Holding onto inspiration

1_mH40zYR3N3CTtuOkzLzRfwImagine the sound of a metronome keeping pace. Focus on the consistency between each subsequent tck. Exist in your thoughts in this space — in the space between each subsequent tck.

Each story begins in one such space. It begins in an instant. Neurons fire seeking connections. Neurons are always firing, but this time they find a connection. In one instant between two subsequent tcks.

This connection can be called inspiration.

I remember when I started writing because I wrote it down. It was October 2, 2015. The words were: The moment I decided to write poetry, I realized I always thought in free verse.

Those words feel simple now — they are simple. They are simple, but I have kept those words, unchanged, at the top of the document I still scribble in. They remind me of beginnings and of changes over time.

Imagine the sound of a metronome keeping pace. There is an instant between two subsequent tcks. Neurons fire seeking connections. Neurons are always firing, and this time they find a connection. This connection is your inspiration. It may simple enough to summarize, or it may be cocooned with fog. Either way: write it down.

Step Outside

In the end, just three things matter: How well we have lived, How well we have loved, How well we have learned to let go.

In the middle somewhere part-way through I search my soul for incompletes.

There is surely time left on some timer, but seconds tick fall down grain by grain-
I could fall with the grain as well.

There is consistency to ebbs and flows, there is a balance one could find
In following the pattern as it changes affects ignores feelings toward someother’s malcontentment

These cluttercare considerations-
I turn my focus pay no more mind, the tides are cycle turning and the sun also sets

To love and lose or not love at all, without passion only death. I could pace here back and forth in place or else could wander letting go

Why I Won’t be a Woman in STEM

There are no women in the class photos on the walls of Drexel University’s chemical engineering department until you get to the Class of 1947, when there was one woman. Her name was Alice Forbes, and she broke ground. This was important. This lit the way for future female chemical engineers at Drexel.

But as I sit here typing this, I wonder if she considered her own importance the way those do with hindsight, or if she was only following what she thought was her calling. I hope it was the latter.

I am one of the female engineering students who followed in Alice’s footsteps. I received a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering from Drexel University in 2015. I am proud of this accomplishment, but not because I am a woman — that ground has already been trampled to dust — I am just proud of what I have personally accomplished. But I am not an engineer.

When I decided to study engineering, I was under the influence of The Times (although I didn’t realize it). I had always been very good at math, and I was told that not every little girl was. I was aware that my mathematical ability and interest in academics excited the adults, but I didn’t understand why. From what I saw, not every little boy was good at math either. I saw no difference in potential between the sexes, but even so, the praise I received in my youth influenced my decisions. All of the positive feedback influenced my interests and my sense of self.

For little girls, who are depicted in the media as chronically underrepresented in science and technology, my quickness with mathematical concepts was a cause for alarm. I grew up post-second wave feminism, but I was raised and educated by women who lived through it. When I was born, women had already broken into traditionally male fields; however, when my mother and my teachers were born, this was not as common.

To me, women could do whatever they wanted to do. I was always sure of this. I didn’t consider the importance of women in the workplace, or the struggle that came before they were accepted into it. I was enveloped in the solipsism of youth. I thought I could and would do anything I set my mind to, and I was given positive feedback and encouragement from the long and lengthening reach of feminism at every turn. I didn’t understand how this effected me because I was tangled up in it.

If you were a female raised in the 1990s with higher-than-average mathematical abilities, than I am sure you had a similar experience to mine (although I am willing to stand alone with this if I have to). The adults — they grab you and they tell you that you are so smart and so talented and we — The World — we NEED more little girls like you to study the math and the science and the engineering and — just for safe measure (now that this is a new millennium) — maybe the computer science and the data science and the things where ground has only previously been tiptoed on by women like you for you so that one day you can stomp, stomp, stomp, and break that ground for future little girls who will be able to live in a world where they are equ-

I didn’t listen to any of this, but I listened to it all. I thought I was free of gender constraints. I thought I made my own decisions. And I suppose I did, to some extent. I felt no different than the male students in my engineering program. I felt I was among equals, both male and female, when I received a Master of Science in analytics from Georgia Tech. I didn’t do these things to be a woman in STEM, I did these things because I thought I wanted to. I think now, that I was over-influenced by praise.

I never dreamed of being a chemical engineer (I hardly knew what that was when I started undergrad), but I thought smart kids were supposed to study engineering. Looking back, I always performed equally in math and language, but my interests in reading and writing were never praised as highly as my math skills. When I chose to study engineering, I was following what I thought my dreams should be, as a girl with mathematical abilities — as a woman who didn’t question what else there was.

