Entries from September 2014

Getting Back to Work

September 22, 2014


Late last week I spoke at the Circles Conference to a packed (and quite stylish) audience full of designers. And now I’m nursing what my friend Brené Brown calls a vulnerability hangover.

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My talk was about how painful it can be to be a working creative because of The Fear. But that if we can just do a few things – like get specific about what both the worst case scenario and the ideal day look like, get clear on what we really want to be doing all day, and maybe make a mantra to remember what that is – then maybe it won’t be quite so painful to put your heart into your profession. I didn’t really get serious about my talk until two weeks ago. I had written out what I wanted to say – and when I read it out loud it sucked. So I recruited my speech writer and voice coach (that would be my sister and business partner, Tara) and we spent an entire Saturday afternoon out at my parents lake house writing my script – word-for-word. Then I spent the next week memorizing my cues and designing my slides. The night before my talk in the hotel room I practiced forgetting the script so I could sound casual. As if I was going to walk up on that stage and give a story that had just come to mind – like lunch with a friend. Then I practiced walking (the stage strut – not quite a model stomp) and talking at the same time without forgetting that words were supposed to be coming out of my mouth.

Oh. And that was all only after getting my snotty and over-tired baby to sleep on the hotel bed – two hours after his normal bedtime. Which for a baby, and a new mom, is kind of a big deal.

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After my talk I felt high. I had a quiet, humbling moment of gratitude when I found myself backstage. And then when I was sure nobody could see me I pumped my fists in the air – like a dorky protagonist in an 80s romantic comedy who just scored a date with the homecoming queen. I know it’s probably not cool to admit that I was proud of myself … but I was proud of myself.

I made my way back to the conference lobby buzzing with inspiration and energy. And that’s when I saw my sister talking to my creative girlfriends – my tribe from all over the country (and even Canada!) – and my baby crawling around on the floor at their feet … and for a minute I felt like I had it all. And that I could actually do it all. But today. Today, I have fears, my self-doubts, and my vulnerability hangover. And now I’m getting back to work.

P.S. You can watch the talk here. 

Talk notes drawn by Terence Tang.

Nice Nails

September 11, 2014


I’ve been biting my nails since I can remember. And biting is probably the most tame way to describe the kind of masochistic destruction I was doing to my digits. Nothing felt better that biting down at the edge of a nail to get the process started and then proceeding with my available fingers to rip the rest of it off. Even the smallest bit of white that would begin to appear was a reminder that I had work to do and a little bit anxiety to relieve.

At some point I truly believed that I was incapable of nice nails. Just like some people are born with thick, straight manes and moms with access to fancy stylists – others are born with curly nests and moms who feel confident DIYing bangs on the back porch with a comb missing a few teeth and dull scissors. Some people are born with nice nails and others are born nail biters.

The worst side-effects of nail-biting never seemed to deter my bad habit. Infected fingers, picked at cuticles, irritated hang nails, and that burning sensation when you get salt on a fresh bit of exposed nail bed. Pain usually serves as a red flag to STOP but my addiction held strong. I bit my nails on the bus to Elementary school. I bit my nails in between sets of marching band practice. I bit my nails through boring gen ed classes in college. I felt extra fancy when I got fake acrylic French manicured nails for my first wedding. Not long after I vowed “Forever, I do…” I managed to pop and rip my acrylic nails off my fingers, one-by-one, before the honeymoon was even over. After I got my first job I remember being self conscious about showing designs-in-progress to my account executive … I would fold as many fingers as possible into my palm when pointing out various elements of the art I was presenting.

It wasn’t until Britney Spears went crazy and the tabloids started relentlessly picking on her that I stopped biting my nails. I remember a particular article detailing everything wrong with Britney – from her Cheetos and Frappucino addiction, to her bad hair extensions and inability to wear shoes in gas station restrooms, to a close up, zoomed-in view of her hands (carrying two cell phones, a Starbucks drink, Cheetos, her wallet, and a baby on her hip) pointing out her mangled nubs of fingernails. So that was that. I immediately stopped biting my nails and started treating myself to weekly manicures to stay accountable to kicking the habit. I also stopped reading tabloids … except at the nail salon.

P.S. Stacked rings by Moulton

Circles Conference

September 9, 2014

The thing that has consistently been on my to-do list for the last two months is “write, design, and practice (practice, practice) Circles talk.”

The countdown is here – Circles is happening Sept. 18-19 – and I should really be practicing delivering a talk that doesn’t sound over-rehearsed. So I’m going to go do that. The on-site conference is sold out but you can sign up for Circles Live at 75% off using my discount code “andkathleen75”.

