I remember back, gosh, it must be ten years ago now when we just started to hear about this new flu-like-disease hitting a city in southern China. I remember thinking, “Those poor people! A whole city in quarantine. How are they going to live their lives? I’m sure glad nothing like that could happen here.” Fast forward a couple months and I’m bathing in Lysol, drinking bleach and getting into fist fights with sweet old ladies over the last roll of toilet paper. I may have lost those fights, but the important thing is that I stood up for myself.
At the beginning of 2020, I was so excited about the year I had planned. I had teaching jobs scheduled around the country, plans to travel with my new girlfriend and a functioning pancreas. The first blow came when I started drinking a couple gallons of water a day and eating more than I have since I was a teenager but was still losing weight. One day I looked down at my legs—always a focal point for my vanity due to my killer gams—and realized they were noticeably skinnier. I went to my doctor, she ran a few tests and then told me I should go straight to the ER because I was in diabetic ketoacidosis and could go into a coma and die at any moment. I told her I would but said, “I’m really hungry. Would it be okay if I went to Chipotle first?”
At the hospital I learned I was one of the rare cases of adult onset Type 1 diabetes. Basically, my pancreas pooped out on me and stopped making insulin. They said they have no clue why this happens and that I’ll have it the rest of my life, which, if I don’t manage the disease well, will be substantially shorter and much more uncomfortable. “Oh yeah,” they said, “this new coronavirus is hitting diabetics much harder than the general population, so you need to be very careful.”
On my way home I stole my mom’s dog and spent the next week laying on the couch feeling bad for myself and forcing that poor chihuahua to snuggle me much more than she would have preferred. After a week of wallowing, I decided it wasn’t working and I better move on with my life. All my teaching gigs had been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, everyone was scared to spend money and more worried about their elderly parents than getting a new pair of earrings. I had to totally rethink my business model.
Apart from my girlfriend, my social life pretty much became Facebook and Instagram. Almost all of my connections on social media are jewelers or artists of some kind and I started to hear a lot about people teaching and taking class online via Zoom. I thought, “I wonder if I could do that?” My 12-year-old computer told me, “Not on my watch.” That’s when I heard about the Economic Injury Disaster Loan. I doubted I’d qualify, but I figured the worst they could say is no, so I filled out the forms and gave it a shot. A couple of weeks later I was informed that they’d loan me $5000. I accepted the money and bought myself a new laptop and a phone with a great camera.
At first, I started making PDF tutorials—taking photos and writing detailed descriptions of the process. I put these up on my website for $10-$30 a pop and posted about them on Instagram and Facebook. The response blew me away. Up until this point my website had existed mostly because it was embarrassing to tell people that I didn’t have a website. I’d occasionally sell a piece off it, but mostly it was a portfolio that few people looked at. Overnight I started selling tutorials by the dozens. I could buy all the insulin I wanted!
After a few months of making tutorials, I felt confident to expand into video and start doing Zoom classes. Oh, the hubris. Making quality video is haaarrrrddd! From fat fingers hiding all the crucial details to vibrations shaking the camera so much that entire sections I thought were perfect turned out either useless or required a disclaimer warning of the dangers of epileptic seizures. The learning curve was steep, or sharp, or extra curvy—whatever. That doesn’t even include the moments where I thought I was describing my actions in a clear and concise manner, only to start editing and realize that my descriptions were actually the inane ramblings of a clearly troubled individual. But I persevered.
After about four times as much effort and time as I had originally expected, I put together a class that I was satisfied with and arranged with a few schools to teach it. The first school I taught with was the Metal Arts Guild of Georgia and I was terrified. There was no reason to be. The students were amazing and the organization incredibly supportive. I got great feedback and really felt like all my efforts had paid off. The only bad part was that I didn’t know students could still see me when I was sharing my screen to show a demo. I’m pretty sure I engaged in some nasal hygiene that I would not have had I known I was being watched. Not a finger fully inserted into a nostril, but not that far off either.
Since then, I’ve taught that class about 8 or 9 times, continuing to refine it as I go. I’ve developed a few other workshops with more on the horizon. I’m incredibly sick of the sound of my own voice and brutally aware of all my linguistic failures. “It’s, ‘Now I’m going to, not, Now I’munna,’ Alex!” I’ve gotten much more fluent with filming and editing, which is great, but it also means I look back at my first attempts and only see the things I can do better.
While this form of teaching was a reaction to a terrible disaster that I wish with all my heart had never happened, I feel so fortunate to be able to share my knowledge with students all over the world and connect with people during this time when connection has been so scarce. I look forward to teaching this way long into the future. When Covid is just a memory and we’re all kissing on the lips and forgetting to wash our hands, I’ll still be teaching virtual classes.