Schoolin’ Life: Stacy-Marie Ishmael

In today’s installment of Schoolin’ Life, we meet digital media expert Stacy-Marie Ishmael.

© Clay Williams / http://claywilliamsphoto.com
© Clay Williams / http://claywilliamsphoto.com

Give us a quick bio: who are you, what are you into, and how do you spend your days?

I’ve been describing myself as a “Trinidadian-at-large” for a few years, which is a good summary. I grew up in Trinidad and then spent time in France, the UK, and the US with a bunch of travel to other places in between. I’m mostly in NYC these days, and trying not to feel too guilty about not practicing yoga or getting on my bike(s) as often as I tell myself I should. I work at the intersection of news and technology, specifically in the universe of mobile, and I love it.

When you were in your 20s…

What expectations did you have for yourself over the coming decade?

That I was going to have a Ph.D. and work for FIFA. Neither of those things panned out. This has very probably been for the best.

In what ways did society shape your expectations of yourself?

I grew up in a family that is extremely high-achieving. So being good at school – and a Ph.D. is like being good at school on steroids – was very much a part of that. And I went to a fantastic all-girl high school that is directly responsible for a lot of how I am today, including the fact that even though I taught myself to code as a child and built computers for fun and profit, I didn’t pursue a computer science degree. My options were limited, or so I was led to believe, by what was offered on the curriculum. So I took French, English Literature, and Economics instead of technical drawing or CS.

What was your first job like?

I worked for several summers in a tattoo and airbrush studio. I wasn’t allowed near any of the needles, obviously – I was the receptionist/accountant/gopher. I spent a lot of time running between the studio and another place in the mall where I would make photocopies of tattoo designs that people wanted. And sometimes I airbrushed some t-shirts. It was fun. Weird, but fun.

What was your first apartment like?

It was called the Liming House, and I loved it. It was a small apartment in Trinidad in the same apartment complex that my parents lived in, and I was allowed to move in there at 16 or 17 as long as I paid nominal rent and did my own laundry and cooking. It meant that my floor and sofa were always taken over by a rotating cast of friends. We’d have study groups that turned into band practices and jam sessions. I lived there until I moved to France. It was just the best time.

Did you experience any big life changes?

I moved from a tiny tropical island where everyone pretty much looked like me to the other side of the world and a city where no one did. I’d never seen snow before I moved to Europe. That was quite an adjustment.

In what ways did your friendships change?

Many of them ended when I came back – one of those not with a bang but a whimper situations. I’d changed, they’d changed, we no longer had very much to say to each other. The ones that didn’t endure to this day.

What did you learn through your romantic relationships?

That, with one notable exception, I am better at being independent than I am at being committed.

How did your relationships with your family change?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder 😉

How do you feel society viewed you?

I suppose people don’t quite know what to do with someone who has repeatedly taken on the kinds of challenges that involve “move across the world by yourself, figure it out as you go”. The TSA especially thinks I am incredibly suspicious. I am never not randomly selected.

How do you feel you changed emotionally?

There were a few things that almost broke me, and I survived. I gave myself permission to go on.

How did you change intellectually?

This might come as a surprise to people who know me, but I became better at listening to people with whom I fundamentally disagreed. And I stopped fetishizing theory and became obsessed with execution.

In what ways do you feel your identity changed?

I started to identify more with being considered someone from an ethnic minority, rather than as a “mixed” or “red” person as we say back home.

How did your worldview change over the course of the decade?

I am much less of a misanthrope these days.

What was the most embarrassing moment?

As a baby reporter, I fell for a prank and wrote a story based on a fake press release. That was awful.

What was your biggest disappointment and how did that affect you later?

I have never quite gotten over not getting one specific academic prize, one that I had worked toward for the whole of primary and secondary school life. And I know I disappointed a few professors when I decided not to pursue an MSc and then a Ph.D. A feeling of academic inadequacy has haunted me since.

Who was your biggest influence and why?

Paul Murphy, who was my editor at the Financial Times and more than anyone helped me understand news on the internet.

Is there any one experience that you feel defined the decade? Or one historical moment that changed you?

The day that Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the 2006 World Cup I was, as usual, on the other side of the world. That sums up how I felt about my 20s – never quite where I most wanted to be.

Do you have any regrets? Are there things you wish you’d done, hadn’t done, or done differently?

There is one relationship that ended badly, and not because of anything either of us had any control over. And then we lost touch, and he died in a car accident. I regret not having made sure he knew just how much he meant to me.

Is there a story that you feel best sums up the decade?
The early years of my twenties were marked by a period of global financial frothiness; the middle with recession and crisis; and then as I was staring 30 in the face we seemed to be heading back to recovery. And I covered a big chunk of it as a finance reporter. So for me I can’t separate that decade from that story.

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