Geek

My career is in information technology (IT).

I am not a developer. I support software and the people who use it. I get excited about figuring out how it works, training people, and managing data. What the hell is wrong with me? I think it feeds a few things. It feeds my natural tendency to see the big picture and translate it into practical explanations. It feeds my need to fix, to find solutions, to create order from chaos. It feeds my deep-seated desire for world domination.

Hey, she who controls information controls the world.

Ok, so why information technology? Why is it my career after I devoted so much energy to music, aviation, and my deep desire and talent for writing?

There is a school of thought that classifies people as either right or left brained- as creative beings or logical beings. While I am right brain dominant (creative), I actually operate within both spaces. I can do either. I have a need for both creative and logical outlets. To me this is normal, so I never understand why people are surprised that I work with computers and am a musician that writes.

For the first part of my life, when I was completely focused on the arts, people categorized me as a creative person. They treated me as if I could not comprehend science, as if I were stupid and a flake. When I switched over to the sciences, at 21+, people then categorized me as a tech geek, unable to appreciate the arts, and super smart. While both categories fit me, both assumptions also offend me.

To explain how I came to IT, I must go back to the beginning. My father was a mechanical engineer and worked for Caterpillar for 25 years until his death. He was an extremely smart man. He held nine patents. My mother is also intelligent so naturally all of us kids are smart.

My brother is a strange bird. He is twelve years my elder and expresses an extreme form of logical intelligence. He was doing long division by age three. He is brilliant at math and science but not the humanities. He was the type to pull things apart and put them back together just to see how they work.

They bought him a Commodore 64 in the early 80’s. I would hang out in his room and watch him solder chips onto circuit boards. He would buy textbooks with BASIC code for computer games and sit for hours typing on that damn B/W TV he used as a monitor. I would watch him type code, I asked him to explain the code, and I would read the code. It made sense to me, a beautiful simple logic like music. At age ten, this all seemed perfectly normal.

So, I got to use his PC at a very young age when he would let me. In high school, I took a computer class because I thought it would be easy and it was. My teacher was surprised by my comfort level. He approached me and wisely advised, “You should consider doing this for a living.” I smiled and thought to myself, “No way dude. I’m going to be a rock star!” I was so obsessed with music…

I have resisted working with computers all my life. I like them, they come easy to me, but they are not my passion. Guess what is. When I gave up on the arts in college, I decided that I needed to get a day job that paid so that I could pursue my passions without trying to pay my bills with them. I was afraid that I would eventually learn to hate the arts for my inability to make a living at them.

Aviation was to be that day job and I did indeed finish my first B.S. in Aviation Management. Unfortunately, too far along in my flight training, I knew I didn’t want to fly for a living. They don’t tell you the reality of that industry until it’s too late. I took a hard look at IT but didn’t pursue it at the time. It would have only been for the money which I am philosophically against.

I was also too embarrassed to jump majors again, after being so sure of aviation in the beginning. I started as a music major then switched to an English major then finally settled on aviation. I struggled in college due to a lot of unresolved baggage. My experience at the University of Iowa went so poorly that I had to prove something to myself. I was not lazy or stupid or flakey. This loud, funny girl became very serious. I became disciplined, focused, and driven. I had no faith in my own work ethic until then.

I have a little too much now!

After I finally finished college I moved to Chicago. I volunteered at a fundraiser for a small non-profit and because I worked so hard, they offered me a temp job as the receptionist. I had so much trouble finding a job, I took it. It was my first non-profit gig. Their mission was workforce and small business development, adult literacy, and alternative high school. They provided educational and economic support and opportunities for disadvantaged communities.

After a time, they decided I was too valuable to let go. They cobbled together a permanent position and offered me a raise. It was the early 2000’s and I watched them struggle with their newly installed client management database. Given my need to ‘help’, to ‘fix’, I offered my assistance. Soon my boss said, “You- sit here, do this, figure it out.” My first foray into a large enterprise level relational database. Eventually, I was offered a position managing all the communications and databases for the company.

I was so not qualified.

So, I put myself back through school. I learned how to read binary and hexadecimal. I learned desktop support and network design. I learned visual basic programming and SQL. I learned systems analysis and web design. I took two years’ worth of classes in one year, worked full-time, and lost my fucking mind in the process. I did finish with honors. I did do my job better. I did complete my second B.S. in Information Technology.

Chicago is a hard place to try to make it in your 20’s. In 2003, I made a decision to move to Minnesota for better opportunities. I came here without a job but landed one at another small non-profit in St. Paul within two weeks. I was hired to work on the databases and reporting for the grant manager, until they needed an onsite IT person. I was then also doing desktop, software, and network support. Their mission is teen and young adult intervention and they provide medical, mental health, pregnancy support and services as well as an alternative high school and homeless drop-in center.

