If You Love It, You’d Better Put A Ring on It

This post is being echoed here from Mad Genius Club, if you want to join the discussion there, also. Which you might want to do, if you’re a writer.

I don’t normally do that, but this week is crazy. We just came back from Fyrecon (and I’d forgotten how exhausting teaching is.  I mean, I love it, but I guess I’m out of practice — or just old — because it beat the living daylights out of me.) AND we’re getting up at 3 am to make it to the airport, to make it to Liberty Con.

If you meet me in Liberty con and I look like a zombie? Don’t shoot. I’m just tired.
And somehow in the middle of this I need to finish two short stories and a cover and iron and pack all the clothes, and do the boxes so lovely DIL and #1 son don’t have to deal with poo incidents.)

I’m exhausted, it’s been a very hard week, heck, a very hard year.  All I want to do is go to my office, close the door and write.  But that part is a good thing.

And it brings us to the theme of this post: If you love it, marry it.  Which is not about marriage but about writing. H*ll about any career, really, no matter what it is. But this is a writers’ blog, and it’s important to talk about this, because people don’t.

No one stays in love constantly. Note I didn’t say no one stays in love forever. That’s different. But no one stays in love constantly.  Not with a person, not with a career, not with a house, not with a city, not with a state, not with parenting/your children, not with your hobbies. NO ONE. EVER.I don’t know how many people are like me: when I thought of marriage — and I want to point I never thought anyone would be brave or stupid enough to marry me — I didn’t think of the dress, the wedding, the cake, the flowers.  In fact, I was so bereft of an opinion on this that other than preventing mom from dressing me like a cream puff, or alternately (because she thought that was my taste) like a nun, I let her run the whole show, from rings to flowers to cake. Because I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through it and then be married.

No, when I thought of marriage I had a very specific image in my mind: what I wanted to be part of.  I don’t know when I saw them, or even in what country, or for that matter how old they were, because if this was the 70s they might have been in their sixties (don’t let anyone tell you differently, people aged HARDER. They still do in many other parts of the world.)  But I was walking in a rose garden, and I saw a couple. They were both white haired, and walking slowly.  And they were not talking, but they held hands, and were obviously attentive to each other in the way you are when the other is important to you.

Coming from a family that had, at the time, never had a broken marriage, I thought it was like that.  You married, and then you were in love forever and ever, and it was all golden sunsets in a rose garden.

Unless you’ve never been in a relationship, I don’t need to tell you it’s not that way.

I’m not casting aspersions on my husband. He’s brave, possibly a little crazy, to have married me.  I don’t think he’s stupid. I also don’t think anyone else would still be married to me 34 years on.  Because I’m not an easy person to get along with. Like most brave, a little crazy and very very smart people, he’s not either.  And since both of us came pre-shattered, it’s a good thing we married young, when mind and emotion were still flexible and could be healed into a new pattern.

I love my husband very much. At the moment, I’m also very much in love with him, which is not the same.

There is loving, which is a constant thing. And there is being in love, which is a heady, silly thing, where you want to be together all the time, and can lose hours holding each other’s hand and…

The second one is effortless and dizzy-making and it’s what most people refer to as “being in love.”  And it comes and goes.

The first burst of it usually burns out in two years.  And no one tells you this, so many people when they hit that place, particularly if life is being difficult at the time, as it often is in early marriage — short on money, overworked, trying to figure out what the next step in career is, often having moved — think it’s over. They think they were mistaken about loving this person, that it was a mistake to get married, that they must get out and pretend it never happened.

These people often (not always. Some figure it out by the second marriage) go on to have a lot of marriages all ending between two and five years.

You see, they confuse the heady feeling, the sparks and electricity, the “my feet don’t touch the ground” for the thing that lasts forever, and when it doesn’t they think they’re doing it wrong.  And they don’t realize it comes back.  Note what I said above: right now I’m very much in love with my husband.  I’m lucky, this is on more than off.  But the off periods, what carries me through is three things: 1-I still love him, meaning I care for him. His happiness is still essential to mine. 2- I know the “in love” rush comes back and oh, my, is it worth it.  3-I am committed. (And sometimes I should be, in another sense.)  I gave my word, and I exert my will not to be forsworn.

I realized yesterday, when talking to the boys, that careers are the same way, AND NO ONE TELLS YOU THAT.  So, it’s even harder to understand/stick with it through the bad times than with marriage where SOMEONE might give you an inkling.

