A Profile Trifecta

Another 45 minutes of fame?

In 1968, Andy Warhol shared the immortal words, “in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” If that’s true, I got another 45 minutes worth this past week when interviews with me were published in various formats in three publications.

The Saturday Evening Post

The first was, of all things, the Saturday Evening Post. Yeah — the same publication famous for Normal Rockwell Americana paintings on its cover. I honestly admit that I didn’t know it was still being published. But it is and one of my former editors at Peachpit (I think) and InformIT now works there. She passed my name along to a writer, Nick Gilmore, who does their “Second Chapters” column about career changes. I think he was surprised to hear that I had not one but two career changes. He focused on the second change in his piece about me. You can read it for yourself here: “Second Chances: Write or Flight.” I think he did an amazing job, cramming a ton of information into fewer than 1200 words.

Saturday Evening Post Article

The Mac Observer

A little after my interview with the Saturday Evening Post, I was approached about doing a podcast episode for The Mac Observer‘s “Background Mode” podcast. Podcaster John Martellaro, who is also a pilot, flattered me a bit by calling me a “legendary” Mac author. Our talk was remarkably similar to the Post interview, touching on many of the same topics. Oddly, it was released the same day as the Post piece. You can listen to it here: “TMO Background Mode Interview with Author, Photographer and Pilot Maria Langer.”

Background Mode

The Good Life

Good Life Cover
If I’d known that a photo of me would appear on the front cover of the magazine, I probably would have put on some makeup and brushed my hair.

For a short while last year, I belonged to a writer’s group here in the Wenatchee area. That’s where I met Jaana Hatton, a world traveler (literally) who had settled in the Wenatchee area and was building a career as a writer. She asked if she could interview me about my beekeeping activities for The Good Life, a local monthly magazine. I said yes, mostly to help her out. She came out for a chat one day and a magazine photographer came a few weeks later for photos and a video. Never in my wildest dreams did I think a photo of me, looking typically disheveled, would appear on the front cover of the magazine’s August issue! If you’re interested, you can read the article here: “BEE RANCHER: Keeping the buzz alive.”

People Find Me

What amazes me most about all three of these profile pieces is that in each case it was the author/podcaster who tracked me down for an interview. I wasn’t looking for publicity — the days of me wanting or needing that are long gone. But apparently people think I’m interesting, which is rather amusing to me. I’m just moving forward with my life. There’s nothing special about me — anyone who is driven to make the most of their life can be interview-worthy, too.

On Being Elite

A few thoughts about the use of “elite” as some sort of slur.

The other day, I was accused by a troll on Twitter of being part of the “rich elite” because I owned a helicopter and went south for the winter.

I think I was supposed to be insulted. I wasn’t. You see, I’m not ashamed of what I am or what I do with my time and money. I earned all of my possessions and my lifestyle.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

The only things I had going for me at birth was that I was born in the United States, I was white, and I had a good brain.

My parents were not rich. In fact, when my father left us when I was about 13, my mother very nearly applied for welfare. Our financial situation qualified me for free lunch at school; every day, I’d go to the school office and retrieve a small kraft envelope with 65¢ in it — government money to pay for my cafeteria lunch. I’d spend as little as possible and save the rest. When I got home from school, I babysat my younger sister and baby brother while my mother worked as a waitress to put food — mostly hot dogs and pasta — on the table. My grandmother would bring us groceries once in a while and slip my mother a $20 bill to help out.

I started working at age 13 when I got a paper route. I delivered the Bergen Evening Record after school on weekdays and the Sunday Record before 7 AM on Sundays. There were 54 homes on my route, which I had to walk, and I netted 20¢ plus tips per week per house. In those days — the mid 1970s — 10¢ was considered a generous tip; many of the homes did not tip at all. Collection day — Wednesday — was unusually long since I had to stop at every single house to try to get paid. One Wednesday in September, which coincided with the first day of school, my mother used my collection money to pay for our school supplies because she wouldn’t have money until payday.

