How has music shaped your life?

Music was the very first tool I ever used to handle my emotions. As a teenager, music was often the ONLY thing I had at my disposal to process emotions that would flood my system all at once. I was an only child with a single working mom, so I outwardly grew my self-sufficiency while subconsciously craving outlets to soothe my soul. Writing my thoughts in a journal often felt too vulnerable, and forget about cell phones, AOL instant messenger (with dial up!) was just making its rounds to a screen near you…

When I was 11, my friend Jessie and I could NOT stop singing to our very first CD album: Tragic Kingdom by No Doubt. Yeah. Try to get “Don’t Speak” out of your head right now! I didn’t lose a best friend or a teen lover to this song. But that line – don’t tell me ’cause it hurts – spoke deeply to me. I remember being at a tender age where I felt mute, unable to express everyday hurts like being picked next to last on a team, or having to fight for a seat on the bus since I was picked up at one of the last stops.

When I was 12, “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls was RED HOT. I love me some sappy, heartfelt, well-written songs, but I loved the freedom of belting this out and dancing with my hands high. The song is pure FUN, and my parents were recently divorced. “Wannabe” was the release valve I didn’t know I needed to let go and cling to the belief that “friendship never eeends”. Oops, I got another song stuck in your head, didn’t I?

When I was 13, my dad and I played a LOT of Jimmy Buffett and Garth Brooks. I cannot listen to “Margaritaville” or “Friends in Low Places” without instantly picturing my dad and his 6’1″ frame, salt and pepper hair, and black mustache. I spent a week with him in Florida that summer, and we tooled around the beach taking pictures, boat rides, and eating lots of seafood. It was the last time I saw him in person.

When I was 14, it was ALL about Britney and Christina (Xtina). My friends and I wanted to BE them, and there was no shame about it. I started gymnastics this year and would only compete on JV for one season. As an only child, this was the first time I felt I “belonged” to a group of girlfriends. Normal teenage drama would ensue over the years, but these times of making up dance routines, tying ribbons in our hair, and rooting each other on from the sidelines sticks out in my mind whenever I hear the divas that brought us 90’s girl pop.

When I was 15, Nelly’s “Ride Wit Me” was the anthem of our collective naivete as young, blonde owners of learner’s permits, itching for the day we could have our OWN car and play our OWN music. This era of rap absolutely defined my high school years, where your only concerns in the summer were finding the next pool to go to, warm late-night walks to and from local parks and neighborhoods, and being invited over for a home-cooked meal. I listen to the words in those songs now and am equally smacked with thoughts of, Crank up the throwback jam! but also, Black culture’s hip hop roots are deeper than mere entertainment; they masterfully use their pain to inspire and reignite creative expression in mainstream music.

When I was 16, I made an entire CD dedicated to my dad who passed away in a car accident. It was the only way I could process his sudden death without getting lost in what was and what could have been in his short life. His alcoholism had been the catalyst to my parents’ divorce, and I paradoxically adored his character and loathed his behavior that separated our family. Songs like “Fins” by Jimmy Buffett and “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton helped me focus on his laughter, his warmth, and his big personality, keeping him alive in my heart in his best moments.

When I was 17, I spent freshman year of college dreaming with my roommate Kauai that Keith Urban and his “long lost twin” would come sweep us away, crooning “Somebody Like You” right to us. That song brings me back to sunny days with the windows down, breeze flowing, and off-key belting out words we longed for, as we dared to dream of a partner to spend our days with. Engineering textbooks be damned, we would not forget about love!

When I was 18, I dated someone who unknowingly opened up my WHOLE world to music. He introduced me to Pat Green, Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, and a lasting favorite, Dave Matthews Band. It was a short-lived relationship in exchange for a life-long love of multi-genre, multi-generational music. Music hasn’t let me down yet, so I’d say I got the better end of the deal on this one.

These days, I listen to highly eclectic, highly tailored playlists. Apparently, I discovered 330 new artists in 2020 (thanks, Spotify!). I listen to anything from Taylor Swift (no shame, she’s such a talent), Yanni and Emancipator (when I need to focus at work), decades of pop hits (they’re just so FUN), contemporary Christian worship (nothing else gets into my soul like Red Rocks Worship and Elevation Worship), and whatever else my friends are playing that makes me go, Wait, who sings that, let me add it to my list…

Now it’s your turn. Silent or spoken answers welcome. How has music shaped your life?

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”? 😊

Why I’m Obsessed with Metacognition

Last summer, I was listening to a podcast that was discussing metacognition – the notion of thinking about what you’re thinking about. Here’s the formal definition for my fellow Webster nerds:

Not sure yet how I feel to admit this, but I haven’t been able to stop analyzing my thoughts since. Not every single thought, of course, just the big ones that make me stop and say: “Wait. Is that really true for me?”. I was probably doing it subconsciously before, but now I have a word for it: metacognition. It helps me shift my perspective when I need a fresh look at a tough or undesirable situation.

Here are a few recent examples of what’s rattled my brain…

First thought: “Holy crap. I can’t believe I have to leave the house for work every day in the middle of a pandemic.”

Next thought: “Wow. I love the quiet time I get in the car driving to work every day. The traffic is manageable, and thank God I haven’t gotten sick this whole time.”

First thought: “I left my blog alone for a month. How on earth will I get back into the groove of writing.”

Next thought: “I left my blog alone for a month because my day job got a lot more interesting, and I’m up for a promotion. I have so many new stories to tell about faith, women in engineering, and self-worth.”

First thought: “Ugh. I only worked out twice this week. I’m behind on my goals and feel exhausted.”

Next thought: “It’s time to reassess my goals this week and back off where I need to. On the plus side, finishing The Glass Castle and a couple Grey’s Anatomy episodes felt AWESOME.”

This week, I also finished the book The Dance of Anger by Harriett Lerner. It has completely changed my perspective on anger. It is going to take a LOT of unlearning, but I am amazed at how differently I see anger already. It’s always felt like such a charged, negative emotion for me. But I learned that anger can be a tool to help tell you what you need to do to take care of yourself. It is possible to look at anger as a neutral emotion, instead of an emotion that beats up my self-worth and makes me feel “wrong” for feeling upset.

The book reminded me that I’m entitled to all my feelings, especially anger. It’s just what I do with it once I feel it that makes all the difference. And after this book, I have so many more options to deal with my anger than my standard go-to’s of over functioning, blaming, and defending. I highly, highly recommend it for women, since it’s written for us specifically. I plan to read it again this year (and, nerd alert, take some notes this time).

Metacognition helps me mind the endless “what if” scenarios that can plague me and overwhelm me. Metacognition is an antidote any time I have self-imposed feelings of self-doubt. Metacognition, guided by two of my favorite allies—grace and gratitude—powerfully tames my coronacoaster thinking, so I can hold onto a realistic yet positive perspective throughout life’s daily curveballs.