Monday, May 12, 2008

Too Many Hours

I got into the desktop publishing business in a very backhanded way. Over twenty-two years ago, Saul got into a program at Temple University that was designed to retrain math teachers to teach computers. He was only two courses away from receiving his math certification when this came up. When he was accepted into the program (and how that came about is a lesson for all of us which I will probably tell sometime in the future), he took to it like a duck to water. My degree in college was in business education with a major in typing and shorthand. Despite my high school art teacher's arranging for an art scholarship for me, my parents had managed to convince me that I was not talented enough to make a living as an artist and that teaching business would be the perfect backup plan. I plowed my way through a lot of boring courses and graduated in three years, mostly so I could get it over with. I took every available elective in art. I had a nightmare of a student teaching experience at Abington High School's South Campus, the upper two grades. I was only 19 when I did my student teaching and was only a year older than some of my students. That also is another story. I was turned off to teaching and took a bunch of low-paying secretarial jobs when I graduated. By then, I hated every moment of my life that I had spent in front of a keyboard, although with all that practice, I was typing 100 words per minute.

Saul had set up a folding table in our bedroom where he could stay up into the wee hours of the night learning computer languages, programming, etc. on our TI-99C. If he succeeded in passing the course, he would qualify for one of the new Apple IIGS machines that were just becoming available. I was constantly being awakened by either the R2D2-like sounds coming from the computer, or by Saul himself, who kept waking me to show me all the "exciting things" he was learning to do. Frequently, on Saturday afternoons I would accompany him to a computer users group at LaSalle College. I kept trying to catch his excitement, but all I kept seeing were the hours and hours of sitting in front of a keyboard.

One day, he came to me all excited about an article he had read in a publication called Home Office Computing. I had idly leafed through some of his computer magazines, and most of the time, they were like reading Greek. He told me that he had read about a new field called desktop publishing that would be right up my alley. I was having no parts of it--more hours in front of a keyboard. He finally got me to read the article by promising me that if I just read this one article, he would no longer bug me about the computer—no more waking me up in the middle of the night or dragging me to meetings. How could I resist? But, he was right. It was up my alley. I was hooked when I read that clients would be willing to pay more per hour for artwork on the computer than for keyboarding. Within a week of reading that article, we used our credit cards to buy everything I needed to become a desktop publisher, about $10,000 worth.

I was really excited when I went to my first MacWorld Convention in Boston and saw a video presentation of Adobe Illustrator 88. I was there when Pixar came out with its first computer-animated shorts. I drooled all over a software called Renderman which I could never afford. I could not wait to get my first scanner and my first graphics pad. Just like Saul, I was like a kid in a candy store.

I have really enjoyed my creative projects on the computer over the last 22 years, but I wish there had been more of them. I did spend a sizable portion of my life doing boring work in front of a keyboard and I would probably have almost another lifetime if I could have all those hours back. That being said, working on the computer has evolved in so many ways that I rarely need to actually type anymore, and the boring part of dealing with moving words around takes less and less time these days. My problem now is that it has become so interesting when I am not working, that I am spending more hours than ever in front of this keyboard. I had a blood clot six years ago, and sitting here for long hours is not physically doing me any good. I know I should get up and walk around every 15 minutes, but come on, how can anyone really get anything done that way?

So here I sit, after a whole day of trying to make a deadline for my job, writing my blog and enjoying every minute of that, and wondering physically and mentally if I am just spending too many hours in front of the keyboard for my own good.


Ari said...

I heard recently on This American Life that the average American spends 29 hours per week watching television.

Since you spend the time you should be sleeping watching TV, those sedentary hours should cancel themselves out.

Thus, you can budget yourself 29 hours per week to sit in front of the computer and still be average.

Marilyn said...

Average is something I have never aspired to be, and when I am working, I can spend 12 hours on the computer in one day alone. In my younger days, it sometimes was 16, but that really makes me feel bad physically, now. It has been worth it, though, to have the benefit all these years of making my own hours so that I could free up time to be where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there.

sabasenders said...

First a correction TI-99/4A.

When I look back at all the years you have done DTP. I am pleased and amazed at/with your artistic tallent. You write so well, that I am sorry that you have not seriously pursued this tallent. Maybe soon you will.