All My Dead Designers

Sorting through a pile of samples of graphics I’d designed over the years, Dennis asked, “What’s that pile?”
“Oh, those are the dead designers I worked with.”
“Sounds wretched.”
“Right,” I said and went on sorting.
There’s a waxing nostalgia in me since in October I’ll be traveling to NYC again for the Perry Ellis book launch (Rizzoli), and I just returned from a wedding of New York friends where I reunited with both Mark Ingram who was Sales Manager at Carmelo Pomodoro when that very talented designer died and also with Leo Chiu, the late Bill Robinson’s partner in life. So many talented people gone–lives and legacies lost–and here I am weeding out samples I’ve hauled from NYC to Rockaway to Amenia and now through two moves in New Orleans.

BillRobinson_square copy
I like to think of myself as a designer’s designer; we came together, they and I in the 70s and 80s, them needing branding, packaging and advertising and we collectively designing beautiful things. The dead designer list is long —
Carmelo Pomodoro
Perry Ellis
Angelo Donghia
Bill Robinson
James Terrell
Willi Smith
Carroll Cline
Thommie Walsh
Bernie Chaus
All of my late clients, except the last three, died of AIDS related illnesses; the plague that rolled through the fashion-able industry as though it were a bowling ball. A big, black one, powerfully thrown.
There were others, of course, who didn’t die, and others still that have died, but these are the ones who got sorted into the pile along with Izod Lacoste which should perhaps have never lived together in the first place.
Having survived a few deaths close to me, I know that we all need time to recover. So on the eve of 9/11, twelve years later, I thank those designers for hiring me, for the insights they shared with me that ignited and fueled my design career. It was an awesome haul from 1973 when I first appeared in NYC as a Guest Editor for Mademoiselle and left for New Orleans only last year. I’ve kept our processes and our samples alive even though you are gone. Adieu.

Traveling Red Chair Gets Me Moving

H3.9350 DrybrushBeen working on other people’s blogs–Sandy Johnson, my client and innkeep at Hilltop House Bed & Breakfast asked me to art direct and write blogs through her Red Chair Travels event. I am so pleased with pushing myself to post pictures and write 6 entries in two days, that I want to BLOG!!!
IMG_1109I need to do this to sharpen my skills, Steinbeck style. Write every day and share with the world or your friends or anybody. Sandy’s B&B is great. It’s up where we lived in Amenia before moving to New Orleans where we are now. Here are some of the photos I A/D’d long distance for HTH. If you want to catch my writing–in Sandy’s name–it’s the red chair ones. Been good for me to get going on this.K4.2horses9626L5.incar9530blog

Change Change Change

New Orleans is a good change for us. The weather is warm these days, but we walk on the shady side of the street and we’re pool-sitting for friends in Europe for a month. So the weather doesn’t bother us too much. Everybody’s gearing up for the hurricane season, and we try to be well prepared, stocked up and otherwise mindful.

Perhaps the best change is regarding Lily who misses her friends and horseback riding (at Kildonan, she rode daily), but who has blossomed into this beautiful young woman. She bikes to Audubon Park to meet her girlfriends. She finds books on tape and plugs them into the car stereo and involves us. And she dances so well she will be going to NOCCA–New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts–for high school as a dance major. MariaOur journey as parents has been to find for our child a path leading to Lily’s thriving. She complains (mildly) about moving every three years to a new school, and the one she graduated from in May, she was enrolled for only a year. But finding opportunities for growth has driven that momentum.

Dyslexics like Lily (and Dennis) learn differently. That’s fine. Finding a place to teach the Lilies of this world, and to maintain a pace for them that leads to breakthrough is another thing all together. Those schools are costly. We’ve had to sue school boards for some of her tuition, which, had we not done would have prevented Lily from growing her self esteem. When we moved her from an LD (Learning Different) school in Brooklyn to Amenia, she skipped 6 grade levels in Reading Comp in one year.

