How Apple Computers changed my life

I started college in the fall of 1987, when, as far as my midwestern culture was concerned, computers were for programmers and maybe a few cutting-edge artistic types, but definitely not for regular people. My friends, mostly in the performing arts, went off to colleges where computers were generally unavailable to anyone outside the computer sciences. I headed out to my new school with the electronic typewriter I was given for graduation, and which it turns out I would never use. Why? Because I was a student at Carnegie Mellon University, where even freshman vocal performance majors were required to use computers—an oddity for the time that would ultimately influence the course of my life more than I could possibly have imagined.

In 1987, one of the graduation requirements for any student at Carnegie Mellon University was a freshman course called “Computer Skills Workshop.” During this class, we were introduced to (and schooled in the basics of) a few types of computers, but mainly those running Andrew (the university’s own Unix GUI) and their large collection of Macintosh SEs. On Andrew, we learned how to send e-mail and set up our .plan files. On the Macs, we worked with graphics and wrote our school papers. I used the computers constantly, in any of the numerous available computer clusters on campus, and probably sent as much e-mail to my friends within the university’s network (there was no internet as we know it back then) as I do now to everyone I know.

When I graduated college in 1991, it was quite a while before I had the opportunity to own my own computer. After all, they were expensive, and not even remotely a necessity for a struggling actor. Then, somewhere in the vicinity of 1994, my uncle was getting rid of his Apple Performa 200 (a version of the Classic II) and that became my first computer. I fell in love with it. I was a pretty geeky user for a NY actor at the time, creating my own custom system sounds and learning how to solve any problems on my own, since I had no idea where to turn for support.

The early internet was booming then, and I (with my hand-me-down Mac and modem) proceeded to sign up for every internet service I could find. In those days we were charged by the hour by companies like AOL and CompuServe, and I used them all, finally settling in to the new “unlimited” AOL plan for $19.95 a month. Eventually, my roommate insisted that I get my own phone line, so that I wasn’t hogging all the service for the apartment.

In 1996, when I finally landed my dream job (the first national tour of Terrence McNally’s Master Class), I ordered myself a Powerbook Duo 2300 to travel with. I was only one of a handful of people on the tour to travel with a computer, and one of just two actors in the cast to do so. With no easy access to technical support, I continued to troubleshoot my own software and hardware problems, sometimes using tips I found on the internet, but mostly by trial and error.

A major shift happened while I was on that tour. I’d been feeling for a while that I wanted something different out of life than what my chosen career could offer, but I hadn’t had the courage to act on those feelings. Then, once I’d achieved my “dream” it became clear that it really wasn’t my dream at all anymore, and that was not something I could ignore. I spent my 18 months on the road enjoying the travel, saving money, and trying to figure out what the hell to do with my life when the contract was over.

Back in the city, I got lost for a while. I moved into a cheaper apartment (an old coldwater flat that was just barely reconfigured for modern use) and started turning down opportunities for acting jobs. This is apparently something nobody does, judging from the stunned silence on the other end of the line when I told various casting assistants that I wasn’t going to be available again… ever. Of course, I had no idea what I was going to do instead. I practiced the guitar, wrote some songs, and took a part-time “job” as a nanny for my best friend’s baby daughter.

Then something amazing happened. Steve Jobs had returned to Apple Computers, and he introduced the iMac, to be released on my birthday of all days, May 6th, 1998. With the last of my saved tour earnings, I bought one right away. This computer was so much more exciting than anything I’d owned before. It came to me with Mac OS 8.1, which was fast and beautiful and more capable than anything I’d ever used. I dug into it like it was my life’s work, learning as many of its new intricacies as I could without any kind of real knowledge or guidance. When I wanted to do something, I just made it work, even if the iMac’s consumer-geared hardware wasn’t really intended for the task. I scoured the web for news and information about my new machine, excited to discover what other people were doing with it and how they were doing it.

Later that year, no longer content to remain isolated in my Apple geekiness, I found out that there was a convention I could attend, even as a random consumer, just down the street at the Jacob Javits Center. I registered online and headed in to Macworld Expo, not knowing what to expect. The thing was enormous and mind-blowing, and I spent two full days wandering the floor alone, looking at everything over and over, even if I was too scared to speak to anyone.

Absolutely the coolest booth at Macworld Expo 1998 was run by a company called Tekserve. It was insanely creative, steeped in love for Apple computers, past and present, and peopled with exactly the kind of offbeat geeks I wished I had the nerve to talk to. I walked through that booth probably fifty times over the course of the two days, trying to work up the courage to at least tell them how cool it was, as though they didn’t already know.

Not long after the convention, as I desperately scanned the Village Voice’s online job listings, an ad from Tekserve caught my eye. They were looking for “intake technicians.” I had no idea what that meant, but I knew I wanted to be one.

The ad asked for a cover letter and resume, of course, which gave me little hope. I was a former actress with no “normal” job history, or even basic office skills. I had no experience in computers except what I’d done with my own. It was clear that I was crazy even to apply, so, really, I had nothing to lose. With that in mind, I just went from the heart. I wrote a cover letter that said basically that I had been working as an actress for the past 9 years, and I had no real-world resume to speak of. I had no training and no experience, but I loved Macs, and I wanted to work in “a pantyhose-free environment.”

An hour or so later, I got called for a job interview, and later that day I was offered a job. This changed my life. Not only were the people at Tekserve exactly the kind of geeks I thought they were, they were also brilliant, hilarious, hardworking, and insanely generous. At Tekserve, I learned that it was not only okay, but necessary to live my life outside the box—to hope for and dream about crazy, crazy things (something my parents had been trying to tell me for years), and to love life and technology with equal verve. I took that gift and ran with it… several states away in the end, as it turns out. But some piece of my heart will always belong to Tekserve, and if they ever opened a branch in western MA, I’d be banging down the door for a job.

Ten years later, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that nearly everyone I know now, and everything I’m currently doing for a living can be traced back to CMU’s “Computer Skills Workshop” and my decades-long love affair with the Mac. My interest in manga, blogging, and web design, my Mac-only workplace, my recent foray into game development, even meeting my husband are all things that would likely never have happened if not for my deep Mac passion. Technology—specifically Apple technology—is at the center of almost everything I do, in one way or another, when it comes to work or play. Apple Computers changed my life, and I’m grateful every day.

Thanks, Apple. And thanks, Steve. It’s been amazing.

Originally published at Manga Bookshelf.