Friday, October 01, 2010

And You May Ask Yourself, How Did I Get Here?

Every so often, when I think about the fact that my first novel is about to be published, I get this feeling of surreality. I think to myself, this is not how I would have pictured my life if you'd asked me fifteen years ago, when I was an undergraduate in college, or even ten years ago, when I was working at my first (hmm, and last) full-time salaried job.

It's not like I suddenly woke up one morning as a Type-A, high-powered stockbroker, or a doctor or a trial lawyer, and wondered to myself, "Who am I? WHO AM I??" It's just that it didn't even cross my radar that I might pursue a writing career—at least, not until that job ten years ago at IGN.com when I started doing some on-the-side freelance humor writing and thought to myself, "Remember how you always loved writing? Yeah. Maybe I could do this every day. Perhaps I should think about looking into this further."

In retrospect, this logic seems flawed, as I ended up transitioning from one unlikely, competitive, low-paying career goal (art) to another equally competitive, difficult and low-paying career goal (writing). But you have to understand—in 2001, when I quit my job at IGN and decided to go back to graduate school for creative writing, I was still coming off a massively career-shifting and aggravation-inducing year of post-baccalaureate study at the San Francisco Art Institute. After spending all my spare cash applying to 13 art MFA programs (in those dark days of 1998, you had to send most places slide carousels of your work), I was offered only one option—a year of post-bac study—so I took it.

Moving even further back in my career planning, when I started undergraduate school as an Art Practice (and Psychology—but that's a story for another time) major at Berkeley, I had this general idea that I'd end up in illustration or design. But then I was confronted with the dichotomy that is High Art vs. Low Art, or Fine Art vs. Commercial Art, or whatever you want to call it (great post on this at Yat-Yee's blog). I learned, in my fine-art-oriented program, that words like "commercial" and "illustration" were bad things when applied to fine art, so I did what I needed to in order to succeed in the milieu I was thrust into—or I tried, anyway. I didn't exactly banish my entire aesthetic; I just focused on art for art's sake.

In further retrospect, I think my idea was that I'd enter grad school, get my MFA, and then go on to work in illustration or design or whatever other art-related job I could find. I didn't really have a clear idea of what that might be, but I knew I wasn't interested in teaching, which is what most MFAs end up doing. (Or they end up in a mindless day job so they can make art at night.) But since I didn't get into an MFA program--after tons of effort, I might add—I was a little lost after finishing my post-bac year. I was like, now what? I don't feel ready to plunge into the art world. I was traumatized by various unpleasant experiences in my graduate department. Rob was still struggling with the politics of the MFA program there. I was also feeling embittered by the fact that I'd finished my BA summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, etc. etc. and it hadn't seemed to do me much good career-wise.

So I ignored the dilemma and applied for work. It seemed like a good time. The internet boom was…well…booming, and we lived in the Bay Area. Entry-level positions abounded. I got one marketing job, didn't like it, and quit after two weeks, when I was offered the IGN job.

Which brings me back to the writing. Inspired by my manager Mike, who also wrote articles for the site and was going to transition to a full-time content writing job, I offered myself as a freelance writer. Sadly, the internet boom stopped booming, I got a new set of bosses, and I wasn't able to make the transition to full-time writer. But it got me thinking. Why put up with the constant fear of layoffs, the excruciatingly dull morning marketing meetings and the recurring chastisement for my occasional lateness to said meetings when I could REALLY be doing something with this desire to write?

Not having any formal creative writing training beyond some childhood enrichment classes had never stopped me from writing before, but I figured I needed some more learnin' before I tried to actually get published, or get a job as a content writer, or whatever. I applied to MFA programs, and lo and behold, I got into one this time. (A much better acceptance rate, too—one out of two. …What was I thinking?)

By that time I was starting to think about being a freelancer full-time—writing, design, illustration, whatever. And that's a pretty good description of what I do now. That's how I got here. So I guess that answers that question.

2 comments:

David T. Macknet said...

The Long and Windy Road...

Yeah - I hear you. How an English major becomes a computer programmer and eternal student... similar tale.

I'm sure the life experiences inform your writing, though.

Makavetis said...

Hi, you have an excellent blog! I just started my own Art blog and noticed you liked art as well, maybe you can check it out =)
Thank you