needed my voice and vision for the church and for the neighborhood. 

Nobody in my life - in church or otherwise - had ever expressed this need to me. That is, the need of... me - who I am and what I bring to the table (freegan food, haha!). I was flattered and stunned. And I also understood the need of community in my own life, as I'd experienced the reciprocal void over the course of my Zombie Music Tour (from which I had just returned). Still, I was already planning to head to Florida for the holidays and hoping to hit the road again in the spring. I felt that I ought to take this opportunity to take my show #ontheroad one last time. "If not now, when?" I asked.

Mike encouraged me to think more about the tour over the holidays and to make a list of pros/cons to discuss in January. A few weeks later, I met with him and Gary, the pastor of TGC Washington Heights, to present my list. Needless to say (perhaps), I was soon getting my ducks in a row and #ontheroad with the blessing and support of my church community and leaders. I'd travel and play my music throughout the southern and midwestern US over the better parts of both April and May.

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After I returned from the tour in late May, I went with Mike to Manolo, a neighborhood tapas restaurant, to talk over some beers (I had a Czechvar, the best beer I've ever had!) This was - ironically? - when he expounded on what it meant that I am a so-called straight edge piece.

When you're building a puzzle, you want to put the corner pieces down first. In the church, those are the people who will have the most influence over the direction of the church. Gary and Mike are certainly corner pieces at TGC Washington Heights. Next, he said, you put down the edge pieces. These are people who live into a consistent narrative and ethic, people who will help frame the development and progress of the church. According to Mike, I was one of these straight edge pieces. And every time I left, I was that annoying edge piece that goes missing (my words, not Mike's). 

My absence made it that much more difficult to see how the puzzle of TGC would come together in the Heights; but now that I'm back (and back for good) I'm locking in with my fellow straight edge pieces to outline the future of our church in this neighborhood. It's an honor to be a part of what God is doing - to take my place in the puzzle God is building here in the Heights.