What’s saving your creative life right now?

I guess we should back up for some and first ask: do you have a creative life? If not, why not? A creative life is one where you answer the call to that synergistic feeling of mind and heart intertwined, united as one. It’s when you allow yourself to do some sort of activity that feels good, and you suddenly get this inner sense you’re doing what you were born to do.

For me, my creative life is being a writer. This isn’t my “real” job; if you’ve read other blog posts here, I write a lot about my day job as engineer. And since being a writer is not my full-time gig, I fight every day to get quiet, go deep, and let out the words that demand to be released and freed from my soul.

It took me years to even call myself a writer, let alone start a blog and submit articles in my free time. I only started sharing my writing last year, when the pandemic quarantine allowed me guilt-free time to fiercely pursue a passion that could no longer stay hidden. Looking back on the past 18 months, it’s amazing to see how much time guilt truly robs me of my creative desires when I succumb to it. I’ve let my writing slip the past 6 months, but I can’t count all the time as lost. When I wasn’t writing, I was at least thinking about writing, defining my inner voice and how to balance taming vs. unleashing that voice, even if I didn’t put pen to paper (or cursor to screen).

And in that time, I’ve found three amazing resources that won’t let my dream die of becoming a full-fledged writer one day. They fill my ears in the car, eyes on the screen, and office walls in the house when I am off that engineer clock.

1. My writing group: Illuminate Writing. This is the space where I grew my confidence as a writer last year. I’ve gotten to know Sarah & Mia who run this business, and they are an absolute delight to collaborate with. They offer so many resources, like editing tips or poetry tips or writing on Medium, one expert review per month, and an inclusive, private online community of like-minded writers. I have so much FUN here, and these ladies are always ready to share encouragement, whether I check in daily or once a month.

2. Podcast: The Shit No One Tells You About Writing. This podcast is the perfect example of asking really good questions about a writer’s life. Whether you are new or seasoned, this has something for everyone: self-publishing vs. traditional, fiction and nonfiction writing tips, and much, much more. Just look at the episode titles, and you’ll have a hard time choosing what to listen to because if you’re a new writer like me, you really want to learn it all, and learn fast, Also, the host Bianca is refreshingly hilarious and honest, and she’ll keep you laughing while you grow to love the diverse, intense world of writing even more.

3. Virtual writer’s conference: Women Writing the West. This will be my very first writer’s conference, and I am pumped! I stumbled across this virtual conference offering while trying to find something affordable I could do in these ongoing COVID times. As a proud native of Colorado, I can’t wait to hear more from writers in my region and how they tie their roots to their writing, since it seems that much of what sells in fiction is geared towards beach- or city-based locales.

The divine timing of these three groups of women coming into my life when they did keeps me in awe and gratitude. These voices faithfully shepherd me through the up-and-down seasons I’m growing accustomed to as a writer. When I first started, I had words just flowing out of me, unsure of where or when to place them but full of energy. As the world opened back up this year, and I also got a new position at work, I’ve been in a long season of fighting for my creative time.

But I’m still here. Whether I write 500 words or 50,000 words in a month (NaNoWriMo is coming up!), I let these voices breathe life and confidence into my creativity, giving me the fuel to keep going no matter the present day outcome. As an engineer, not having an immediate outcome to my efforts is hard, but I’m getting used to it.

Now it’s your turn. Silent or spoken answers welcome. What’s saving your creative life right now?

Photo credit: by me, at a restaurant in the iconic mountain town of Breckenridge, CO. I picked it because from the angle at which I took it, notice how it says “Heart rest”? 😊

When All My Escapes Fail, Except One

I’m not one to overtly deny myself breaks. I may delay a personal break longer than I should, reaching that peak level of “yeah, it’s time to close the laptop” before I stop working. But I’ve always believed in the “work hard, play hard” mentality. In a day, I can find any number of ways to escape: take a 5 minute walk around the building, plan a fancy outing with friends, find a new devotional plan, throw together a girls weekend getaway in one hour, pull up one of my all-time favorite albums or playlists, take a nap, try a new workout, treat myself to Chick Fil A or a Starbucks pink drink, or just grab a piece of dark chocolate with sea salt and almonds. Any of those is bound to do the trick for me and send me on my way. 

