Tag Archives: Design

Thoughts while working on art- a meditation on the effects of depression on life choices.

23 Jul split rock
split rock

depression is always having a streak of other running through your whole self.

two, two posts in one day. ah, ah, ah. oh count von count from sesame street. how do I still find you funny after all these years? Probably because when O tries to imitate a bad Transylvanian accent when counting acorns, and announces “one, two, free  (3) acorns momma!”, I forget all the thoughts rattling around in my head like acorns off the wooden deck.

I wrote this post a while ago and only now am I screwing up the courage to post it. I don’t like to admit failure. I was that kid in school who went into a total panic spiral at the mere thought of a C, if only because of my own unattainably high standards.

So, I am posting this now as a challenge to myself. Also, O took a long nap today, so I’ve been able to work on the blog in more than 15 minute increments. Here goes nothing.

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While I was working on a paint sample piece, I had a thought. I guess doing this blog, and documenting my art when it happens is very similar to something I did in college. My crazy graphic design professor and major advisor had me create a process book documenting my final, yearlong independent study in design. A visual representation of the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet. Yup, because that’s something applicable to the workforce. It was another one of those ideas that just came to me and stuck in my head like gum to a toddler’s hair. Of course, she loved it. By the end of the year, I hated my project and profoundly regretted doing it. The process book was pretty cool though.  It was the last really creative thing I did.

In hindsight, I realize an internship would have been more valuable, but it was 2002 and the creative industry had taken a massive hit after September 11th. Actual graphic designers couldn’t even get decently paying jobs, let alone aspiring ones. Several of my instructors were laid off from their firms.  A few of my classmates had internships, but they were exclusively unpaid, and I had to have a paying job so I could buy overpriced groceries and afford my apartment. The fact that I was in an apartment my senior year with my boyfriend at the time was, again in hindsight, a direct result of some actions caused by my depression earlier in college, but that’s a story for another day.

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If there was anyone who could whip my creative ass back into shape, instead of the shabby greying blob it is right now, it was Judith. Man I miss her. She’s still at the my college, teaching. But I haven’t contacted her since after graduation, when she asked my permission to put a copy of my final project in the school’s library collection and use my other work as a teaching aide for future classes. I’ve always felt that she would look at me not going into design as a massive failure, which wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I feel that she would look at me, and ask, where was the girl she knew? Where was that confidence and drive to be the best, the one who worked the hardest, stayed the latest and never gave up? I wish I could give her and myself an answer.

I think a lot of it has to do with the job I had during college and for a while after graduation. It was doing graphic design, primarily print, in a corporate marketing department. It wasn’t glamorous, but I enjoyed it. Something in my heart wasn’t there though, and I’m sure they could tell. Looking back at it, knowing what I know now about myself,  I think it was the start of one of my larger, multi-year boughts of depression. At the time I think I thought I was just tired and missed living in the city after graduation. I would go home and make angry paintings until all hours of the night, then trudge into work, zombie like, held upright only by massive amounts of coffee. Like I said before, my heart wasn’t in it, but then again, it felt like my heart wasn’t in anything at that time in my life.

I got laid off, along with all the other contract workers. As I lived on unemployment, and taught myself to cook, my previous employers assured me that it would only be a matter of time before I got my old job back, as a permanent employee. When the time came, I dutifully interviewed with my old co-workers and showed them my portfolio- work we had all seen before during my tenure there.

When I received the call from the HR department that they would be going in a different direction, I was, well, I don’t know what I was. Angry, shocked, confused. I didn’t get it. I called my old boss, who said he was very sorry and that he was more or less out-voted. They saw it as a chance to get someone with more web experience, an area I had only dabbled in at school and wasn’t overly crazy about. Too little control of what the piece looked like for me- this was nearly 10 years ago remember, they barely taught web design in college. Well, at least, my college.

After six grueling months of non-stop job searching, rounds of interviews for secretarial positions I was inevitably told I was overqualified for,  I finally found a job, and it was the one that kick started my career in the medical field. After maybe six months, I got an email from my old boss- hey- we’re expanding and we want you to come in for an interview.

I was so excited. They wanted me back! My new job was fine, but with the exception of the unfamiliar medical terminology, it was something I could do in my sleep and paid about as well as slinging French fries at McDonalds. (I was a word processor/editor at a small non-profit that worked in cancer research).

At the interview, my old boss and co-workers saw the same portfolio, said the same reassuring words, and even just chatted instead of really interviewing me.  They knew my current job wasn’t in design, or even marketing, but I tried to keep up on industry news the best someone with no money can do. No, I didn’t have the newest version of InDesign (as I had pennies in my bank account), but I was willing to learn! So, so willing to learn!

Once again, I waited. And once again, after two agonizing weeks, while I fantasized about Pantone paint decks, the smell of paper at a pre-press visit, and the awesome feeling you get when you realize you nailed exactly what the client wants — I got the call.

Sitting on my bed, sobbing hysterically, I just didn’t understand. Were they messing with me? Why would you call a previous employee back, specifically, twice for a job supposedly designed for her, and then drop the guillotine? I didn’t understand. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I didn’t know what I could have done better, could have done more of.

And that was it. I gave up. No one wanted me as a designer. It was clear I wasn’t as creative, or at least as half as good as I thought I was. School didn’t matter. I was not a designer. Period.

I was NOT an artist.

And with that, it was like a door shut in part of my brain. Closed up like Miss Havisham’s house, cobwebby with disrepair. Eventually, after moving through several apartments, I took the aging computer, zip drive and disks that housed my unwanted and untalented portfolio, and sledgehammered them into a dumpster. Irretrievable. No evidence that part of me existed. No contact with anyone from back then. Like a bad breakup. I didn’t make anything anymore. No painting, no drawing, and most of all, no design. I didn’t read about it, didn’t want to think about it. It hurt so much.  It was worse than any breakup I had ever been through, because it touched on something so integral to my sense of self. It was like walking by a mirror one day and realizing your reflection is completely different from the person you saw yesterday, the person you thought you always were.

And no amount of makeup can change it back. You need to learn to live with your new skin.

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As I glued my paint chip strips automatically to the poster board, I wondered, how do I get that me back? Or, perhaps more appropriately, how do I get that creative spark back, that confidence, after feeling beaten down for so long? How do I reconcile the effects that my depression has wrought on my life, my potential career and my well-being, and not repeat my past mistakes? How do I not look back on what I have brought on myself, not with bitterness, regret or anger, but with open eyes and a sense understanding for this demon I now know will always be lingering on my shoulder, hungrily tapping his fingers.

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