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”? 😊

Some Takeaways from My First 30 Day Haiku Challenge

Truth be told, I really wanted to write about other topics this week. I planned to do a travel blog post once a month, because I miss traveling and want to remember what it’s like to jump on a plane without fear of deadly germs. Then I thought I should switch it up and do a post on imposter syndrome, with some ways I get through it when it sneaks up on me. I started both posts but didn’t finish.

This month I participated in a 30 Day Haiku Challenge hosted by Nicole Gulotta. If you want to find out more, you can check out @nicolegulotta or #30dayhaikuchallenge on Instagram (I’m @cjdubs03). Overall, I found it fun and purposeful, and it definitely stretched me creatively. I reflected back on everything from childhood memories to daily blessings to appreciating more of the chilling beauty of winter. Normally, I can’t wait for winter to be over and done with.

But in all honesty, the challenge took way more time than I gave it credit for. While it may only take 10 minutes a day to write a haiku, then there’s time to find a picture and make it look “nice.” Then I want to see what everyone else came up with for the theme, so I scroll for 15 more minutes before I get back to my “real” to do list. Not that spending some time on myself is a bad thing, but an hour out of each weeknight is, well, a lot. And I noticed after the first two weeks that my zest for the daily activity was fading from a “want to” to a “have to”.

Hence why I’ve abandoned my previous ideas and will keep my weekly post short and sweet. Instead, I’m spending more time this evening with my husband and pup watching who knows what on TV instead of crafting the “perfectly timed” post. As we speak, my 8 year old Weimaraner is blissfully snoozing on my lap.

I’m also really proud of these 5 haikus I’ll share below. I love haikus because they, too, are short and sweet, yet full of beautiful odes to nature in their traditional Japanese form. Haikus also combine two of my most favorite things: writing and math!

Cold air
My heart feels
Morning light
Healing
Bare branches

Stay Hopeful, My Friends

Life’s little moments

Give us hope when all else seems

Fraught with fear, despair

NAVIGATING COVID

Gratitude for my

Shelter, food, health, it’s all here

Hope in quarantine

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We leave a short note

To say thanks for your service

Hope from frontliners

.

Hilarious prints

Germs contained, and coffee breath

Hope from wearing masks

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Universal Yums

Snacks to learn of great countries

Hope without travel

MY CIRCLE

She asks with concern

How are you really doing

Hope from a girl friend

.

We have a spa night

Just like old times as a kid

Hope with my Madre

.

We send pics, music

Share our creative outlets

Hope from my cousin

.

He embraces my

Wild ambition, big dreams

Hope with my husband

WORK

We laugh at meetings

Instead of arguing, mad

Hope from contractors

.

They give water to

The homeless on the corner

Hope from laborers

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We wave at workers

No matter background, job type

Hope with a smile

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We discuss kindness

While watching traffic fly by

Hope from a flagger

.

He brings me coffee

When we have a busy day

Hope from a colleague

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GRATITUDE

Warm hands, giant hugs

I’ll have these again one day

Hope is before me

.

Lifelong memories

Of full concerts, planes, gyms, church

Hope is behind me

.

Laughter over Zoom

Strong internet, still have wine

Hope is beside me

.

Sun in December

Bluebird skies, warmed skin, breezes

Hope is around me

.

He promises us

He will overcome the world

Hope is within me

Life’s little moments

Make a difference each day

Stay hopeful, my friends

This message of hope is brought to you by my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find more of our work on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out more messages of hope from these amazing writers below!

hope in the time of 2020. by Eunice Brownlee
Shifting Sands of Hope by Mia Sutton
In It Together by Laci Olivia
Who is your Only Hope? by Amy Rich
The 2020 Storm by Adeola Sheehy
Hope Over Survival by Sarah Hartley
Optimist on Purpose by Megan Dellecese
A Story About a Dog by Jenn Norrell
Both Fragile and Enduring by Danni Brigante

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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.