I think Kris Rusch was trying to tell us this … lo, 20 years ago, when she told us that writing careers follow the W curve, over and over again.  That is a plotting “format” where the character hits bottom, reaches top, hits bottom again.  In the plotting the W keeps going every up, even in the low points.  Is it the same in the real world writing career? Maybe? I’d be tempted to say no, but the only way I’ve seen it NOT be is if you give up, stop pushing, and/or are very, very ill.

But I didn’t understand what Kris was saying. Because I had no idea. And the understanding didn’t burst upon me till yesterday.

Now when I say careers and that this applies to all careers, I’m exaggerating a little. Because if you’re doing something to make money, but that’s not where your heart ever is, then it doesn’t apply there.  It’s like when they found out arranged marriages are often happier. That’s because you don’t go in expecting the “highs.” So, you accommodate easier to the lows. And I’d argue the happier. I suspect they’re more often “stable” and “functional.”  Which might be better. Or not.  I wouldn’t trade being in love for all the stability in the world. There is a high you reach, a thing of magic that wouldn’t happen without that.

So, this applies to all careers that are vocations.  I’m not going to argue what vocation is. It’s more than a passing fancy, though, or what brings you bliss. In fact, it’s often like a tragic love affair, and it doesn’t bring you bliss at all, as you bang your head on that wall. (Like 90% of my career. I have to pay for my luck in marriage, somehow, I guess.  To quote a Portuguese poet “Fate sells all that it gives.”) But it’s, to explain it to those who might not have grown up with the concept, what you were born to do. The thing that’s so much a part of you you can’t pull it off without stopping being you, and also being a little maimed your whole life.

If there is a grand, ineffable plan, this is the part you’re supposed to play.

Vocations can be for everything. I’m not actually kidding when I say I knew someone whose vocation was being a cleaning lady. She was almost supernaturally good at it, she was never happier than when cleaning other people’s houses, and she had always wanted to do it.

My sons, for their sins, both have vocations.  Perhaps it’s hereditary, since both their father and I do (and their father needs to get back to his math and music, which means I need to make a lot of money to get him out of indenture.) Theirs are not for artistic stuff, but they are for “arts.” In the sense some sciences are half art.

Both of them — as is the way of vocations — discovered them young.  They think they chose in their teens, but I saw signs going back to when they were toddlers.  (Weirdly so did my brother, who spends very little time with them because overseas.)

Along the way — and considering they’re both still in protracted training — there have been ups and downs. Both of them have come home with stars in their eyes and flying high after working — actually working — in internships or practice at their chosen metier.

And both of them have hit head first into bureaucracy (university scheduling, btw, is an abomination onto Noogan.)  Both of them have been tired, discouraged, confused, and tired of hitting their head upon a wall.  (Younger son just found out that engineers don’t find jobs through linked in.  This is driving him nuts because he doesn’t know HOW they find them.  And he needs a part time on for his final year in school, and is terrified he won’t know how to apply for a full time one when he’s done, either.)

I’ve found myself talking to them when their idealized vision of what the career would be — their dream career, what the work would be like in G-d’s ineffable plan — hits the very complicated times we live in, between government funding, private ventures, laws and stupid regulations, and people, always people.  People who are petty or malicious. People who care more for power-fiefdoms than for doing this job well, this magical thing that holds their hearts.

Usually I tell them it’s like that all over. I don’t know anyone that goes into their chose career and meets with nothing but unalloyed praise and success.  Or if I do, poor things. Because having it too easy in the beginning makes it hard to develop the resilience to last.

Worse, you fall out of love. Even if things are going well, the novelty wears off, and the mundane everyday of a career, like the mundane everyday of a marriage is not made of rainbow and sparkles.

There is comfort in knowing he’ll be there when you wake up, comfort in knowing you’ll have breakfast together. But if you’re seeing sparkles and hearing music, you should check your medication.

In the same way, you grow more competent, and you don’t notice. This thing makes up your every thought and you don’t notice. It’s hilarious, now that the boys are trained beyond the ken of mere mortals (or mom) to hear them decrying how much they hate their chosen vocation, then falling to thinking/explaining/speaking in the lingo of it, and in a way that shows they are OF it. They can’t pull it out without killing part of themselves.

Yesterday, I tried to tell one of them “you fall back in love with it.” “You recover the fire.” And he looked skeptical. So I asked my husband “How often have I fallen in love with writing, after hating it, or after periods when it was dead to me?”

Being a mathematician, he didn’t say “Many.” No, he thought and said “Seven. And you’re on the upswing of enthusiasm again on the eighth.”

And he’s right. There have been times I only continued writing because we needed to pay the mortgage, or baby needed shoes.

