On Turning 6.

This month - next Monday, actually, we are celebrating our SIXTH birthday at JessicaSprague.com. First off, I can't believe it has been this long? Let's think back to six years ago (cue flashback fade and echoey voice as I look off into the distance):

In the year 2007. It was June.

  • We had been in North Carolina just a little more than a year.
  • My children were 3 and 2, respectively. 
  • I did not have Twitter.  (It started in 2006, but I didn't hop on until at least 2009.)
  • I did not have Facebook. 
  • Instagram didn't exist yet. 
  • But Windows XP did. And I used it. 
  • I DID have a blog, which I posted tutorials at - calling them Photoshop Friday.  
  • I was rocking out on Photoshop Elements 4, and looking forward to Elements 5, which would be released in the fall. 
  • I was also using Photoshop CS3, which had JUST been released in April of 2007. 
  • My first book, Computer Tricks for Scrapbooking, Vol. 1, had just been released in April of 2007.

In the fall of 2006 I had been invited by Creating Keepsakes to develop content for an online class in beginning digital scrapbooking. But for several reasons, this project fell through, and by the beginning of 2007 I was left with a month's worth of instruction no place to go. (When a girl's all dressed up, right?) So we did the obvious thing. We started a web site.

I thought, this will be really fun. People like my Photoshop Friday tutorials, they like my new book. I think adding in computer tricks and memory keeping will be an awesome combination. 

So we created the original incarnation of JessicaSprague.com, and I decided to cap the class at 45 people. I wanted to make sure I could handle it, and wanted to make sure I could figure out what I was doing. (This was "Beta-testing" in its ultimate form: teachers know that all the lesson plans in the world won't help until you and your lesson have stood the test in the front of the room.  )

So we opened registration and the students crashed our web site. It was a small place, after all - a shared host on a shared server, and after all the mayhem and frantic emails and very patient students, I ended up with just over 250 people in my very first class, which I called "Up & Running with Photoshop" (sound familiar? I just taught its THIRD incarnation, and it's the best one yet.).

I haven't stopped running since then. 

I have taught dozens of online classes, in sickness and in health, and with the help of a team of talented women whose patience and adaptability are matched only by their talent. I have thought about retiring (2012 was tough. TOUGH. Last year was the closest I have come). I have watched in amazement as our site grew to thousands, and then tens of thousands of students from all over the world. 

I've been moved by posts in the gallery and on the forum and in my email, telling me and showing me that stories are being told, and lives are being changed because we're learning these new skills - skills in Photoshop, not for the sake of the program itself, but for OUR sake. For the pride and empowerment that SKILL brings. For the confidence (which of us hasn't felt like running laps around our office when that last page prints or that last photo is slipped into the album, or the wrapping paper is finally taken off of that gift by its recipient?)  that completing projects brings.

I have wondered - often - what the heck I would teach next if I gave this particular secret away? What's left?

(Then I read Annie Dillard's The Writing Life, and the question was answered for me forever - regardless of my current fear and state of darkness) :

One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

This is what it means to be creative - to live creatively. It means that you have to trust the process, trust that, like always before, something is going to break or shake out or pull through and it will all be ok. 

Anyone who has taken a class from me knows that I don't teach Photoshop simply for the sake of the clicky-clicky and the 'here's how to turn your text into FLAMES!'  - no - I teach this for the sake of the people and the stories. For making our minds and our hearts bigger and better. For the friendships we make, which will be lifelong. For the love of our families and our simple and wild and precious lives, worth celebrating. For the experiences we've shared and now savor and save. And mostly for the love, which permeates the whole thing. 

This web site - this whole six year journey - has changed me entirely. I have a different life, a more complete and more painful and more fulfilled and crazier and more stunningly beautiful life than I could have possibly imagined. It is at once more complicated and so much simpler. More filled with risk and anxiety and stress, but so, so worth it. This is what 6 feels like.

And it is pretty awesome.