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Author’s Note: Hi, me again. Thanks for sticking with me on this journey that is recounting my own journey. Journey. Who’s also a great band when I’m drunk. I’m sorry, what are we talking about? Oh, right. Part three of three. Like I said last time, if you’re just joining us, go back and read parts one and two, otherwise this is going to make no fucking sense. Or, just wait until next time, when I go back to talking about my boobs and picking my wedgies. Either way, enjoy.

 

The day of the test, I woke up numb. I knew there was nothing left that I could do. I had gone through my note cards hundreds and hundreds of times.  I had repeated those fact until they were a part of my bloodstream. Anything that I didn’t know when I woke up that morning wasn’t going to be learned in the hours before my scheduled test, and there was nothing left I could do to prepare myself any more. So I ironed and watched The Simpsons. It seemed to make as much sense as anything else I could do. Driving to the testing center, I didn’t feel panicked or worried, more incredulous that this day was finally here. I kept saying in the car, in a thin, high voice that wasn’t mine, that I couldn’t believe that this day was here.

And then I was sitting at the terminal, and the first question was staring at me.

This was it. The test.

I dove in. Oddly enough, my nerves didn’t affect me during the test. I kinda got into a groove, focusing on each question as it came. Some of them were harder than I thought, some easier. Some annoyed me with their tedium, and some of them were deceptively simple. I did have the out-of-body thought that I sure as fuck hoped that I passed, because I had no goddamn clue how I was going to study to prepare myself any better than I already had. The questions seemed to be purposely worded in a way that made me think that I didn’t know how to come up with an answer. The best analogy that I can come up with is that it’s as if I’d been studying expecting a test where the answer choices would be:

  1. Red apple
  2. Banana
  3. Blue apple
  4. Purple apple

When in reality the answer choices were:

  1. Blue apple
  2. Banana
  3. Unicorns
  4. Loui Eriksson of the Boston Bruins

So yeah, it definitely fucked with me on a few occasions. But in others, it felt as if the question had been written to be intentionally difficult when I was able to figure out the answer almost instantly. It was so easy, it felt like a trick. But with 165 questions and only 3 hours, there wasn’t time to ponder these mind fucks. Read the question, read the answers, re-read the question, choose an answer, next question.

And before I knew it, my allotted time was over. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is when my nerves found me.

No, sorry, that’s putting it lightly. The moment that countdown clock reached zero, my nerves stormed in and gave me a big ‘ol roundhouse kick to the face. Because it was over. I’d taken the test. There was literally nothing more that I could do except to receive the answer to the question that I’d been answering myself for months and months: “Can I do it? Am I good enough?”

Unfortunately for me, before I could leave my terminal to receive my results I had to answer a fucking questionnaire about the testing center. “Was the temperature comfortable?”  Who the fuck cares? “Was the testing center easy to find?” I don’t care, I just want to know how I did on my test, you ass! “Was the testing center quiet?” I WILL DESTROY YOU IF I DON’T GET SOME RESULTS RIGHT ABOUT FUCKING NOW! I’m pretty sure I just clicked at random until the screen told me I could go, because at that moment all my focus was aimed at not vomiting all over the fucking terminal. I walked out of my little room up to the front desk, dazed and shaking. The look on my face must have been disturbing, because Kyle immediately jumped up from his chair and asked how I was feeling. I had a hard time answering, because I was imagining how the secretary’s windpipe would feel under my hands after I leaped over the front desk and tackled her if she didn’t give me my test results right the fuck now. Luckily for the both of us, she told me to follow her back to the printer, which would be spitting out my results momentarily.

Walking back to the printer, my heart pounded in my ears and my legs shook. This was the moment I’d imagined over and over. Every second seemed to take ten. Whatever the answer on that paper spitting out of the printer, I knew that my reaction either way was going to be violent.

And there it was.

Passed!

I passed.

