Fail! Part Deux… Or Is That ‘Duh’?

Last week I began the sordid confession of my failure as an interior designer.  Here’s the rest of it:

The very first project we were assigned in university was ‘design cards’:  Once a week we were given a short paragraph describing a design concept.  We were to choose or create artwork that illustrated the concept, mount the artwork on the card, and copy the paragraph in our best drafting hand.  The only guidance we were given was, “It should look like a piece of jewellery”.


Apparently I’m not good at designing jewellery.  Most of mine looked more like “a piece of shit”.

The card that launched me to the front of the class for public ridicule was titled “Texture”.  I’d had a brilliant (or so I thought) idea:  ‘Way back in grade school we had rolled coloured tissue paper into small balls and glued the balls to a backing to create a textured design.

So that’s what I did, in a tasteful blue-green that was the current colour fad at the time.

The professor was Not Amused.  (In fact, I seem to recall him asking, “Is this a joke?”)

I still don’t understand.  I thought it illustrated texture perfectly.

My near-failures mounted, mercifully blurring together in my memory.  The only other one that stands out was a study of structure, in which I attempted to create an archway by gluing sugar cubes together.  ‘Nuff said about that.

It soon became obvious that I should be either ejected from the faculty or euthanized to prevent further suffering to both me and the interior design profession; but Fate (vindictive bitch that she is) had other ideas.

Halfway through second year my mother died of cancer, and the professors were far too sympathetic.  They cut me some slack and didn’t fail my crap projects outright; and in the ultimate irony, my stellar marks in all the non-design courses dragged my grade-point average high enough to land me on the Dean’s Honour Roll.

Then came fourth year.  By that time I knew I sucked, but I didn’t know what to do about it and I didn’t realize quitting was an option.  I struggled with my thesis all year and finally handed in a steaming heap that reeked so badly even the most merciful professor couldn’t find enough redeeming qualities to pass it.

I failed.  I’d never failed anything academic in my life.

With characteristic bullheadedness, I slogged away at it until they finally granted my degree; probably because the professors were sick of the sight of me.  It certainly wasn’t for the merit of my work.

And so I was unleashed on the unsuspecting design community.

I won’t go into all the humiliating details.  Let’s just say that by the time one of my employers announced in a staff meeting that “Diane can’t design her way out of a paper bag” (her words verbatim), it was almost a relief to have it confirmed aloud.

I switched to drafting and project management, which I enjoyed and was good at; and from there I transitioned into an IT career I loved.

The funny (or sad) thing about all this is that I could probably have done all right in almost any other career.  I’m actually good at quite a few things, but design is just not one of them.

And after that convoluted career path, I’ve ended up writing novels for a living, which is the best career yet.

I love happy endings!

34 thoughts on “Fail! Part Deux… Or Is That ‘Duh’?

  1. Pingback: My Taste Is All In My Mouth | Diane Henders

  2. I can learn the skills of some arts, but I also have no sense of design. I usually consult my gay friends for that. Some of them have really good ideas that never occur to me. I have to use other people’s ideas about that stuff. Maybe that’s why I like simple designs.
    At least you can write very well. Your books got me through recovery from two knee replacements so well that I forgot they even hurt.


  3. Oh Diane, how your design school experience (almost) mirrors mine. I had no clue either. I equally sucked at the “design cards”. They hated my hand lettering (maybe because it was legible) as well as my interpretation of the subject. I also did well enough in my other (non-design) courses to keep me afloat and even made it onto the Dean’s List one year. I did “quit” several times but always went back because I didn’t know what else to do. I felt so rotten about by fourth year thesis that when I handed it in, I slunk away in anticipated shame and eschewed the wine and cheese deal that the professors had laid out for us. I did pass it, but just barely.


    • I didn’t go to the wine and cheese thing, either. I’d been working nonstop for days with only a few hours of sleep, and I just went home to bed. You couldn’t pay me enough to relive those days.


