I don't blog here often enough. If I had to give myself a resolution, it would be to write something here more often. Better yet, it would be to have something worth writing here more often. So, the weekly writing prompts that Red Room sends out? Not a bad place to start.
Since this week's topic is "My Work," this is going to be a bit about my day job: the thing that keeps money in the bank (more or less) and food in the kitchen, gas in the tank (though since I ride my bike to work most days, that's not as pressing as it used to be).
I'm a graphic designer. I work for the Missouri Botanical Garden (pause while I give a tip of the hat to them), the oldest continually operating botanical garden in the United States, founded 150 years ago and one of the top three in the world (yes, the world, along with the New York Botanical Gardens and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in England). I've been there for about 15 months now, and it's one of the best places I've ever worked (and I've worked at some pretty great places, I think). There are many days when I wonder, "How did I get here?" The context of that question is not always the same. Sometimes it means "How did I get lucky enough to work at possibly the most beautiful place in St. Louis?" Other times it means, "How on Earth did I end up in St. Louis and how did I end up staying here for almost 20 years?" Or, "How did I end up being a graphic designer? And what will happen when people discover I'm making this up as I go along and I'm doing it because it's mostly just fun?" Or, "Why didn't I major in English and become a writer?"
You saw that last one coming, didn't you?
The answer to all of them is journalism school. And Mom.
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a writer. When I was eight, I dragged a manual typewriter out of the shed in the back yard (I have no idea how it got there, and sometimes I wonder if this memory is just in my head or if I actually did this) and started typing the stories that I'd been writing in pencil on lined paper. I loved making up things, and writing them down was better than saying them out loud, which is also called "lying." I wanted to be one of the people who wrote the books that I found on the shelves in the school library. When I found out in middle school that our librarian was one of the people who'd actually done that, I realized it was possible.
Eventually, reality set in. In today's episode, the role of reality will be played by Mom.
"If you want to write, you need to do something practical," she said. "What about journalism?"
Her suggestion gives you an idea of just how long ago this was, doesn't it? Can you imagine anyone calling journalism a practical career path these days, given the state of the industry? (This in itself is a sad thing that I could devote an entire post to... maybe I will later.) In any case, her suggestion was not without merit, and after a year at an awful private college in New Hampshire and some lucky suggestions, I wound up in the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Where I discovered that while I love writing, I loathe reporting.
It was about halfway through J306, the class where we actually worked as reporters on a newspaper, that I had the "what am I going to do with my life?" crisis. Why had I gone into journalism? Why didn't I become an English major? Or an art major? (As if those were any more practical, but it gives you an idea of where my head was.) What do I do now?
Luckily, at the same time I was taking that class, I was also taking an editing class and a Graphics of Journalism class. And this is where I discovered that, though I hate reporting, I love taking stories others have written and making them cleaner, easier to understand, and (hopefully) better. Even more than that, I loved taking all the stories and all the photos and putting them together in the total package that winds up getting thrown onto people's front lawns every morning.
Finally, I'd found a vocation. And it turned out I was pretty good at it (though my portfolio review advisors all thought that my writing was my strongest suit—they didn't realize at the time, it was the last thing I wanted to do). And as jobs at newspapers began to dry up (they were pretty scarce in the early '90s to begin with), I found I could transfer my skills to editing and designing other things.
The whole time, though, I kept writing. There were years when most of what I wrote were letters or else journal entries about stories that I really ought to get around to finishing, but words were always going down on paper. About five years after college, I joined a writing group, which I still attend. I wrote stories and actually finished them. I started sending them out and began collecting rejection letters. I started meeting writers who'd actually been published, who put me in touch with (or were themselves) editors seeking submissions.
Suddenly, I started getting acceptance letters.
I wrote a novel that turned into a long story (that also got published). I started another novel and actually got to the end of it (it's now in its third draft). I finished the first draft of another novel and have an idea in the back of my head for the third.
Did I say I'm a graphic designer? Well, that's true. It pays the bills. I'm also a writer. Why choose?