past lives

This isn't so much about what I did "before" I was a writer as all of the other things I've done "aside from" being a writer.  So here is a select list, in reverse chronological order:

  • Interpreter and Translator: I did a number of translation gigs, including managing a translation firm in Pacific Palisades, near Malibu, California.  In 1997, I was asked to interpret for a Slovak film director who had come to San Francisco for the showing of his film.  You can imagine the irony when instead of quietly playing the invisible role of interpreter, I found myself in the spotlight, the director in complete awe when he found out I'm a descendant of Dr. Alois Rasín, one of the founders of the then-Czechoslovakia.  He was old enough to remember who Dr. Rasín was.

  • Foreign Language/English Teacher: I've taught languages on two continents: here in the US, for Berlitz, and in Spain and Italy.  Berlitz, the well-known language school, paid horrendous wages, and listened in on the instruction going on in classrooms through little microphones embedded in the walls (oh yes they told us about it up front, but that didn't make it any less creepy).  I defused any unease generated by the feeling of being in a fishbowl by using a lot of humor in my classes (imagine a group of adults, each a different nationality, going around the table and reciting the most difficult tonguetwisters in their native language.  We were in stitches!).  I also taught basic French to Nestlé executives who were being transferred to Switzerland, and English to corporate employees in Spain and Italy.  That's where the inspiration for "Written in Arabic" came from.

  • 2nd AC (translation: second camera assistant): The toughest job you'll ever love—in the film business.  This involves hauling heavy electrical cable (Bates and Edison) and in general doing hard physical labor for 13 hours a day, 6 days a week.  I also did my share of running generators and best boying.  Best part of working in the trenches of the movie business was everything that went on behind the camera... we pulled the best practical jokes ever!

  • Visual FX Assistant: My first job out of film school in LA, I was hired to work as a visual effects assistant for the ILM team on the Universal Studios picture "Dragonheart" (this was 1994 for those who care).  Working with a wildly international crew on the ground in Slovakia, so close to my home, was an unforgettable experience.  Every film shoot after that just paled in comparison.

  • Graphic Designer: My second job at Stanford, the one that would last till graduation, was creating graphics for various software programs at Academic Information Resources (AIR) in Sweet Hall on campus.  Worked with a great team there—curious fact is that it was this job that helped me land the Dragonheart gig a few years later.  

  • Technician and Telephone Cable Crimper: OK, so "telephone cable crimper" wasn't really my official title but it was the first job at Stanford, during my freshman year.  I actually did make telephone cables... you know that little transparent plastic piece on the end of landline (gasp) telephone wires that you plug into the wall?  Those get crimped onto the cables with a special tool.  I was an expert with that tool!  I was also the only girl in my group, and the smallest person, so naturally I got "volunteered" to get into the crawl space beneath the floors at Stanford's electronic mail network center and help pull up the cables so we can re-organize and re-configure them.  I still remember the dead cockroach I saw there once.

  • Custom Framer: at the ripe old age of 15, I worked in a framing shop.  It was my first "real job," that allowed me to save a bit money for college.  I advised clients on the ideal materials and colors to frame their precious artwork and photographs they brought in.  I was particularly good at cutting triple mats.  To this day, I can't walk by a framed piece without scanning it for flaws (and it's rare I find none).

  • Calligrapher: my first "business," started when I was in high school.  In art class we learned calligraphy, and I became so good at it that I offered calligraphy services for weddings, banquets and other occasions.  The business never really took off but it was a teeny preview of what would come a decade later.