Prairienet: How I Made Friends and Found a Career

Today’s post is prompted by the happy coincidence that I found my very first volunteer nametag while unpacking a box today. It’s from way back in 1994 or 1995, when I was still living in Champaign, Illinois. Before THAT, I’d been an active member in the Champaign-Urbana Computer Users Group, where I met a whole bunch of wonderful nerdy people, including my PC mentor and close friend, Mark Zinzow, and the eventually famous eccentric genius Michael Hart, who was working on Project Gutenberg even back in the late 1980s. (I regret not having time to contribute back then.)

My name tag!

I did that, because I’d been the de facto PC tech person in every job I’d had since I got my first IBM PC (with two, count-em, two! floppy disk drives) to write my dissertation on, and I needed helpers! Yes, I actually knew how everything worked, back in those simpler days and times.

Time passed and I got a fine job working at Wolfram Research as a technical writer (career score #1) (where I got to work with my second eccentric genius friend, Stephen Wolfram). I stayed friends with the PCUG folks, though, hung out on Usenet to learn more. A few years later, after I’d left Wolfran Research to raise my two sons, I saw an ad for classes on the World Wide Web and websites, which was hosted by Prairienet, a community internet kind of deal where many of my old friends were volunteering. The kids’ dad said maybe this newfangled web thing would be a way to keep my tech skills up while raising the kids. I agreed.

I took a class from a wonderful woman named Karen Fletcher, and suddenly I knew enough about HTML to teach classes myself. This was my first technical training experience (career score #2). Karen was a wonderful friend, even keeping me in touch with horses way back then thanks to her partner who was a horse trainer. She was also a Master Gardener, so we hung around with similar folks.

So, while my kids were little and I was learning about breastfeeding from La Leche League (not linking to them), I was also learning about websites from Greg Newby, Karen, Mark, and others over at Prairienet. And hey, here’s a fact I love to share: the first website I ever made was for my LLL group. It didn’t have any images, though. Why? It was before you could put images in! Everything was text! We were lucky we had bold and italic to spice things up. And lots of asterisks.

Bad image, but my copy is in a box.

One of the friends I met in Prairienet was also a coworker, Bruce Pea. What a nice guy. He got it into his head to write a user manual for Prairienet, since he was all techy and understood how it worked. However, he was not a writer by trade, so I stepped in to copy edit that 1995 book, The Prairienet Companion. I can assure you it was a lot easier than copy-editing the Mathematica Book (second edition), which I had also been working on.

This book contained 95% fewer occurrences than the first draft contained. Thank you, past me.

I turned around and one day there I was, a technical writer and trainer specializing in software documentation and training who also built user communities. Careers are weird! It’s mostly luck and coincidence for me, not a path I was driven toward. But I sure had fun between 1985-1995 learning my webmastering chops!

Another fact: I am still friends with Connor Kelly, the first person to ever find out about a La Leche League meeting online. That’s career score #3, because I swiftly combined what I learned on Prairienet with what I was doing in La Leche League, and in just a year or two was on the real internet, making the website of the whole LLL organization (and many others on the side). That led to volunteer-organizational fame, no fortune, and a lot of drama. And in LLL I helped create a user community, like a baby Facebook that failed due to drama and infighting but looked good enough on a resume to keep.

Hmm. I think I just wrote my biography in a half hour. I can’t believe I dredged up all these memories of myself and the internet as we grew up together. I bet my own spouse hadn’t heard so much about what I did during the decade I just summarized. I’m glad I found that little pin.

What Did I Want to Do When I Grew Up?

Hello from the road to South Carolina. I love road trips. You can sure think a lot. You can also knit a lot. I’ve actually arrived at the end of the pattern I’m making, but because I’m using different yarn and needles, I’m going to repeat the lace pattern.

Best picture I could get in the car. You can get the idea.

I have plenty of yarn left. I enjoy knitting without disturbances. It lets me think of new techniques to try, modifications to make, and things I want to try next. I was wondering if I could crochet a border off live knitting stitches (not bound off). I think I’ve seen socks done that way, with crocheted cuffs.

I can’t wait to block it.

I could knit for my job, if I’d taken that choice when it came to me. I love the science of designing patterns, love teaching it (so much, oh so much), like to go to conferences, and all that. And I do technical writing, which helps a lot. I’d have to have figured out a niche and done a lot of marketing, like so many of my knitting friends did so well. Knitting blogs got a lot of folks started, and I loved doing that, too.

So much comfort.

That dream ended as abruptly as my work in La Leche League did. I didn’t have the self confidence and hadn’t healed enough to figure out a way to get through the hard part and start again, which I now can do. I no longer just disappear when I’m unfairly treated and no longer believe what other people say. Woo!

What Else Did I Want to Do?

But, who knows, I have a lot of years left! There’s another alternate route I could have taken, like the road less traveled. Yes, it’s exactly like two roads diverging in a woods, because I didn’t choose the one leading into a forest.

I do love those plants!

In college, I concentrated hard on classes leading to an interdisciplinary degree in linguistics. I loved studying all the different areas, and was strongly tempted by neurolinguistics. Brains fascinated me. (Still do; notice what I read about now.)

But, I had to get those darned prerequisites out of the way. I did most of them in the wonderful honors program, but I got burned by an awful teacher in Biology who gave exams that were ten essay questions where if you missed any part of the answer, the whole thing was wrong. That ended up ruining my boyfriend and his best friend’s GPAs. I was like, “You ain’t messing with my summa cum laude, asshole,” and got the only A in the class. I gave him one scathing evaluation.

