Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Some of The Bigger Picture

My mom's been a single parent since I was three, and because babysitters were expensive I spent a lot of time at the office with her as a kid. I would read books, color, or play with Matchbox cars on the floor when I was little (I still have them too!). As I got older I remember typing letters to friends on a Selectric typewriter (I don't feel as old as that sounds), then later on IBM word processors. I actually taught myself to type. When the hunt-n-peck method couldn't keep up with my thoughts, I memorized the keyboard and practiced until I could type without looking at the keys. I don't do it "correctly" but I've tested at 75 WPM with 99% accuracy, which is just as good as your average executive assistant.

The best thing that ever happened to me at the office though was the Macintosh. I was about 15 when the first MacXL hit the market and Mom brought me in the office to show me how it worked with the mouse and all that. I was fascinated. In 1987 QuarkXPress was released for the Mac and Mom showed me how to do page layout with it. She paid me to help her with business reports and newsletters, and through my teen years I made a decent amount of pocket cash doing odd design jobs. I thought this would be a good career, but being a teen just out of high school, and the web not having taken hold yet, no one would take me seriously in the design industry.

I became a mom myself at age 20 and going to school for design was tossed to the backseat. I got a job in a law office answering phones and doing light clerical work because babysitters don't work retail hours. With the computer knowledge I had and my typing speed they soon had me typing up legal documents like a regular legal secretary. The knowledge of legal proceedings I gained from that job kept me from getting screwed so many times. I would've probably become a paralegal if my family hadn't all decided to move to Arizona. I didn't want to be all alone in Dallas so I quit my job and followed them out there with my 2 year old daughter.

In Arizona I found a job in a commercial real estate brokerage that used Macs. I was still only a secretary, but part of the job was making flyers for commercial properties and they used Quark to do that. I was there for almost three years until the Vice President, who really ran the company, died of cancer. The brokerage was sold to a larger firm and my job was eliminated.

I was then hired at SHR, who always hated to be referred to as an ad agency, but that's really what they do, along with brand marketing (and they're very good at it). They were an all-Mac office as well. I continued keeping up my Quark skills there and learned about Photoshop. Since it was on every computer, I got to play with it whenever I had some free time but I was never taught anything specific so I only knew things I'd figured out here and there.

In August of 96, a company that used Windows exclusively hired my mom and gave her a laptop. She had a Macintosh Quadra at the time at home, and had to take it in for a warranty repair. They gave her a brand new Mac but since she already had the laptop from work and the Mac wasn't compatible with it, she sent it to me. That was the first computer I had exclusively at my disposal for whatever I wanted. I immediately got online and learned how to manipulate AOL like an expert. That's how I met my boyfriend, Mark.

As Mark's and my relationship developed he taught me about HTML coding and coached me on a few more Photoshop tricks. I left Arizona to move back East and ended up in Georgia living with my mom again for six months (which is a whole other story). At this point I had decent Quark skills, some Photoshop skills, and I had taken a class in HTML and could code simple web sites, but I lacked any experience with Illustrator. For a job as a graphic designer, the trifecta is Quark/Photoshop/Illustrator. I'd technically been a computer geek for 12 years and I usually knew more about the software than the person interviewing me, but lacking knowledge of that one application closed doors everywhere as far as graphics went.

I pursued a graphics position for awhile anyway, but no one wanted to pay me for what I knew and teach me what I didn't. Being that I had to keep a steady income to support my daughter, and not wanting to exploit the time I had with Kaytee to learn another software program, I settled for more secretarial jobs.

I moved to New Jersey in 98 and after a year started working for a company that was making millions on porn sites. In a super twist of cosmic irony, their headquarters were in Arizona - in the same building SHR was in - but because it was the web, most employees worked remotely from home. These guys used Windows, and it was close enough to a Mac at that point that I didn't have much trouble converting, but I still liked Macs better.