It took me several seconds to register what the numbers meant. “Well? How’d you do?” Kyle asked, about to burst himself. “I…I think I passed,” I whispered. Kyle ripped the paper out of my hands. “You fucking passed!” he shrieked. “By a lot! You passed by a lot!” And then I was buried in his hug, which is good, because that’s when my legs gave out. And I was crying, and he was saying, “You did it! You fucking did it!” over and over, and the secretary was looking uncomfortable and as if she would very much like to be back behind her desk. We left and I called my dad from the parking lot. And I couldn’t believe it. I’d worked for so, so long, towards this one seemingly impossible goal, and I’d accomplished it. Just like that, it was over. Elated doesn’t cover it. I felt like I was going to vomit, but good vomit, like it would be all rainbow and glittery. This is all I’d wanted, all I’d worked for, all I’d dreamed of, and now it was mine.

In the weeks since I passed my ETCP, the ecstasy has ebbed, as it does, but so has the disbelief. I’m immensely proud of my accomplishment, and it no longer feels like such a miracle that I passed, more of the natural result of hard work. As I suspected, it’s done a lot for my feeling of validation. I no longer feel like a fraud about to be discovered at any moment, but someone who kicks ass at what she does, and I have the card and a fancy certificate to prove it. (As well as some stickers and a pin. I wanted balloons, too, but Kyle says that they don’t do that.)

Swag

But as with the ending to so many journeys, this one doesn’t feel so much like an ending. Rather, it feels like another beginning, one that has me asking, “What’s next?” At this moment, I don’t know. I have some hopes and some suspicions, but no definitive answers. We’ll just have to wait and see.

But whatever it is, I hope comes with balloons.

 

Author’s Note: I know, these are getting excessive. But just one more thing right quick. I wanted to take a moment to thank a couple of people who sorely deserve it. Endless, unbounded thanks to my amazing husband, Kyle. Thanks for  your unwavering support, for never doubting that I could do it. Thanks for the countless hours spent talking me through concepts that I didn’t understand, and all those nights spent asking me note card questions. I quite literally couldn’t have done it without you. A giant thank you to my dad, Steve Dietrich. Without you, I still wouldn’t understand what the resistor color code meant and would still be confusing inductance and capacitance. Thanks for all the hours spent listening to me vent about how hard this was, and for understanding that I’m no better at math today than I was back in high school. And a huge, unlimited refills thank you to all of my family and friends who’ve had to listen to me talk about this goddamn test for the past year. I know that you have to be pretty sick of listening to me babble on and on about the taking of and subsequent passing of my ETCP, and yet, I’ve received nothing but love, support, and unwavering faith from all of you. That means more to me than I know how to say. (And now I promise to shut up and get a hobby.)

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Author’s Note: Hi, it’s me. If you read Part One and thought to yourself, “Wow, this is entralling! I can’t wait to read more!” or, “Huh, this is mildly interesting,” or even, “Well, if I stop reading now, I’ll have to get up and take a shower,” then welcome back, and thanks for sticking with me. If you’re just joining us, I highly suggest that you back up a step and read Part One, otherwise what follows is going to make no fucking sense. Unless you like being confused, in which case, don’t let me clarify things for you. Either way, welcome.

 

All I had to do to pass my ETCP test was teach myself everything that I didn’t know.

So I just…started. I read one book, then another. And another. Concepts built on top of each other, and my understanding got more and more thorough and complex. But the process was tedious and long. I had no syllabus to follow that would guarantee that I would learn everything that I needed to. When you take a course, (in theory) you learn only that which is deemed valuable, and that which isn’t important isn’t discussed. If something is confusing, you can ask your professor to elaborate or clarify. I had none of those things. I had a lot of books, some of which were out of date or poorly written. I had a mountain of information, and only a vague sense of which bits of it would be valuable and which weren’t necessary to know. In the beginning, this wasn’t too much of an issue; at that point it was almost all valuable, and anything that I didn’t understand I could have explained to be more completely by either Kyle (who’s high school mentor did more than any college to teach him about electrical theory and the application of power) or my father, the Electrical Engineer. (God, the number of times I called my dad and asked him to explain some electrical theory, or why two books seemed to have dissenting points. We bonded a lot over the experience, laughing over the way that his industry uses power by the milliamp, while I regularly tie in to a 400 amp service.)

