Thanksgiving in Atlanta (or, how I almost ran away and joined the circus)

Those of you who know me know that I’m just over a year removed from an ill-fated attempt to move from Seattle to Minneapolis. What some of you might not know was the reason. I’d been having a discussion with the portfolio school Brainco for more than a few years, and I was starting to realize if I was ever going to capitalize on this crazy dream of being an ad man, I was going to need to do it soon. I loved Minneapolis, Brainco was in Minneapolis, it seemed like a perfect fit, and I was finally in a position to make the move I had been wanting to make for years. Of course, by this point, I was not making decisions just for myself. Unlike in my 20’s when I’d try and move on a whim trying to make something stick, I was in a relationship with a woman that I was pretty sure I was going to marry. Moving was not a decision I could make lightly. I had another person to think about. Of course, Melissa was very supportive, and we carefully planned out a scenario that would take us back to Minneapolis. I saved my money, got rid of a lot of dead weight, got my portfolio ready, and scheduled some interviews with recruiters. The plan was: I would find a job, Melissa would move out, and i would go back to school. It was perfect. I gave notice at my job, and I was set to move at the end of October 2008. Then the stock market crashed. And banks started falling in the street. And HR departments kinda lost interest in doing much in the way of hiring. I’ll never forget sitting in my good friend Katie Dean’s living room when she asked if I thought it was still a good idea to move. By this point, I was sleeping in her spare room. We’d moved out of our apartment, Melissa had moved in with her parents, we’d put everything in storage, and given notice at my job. I felt like we had no other option but to move forward. We nervously looked at the situation, gritted our teeth, and moved forward with our plan. The rest, of course, is history-I spent nine months in Minneapolis desperately trying to find work, then came slinking back to Seattle with my tail between my legs, jobless and broke. I was a failure. And worse, I had dragged Melissa down with me. This SVC class has gone a long way towards getting my confidence back, but I still feel regret that I failed at the one thing that I’ve really ever wanted to do, being a creative professional. Which brings us to the Creative Circus. When I originally reached out to the Circus months ago, it was just for informational purposes-I had heard some good things about them, I had been listening to their podcast, and I wanted to learn more about them. I had no real designs on moving back to Atlanta-after all, the South and I didn’t exactly get along the last time I lived there-but I was doing research, and wanted to explore all of my options. I had a brief back-and-forth with Senior Admissions Representative Carolann Robinson, before abruptly ending the conversation because I knew we weren’t moving. When I even jokingly breach the subject with Melissa, she turns completely pale. Despite my desire to eventually leave Seattle, we still have to catch up from the last time I tried to leave. I thanked Carolann for her time, and turned my focus to the Copacino class. After booking our last-minute flight to Atlanta for Thanksgiving a few months ago, I decided that I may as well see what I’m missing out on-and it would possibly give me a chance to get the work I had done in class a second critique. By this point, I had become completely hooked on the Don’t Get Me Started podcast, so I reached out to Carolann to ask her for a tour, even though I knew I wouldn’t be attending. I also emailed Dan Balser and told him I’d be touring the school, and would love to meet him. They both agreed. I showed up on Tuesday with little expectations. I had put some of my Copacino samples on my iPad, in hopes that I got to sit down with Dan, and that was about it. I walked in, and was immediately floored by the quality of work on the wall. Everything from handmade design projects, to book covers, to packaging design, to ad concepts-it was all smart, sound thinking, and it made me want to dunk my iPad in the nearest toilet in case anybody responsible for the work on the walls see it. After a brief wait, Carolann came out to meet me. An incredibly charming and friendly woman, we immediately dove into conversation effortlessly. I remember at one point, she asked me about moving, and I felt Melissa tense up next to me. I sheepishly answered that I was open to the idea of moving, but we really hadn’t considered it an option at the moment. Which was true-outside of complaining about how affordable homes in Atlanta are, we’ve never discussed moving here. We looked at the curriculum. This was some pretty intense stuff. I’d take three-THREE-typography classes in my first two quarters alone. My first class would be a graphic design class that would completely break down what I’d “learned” to this point, and start training my brain to work better, more efficiently, more creatively. She showed us some videos from their YouTube page talking about their portfolio reviews, and how well Creative Circus is regarded within the industry. This was all the sales pitch, I know, but it was definitely compelling. I had walked in determined to not get sold to, and now here I was, completely getting sold to. And not minding in the least. I was told I was going to get pushed harder than I have ever been pushed. She almost bragged about the fact that the school was about to go into “24-hour mode”, and that students actually slept in the lounges. She talked of students proudly washing their hair in the sinks minutes before class. Far from scaring me off, it excited me. THIS was the experience I had been looking