I was hired to create and manage their customer service department, and I knocked that sucker out of the park whether it was appreciated or not. For about six years (some very important growing up ones for Kaytee), I managed to make a good living and be a stay-at-home mom. Not many single parents can say that. I worked from home, made my own hours, and made an awesome paycheck (with which I eventually bought a Mac in addition to my Windows machine!). Life was off the hook. Unfortunately, the company started sliding downhill and eventually outsourced my position in Nov 2005 to the billing company. I'd made quite an impression as the liaison with the billing company and they offered to hire me, but they were located in Arizona too and I was already living with Mark, plus Kaytee was a junior in high school and I couldn't change her whole world with only a year to go.

I was hired at Pearson in April 06 as a Production Editor for supplements to college textbooks at half the salary I was making before. It's caused a lot of financial problems, but it's an easy enough position - mostly you have to be organized and detailed and since I am naturally both, I excel at the job.

I took some classes that Pearson offered in Photoshop and Illustrator, but without anything consistent to apply them to, the knowledge melted away. With the reorganizing of our department, they cut me off from any classes that didn't directly relate to my job, and at this point, I'd really kind of given up the idea that I would be a graphic designer. I just didn't have the time to get my skills up to par.

Jessie was hired after me, and we sat across the aisle from each other in the cube farm. One day I was looking through the internal postings of other jobs in the company and I saw a listing for a Project Manager in the media group, which dealt more with the web side of things. I knew Jessie had web experience from her last job so I sent her the description and said she should apply, which she did. I intended to apply to, but was lazy and never sent anything in. She got the job in June and I was really happy for her.

Just a couple weeks ago she emailed me asking for my resume because there was another project manager position open in her group and she thought I would be great at it. She submitted my resume and the girl that did the preliminary screening gave me a call to find out more about me. In our conversation I mentioned all my Photoshop and Quark skills, and she asked if I would be interested in a graphic design position they had open instead.

Are you kidding me?

I interviewed with four people last week. I made it clear that I would have to be given time to learn Illustrator, but they said it's mostly Photoshop work anyway. Human Resources called me Friday right as I was about to leave to offer me the job. It's more money, the group works from home two days a week, they assign me a MacBook Pro laptop (I assured my white MacBook it had nothing to worry about), and of course I said yes!

I'm still having trouble believing I finally unlocked whatever it was that allowed me to be a graphic designer in exactly the way I wanted. I know reality is malleable, and I believe we create our existence as we go, but I've been trying to open that door for so long I'm kind of standing here on the threshold still in shock. It all happened so fast. It was like okay, your kid turned 18, BANG, you're a graphic designer. Pick up right where you left off when you took that detour to raise her. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Thank you for playing. Ummm, okay, someone move my little hat around the corner there.

I also see this as the first step to moving out to California. I couldn't afford to be there on the salary I was making before, but this is a good enough leap that if I learn what I need to learn, eventually I'll be able to find a job in CA at a price I can exist on. Kaytee wants to go to school at Musician's Institute in LA, and I wouldn't mind working at Industrial Light and Magic like I've wanted to since the 80s. This feels like finding a portal to another dimension. Perhaps it was a jump to another branch of reality. All I know is I feel like I've been on the service road for 18 years and I'm finally on the ramp back to the highway. I still want to be a bestselling author too, but as far as corporate jobs go, this is where I've wanted to be for a long time.

Tonight I am thankful for blogs and new jobs and climbing out of debt and the sound of the rain this morning and the sun this afternoon and beautiful fall colors and Jason's outrageous red dress picture that made me laugh and rendered me speechless, and for it all coming together.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Meta For Ickily Speaking

I step from the shower and stand motionless, acutely aware of the water drops gravity seeks to recover from my skin. They feel like tears slowly rolling down my soul. I mourn privacy, original thought, peace. I clutch the temporary stillness like the towel wrapped around my body. I examine my emotions before they evaporate. How long have I been stagnant? How much longer can I remain indifferent to every cell crying out for movement? I fight the urge to continue my routine. Wrestling the demand of the clock's metronome, I reach out to my unconscious, but regimen wins. As consolation I remind myself to be here now, but in this moment the words are bland on my psyche. The syrup of luxury and security is so easy to swallow. It coats my core with a tonic that suspends my fear of change, but in the deep breath between asleep and awake, the fabric of new experience brushes the comfort of familiarity, gradually wearing away the threads until I'm left with no choice but to seek out the garment that will warm my inner being again.