How’d I get here anyway?

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Quite a few of you have asked why I gave up my digital design business.

That’s simple!

Picture, if you will, a piece of old firewood, charred beyond recognition, sitting in a pile of ash.

Stick a sloppy mess of stubbornly premature white hair on it, as well as some black horn rimmed glasses and old sweats held together by holes. Glue it to a computer chair, surgically connect a monitor to its face and a keyboard to its fingers and feed it an intravenous diet of sugar and fat through a USB port so that it can gain back every single pound it lost five years previously in Weight Watchers. Give it a lifetime, free pass on an emotional roller coaster with intermittent pit stops at SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY.

Call it Andy.

Truth be told, it was a pretty great ride that started in the basement family room of our old house, over five years ago. I was a stay-at-home mom with an intense creative itch that desperately needed to be scratched and it needed to be scratched in such a manner as to earn money. I had always earned my own way and while I loved the fact that I could be a stay-at-home mom, I found it exceedingly difficult to give up that kind of financial independence.

I called up to Nate to please wake up our computer from its sleep mode and help me find the Internet. And he pretended he didn’t hear me. So I yelled up to him to please wake up our computer from its sleep mode and help me find the Internet. And in Nate’s world, this translated to PLEASE GET UP AND NEVERMIND. So there I sat.

Because I had no idea how to wake up our computer from sleep mode. I had no idea how to even use the computer, except to turn it on, screw it up and turn it off if it didn’t immediately respond to screaming and threats to fling it out the nearest window. I spent as little time as possible on the web.  I had no idea what a chat room was. Or a blog. Or a forum. Or an online gallery.

Email was a necessary evil that I tried to avoid at all costs.

Eventually Nate took pity on me and came down, woke up the computer, made sure I was comfy, gave me a kiss and left me to find direction and purpose in my life via Road Runner.

After a couple of hours, I found it.

Digital design.

Who cared that I was tech challenged and prone to calling Nate at work, demanding to know why the Internet was broken and how soon could he fix it? Who cared that I didn’t own a digital camera? Who cared that I had never heard of Photoshop before in my life? Who cared that I didn’t know the difference between JPEG and J.LO?

Not me, that’s who.

I ran up the stairs, yelling to Nate.

Me: Nate! Nate! Nate!

Nate: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Me (going all Shake & Bake on Nate’s prostrate body): Nate! Wake up! I’ve found it! I found it!

Nate: Wha? Wha?

Me (stopping in mid shake): I know what I want to do! I found it! I found my direction!

Nate (rolling over): K, put it on my dresser.

Me (sitting on Nate’s head): Wake up! I know what I want to do with my life. WAKE UP.

Nate: (sighing and budging me off of him): Ok, ok. OK! Just give me a second, will you? OK!

Nate rubs his eyes and runs his fingers through his hair. Takes a deep breath.

Nate: OK. What?

Me: Are you ready?

Nate: Affirmative.

Me: Are you sure?

Nate glares at me.

Me: I want to do custom digital design.


Me (all excited and jumping all around): Well? What do you think.


Me (still jumping): Nate? Nate?

Blink. Blink. Stare.

Me (pausing): Nate? Are you having some sort of seizure?

Nate (starting to blink rapidly and shaking his head): Nooooooo. No. I am not having a seizure.

Me (jumping all around again): Well? Well? C’mon! What do you think? Huh? Huh?

Nate (speaking slowly and deliberately): Did I hear you correctly? Did you say custom digital design?

Me (standing still): Yes.

Nate (still speaking slowly and deliberately): Digital. As in, on the computer?

Me (hesitantly): Yes?

Nate (collapses onto the floor in hysteria): Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha  Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha …

To his credit, Nate eventually came around and ultimately became incredibly supportive, saving him from almost certain death and me from appearing before a parole board to plead my case of temporary insanity.

And so it began. I filed all my paperwork on behalf of my business, Selective Memories Digital Design & Photo Art. I bought Microsoft Digital Image Pro, graduated to Photoshop Elements and eventually full-blown Photoshop.

I did 8,410 tutorials and signed up for some on-line classes to learn how to use my software.