Crimson clover to cleanse your palate from that guy.

That preamble was intended to explain why I took my second biology class as a normal class, with a grad student TA instead of a mean full professor. The class mostly covered genetics and biochemistry. I ate it up like ice cream. Figuring out chromosomes and proteins and all that was like figuring out puzzles. It was so fun.

I always wanted to know how plants worked. This is a beautiful invasive vetch in Georgia.

I stayed after and asked the teacher questions. This guy was studying bees for his doctoral research, so I asked a lot about insect genetics. All I now remember is that he always wore incredibly wrinkled shirts, apparently because his girlfriend didn’t have an iron. There was much good-natured kidding, and he rewarded us with wearing an ironed shirt to the final exam.

Like this wild azalea hiding in a prissy trimmed hedge, I was nature girl stuck in academia.

Because I answered all the extra credit questions right, I didn’t need to pass the final, but I did it for fun. Then came the fateful question. The TA took me aside and begged me to switch majors. Biology needed me! I said I’d think about it. With my love of trees and springs and swamps, I imagined becoming a wildlife biologist and working with a State agency.

But, by that time I was already accepted to grad school in linguistics with a full fellowship. I had to take that path. Plus I was following my boyfriend. Hint to young people: your vocational choice should be determined by your brain, not hormones. I’ve been stuck working with language a lot longer than I had my boyfriend (a great human, don’t get me wrong).

The Good Part

But, all was not lost. I came to the Hermits’ Rest and got to hang out with Sara, the genetics PhD. And I met Dorothy, who’s not only a blog/podcast sponsor, but also got me into the Texas Master Naturalist program! I now get to do biology every day if I want to, I get to study the natural world, and if I can’t BE a wildlife biologist, at least I get to hang out with them! And I do work with a State agency.

Like this fine plantain, I’m choosing to find beauty wherever I am and grow where I’m planted.

It took me a while, but I did get to be what I wanted to be when I grew up. It just took patience.

So, have you attained your goals? Does your vocation match your avocation?

Should I Step Off a Cliff?

Of course, I mean a metaphorical cliff. Something’s been mulling around in my brain for the past few weeks. It would entail a change in what I do in my work, but not leaving my job(s) or anything.

Thinking about that metaphorical leap. Photo by @alexrhymethat

They always say to follow your passion, and my passion is not necessarily technical writing. It’s more like enabling people to do their best work possible (which is, indeed, what I do, or try to). I have an idea where I could do more of that in my so-called career.

Inspired by reading so many darned books about envisioning what you want and then making it happen, I’ve actually scheduled to talk about my ideas with someone who could help me out. That’s like jumping off a cliff, for me. I don’t do it often, though the last time I did, it worked, and it led me where I am today.

My gut tells me I only have a few more years left in the standard workplace, and I want to figure out how I can make the most of them. So, I am putting my intention out there and acting on it, as well.

Leap of faith time! Image by @jryoung via Twenty20.

Good thoughts are welcome! Share your success stories, while you’re at it!

Crissi McDonald

Heartline Horse Training

sara annon

seeking the middle path

Tonya's Tall Tales

My life with horses, bunnies, chickens, ducks, and cows.

rfljenksy - Practicing Simplicity

Legendary Wining and Dining World Tour.

The Backyard Horse Blog

All about keeping horses at home

Hazel's Animal Adventures

My life on the ranch.

Diary Of The Wests

The West Household Runs Of Love And Laughter

Katie Zapfel

Children's book author. Mom blogger.

365 Knit Socks

I knit a lot of socks

recoveringpornaddictcom.wordpress.com/

Coach, author and educator

The daily addict

The daily life of an addict in recovery

Just Vee

A regular gal who likes to stop and smell the flowers.

Happy Heidi's Happenings

My life in the country.

BrownesPups

A family of dog lovers, owners & breeders since 2015

The Adventures of a Mountain Coward

panic-stricken mountain adventuring!

Something Over Tea

Scribbles from my notebook

The Renegade Press

Tales from the mouth of a wolf

Heccateisis's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

The Upstate Gardener

The Upstate Gardening blog with Gardening Information, Recipies, Home Improvement Ideas, and Crafts Projects to make your life more beautiful and healthy.

Read, Learn, Live

Look closely around and about you, and you will see all forms of beauty.

Nature And Photography

Bring Nature Into Life

AT PATHO

no streetlights, just star light

Words and Stitches

woolgathering at its best

The Grief Reality

Normalising the conversation about Grief.

iRoseStudios.com

Art Studio Dumfriesshire

The Creative Pixie

eat up some crafty goodness with this creative mama

Writings of a Furious Woman

My thoughts, sentiments, and scribbles on womanhood

Paws Bark

Dogs Leave Paw Print in your Heart

Yeshua's Child Art

Art that Expresses the Heart

Chicken Coop Plans

Build Your Chicken a Home

Leaf And Twig

Where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry.

Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

Cathartic Tendencies

motivational posts, rants, and stories!

TotallyTexasGifts.com

Featuring Fine Arts & Crafts created and sold by Texans

Seasons As My Teacher

Truth Written In The Wind

claudiajustsaying

Aging & Attitude

The Tragedy Kween

A boisterous introvert illustrating her way through life.

Zoewiezoe

Where a little insanity goes a long way