Fly Me Back

Thirty days. It shouldn’t be surprising that one’s entire world can change within a month. It may not be to the proportions of forty days and forty nights, but any life-altering moments can yet have the same sense of legendary shift. Our lives are so governed by this idea of the “month,” thirty definable, distinguishable, delineated days. Everything from our pay cycles to our rent charges to our credit card fees to our bodies revolves around these crazy lunar cycles that so happen to not only dictate tides but are so much a function of this earth that our very basic biology is synched with them. This periodicity of thirty is quite convenient as a mentally graspable quota/quotient/quorum of effects and affect that it’s been engrained into ourselves, from the mundane, like ‘thirty days to break a habit,’ to the profound, like the life-continuity of women’s cycles. As we get older, the months fly by and one year blends into the next and suddenly we’re wondering where the past ten years have gone… and it all starts out with a single day, week, month. Twelve distinct periods into which to divide one’s life and to continue the human trend of classification, distinction, and categorization are just so conveniently provided by this calendar based upon the idiosyncrasies of the period our planet happened to choose vis-à-vis the period that this random mass of rock called our moon happens to deign to orbit this wacky planet we call home.

And within just over a month my entire life has changed.

When I first began having panic attacks last March, my entire life was put on hold. It took me months upon months and medications upon medications and hours upon hours of therapy to overcome them. They started out of the blue and I had no idea from whence they came nor how to control them, so I just did what I could. I couldn’t work, I could barely sleep, I could barely leave my house, I could barely see people, I couldn’t cook… my entire life was as if god himself has pressed the pause button. For several weeks all I could do was sit on the couch, watch TV, and shake as if I had Parkinson’s. But gradually, things got under control. Eventually, my mental faculties began returning and I was able to freelance and function. Things still weren’t perfect… there were enough issues and problems and loose ends and so I decided to leave Los Angeles and move to Chicago in order to break myself of this rut I had been in. Four months passed by without anything of note, besides a lot of therapy. And then….

After a year of merely freelancing and panicking, I have been working full-time for over a month.. As I gradually got over the panic attacks that paused my life last March I felt much more prepared to re-enter the conventional working world. Slowly by slowly my life seemed to return to normal. My intention in coming to Chicago was indeed to get my life back on track and rejoin the world of the living, instead of the world of those in a holding pattern. Slowly by slowly things became clearer, more focused, sharper, more defined.

One of the changes that made this possible was a change in psychiatric treatment. We switched around my medications and within weeks I felt a discernable change. I was able to concentrate for more than just a half-hour at a time. I was able to get out of bed at a reasonable hour in a reasonable time (only one hour of snoozing rather than two to three.) I was able to finally make major decisions on the path of my life and my attitude towards living.

The next major life change occurred simultaneously to the medication changes that restored vibrancy to my world. I was tapped by a former graphic design classmate to work for the Barack Obama campaign. Now, as I hadn’t been working fulltime for a quite a while, I was slightly apprehensive about throwing myself into a position where I’d be pulling long hours seven days a week for incommensurate pay. But at the same time, I’d be putting my design skills to use assisting the potential nomination of the person I support for President.

I was a bit apprehensive for the interview, as the first panic attack I had was on the job, so the whole working world was somehow colored by what had happened. Yet… the interview was simple. It was mostly me talking my game, which was exactly what they wanted to hear, as my skillset was perfectly suited to the work they were doing. When it came time, I wasn’t even nervous, neither the day before nor in the moment. The fact that I have programming chops as well as design chops has opened a number of doors for me, and this was one that was wide open. I had brought in my design portfolio, but they didn’t even bother to review it; the only person who wanted to see it was my classmate Scott (the creative director) who figured he might as well since I brought it. The next day, he asked when I could start. Two days after that, I was sitting in Obama Headquarters, downtown Chicago, in front of my laptop somewhat incredulously IMing my friends that I was literally in the heart of the campaign.

The work has proven to be not so taxing, apart from some tedium of repetitive tasks and a bit of banging my head against JavaScript. The daily grind is pretty much just that, though quite a bit more relaxed than many jobs (as would be expected from the Obama campaign.) I’ve watched more TV in the past month than in six months: there are TVs strewn around the office and we watch the speeches and the returns on them, everyone gathering around one of them. (Of course, this being the season it is, it’s frequently possible to see college basketball juxtaposed with CNN and CSPAN in the main bank of six TVs.) In general, each day is like the next, save a change in what I’m doing for work. One day, however, I saw a tall man in a baseball hat walk past me (my back is to the door.) He started shaking hands, and as many of our freelancers or volunteer developers do this, I assumed him to be one of those. I was working on a rather tedious, repetitive project so I was wondering if I could pass work off onto him. When he turned around and extended his hand to me, it took me a second to register the fact that I had just met Senator Obama. And then I sat down and started programming again.