Our financial situation qualified me for a summer job working at the high school. With three other girls, all a year or two older than me, I scraped rust off an old chain link fence that ran between the school property and the railroad tracks. The wire brushes we used had to be replaced every few days because the bristles would fall out. The gloves they gave us did little to prevent huge blisters on our hands. When it rained, they let us into the school where we went from classroom to classroom, washing the venetian blinds. The wash water had to be changed every 30 minutes or so because the blinds had likely never been cleaned before.

My mother remarried and I won’t deny that my blue collar stepfather brought us quite a few steps up from our dismal financial situation. I got a chance to see some of the better things in life. He took us to museums and restaurants with real cloth napkins. I stayed in a hotel for the first time in my life at age 15. I was even able to accompany my grandparents on a trip to visit family in Germany. And, for the first time, I started thinking about college.

College was possible with two academic achievement scholarships, financial contributions from my parents (they each paid 1/3 of the net after scholarships were deducted from tuition), and a school loan. And work. At one point I held down three part-time jobs while handling a 15 or 18 credit load. I worked hard to maintain good grades and got a BBA with highest honors in Accounting in four years. I was the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college.

Within two weeks of graduation, I got my own apartment. I paid rent and utilities and furnished it with my own money. It was in a rough neighborhood and a few of my friends didn’t like to come visit. My mother bought me a sewing machine as a graduation gift and I used it to make about half the clothes that I wore to work, so I could look nice without spending a fortune.

I started my first job right away: an auditor with the New York City Comptrollers Office. In just two years, at the age of 22, I became the youngest person promoted to Field Audit Supervisor.  After five years with the city, I started a new job with ADP in New Jersey.  I did my time in the Audit Department before becoming a Senior Financial Analyst working on special projects directly for the CFO.

By the age of 29, I was earning more money per year than my father ever had. But that didn’t stop me from leaving my job to pursue an uncertain career that was more in line with what I wanted to do for a living: write. I built a career as a tech writer and computer trainer from the ground up. I was completely self-taught and worked without an agent. I wrote books and led hands-on computer training classes all over the country. I quickly learned that I needed to write a lot of books to make a living so that’s what I did. When I was on a book project, I’d work 10-12 hour days, 7 days a week. I wrote books and articles and eventually authored video training courses. I was very good at what I did and it paid off: within 10 years, I had two bestsellers; their periodic revisions were bestsellers, too.

By the age of 40, I was earning more money than I’d ever thought possible, but instead of pissing it away on a bigger house or fancier car, I socked money away for retirement and invested in rental properties: a condo, a house, a small apartment building. And between book projects, I learned how to fly helicopters.

And yes, I did buy a helicopter. Why not? It was my money that I had earned through my efforts. I had covered all my other financial responsibilities and set aside enough money for my future. Why shouldn’t I invest in something that would make me happy?

I flew as often as I could and started a helicopter business to help bring in some extra revenue to cover costs. I managed the fuel concession at the local airport. I became an aeronautical chart dealer and ran a small pilot shop. I worked for a season as a pilot for a Grand Canyon tour operator. I sold that first helicopter and bought a slightly larger one. I jumped through hoops with the FAA to get required certifications for charter work. I created advertising material, maintained a website, handled social networking needs, did all the accounting, met with clients, did local and long distance flights. I networked with other pilots about other flying jobs.

All while still writing up to 10 books and dozens of articles a year for my publishers.

When tech publishing went into decline, I ramped up my flying work. I got contracts to do agricultural work in Washington state during the summer. I’d live in a trailer, working on various book projects, waiting for a call to fly, for two to three months every summer. Over the years, I built up the number of contracts I had until I couldn’t handle them all alone; then I brought in other pilots with helicopters to help me, managing work and billing for as many as four subcontactors every season.

I was 52 when the man I’d spent more than half my life with decided he needed a mommy to hold his hand while he watched TV every night more than a life partner to actually enjoy life with. He tried to take half of everything I owned in our divorce, but I fought back to keep what was rightfully mine, what I’d earned through my own efforts while he floundered, failing at one job after another. I went into the fight with a war chest of cash I’d saved while he was pissing his money away on a plane he never flew, a Mercedes he didn’t need, and a condo that was sucking him dry financially. His greed, harassment, and courtroom lies didn’t score many points with the judge and he wound up paying me and his lawyers far more than he could have spent if he’d settled for my offer. His downfall is a great example of someone getting what he deserves.