But before long, there came a point when I asked Kyle to explain a topic to me, and he simply shook his head and said, “I don’t know, Steph, I never learned that stuff.” My dad sometimes had difficulty digging up the finer points a theory that he’d learned almost 30 years ago.  And then there were topics, like the equation used to appropriately size a generator, where neither of them had experience. That’s when I felt the most hopeless. Spending hours dredging through the results of a google search, reading material that wasn’t written for my application or my industry, hoping to stumble upon the answer I was looking for, my task felt impossibly mountainous.  And let’s not even talk about my (not entirely unfounded) fear that I was learning equations and theories incorrectly.

For a long time, studying consumed my time and my focus. When I wasn’t creeping through books, I was reviewing note cards. Note cards, I learned back in high school, are the most valuable learning tool for a person like me who needs repetition to really drive a concept home. Each fact that I read that I thought might be valuable or useful was fashioned into a question and written on a note card, the answer on the back. At first, I reviewed my stack of note cards at the beginning of every study session, hoping to review old information before adding new. But then it started taking me over an hour to get through my stack, so reviewing note cards became its own activity. Before long, it was taking me over two hours to get through the stack, so I started breaking it up into multiple stacks that I would alternate reviewing. I studied those goddamn note cards continuously. In the car, during meals at work, at home, at the track between races, during intermission (or really boring shows) at work, while I was making dinner, on the stepper machine at the gym…every moment of my life during which my brain wasn’t otherwise occupied, I was murmuring questions and answers to myself and flipping over the card to either confirm my answer or review the correct answer. Sometimes, I would mix things up by posing each question to one of my cats, then correcting their answer with the actual one. (Somehow, the answer was never, “Ignore me and continue to lick your own ass.”

All told, I don’t know exactly how many cards I made, though a guess puts the number somewhere around 500. Each one representative of a nugget of information in one of the books I’d devoured.

Studying

 

Studying completely dominated my life. Any free moment that I had was devoted to learning. All hobbies were abandoned. If I did have free time and I didn’t devote it to my books or my note cards, I would be consumed by guilt. When I wasn’t reciting facts and reviewing information, I was thinking about the taking of the test itself. I imagined over and over how elated I would be if I passed, but for every imagined success I also imagined how devastating it would be if I failed. I was quite literally obsessed with that fucking test. It consumed me.

Until, finally, it felt like I’d learned everything that I knew to learn. I mean, I knew that I could continue this process for all eternity and still never learn everything that there was to learn about my craft. But I felt like I’d tackled everything that needed to be, and it was time. I took a practice test and learned a lot about how the questions were worded, and it just…felt like it was time. And frankly, I was out of resources.

So I scheduled my test. Now, all that was left was to take it.

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Author’s Note: What follows is the first of three parts attempting to explain the devotion of my life for the past forever. Think of it as three fifths apology for abandoning this sacred space, two fifths cathartic vomit of emotions. To some of you, this will be news, and I hope that you find it vaguely interesting enough to keep coming back now that I’m allowed to have hobbies again. To others, this is something that you were aware of, but maybe only as far as the results, and I hope that you enjoy reading about what it took to achieve them. And to others, you’ve not only heard me talk about this experience incessantly, but I’m pretty sure you’ve heard this entire tale, in these exact words, multiple times. To those of you, I don’t expect you to read it again, so go find something else to do. Hop on over to The Oatmeal, his shit’s always funny. Have you read his bit about how to use a semicolon? Fucking hilarious. Anyway, to all of you who choose to venture forward with me, thank you for your eyeball movement. I hope I do you all justice.

 

Last January, I told you about a journey that I was on.

No, journey isn’t quite right. “Journey” sounds like a long walk, something with a simple beginning, a pleasant middle, a welcome end. Like the second book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, just a lot of walking. No, what I did was more than a journey. It was an epic battle, where I faced my own personal Balrog. At times, it seemed like I was never going to be done with this insane odyssey, that I was going to collapse from exhaustion, that my goals were going remain just beyond my desperate grasp. But I wanted it so badly — SO badly — that I fought on. And now, here I am, and it’s over.