Did the Brooklyn school fail her? No, it just didn’t provide the things Lily really needed–one-on-one daily tutoring, horseback riding (she finally wanted to be something she was good at–A Jockey!), and an environment for learning that wasn’t highly politicized as almost all NYC schools seemed to be.Thoroughbred

When we moved here, to NOLA, after six years of remediating the dyslexia we found a transition school, St. George’s Episcopal, where Lily got more of the things she needed–resource room, theatre (she got the lead in Little Women), ran track, and was mainstreamed in half of her classes. But it was a smart school full of not all, but many different learners so they had in place the tools–laptops, posted assignments, organizational requirements, arts classes, full blown sports program, and tiered English and Math classes that allowed Lily to progress from a LD environment to more of the Real World.

Our first year in New Orleans will be up in less than a month. In that time, Lily has progressed and thrived. She sees her grandparents and cousins and their kids on a regular basis; she discovered Crawfish and Bean Night (Mondays at Pawpaw’s) and Cross Country and Shakespeare and Dance Competitions and making a B average for the year even while partially mainstreamed.

Sometimes we have to impose change in order for us to grow. It’s like leaving a job to get a higher salary. (Used to work, as did I, ah well, never mind.) It’s hard to change for many of us. But as Stephen Schwartz wrote so well, “I have been changed for good.”

Spam Bites. And I Ain’t Talking Hormel

I guess the awful thing about blogging is that even the most simple unassuming blog can end up with vile spammers selling their sex enhancements while trying to find a presence on your blog page. I hated that. Having only 3-4 blogs, but at least that many comments on each that were about something malicious made me stop for a while.

But my ace techie, Matthew, bought me an app to do away with those blasted spammers and so I am willing to put myself out there again to get this writing down and out on the airways. (Of course my dog is growling at me for not taking her for a walk, so that I must do, and this blogging will have to wait yet and still.)

It’s a bummer having spam. It’s like all of those negative forces in our lives…the critics–the boyfriends/girlfriends, teachers, parents, who mean to tell us what they think and shut us down instead. We, all of us, need to boot those spammers out of our lives. Find someone to help if we don’t know how to do it ourselves (Matthew and the app). Just don’t let the naysayers stop you. I will be blogging much more now, so spammers: beware.

Cheers, from our new how in New Orleans–MVD

Making Segue 1

We’ve come to the point of needing to change our lives: our home, Lily’s school, get jobs, make money, close the shop. We filed our taxes last week and the state of New York gave us an extra $1 thousand because they thought we needed it. They were right. We needed it. We need it right now! We have been living a life in this little town at the end of the train line emanating from NYC. It is the kind of place that I foresee as being overrun if there were any super catastrophic dilemma in New York City. MetroNorth would open up free ridership to all those evacuating and in a matter of hours, this town would be swarming with people with insufficient food and clothing, never mind the wherewithal to cope without their cell phone chargers. The dairy farmers would have people swigging from udders–it would be chaos. (Udder chaos!)

Nothing like that is actually happening that would promulgate us to move elsewhere, but the three of us are experiencing the stress of self-inflicted chaos. We have to move ahead, find our new lives. The move up here from the city was always a segue in itself, to get Lily to The Kildonan School, and to remediate her dyslexia. We are blessed to have this one child; we would do anything to help her to thrive, and we have every confidence that she will. Dennis, with his dyslexia, eventually thrived in life; he’s won 5 Emmies and he’s enormously creative. It is he who staged our house in Rockaway when we needed to move out almost two years ago when ATWT closed. That house sold in a day largely due to his staging of it.

Dyslexics are creative and resourceful and think differently from the rest of us. They cut to the chase on solutions; they see concrete things with a sparkling sharpness that others confuse for not listening. Nope, they’re ticking away at the way to solve a situation long before we’ve brought it fully to the fore. Less concrete things, things like making a move take more of my abilities. Process is my forte. I can put things together–map ’em out, figure out the steps we’ll need and present it.

