This is Giyen
Between the ages of ten and sixteen, young Giyen had dreams of becoming a corporate attorney, a politician, an advertising executive, a fine artist and a magazine editor (specifically Jane magazine, if you’re wondering). She became none of those things. Looking back, it was the endless hours in front of the television that planted tiny seeds in her imagination about what adult life could be like. LA Law, The McLaughlin Group, Thirtysomething and the Joy of Painting brought a world of possibilities into the livingroom of 555 Johnson Avenue and gave Giyen a window to a different life outside the rural Oregon coast. In 1992, she left for the “big city” … Portland, Oregon.
Now in her mid-40s, Giyen still lives in the Pacific Northwest. She has (mostly) given up pursuing the high powered career and is now focused on who she is as a human, her relationships with friends and family, and building a life full of new experiences and creative endeavors. And though she doesn’t watch nearly enough television anymore, she’s still a dreamer with a window wide open to the world. This blog serves as her creative outlet and journal. Her goal is to post once a week on Tuesdays. Sometimes more, but never less.
If you’re wondering, the name of this blog – This Extraordinary Life – is a reminder that life can be extraordinary right now, just as it is. It was inspired by a conversation with a woman named Yvonne, that Giyen met at a bus stop. She’s still thinks about that conversation everyday.
After two decades in Seattle, Giyen returned to Portland, Oregon in 2019. She lives in the Irvington neighborhood in a dreamy apartment that she never wants to leave.
Business In the Front
City of Portland
2019 - Present: City Arts Manager
I wasn’t looking for a new job, but on a whim, I applied for this one and now I live in Portland. I manage the City Arts Program and help align the Portland’s arts and culture investments with citywide goals. I’m not going to lie, it’s a pretty cool gig.
2014 - Present
City of Seattle
Mar - Sep 2019: Strategic Advisor 2
My colleagues and I prepare the IT Department for all kinds of nefarious things like earthquakes, cyber attacks, and other stuff that would probably keep you up at night.
2017: Homeless Response Team
I mostly worked behind the scenes by coordinating field intelligence across strategic and tactical groups. In addition, I consolidated GIS and other data from multiple departments, and developed visual models that tracked encampment locations and growth. Overall the work was heartbreaking.
2014 - 2015 / 2016 / 2018: Staff Analyst
Provided administrative, operations and project support for Seattle Public Utilities. Performed a wide range of tasks from managing the O&M budget to space planning. Special projects include auditing three years of delinquent permit data, resulting in over $150,000 in previously overlooked receivables and the recovery of $40,000 in fixed assets. Yes, I love getting into the weeds.
2011 - 2013
2011 - 2013: Managing Director
Senior management team member reporting to the CEO and COO. Assumed leadership of the fundraising and marketing departments after several unanticipated leadership and staff transitions. With 50% staff vacancy, I stabilized and reorganized the department, while still meeting the $1.2 M annual revenue goals. They nicknamed me the utility player – but I had no idea what that was and had to look it up.
2009 - 2011: Operations Director
Managed all business services functions including IT, HR, facilities operations and business continuity. Did fun stuff like help negotiate a 12,000 sqft. commercial lease with over $750,000 in tenant improvements with the most fastidious real estate agent I’ve ever met (who also claimed to be allergic to polar fleece). I also co-chaired the first race and social justice training for Forterra’s board and staff and met the brilliant Angela Park. You should absolutely hire her if you can.
Capitol Hill Housing
2016 - 2008: Director of Property Management
As someone who didn’t graduate from college, I jokingly call this period of my life as a combined undergraduate/graduate education. I learned so many things about budgets, management, people, conflict resolution, working with vulnerable populations and being a compassionate human being. I also oversaw the day-to-day and long-term financial management and maintenance of 44 mixed-use properties ($100M in assets). Boy do I have stories from that period that I can’t put into print.
2001 - 2006: Mutual Housing Manager
TL:DR – Consensus driven co-ops are hard and crazy making. Led the program strategy for three resident-managed affordable housing rental cooperatives. This was my first “professional” job and I hooboy, I’ve come a long way.
1995 - 2001
Bringer of Food
Everyone on the planet should work in the food service industry. People really reveal themselves when they are interacting with people whose job it is to “serve” them – I’m thinking of you Melly Gurtado* – and you become a better judge of people because of it. To this day, restaurant work was one of my favorite occupations ever. There are so many wonderful, interesting and hilarious people that work in the industry and I still maintain friendships of 20+ years from that period in my life. *Name changed
When I was pregnant, I got a temporary job at a hard drive manufacturing plant. My job was to drill the screws in hard drives for 8 hours a day. I was there when the company announced that they were moving operations to Malaysia and were laying off the majority of permanent employees. I’ll never forget witnessing people lose their livelihood en masse. Heartbreaking.
Silver Mountain Resort
When I was 19 I got a job as a front desk associate at a resort in Northern Idaho. I jokingly refer to this period as the winter of my discontent. Most people who saw me on the street assumed that I worked at the only Chinese restaurant in town.