Final Verdict: I Love My Products

Oh, beauty products. How we love to loathe you. Or is it loathe to love you? I’ve had my fair share of these moments, vacillating between appreciating and despising the beauty industry and what I perceive it stands for.

But after some “beauty”-ful soul searching on where I stand with it all, I’ve decided: I love having the choice to buy and experiment with so many different hair, skin, and makeup products. As I often do, allow me to share my whys…

My products do just “feel good”—when I keep it in balance. The scents, the colors, the silkiness when applied. The sheer level of creativity one can appreciate from entrepreneurs who risk it all to create products they believe in wholeheartedly. But I’m responsible for that balance. I’ve fallen for plenty of labels promising that my life will in fact be changed by a certain blend of coconut oil and shea butter. I’ve thrown out expired products, which feels regrettably like a jangle of coins hitting the trash can, never to be seen again. But I’ve also bonded with my girlfriends over just the right dry shampoo, or reminisced over a favorite vacation when I brought back a lotion or soap to help me remember.

Wandering the beauty aisles in Target is one of my favorite forms of self-care. In the pandemic, it gets me out and walking around, especially on these colder fall days. The colorful, brightly lit aisles lift me up while I browse and make new discoveries. The Soap & Glory labels tell me it can still be summer, even if only in my mind. And I can splurge or go cheap, whether it’s a $2 face mask or a $20 scrub.

Since March, I’ve painted my nails a different color every two weeks. It started out as a simple routine to keep me entertained in quarantine, but I came to enjoy the femininity of it. It keeps me from biting my nails (and keeps those hands clean) and forces me to sit still for a few minutes. I invested $60 in the Dazzle Dry system that is hands-down the best—no major chips for over a week. With about 15 manicures down by now, and only halfway through my system, the price per use continues to drop as I keep enjoying my DIY mani time (bonus!).

Lastly, products help me look older. Call it “blessed by good genes”, but naturally looking 10 years younger doesn’t always have its benefits. Especially since I work with mostly men who can, subconsciously or not, find other reasons not to take me seriously. A little eyeliner, mascara, and multi-tasking tinted moisturizer go a long way to help me look as confident as I feel, when I know I know what I’m talking about at work.

Sometimes I use two products, sometimes ten. A Tahitian vanilla body scrub or lavender clay mask on the weekend can make a long shower feel like a sweet escape. I will never get through my Birchbox samples, even though I quit a year ago. Hair smoothing oil is a game changer that gives me an extra day or two between washes. I love practicing this flexibility to decide what works for me and when.

We each have our own ways of feeling beautiful. With the sh*t show of a year it’s been, and no signs of that slowing down, my products give me space to stop and enjoy. I hope you are finding little ways to feel beautiful. Each of these moments is significant and matters—letting beauty infiltrate from the outside, reminding us to keep believing in our beauty on the inside.

Two Pens, Two Purposes: An Engineer Writes Fiction

This is a storied timeline of two pens, two purposes. One pen writes reports and calculations on a construction site. The other writes articles and pitches as a freelancer. One story is fiction; one is fictionalized but mostly true. Both individuals are working (or attempting to) in the pandemic. Apparently, both hate the morning alarm but love long walks and Spotify.

The Engineer.

5:30am – That damn alarm. 1 snooze and I’ll get up. The sun peeking through our window tells me I won’t need my jacket today (phew).

6:30am – Just finished my morning quiet time. Meditation on my Calm app and some prayer/silence. Total bliss—wish I consistently did this.

7:30am – Smoothies and coffee are made, and I’m headed out the door. Wait: forgot my lunch, and takeout options are still slim. Say goodbye to the fam for the second time, and off I go.

8:30am – The #coronatraffic is definitely picking up—need to start leaving earlier. I pull up to the jobsite and finish my morning check-in with the superintendent.

9:30am – I’m in the office trailer–a bland shade of beige. It’s stayed very clean since I constantly imagine COVID germs lurking about. I fire up the generator so I can get internet and power and start catching up on emails.

