Passages, now and then

Source: picgifs.com

Source: picgifs.com

A couple of month’s back I had breakfast with an old friend. It’s someone I’ve seen two or three times in the past twenty years. Prior to that we had a close friendship. The conversation was mostly catchup because through the years our interests and commonalities grew far apart.

What was interesting and caught me by surprise was his comment on my retirement. He said that I had a lot more time for design and gardening.

That was so then.

When I was much younger I was an avid gardener seeking out the unusual flowers and colors. I would rip out grass to add huge flower beds. I had annuals and perennials and all sorts of shrubbery.

I went to school for landscape and floral design and worked in that field for ten years. That was when he knew me.

As with a lot of things in my life it was a passage. Much as I still love gardening, it’s demanding physical work. It’s not something I want to do now, not on that scale. Give me a few tomato plants and I’m happy.

As for design work, I found it a tough field to earn a good living. I switched back to my corporate roots.

The break in careers was good for me. When I went back to the corporate world, I had a different appreciation for it. I would scold friends who complained. The pay was great and the benefits much better than working independently or for a small company.

Not everyone is cut out for the corporate environment. Some people do better working for themselves. It didn’t work for me. I am not good at marketing myself and I found that I had to do a lot of crap work to be rewarded with one plum project.

In the corporate world, I got to be the boss. I liked that.

There have been a lot of stages. At one point I thought I would start a candle making business. I shed that idea with my tie-dyed tee-shirts, head band and lace up sandals. (Too bad I don’t have a picture of that. Well, maybe I do but you won’t see it!)

I did high-end floral design work for many years. Tough field. Bad pay.

There was a very short stint catering for friends. Yikes! It gave me a great appreciation for patience.

I have friends associated with the different stages. Some people still see me as I was 20 or 30 years ago.

Others, who only know me through my blog, have no idea what I can do outside of writing.

As you look at people all you see is the “now.” Often we don’t see all the parts that went into the “now,” which can be very interesting.

What about you? Been through some reinventions? Would your now friends be surprised? ‘Fess up!

 

36 thoughts on “Passages, now and then

  1. Fascinating reading! Not only the bog (as usual, outstanding fun) but the comments too. I think what defines me (if anything can be said to do that) is the fact that I needed change. I never set out in a career to stay in it for the rest of my life. To that end, I have in temporal order worked as/at:

    1. part of a huge newspaper route as an independent contractor to my neighbor when I was 13 – I lived on Toronto’s Centre Island at the time and remember sloshing through knee high water during the island’s frequent flooding;

    2. a record shop (remember the LPs and the 45s?) when I was 15 – the owner was a lady from Paris, my introduction to the European way of running things, including raising children. Sometimes I was amused, sometimes shocked, but always entertained.

    3. a finance company as a cashier at age 16 – I didn’t like this job – more the management and their careless style as bosses. It was not a surprise that I got fired for telling the boss lady to stay out of my cash drawer – the bosses had drilled into me the need to make sure NOBODY went into my drawer.

    4. at 17, a cub reporter for my town’s weekly newspaper – learned a LOT from the gruff, black-bearded editor and once wrote a story that scooped our competition, the daily newspaper from our nearest city.

    5. same year, worked in a uranium mine as one of the quality control lab’s assayers – loved this job and also played softball on our mine’s women’s softball team. This was the year my father died.

    6. went to school to finish my grade 13.

    7. moved to Sherbrooke, Quebec when I was 20 and attended Mont Notre Dame bilingual secretarial school, learning shorthand, typing and bookkeeping in French and English – it was a challenge but I managed to earn high grades.

    8. at age 21, secretary to the head of Quality Control department of a tubing company and assayer for the quality control of the manufacturing process – this was one of my favourite jobs ever, as my boss was a suave, sophisticated Austrian, who also was an excellent boss. Whenever he travelled the world he would bring me back a little trinket of wonderful taste for holding down the fort while he was gone. During one trip, I had revamped the department’s filing system – when he returned he took me out to dinner for my achievement of bringing order out of chaos.

    9. secretary to a Quebec notary, a lawyer who did not conduct court cases but merely worked on legal documents. I enjoyed this one-man office and learned more about Quebec law than I really wanted to. However, I was itching to move away from the home of my mother and stepfather.