  4. My own most spectacular failure was actually in an important part of my arts education- art history. The trouble began on day one. The professor announced that he wasn’t the sort of prof who forces students to memorize tons of dates; Birth dates, death dates, or the date the art was made. No, he just wanted to have you place the into region of the world and be able to say something about what was happening historically at the time it was made. This sounded great to me since I have a lousy recollection of numbers.

    Unfortunately I also have a way of ignoring everything related to architecture and sort of believe it should be a separate field of study- y’know- just for the architecture and design folks. I’m not a big fan of anything too old or functional. I like paintings and some sculpture as long as it isn’t religious or historical story telling- nothing that took the place of literacy. Back then I only studied what I liked.

    We were assigned a report which I did well enough on, but the day of the final came all too soon. The grade would be 75% how well you did on the final. I tried to study continually, but things came to a crisis the night before.

    I had to work the 5:30 Pm – 10pm closing shift at the mall. My supervisor was a real dickhead who pissed off the entire female staff under his supervision by patting them on top of their heads, tweaking cheeks and noses and other paternalistic nonsense. My allergies were such that when he tweeted my nose, he got a handful. I wish I had the presence of mind to add a blow to it. All the other women quit or transferred elsewhere and there was a huge batch of newbies who expected their 15 min breaks which took my whole evening, but none of them knew how to count cash and checks and prepare the cash register for a new day. It took 20 min or more to hand close each cash register and at 10 PM I still had at least eight more to do. It was my manager’s job to be floor supervisor for the entire floor, and he should have anticipated my problems with breaks and that no one else knew the ropes yet. Instead he left as early as possible so he could start his vacation. The security guards finally kicked me out because the automatic alarms were soon to be set.

    I was so frazzled I knew I couldn’t settle in to study the rest of the night so I went to a bar where friends hung out and bummed a drink since I discovered I had no money either.

    I walked into the test and the professor had totally lied. It was all about dates as well as some extremely esoteric stuff that was presented as a verbal aside. I decided once in my life to cheat. I glanced at my friend’s paper for help and his was just as blank as mine. He was busy drawing the chair that was on the test. But they wanted the name of the designer. Nothing to cheat from. I failed the test totally, but eked a D- due to the other work done. Not good enough to transfer later, and I did well with it at the next school where dates weren’t the cornerstone of the course.


    • Oh, that’s brutal! And your supervisor deserved a handful of snot, or worse.

      I did pretty well in art history since I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with a mind that will rapidly memorize huge volumes of names, dates, numbers, or any other data, retain it about 24 hours so I can regurgitate it for a test, and then forget every last bit of it. Ideal for cramming; not so great for gaining any lasting value from the course.

      I remember virtually nothing from four years of art history except Caravaggio’s technique (no idea of the dates) and one painting by Kandinsky that stuck with me because it reminded me of a tobogganing accident: Besides the Van Gogh and Da Vinci and Michaelangelo stuff that everybody knows, that’s the sum of all my art history knowledge. Sad but true.


      • That Kandinsky DOES look like a toboggan accident. Or an avalanche or the after effect of a ski lift dumping everyone off onto the hill unprepared.

        Four years of art history?! Yikes. It puts my two semesters to shame. But had I had your type of memory, I’d have only had the single semester and would have been one of very few to have passed that brutal final exam. I’d heard about people experiencing brain lock during important exams, but never experienced it until that day. What I did know was beyond access during that test.

        My narrow tastes have expanded since those early days and as I learn more I appreciate more.


  5. I give you huge points for determination and perseverance to get that design degree. I think it’s fabulous that a happy ending has come to be. Besides what a great story along the way. 🙂


    • The story is usually good for some laughter and/or incredulity from people who have gotten to know me before they hear that I was an interior designer for a while. Apparently it’s an obvious mismatch – too bad it was obvious to everybody but me. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Nevertheless, she persevered! Sometimes it takes time to find our niche in life. You found yours and your readers are happy about that. They say getting there is half the fun. You might dispute that I suspect.
    The first and only exam I ever failed was in 1st year, October mid-term Economics 101 (Samuelson, remember him?). It was not rocket science. Thought I did well in it. 20%. No clue what I did wrong and since we didn’t get the exam back, no way to find out. Finished the year with a C. Never really forgave Jack Stabler for that.