Work. What a concept. Apart from the payment aspect of it (we all have to make rent somehow), it seems to be a vital thing for my life. Though I enjoyed my time freelancing while I was recovering from my nervous breakdown (well, after I stopped having panic attacks at the thought of firing up Photoshop), I knew I was the type of person who needed more—who needed an office environment in order to thrive. My therapists agreed: working strictly freelance at home was isolating and I was a person who needed to be around other people during the day. But for me, in the field in which I am in, it’s more than just the companionship of co-workers; rather, it’s the creative synergy that occurs when multiple designers converge in a single locale, offering advice and critique on each other’s projects. I must confess that while I believe that my programming skills are much better than the average designer’s, I yet have much to learn about actual, formal graphic design. This is something I have been receiving at the Obama campaign. My classmate, as the creative director of the campaign, is one of my supervisors and often gives me critique to adhere to a better grid structure, be more beautiful, refine my type. (Ok, I suppose my type skills are above par but there’s still the process of getting adjusted to house style.)

The best part? The satisfaction of knowing that I’m working on a campaign that’s making history—not just via its incredible grassroots organization and fundraising, nor the fact that it’s for the first African-American presidential candidate to make it to the primaries and have a very significant chance of becoming the next President of the United States, nor for the incredible young voter turnout we’ve inspired. No, rather the reason that this campaign is going down in history is geeky: it is, by far, the most thought-through, cohesive, elegant, professionally branded political campaign in history. Already the design blogs are writing up Scott’s choice of Hœfler & Frere-Jones’s “Gotham” as the primary typeface for the campaign (my own contribution to the blogosphere was my design of an LGBT-centered ad. It wasn’t so much discussed in the design blogs (which made me sad, because it had some beautiful typography) but rather in the queer blogs to inform the populace outside of Texas and Ohio that Obama was a supporter of our civil rights. I believe he stands for equality more than Hillary or (obviously) McCain.)

The pure thought that this campaign’s visual identity has been given is perfectly akin to the branding of a global corporation. Instead of just a poorly typeset white-on-blue sign (à la Hillary), we have a logo—and not just one, but variants on it for various demographics, so each person of any religious, political, sexual, or racial persuasion can feel included in the campaign. We have specified typefaces for specified uses, and use them consistently to proclaim that this something that we have done. We have taglines formally set in official typefaces with official colors, used on signs and flyers and websites and who-knows-what all round the web, in order to allow people to be feel more involved and included in the campaign. We have a beautiful, well-thought-out, dynamic website—much more robust and content filled than Hillary’s or McCain’s. And from what I hear, we are the only campaign with full-time designers—not just one or two but four. (And that doesn’t even include the rest of the New Media department, working on everything from programming to YouTube. I’m not even sure where my department starts or ends. There are at least fifteen to twenty people focused specifically on Obama’s internet presence, content, and design.)

This campaign has, so far, been the single most rewarding design experience of my career. Granted, my work has been small and unremarkable in end result, but my coworkers find it remarkable in execution and speed in most cases. In general it’s been behind-the-scenes design and programming that I’ve been doing, however it has provided me not only with the happiness of returning successfully to the land of the full-time employed (plus the weekends, which is wearing me out) but the land of the mentally healthy. I think it’s a combination of meds plus doing valuable work that’s gotten me to this point, but who can really say which is the primary cause; it’s the chicken or the egg all over again.

Yet… I’m considering leaving this job that has offered me so much. And why is that? It is because as I write this I am on a flight to Los Angeles to interview for the position of Senior Front-End Web Developer for American Idol. At this point, my chances of not getting it might be miniscule compared to my changes of getting it. I was basically recruited for this job. My former coworker Jon, with whom I’ve done some freelance work as well, sent me the job posting and asked if I knew anyone who fit that description. It described me, almost to a ‘T’. I responded that I didn’t know anyone with my skillset in LA. Not-so-subtly, he said, “They’re willing to pay for relocation.” And so began my dilemma.

This job would be the single smartest move of my career. Instead of a dead end company or a toxic work environment or even a great experience making history, I’d be diving into the Big Show… into a land where work has real responsibilities, where a misstep has serious repercussions… and where the compensation is more than commensurate. Don’t get me wrong—money isn’t the end-all be-all of my life. Rather, it’s tended to be a secondary factor in my life. But one must admit that a senior-level position at a company as large as Fox would be an amazing experience. Or even any position at Fox would have to pay properly.

