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

Time, Mystical Time… Healin’ Me Fine

Cue one of my favorite songs on Taylor Swift’s Folklore album, “invisible string”…

These days, I’ve grown more aware of how obsessed I am with time. I’ve known for a while that me and FOMO are good friends. Still, I find myself subconsciously trying to strike a balance among learning from my past, living in the moment, and pondering the future. It’s precarious. It used to feel life-giving, where I’d tenuously balance on the edge of control and freedom. Right now, it feels pretty lifeless to be so consumed by time, when it draws out and stretches out for miles that used to feel like feet due to the pandemic.

This year, I often joke that it’s just another day that ends in Y (and thank one of my clients for giving me such a fitting phrase). If I weren’t chronicling my inner thoughts and daily activities so well with a solid journaling habit and this blog, time may feel even blurrier than it already does.

Anyhoo. Remember when email forwards were a thing (a fun, eventually annoying thing), and someone listed all the ways that fractions of time can change our course and give our entire lives new meaning? Like the difference of 0.01 seconds for Olympic competitors who earn a silver medal. I came up with my own list as sort of a therapeutic process, since time has virtually no meaning for me right now.

1 second: The time it took for my dad’s car and an oncoming car to collide, sending him to the hospital where he passed away two days later when I was 16.

1 minute: The time it took to get dunked underwater and reemerge in a roomful of people, where I shared that Jesus was my source of comfort, strength, and hope. Life has been brighter, richer, and more purposeful for me ever since.

1 hour: The time of a single car ride with my favorite mentor who was kind enough to unexpectedly show me how, when I thought I was hiding what I was feeling, I was actually being very obvious about it. This completely changed my interactions with friends, family, and colleagues for me from that point on.

1 day: Time spent strolling the Freedom Trail in Boston with my then-friend from college, having lunch at the Union Oyster House, and visiting Paul Revere’s house. A few years later, I call this smart, funny, generous man my husband.

1 month: The time I needed to start a consistent journaling habit, which has now bloomed into joining a women’s writing group, starting a blog, and seriously exploring and sharing my creative side.

1 year: The length of time I spent getting my Master’s degree in Civil Engineering, only to find myself with little to no job prospects when the markets tanked and the Great Recession started.

Sigh. OK, time has meaning. I needed that reminder. And yet, I wonder. When will I get to plan a get together larger than 8 people again – in person, inside, without masks? When will we go on our next international getaway, something we enjoy doing with friends to immerse ourselves in and learn from a totally different way of life? What is my next big thing going to be IRL, that’s a far cry from the online worlds of Instagram, Medium, and Google?

These are the questions I ask myself, as I enjoy lazy Saturdays sleeping in, reading, binge watching Nashville, writing, cooking fancy meals with my husband, and walking my dog to my heart’s content. All the things I ever wanted to do but never for this long.

Photo location: Fussen, Germany

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.