Once, I crushed a homework assignment from my therapist by developing a self-care list that was broken out by increments of time. She asked for one list, but I devised this matrix of various activities, ranging from five minutes to five days. That way, I always had a “go to” escape, whether I was short on time or needed to purposefully carve out more time. I thought of it as a bulletproof tool that would do the trick any time I felt burnout coming on before it overtook me.

My favorite escape is the beach, although living in my landlocked state of Colorado makes that one very hard to come by. I grew up spending summers in Fort Myers Beach, so snobbishly and unfortunately, the “lake shore” vibe of my state’s man-made reservoirs just doesn’t do it for me. Cue the sand between the toes scenes, purple-pink skies reflecting off glittery waves, and the reliable sound of ocean waves crashing, retreating, crashing, retreating. The beach is it for me.

For the first time in my life, though, I have a growing, fearful sense that my escape tactics, i.e., self-care moments, are failing me. I’ve tried any and all the things on my list the past few months, but I don’t feel the same release. I tried old music that I forgot about. I tried not pushing it too much with the workouts and just doing yoga instead of cardio. I tried leaving work early to catch up on house stuff, then making up that hour the next day. I haven’t felt the same passion to write that I did last summer, but I’m doing it anyway because I know it’s good for my soul. While these moments offer a temporary reprieve, they aren’t lasting as long as I’d like them to. What used to sustain for days is now only getting me through a day, at best. My fixes aren’t fixing. I feel flat and uninspired at my normally deeper, soulful level. 

Characteristic to my analytical nature, I’ve mentally gone through the steps to find the source of my angst, my emptiness. Why am I feeling this way? What can I do about it? On my good days, I tell myself it’s because I just came off a crazy, horrendous six month busy season at work, and I’m just learning to breathe normally again. For the past month, I could actually breathe deeply and intentionally in slower sips of air, rather than feeling like I’m gasping and burning my lungs all day (metaphorically speaking). Sometimes I wonder if it’s going to take me another six months to recover from that period of intense growth and thinking about work 24/7 (so it goes when your client is at the airport).

I also know my sleep is off from having a mix of day shifts, swing shifts, and night shifts in May, June, and July. I’m not a good sleeper anyway. I have always struggled with working night shifts, no matter how much I mentally prepare myself that it’s temporary or manage to sleep well during the day. My sleep schedule these days is particularly subpar, but c’est la vie. I’ve tried all the sleep things except Ambien and acupuncture, and I’ve accepted that it’s just not in the cards for me in this season.

Soon, the burnout of overanalyzing how I “should” feel about escaping life’s daily pressures set in. So over the past couple months, I decided to be very picky about what I’d escape with. No need to mentally exhaust myself, then feel bad about what I chose. I decided that if an old or new thing wasn’t working, I would move on. That thing would still be there for me should I want to pick it up again another time. For now, I needed to get really simple and nonjudgmental about my escapes.

So I can tell you with the most sincere honesty that the only escape that’s worked for me the past few months has been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy

I’ve been a die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan since it debuted in 2005, when I watched Cristina and Meredith make “dancing it out” a legitimate thing. I always rooted for Mer-Der yet still wanted to be leggy and fabulous like Addison. But I stopped watching the show about six years ago when I thought I was “above” it, that I shouldn’t indulge. My husband tolerated it but certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as I did. I justified and minimized that there was no productive reason to watch my favorite show, so I shouldn’t.

But that’s just it. I was sneakily seeking productivity in many of my escape tactics, rather than just enjoying. I do this with podcasts or books quite often, where I gravitate towards self-help and personal growth topics. I truly enjoy learning non-work things, but I realized I’d reached the point of overdoing it on self-improvement.

