With everything that's going on right now, this seemed like a good time to tell this chapter in my "How I Escaped from the Rat Race" series - which I fear I have sorely neglected. To read the series from the beginning, click here.
It was early 2006 and I was tired. I was heading into my 16th year at the non-profit music school, and while I still loved both the music and the organization, the truth is I was starting to get really burned out. The long days, the battles with idiot members of the board of directors, and the constant stress of working for an organization that was chronically under-funded and in a seemingly endless state of crisis were taking their toll.
To top it off, the Executive Director had announced that he would be retiring, and the board had decided that they wanted to take the organization in a direction which had proved to be disastrous in the past. It started to become abundantly clear that I needed an exit strategy.
To tell the truth, I'd been testing the waters of various ways to make a living without my job for a number of years. I'd done some freelance work as a database designer, and tried my hand at selling things online. I knew that if push came to shove I could probably support myself with either of those endeavors, but honestly, I wasn't terribly excited about it.
Then CatMan read an article about internet advertising, which was still a relatively new phenomenon at the time. The thing that was really interesting was that Google had developed a platform that would allow just about anybody with a web page to host internet ads simply and easily. And all you needed was a website that got a reasonable amount of traffic - you didn't have to deal with clients or customers, you just needed a web page that was interesting enough to attract a decent amount of people.
Of course, at the time I knew absolutely nothing about web design. So I decided that the first step was to set up a web page... ANY web page, just to learn about how it all worked.
I didn't really have a great idea for something that would attract a lot of visitors, but at the moment that wasn't terribly important - I just needed material that I could post online so I could learn about HTML and see for myself how Google ads worked.
Since I already owned a copy of Microsoft Front Page, I used it to create a little website. I wrote a bunch of random articles about cooking and frugal living, I posted some photographs, and I even decided to write about my cat, Mr. Sputnik VonWhiskars.
I had heard about the concept of "blogging" but was totally unaware that there was software out there designed to make it easier to do, so I created a blog written by Sputnik - all coded by hand. Oy!
Anyhow, one day I was chatting with a friend at work who was also hatching an escape plan. She was an artist and was trying to come up with low cost ways of promoting herself. She mentioned that she had set up a page on something called MySpace where she was posting some of her work and trying to make a bit of a name for herself as an artist.
I didn't really know much about MySpace, but the idea was intriguing. And if it was a place that you could advertise art, maybe it was also a place that you could advertise a cute blog written by a cat!
Soooo, in all my cat lady craziness, I decided to set up a MySpace page for Sputnik. Lo and behold, I soon discovered that there were a ton of other crazy cat people out there who had also set up pages for their cats. Within a few weeks, Sputnik had over 300 friends!
At this point I had visions of creating Sputnik calendars and mugs and T-shirts, and working to create a big readership for his blog. But, to tell the truth, I was having a hard time both keeping up with all of the MySpace friend requests & keeping his blog up to date. I decided it would be nice to send all of his new friends a cute picture of Sputnik with is sister Daisy, but I wasn't sure how to embed an image into a MySpace comment.
I finally got it all figured out - you had to upload the image to some computer that was connected to the internet, and then you had to write some HTML code to go get the image and display it in the comment section. Geez, I thought - that was rather complicated even for me, and I've been studying HTML for the past few months... and most people don't have access to a computer where they can host the image... how's the average Joe supposed to figure this all out?
Suddenly, I had a brainstorm! What if I created a website that did all of the geeky stuff for you. I could design a bunch of cute little dingbats, and post them on a website that would allow people to easily grab the pre-written HTML codes to plunk down the image as a MySpace comment. I could even include a link back to the site so people would know where to come to get more dingbats... it was a stroke of genius!
Of course, I didn't know the first thing about graphic design, but when has a little thing like that ever stopped me? So I cobbled together a few little graphic dingbats (which were admittedly a bit primitive) and set up a new section on my little website.
The response was incredible! It was overwhelming in fact. The thing pretty much took off like wildfire, and the next 6 months were a rather dizzying combination of setting up a new web site, figuring out how to deal with having my own server, navigating my way through the dark and twisty passages of Linux and Apache software systems, designing and posting dingbats, all the while working 60-70 hours per week at the music school!
By the fall of that year, I was earning as much via my web page as I was at my real job, so I gave notice and left at the end of the year. The next few years were rather amazing. I learned more than I ever imagined I would about web design, web programming & graphic design, and got thoroughly immersed in the glittery world of the teenage MySpace princess. Pretty soon I was developing MySpace layouts & cursors & backgrounds, and I used by database skills to manage the web page. I ended up doubling my income.
Of course, the MySpace craze ended, and so did my reign as a glitter princess. But along the way I hatched numerous new web sites. While none have equaled the wild success of the MySpace glitter site, I make more than enough money to live on, and I've got about a zillion ideas for new sites if I ever get the inclination to get them going.
And it all started with Sputnik's little blog. In a very real sense I owe my livelihood to my sweet furry friend, and I'm sure gonna miss him.
p.s. Sputnik was diagnosed with a bladder tumor in early December of 2012, and given only a few weeks to live, but his indomitable little spirit carried him through for more than a year. I sure do miss him. If you'd like to read more about his story you can find that post here.