Please Provide a Brief Bio

I’m asked to provide a brief biography more and more often. Talking about myself has always been my least favourite topic of discussion, so it’s hard. Damned near impossible. Really. I am as introverted as is humanly possible. I hadn’t seen introversion as a handicap; until recently.

As part of my application for The Aboriginal Writers Residency at Banff I had to provide a brief biography that demanded “describe yourself as a writer. You must address the question of why you want to write.”

After reading this requirement I seriously considered not completing the application. I started the bio by stating I didn’t want to be a writer. In retrospect, probably not the best way to convince the jury that I was, in fact, their man.

At the time of the application, being a basically honest person, I said that I didn’t want to write–I had to write–I would rather have been a sculptor or painter. I included one of my prize winning, published stories, a piece I am proud of–usually I hate the story by the time I dare to send it out–familiarity breeding contempt in a big way.

In retrospect, if I were charged with deciding who to hand $7,000 to, I’d distrust an applicant to a writing residency who claims to hate the craft. I can say, some months later, that that was a boneheaded decision.

I was thrilled to have won the 2013 John Kenneth Galbraith Literary Award. However, having to write a bio for the website was daunting and caused me some anxiety: What, if anything about my life, is relevant or significant?

I think my Galbraith bio is a little better than the one I provided to the Canada Council, but I am not thrilled with it. I really don’t know what bits of my personal trivia may or may not be useful to website viewers, especially potential publishers or agents who might be interested in Galbraith winners.

One thing I do believe is important is “Mavis Brown,” one of my stories, besides winning the 2007 Prism International Short Fiction Contest, was nominated for both the Journey Prize and a Western Magazine Award. Being nominated shocked me. I didn’t believe it at first. Just as I didn’t believe, initially, “Mavis” had won Prism.

Now the downside of this is “Mavis” won in 2007: What have I done for me lately?

Well, I stopped writing again–I haven’t mentioned that I started writing in college, sometime in the last century, not because I thought I could write; which isn’t exactly true because I had the half-baked notion that I would be a journalist or a marine biologist (apparently, everyone has an I-want-to-be-a-marine-biologist phase), even though I’d written nothing but a popular-among-my-friends letter to the editor and a few song lyrics, none of which my musician friends deemed worthy enough to put to music–but man-o-man, “Wrong Woman Blues” was loved by all who read it. I’d like to think that’s a proper sentence: Is it?

And Now We Pause for Commercial Consideration

So, I stopped writing because I devoted all of my spare time, mortgaging spare time from future years, too, in order to properly deliver the computer graphic design program at a local private college. I inherited a program with no curriculum, no lesson plans and no support material. The program, to put it politely, was in a state of neglect and disrepair.

Initially, I was contracted to rewrite the html course, a course that had been obsolete since 1998. I brought it up to 2007 standards adding some css, and then delivered it, as well as a four-week course in Dreamweaver, which, like every course in the cgd program, called for support material that no one in the organization knew anything about.

Huzzah! A smarter person would have recognized the futility of the position and left. I stayed. I fulfilled my initial contracts with the organization and then renewed them for another round.

But wait. There’s more.

When I was asked to teach the entire cgd program in 2008, I didn’t say yes, I said, “Hell, yes!” Stupid, stupid, man. I was paid for twenty hours per week. I worked a minimum of forty. And as the program progressed, I was putting in as many as 70 hours per week, of which only twenty were paid.

Good bye, life, it was nice knowing you.

I could have just delivered the program, as sketchy as it was, drawn a pay cheque, and carried on, or moved back into private practice, where the pay cheques were less regular, but the working conditions were superior. Again, no. I believed in my program, and I took pride in ensuring my students were ready for real world work, and up on the most recent trends and tools. It took close to two years, but I hammered the program into something that put out graduates local businesses wanted to hire.

It was great for my students who saw the program as an opportunity–not all of them did, even though it was a private college with private college tuitions and fees.

Why spend upwards of eighteen grand to whine and complain and not do the work? That’s rhetorical. Obviously, some people have more money than brains. There’s also the fact that the school admitted some students into the graphic design program who were: a) not ready for post secondary education; b) not qualified for post secondary education (one student who was developmentally challenged, and another with learning disabilities so severe he couldn’t remember, from one day to the next, how to save a file); c) had no aptitude for graphic design (one who was our campus receptionist and was fired because she was incapable of independent thought or action).

I taught the developmentally challenged student to use the Adobe Creative Suite competently. He could, at best, be a technician who needs close supervision, but he could not be a graphic designer because his thought processes are strictly linear and concrete. He was likeable and worked harder than most of his classmates. You have to admire someone with a strong work ethic.

The boys from Mythbusters proved that you can, in fact, polish a turd. Unfortunately, students aren’t turds; although some can behave like arses.

Alas, many students have aspirations that exceed their abilities. Many will be able to fulfill the duties of a graphic designer, but scant few will be graphic designers. It’s not their fault, necessarily.

Nor is it mine. I did what I was paid to do: Teach the theory and practice of graphic design. Maybe some of what I imparted will sink in. Maybe not. I do hope so.

But what about my brief bio? It’s a work in progress and it starts:

I’m an emerging First Nations writer of prose fiction and Photoshop, html & css tutorials.

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