But yet… moving back to LA, after only six months in Chicago? What would it mean? Could I keep up my mental health? How am I going to make my way around town without a car (I’d have to save up for one.) Would I fall back into old patterns and old coping methods? So many questions and so few answers. I don’t know what would happen; all I know is that the move would be a serious bitch. I’ve acquired some better (and a greater amount of than previously) furniture in my short time in Chicago, and moving it will certainly take professional movers shipping it halfway across the country. If I get the position, they’re going to want me there within two weeks—insane. How would I really make the transition and move so quickly? I’d need a lot of help, certainly, from my friends. Luckily, the company is willing to pay some relocation expenses as well, so that wouldn’t be as much of a concern.

I’m torn. I’ve already decided that if they offer me the position I will take it. However, I still have lingering doubts and uncertainties about the wisdom of uprooting myself yet again, even though back to familiar soil. I question the betrayal of leaving the Obama campaign for something materialistic and unimportant in the world. It would be a significant step up, but what would I be gaining? I would regret leaving my large circle of Chicago friends for… what? Money? Career?

But when it comes down to it I can’t think in this manner. I have to remember that I have my friends in LA too… I have a truncated life perhaps waiting for me. As I left town, I even said to people that I didn’t feel that LA was done with me and that I’d be back. What is it that remains for me there, the town that gave so much and then took away more than it gave? What can I possibly still learn from a city that, even as it shelters, cuts you into infinite pieces, Osiris without Isis to help find your pieces to sew you back together? It’s a city of dichotomies and superficiality, but if one scratches the surface you can find genuine people, with a genuine desire for friendship and companionship. If you scratch the surface you find, as you will the world over, people who defy the stereotypes so easy to place upon a city or a group of people. You will inevitably find the golden core.

Maybe all places are like this a bit. Sometimes we need to fly away in order to really see it. And then we can fly ourselves back to where we belong.

We’re in our final approach to Los Angeles. The crew is singing “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” It’ll be in my head all day.

The anticipation builds. After five hours in LA, bumming around with a couple friends from “the good ol’ days,” I headed to the Fox Plaza for my interview. My ex Gabriel drove me to the Century City office building where Fox Interactive Media is housed (for the moment… apparently they’ve been moving around a lot.) The drive there was pure silliness: we were reciting, recounting, singing all of our silly little stories, memoirs, and songs that we had come up with during our time together. It was really quite the perfect setup to an interview. Instead of being nervous and dwelling upon what was to happen within an hour (i.e., the dictation of my career and life for the foreseeable future) I was instead pleasantly distracted and occupied with twenty minutes of bellylaughing as we weaved our way down Santa Monica Boulevard from West Hollywood to the Avenue of the Stars. A few twinges of nervousness hit me during the ride, but overall I was calm, collected, and ready (and laughing hysterically.)There were minor snafus in finding my way to the correct floor of the forty-plus story building. My HR person had written suite 900 on my itinerary, which was not so correct. I arrived there and all the Fox finance people looked at me (decked out in black pants, black shirt, and my favorite Triple Five Soul screenprinted blazer) and told me I was most likely in the wrong place. I worked my way back down to the lobby and finally they directed me to the twentieth floor, where Jon was waiting for me. The first person with whom I’d be interviewing had actually gone down to the lobby to look for me (which would have come in handy fifteen minutes earlier) so after a minor delay waiting for him to get back upstairs my interview process at Fox Interactive Media began.

This person, John, was the same with whom I’d had a short phone interview the previous week, so the ice was already broken. Most of the our time was spent trading amusing geek stories or commiserating over past clusterfucks or heartily agreeing with each other as to the inadequacies of (insert one or more per anecdote: programmers, designers, content managers, advertisers, bosses, programming languages, and/or web browsers.) This phase of the interview process sailed by without a hitch. After he was done with me, he passed me off onto the person to whom I’d be directly reporting, the head of the department. Without knowing formally who he was, I was already a bit more nervous. The interview process was escalating, and it seemed to be going well, and the pressure was mounting. I think I may have misstepped a few times during this phase of the process, as some of my game-talk wasn’t quite as convincing as it could have been. There were indications that due to my experience and responses they might reduce me from a senior-level position to a standard, which didn’t bother me (as long as the pay would still be around what I was expecting.) From there I chatted briefly with the art director, from whom I’d be receiving the material that I would translate into a functional website.