Let me back up.

My goal was simple: I wanted to pass my ETCP test. What’s the ETCP test, you ask? Excellent question, you.

ETCP stands for Entertainment Technician Certification Program. It’s meant to be a certification program for all the guys in the industry who graduated from The School of Hard Knocks. The ones who never went to college, just started working, and after 20 or 30 years in the industry have a vast wealth of knowledge. The ones who know a hell of a lot more and have infinitely more skill sets than a little 22 year old shit fresh out of undergrad, but don’t have the piece of paper that says so. The ETCP is meant to be that piece of paper.

The test focuses primarily on all the parts of the job that can potentially kill a person: how to work with big electrical power, transformers, generators, safety procedure, and the like. All things with which I had very little experience. See, the beginnings of my career in the entertainment production industry isn’t so very different from the old dogs for whom the test was originally intended. I didn’t go to college to be an electrician. I majored in Theatre, sure, but with the intention of becoming a professional dancer. I just happened into the field when I realized that people were way more appreciative of my volunteer time hanging lights than they ever were for my work dancing under them. I never received any training or schooling for what I do, I learned as I went. (To be fair, even if I had majored in lighting in college, the large majority of the knowledge covered on the test wasn’t taught at my college either, so it’s not like my major set me all that far back.) I figured things out as I encountered them, I asked a lot of questions, and I failed a lot. And that route has gotten me to a pretty great place. But the problem with learning things as you experience them is that  you can only learn about things that you experience, and there were a lot of skills that I was never going to acquire simply because I was never going to experience them in my current job.  So the only way I was going to gain these skills was to teach myself, and the test was a perfect measure of my success.

And so, the ETCP came to represent two meanings to me. For one, it was proof that I’d learned what I needed to in order to fill the gap in my knowledge. But it was so much more than that. Even though a degree in technical theatre would have done little more to prepare me for my chosen career, I’ve always secretly been ashamed of my origin story. I always felt like I had to work harder because I felt like I had something to prove. I never felt like I was good enough. But the ETCP, I felt, would be the ultimate validation. It would finally prove, if only to myself, that not having a tech theatre degree doesn’t hold me back, and would be the perfect stepping stone for the next phase of my career.

Now all I had to do was teach myself what I didn’t know.

Which, as it turns out, was more than one would have guessed. Sure, I knew a ton about what to do to light a show, but I’d never learned the why. Face it, when you’ve got 4 hours to load in a rock show you don’t give two flying fucks why the electricity is flowing and how it results in controllable light, just that it does so without catching anything on fire. When I began my learning journey, I didn’t know the difference between a watt, a volt, and an amp. I knew that you talk in watts when you’re talking about the size of a lamp, volts when you’re talking about what comes out of the walls, and amps when you’re talking about breakers, but I didn’t know why. I knew that watts equals volts times amps, but I didn’t know why, or how those three things relate. These are the very building blocks of electrical theory, and the fact that I got my job without knowing any of them is kinda fucked up. (Though, as I have come to realize, not at all uncommon. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only one working in the industry with a serious gap in knowledge.)

I had a long way to go.

Studying

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Sorry I’ve Been Gone, Here’s a Picture of My Cat

I’ve been gone. I know.

There’s a reason. A very good reason, as a matter of fact. One that I’m working on writing about so that I may share it with all you good people who don’t think that I’m dead.

But it’s a difficult thing to write about. Partially because it is a long story that encompassed most of my life for a period of time. Partially because it’s full of complicated feelings and complex emotions. But also because I’m out of fucking practice in the blogging game, and I need to remember how to string two goddamn words together. Writing’s hard, yo.

So it’s coming, but not yet. In the mean time, here’s some pictures of my cats, since my husband informed me today that the internet consists of nothing but cat pictures anyway.

Enjoy.

Mila Likes Baskets

Mila in the Kitty Condo

 

(And for the last time, no, I’m not fucking pregnant.)

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