Rediscovering Grey’s Anatomy brought me back to a place where I could enjoy something for no reason at all. Some days, it’s the only time I momentarily escape the tireless hamster that won’t get off the damn wheel in my head. It gives me that sense of being “in the moment”, where I’m so captured in the storyline that I get enough distance from my own storyline, giving it the breathing room it needs.

I started from Season 1 just this past year, then really ramped up my efforts to catch up to Season 17 by September (next month!) before the final season is released. I’ve literally watched it for hours some weekends after my job fully depleted me. I like listening to Grey’s while I fold clothes or sort the mail. It’s nice “company” for me, especially since my husband has started traveling for work again, giving me extra alone time. And here we are yet again, slowly entering times when seeing people is less of an option (thanks, delta variant).

Do you have a show or completely mindless activity that just speaks to you? Grey’s Anatomy has been this for me. Like in Season 11, when Meredith looks at the nanny she’s interviewing and says that her schedule is unpredictable. And with tears in her eyes, she’s asking for someone to help support her and her kids with that. To be flexible and reliable when she cannot.

Or in Season 15, when Bailey talks about giving up all the things to find out what’s “wrong” with her, even up to temporarily relinquishing her job as the first Black female chief of surgery. When she shared her struggles with self-worth, I stopped dead at what I was doing and felt seen through her words. It didn’t solve my problems, and I wasn’t at the point of quitting my job. But it made me feel less alone.

I perpetually try to find purpose in the smallest of things, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I really love this candle, and ooh, when I buy it, I’ll be supporting a small business too. It doesn’t mean both of these things aren’t good and shouldn’t be sought after. But we don’t always have to justify our enjoyment. I am biased of course, but I think this concept is hardest for women and underrepresented people, given all the other things we’ve felt we needed to justify in the last 100 years (voting, working, asking for help, having kids, not having kids, equal pay, and so on).

I’ve always believed in a good escape. In seeking purpose, we eventually need to escape. In escaping, we find enjoyment. In enjoyment, we find light heartedness. In light heartedness, we find connection. And in connection, we find ourselves arriving back at our purpose. 

I was inspired to write on the topic of “Escape” through my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. Check out these amazing stories on what it means to escape by my fellow women writer warriors:

How Do You Escape? by Crystal James
un-becoming by Laci Hoyt
Escaping My Calling by Christine Carpenter
Escape Via Him by Amy Rich
How Sudden Suddenly Happens by Leesha Mony
Can’t Escape My Worries (a poem) by Mia Sutton 


To the Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields

Vulnerability can be a daily hazard for those who identify as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Why? Because we take risks every day showing up as ourselves when the world expects us to constantly talk, act, think, and work like a man, yet still be a kind, good, obedient person who keeps her head down.

Working with men requires vulnerability when… 

  • you have to ask for help.
  • you’re still the only woman in the room (yet the statistics keep saying “it’s all fixed now”). 
  • you ask for time off or set boundaries to your working hours.
  • you have to decide how to take action (or not) when men ignore you.
  • you realize that some men genuinely see you, and you wouldn’t be where you are without them.
  • you choose to say yes quickly to a great opportunity, even when you’re not quite ready.
  • you take said opportunity then think, did I just get taken advantage of? 
  • you allow yourself feel all the hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, jealousy, and judgment that comes any time you feel vulnerable at work.

For me, I have a double whammy when it comes to working in a male-dominated field. I’m a civil engineer, of which there are about 25% females on average. But I also work in the construction industry, of which there are about 10% females on average.

What’s worse is that these statistics don’t even consider other affected groups: Asian/Asian Indian, Black, Latinx, Native American, and anyone with any form of disability, seen or unseen. The statistics nose dive drastically from there and still severely lack inclusion.

No matter what industry we’re in, women benefit more in the long run from bringing our whole selves to work. Not the scaled down version that confines to “their” rules. We got into our industries for a reason by something deep within propelling us forward–NOT by how many people told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t because we may not fit in.