for. This was my grad school. We talked for far longer than I expected, but shorter than we could have, and then she gave me the tour. When Carolann dipped out to grab a few things, I apologized to Melissa for the whole dog and pony show. But she was excited as well. “It seems like something we should talk about”, she said. We embarked on our tour, and let me just tell you, the Creative Circus is definitely appropriately named. The place is filled with an energy and vitality that I had never seen or felt before in a school. The hallways were all named after advertising legends. The walls were covered with artwork, photography, and comps. I recognized several ads that I had seen in Communication Arts, and other ad annuals. Students were huddled together in classrooms, working on assignments together. Every nook and cranny was filled with a someone hovering over a laptop. Yes, it was near the end of the quarter, and near their review time, but nobody seemed overwhelmed, they almost seemed like they were thriving in the chaos. It was absolutely intoxicating.  She took us into the main theater, and the walls were covered with work, as they prepared for their student show. The best work this school had to offer was in front of me. I was in awe. You know when you have an idea that you think is absolutely great, but you don’t do anything with it? And then you see someone else do it, and it’s mind numbingly brilliant, and you kick yourself for not doing it? I had that moment four times standing in that room. I know I had said we weren’t moving, but in my head, I was already packing bags. After a few more stops, we found ourselves at the closed door of Dan Balser. Having been an avid listener of his podcast, I know he’s not too fond of being interrupted when he’s recording. But there were no signs on the door ordering people to be quiet, so I hoped we were in the clear. Carolann knocked on the door, and we waited…to see him on the phone. Damn. I would find out later that he was talking his wife through a freelance crisis, and I know that Melissa has been on that side before, so I wasn’t too upset. He did take the time to get off the phone briefly, and have a few words with us, before getting back on the phone. Later, after I emailed him to thank him for his time, he told me to feel free to send him some samples, and he would be willing to offer some critiques, which is awesome. I’ll be sending him some stuff when I get home, and I want to thank him now for his support. With that, the tour wound down, and we found ourselves back at the door of the school. I thanked Carolann for her time, and she reminded me of the deadlines for the scholarships that they offered for students starting the fall. We left, and my head was spinning. Never did I ever expect the experience I had just had. I’ve visited several ad schools, and they’ve ranged from friendly and inviting (Brainco) to slightly arrogant and condescending (Miami Ad School), to flat out boring and slightly stalkerish (The Art Institutes). But I’ve never had the urge to enroll right then and there for a program the way I did at Circus. Which, of course, brings our story full circle.  I currently live in Seattle. Creative Circus is currently in Atlanta. Despite my mother’s best wishes, and attempts to convince us otherwise, we’re not moving to Atlanta anytime soon. Even if we were to attempt to move, I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with the eye rolls and backtalk that would come from another “HUR HUR Dwight’s moving AGAIN” announcement. And I know Melissa, who is not a risk-taker by nature, doesn’t want to take the chance on another move that might fail. None of this is news to me. None of this is news to anyone who knows me. So I don’t know why I’m so disappointed right now. Part of me wishes I had never taken that tour after all. Sometimes it’s better to remain willfully ignorant on what you’re missing out on, I suppose. I wish I had known about Creative Circus ten years ago-I’d have gone in a heartbeat. I’m not really at the age anymore where I can just pick up and move, either for a job, or an amazing opportunity like this. Melissa says that we can look at it in a couple of years, but at that point, I’ll be 36 years old. Will I still have the spirit to keep fighting at that point? I don’t have it bad, by any means. This Copacino class has taken me further along than I had ever been to this point, and whether or not I get the internship, I know that I’ll have a better book than I had before. I’ll still take classes at SVC when interesting ones come up. And hopefully, I’ll continue to build relationships and get constructive feedback on the work I’m putting together. And I know that will pay off, eventually. I just hope I have some time to enjoy it. NEXT TIME: Snomaggedon 2010 claims a victim in the form of one of my ad classes, as we don’t get a makeup date. We have one final class, and our final assignment is to completely rework one of the projects we did over the course of our class. But we get two weeks to do it, so I get to give it an amazing amount of polish. I’m also going to catch up with one of my classmates to help him work on his amazing ru2hot idea. And I try to remain sane as some of my freelance projects finish up. Yes, It’s going to be a crazy December.

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Dwight Battle

Studio Battle, 9410 35th Ave SW #A, Seattle, WA 98126, USA

Dwight Battle is an award-winning independent art director specializing in mobile and digital design, branding, and creative direction. Dwight has been an art director and designer for over twelve years, and have worked with a variety of clients in a variety of stages of growth, from Fortune 500 companies to small family businesses, and from established companies to early-stage startups.