    10. Quality Control assayer at Kraft Foods in Montreal testing the viscosity of mustard mostly as well as some other products like mayonnaise. I enjoyed this job, but Montreal is a huge city and I didn’t enjoy the 5am bus ride for 3/4 of an hour to and from the plant. The morning shift included a lot of ethnic group who ate garlic for a living (I think). That’s a powerful smell at 5:15am when only small parts of me were awake.

    11. a Jewish law firm in Montreal as secretary to the junior partner and relief switchboard operator. I was at work here when the news came that JFK had been short. That was one of the worst days of my life. I was full of delayed teen angst in those days and had trouble dealing with events so emotionally charged. The men in this law firm were still planted firmly in pre-hippie eras. My boss had a nasty habit of coming up behind me when I was bent over and swatting me on the butt. The last time he did it, I whipped around and told him, “Mr. X, if you ever do that again, I am walking out of here and lodging a complaint with the Labour Board.”

    12. a law firm in Toronto as secretary to one of the senior partners. This job was okay; I liked my boss and the way he did business…the girls were great to work with. The part I liked best was that my boss was the honourary consul for Guatemala in Toronto, and I started to learn Spanish so I could help him with translations.

    13. after I moved west to Calgary with my new husband, I worked at a law firm as a paralegal for a couple of years. I loved this job, had my own office with a window 🙂 and helped the secretaries if they had problems. I managed real estate and corporate law, and assisted a junior lawyer with litigation.

    As you can see, there is quite a pattern here. I moved from out-of-the-ordinary jobs to a more directed line of work, changing from the random jobs to scientific, then from scientific to lawyer support. I took a few years off to have children (two–a boy who is now a oil patch accountant, and a girl who is now a biologist with her own consulting firm). Jobs after this were only ones that I really wanted.

    During and after this time, I was the DJ for an all-night radio show in Calgary. I also worked part-time at a secretarial service. I was heavily into writing at this time and took time to write at home as well.

    I later worked with more law firms in Calgary but also took time to tour internationally with a self-help program I was involved in. I became semi-retired in 2002, after which I had three last jobs: general secretary at a mining land company, office manager of the self-help program I had toured for, and contributing reporter for the weekly newspaper in my current little rural town. Since then I have done volunteer work (weekly reading to kids at the library, arts council member, volunteer writing for an online magazine.

    Good grief! I got lot in my reminiscing and did not realize the length of this novel. If you have read this far, you have my apologies and admiration. You who have already commented inspired me so you have no one else to blame :). I feel like my life has been a roller coaster, physically and emotionally. I’ve been married three times, each husband better than the last, so I must have been learning something. It’s been mostly fun along the way. The death of loved ones have been the hardest part. New adventures have been the most fun part. There’s a reason why I use photos I have taken (about 100 of them) that change every 10 seconds to act as my screen saver.

    Thanks for the incentive to write this, Kate and commenters.

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  2. Reinvention is part of aging successfully. In my life it’s the people who have not grown and adapted who are the least happy now. I suppose being stuck in the past would do that to anyone. Thankfully I rarely see or hear from any of them, so I don’t encounter that weird sort of out-of-sync feeling you describe above. I am who I am now, take or leave it.

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  3. Wonderful share Kate! Yes, I find I surprise my ‘newer’ friends all the time – unintentionally. There was a time – an entire decade – where I was very entrepreneurial and ran my own consulting and training company. Very hard work and I know what you mean about having to do a lot of crap work for one project. I won’t be doing that again even though I still accept ‘side projects’ for people I know I can collaborate with. I also worked for a major investment bank as the head of a department of twenty and have no idea how I endured 11 years of corporate politics.

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    • Well, you surprised me! I was in corporate training for a while. I really loved it and would have loved teaching at a college level. Not really good with young children. I knew many freelance trainers which we also used. It is a tough business. In a recession the training budget was the first to be cut.

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  4. I have done a few things. I was a hairdresser, worked in a small boutique,managed a card shop, an admin assisstant, design consultant/sales assoc in a large furniture store, now work part-time in a small family owned furniture store in the office. I don’t know if anyone from way back when would be surprised about what I have done and now do. I do think they would be surprised about what I don’t do anymore. Some would be surprised that I am still alive…:)

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    • I don’t do crafts anymore. That’s something that might surprise friends from my youth. As I “passed” out of a phase, I was done with it with no interest to go back. I always expect friends to be alive. Sometimes they are not. Lost two good friends from high school and several other classmates.