I learned a lot in my very short time at Nordstrom – like how to fold, and refold shirts over and over and over again. Or that you can actually survive 8 hours of sustained boredom – day in and day out. Kidding aside, Nordstrom actually remains one of my favorite stores in the world. If Nordstrom goes down, we’re fucked because they know how to do things right.
Hoffer Cranberry Farm
I spent a few summers working at my high school best friend’s cranberry farm. We used to don on these special spikey metal shoes and weed the cranberry bogs by hand. Backbreaking work but it did get exciting when the neighbor’s cows got loose and to roll around in the bogs.
I once got a job as a telemarketer selling entertainment books. I quickly found that I was a) terrible at it and b) didn’t have the heart to get better. So I quit. An excellent decision to this day.
1988 - 1990
It’s hard to believe that I spent two years working in a fast food restaurant. But when you have no experience and live in a small town, you do what you have to. I remember the day I got a raise and the keys to open and close the store. I went from $3.25 to $3.50 an hour, if you’re wondering. Thirty years later, I still do what I have to do – but for more money.
During the summer of 1988, I babysat for $1 per hour, per kid. It was during my rebellious years so I used to sneak swigs of Southern Comfort from the liquor cabinet and mix Absolute vodka with Sunny Delight in protest of my low wages. A regular Jane Fonda.
Miscellany in the Back
2019 - Present
I turned 45 this year and suddenly the concept of time feels very different. My kid is launched into the world, my web design business is mostly phased out and I find myself with a lot of elective time on my hands. The need for security has waned and my tolerance for risk and uncertainty has expanded.
Find out what I am working on here.
2015 - 2018
WordPress Web Design & Project Management
Back in 2008 I taught myself HTML and CSS and designed my first WordPress website. After a few years of designing sites for friends and family on the side, I decided to go legit in 2015. I love working with WordPress and it’s one of the companies I admire most. But is designing websites my passion? No. At the end of 2018, I decided to focus on other projects. A great experience, nonetheless.
2015 - 2016
I took close to a year off to do some traveling with the singular goal of becoming an Alaska Airlines MVP for the first time. Austin, Anchorage, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Portland (OR), Rosarito Beach (MX), San Francisco, San Jose del Cabo, Seward (AK), Vancouver (BC).
2013 - 2014
My father died in 2013 and while we weren’t close, I was deeply effected by his passing. At the nudging of my good friend Mandy, I went to my first Vipassana meditation retreat that fall. I cannot recommend it enough, but if you go, be prepared for some hard work. It’s not like sitting on a pillow belting out Oms a few times a day. It’s deep.
2008 - 2011
Freelance Writer & Online Content Creator
Within 90 days of starting a personal blog, became a syndicated writer and vlogger – publishing over 100 essays and videos for Disney Interactive, BlogHer, Deca TV and on my personal blog.
I was also a brand ambassador for a few Fortune 500 companies such as Coca Cola, Canon, Acer and Quaker Oats. Collaborated on content and social media campaigns, and represented companies at conferences and corporate events.
It’s hilarious to think that I was featured on CNN, Headline News, Parenting Magazine, KoreAm Journal, Babble.com and The Oprah Winfrey Show to name a few. #namedrop
2010: Syndicated Writer for Disney Interactive
2009 - 2011: Syndicated Writer for BlogHer
2008 - 2010: Vlogger for Deca.tv
Bringer of Life
I had a child at the age of 20 – which looking back seems so, so, so young. If I try to imagine my own kid having a 5 year old – well I think that’s terrifying.
As a person who didn’t have the best parental role models, I’ve never worked so hard at something for such a long duration. My goal was to raise a strong-minded, intelligent and independent human, that cares about the world. I think my kid is all those things.
My hats off to my guidance counselor, Mr. Sharples, who knew that I was bored as hell in high school. He read an article in the Register Guard (Eugene, OR) about a special pilot program that allowed high school students to attend community college in lieu of regular classes. Mr. Sharples felt I would be a good candidate for that and championed this as an option for me in Coos Bay – even though no such program existed there. The Running Start Program is now mainstream in many state and it came full circle when my own kid got both a high school diploma and her associate of arts degree simultaneously.
Earth Day 20 Organizer
As a budding environmentalist, I initiated and helped organized Marshfield High School’s first Earth Day celebration. I give all the credit to the teachers and school administrators who actually listened to a loud mouth kid and did something about it. If you see “drains to bay” stenciled on the pavement in Coos Bay, Oregon, I’ll take a little credit for it.
Student Body Treasurer
I don’t remember anything about my term as student body treasurer except that I wore a double breasted banana yellow skirt suit during my campaign speech at the school assembly. I probably promised everyone who voted for me a discount on candy (see Sugar Dealer below) and modeled my campaign speech after some monologue I saw on LA Law.
1986 - 1988
I may or may not have purchased candy and soda in bulk and sold it at a 100 – 200% markup at school. Hot sellers: Jolly Rancher sticks and New York Seltzer water.
1981 - 1982
Part of the benefit of working in the student commissary in elementary school (basically notebooks, pencils and erasers) I was allowed to sell original and print artwork. Unicorns, rainbows and tigers were very, very big that year.
(In Texas, y'all)