Happy Anniversary and the Difference a Year or Five Makes

“There are two great days in a person’s life – the day we are born and the day we discover why.” – William Barclay

Sadly neither of those days is today. However, I did receive a message informing me that yet another year has come and gone since I started down this whole blogging thing. I decided to celebrate by reflecting on my original goals and how life (and what I post about) has changed since then.

Happy Anniversary - what a difference a year or five makes - www.alliepottswrites.com

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When I originally started out, my intent was to establish a platform in support of my novel, An Uncertain Faith, which is a women’s fiction / cozy mystery mashup (and its sequel is now officially out as well). As it was my first attempt at publishing a book, I knew I was in no position to proclaim myself an expert on either the writing or publishing process, but at the same time, I didn’t want to come across as someone who was simply winging it without a plan by sharing ALL the things I didn’t know.

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt” – various sources, but often attributed to Mark Twain

In the end, I thought the better strategy was to rule out writing as a focus as many other authors tend to do. However, I still liked the idea of sharing tips or tricks, or weekly takeaways I’d picked up along the way, which, over time, proved to mostly center on the lessons I was learning from my kids. Some were sweet lessons, while others were more akin to the following:

“Never have more children than you have car windows.” – Erma Bombeck

This strategy worked for me, though family anecdotes rarely go viral, and when they do, it is usually for the worst sort of things. Nonetheless, the content itself was easy enough to generate. All I had to do was look out my window or down the hall. My weekly posts became a sort of happiness journal – a reminder of all the things I was grateful for, and all the reasons I had to celebrate.

At some point, without intending it, this blog had stopped being a way to promote my books and my writing to a general audience but instead evolved into a way to promote myself to the internal me. I guess that is the magic of writing. You never really know what the end result will be until you first start trying.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” – E.L. Doctorow

However, my kids started to grow up. They started to read. Even worse, they started having lives and personalities of their own. Unfortunately, a nagging thought began to take hold in the back of my brain: I’m their mom, and they’re still my kids, but was that really enough to give me the right to share their stories (beyond the basic funny thing they’ve said) with the general public, even if I am doing my best to protect things like their faces or their names?

For a time, I thought so, but now I’m not quite so sure.

“Always be nice to those younger than you, because they are the ones who will be writing about you.” – Cyril Connolly

And so, I’ve found myself scaling their stories back, though they remain ever at the forefront of my mind. At the same time, I’ve grown older evolved too. I’ve moved on from that earlier version of me, the one who didn’t know how much she needed the weekly written reminders of the small joys as much, if not more than, public acknowledgment of the major accomplishments.

I say this because I was able to keep a promise to myself. I took a risk and made a change. I’m now working full-time in the world of online publishing, which in some ways is completely new for me, but in other ways strangely reminiscent of the world of consumer tech, sales, and project management I left behind. Overall, it has been a positive experience, but if I thought I didn’t know a lot about publishing back then… well let’s just say:

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

As a result, I’m continuing to give myself permission to mix things up from the way I’ve done them before. Therefore, while this post may have been prompted by a celebration of my blogging longevity, I’ve decided to relax my self-imposed rules for the balance of the year if not a few weeks longer. It’s not a hiatus per se, as I’m going to still try to post as I am inspired, but if life takes precedence over the written word some weeks, so be it.

However, I am also considering posting on a different day or at a different hour, testing, and refining until I find the combination that works within my new normal. (I may also ask my boys to sign a waiver allowing their mother to post with their permission). Who knows what changes life may bring in the coming year? I sure don’t, and that’s okay. Thus far, not having all the answers has worked out for me far better than I could have ever imagined.

“Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever.” – Keri Russell

I know this small decision might cause additional ripples of change in my future, however, I’m not worried. Because, while I might love consistency and know too well the benefits of having a set schedule can bring, of all the things I’ve learned over the years, appreciating the value of the small things (both the good and the bad) as much as the big things, is the one lesson this blog has taught me how to do best.

It’s all in a day’s work

I don’t tend to write about my day job. There is the obvious reason –  while I have no reason to suspect that my boss reads anything I write here, he is, at the end of the day, literate, and I appreciate the whole being able to provide food for my children thing. There is also the less obvious reason – the stuff of my day-to-day usually doesn’t make for great story-telling (and I may or may not be bound to secrecy under non-disclosure agreements for the stuff that does).

On this particular day, I was tasked with inspecting non-conforming material. What is that? I’m glad you asked. It’s the junk that doesn’t make the cut on a production line. When product gets chewed up, blown up, or otherwise ruined on an assembly line it is moved to the side rather than simply thrown away so that people like me can periodically go through it and say, “yup, that’s a pretty expensive paperweight you have there,” and then, in either a threatening or collaborative tone depending on audience and/or situation, ask “how did it happen, how can we improve our process or how can we ensure our suppliers improve theirs so it doesn’t happen again?”

See? You haven’t missed much.

Reuse Recycle

How these days can make me feel (image courtesy of flickr)

After authorizing the final piece of flawed inventory to go into the scrap heap, I drove to a nearby university and met with a relative who’d nearly completed her first year. She told me she was considering changing her major to electrical engineering.  As we talked about how much fun she was having solving problems and programming devices to compete in various robotic challenges, it made me a tad nostalgic for my college days. Building a remote-controlled robotic monstrosity that was able to pick up tennis balls only to then shoot them at high speeds at targets on the other side of the room while being attacked by a rival team’s robot (which was as awesome as it sounds) suddenly seemed light years away from the type of engineering work I was now doing.