Both of us, however, Dennis and I, felt we are failing miserably, so we needed to sit down and start the segue all over again. “Making segue” is a term I came up with when we first moved up here, before the show closed, but knowing its inevitability to close, we planned this simultaneous side life. We rented an apartment big enough for the three of us should the things that eventuated eventuate. I found a place across the street from the Amenia Public Library so I could catch their wi-fi on good days and on bad ones work there. We didn’t buy furniture, we slept on twin mattresses on the floor brought up from Belle Harbor. I dozed off at night faintly confused that I was sleeping with the Jonas Brothers. (I mean their posters slathered on the bedroom walls.) Moving here, I had my plan to write Monday thru Friday while Lily was at school; write and freelance as I’d been doing for years since she was born. Being mobile, I could work anywhere.

The segue could serve us whatever happened: we didn’t have another mortgage. ATWT was still on the air. The new school was $10,000. less than the one in Brooklyn, and if I was careful, rent and all I wouldn’t spend more than $10,000 on food, lodging, the works. We might relocate for good, or move on from here. So when the notice came that the show would close, we, of all the cast and crew, were ready to hit the ground running–putting the house in order, gussying her up to put on the market.

Simultaneous occurrences happen all the time. We just don’t realize they’re happening. Still, they change our lives whether you realize them or don’t. Dennis’ show sent out pink slips–not too bad, we had a plan for our exit, stage right. I’d gleefully finally figured out what to write about–“Making Segue”. When boom–I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn’t realized what a segue I was about to make.

To be continued…. Copyright MVDonegan 3/22/12

Who Put the Free in Freelancing?

Working freelance as I have almost exclusively since I left Vogue in 1976 has an equal amount of pluses and minuses. Right now, I’m in the minus column, trying to weigh the importance of the next thing I must do–

a/ finalize the copy for the B&B’s web revise,

b/ fix the copy and layout for the Benefit/Dinner for the Kildonan school’s Diana King (she’s retiring, grand dame of dyslexia),

c/ try to find the missing months of income statements on Dennis’ computer in order to finish the income tax prep,

d/ go take a shower or

e/ continue to sit in Donegan’s DoneAgin’s shop as DD’s in the city freelancing himself, helping to shut down the Nate show.

Okay. I know I have to work on the web copy–my associate, Matthew is waiting for it so he can meet the deadline to build the revised site by end of February.

My morning was thrown off by e-mails that came from Lily and her tutor regarding lost homework. Mothering is my full time job, as any mother will attest. Immediately I ditched the shower that I wanted badly, and raced up to school but not before I dashed a statement from the defense that her work was done and I would find it! So great. She found it. I wasted my shower.

But on a more serious note, freelancing is great for the chance to be out on the streets when the rest of the work-a-day world isn’t. Or shopping without crowds, or even catching a Nate show mid afternoon. But as our Cobra from DD’s last job is slithering towards non-existence, freelancing is a curse. We need to work to get insurance. Everyone I talk to is in the same leaky boat–basing all of their decisions on how/where they’ll get insurance coverage, and the whole thing reeks. If I could, I’d do without, but that’s not reasonable; we’re a family and we have “conditions.”

I have freelanced way too long, for anyone to hire me full time, I fear. I have bundles and bushels of knowledge and experience, and I’ve designed my way through some mighty tough client-types including a presidential campaign (lost); I am great at solutions and team-building, both of which must be highly prized, and worthy of a paycheck and health insurance. N’est-ce pas?

Dennis has only recently taken on the mantle of freelance, and though he has labored in the mines of soap opera drama more than I in packaging for Fortune 500s, it looks like he will have to throw himself on the altar and get hired.

In the meantime, I have to meet my deadlines and get on with it. Though really,

f/ the treatment I am working on to put all of this freelancing behind me beckons from the yellow pad in my satchel. Not today, I don’t have the freedom to wander there, I freelance. My deadlines call. Adieu.