10:30am – Concrete pour for an inlet base, where I spot check measurements on the rebar and forms. Weirdly, fresh concrete is one of my favorite smells. It signifies something new is being built that will last a long time. 

11:30am – Lunch by myself in the trailer. It’s quieter now that my inspector was reassigned to another project last month, due to budget issues. If I had a nickel for every time I thought, thanks COVID…

12:30pm – Daily check-in call with my client. We discuss the schedule slipping *sigh*. Our Indian summer weather is holding out for now, so we can finish paving and stand up some signal poles this month before the snow hits.

1:30pm – I add a couple things to my Lessons Learned report. I’ve recently made this a habit: writing down things our team could improve, or wish we’d known, before the next job starts.

2:30pm – Out for another site walk and think: Well, this is new. About 10 Xfinity trucks are here, with manhole lids popped off everywhere. I talk to their supervisor. Turns out, even after the 2 months my team spent notifying companies of a duct bank we needed to relocate for our new inlet, they didn’t get the memo. Sorry to whoever was cut off from the world for 4 days – is it even possible to go that long without TV or internet right now??

3:30pm – Writing my Daily Diary, where I’m always thinking: be objective, thorough, concise. Sometimes I feel more like a lawyer than an engineer when I write these.

4:30pm – Midway through my commute home with my favorite passenger, Spotify. Today we’re listening to The Confessional and Unlocking Us at 1.5X speed. I set the cruise control and enjoy.

5:30pm – Dog walk with my boys. We walk up the hill to take in a view that never gets old: watching a soft coral sunset turn to indigo over the hazy foothills.

6:30pm – Finally getting this at-home workout routine down. Ingredients: 30 minutes, a 20 lb kettlebell, “Mood Booster” on Spotify, and my $10 Amazon poster with umpteen exercises to choose from.

7:30pm – Takeout Thursday! Tonight, we go local and get a Matador pizza with salads. Jalapenos, cream cheese, chorizo, red sauce—yep, gang’s all here.

8:30pm – Quick journal entry. I used to be a morning journaler, but I’ve grown to like the end-of-day reflections. Even if they’re scattered, tired, flat. More realistic and strangely calming.

9:30pm – Spent. I’m catching up on Nashville and forgot how much I love the music. Even though I gave up country music years ago. I snooze on the couch for 20 minutes before my husband coaxes me to bed (my big bad habit is here to stay).

The Writer.

7:30am – OK, OK, I’m up. 5 snoozes later meant 45 minutes in iPhone land. Oops. Why hasn’t Apple figured out a way to give us custom snooze options yet?

8:30am – It’s a hair wash day. Ugh. One nice thing about the pandemic: I’m down to once a week. Grab a souvenir coffee mug and think, where should I travel to today? Hawaii or… Hawaii? I listen to the Unpublished podcast at 1.5X speed.

9:30am – That blank cursor feeling is legit. But it’s because I have so.many.stories brewing at once. Gonna take some effort to get them out, both connected and flowing.

10:30am – I looove my home office. My velvet Cleopatra chair sits in the corner, inviting me in for a read or a write when that desk gets old. But, I miss traveling. 

11:30am – Squirrel! Started looking for photos for an article, then scrolled for a half hour before I caught myself. Now I really miss traveling. And the theatre. And squeezing my face into group pics.

12:30pm – Hunger calls: tacos for lunch. Mmm. Have I ever met anyone that doesn’t love tacos? Have I discovered the one thing all Americans can agree on, besides Dolly Parton?

1:30pm – Ever spend an hour on thesaurus.com for one word? Yep. I just did. #enneagram1blues

2:30pm – I attend a Writer’s Digest OnDemand Webinar called, “8 Things First-Time Novelists Need to Avoid”. Great tips, if I ever get to this phase of my writing career. Just completely in the dark on a concept or theme right now *sigh*.

3:30pm – The fairy dust fueling today’s inspiration has worn off. My partner has been on a conference call, on speaker phone, for the last two hours in the living room. Time for a walk….

4:30pm – My last hour to meet client deadlines and rally my self-imposed hustle. Refueling with Diet Coke. C’mon, words.

