I’ve been having a hard time staying motivated lately, so I thought I’d revisit why I became a graphic design student in the first place. It’s a little sad, but it doesn’t stay that way and there are laughs. I promise.
Years ago, I fell into a job I didn’t really like, but thought it was okay “for now.” The woman who hired me hated it, too, and dreamed of being a wedding planner. You would think that would have been a red flag, but I needed a job. She would always tell me, “Beth, go to school. Do something with your photography or anything that you love. You are young enough that you can change your life.” I always said when I was ready, the universe would shoot me out into the world to make my own way.
Time went on and “for now” turned into many, many years and we had that conversation over and over. She and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye on A LOT of things and we didn’t always get along, but I always wanted to be like her. She would smile and chat with every person she met. Seriously, we would walk down the hall at work and she’d start chatting with someone coming the other direction. The person would walk away and I’d ask, “Who was that?” She’d say, “I don’t know. I’ve never seen her before.” I am horrible at small-talk and shy with new people, so this was amazing to me. I am still in awe of people like that.
What she thought was a sinus infection that wouldn’t clear up ended up being cancer. The prognosis was pretty good, but she did have to leave work because of the chemo treatments. She’d come visit us at the office and was always her usual upbeat self, so there was never a question that she would come out perfectly healthy.
Meanwhile, I was working from home the week of the big blizzard in February 2011. Since I would roll out of bed at 7:55 to boot up my computer, I was taking a shower on my lunch break and singing along with the Ray LaMontagne song, “Beg, Steal, or Borrow” (you knew there was going to be some Ray in here, didn’t you?). I got to the line that says, “All the friends you knew in school/They used to be so cool/Now they just bore you/Look at ’em now, already pullin’ the plow/So quick to take to grain like an old mule.” I just stopped. Even though I had heard that song 3 billion times before, this time that line struck something very deep. I thought that since I had my photography that I was in a different boat then my coworkers, who all hated what we were doing. But in that moment I realized I was no different, no better. I was the old mule in the song. I was the one who fell into a situation I loathed and made no effort to better. Right then I knew I had to finally do something to change course.
So, I started looking for classes I could start in the summer since spring semester was already underway. I went through a ton of options. One of them was the paralegal program, which in retrospect is hilarious to me. When I got to graphic design, I read through everything about the program and, for some reason, I started to cry. My husband looked at me very puzzled and asked why I was crying. I said I didn’t know and started to crack up laughing, which made it sound like I was violently sobbing. This just made me laugh more and my poor husband had no idea what the hell was going on. But something inside felt like it clicked into place. To be honest, I didn’t even know what a graphic designer did. I just hoped I’d be able to use my photography.
On the day of the Japanese tsunami I couldn’t turn away from watching all the horror on TV and kept thinking how unfair life can be and that we never know when our number will be up. The phone rang and it was my mom (through a weird series of events we ended up working at the same company in the same department). She told me that the woman who had hired me had lost her battle with cancer.
Less then two weeks later, our boss told the entire department we had a mandatory be-in-the-office day. He was pretty liberal with letting us work from home, the one perk of the job. We all knew what it meant. The signs had been there for months. We were all being let go. I kept thinking about the woman who hired me and how I always said to her, when I was ready, the universe would shoot me out into the world to make my own way. So, I guess I was ready.
Just because the universe thought I was ready, didn’t mean I felt ready. Those first two weeks of school were the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. I literally felt physical resistance in my body, right at my solar plexus area. I would sit in my car after class and try to not cry so I could drive home and not look like a mess when I got there. It didn’t help that it was drawing and I was a horrible drawer. Finally, I realized that I could either suck it up and make the best of it or I could quit and go work at the same place most of my former coworkers had got jobs (that they already seemed to not like). I didn’t have to think about it further. I knew the woman who hired me would not want me to quit school. She died still an employee at a company she didn’t like, doing a job she hated. I know she wouldn’t want that for me or for anyone.
Now on the first day of each semester, I listen to, “Beg, Steal or Borrow” to remind myself of why I am doing this. After that I usually skip over to, “Old Before Your Time” and tear up when Ray and I sing, “I refused then, like I do now/To let anybody tie me down, I lost a few good friends along the way.” All I can do to honor her memory is pay it forward and be a good example for others who may be in a similar situation. Granted we are poor as hell now, but we get by and my life is so much better. I am thankful every day for all my new friends and new experiences that I never would have had, had everything else not come before. Don’t get me wrong, I still have bad days, but I know the path I am on ultimately leads to greater things.
Sometimes I wonder if she questioned if her life made a difference. I hope that where ever she is now, she knows that it did.