The Road Not Considered


My latest from the Walnut Creek Patch…originally published January 4th, 2011.

There seem to be a lot of people in the world who list high school as the happiest time of their life. And while I certainly loved riding in the back of Phil’s Volkswagen bug with six other of my fellow Lincolnian newspaper editors in the middle of the night to get Mongolian barbecue, I’m not sure high school was it for me. College perhaps? Of course, Stanford was fantastic. Surrounded by really smart kids in my penny loafers and blazer and dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” as if I had any business dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Studying literature at Oxford? Dreamy spires and Guinness at the ready and fulfilling every Anglophile fantasy I’d ever had? Priceless. Living as a single gal in Washington D.C. with my dear friends and late nights at Millie & Al’s with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” on the jukebox (So Good! So Good! So Good!). Perhaps. But not quite.

Thinking back to the jobs I’ve held in my life, I have to laugh. My first real job was writing newsletters for home owner’s associations, reminding residents “please do not allow your children to enter the hot tub wearing diapers as they are prone to dissolve in the hot water.” Which is, of course, valuable knowledge to have. As an intern at the Sierra Club in Washington D.C., I was on a team of people responsible for conducting a “21 Chainsaw Salute” on the lawn of the White House in protest of the annihilation of the Northern Spotted Owl. What could be better? After graduate school, I moved to Washington D.C. again, this time for real, and got a job with a think tank. Sounds rather intellectual, don’t you think? There I was, little Katie with dreams of clandestinely spreading the message of Democracy and a liberal social agenda within the walls of a conservative think tank. What they didn’t explain to me in my interview is that one of my tasks would be to follow Robert Bork around with a battery-operated ash tray to ensure that he did not drop his cigarettes on any of the carpets in the foyer. Fulfilling? How could it not be? Later, as a public relations professional, I got to come up with taglines for a new condom called…wait for it…EZ-On. Could life get better than that? The answer is, yes, as I was later allowed to don a 70′s style aerobic outfit, complete with leg warmers, and visit local Bay Area radio stations with the latest offerings from Hot Pockets. Jealous, are you?

And then, after many years of taglines and product launches and press releases, something miraculous occurred. I gave birth to my first son and went on maternity leave. Wait, let me back up. My son was two weeks overdue and my nesting instinct was in overdrive. Bored with watching ER reruns on TNT and unable to walk across the room without hyperventilating, my husband suggested that I revisit an old talent and take out some construction paper, scissors and a glue stick and creating artwork for our baby-to-be. And what began with hormones and a glue stick has turned into k.t. blue designs (www.ktblue.com), my handcut paper artwork business that is now going on eight years (and another son) old. You see, after I finally gave birth and friends came over to see our new little one, they’d see the big personalized collage I had made and, by some stroke of sheer luck and wonderment, started ordering them. Since then, I’ve created wall art for nurseries, living rooms, children’s rooms and kitchens from California to Virginia and lots of spots in between.

I started out specializing just in handmade, personalized framed artwork, featuring a child’s name and likeness. I’ve now grown to offer a wide variety of artwork, stationery (including, note cards, notebooks, magnets and other cute items) and apparel (children’s tees and onesies). I’ve made dogs and vacation homes. Created artwork based on heartbreaking quotations and love songs. I’ve even made Burt Reynolds atop a bearskin rug. (Don’t ask.) And in the last two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to share my love of art by teaching art appreciation classes for children both privately and as after school enrichment classes at my sons’ elementary school. And this amazing new turn my life has taken has been both unexpected and expected. I’ve always created art from paper – my friends from college can tell you that in between studying Charles Dickens and Jack Kerouac, I was always making cards for someone with paper and scissors. But my degrees in English Literature didn’t necessarily get me here. Nor did my expert handling of that ash tray. It was just a road that I didn’t know I would travel, and that, luckily, I was willing to read the road signs towards. Thereby traveling the road not considered.

To be completely honest with you, I’m happiest now. A wonderful husband, two beautiful sons, the best neighborhood in the world, filled with friends I adore. But what makes it so good, as compared to the other points in my life, is that I finally feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And not only in terms of being a mother, which is, by far, the most wonderful, utterly overwhelming, challenging, rewarding, heartbreaking, fulfilling job I’ve ever had, but because in those quiet moments when the children are at school (or watching Scooby Doo – why is it a favorite? Are there subliminal messages?) I get to cut and paste paper into artwork that people actually purchase, I get to teach children about Haring and Kooning and da Vinci and marvel at the fact that they actually remember what “sfumato” is…and, most of all, I get to write, which has always, always, always been my first love. I write in the form of these columns for The Patch, as a blogger for the Stanford Alumni Association and through my children’s book recommendation site, My Mama’s Goodnight, in which I share one favorite children’s book per day with my readers. And the fact that I get to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) every day and share my thoughts with an audience as varied an interesting as ever, is a gift I’ve given myself.

I remember an interview with Meryl Streep long ago in which she said that she’s always felt like she was 40 years old, so that by the time she hit 40, she felt confident and sure of herself. While I’m not 40 yet, I’m getting remarkably close and I think I understand what she’s saying. I feel now, at this point in my life, that I am who I was meant to become. That every experience I’ve had in my life has led me to this point and the culmination of that knowledge and those experiences makes me happy in a way I haven’t been before. At this time of my life, I hold the best job in the world. And while I, at times, reminisce fondly about Robert Bork’s ash tray and Northern Owls and Dissolving Diapers and Mongolian Barbecue and Neil Diamond, I wouldn’t trade any of those for what I have now. So Good! So Good! So Good!

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