That all lead me to the University of Minnesota in 2009 where I currently work as a sysadmin. Career non-profit in Information Technology. I never set out to do this work. But I have to have a mission. I have to have a challenge. I have to have a job where I feel I am making a difference in the world. It is all just one big puzzle to my mind. I like puzzles. They exercise my brain.

Not bad for an English major drop-out.

 
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, April 2019

Sell Out

I had an odd experience in February 2009. I went home to see my mother, about a month after the end of my last long-term relationship (I’ve had two). When I walked into her kitchen, she said in surprise, “It’s nice to see you… I haven’t seen you in a long time…” She didn’t mean physically. She meant my spirit, my being, my inner self. I asked her how long it had been since she had seen ‘me’.

1993. Sixteen years. Before I sold out.

I knew what she meant. Back then, I intentionally changed who I was. I hated who I was. I wanted something more, something different, something that I thought was better than what I naturally am. I gave up being an artist in favor of a technical career.

I am a sellout.

No, it’s true. I am a musician, a pianist. Most people don’t know that because I gave it up many years ago. I used to bleed music. I could read it before I could read language. Mom says I wrote my first song at age three… musical notation, not lyrics.

My sister taught me to harmonize when I was very small, in the bathtub while washing my hair so that we could sing together in the beautiful acoustics of the bathroom. From that moment on, I bled music. When I would hear melodies, I would write accompaniment in my mind and sing harmonies. I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I knew very few melodies to songs for I’d only sing in harmony.

I was in band, choir, and theater. My mom provided me with piano lessons. But I was terrified of performing solo. I did not excel at playing instruments because I was afraid to practice and I didn’t do it enough. I think the only way I got through being a lead in the school musical was because I was pretending to be someone else. That and the stage lights and being a natural ham…

By the time I went to college in 1990, I was listening to music no less than 12 hours a day. It was all I ever wanted to do as a career. Music was my first major in college. I practiced and practiced and my abilities flourished. But I had to face a soul crushing truth. While music easily flows into me, it does not easily flow out. I have such horrible musical performance stage fright that it crippled my ability to be a professional musician. It broke my heart.

When I finally gave up hope, I stopped playing music and singing altogether. I refused to even look at a piano for five years. If I walked into a room and there was a piano in it, I would intentionally turn my back on it. It had defined who I was for so long that it crushed me thoroughly to give up my dream of being a professional musician. I could not face it.

I switched over to writing, an English major in 1992, but soon the voice in my head that told me I wasn’t good enough took its toll and I turned to a technical career. Many people told me it was a good thing to put away frivolous and childish things in favor of real work, that I was better off this way. Welcome to the machine.

To me it was a betrayal of my ideals, my belief that one should pursue one’s passions, one’s calling instead of money. I justified my choices by thinking that I was getting a great day job so that I could afford to do what I wanted to do the rest of the time. That has turned out to be true at this stage of my life. This is in fact what most artists must do in order to survive. The problem was that I wasn’t pursuing my arts at all and did not for many years. It took its toll on my psyche and my relationships.

My last long-term relationship was with a drummer who played out at clubs with friends. Watching them stirred up the call in me to play music again. The greatest gift I ever got was a keyboard in October 2000, celebrating my 28th birthday. I did play it for some time but never got over my trouble of playing in front of others. I got ‘caught’ by friends once playing Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue in D minor’. They told me they thought the classical music station was on… so sweet.

In 2005, I made a conscience choice to stop playing music in favor of writing. To play the piano at that level took a lot of time and practice. I felt like I could either be OK at piano and writing or give up one to excel at the other. I chose writing. Now I bleed ink instead of music. Music comes in, words go out. Mom says I wrote my first poem at age six. Of all the great many gifts with which I have been blessed, I believe writing is my greatest. I believe it is my calling and strangely, my crippling stage fright with music has forced me to write instead.

But I know in my heart that my fear of performing music is a personal challenge associated with my inability to accept myself and allow myself to be vulnerable. In 2014, I started to take on that challenge. I took voice lessons for the first time at age 41. That experience with my wonderful voice teacher Julie broke up a lot of my stage fright. I sing out now with much greater ease and joy. I sing out publicly and willingly participate in karaoke. You can see a video of me singing ‘Natural Woman’ here:

I guess my point is that we take many roads to find ourselves, even some that lead away for a time. But ultimately, we do eventually point toward home. And it’s never too late to find joy in those things we truly love. My music may not look today like I wish it could have but I do have it. It is forever part of the artistry that I am.

 

Copyright C.M. Mounts, November 2018

Soaked in Crimson

Hair dyeing college days
Little bit of money

Spent on a box of
Self-expression

Cigarette exciting
Someone would notice

They might kiss
My ashtray mouth

Late night
Literary discussions

Exposed to the world
Smoke in my lungs

Brown carpet
Basement apartments

Hot summer nights
Steaming river fish

12-pack on the dock
Light reflected water

Young new hope
Life determined

Unfettered and free of
Small-minded destiny

 

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, March 2018