In 2018, gender inequality stems from trying to correct for gender inequality. We tell young girls, when we see their eyes light up when they solve a problem, that the world needs them. We continue to put this pressure on a generation of girls, so much so, that they hardly get to think about themselves, as individuals, away from the point of reference of first and second and third and fourth wave feminism. Being aware that there is inequality turns into a drive — even if it is subconscious — to correct for this inequality.

Today, at 26, I finally feel comfortable questioning who I am and what I enjoy doing, and it is not engineering, or research, or data science. I was picked up and put on a trajectory toward science and numbers and technology with all of Their praise and hopes, and not my dreams. But it’s not Their fault — They want to see a world where it is safe to pursue a dream. They want to see a world where no one laughs or mocks when a woman wants to do whatever the hell she wants to do, and then does it. These aren’t bad wants. But as a child, I couldn’t separate Their wants and drives from my own sense of self.

But then it hit me as a gradual pressure building in my chest every Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, ad nauseum, until I had to walk away from what I thought was my calling.

I self-destructed after working for one and a half years in the tech industry as a data scientist. I was working at Comcast at the time, and I made more money than I needed. I had made it, but I couldn’t take it anymore. I hated showing up to work every day. But it’s not how it is always told — it wasn’t those dirty boys and their dirty boys’ club, The Patriarchy. It just wasn’t the right fit for me. So, I can’t tell you how difficult it was for me to be a woman in engineering or a woman in technology and to play alongside the boys. Because honestly, it wasn’t that difficult for me as a woman. It was difficult for me as a person.

It isn’t my dream to perform analyses toward the reduction of device errors so that internet users can binge watch Netflix without interruption. To do this, day after day, was where I found difficulty with my job. It was difficult for me to sit at a desk, and stare at a screen, and hit keys on a keyboard to make pseudo-thoughts happen somewhere off-screen. It was difficult for me to work for a company that was moving their chemical processes overseas because labor was cheaper and there were less strict manufacturing regulations abroad. It was difficult for me to analyze patient health data, not to help patients get better, but to make sure doctors could bill for as many treatments as possible, until the patient either got better or died. It was difficult for me to be removed from the underlying causes driving my work and the effects they could potentially have.

These difficulties were more than blood, sweat, and tears and they were more than dirt under my nails — these difficulties made me ask myself every day how much of myself I was willing to give away little bit by little bit to fight to become someone I didn’t want to become — someone I thought I had to become because I had a natural ability and a duty to those who paved my way and to those who would follow in my footsteps.

In this country — built on the backs of dreamers — today’s students are each fighting for their own dead end. Girls and boys alike are funneled into STEM programs. We are praised when we are good at math or good at science. We are praised for natural curiosity with words like: You will make a great engineer one day. We are being taught to program the machines, and all of the praise is helping us forget to ask why. You follow the positive feedback, and then, one day, you wake up and go to a job you are not interested in or that fundamentally disagree with, and then you do it the next day and the next day and the next day or else you self-destruct.

My education will always be a part of who I am, and I regret none of it. I was a student of engineering and a student of analytics, and I am a woman. But I have broken no ground in doing the things I have done: the ground has already been broken. But I am not trying to belittle the accomplishments that paved my way — I am grateful that I had the opportunity to try, and to accomplish, and then, to reconsider and decide for myself. Life is an iterative process, day-to-day.

If I have learned anything from my time as an engineer, it is that an isolated system tend toward equilibrium. Life has a way of working itself out. Now, let’s take a step back, and let the girls decide where they are needed next. They have this.

How to write with purpose

They say: grab them with a hook early. Get them with that first sentence, then reel them in. Build momentum word by word. Keep that momentum throughout your first paragraph, and then your first page, and hopefully for your entire first and second and third book and your memoir and those short stories that have been piling up and begging to be anthologized.

The momentum means the pages are turning. It means the words— your words— are being consumed . They are interesting, at least enough. They are enough, at least for now. Every time you type a mark of punctuation, it signals to the reader to group words into phrases — this helps with processing. These signals are key. With every tiny period is a chance to lose your hold; with every semicolon the odds of being misunderstood increase.

And yet you still write. You write through obscurity and you write through being misunderstood, and you reread your own words and you think about where you lost them or failed to gain them. You keep writing, and you hope that they keep reading, or that they will start to soon.

Saying you are a writer is claiming you have things to say that other people want to hear. This is a bold claim to make. It is a claim of self-importance. It is a considered certainty. It has to be. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to keep scribbling and sharing and trying. It is time consuming and thankless, at least until you can reach someone with your words the way other words have been able to reach you.

I have a framed quote sitting on my writing desk. Framed, unhung, and sitting just to the right of where my eyes fall on my screen while I type. I have read these words over and over, but I don’t read them all the time. I am reminded of them as I write. I see them out of the corner of my eye, and I am reminded. They are why I continue to type, sometimes, when I start to lose focus. They say:

There’s a kind of Ah-ha! Somebody at least for a moment feels about something or sees something the way that I do. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s these brief flashes or flames, but I get that sometimes. I feel unalone, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I feel human and unalone and that I’m in a deep, significant conversation with another consciousness in fiction and poetry in a way that I don’t with other art.

