I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I say that often enough. At 37, it might seem like a funny thing to say, but it’s true. It’s always been true.
I remember how I felt as a little kid being asked that question. I’d think, “I don’t know. How could I know that?” And often enough, that’s the actual answer I’d give. My cousin would say she wanted to be a nurse, like her mother. My mom was an elementary school teacher, and I never wanted to do that. Stand up in front of a classroom every day and talk? Try to get a bunch of kids to sit and pay attention to school work when it was the last thing they wanted to do? Be around kids all the time? No, thank you. Not for me.
I remember when I was really little and out with my mom somewhere, I saw somebody typing. I don’t remember who at all. I just remember the sight of their fingers tapping away at the keys, effortlessly. Like those fingers had a mind of their own. How did they know where to go like that? How did the person’s brain work to tell their fingers what to do? They moved so fast and they typed the letters in the right order somehow. And I was fascinated by that. I wanted my fingers to do that.
In fifth grade I bugged my mom enough to let me take a typing class. She let me use her old Smith-Corona. It was a pale turquoise manual typewriter with white keys. It came in a black hard suitcase. A portable model. I couldn’t lift it, but it was portable. And I loved my typing classes. I didn’t really like making pictures out of X’s and such. A 4 leaf clover for St. Patrick’s day, a bunny for Easter… The instructions like “space 4, X 10, space 8, X 19” etc. That was just tedious counting. The pictures were neat at the end, though. I liked learning to type the sentences more. “Mary jumped over the fox and ran around the frozen pond.” Over and over again.
After a few years, I became a decent touch typist. I had no aspirations to be a secretary, so my parents didn’t really get why I wanted to do that so badly. And for me, it was never really more than wanting to make my fingers move like that. I had no larger aspiration at that time. I had no idea that the keyboard would become the doorway to the Internet one day. I just thought typing fast seemed pretty neat and that was it.
Around the same time, I decided I wanted to play the oboe. I had to fight for it as there were already two oboe players in the band and that’s all there could be. I took lessons on my own and petitioned to challenge the current oboists for their chair. Eventually I got it, and I became first chair oboe in the Perry High Symphonic Wind Ensemble, which was the finest band I ever played in. I enjoyed it and that was well and good. I didn’t think about it being what I wanted to do when I grew up, though.
But suddenly it was time for college, and I didn’t really like anything else yet. I wanted to take a year or two off to figure things out, but got pressured into going immediately, and thus became a music major. My high school grades weren’t good, but my test scores and oboe playing got me a couple scholarships and so that’s what I did. And I did it until I found myself not enjoying listening to music anymore. Always trying to figure out the chords, intervals, tonalities and time signatures sucked the fun out of music for me. It took several years before that dissipated and I once again heard music instead of a collection of notes.
Next I worked in the Juniors department at Kaufmann’s at a mall back home. Then I sold carpet there for a year. And after that I went to OSU for design. That was an interesting year. I really applied myself for the first time. I had several classes that were art and drawing-centric. I drew hundreds of chairs in my industrial design classes, shapes with perfect line weights for my Engineering Graphics class… I was so good at my orthographic projection homework, and loved messing around with AutoCad.
I got the best grades of my entire educational career that year. I remember a talk given by a guest speaker for one of my design classes. He was a product designer and brought shower caddy he had designed with him. He talked about the considerations that went into making it. The places for the razors, soap, shampoo bottles, etc. And then he talked about noticing how his wife would turn the bottles over when they were nearly empty and store them upside-down to get the last bit of shampoo or conditioner out. And so he adjusted his design to accommodate an upside-down bottle and keep it from falling over. Again, I was fascinated by this. He had the power to change things and make them work better. I wanted that power, too.
In that, I am a designer. I notice things like that. I appreciate the consideration that went into the design features of most things I come in contact with. Some brands have really impressed me. Like Breville, an Australian company that mostly makes small kitchen appliances. I really love my Breville juicer. It is well designed from top to plug. I once saw a $200 hot tea maker of theirs in action. It was so beautifully designed, I got a little choked up as it brewed me a perfect mug of herbal tea. I’m telling you, it was amazing.
Back to 1997 for a minute. I was at the top of my classes and doing well. I was also working part time as a transcriptionist at Harding Hospital (a full service mental hospital). I was working hard and doing really well. I had signed up for my next semester of classes and was working on my portfolio and getting professor’s recommendations to vie for one of the 14 spots in the Visual Communication Design program. I was between that and Industrial Design. At the time, I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer and was headed toward Vis Com, though my heart was more into product design.
Anyway, I had a 4am moment of clarity in the thick of it all, and decided that it wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, my argument felt well-reasoned and justified. I stuck with the transcriptionist gig instead and just went full time at Harding. Looking back now, I am pretty sure I chickened out.
To be continued…