  7. Sounds like your design experience could make for a great short story or novel about a protag whose heart is set on being a designer, but whose skill set is otherwise lacking. Just think of the experience you could draw from!


  8. I applaud El Tea’s comment! I’ve only ever read your blog (I need to remedy that) but I think you’ve found one of your niches in writing, and I suspect you have others. And I commend you for slogging away at your program and succeeding in spite of obstacles – perseverance is a valuable quality. I can’t understand what that professor wanted for texture; your submission makes sense to me, translated into the appropriate materials for a large-scale project. We’ve all seen design features in actual real buildings that give one pause, so I’m skeptical of the “professionals” in a lot of cases.

    My first academic failure was a Home Ec test in Grade 7. Academics came easily to me, so I didn’t really study. Barely passed. Passing wasn’t enough for my mom, who was a teacher and knew I could do better. She made me re-write the test and take it to the teacher, and also explain to the teacher why I was doing that. Embarrassment as punishment AND motivation. I don’t know where I’d be without my mother’s push, actually, so I’m grateful now but back then not really.

    I’m sorry you lost your mom at such a relatively young age. That must have been very hard.


    • It was hard, and to be honest I don’t really remember much of university – partly due to too many late nights and midnight beers, but also because I just wasn’t dealing with the grief at all. It took a long time to recover from that.

      And I can totally relate to your school story – studying was something other people did, not me. I was such a cocky little shit – it probably did me good to fail spectacularly at something. 😉


    • Hi jennie_o ,

      Thanks for the affermation.

      You really do need to remedy the error of not reading any of the Never Say Spy books, especially when the first one is free. Never Say Spy (Book 1) is a good introduction to Diane’s fictional world of encountering spies who do things slightly beyond the world as we understand it to be. It is not pure science fiction, it just has a fraction of the realistic fiction step slightly over that line. if you can handle that along with a world in which people use strong language from time to time, occasionally do things adults do without silly euphamistic language (these are not romance novels, after all), and villians die gruesome deaths without totally grossing out the reader, you just might like the series. You’ll know by the time you finish reading the free first of the series, so all you’ll have wasted is a few hours of time if it is not your taste in books. What I like best about the series is the danger, suspence and especially the emotional journey the main characters experience.

      I envy you the new experience of discovering a wonderful new author who writes as well or better than those who make bestseller lists internationally. Go ahead and blush, Diane.


      • Thanks for the information, el Tea – I didn’t realize I could download the first one free. My big problem is paying for them – not because I can’t but because I don’t trust the internet with my credit card! I will get right on this. Your description tipped me over the edge!

        Diane, you need to start paying el Tea a commission 🙂


        • …. unfortunately I don’t have a Kindle, so the free does not apply. I have a backup plan, though. My birthday is coming up and I have an offspring who will buy me stuff on the internet 🙂


  9. Excuse me if I speak for everyone. We’re so glad you kept trying other things that led you to writing what you’ve written to date. We are all the better for it. The tissue balls texture project sounds great to me even though it reminds me a lot like how our 3rd grade class were led to decorate our valentine card shoe boxes. It sure made me laugh. Wait- they recently renovated the Walker Art Center (our modern and contemporary art museum) and used wrinkled metal mesh panels for a textured exterior surface. You were ahead of your time! Your teacher was an idiot!

    Gad Zooks but you’re closing in the progress bars on Book 12! More happiness for your readers!


    • Thank you so much for your kind words! And OMG, I’m a design savant! I’m gonna put that on my resume… 😉

      I’m happy to be finally making good progress on Book 12! My work has been so scattered with all the upheaval this year that the story just wasn’t coming together the way it should. After much editing, I’m finally feeling happier about it. Hope to post more progress soon!


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