I’ve spent the last four and a half years rebuilding my life in a new place, working hard to build my flying business, expanding into other work in California and now possibly Arizona. I don’t write much anymore, but I make a good living with the helicopter the Twitter troll I mentioned at the top of this piece criticized. I’ve learned how to take my skills and assets and turn them into money. And unlike so many other people, I live within my means. Yes, I go south for the winter, but it’s not as if I’m living it up in some fancy condo or hotel. I’m roughing it in an RV often parked out in the desert. 

It's Mine
Just about everything I own was bought and paid for with money that I earned through my efforts. Why shouldn’t I be proud of that?

I worked hard and smart and I succeeded. Is there any reason I should be ashamed of that?

So yeah, if making a good living and owning a helicopter and wintering in the south makes me part of the “rich elite,” I’m okay with that. I earned it.

And to the people who troll me with their jealousy-driven comments: What’s your excuse for being a loser?

What’s Wrong with Being an Artist?

My reaction to a Wells Fargo ad that has my creative friends outraged.

One of my creative friends on Facebook posted the following ad image:

Wells Fargo Ad

His comment: “Oh, Wells Fargo, fuck off.”

His friends had similar comments voicing similar outrage.

Now if you were born and raised on the east coast — as I was — you might not understand the problem. I think east coasters are raised with a different set of values than the rest of the country. I suspect the person who created the ad and the one who approved it didn’t get it because if they did, it never would have appeared. While it plays to a certain group of people, it’s downright offensive to others.

I get both sides and want to explore them briefly here.

Career-Focused Parents

The ad creators were likely tapping into the hopes and dreams of parents who simply want their kids to achieve on a career path that they can be proud of. Back east, at least in the household I grew up in, that meant having a job title that could be equated with a good living. In other words, money.

I get this, possibly a lot more than women in my age group do. When I was in high school and was good in math and showed an interest in accounting, it was a given that I’d go to college and eventually be a CPA. My (lower) middle class family was all over that idea. They saw a CPA as someone who makes a lot of money. There was even talk of me eventually becoming an actuary — the folks with accounting degrees who made even more money.

For the record, none of that talk came from me. I didn’t want to be an actuary and, as my college time progressed, I didn’t want to be a CPA, either. I admitted to myself, in my junior year, that what I really wanted to be was a writer. (I’d been writing since I was 13 and still have those notebooks.) That’s when I got up the nerve to phone home and tell my mother I wanted to change my major to journalism. I’m sure seismologists are still talking about the minor quake caused by the fit she threw at me over the phone that day. Writers don’t make money, she told me. Do you want to be poor for the rest of your life?

Of course I didn’t — I’d had a good taste of that life when my father left us and we were trying to survive on my mother’s waitressing pay. So I stuck with accounting. Two years later, was working at the first of three jobs in auditing that made my first eight years out of college the nine-to-five grind I grew to despise.

I should point out that a lot of women my age were never pushed into careers the way I was. Although the ones with financial resources did go to college, it was understood that they were there for an “MRS degree.” (That was the big joke around campus.) So many of the ones I knew in the very expensive private university I went to — Hofstra on Long Island, if you must know; I got scholarships — hooked up with a male counterpart on a solid career track, got married, and put their BA or BBA or BS degree aside, never to be used. It was a given in the 70s and 80s that women got married, had children, and let their husbands take care of the finances. But my family never pushed me that way and when I was old enough to think for myself, I knew it wasn’t for me.

Neither was being a CPA.

My mother freaked out again when I left the last of those three jobs — where I was a financial analyst for a Fortune 100 company making more money at age 28 than my father ever made — to start a freelance writing career. But within a few years, I was making a good living and a few years after that, I was making an incredible (even to me) living. Doing what I wanted to do, building my own unique career path, making my own life outside corporate America.