Write Before You Die

September 5, 2014


If I’m being completely honest, when Gwen Bell (now going by Gwendolyn Bell) emailed me asking if she could call me from a pay phone in Mexico I was afraid she was going tell me that she was in serious trouble and needed me to wire her some money. Because who uses a pay phone anymore? (How sad is it that my mind went to an elaborate hostage-type situation all because someone doesn’t have a smart phone.)

I’ve been following Gwendolyn’s work for a few years now. It started when she shut down her blog and began writing directly to her readers’ inboxes. She is the one who taught me that your email inbox is a sacred space – and I remember that every time I send out a newsletter to my list. Gwen is the one who taught me to take the work you’re doing and cut it in half. Then cut it in half again. The stuff that’s left – that’s The Work. Gwen also taught me about stoicism when she shared the art of negative visualization (imagine how much worse things could be … then be grateful) and recommended I read Stoic Joy: A Guide to the Good Life (it’s a good one – read it). Gwen Bell reminded me that truth is better than content. One of the things I love most about Gwen Bell is that when the work, or publishing platform, or city she is in no longer serves her she moves on. She’s bold and while I may never be quite as radical as Gwen, she’s taught me to be a little more brave – of course I admire her.

I first made contact with Gwen, after following her work for a couple of years, when she was dealing with internet trolls and typical hater bullshit and was basically like “I’m out.” I emailed her to say that I really liked her and her work – I asked her to keep me on her list. We emailed a couple times back and forth and eventually had a video chat. Gwen was in Brooklyn and I was in Sayulita, Mexico. I was completely distracted by the fact that I had just found out I was pregnant. Gwen was really into Git (open source collaborative coding) and it was a little over my head. But I was still grateful for the opportunity to connect. I asked her where her bravery comes from and Gwen shared with me that her mom died when she was thirty – so for Gwen everything after thirty was gravy. She might as well go all in… because life is short. It may be presumptuous, but I left our chat feeling a bit more like friends.

So when Gwendolyn asked me to call me from a real live pay phone in Mexico I said yes, of course. But first I bought her most recent work – Write Before You Die. It’s a 30-day course that is designed to get you writing – with prompts and even guidance from Gwendolyn if you choose. These days I consider myself a writer more than anything – but with a big shift in identity and new boundaries I’ve been second-guessing myself. So, I am looking forward to working through Gwen’s prompts.

When Gwendolyn called she sounded different than the last time we spoke. Maybe because she’s been speaking almost exclusively in Spanish these days – but there was a warmth to her voice. She immediately asked about the baby and told me that boobies for breastfeeding in Mexico are called “chi chis” – I’m hoping this will be Fox’s first words after “mama”. We were only able to talk for about 15 minutes but after some chit-chat about the weather and the baby we went deep fast – that’s how I prefer it. Centering your work around the idea of death, like Gwen is doing with Write Before You Die, can come across as morbid but I get it. (True story: I wrote my first will when I was five. And I think something about making life has me thinking a lot about death these days.) When I coach creatives who are working through The Fear it reminds me that we’re only here for so long – so why not just go for it? Gwen acknowledges the darkness of death but it’s her aim to shed a little light on it.

Gwen sees the importance in sharing your story – in your words and in a way you want to be remembered after you die. And she shares a sense of urgency in getting your story out now, because tomorrow is promised to no one. The Dali Llama has been known to say that he spends time daily thinking about his own death and that inspired Gwen to do the same. And so she does. Every day she asks herself “Is there anything else I need to say before I go to bed?” She said to me that it’s important to preserve for yourself the way you want to be remembered. Nobody else can do that for you.

When Gwen and I chatted almost a year and a half ago I was supposed to write up a recap but I found myself feeling overwhelmed about what to write – days passed and then weeks passed and new priorities showed up. So, just hours after our pay phone conversation Gwen sent me a link to her own notes on our interview. That was fast. I used to write that fast too. I used to capture, shape, and share my life as it was happening and these days I’m limiting myself as I figure out what it is I want to share – how I want to be remembered after I die. It can be paralyzing.

So I’m recommitting to hitting publish. It won’t be perfect but Gwendolyn reminded me that that’s not the point.

A History of Work

September 4, 2014




Monday was Labor Day. I thought I’d celebrate by having a cookout with my family, wearing white (which I’ll keep wearing through the Fall, no doubt), taking a two hour long nap, and recounting all of my past jobs. Here it goes:

I got my first job when I was 15 and a half. I’m not sure why I was so desperate to work at a Taco Mayo that had opened a mile from my super suburban neighborhood but I showed up to the interview wearing clean JNCOs and the only shirt I had that didn’t expose my belly button. A tired and clean cut middle-aged man wearing a polo asked me a few questions and put a star at the top of my application – I was sure I had the job. And I did, of course I did. I worked something like 15 hours a week and learned all the gross secrets of working at a fast food taco joint. Like that the beans come in powder form and only become refried once you add water to the mix. One memory that stands out in particular was when I was pouring the chicken out of its plastic bag and into a metal bin at the assembly station all the chicken juice spattered back up in my face. I was a terrible employee – I just kind of stood around when we were slow and always forgot to close the cash register after taking orders. My favorite part of the job was when I got to make myself whatever I wanted to eat (nachos with queso and sour cream only) during my break.

