Jill-Elizabeth Arent – The Author
About Me: The Long Version
So how exactly does one end up Jill Elizabeth, you ask? Well, let me tell you not-so-briefly…
I am Born or A Tale of Childhood and Ambition
I was born into a perfectly normal family. Right off the bat, this is not good for a writer. I mean, where’s the angst, the drama? Sigh. None to be found, I’m afraid. My parents were married then and are still married today. I went to school, played outside with my friends, read a lot, played sports. Very basic, middle-of-the-road stuff – not exactly the stuff that bestsellers are made of, she said. Or is it? Because what that middle-of-the-road, drama-free childhood gave me was time – time to be a kid, to imagine what I wanted to be and/or do when I grew up, and to learn who I was. All very good things that are, in my mind, exactly the kind of things that are good for a writer.
At age ten, I decided I was going to be a lawyer. Seriously. Age ten. You see, I had read a lot of books by age ten, and imagined a lot of things and places, and decided I wanted to do and see everything – and realized that everything was not located in a small town in upstate New York. So I figured I would have to get educated and leave. So I did.
BlahBlahBlah or The Teenage and Collegiate Years
Blah blah blah high school. Blah blah blah Advanced Placement and Salutatorian and Scholarships. Then I moved to Washington, DC – which was at that time the murder capital of the world – and thought to myself, “Self, hooray, at last, you are some place where Things Will Happen!” But as anyone who went to college knows, nothing really actually does happen while you are there, so blah blah blah George Washington University, working my way through school as a mail room manager at a small health care trade association representing managed care companies, getting a philosophy degree, and graduating Cum Laude.
Health Care Schmealth Care or The Wonders of Washington
So after those four years of endless hours of making copies and trying to convince my boss that even though I was only a college student I was capable of bigger and better things, I got promoted to a Research Assistant and asked to stay on full-time. Hooray – again I told myself, “Self, now that you have a “real” job, Things Will Happen.” And again, sadly, myself was pretty much wrong. Things did, of course, happen – I made a lot of friends, drank a lot of beer, played a lot of volleyball and pool (not necessarily in that order), got promoted a couple of times, got lured to a competitor association that was merging with the one at which I was employed a scant few months before the merger, and got promoted again. And then one day, five years later I realized that Things Were Not Happening and that it was time to realize my ten-year old self’s dream and go to law school. So I did.
The Devil’s Advocate or Why Law School and Lawyers Suck
So I picked up and left Washington for Chicago. By the way – you know those people who tell you how easy it is to go back to school after “only” five years and that a single girl in law school will have no problem meeting people/making friends? They lie. Not intentionally, but they lie nonetheless. It was not easy to go back to school after five years and it was not easy to leave the entire life I had built for myself in almost ten years in DC and to try to build a new one from within the ranks of the other uber-busy students at Northwestern University School of Law. I did find one kindred spirit (Michelle, if you ever see this, thank you for everything!) and managed to survive law school as a result, despite the fact that on move-in-day I had to leave half of my belongings in an alley next to my new apartment because it was roughly the size of a broom closet AND despite the fact that I was pickpocketed on the El on my first day in Chicago and lost my wallet and identification. So blah blah blah, judicial clerkship for a semester, internship at the AIDS Legal Clinic of Chicago (an extraordinary organization filled with extraordinary people), lots of very interesting and some not-so-interesting classes, a Summer Associate gig at a smallish law firm in Philadelphia later, and then I graduated (notice I left out the hours and hours and hours and hours of reading and analyzing and writing and thinking and trudging through law journals, law books, law articles – this is because even the merest mention would put you to sleepzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)… And once again told myself, “Self, this is it – now things are Really Going to Happen, because now I will be rich and powerful!” Teehee – myself was really quite young then (yes, this was only eight years ago, but they will prove to be a meaningful eight years, trust me).