After all the interviewing was done, I talked briefly with Don, the boss, again and received the impression that it would be within a day that I would know whether to begin packing or whether to continue working the political web angle. I stole Jon downstairs for a slight debrief and received the information that all signs were pointing to yes, from HR to Recruiting to what his colleagues were saying over the previous few days.

As I rode in the cab back from the Fox building to West Hollywood, passing by familiar sites and streets, I couldn’t help but imagine that I had never left. It all felt the same—even the weather was the same as when I’d left, as it was fall when I left and it now was spring. (LA, with its two-season weather, is fairly predictable on a six-month cycle.) Sure, there were a few new stores, a few new construction projects, a few different sights, but it was easy to imagine that I only noticed these because I was in an area to which I hadn’t been in months (as is often the case when living in a large city.) Everything felt… fit, like slipping into a pair of your favorite old shoes after a long day in brand-new dress shoes. We were going a quarter way across the city, but I could direct the cabbie turn-by-turn. Every place we passed had some memory attached to it, big or small. It felt like a favorite sweater, long lost in the back of the closet.

The evening passed as if it were a moment of déjà-vu—because, in a way, it was. Dinner at Anarkali with Brad, Greg, Steve, and Gabriel. A few drinks at the Abbey. Crashing at Gabriel’s place, cuddling just as if we were back together.

Now I am sitting at LAX, waiting for the flight to take me back to Chicago. There was a security alert earlier that resulted in shutting down the terminal, so instead of getting on my flight within 15 minutes of getting to the airport I’ve been stranded here for a couple hours. I may make it on the next flight that goes out or I may have to wait until this afternoon. The time has offered a unique opportunity. Waiting in line is incredibly mindless and thus my mind chose to fixate upon its strongest preoccupation: my feelings leaving Los Angeles and going back to Chicago.

Honestly? I have no strong feelings either way. Perhaps its because I’ve already written off Chicago; perhaps it’s because I have a strong feeling I’ll be back to LA soon; perhaps it’s because I’m comfortable in both locales; perhaps it was because it was 7:30am. I’m attempting to cue into myself and get in touch with whatever I may be feeling about this potential move… and I feel fine. I will be happy either way.

I need to see if I’m going to make this flight standby or if I’m going to be waiting here all day. Perhaps if I end up waiting here for most of the day I’ll discover my destiny waiting at Gate 3, Terminal 1, Los Angeles International.

Of course, that flight was full. We’ll see if SW410 at Gate 11 has more luck.

Finally, the saga ends. I was expecting to hear from them very shortly after the interview, but apparently my background check took awhile… and in the process, the name of the game changed. Since it’s towards the end of the season, they’re re-evaluating their staffing needs (and finance also might have gotten involved) and thus they changed it from a full-time position to a three-month full-time contract with extension or conversion to full-time possible after that.So, I shall indeed be moving back to Los Angeles, after six months away. This may be temporary and it may be permanent (well, as permanent as anything in my life ever is.) I’m still not quite sure quite how I feel. I’m very excited to get back to the warm weather of LA and reconnect with my old friends. I’m disappointed that I won’t be at the Obama campaign long enough to see it through to its completion, whatever form that may take. But I’m optimistic that this job will open some serious portcullises in my career. Whether or not I’m at Idol past the contract period, having it on my résumé (with glowing reviews, hopefully) will be nothing short of a coup.I can’t help but still have a touch of disbelief that I’m trying to suspend; perhaps it’s because I haven’t signed on the dotted line or perhaps it’s because I haven’t actually started yet, but it still doesn’t seem real. Of course, when do such things ever feel real before you’re in the thick of them? (And even then, sometimes they don’t.) I need to be out there within two weeks, a time period that will be spent frantically packing, frantically trying to find a sublet in LA, frantically cleaning so my friend Jeff doesn’t have a heart attack when he arrives to sublet my place here, frantically finding a flight, and frantically doing everything else in my daily life as frantically as possible.Now I am poised to begin a new chapter in my life—one ruled by Simon, Paula, and Randy.


Thanks for blogging this experience. I was curious about how your psyche would react to being back in L.A. — sounds like it went well, which is great. I have to admit, as someone dedicated (professionally) to reforming our corporate media system, the idea of you leaving the Obama campaign to work for Fox makes me very sad. But I totally understand why you're headed that direction. Take care of yourself, Sonyl. And please let the Obama people know that I'm willing to help them out from afar when you leave. I'm only available evenings and weekends, but other than the Flash stuff I think your skills and mine are pretty similar... :)

Pieces about my life and other thoughts, for better or for worse. Mostly for worse.