After my day, a part of me wanted to tell her, run! run while you still can! At the same time, I know that STEM fields need more women like her, and so I smiled and nodded in encouragement instead.

Gradually, we talked about the friends she was making on campus who hailed from other parts of the world. She asked me if I’d ever studied abroad. The answer is no. At least, that was the answer in regards to her specific question about my experience in college. However, I have studied abroad, albeit not through an accredited educational program.

I’ve visited places several places around the world for fun, but I’ve also experienced the joy of eating a saffron flavored risotto featuring fish freshly caught from Lake Como in Italy and climbed the to the Peak of Hong Kong in between touring factories. I’ve been to several places and met hundreds of people I wouldn’t have ever known even existed had it not been for my day job (even if I sometimes go kicking and screaming – reference most posts I’ve tagged as travel).

Finest women become electrical engineers

However, my day job is more than being crammed into the cattle class of an airplane or overcoming jet leg. I also get to enjoy all the routine mind-numbing exciting things that come standard with most office jobs: emails, deadlines, phone calls and meetings . . . so many meetings . . . (whoops, I started losing my train of thought thinking about where all my time goes).

But, thankfully, there is usually more to it too. An engineering background has taught me all about the wonderful magic that can be performed with a strong cup of coffee, a roll of duct tape and/or a decent soldering iron. I understand why the it’s not the voltage that will kill you, but the current, and how arcing means more than character development. Even better, I’ve seen how the things we take for granted are made and have had a front row seat to what is coming next in the pipeline.

In the years since I decided to really pursue writing, I’ve found myself occasionally wondering if I would still pursue engineering were I ever able to crack the mechanics of a functional time machine. How would I advise my younger self? Would I have chosen a writing path back then, or would I have picked something entirely different like design? But then it hits me that the hypothetical time machine built in my garage would not exist were it not for the choices I made back then, choices that have made me the person I am today. Lost in that particular paradox, I can only come to the conclusion that while I am a writer, I am a STEM lady as well and equally proud of it.

As we enter the graduation season, I know that there are several others out there contemplating their next moves and worrying what might happen if they make the wrong choice. Don’t. There are few constants in life: death, taxes, and possibly, the speed of light. You can always change course if you need to. If I have learned nothing else in my pursuit of both engineering and writing, it is this, all things are possible provided you are willing to do the work.

This is hilarious in my work circles. (image from xkcd.com)

 

The sky is a hazy shade of winter

I didn’t win the lottery. The Christmas decorations are not only packed away but have been packed away long enough that dust and clutter have once again begun to accumulate in the spaces they left behind. Then it snowed and the kids got sick. In short, it is January once again. Yay. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, winter bites.

I was rather unexpectedly sent to Chicago last week on behalf of the day job. Now, most of the time I like Chicago just fine. The day I left the skies were blue and somehow my direct flight was actually on time. I thought to myself, wow, if I could travel like this all time I might not mind it quite as much.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” – Saint Augustine

“But who isn’t guilty of occasionally wanting to skim a page or two every now and then?” – Me

But it is January. As we began our descent, the pilot announced that the weather had warmed to a balmy 20 degrees (-6C). Darn, and here I’d forgotten to pack my bathing suit. Upon arrival, I huddled with other passengers in a what was essentially an airlock while we waited for the airport shuttle to arrive. When the shuttle finally did arrive, I almost missed it entirely as the hotel branding was nearly hidden behind a sheet of salt and grey sludge.

After cursing the heat and wishing for cold weather all summer

After cursing the heat and wishing for cold weather in December. Image courtesy of Flickr

I checked into my hotel and made my way into my room. The air inside was only a few degrees warmer than the outside. At least there wasn’t a wind chill. I glanced at the window mounted heater box curious as to the thermostat setting. I expected that someone turned it down, what I didn’t expect was that someone turned it off all together. Chicagoans really don’t notice the cold. I immediately corrected this problem, cranking the heat up, but even so I knew would take a while for the little heater to make a difference.

I burrowed under my covers, but I couldn’t quite escape the chill. I wound up passing that night with my gloves on and my winter coat draped over my shoulders. If images of the Poor Little Matchgirl running through my head weren’t incentive enough to stay awake, the various loud noises coming from the adjacent room certainly helped.

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” – Anthony Burgess

The following day, I told a colleague all about the accommodations from the night before. He cocked his head and asked why I didn’t complain about the room to the hotel management. I should have, in his opinion, been given an alternate room, or at least be charged less for the experience. I suppose he was right. He should know, after all, his job takes him on the road at least five to ten times more than mine.

“Be thankful for what you have. Your life, no matter how bad you think it is, is someone else’s fairy tale.” – Wade Ayeni

Why hadn’t I complained?

Like most people, I do tend to indulge in a bit of self-reflection at the beginning of the year, and this year has been no exception. And yet, I still haven’t completely figured out the answer. Was I silent because I feared confrontation after a long travel day? Was it because I am female, and if studies are to be believed, biologically conditioned to accept pain and discomfort, provided it is only temporary? Was it my sense of self-reliance? I had gloves and a coat in the room, why make the fix someone else’s responsibility when I can do it myself?

Or… and this thought gave me great pause… after working on improving my outlook for so long, have I managed to finally recondition my brain into truly accepting what life throws at me – the bad as well as the good?

“Acceptance doesn’t mean resignation; it means understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be a way through it.” – Michael J. Fox

Could it be that this blog, my personal happiness project, is no longer necessary? Have I then finally achieved a zen-like state of being?

 

 

Nah. That’s most assuredly not it. After all, it’s January…

…but it won’t be for much longer.