So I took the job that my Summer Associate position “prepared” me for – and by “prepared” here I mean utterly did not prepare me for, of course. If you have ever been or known anyone who has been a Summer Associate at a law firm, you will get this – if not you will honestly accuse me of making it up, but I assure you I am not. As a Summer Associate your job is to eat and drink. Seriously. At the best restaurants the city you are in has to offer. You do very little work for a very lot of money and are basically bait-and-switched into thinking law firm life will be one big happy miracle of joy. And then you are actually hired as an Associate, and you realize that law firm life is in fact the antithesis of this. As a lowly Associate in a law firm you do grunt work in the most absolute sense of the term. Even if you have years of experience in the field in which you are now working. And you learn very early on that it barely matters how you work, only how much. And by how much I of course mean how much is billable. Multi-tasking – the skill that gets you through law school – is the single most detrimental trait a law firm Associate can possess. I was actually told, in my first (and only – teehee, you’ll see soon) performance review that I was “too efficient” and that while they would, of course, NEVER tell me to pad my hours, I should consider how much time it might take someone else to do my work and, well, you know, keep track of my time with that in mind. So needless to say, blah blah blah bored and frustrated with the utter lack of responsibility, thinking, intellectual stimulation, and respect for effective time management/utilization, and I started looking for a new job. Enter Pharmaceuticals (cue angelic choir music here).
“Eek,” She Said or Is this 1950 or 2010?
At first it seemed like a dream come true – a job in health policy (the area I was focusing on at the end of the trade association years, pre-law school) at a pharmaceutical company in the suburban Philadelphia area that promised high pay, regular hours, travel, and a foray into Corporate America with all its attendant perks. Hooray, she said. She I got headhunted, courtesy of a good friend in DC, and then spent six months (seriously) interviewing and pestering headhunters for updates until I was finally hired. In hindsight, I should probably have suspected that Corporate America was not going to be the golden nirvana dream I had imagined when I got stuck in the six-month-interview-process. Apparently, however, I am not that bright (or else was that blinded by all the other trappings), and I did not. So I took the job and became a Director in a Very Large Company. At first it was great – I loved the position, the responsibility, the office, the pay, the prestige, the travel, everything. Then my boss (an amazing woman) retired. Then her boss (another amazing woman) retired. Then I learned exactly how much interference those two women had run for me and exactly how much I did not fit into the mold of a Corporate American. Turns out I do not like being told what to do at a micromanagement level (teehee), doing work that others take credit for, or doing pointless tasks over and over again because either (a) we have always done them that way and change is BAD or (b) someone higher up thinks they are a good idea even though everyone else knows they are not. So blah, blah, blah bored and frustrated more than I ever dreamed possible, despite meteoric promotions and increasing “responsibility” (and by “responsibility” here I mean faux-responsibility, the kind that vaguely resembles authority but only authority over meaningless things) and escalating pay.
Then I took a sabbatical.
They did not particularly want me to, but after basically telling my boss that it was either give me a month off or I am going to have to seriously consider leaving, they relented. And that time off started me thinking…
When I returned to work, I knew that I could not stay there much longer. Sure, there were some sound reasons to – money, experience, prestige, planning for the future, etc., but I knew if I stayed I would lose my mind, and my mind was pretty important to me. I realized that I did not really enjoy very much of what I was doing anymore. The only parts I still enjoyed were actually writing/researching policy issues and giving speeches about those topics – and those parts were a small portion of what a Corporate American at my level did. You see, somehow Corporate America thinks that, after a certain level, all you should do is tell other people what to do. While I do not inherently mind telling people what to do (teehee), I do inherently mind not ever being able to actually do anything myself. Which meant that my meteoric rise was at a halt because if I did not want to spend all my time managing others at the current level, there was no way I would ever be happy at a higher level. And if I was not happy where I was and had nowhere to go, then Corporate America held no more appeal. And so I kept thinking…
Five is Enough or How One Girl Walked Away
While I was thinking, a momentous event occurred – the company announced that it was being acquired. Hooray indeed, she said! I knew early on that I was not at all interested in being involved in the acquiring company. I also knew that being let go during a corporate buy-out meant a corporate pay-out. After some brief, back-of-the-envelope math, I realized this was a golden opportunity to decide what I wanted to do next based not only on money, but on what I actually wanted to do next. And so I thought some more. And realized I did not in fact really want to be a lawyer (at least not at that point), or high-powered executive or have a prestige-full career. I wanted to have a life. A life that I enjoyed, that didn’t have me dreading leaving the house every morning, and that didn’t revolve around shopping to keep from being bored. What I enjoyed was reading and thinking and talking – and so I said to myself, “Self, what on earth job involves reading and thinking and talking AND is lucrative enough that I can live off the proceeds somehow?” And so The Plan formed – I would try my hand at being a Writer. And blah blah blah many months of meetings and agonizingly slow corporate movement and I was able to put The Plan into motion – I moved back to the town of my birth.
