“You should start a blog,” said my friend Moira.
“Really?” I said. “I don’t know a thing about blogging.”
I’ve known Moira since our kids were in grade school together. I’d seen her around the building since kindergarten. And when her son ended up in the same class as my son, we got to chatting. This would have been somewhere in the mid-1990s. It turned out she was a fan of my radio station. She would often listen at her desk while she worked at her day job overseeing the online newsletter for a professional organization. Back in those early days of the internet, she was often dazzling me with some new way to use the web that I didn’t know about. Newsgroups? Instant messaging? Hacks for your Mac? Moira brought me up to speed on quite a few things. When she suggested I should create a blog of my own, I listened.
I, in turn, filled her in on news from my world. The inside dope about the radio station. Gossip about the teachers at school. Why I enjoyed wearing heels to my corporate day job on Michigan Avenue. She took it all in stride and responded supportively. She’d been through a lot. Married to a man she almost immediately realized she shouldn’t have. They had a child right off the bat. And their divorce followed before the boy was two. She then carried on as an exceptionally resourceful and capable single parent. Her son had occasional run ins with the teachers in elementary school, and Moira often had to stand her ground with school advisors who seemed more interested in keeping peace in the classroom than seeing that her son got the attention he needed. I thought she did amazingly well as an army of one. And I appreciated that she often took the time to listen to stories of my own journey over brown bag lunches in the parks near our offices.
I found Moira to be a friend in my own time of need when I began planning to exit my own marriage. I certainly didn’t know how to walk that path, and as I became convinced it was the way I needed to go, she was one of a handful of friends I turned to for support and insight. Especially since she had been divorced herself and had years of experience as a single parent. She had already traveled down a road that I could see was going to be mine, and that encouraged me to open up to her. What’s more, she recognized that I had gotten the message that I needed to go and affirmed my ability to act on it. For that early vote of confidence I will always be grateful.
Moira affirmed me in other ways, too. Just as I was making plans to move out of the house, she had started dating a fellow she met online. He made his living as a computer programmer. But with the recession at the beginning of 2009, he found himself surviving on freelance jobs and hoping for something more. Around that time, Apple announced that they would sell apps created by third party programmers and developers for their iPhones and iPod Touches. I had little skill in writing computer code, but I had been playing around with computer widgets that would run in the Mac OS X add on Konfabulator (later to become the Yahoo! Widget Engine). I don’t remember how the idea first came up, but Moira had a hand in bringing my creative energy together with her own guy’s interest in creating his own line of iPhone apps. Somewhere in the spring of 2009 we started work in earnest. A number of ideas tantalized us including an iPhone based musical instrument that played chords in the rhythm that you shook the device and an iPhone based car racing simulator (in which the device itself would function as the steering wheel). But we soon realized it would be best to start with a simple and much more mass appeal word game. The screen would display a scrambled assortment of letters. Players would then spell the longest word possible and move on to the next set of scrambled letters. Certain letters earned you extra points. Using all the available letters doubled your score. Oh, and you had two minutes to rack up as many points as possible. Then it was Game Over.
It was around the end of April that I got my own Game Over notice. The radio station I had worked for the past 21 years had fallen prey to the “less is more” philosophy that Bain Capital was preaching throughout the broadcast industry. My corporate owners had executed a major bloodletting under the cover of Barack Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009. While most of America was focused on the historic swearing in of this country’s first African-American president, Clear Channel Communications handed out pink slips to 1850 people, about 9 percent of its workforce nationwide. I survived that gut-wrenching purge and my station limped on for another three months before they finally threw another 600 souls overboard...including me. Yes, it sucked being treated that way. But I only bring it up here to say that suddenly my iPhone app project took on an unexpected urgency and promise. I’d just lost a steady paycheck. Maybe my programming partner and I had stumbled upon a way to make up some of our shortfall.
We called our game Bon Mot! and it can still be found in its free version in the iTunes App Store. I’ll say right now that it never achieved even the modest success that we had hoped for. But it was an accomplishment I am extremely proud of. I even had business cards printed so that I could have the bragging rights of having created an iPhone app.