It took me nearly 10 years into my career to feel that I really belonged in it. And what I’ve learned thus far is this: by focusing more on who I am, it makes what I produce that much richer, more connected, and more sustainable. But that’s a story (or maybe a book?) for a different day.

I wrote this manifesto to remind us that our voice–however WE choose to express it–matters in our line of work. 

I am… Human. I will know that my ability to bring humanity to my job is an asset, not a liability.

I am… Determined. I will take a seat at the table, not on the side. I will get there early enough to take that seat.

I am… Vocal.  I won’t hesitate to raise my hand, when I’m ready. I will speak up when I’m convicted, even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t speak up, I will not shame myself. I will decide what “vocal” looks like for me.

I am… Curious. If I don’t know the answer to a technical question, I won’t doubt my ability to learn. I will gracefully respond with “let me get back to you” as I’ve witnessed my male peers do. I will give myself time to find answers and never stop asking questions.

I am… Empowered. I will know that I am tougher than I look, whether society wants to see it or not. I am NOT an imposter. I belong here as long as I choose to stay here.

I am… Balanced. I will listen to my gut, especially with outside commitments. I do not have to go to everything. I will go to happy hours, work trips, and conferences to the extent that I’m able. I will say no if it competes with my overall well-being or sanity based on my family commitments. Saying no does not mean I cannot succeed.

I am… Creative. My ideas and perspectives are worthy of sharing. Only I possess the traits and skills I have, and only I can give myself permission to share when the time is right. My field depends on it to stay on the cutting edge.

I am… Decisive. I will deeply consider the importance of the decisions I make every day, big or small. I will say no when I mean no, and I will say yes when I mean yes. I will do this guilt-free, and I will take the time I need to make the best decision I can, given the time allowed, people involved, and information at hand. 

I am… Resilient. When someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a “fill-in-the-blank” (engineer, lawyer, mechanic, pastor, choir director, pilot, firefighter, architect, farmer, software developer, TV/film camera operator, the list goes on…), I will wait for their “I didn’t expect that” reaction to subside. And if I need to go vent afterwards, I will absolutely give myself permission to do so. 

This is for any woman who’s ever doubted her place, talents, or contributions to a male-dominated field. Writing this is a vulnerable act for me in itself. I wouldn’t have even thought to write this without having gone through my own fears, doubts, and struggles from my experiences working in a field where I often feel less than. It is difficult to even admit I’ve felt this way about a career I enjoy so much.

Still, I implore us to heal our self-inflicted wounds, ignore the silence from those we hoped would support us but don’t, and proudly show more of ourselves every day in the career we chose, the purpose we love.

This essay is brought to you by my womxn’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find us on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out these amazing writers and their perspectives on Vulnerability below:

Being Vulnerable With My Body by Hannah Kewley

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton

I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown

Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter

Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese

with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee

 

Your Words are Worthy

Words upon words upon words. From grade school on, women are the classic note takers. Scribbles on sticky notes. Endless to-do lists. College notebooks full of formulas, theories, and literal word-for-word jargon from professors, in hopes it can be deciphered later. Love notes to kids or spouses in lunchboxes. We are the quintessential journal keepers, no matter if it’s once a day or once a year.

Why do we take note of so much? For one, it engages us. It activates our busy minds that run nonstop, even in our sleep. It plants us in the moment and grounds us when nothing else will. The act of writing promises hope that we won’t forget what we feel we need to remember.

Anytime I hear from a fellow woman writer that she doesn’t feel the urge to write, my heart cracks a little. This may be temporary based on the busy day/week/month ensuing, where she’s likely busy taking care of everyone else around her. My suspicion is that deep down, she silently feels her words aren’t worthy. And this makes the crack in my heart even wider, because I am so inspired by the words of other women. It is the very thing that has emboldened and empowered me on my own journey. I can’t stop reading others’ thoughts of desperation and moments of hope that this fragile, historic year has brought.