But you see, the parents the Wells Fargo ad are appealing to don’t care what their kids want to do with their lives. Like my mother, they just want their kids to have potentially lucrative careers that they can brag to their friends about. After all, which sounds better:

  • Maria’s article about the new zika virus prevention measures being tested in Florida was just published in the New York Times.
  • Maria was just promoted to Director of Auditing at Wells Fargo Bank.

What I don’t think my mother counted on was my ability to succeed as a writer. I suspect “Maria just published her fiftieth book” satisfied her need to brag. And I don’t think “Maria just bought a helicopter” hurt either. Touché.

From the Creatives’ Point of View

To be fair, this Wells Fargo ad seems to take a slightly different tack. They’re pushing careers in science. It’s as if they’re saying to parents, “Sure, your kid might want to be a ballerina or actor now, but we can help you get him or her on the right track to a great career in the sciences.” It doesn’t take much to walk away with the message that a career in the sciences is much better than a career in the arts.

And that’s what’s offending my creative friends.

What’s wrong with wanting to be a ballerina or an actor? Or a writer? Or an artist?

In my opinion, if a kid has a real natural talent for dancing or acting or writing or painting or any other creative thing and loves to do it, he or she should be encouraged at every step. Nurture that love. Provide lessons and moral support. Help him or her succeed in doing something he or she loves.

Sure, a lot of kids will “grow out of” their love for a creative endeavor. But what about the kids who don’t?

Kids like me? I began writing stories when I was 13 and did it until I was deep into my 40s. Writing is in my blood, as it is with most writers. Blogging is an outshoot of this, a creative outlet for me — even though the stories I tell here are deeply rooted in fact and/or opinion. I never grew out of my love for writing. I was just smart enough to jump the tracks when I realized my career train was taking me in a direction I didn’t want to go. How many other people aren’t brave enough to do this? And get stuck with a career and possibly a life that they really don’t like?

Why would you pull a kid away from something he or she loved doing — and might actually be good at — and push him or her into a career they might not like? A career that would leave him or her feeling unfulfilled? Always wondering what life had been like if they’d stuck with the thing they really loved?

Imagine if the world’s great creatives had been pushed into “practical” careers and stayed there: Fred Astaire, Martha Graham, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet, Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut? And countless others? Can you imagine how dull and empty our world would be without the creatives that make us think and wonder? Who entertain and enlighten us?

Are any of these people worth less than an engineer or botanist?

Success Trumps Happiness?

To me, the Wells Fargo ad represents a sad truth about today’s American society: It’s more important to be successful than to be happy. And sadly, success is measured by what you do, what you earn, and what you own.

Parents should want just two career-related things for their children’s futures:

  • The importance (to me) of financial security

    Because of my past, financial security is very important to me. I don’t want to be poor, I don’t want to move back to my mother’s home — even if it were possible. And I take great pride — which fuels my happiness — in my ability to make a decent living in my current career as a pilot. My financial security also helped me in my costly divorce battle, making it very easy to rebuild my life alone.

    I’m also very happy with the life I’ve made for myself, especially these past few years. I’m happy with my work and the amount of time I have to travel and play and spend with friends.

    None of this was handed to me; I worked hard to get where I am. The feeling of achievement I get almost every day also adds to my overall feelings of happiness and well-being, as I blogged in July.

    My parents should be satisfied, even though I never became the CPA they wanted me to become.

    Financial security. Can they support themselves, especially as they get older? No parent who cares about a child really wants that child living at home because they can’t support themselves. But under no circumstances should a child be pushed into a career because its earning potential is greater than the career that child wants.

  • Happiness. The way I see it, if you can wake up every morning — or nearly every morning — looking forward to that day, you’re happy. (I’m there now, but I certainly wasn’t there when the alarm went off at 7 AM and had to make a 30-mile commute to a job I hated. The memory of those mornings has scarred me for life.)

Note that is a bulleted list, not a numbered list. That means you can take those two points in any order. I guess the order you take them in determines, in part, the kind of parent you are.

Now where’s the Wells Fargo ad promoting careers as dancers or actors? You know, you can send a kid to a costly school for that, too.