Is it a good time to make easy changes?

“Are you Allie?” A woman I’d seen temporarily filling the office’s front desk asked. I nodded. “I have a package for you.” She disappeared for a moment only to return with a box that could have easily fit a flat screen TV. It was my new desk. My new standing desk. Yes, apparently, the newest hires managed to persuade the powers that be into experimenting with new-fangled equipment in hopes of making us all more productive, happier people.

(I am both intrigued and alarmed at this video of an office that takes the term rat race a bit too literally)

The box remained in the corner of my office unopened. I knew once those seals were broken, there would be no turning back. The box seemed to stare at me as if aware of my thoughts. Don’t you care about your health, it seemed to ask. I do, I thought back in reply, it’s just that I enjoy sitting down too.

Change. It’s never comfortable. Is it?

Eventually, I succumbed and cut through the packing tape, my inborn need to keep my work area relatively clutter free outweighing the fear of the change the box represented. The entire thing slid out in one piece. Darn it, there goes my excuse to procrastinate set-up due to assembly.

Within minutes my workstation was online. Taking a deep breath, I found hidden handles underneath the desk. Then, with a squeeze, my workspace rose. And rose. And rose. I pushed my chair backwards and grit my teeth. Here goes nothing. I started to work. I originally intended to work for only a few minutes, but then return the desk back to its ‘seated’ position. I would ease into this change. But a glance at the clock informed me that an hour passed.

A bit later, my feet began to ache. I shifted my weight. I could have sat back down, but instead decided to go for a walk around the office if only to see how the others might be coping. The funny thing was none of them were at their desks either. Where had everyone gone? I wondered. I pulled up my calendar. Was I missing a meeting? No. By heavens! It was lunch time. The insidious device had tricked me into working into the lunch hour. The horror! I quickly fled my office to find sustenance as no one likes me hungry. No one. I don’t even think my children like me when I am hungry.

But it got me thinking. I’d accomplished quite as a result of that one simple change.

Fall is once again almost upon us, bringing with it, more change. School is once again in session, the faintest hint of red is beginning to show on the leaves outside my window and I have managed to drive more than once with the air conditioning off and the windows open. Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

In fact, it can be quite healthy from time to time.

Earlier this summer, dismayed by my lack of progress and bullied by fans (just kidding Eric – I am grateful for each and every one of your friendly reminders to get back to work), I decided to change how I managed my writing goals by teaming up with another writer. The idea was we’d help each other stay on track in order to complete our various writing projects, preferably before the end of this century.

I expected I’d be better about hitting my goals, but what I didn’t expect was exactly how helpful this simple change has been. I’ve doubled my weekly word count since we started (or tripled compared to some weeks). While I have yet to write the words “End of Book Two” in my current work in progress, I am overjoyed to say it has an ending (if you are interested in either beta reading or becoming an advance reviewer when the time comes, be sure to let me know).

Unfortunately (at least for me), my accountability partner has grown overly fond of our current rate of success and is forcing me to make other changes. Like actually telling people when The Fair & Foul will be available for free download (September 8th – 12th). Or the fact that I’ve been invited to be a guest on Speculative Fiction Cantina radio show on September 23rd (details to follow).

“Change is inevitable–except from a vending machine.” -Robert C. Gallagher

If change is inevitable, then the least I can do it try to lead the change rather than let it lead me. These small changes I’ve made, and the ones I make tomorrow, may not seem much to you, but a year from now, I will look back and know they made all the difference.

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