Tag Archives: failure

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”.

Uh-huh.

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!

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Fail!

Well, it’s taken nearly 35 years; but I think I’m finally ready to laugh about my interior design days.

The handwriting was on the wall right from the start: I wanted to take engineering, but my mom suggested interior design instead, “So that when you get married you can make a nice home for your husband and family”.

So this country-bumpkin kid moved to the Big City (Winnipeg, Manitoba – a veritable mecca of highbrow sophistication) and attempted to obtain a degree in interior design.

It didn’t go well.

Let’s just say I was at a bit of a disadvantage, since I’d never even heard of Architectural Digest (or any design magazine) and I’d never been inside any professionally designed home or office.  Far from it:

Our house on the farm started out as a 16’ x 20’ shed that my dad bought for $450 in 1957.  He and Mom gradually enlarged it into a comfortable and modern home, but they didn’t have a lot of budget for extras (like indoor plumbing, which we got around 1970).  The “interior design features” consisted of sparkles in the sprayed-on ceiling texture and a long strip of finished plywood that concealed the fluorescent lighting tubes in the living room.  (That lighting valance was the pinnacle of discerning taste.  We always referred to it in capital letters:  “The Valance”.)

So.

Imagine, if you will, our first interior design assignment at the University of Manitoba:  “Design your dream bathroom”.

For me, a “dream bathroom” was any bathroom with a flush toilet.  A “fantasy bathroom” would be one in which the shower pressure stayed constant instead of diminishing to a trickle before blasting out with enough force to peel the skin off your body when the pressure pump kicked in.

So I picked out some nice brown tile that looked as though it wouldn’t cost too much, and drew up a bathroom with… *gasp*  an infrared heat lamp in the ceiling!  It was the most decadent thing I could imagine.  And my bathroom had a separate shower stall in addition to a standard 30” x 60” bathtub.  What luxury!  The brown tile seemed like a practical choice, so I used it on the floor, ceiling, and all the walls.  My coloured drawing elevations looked like giant chocolate bars (or some other brown substance).

The interior design department had a sadistic tradition of displaying all the finished projects on the studio walls so we could learn from each other’s work.  In addition, particularly good and/or bad projects were held up by the professor for discussion at the front of the class.

My bathroom didn’t make the ‘particularly bad’ list (though I did make the shit list on a couple of other occasions, to be confessed in future posts).

But the ‘particularly good’ bathroom that was held up as an example?  Mind = blown!

It had acres of creamy tile accented with green and purple, and a giant sunken tub surrounded by pillars.  There was probably a toilet in there, too, but I don’t remember it.  I was too stunned by the grandeur of the tub.  I couldn’t conceive of such an extravagance of money and space.

I think I got a ‘C’ on that project, which I’m pretty sure was given out of pity.  But there was much worse to come…

…Stay tuned for Fail! Part Deux (or is that ‘Duh’?)

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Optimism Or Idiocy?

This week, I’m diving into uncharted waters – again.  It seems for every new situation that arises in my business or personal life, I acquire another three skills I never wanted to have.  But does that make me say, “Oh, wait, I don’t know how to do that; maybe I should get some help”?

Oh, hell, no.

‘Cause that would be sensible.

No, my response looks more like this:  “Sure, I can do that.  No problem.  Is Wednesday okay?”  *scuttles frantically back to computer to research arcane topic*

Last week, I learned basic ASP programming in an afternoon.  It wasn’t one of the more enjoyable afternoons I’ve ever spent, but I got my web forms working.

This week, I’ve been reading up on discretionary trusts, crash-safety specs on 2012 SUVs, and how to get rid of pocket gophers.  Frankly, rodent eradication has been the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my research.  Those little bastards have been decimating my carrots.  Messing with my garden is a killin’ offense.

…aaaand now that I’ve invited flaming hate mail from gopher-lovers…

Most people would consider my jump-in-with-both-feet approach to be at best, a liability, and at worst, sheer idiocy.  I prefer to call it “optimism”.  After all, I’m living proof that too much prep time isn’t necessarily a good thing.  My only colossal failures occurred after years of training and/or preparation:  my first career and my first marriage.

I dated my now-ex-husband six years before I married him, and my bachelor’s degree in interior design took four years to acquire, plus the extra two years it took for me to wrangle my failing thesis through the appeals process.  As long as I cheerfully disregard the delicate issue of innate competence (and I do, oh yes I do), the cause of my failure in both cases was obviously “too much preparation”.

Since those massive failures, I’ve flown by the seat of my pants for everything from becoming a computer geek to installing granite floors to developing the optimum recipe for banana bread.  And everything has worked out pretty well (including my second career and second marriage).

Thank goodness for my enabler:  that source of great wisdom, pure bullshit, and occasionally, useful instructions – the internet.  With the internet on my side, it’s actually possible to take on a ridiculously unrealistic challenge and come out smelling, if not like a rose, at least not like a skunk cabbage.

Problem is, I’ve been cursed with an unholy combination of do-it-yourself-ism and perfectionism.  I don’t just jump in and do it, I jump in and want to do it well.  I expect to come out smelling like a rose.

Which brings us back to that “optimism” thing again.  Some may use the word “delusional”, but… pshaw.  What do they know?

I realize this approach sets me up for more colossal failures.  I can sense their vile miasma hovering just behind my left shoulder.  Fortunately, I’m right-handed.  My plan is to keep moving so fast that failure doesn’t have a chance to catch up.

And I don’t mind if people call it idiocy – I’m happy in my delusional little world.  ‘Cause it has nice granite floors…

The house Delusion built.

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