Merging Skills

One year ago, almost to the day, I worked my last day as a web developer at a large Pacific bank, where I’d worked for 20 years. My job moved to Austin, Texas, and I chose to remain in California, the land of fruits and nuts. Often over the last twenty years, I’d pined for more time for art/writing/family, and now, presto!, I had it. Here’s how my days have changed, in pie chart form:


In my previous life, as full-time corporate employee, I spent most of my time rushing. If you want to be a mother, an artist, a wife, and a full-time web developer, you have to rush a lot. Rush to the train. Rush to the piano lesson. Rush to the studio. Do not sleep, under any circumstances. Eat because you are stressed. Drink because same. Get fat. Wonder (quickly) why you are fat. Rush to weight watchers. Stay fat.

In my new life, I rush a lot less. I sleep a lot more. I lost 25 pounds. I stopped drinking completely. In the afternoon, the children come home instead of going to aftercare. In the evening, I work. Sometimes I spend a lot of time helping my parents. Sounds like many working woman’s dream, yes? Well, yes and no.

Now, I know you are clever, reader, and notice that the fighting depression part of the pie got bigger in this slow world. It turns out that rushing does have one advantage over slowing down. If you’re always rushing, you can just rush ahead of depression, forever, until the day you drop dead. Your tombstone will read "Here lies a corporate workaholic. Died of hurry, but wasn’t damned depressed, thank god."   

At first, I thought that this new distribution of the pie chart wouldn’t change me, but I was wrong. The most noticeable change is that my formerly compartmentalized skills, like painter, programmer and writer, have begun to merge into one meta skill, which is something like "web-data-art-storytelling." With more time to think, I can comprehend how painting is like writing is like coding.

For example, I have experienced two kinds of painting: short, free paintings, and epic, detailed paintings. In a short painting, which is like a poem, you capture the gist of the subject and revel in the brief sweet moment. By contrast, an epic painting, like a novel, takes a long time to execute, and during the making of it, you may lose track of your purpose, forgetting what came before. Only when the painting is complete, can you see that there was an arc in the making, and a sadness when the journey ends. Similarly, in coding, creating an application is like painting a large work or writing a novel. You don’t know in the middle, if you’re going to come out with a masterpiece or just a large mess that you have to hide in your garage.

Part of being an artist is having the courage to attempt something large, even if it fails. To create something large, you need time and space for thinking. In your mind, you need to hold the thing you’re making, without the constant buzz of rushing trains and pinging emails. Though I find that depression lurks in too much thinking, yet, without thinking, life just flies by uncontemplated. 

For this year of thinking, of merging skills and time with my parents and children, I am grateful to my former employer. Their leaving was a gift to me. Happy Anniversary!