If it wasn’t so graphic in nature, I’d describe the process I went through to learn Photoshop and a variety of other software programs. Suffice it to say there was blood, sweat and tears involved. Also some feces and vomit, but I won’t bore you with that part.

And if it wasn’t so graphic in nature, I’d describe the process I used to build and maintain my own website and dream up products and test vendors and research merchant services and network and market and advertise and a whole slew of other business related matters. Lots and lots and lots of feces and vomit there.

I spent an enormous amount of money on product testing. Enormous. I’d methodically work my way through a slew of vendors for various products. We haven’t yet replaced some old, frayed carpets and peeling wallpaper and cracked tile and a 2000 Honda Accord with 80,000+ miles on it due, in part, to the fact that I refused to settle.

Who knew that stupid obsessive-compulsive, anal retentive disorder that forces me to seek out perfection could be so freaking expensive?

Periodically, Nate would peek in on me and ask me if I had gotten my first client yet.

And my stomach would turn and I’d bite my nails and chew on my lip and break out in hives and drool and shout OH MY GOD. ARE YOU INSANE? LOOK AT THIS COLOR! IT’S TOO DARK! IT’S TOO LIGHT! IT’S TOO HEAVY! IT’S TOO MUCH! IT’S NOT ENOUGH! GO AWAY.

Until one day Nate chased me around the house, tackled me in the living room, sat on me and calmly tried to explain to me that it was like having a baby. There’s never a perfect time for it. You’ll never be 100% ready. There comes a point where you have done everything you can possibly do and then, you just hold your breath, close your eyes, jump in and depend on a little thing called faith to get you through.

I believe his exact words were I LOVE YOU. NOW, PISS OR GET OFF THE POT ALREADY.

So I pissed.

I got my first client. And then another. And another. I got most of my work through word of mouth because a personal referral speaks volumes, much louder than any advertisement in a magazine.

It’s a whole hell of a lot cheaper too.

I learned valuable lessons on my journey, like only offering one revision because otherwise, you’ll find yourself on the tenth revision when your client calls you up to tell you that the subject of the design, specifically a mother who had passed more than fifteen years ago, came to her in a dream and told her to go with the original design. So you slap a smile on your face and silently send up a few curse words to God and ask that He forward them on to the mother’s spirit because for shit’s sake, she’s dead already so would it have killed her to stop by your house on her travels and give you a heads up say, nine revisions ago? By the time you’re done, the project will end up costing you money and for your efforts, your client will present you with a $5 gift card to Dunkin Donuts as a tip.

Proof positive that I will do almost anything for a donut.

Despite the many bumps in the road, I eventually built up a great client base and was somewhat steadily busy throughout the years, especially during the holidays when I’d be completely stressed out with work right up until Christmas Eve with clients squealing into my driveway, running up to my door, grabbing their packages and breathlessly thanking me for tolerating their collective predisposition to wait until the last minute.

I had become very successful in my industry, provided you don’t consider oodles of money as success. I never made a fortune but my work had been published in several magazines, I had built a nice sized client base and had earned a stellar reputation.

I loved my clients (the ones whose designs were not dictated by the afterlife) and I loved my work.

And then 2007 came.

By then, I was mentally exhausted. Out of the 50+ hours a week I spent on my business, only a tiny fraction was spent on actual designing. The rest of it was chock full of unsexy, tedious crap. Networking and marketing and website maintenance and bookkeeping and advertising and product development and testing.

Blah, blah, freaking blah.

And then came a holiday vendor fair on which I had spent six months and a shitload of money, only to discover on the day of that the producer was a psychotic nightmare who had misled me, as well as several others, with regard to expectations. As in, I shouldn’t have had any.

May there be a special place in the depths of  hell for that woman and may she choke on a gas fireplace during her stay.

Bitter – party of one?

By early 2008, the desire to design was sucked right out of my heart and soul, the very same heart and soul that had nurtured it for five years.

It left me sad and empty. I grieved its loss.

Several months later, I contemplated a small, fresh start. A few pre-made designs online, under a new name. No custom design work. Just a little “something” to scratch that creative itch that had once again begun to tickle me.

