Friday Favorites 8/9/2013
Eighteen years ago, I happened on a book called The Artist’s Way with the slug line, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I threw myself into it with perhaps a bit too much enthusiasm and found myself wondering, Was I meant to be a writer, not an engineer-scientist? Was I led to engineering by parents and a societal prejudice against artists? It was certainly true that in high school, my favorite subject was English, and that my favorite aspect of that very broad subject was composition. It’s also true that I was raised by a father who often voiced his regret that he chose to join the Army instead of going to engineering school. As the son of lower middle class parents, I saw college as the path to financial success and electrical engineering was the hot major … my guidance counselor was more than happy to guide me in that direction. And so, even though I hadn’t a clue what an electrical engineer did, I spent four years taking courses on matters that didn’t interest me all that much, enjoying my electives more than my major. All of that made it easy for me to consider reinventing the past by saying, I should have been a writer. I began writing, even got a university certificate in creative writing. It became a passion and I considered a change of vocations.
A wise person once told me, It’s OK to have an open mind, just not so open that your brains fall out. And The Artist’s Way did indeed rattle my brains around a bit. But the truth is, I was a little boy who, at eight years old answered the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? with: A nuclear physicist. My favorite toys were microscopes, telescopes and Heathkit “build-it-yourself” electronics. English was my favorite subject in high school but science was my best subject. Even though I hadn’t a clue what to do with most of what I learned in engineering school, once I started working, I understood immediately. I was good at using what I’d learned, and once I had a career path, I got two more degrees. In engineering, not composition. So, I decided not to reinvent history and conclude I’d been led to the wrong vocation by the prejudice against artists. But I acquired an avocation that’s served me well. It gave me the joy of seeing a short story published and of going through the experience of writing a novel, even though it is likely to remain unpublished. It’s given me the joy of sitting down at the keyboard and seeing a piece I like appear out of nowhere. And through blogging, it’s given me a modest readership.
This week has been what I call a work-work week. A preliminary final report (is that an oxymoron, or what?) was due today on the project where Nothing Works and I’ve forgone my avocation for a few days for my vocation. I haven’t posted and I even missed commenting on the posts of my blogging friends on Top Sites Tuesday. But in those days of pushing MATLAB code instead of a pen, we got it, the result we needed. Something Works (which would be the title of this post if it wasn’t Friday). It was a team effort but I was the one who turned the key. And I have to say that the feeling is one that tells me, it’s no accident that I am an engineer. Almost everyone can relate when I talk about the joy of writing … whether it’s a post or a published story. Virtually no one gets it if I say, I finally found a statistical characterization of the clues that shows the benefits of nonparametric processing. Sometimes, I wish Muri could see how cool that is but I also know: I am an engineer. Part of the rush is the exclusivity of the subject matter.
Friday this week is a really good day. But Monday is for Smiles and Friday for Favorites so my Friday Favorite is that creative rush … whether it’s writing or science or figuring out how to fix that damn sprinkler that’s been leaking. Have a creative weekend.