What’s germane to the storyline at the moment is that Moira’s husband and I did our creative best to make our game a well thought out and satisfying experience. He worked out all sorts of nuances to the way the letter tiles would move and hover on the iPhone display. I toiled over the creation of the tiles themselves. I enlisted my son to use his skills as a graphic artist to render a background of endlessly floating clouds. I created a handful of sound effects and musical accents to enhance the gameplay. And then Moira’s husband suggested using both her voice and mine for the various spoken portions of Bon Mot! You can hear us in rotation both when the app starts up and during each round when a player scores with a noteworthy word. There was a lot of work that went into our little app. It was quite an achievement.
I realize that I’ve gone on at some length to document the origin of this modest app I had a hand in creating. The method to my madness is about to be revealed. One weekend afternoon in the summer of 2009 as our work on Bon Mot! was drawing to a close, Moira and her husband came over to my home studio so that I could record her voice to include in the audio files that would become part of the app. When I got started in radio broadcasting, home studios were a rarity since the professional quality tape recording equipment needed was prohibitively expensive. But then technology came riding to the rescue. This time for real. By the time I was ready to start exploring freelance work in addition to my day job, I could purchase the Mac computer, the Pro Tools software, the Shure microphone, the preamps and cables, the studio speakers and headphones, and more for just a few thousand dollars. In 1997 I made the investment. By 2000 I was regularly voicing and producing projects at home for radio stations and commercial clients around the country. One benefit was, of course, that when I was let go in 2009, I already had enough of a client list that I could begin to find a way to survive without that regular paycheck. Another benefit was that when a project such as my iPhone app came along, I could create professional quality audio for it right in my own home. I had set up the studio at one end of my master bedroom. On the left half of my Ikea workstation desk were a flat panel iMac and a second display. On the right half of my workspace I had my MacBook Pro and its second display. It felt like mission control whenever I got to work. The iMac screens were filled with the audio waveforms I was editing and the virtual mixing panel that controlled the volume of each channel. The main MBP display usually had the script for the current project front and center with maybe my e-mail app running behind it and possibly an internet browser display related information from the internet.
Oh, who am I kidding? The internet window was open to help break up the tedium of some of my projects. I’d do some editing. Voice some copy. Fuss with a mix. Then maybe nose around on the internet to see if I could spot any shoes I’d like to own or put in a bid on. Wearing a women’s 11 or 12 as I do, I ran across an awful lot of shoes that were not currently nor ever had been available in my size. That would usually elicit a sigh of longing and regret. And then, this being the digital age after all, I would grab the JPEG of that shoe image and put it in a folder on my computer. If I couldn’t actually own and wear some amazing pair of boots or platforms, at least I could have a record of its existence to cherish and pine over. Technology to the rescue yet again.
But wait, there’s more. Back in my early days as a Mac owner, I played around with various modifications that allowed a user to change the way his or her computer looked. Moira actually turned me onto some of these hacks back in the early days of our friendship. Before long I was redesigning the icons for my applications and folders and crafting distinctive desktop backgrounds and creating an iTunes interface that would let me read my computer screen from across the room to see what songs my favorite internet station was playing. One of the widgets that quickly caught my eye back then would rotate through a specified folder of photos displaying them in a small desktop window one at a time. It occurred to me that my growing folder of footwear faves would be just the sort of collection of images to rotate in such a window. So while in my studio actively working on displays 1, 2, and 3, screen number 4 contained the overflow from my laptop desktop and delighted me with the shoe images I’d discovered in my ramblings on the web.
Have I mentioned how much I love technology?
By now, you may be wondering how I’m planning to pull together all the loose threads I’ve created in this chapter. The denouement is simple. On that fateful summer weekend afternoon in 2009, my programming partner had brought his wife over to my home studio to step up to the microphone and say a few words. While Moira stood behind me waiting for me to get my gear up and running and check my levels on the iMac screens, she noticed my photo album widget refreshing every 60 seconds with another pair of fabulous shoes. I’d been collecting footwear images for more than five years, I explained to her, and my folder was full of a lot of cool styles I’d seen. I told her I enjoyed having all those different pictures flash up on my display as I worked. It was a labor of love because, as she knew, I really dug shoes. And that’s when she said those inspiring words for which I will be forever thankful. I don’t know how she did it so many times throughout our friendship, but she often knew just the thing I needed to hear.
“You should start a blog.”
[On the feet here as I blog: a sudden burst of color in my wardrobe with the blue with yellow toe cap Mia lace-up booties from Miista accompanied by the black Carina clog boot from Neosens.]