But once I sat down at my computer and faced that blank, white screen, my fingers started flying over that keyboard and that little “something” went in an entirely different direction and took on a life of its own, going back to its roots and its love for the written word.

And so The Creative Junkie was born.

Nate was right. You’re never 100% ready to have another child. You just close your eyes and jump in and depend on faith to pull you through.


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22 thoughts on “How’d I get here anyway?”

  1. Avatar

    Wow, great story… You sure are a lot more business-minded than I am. I just plunged in. *lol* ‘Course, look where it’s gotten me, too… I’m on the snail train to nowhere very quickly! On the other hand, I’m enjoying myself incredibly. So, all in all… I guess I’m pretty happy with being nowhere!

    You sure do good design, though. =)

  2. Avatar

    Cute story, you crack me up everyday, I read this!
    I tried a business for a “day” didn’t turn out to well, I couldn’t stand computers, barely tolerate them now, so it never took off.

  3. Avatar

    Running your own business is always a huge challenge. I have a small business myself, and trying to get things published is a real nightmare. You should feel proud you did it AND raised a family, AND didn’t lost your mind. Your blog is a hoot. You go girl!

  4. Avatar

    Ok.Ok. WHY do I feel like you posted this just for me? lol! Guess I need my own version of “Nate” to tell me to shit or get off the pot!! Yes. Point taken 🙂

  5. Avatar

    When I “discovered” digital scrapbooking I thought I had invented it! LOL

    I reserved my own web site domain name (still have it) and downloaded all sorts of forms to start a business. But then I got involved with a site and decided to go the designer route.

    And after a bad set of experiences (can you say “bitter, party of 2?”) I resigned and tried to find another place to sell.

    And, like you, the desire to design was sucked out of me. I mourned it . . . but working 40 hour weeks for 10 hours/week pay . . . well, I don’t miss it all that much!!

    Great post. As always. Makes me happy that you found another creative outlet so I can follow you around again!

  6. Avatar

    Thanks for stopping by on my Welcome to Alberta post! Loved reading your blog. There’s still so much I’d like to learn on here but don’t know where to start, lol! I’ll check back for more!

  7. Avatar

    Andy, that was an incredible journey. From the sound of it, there’s nothing you can’t do. But there are things you don’t want to do. And now you know what they are, so you’re ahead of the game. But it probably doesn’t feel that way.

    You’re clearly a good businesswoman. But we don’t always want to do the things we’re good at. And you’re clearly a good writer. And a good artist. But you never did find a way to do your art that allowed you to be an artist rather than a businesswoman. That’s the problem with running your own small business. It seems like they should all be partnerships – one for the business end and “the talent”. Any chance you could partner up with somebody? Or work at home for a digital art firm?

    Regardless of what you do, please do NOT stop writing. Your posts always give me chills. You’re that good.

  8. Avatar

    Wow, I thing we have been on the same journey! That’s about why I killed my designing business. I’m perfectly happy to be on a few CT’s and let others do the designing

  9. Avatar

    Wow! You were successful! How come you didn’t get a virtual assistant to do some of that other stuff for you like bookeeping? Well, I’m glad the Creative Junkie was born. So when are you gonna do stand up?

  10. Avatar

    This post couldn’t have more perfect timing. I recently did a scrapbook which has had rave reviews from family and friends. Now these people think I should go into the business. Especially my husband. He thought that I should make money from my hobby. I read him your post. Thanks for helping him “see the light”!

  11. Avatar

    Great post, great story. I can relate to the life sucking. I love reading your blog. You have amazing gifts! Thanks for sharing your words with us!

  12. Avatar

    I completely agree. Though my story is not quite as colorful I found that same to be true for my business. I’ve moved away from S4O pretty much all together. My desire to scrap really fell to the side and I’ve just now started to itch and want to craft/scrap again. I don’t want to do it as a business just as what it was originally…a love to craft and a hobby. Of course I was a full time employee & a mother of an infant and now toddler…not nearly as much time as you had to nurture the business either.

    And I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND the learning curve when it comes to CUSTOM design businesses. You quickly learn who is and who isn’t your clients and how people who suppositively have no creative bone in their body (that’s why they hire you) have opinions out the wazoo!

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