I Guess You Can Go Home Again or Um, Dude, it’s Been Twenty Years
It is not an easy decision, to move back to the small town you grew up in. You take a LOT of questioning for it – most people could not believe I would want to live somewhere so little again after so many years in big cities, no one understood what I would do or where exactly I would live. Hell, I was not so sure about those things either. What I was sure of was that I wanted to be able to give writing a real go – to not worry about money or time, but to focus on winding down after the Corporate MisAdventure and then to focus on writing. Well, she said, easier said than done.
First of all, I was surprisingly stressed out after my corporate years. In the last six months that I was with the pharmaceutical company, quite frankly I barely did any work. This was with the approval (at first tacit and then actually explicit) of my boss/his boss – the mood was basically “stay out of the way, don’t make any waves, and you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t ask me to do anything.” I was surprisingly ok with this for a while, but then got bored and annoyed and simply wanted it to end. It is very difficult to know what you want to do next and be ready to move on, yet be stuck waiting on other people. So when I moved back “home”, it took me a longer time than I had anticipated to turn back into a normal human being. Fortunately, my parents and best friend/her family were there to help – they were, after all, the biggest reason I chose “home” as the place to return to (the second reason, it’s phenomenally low cost-of-living, particularly after big-city life, is not to be sniffed at either). So I got to be a real daughter, aunt and best friend for the first time in nearly twenty years – I got to have lunches and coffee and dinner and go to soccer and hockey games and school events. I got to throw parties and run errands and drive people to doctor’s appointments. All the things that Single Career Girl never got to do. And I loved it. Every stinking ordinary average minute of it. I loved it so much, in fact, that a year passed with nary a written word crossing the page.
Eek, she said.
So Where’s the Book or Dude, WTF?
So after realizing that it had in fact been a full year without anything productive, and being startled at how shockingly quickly entropy had set in, I started to get the teensiest bit nervous. After all, The Plan did not involve moving back home and being a slacker for the rest of my days. Corporate America does not actually pay its upper-middle management THAT much in a buy-out – I was not going to be able to fully retire at the ripe old age of thirty-six. And working part-time selling beer at concerts in the summer was not exactly going to supplement my savings in a way that leveraged me into the future. I was getting tired of people politely asking how the book was coming along, and having to equally politely respond that it was not. I was also getting tired of doing nothing productive. While the year-long break was amazing and incredible and I would not trade it for anything, I needed to get rolling again or I feared I would end up losing all momentum and this opportunity to really explore whether I could (or wanted to) write as a career would be lost. So blah blah blah, where to go and what to do?
About a Boy or Getting One Girl’s Ass in Gear
Well, fortunately for me, out-of-the-blue change hit me like a mack truck. I fell in love (stereotype much, but I do not care) with someone amazing who is probably the most diligent and focused person I have ever known. And suddenly things looked different – in the best possible way. When I said “maybe I will write today,” he would say “great, then we can develop a blog so other people can see what you do.” When I said “I don’t feel like writing today, wahhhh,” he would remind me that this was my Plan and my Idea all along and that maybe if I started, I would be surprised at how much I would want to finish. And he was right.
So here we are a year later. Amazing Man and I are married and I have two step-kids now. I also have a blog, a website, a slew of stories I’m compiling into a collection, a couple of novels in the works, and more ideas in the hopper than ever. Things are clicking along – some days more slowly than I’d like, but still. Every day moves me closer. I don’t know where exactly the writing thing will go, but it sure is taking me on one hell of a ride…
Random pictures from the Life of Jill-Elizabeth