I quit the taco place after missing a Ralph Nader conference all my friends were at so I could work. At a fast food taco place. I still regret it a little but hopefully it helped shape my somewhat driven work ethic. I think I enjoyed being a teenager (ha! right.) for a couple months before applying for a job at JC Penney’s. My sister worked at Penney’s at Sooner Fashion Mall all through college and hooked me up with an interview. I wore opaque blue tights, black platform Mary Janes, and a white belly shirt that didn’t expose my belly because I was also wearing a high-waisted black skirt. I think I was hired on the spot and told that once I passed my drug test I would be able to begin work. I said thank you and had a quiet freak-out as I drove my bright yellow 1973 VW Bug home. A drug test. Great. I passed but not without my dad first having his secretary call me pretending like she was the drug test facility saying I had traces of heroine, cocaine, and marijuana in my system and that they would need to tell my parents. I called my mom at work in incoherent tears promising up and down that I had NEVER done cocaine (!) or heroine (!) but maybe had a joint once or twice and IdidnoteveninhaleIpromise. That’s when I got the call-waiting beep and when I switched over my dad was cracking up saying “I got chya!” Good one, dad.

I worked at JC Penney’s for two years – which from 16 to 18 seems like forever. I think I quit the summer before starting college when I got a job working at my best friend’s family’s diner appropriately called The Diner. It’s a narrow shotgun style restaurant with 10 booths and 8 counter seats. I had to wake up at 5:45 AM on Saturdays and Sundays to show up for the breakfast shift which seemed like the middle of the night back then. I truly sucked at being a waitress but I loved that job. The best part about this job was the immediate gratification of working for tips – the worst was trying to scrub off the smell of diner food and being too tired to party with my friends past midnight. I think I only worked there for a summer or so and left when I decided I just wasn’t cut out for waiting tables.

I barely remember this short-lived college job making smoothies on campus corner while I was living in the dorms (which was also short-lived). What I do remember is making my own smoothies concoctions, making customers angry when I wouldn’t scrape every last bit of smoothie out of the blender, and being paranoid about getting stuck in the walk-in freezer.

I spent the majority of my college years working at Hancock Fabrics. While you would typically imagine little old ladies cutting your bolts of fabric, instead the store was staffed with a bunch of college girls sporting hair dyed to look like a skunk, septum nose piercings and a couple of visible tattoos. We spent our shifts gossiping and obsessing over new fabrics and the things we would make out of them.  The thing I love the most about this job are the real life skills I learned. I can identify the difference between silk and satin and all the fabric measuring and converting decimals to fractions and back again was good prep for design school. I loved going to the Classic 50s drive-in burger joint across the street to order grilled cheese with mustard and onions on my lunch break while listening to NPRs This American Life. 

I worked at Hancocks right up until I graduated college and got my first full-time job as a layout designer at The Oklahoma Gazette – Oklahoma’s best alt weekly publication. This was pretty much the best first job ever. I worked with my brother-in-law who pretty much taught me all the technical design skills that my fundamental art school program didn’t really cover. I made some really great friends and had so much fun at this job. It was a dream come true. And I was making a 5-figure salary (just barely) for the first time ever – I treated myself by buying a house and designer jeans.

About a year after working at the Gazette I was recruited by my sister to come work with her at Third Degree Advertising – a small 15-20 person agency here in Oklahoma City. This job was more than a dream come true. I worked here for 5 years and my favorite was the yearly ADDYS awards – it was like prom for designers. At this job I made friends who over time started to feel like family – and I was literally working with family. My sister and I loved working together and for the longest time kept our family ties a secret from clients and even some co-workers. I worked here for five years until I decided to quit and try the freelance thing.

I freelanced for a year before my sister decided to leave her position as Creative Director / VP at Third Degree to come start a company with me. Today marks three years that we’ve been doing our own thing and wow, to try and sum up what I’ve learned, created, and labored over for the last three years is a daunting task. When we started Braid Tara simply wanted to feel like a creative expert and I simply wanted to live the dream and help other creatives do the same. Done and done but we’ll keep on going.

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So there it is. A history of work – I’m not one to revisit the past very often but laying it all out here in one place has me wondering what my work choices say about me. Should I have spent less time working for $5.25 and hour and more time volunteering, interning, and making better connections? Nah, but what’s cool about taking a trip down memory lane is that I can’t imagine this list will get much longer with jobs – but it will grow in projects, launches, and offerings. I’ve just begun what feels like my life’s work.

Images by Choate House

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