You are 16, Going on 17

"You are 16, going on 17
Baby, it's time to think
Better beware
Be canny and careful
Baby, you're on the brink"
-Rolf, "Sixteen Going on Seventeen"
The Sound of Music

Are you singing the rest of the song now? (YouTube clip here!) It's a classic scene from a great movie. I love the song, but for me, the ages are a bit off. I didn't know it was time to think until I was 29, going on 30. At that point, I'd been working in the graphic design industry for eight years, using that college degree like a champ. Every few years, my husband was transferred for his career, which meant that I was frequently giving my two weeks' notice and finding new jobs in new cities. These jobs included art director, marketing director/designer/gallery manager, and PR firm in-house designer. I met some fantastic people during this time and learned a lot, but I knew none of these occupations was quite right.

One fine day, my parents visited and dropped off several of my childhood memory boxes under the alleged excuse of downsizing. I sifted through these Rubbermaid time warps, immediately dumping much of the contents into the recycling bin. However, slipped between an ice show program and school trip photos, I found something inspiring and worth keeping.

Yep, that's me in my 1979 suburban in 2001. And those are my ice skates on my lap. Not my coolest photo.

Yep, that's me in my 1979 suburban in 2001. And those are my ice skates on my lap. Not my coolest photo.

It was a project from the first week of 11th grade. Our English teacher had assigned us to interview a classmate. My friend Kelsey had interviewed me, and while I read through her lovely account of our chat about hopes, dreams, and plans after high school, I realized that perhaps I had known myself better at 16 going on 17 than the whole of my 20s.

I was stunned by the first paragraph alone: "If Grace Eelkema fulfills her dream of becoming an artist in a big city, her studio will be unlike that of any other. Instead of oil pastels, colored pencils, and bottles of acrylic paint scattered around the room, each one of those items will have a specific place on a shelf, in rainbow order. 'It's how colors look best. Simple and elegant.,' Grace explained."

To close the interview, Kelsey kindly penned this: "Whether or not Grace becomes an artist is yet to be decided. She's keeping her options open. Being the perfectionist that she is, but still having a sense of humor, I know she will succeed with whatever she decides to pursue."

Still stunned, I sat back and contemplated. An artist -- is that what I'd really wanted to be? To some degree, I already was, but I'll save the debate of designer vs. artist for another blog post. I had the living in a big city part down. Did I want a studio and rainbow-ordered paints? Did I want to be my own boss? Could I make a living creating art? Clearly, these questions were too big to be answered in one setting, so I pondered them for a few months. In February, over beers in a bar, my husband finally said "What do you want to do?" I didn't hesitate or pause. I blurted out, "I want to open a letterpress studio!" And he said, "Cool. Let's do it."

During the next few months, I scoured Craigslist, ordered supplies, attended workshops, and had lots of conversations with folks in the field. Finally, I found myself standing in my studio, gazing at my letterpress, looking over to shelves filled with paper and ink, in rainbow order, of course. And I thought, "Cool, let's do this."