Go east, young woman!
Then go far away. Then come back.
After my year on exchange in Brazil, I returned home to a new decade and my family’ new home in the Northern Ontario town of Sudbury where I finished highschool. From there, what better way to ready myself for the rigors and costs of university life than to join a reforestation company as a treeplanter, spring/summer 1990? And since it was so much fun I did it all again in 1991, sowing the seeds of a growing desire to understand our relationship with trees.
I attended Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick (Canada), completing an Honours Bacherlor of Arts in 1995. In parallel to my schoolwork, I wrote narrative short stories and satire for the school paper, The Argosy *. I also edited the paper’s Features section and curated a recipe column that I recall with some chagrin as being heavily reliant on things that came out of a can.
Enthused by studying in Germany for the summers of 1992 and 1994, I wrote a novella in German for my Honours thesis. The story is a modern retelling of the Resurrection, Nach dem leeren Grab (“After the empty tomb”) exploring how much of faith lies in the teaching (e.g. be good to one another) versus the myth (e.g. rose from the dead), using Christian allegory and a lip-synching scandal set in the 1990’s to test a few ideas.
From 1995-1997 I worked at WWF Canada where I learned the ins and outs of direct mail fulfillment. Although “fulfillment” in this case meant getting a charitable tax receipt with your monarch butterfly t-shirt, WWF’s mission and collaborators still inform the work I do today.
During 1997 and 1998 I lived in Australia and in New Zealand, respectively. As a budding naturalist I was wowed by the haze hovering over the native eucalyptus trees of the Blue Mountains and the kauri trees and giant ferns seen along several of New Zealand’s spectacular great walks.
And as a budding young professional I had the good fortune to wear many hats as a temp in Australia. I was a pool chemicals and equipment inventory manager (who knew there was more than one type of O-ring?). I was also a receptionist at a mortgage brokerage where I spent as much time figuring out which local shop would lend us a television to watch the Melbourne Cup as I did in learning about home lending. I picked up a few new tricks in Oz.
New Zealand was a professional stroke of great luck. I landed a role as a pair of hands at an electronics company just as their main product – a specialty widget for the deregulating telecommunications market – was becoming a must-have for new market entrants. Compuspec went from selling a few hundred units per month to fulfilling (ah, there’s the professional fulfillment thing again…) orders for tens of thousands. I started by answering phones which evolved into checking on back orders. Next thing I knew I was the Manager of Logistics and Customer Care as the business grew and my French, German, Spanish and Portuguese language skills were put to use. The creative wizards who ran the shop were tremendous mentors who brought me along on an amazing journey at a time when globalization was gaining ground. There were many highlights, but one that stands out was pitching in to work on the assembly line when staffing was tight. It reminded me of beading. Only noisier, with higher stakes.
When my visa was up and it was time to come home, I settled back in Toronto, now with renewed excitement about all things artisanal, the corollary to all the technology around me in New Zealand and a likely outcome for a knitter and spinner left to wander for a while in Australasia.
During 1999 I ran a handmade paper outfit, PaperSmith, taking discarded paper from businesses and turning it into paper products which I sold as note cards and other stationery. Along with being a semi-deep dive into the basics of business management, it was also my first inadvertent run at the circular economy. I enjoyed it, yet the more product I sold, the more I either became a one-woman sweatshop or had to outsource, neither of which aligned with my vision, so I decided to get a real job again.
The millennium wrapped up with me working for one of Toronto’s leading design studios, Q30, again as a utility player with a slant towards customer service. I had a chance to learn alongside people who embody excellence and professionalism from both an aesthetic and functional point of view, teaching me the fundamental importance of good design.
The irony is not lost on me that this particular page isn’t a paragon of good design. Oh look: a new millennium!
*Although this link does indeed take you to the school paper’s website, back when I worked at the Argosy, there was of course no website. Those were the days when “cut and paste” meant cut (with scissors) and paste (with glue). Good times.