September 19, 2010

A Bus Ticket at the Airport?

When I graduated from the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (ECCAD) in 1989, one voice in the faculty stood out: Bob Evermon. In an impassioned letter to the graduating class and college (which I cannot completely recall), he likened the Diplomas we would receive to getting "a bus ticket at the airport". His point, I believe, was that the college should be a degree-granting institution. I have always wondered if getting a Bachelors of Fine Arts would have helped to further my career.

During my four years at ECCAD, my studies progressed from Foundation through a series of computer graphics, drawing, art history and multimedia courses. Of particular note was an amazing, inspiring all-day Senior Multimedia Studio taught by Gary Lee Nova and Michael Agrios, which combined a morning theory session with an afternoon practical session. I learned a lot about the development and impact of modern media on culture, and got a lot of hands-on experience with consumer-grade audio and video equipment and production techniques.We were just on the verge of the convergence of the Computer, Print, and Broadcast media, and it is incredible to see how far that integration has progressed, affecting whole swaths of culture and lifestyle.

By my final year, I was taking a number of self-study blocks, which meant that I had to define my own project for the semester and pursue it under the guidance of a consulting instructor. I used those sessions to develop ideas for an interactive slide show of computer graphics and an electronic sculpture idea. I read obsessively about art, science and technology, especially cybernetics and AI. I taught myself how to use a breadboard to prototype little circuits, how to solder (badly) and how to program in BASIC. I made many trips up Fourth Avenue to RP Electronics that year, and felt a huge amount of gratification from running my own creative projects on my own terms and schedule. (Instructor and electronics artist Dennis Vance was a huge inspiration to me during those projects.)

I'd be lying if I said that I had any idea back then what I'd be doing with my career in the long term, but with the collaboration and help of some classmates (especially the always-brilliant Martin Hunt) my grad projects were completed and shown successfully. Impermanence is part of life. After the 1989 Grad Show was completed, I documented the pieces and dismantled them. Their purpose was served.

Now, over twenty years after graduation, I've managed to keep my career alive as a commercial artist in the IT sector, working for a succession of small-to-mid-sized companies. Most often, I've succeeded by creating a role for myself as an "everything art guy" or an all-round digital and print designer.

I'm still interested in technology, but I find that I don't often get the opportunity to create anything that interests me, or of which I can feel particularly excited. In the first 10 years of my career, every brochure and business card design, website layout or programming challenge seemed unique and exciting to me. Between 1992 and 2002, I got to flex my graphic skills, create animations, or help to tell a story using words and pictures. The design mojo had started to develop in me in art school, but the actual design technology skills and production experience came face-first, on the job.

I think I have always been happiest if I had one project that I could control from beginning to end - a pet project. These opportunities seem to be few and far between, and getting fewer all the time. But, every employer's needs are different, and it's unrealistic to expect a commercial design position to afford too many opportunities for personal expression or even personal satisfaction.

There's always been a little voice in the back of my mind asking things like "Is my Do It Yourself career a good enough path for me? Would I be happier if I pursued formal training - maybe got some credentials in design or multimedia or something? What about teaching? The few times I've worked as an instructor, I've always loved it. What about that?"

Did I get a bus ticket at the airport after all? Maybe it's a good time to ask if I need a transfer...

September 11, 2010

Of Diet and Destiny.

A couple of weeks ago, my MD diagnosed me as pre-diabetic. This was a bit of a shock to me, I must admit. However, in the spectrum of disease and mortality, on the scale of news that you don't want to hear from your doctor, it's pretty damn good news.

In recent months, my wife and I had talked about Type 2 ("Adult Onset") Diabetes, and I'd even tested my blood sugar once using her little pin-pricker-tester doodad. By learning about my wife's diabetes, I realized that it is a manageable condition, and not that scary once you do your homework and develop some changes to your lifestyle.

At 5 foot 9 inches, I weighed as much as 214 pounds a couple of years ago. I cannot remember exactly when my weight increased above 200, but I'm sure that I wasn't thrilled about it. Hitting 214 was, for me, a weight record and emotionally, something of a low point.

Although he was well over 6 feet tall, my father had been between 220 and 240 pounds and at least 44 inches around the waist when he had a heart attack at the ago of 62. He survived six more years after that, but at a huge cost: five strokes, an epileptic reaction to alcohol, and a plate and pin in his hip from a bad fall in a hospital shower. He was a life-long smoker and drinker and not health conscious in the least. Born in 1921, perhaps Dad was a product of his times. Emotionally and physically, he had not taken care of himself for years and years, and he ended up suffering serious consequences because of it.

I'm using my Dad as an example, but not in any spirit of disrespect. I have a vague memory of him telling me not to repeat his and my mother's mistakes in life. Memories become blurred and distorted over time, and it may well be that he never actually said this to me at all, but by reflecting on my parent's living examples, not following them has absolutely the most important advice that I've ever taken to heart. Dad passed on in 1989, and Mum died in 1995, and not a day goes by that one or both of them are not in mind. I have used the examples of their lives as motivation to pursue my goals with enthusiasm, to improve myself intellectually, artistically and emotionally, and to listen to myself and to others with attention and compassion.

I suspect that a good deal of my Dad's lack of interest in his health was related to him not wanting to get bad news from the Doctor. I'm sure that Dad didn't feel that great much of the time, struggling with lack of sleep, few close friends, no emotional support network, a poor diet, and loads of stress and accumulated guilt and sadness.

My Dad was from the "don't air our dirty laundry in public" school, which is fine if (A) it's possible, and if (B) you have a plan in place to actually deal with your private problems on your own. However, the main thing I learned from being raised with that outlook is to avoid bad news and wait for things to get better on their own. Serious changes sucked then, and they still do. This is a common reaction to events that seem to be too much to deal with - that seem to be outside of your control.

In physical terms, at 214 pounds, I saw myself beginning to resemble my late Dad. Although I had quit smoking at 18, and don't drink too much (haven't been tipsy or buzzed more more than a few times in the past 20 years), my gradual weight gain and a few bouts with lower back problems had begun to frustrate and worry me.

A few years ago, as a Christmas gift, my wife gave me a few free hours with her personal trainer. It has turned out to be one of the best things that anyone has ever done for me. I have kept going to this trainer, appreciated her advice and support, and have gradually developed a healthy attitude towards exercise. I've found ways to integrate low-fat, healthy eating choices and over 40 minutes of brisk walking into my daily routine. However, until recently, I never really paid attention to how much I favoured carbohydrates and "sweet" foods, and how bad my after-meal crashes were becoming.

In the past couple of weeks since my pre-diabetic diagnosis, my outlook has transformed from disappointment and worry into a feeling of hope and enthusiasm. This experience is giving me the boot in the ass that I needed to start making more significant positive changes to my diet and lifestyle, and to encourage me to step up my exercise regime to another level.

I'm fortunate that I was informed early on, and that I can look forward to learning more, and hence, gaining more control over my health.