My second ReServe assignment involved writing promotional materials for a small non-profit organization that provides social services to low-income residents. The second in command was a self-taught computer techie who kept the place running, and who was going to be my hands, translating design concepts to camera-ready art. He had not a whit of confidence in his ability to design, but I felt my input could mitigate that, as I sat by his side. The software program he used was not the most sophisticated, thus the work took longer than it might have. He took direction readily–yes, enthusiastically. It seemed to me he was totally absorbed in the process. In the flow along with me so to speak.
Luis (name has been changed) was close to 30, a husband and father, and to me an affable, capable individual, and potential designer. It was pleasurable to work with him, in such contrast to my professional career where there was always tension between the writer and the designer: words should govern, no the design must. With Luis and me, the words and the music, as I liked to call the process, was a creative partnership. But he would not take credit for his growing design ability.
As the weeks wore on, pieces were finished and sent for reproduction. Our relationship was developing, but as much as I encouraged and asked for his input, he refused to take in the possibility, the fact, that he had design talent. I didn’t know him well enough to judge whether his reaction was truly disputing what I said, or he was just quite humble. Maybe “graphic designer” was too far from any picture he ever had of himself. As if he was a cop and I was telling him no, you are a fireman.
Being a bit stubborn, I brought in a typography book as a gift for him. It was one from a collection gathering dust in my bookcase. I left it on his chair. He never acknowledged it, and later that day, I saw it under a pile of papers on his desk. My gift seemed to have had the opposite effect than intended. I felt embarrassed, realizing I had gone too far, I had intruded. Who did I think I was?
Eventually the ReServe assignment ended, but I often think of him and my work there. The paths of our lives had crossed, and we walked a bit of the way together. I like to think the brochures we made will not allow him to forget his ability as a designer, and hopefully me. I think I had an influence on him, and at least he now has a few graphic-design tricks up his sleeve, and a vocabulary that includes some of that jargon. I enjoyed it when he used a new word or two now and again. Be well, Luis.
In 2008, Marsha Granville retired from her role as Senior Editor at MTA New York City Transit, where she worked for 20 years. In this role she developed and wrote all institutional advertising for the city’s public transit system, which included editing and proofreading all materials produced in marketing department before they went to print. She resides in Manhattan and often consults as a writer and editor. To commemorate Older Americans Month, ReServe invited ReServists to write original essays about their current or past assignment. This is one of twelve essays. – ED