5:30pm – One more hour… #ThisGirlIsOnFire… I click Submit, Send, and Save Draft on three pieces I fought hard for today. 

6:30pm – Time for our nightly beach walk. So glad we indulged our pipe dream and moved to the coast last year. Footprints in the sand never get old. Ever. 

7:30pm – Grocery store run. Feels like I’m in some bent universe when I leave my 2D imagination and enter 3D life with real trees and cars. Did I really just hunker down for two days pouring myself out on paper, or did I dream it?

8:30pm – We rally and whip up some Chicken Marsala and mashed potatoes for dinner. Add a little heavy cream to the sauce and a LOT of butter to the potatoes. A cold glass of Pinot Grigio gives us a sweet finishing touch to the meal.

9:30pm – Just cracked open my new journal for a quick brain dump. It starts with the quote: “Okay fine, I’m grateful!” Appropriate. I spend a few minutes writing and a lot of time doodling quotes or scriptures on my mind.

10:30pm – Kindle calls tonight instead of Netflix. I should not read “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” before bed. But it’s teaching me all about the evolution of avocado toast, and I’m here for the entertainment.

2:30am – I slowly wake, and my mind is abuzz. Think I’ll work on that haiku series I dreamt of this week. Who knows if it’s publishable, but it demands to get out now. Sleep, I’ll see you when I see you.

Photo location: Seattle, WA. Ocean on the left, mountains on the right, symbolically bridging my two worlds.

Read more about an Examination of Life this month from the amazing women at Illuminate, a product of The Kindred Voice:

A Day in My Life by Laci Olivia

An Ideal vs Actual Day in the Life by Ashleigh Bowling

What Makes a Life? by Amy Rich

A Real (and Imagined) Examination of Life by Sarah Hartley

The Things We Carry by Jenn Norrell

An Examination of Life by Danni Brigante

life itself. by Eunice Brownlee

Hi, Friends

I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. I’ve wanted to start a blog for years, but my logical left brain won out for a while. But, what purpose does a blog serve? (Left brain did not like the answer “enjoyment”) And, what if no one reads it? (Left brain did not like the answer “that’s ok”) Also, what if blogging is a dying trend? (Left brain did not like the answer “well, then we’ll figure something else out”)

After collecting dozens of my half-written blog posts since 2010, I realized I had an inner force to write that could no longer be ignored. I’ve documented my streams of consciousness for long enough now that I need to see what comes of it. As someone who otherwise thrives on logic and clarity in my day-to-day work life, I have a very general purpose for this blog, and that is community. Or multiple communities. I’m not sure yet. Here’s what I know:

  • I want to share my faith in Jesus, but only by looking at Him and His Word. The words religion, evangelical, and conservative are pretty tarnished for me and may eventually disappear from my vocabulary.
  • I want working professionals to know some secrets about self-promotion that I’ve learned over the years, but without sounding like you’re overselling your talents.
  • I want to share my love of all things food, wine, and travel. And chocolate.
  • I want women “who don’t exercise” to have simple, enjoyable ways to get moving, even if it’s only 20 minutes a day.
  • I want to inspire women in engineering to have a safe space for creativity beyond the corporate world. And that doing so will enhance their success as an engineer, not hinder.
  • I want to share what I’ve learned about the quality control (QC) and quality assurance (QA) processes. I believe QC/QA can positively impact ANY business – entrepreneur, corporate life, standard 9-5, and everything in between.

In hindsight – which is 20/20, and for added wit, the year we’re in – I didn’t start a blog until now because I didn’t trust myself. I now feel free to stand by this calling of mine and the potential it could produce. I needed to challenge my personal doubts and “what ifs” before I dove in. It’s in my nature to do so, and the best way I could be true to myself. The trick now, is to see how this is all being pieced together in God’s timing, rather than lament any supposed “lost time”.

So. This box checker has put away her planner, for now. Here’s to trusting that moving forward just one step at a time will allow my creativity to flow – and inspire you to do the same.