This is a pep talk I give myself that you can borrow in whole or in part anytime you need: Do not ever let someone poison you, with either a glance or a litany, on whether or not you’re worthy to create. You are the only one that gets to decide that. Let failure be a teacher and a gift once the pain subsides. When you’re ready, have the guts to face your weak areas instead of avoiding them. The lessons of growth when you go through the fire are always, always worth it. You have more grit than you give yourself credit for, so start digging in to get you where you want to go.

Whether you write 50 or 50,000 words, every syllable matters. Let those words of yours, faintly simmering below, start to bubble up and out. It counts if it’s privately in a journal or publicly released to the world. If you needed this reminder, I hope it’s coming to you at the right time.

Today, tomorrow, next month, or next year–there is no deadline on the worthiness of your words.

This post was taken from a bit of the first draft of my memoir as a woman engineer. I started this project on a whim when I learned of NaNoWriMo two weeks before it launched on November 1, 2020. I got to 40,000 words, and I have no idea if I will ever finish and publish it. What propelled me to write was this: “Will there ever be another time in my life where I can dedicate a whole month to writing?” And I didn’t want to wait to find out.

All I know right now is that I have stories of mine to tell. Writing is the therapy I need right now to re-imagine, process, and let go.

PS, the Unpublished Podcast by Amie McNee has been one of many inspirations to my writing journey this year. I encourage you to check it out if you need a boost of encouragement, wherever you are in your creative writing journey right now. As Amie often says, only you can write what you can write, no one else can.

Thoughts on Craving More from My Life

When I read the word “hunger” (a prompt from my women’s writing group, Illuminate), it dawned on me. I am perpetually in a state of hunger. Hunger to succeed in anything I pursue. Hunger to improve as much as I can. Hunger to love better – myself and others – every day. It’s insatiable. While I’m enjoying the ride, I often want finality to this hunger, to arrive at some sort of destination of fulfillment (that’s the engineer in me, but I digress).

But, it’s a catch-22. If I have less hunger, will that make me complacent? If I have more hunger, will that make me greedy? If I maintain my appetite, have I simply arrived at acceptance… or just the illusion of it?

Hunger encapsulates so many things for me. Physical hunger (craving). Financial hunger (success). Emotional hunger (love). Spiritual hunger (soul). Mental hunger (education). Relational hunger (community). An endless menu of desires to satisfy.

Taking them in all at once, with the pandemic as the cherry on top, I can honestly say my hunger in all states has intensified, subsided, ratcheted WAY up, crashed WAY down, and everything in between. When I originally considered this word, it was 8:30am on a Saturday, and I was uncharacteristically starving for a big breakfast (I calmed down and settled for yogurt and berries). Finances seem somewhat stable for once, since many big purchases have simplified–a wedding gift, clothing splurge, or airplane ticket feel far away from my current reality. Emotionally, I’m begrudgingly getting to spend lots of time with all of my #coronacoaster feelings (feelings aren’t my favorite, but I’m less and less resistant). Spiritual hunger is always there–what did Jesus say again: show love to everyone, especially (not except) those who are different, difficult, and/or despondent? Chasing new things that expand my mind is second nature to me, and this season, I’ve become a lifelong anti-racism student.

My reflection on relational hunger surprised me. Intermittently in the pandemic, I’ve had vivid dreams with faceless people where I’m searching for some sort of undefinable connection that won’t manifest. It feels barely within reach before I wake up. I would be remiss if I didn’t attribute at least some of that to the lack of human connection due to social distancing and face masks. Where hugs feel slightly dangerous. Where handshakes feel inappropriate. Where happy hours feel unclean.

Will I ever not have hunger? I hope not. I can control my appetite, but only for so long. And I know I won’t ever “arrive” at an even-keeled state of maintenance, as much as my achiever side wants to. An internal and/or external force can whack that out of balance at any moment.

We are evolving creatures meant to hunger. For to hunger means to be alive, still wanting, still searching. Destination or not, I absolutely want in on craving more, so I can keep soaking up all that I can in this one glorious life.

Follow #illuminatewriting on Instagram for more inspired writing.