This is a blog about the two things that occupy just about every waking hour of my life (and some non-waking hours) – pastry/chocolate, and design/production. I’ve been doing the latter for over 20 years, mostly in the creative departments of various ad agencies around the Washington D.C. metro area, until fairly recently when I shifted to the less fun but also less demanding field of in-house, non-profit, and federal government publishing — which gives me more time for the former. I’ve spent the better part of my career working 60+ hours a week for sweatshop ad agencies (not counting the short time I spent working 7-days a week from 10 AM until 1 AM every day as a theatrical costumer). I think that if retirement eligibility was based on hours worked instead of age, I could have started collecting social security at the age of 38.
So, when an ad agency I worked/slaved for went belly up, I started a 37-hour work week job in the “creative services” (biggest misnomer ever) department in the Brand Management division of a huge, Washington D.C. non-profit where I produced god-awful, bird cage liners masquerading as creative projects called things like “Medicare and You” and “Social Security at a Glance”. I won’t mention the name of this huge, Washington D.C. nonprofit (but you can guess if you want) but suffice it to say that it was mostly populated by “creatives” who couldn’t make it in real design and advertising. So they got a hack job where they could get paid for producing poorly designed crap for retirees until they themselves finally retire after having spent a career flooding mailboxes around America with awful brochures featuring cheap royalty-free art of old people bowling, typo-ridden copy written on a 3rd grade reading level, and a total lack of kerning. But I never worked a weekend or past 7:00 PM which allowed me to attend pastry school at L’Academie de Cuisine in the evenings, after which I started an evening Master’s program in publishing at George Washington University. It was nice to have a life, even at the cost of having a job that sucked a lot. To spend weekends puttering around the house, gardening, and working as a chef assistant at L’Academie after my pastry program ended instead of saying hi to the bagel guy at the Einstein Bagels in Silver Spring every Saturday morning on my way to Bethesda to catch up on all of the ads, brochures, and direct mail I didn’t finish during the previous 60-hour work week. I mean, I had never “puttered” before. It was nice.
And I started a long distance DC/NY relationship and began spending many weekends puttering around an apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens. And I got to know the Sicilian pizza guy on the corner when I said hello to him on Saturday morning (NY pizza is truly the Breakfast of Champions), and the Korean lady in the 24-hour fruit stand across the street, and the Hasidic guy at the bagel shop on the corner (which is WAY, WAY, WAY better than the Einstein Bagels in Silver Spring). And I got to know the NY subway almost as well as the DC subway, the F, E, and 7 train anyway, and began arguing with people about whether Queens or Brooklyn has the best food and neighborhoods (don’t argue with me on that one) instead of whether Virginia or Maryland was the better ‘burb (honestly, who cares?). And I was ready to rent my house and move to New York and I started seriously contemplating a change of careers to pastry, even if I had to do it part-time at first and also do freelance design and production part-time.
And then one morning a co-worker came into my office and told me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. An hour later, I looked out my window onto the street below and saw people standing and staring in frozen shock, and I craned my neck in the same direction in which they were looking and saw the smoke rising from the Pentagon into the early autumn air. And I didn’t realize it yet, but rising with it were my dreams of moving to New York and starting a new career, at least for time being. A small sacrifice compared to that of so many others on that fateful morning, but it sucked nonetheless. So, I settled on being grateful for a crappy job in the un-creative services department of a boring non-profit populated with and managed by insipid hacks, at least for awhile. But “awhile” turned into seven years.
And then, I left and went to work for a publications group in the federal government. And returned to working weekends and until 4 AM on deadlines (which hurts a lot more now than it did when I was 25, letmetellya!), but the work is professional and doesn’t suck, and my co-workers aren’t idiots. And I’ve got future plans that do not include the latest update to InDesign.
I still enjoy design and production even if I’m not going to win any more Addy awards any time soon doing government publications and freelance Nellies Sports Bar ads for an old ad agency friend who pursued his own dream of opening a bar. But I enjoy what I do and it gives me time to build a part-time business and finish grad school. And at least I won’t have to pay anyone to design my stuff, but I also have some pretty talented friends who could always help me out if they want so I have more time to make chocolate instead of designing my logo (for free chocolate, of course). But until then, I’ve got a job that doesn’t suck, a basement full of chocolate molds, and my blog to rant about the ups and downs of keeping an established career in design and production, starting a new career in chocolate and pastry, and keeping it all together.