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  5. I like that you had this friend from long ago, Kate, who knew you well. Then. I have some of my best friends who keep in touch once a year. I had one who I knew from way back then, when we were in our early 30’s and we have not lived in the same town since 1986. We have decided to meet more than once a year, now it is in June and December, Kate. We are not the same people but we have the common memories.
    My good and best friend who is in my life now, is one who I helped to ‘find’ her husband. We joke and say, “We know too much about each other,” since we met as two single women in our late thirties, going on 24 years ago. But it is true that the old friends do create a piece of the puzzle who we have become. Thanks for sending me off on a memory lane, Kate!

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    • I have a good friend who I meet for dinner once or twice a year. We are both in totally different places. We met in floral design and neither of us are doing that anymore. She is still working. When we get together it’s like we just saw each other last week except there isn’t enough time for all the catch up. She has three adult children who are always up to something. She is one “then” friend who knows the “now” me.

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  6. Many of us who are, ah, “getting somewhat long in the tooth” (what an expression!) have gone through many serial incarnations, both professionally and geographically. and sometimes also in terms of family configurations. Although I can laugh at some of the things prior “me”s thought important and tried to accomplish, I can see a certain consistency of temperament and personality in myself throughout my adult life, which is probably what makes it possible to have good, meaningful conversations with certain people whom I haven’t seen for ten or more years — conversations that feel as if we just spoke yesterday.

    As for the “what I did and how it felt” part of it: that’s the stuff of memoir, whether in blog or book.

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  7. I have found that my “now friends” get really bored if I tell stories about my other life in the world of travel. I spent eight years as a meetings planner and took print company owners and execs to Europe in groups…. on educational tours to print shows, exhibits and just to visit other printers and see the latest in equipment. It was an exciting time and I made some good friends. But my “now” friends would be greatly surprised as I am a Virginia country girl.

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  8. Fascinating post! Landscape and floral design sounds like the kind of career many of us dream of, the kind that then doesn’t really work out. My daughter’s mother-in-law was once a city planner. Doesn’t that sound fun!? You could design cities that would be beautiful and would make everyone happy. Turns out city planning was all about politics, and she wasn’t good at politics, so she changed careers.

    People ask me why I quit painting. Well … after I made enough paintings to decorate the walls of family and friends and to sell a few, then I had to think about marketing, which is no fun at all. And you can’t just paint now and then. You lose your skill.

    At my 50-year high school class reunion, I was more impressed by how the characteristics my classmates displayed in high school were the same 50 years later. (I suppose they went through several incarnations in the meantime.)

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    • One real problem for creative people is that they don’t like or aren’t good at marketing themselves. They just want to do their art. As soon as you mentioned your daughter’s mother-in-law I thought OMG what a political job that would be.

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  9. Great post. Only as a corollary, it’s not really friends so much for me but family members. Especially if you’re the youngest, as I am, no matter how much older you get, you are still younger than your siblings. Therefore, they assume you’re still that young boy who could barely add when he was in junior high. Or to your cousins, you might still be gullible because you ate that brown crayon when you were told it was an unwrapped Tootsie Roll at age seven. I have a sister who consistently apologizes if she calls me in the middle of an afternoon because I went through a period at some point in my 20’s when I took afternoon naps.

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  10. Love the gist of this post. All those layers that can be invisible to someone just meeting you, and how friends from way back when still see only the person they knew at the time. The evolution of who we are is constantly in motion, or, at least, I hope that’s true. I would hate to “freeze” in just one facet of who I am capable of becoming. (Remember when your parents would say not to make an ugly grimace, or you face might freeze that way? How pitiful if that was true about our own evolution as people).

    I almost laugh at some of my previous chapters. There was the 17 yr old student who was taking two classes to finish their high school diploma, (after moving to a new state where the requirements were different), who was simultaneously taking a full load of college courses, AND working full time in a doctor’s office, all because I was headed towards the field of becoming a pediatric cardiology surgical nurse. I then added working part-time in a hospital, (in the EKG/EMG lab), because it afforded me the opportunity to observe open-heart surgeries with a leading cardiologist. There were just not enough hours in the day, way back when.

    Then there was the corporate me, who shot to the top of the heap like lightning escaping the proverbial bottle. As much as I was the opposite of who SHOULD thrive in that environment, I succeeded based on sheer will and determination. Only to eventually be forced out because of salary caps and corporate politics. Although it had never occurred to me that one reason this hat fit me so well was that I could be the boss, I suppose that was true. I was always the one distributing the work to others, and scheduling, and writing those infernal performance reviews. At one point, it practically became a racket. Other department heads would ask me to sit in on their employee performance reviews, so I could secretly write all their reviews for them. Hey, the employees loved it, because I always made sure to find at least one thing they did right. Even the bad apples had their endearing qualities.