The Broken Arm

Lily is a daring, strong skier. She skied once this winter with a friend at Hunter Mt., and zipped down a double black diamond–the toughest run on the mountain. It was her last ski adventure of the season. At school the upper school skis on Thursdays, and Lily opted to snowboard. Day one out, she broke her humerus, the large upper arm bone; she’s been in a sling ever since.

It’s tough to be benched. At 13 it’s even tougher: no dancing (her passion), no running, nothing to do on Thursdays but stay home or go to school and do extra credit work. Unable to do any weight bearing exercise, she was dropped from her Lyrical Ballet class, and she likewise dropped Ballet. I could see her confidence dwindling away.

At home yesterday, Ski Day 5, while cleaning her room, Lily tore through her closet and whipped out accessories long buried in baskets, hibernating there through the winter of school uniforms. She ravaged, and examined the results then threw another look together for a good chunk of the morning until she presented herself for Mom’s approval. Lily looked fabulous–a beret slung back on her head, leather necklace, sparkly scarf, an open-worked sweater, over a grey sequined top, jeans and cowgirl boots with silver toes. Oh yes, and she put on her reading glasses with their smashing striation of pink plastic that shouted, “Look at me”. I couldn’t stop.

How reassuring that the human psyche can design itself out of depression; that even at 13, my daughter can use another facet of her immense creativity to generate smiles, especially her own. As designers, we are blessed with the ability to see things and organize them into pleasing, attention-getting solutions.

She went off to school with the scarf and the glasses



Start Today

Start Today

Feb 7, 2012

I decided today to start myself going, and called my old, dear friend Katherine Snedeker, owner of The Arrangement in Dallas and Houston. I hadn’t talked to her much since, heck, who knows when, yet she called me right back. Good when old friendships get confirmed. I decided to tell her my pie in the sky idea for the next phase of my career.

See, I don’t want to feel like it’s a drag getting old, but for about 2 years exactly, I have been feeling waylaid by age and illness. Illness first, and then the ramifications of illness set in and age becomes a factor. Let’s not get into illness, it doesn’t deserve the keystrokes, but age can be a bummer.

I was fumbling around wondering what I was going to do with my life as recently as last week, with my husband, Dennis, in NYC closing down the Nate Show. He closed down As The World Turns about 1.5 years ago, a job he worked on for 18 years, and his co-workers had gravitated to Nate. Now Nate hasn’t been picked up. Kind of like Pretty Woman, dependent on being picked up.

But there’s lots of us out there who ran thriving design businesses that for some reason or another aren’t in business today—even Nate! For all of what we/they offered, the times, the funds, the energy, the sponsors to keep our endeavors afloat, aren’t there any more. Many of my clients who were designers themselves have closed their doors: Carmelo Pomodoro (AIDS), Bill Robinson (AIDS), Adeptus Arts, Steve Fabrikant, As the World Turns, Ellea Handbags, Drizzle, Glynn Scientific, the list goes on and on. And so do we. We are creative sorts who are far from over or washed up, and feel we have something  to contribute yet in us.

So calling Snedeker who helped my old advertising firm (now closed!) weather the Liz Claiborne retainer at a very critical period in both of our lives, was good medicine. I rambled through my brainstorm. She listened. I laughed at the easiness of talking to my good good friend even after so long. She’s doing so well, it’s great she won’t be closing her doors—but she was never my client, after all.

I also tuned into a webinar about social networking. I really liked it. I got inspired. I decided today to start blogging, and this is my first.

So today is the Book of Birthday’s “The Day of Utopia”—its motto is “An Ideal World can only be Created by Ideal Persons”, an auspicious day to unleash a brainstorm, to renew a friendship, to remember I have things to learn, to venture forth. I hope so. Dickens was born on this day, Feb.7th. It was the best of times…

Martha Voutas Donegan