David Foster Wallace said these words, and I have felt this way. I have read words like flashes or flames — these precise, unique, pieces of familiar feelings, written in an unfamiliar hand. I seek them out when I read, and I highlight them when I find them. I hold onto these words; they inspire every letter I type.

I am a writer. This means I think I have things to say that other people want to hear. It is a claim of self-importance, but it’s also so much more. I want to connect with other people through my writing. I want to help others feel human and unalone, the way other writers have helped me feel human and unalone. And that’s all there is to it.

Athazagoraphobia

You hit ‘submit’ and you wait and in this waiting words and meanings become echos and they fade and fade away. The half-life of a thought increases, written down, but without reading, repetition, rewording, it approaches almost never was.

The amount of energy it takes to be ignored does not have an upper limit, and the destruction of energy is possible: just take a billion or so individual pairs of eyes choosing either actively or passively to not care or not notice, respectively.

Five minutes since and still nothing — just the stinging feeling of personal betrayal as a gamified system fails over and over again moment after moment to keep its unspoken promise of instant gratification through which to temporarily pacify a restless mind.

You walk away and let another five minutes pass. There are chores and other busy work to help time become unstuck. You wait to relight a tiny screen, knowing, hoping, unconvincingly convincing yourself that you will return to still-increasing numbers in tiny red circles, if only you could wait.

It’s not the fear of life and trying, it’s the fear of a living death and dying unknown or under-appreciated or with a superinflated self-image that doesn’t match your mirror. It’s not the fear of criticism, it’s the fear of a lack there of: it’s a fear of being so insignificant that there is no need to respond.

You reread the words you wrote and edited and reread and reread already only to realize your worst fear — the only fear that is bigger than the fading and the wasted effort and the living death of obscurity: there is a typo.

Postmortem Sonnet I

Prompt: Write a personal critique from the point of view of Shakespeare

Punctuation’s memory does not a poet make
Nor should rhyme scheme be gazed at waysided
Aside: Solace! The King’s Men she’d not partake!
But a play by rules, she’d mock: closed-minded…

If I could walk again among tomorrow men’s tomorrow!
Shudders down my selfsame spine lost hopes eternal…
But a line from my page, they’d surely grasp to borrow!
Remains Black Death longing, white flag ne’er to unfurl…

A rose is a rose, a modern poet, not so sweet
Reaching otherward for a way to stay same meaning
Rotten mouth betrayal, untongued for indefensible defeat!
Hope rising tides eternal as muttled language is careening

But alas! I have stayed and long since passed away
And she, for at most some longer, alive will stay

Deciding to be a full-time writer

Yesterday, I read something I wrote aloud during a writing meetup. It was the first time I read something of my own aloud to anyone, and this was a group of almost-strangers. I felt my voice shake, and I kicked myself for jumbling phrases, but I got through each of the 819 words I wrote (although, at times, I unintentionally paused for slightly longer than anticipated, and a flicker of a thought about quitting midway and crawling into my own body quietly invaded my mind).

When I finished, they all clapped, and the applause that replaced my too-hushed words was louder than I had anticipated — to the point of almost feeling real. One person asked my name and said he would remember this when, implying, I think and hope, that it was a good piece. I thought it was a good piece, but I wondered if the positive feedback was to save me from the embarrassment of being told everyone individually either hated it or “didn’t get it” or couldn’t hear me (as I surely mumbled).

It is difficult for me to determine if what I think is good writing is actually good writing, or if it is only good to me. I think, at times, my style is unusual, and it maybe requires a bit more thought than people are willing to give it. Perhaps I only think this because it takes me a lot of thought and consideration to write what I mean to write.

I want to learn how to tell if what I think is good writing, is good writing to some kind of an audience. To do this, I have been finding ways to connect with other writers — such as going to meetups, and joining mailing lists and Facebook groups. I am very interested in discussing language and writing with others who share my interest in language and writing, so I can apply what I learn to my own writing.

This week, I started to take my writing a lot more seriously. In addition to the reading and my pursuit of network building, I left my part-time job to be a full-time writer. When I quit working full time in November, I didn’t think I was ready to be a full-time writer, and I thought working part time would provide a low-stress source of income, while freeing up time to write. However, even with the reduced stress and hours, I still found myself with a shortage of time to accomplish my weekly writing goals.

Perhaps, I am no more ready to write full time now than I was just a short time prior, but I feel more relaxed about the transition. And I think, for me to truly be ready to write full time, I have to write full time.

So that is what I am going to do.