    Then I tried a stint as a professional author. That didn’t go so well. The only book I’ve ever been offered money to publish was the one book I never intended would see the light of day. Go figure. As you said yourself, I was no good at marketing myself. Nor was I willing to jump through all those hoops, or sign all those contracts. All I wanted to do was write. Not get tied up with red tape, choking out any possibility of being able to put anything on the page.

    For a brief time, I was a crafting queen. Pipe cleaners and googly eyes and glitter and glue guns. Oh, how the change in seasons was a cause for joy. Bunnies and eggs, or pumpkins and ghosts, and then all those candy canes made to look like reindeer, or wreaths fashioned out of twigs and cinnamon and holiday-themed bows. Craft shows on the weekends, and hours and hours of feeding glue sticks through the glue gun. It was nauseating. 🙂

    I, too, did a brief stint in floral arrangement. Mine was an attempt to put my crafting skills towards a form of a more regular monetary employment situation. Alas, it was pitiful pay, with lots of time spent on your feet, and very hard work. So much cleaning, and cleaning, and cleaning. The fun part was brief; whereas the work part was never-ending. I quickly grew tired of the routine. You know it’s time to get out when “catching a funeral” is cause for celebration. Those funeral arrangements were gorgeous, though. Really, they were. Put together with much love, and attention to even the smallest of details.

    Then I decided to step into business ownership, when I took over my deceased father’s bar business. Turns out that even though I had a knack for the business side of things, I was no good at schmoozing with the crowd. It didn’t help that I was an alcoholic. I’m pretty sure that people that have an addiction to alcohol probably shouldn’t own a bar. Talk about a recipe for disaster. Actually, I tried it both ways. Full on access, and abstaining completely. The latter was the only way to go. Alas, things came apart when my business partner (and brother) began stealing from the business, putting us so far into debt that I ended up having to close and sell the business, just to try to cover some of his debts. All while battling ovarian cancer.

    Which lead to a long list of volunteer positions. Red Cross volunteer. Infant AIDS relief worker. Habitat for Humanity worker bee and organizer. Hospital information desk volunteer. Early Learning Disabilities volunteer reader at the library. Disaster relief volunteer. Food Bank worker bee and organizer. Child abuse victim advocate. Suicide prevention call center volunteer. Battered Women’s Shelter volunteer. Humane Society fund drive organizer and foster home. Hospice program volunteer.

    So, that’s some of my chapters. Professional student. Pediatric Cardiology Surgical Nurse. Corporate Shining Star (with all the shiny plaques to prove it). Professional Author. Crafting Queen. Floral Designer. Bar Owner. Professional Volunteer. Kind of weird to realize that all of those hats have, at one time or another, fit on my head. I tend to think that people think of me as only one thing, none of which is on this list. Interesting observation. 🙂

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  11. I guess that’s what makes high school reunions so interesting. There is the bad boy who became a priest, the party girl who is now a mom to multiple foster children, and the football star who has traded the limelight for dimly lit bars.

    I’ve reinvented myself several times over the years and I hope there are one or two new “mes” in the future.

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  12. “As you look at people all you see is the “now.” Often we don’t see all the parts that went into the “now,” which can be very interesting.” True.

    And those who knew us growing up (“back then”) may find it impossible to see “who we are now” since they are looking at us through the “back then” cloudy filter and always saying things like, “that’s not like you.”

    No one has a clear image of who we really are since they are looking at us through the lens of their own experiences and limited interactions with us. Since we are seldom seen for who we are ~> worrying about our reputations with others is a self-defeating way to go through life. Let it all hang out. Go with the flow. Keep reinventing yourself. Etc.

    Now . . . about that photo of you as a tie-dyed sandal-clad Hippie . . . please share. 😎

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    • My childhood friends would not be surprised I was a boss. They would tell you I was always the bossy one, running the games and solving the conflicts (sort of). I did a lot of public speaking in my career. When I worked as a floral designer, I was quiet, intent on the learning the trade. I volunteered to emcee a big show and one of my co-workers was horrified. She said, “You’ll have to stand up in front of people!” She didn’t know I did training in my previous corporate life.

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