No artistic (or possibly any) profession is ever “fair.”  It is a meritocracy in the sense that when the stars align, you need a modicum of talent to hang on, to turn that curve, to stay on top. As a lot of the dahlings of the establishment have found, all that promo can get you ONE bestseller.  And then you stall.  Or worse, if you really have no substance, you fall.

But getting that push, or, in indie, getting that reach? That’s part luck, part personality, part timing, part… who knows?  So you can be a very good writer and never sell much.

However when I came in, between selling to the net, letting computers do the walking, push model stocking shelves with fads and books no one objectively wanted to read, publishing was in the middle of committing suicide (it’s getting there. It’s a slow death, as always for behemoths.)  And my career got off with a bad start with a book released around 9/11 and those numbers in the computer forever.

It wasn’t the first time I’d fallen out of love with writing. That had happened through the unbelievably stupid (on my side and theirs) slog to first publication: the rejections that made no sense; the ever stranger hoops you had to jump through to even submit; the years of writing three novels a year while looking after toddlers, rebuilding houses, refinishing furniture and moving every couple of years.

But I always came back. I came back in pain and despair. I didn’t KNOW that the love would come back. Or that the sparks and music could return. Sometimes I thought that it would be gritting my teeth and walking into the hurricane forever.

Weirdly it does come back. Sometimes a long time, sometimes very short. And sometimes it comes back mingled with pain, like a tragic love affair.

Eight times. I am fifty six. I’ve been at this, full-or-part-time, unpublished and published for 34 years. I’ve broken eight times. Completely and utterly to where even the thought of writing hurt, and each word came out as though pulled by forceps.

And there are days I’d trade it all for a glass of water, and it doesn’t need to be good water. But I can’t because it’s part of me. And that’s a good thing. Because some days I can’t wait to write and all the rest — even eating and sleeping — are a distraction.

I’m at the very beginning of my eighth time of falling in love with this crazy career.  Indie now, and the freedom, and I can do all these things I dreamed of when I was young. I imagine it’s like in marriage when the kids are on their own and you can have time for yourself (I imagine husband and I will find out, someday. 😉 )  Also I realized, through teaching at Fyrecon (Utah, last week. Yeah, that’s why no cover posts. Sorry) that I actually no only know this craft, but I know it to such an extent I don’t know what I know. It’s part of me. And yeah, I love it.

I suspect there will be a longer period of being in love and the golden glow of it.

But there will come times I’m tired, I’m broken, again, and the sheer “everydayness” of writing means I feel I don’t love it. It’s just what I do.

Humans are firefly creatures, off and on, off and on.  Our continuity of personality is…. flaky at best.  I am myself in the essentials, probably, at least the last ten years.  I would probably b*tch slap the twit I was at 20, and not just on politics, either. But in a way this year of transition — aka year from h*ll — has been scouring and molding me and changing me, to the point I don’t know if I am the same I was a year ago. Let alone five, ten, 20 or 30 years ago.

Everyone is like this. Everyone changes with time.

If you want to do anything worthwhile, to commit yourself to something that lasts forever, be it a marriage or a vocation, you have to DO IT.  You have to make that promise. You have to wed yourself to it. You have to want it so much that you want it even when you don’t, that you stay with it even when it’s the last thing you want to do.

The alternative is to accomplish nothing that takes more than a few months and a passing enthusiasm.  And perhaps that’s okay, I don’t know.  It’s not a choice I have.

I am what I am and this is what I was born to be.

As my Mormon friends say “For all time and eternity.”

For better or for worse.  And you have to cross the worse, to get to the better.

But it will come.  The better will come again.

And then it’s all worth it.



103 thoughts on “If You Love It, You’d Better Put A Ring on It

  1. In fact, I was so bereft of an opinion on this that other than preventing mom from dressing me like a cream puff, or alternately (because she thought that was my taste) like a nun, I let her run the whole show, from rings to flowers to cake. Because I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through it and then be married.

    I had a similar experience. I had two demands as far as the wedding went: the guests should never be cold, and the guests should never be hungry (I’d been to a really bad wedding the year before where Bridezilla had inflicted misery on people she’d never even met). Beyond that, it was Mom’s show. She promised me that if I ever had a daughter, I could run HER wedding.

    1. When my sister married, she complained that everyone was trying to turn her into Bridezilla. They refused to believe that the bridegroom could make binding decisions, and kept pushing her to have passionate opinions about things of no importance at all. (She shocked the venue by looking at the fold of the napkin that her bridegroom had picked and — without seeing another one — said sure that’s fine.)

      1. We got married the Saturday after my finals, before Christmas break, before my last term.

        I originally wanted a simple wedding at the church we went to as kids (mom still goes), with just family. Well, when you consider how BIG my extended family is, technically it was going to be bigger than most. As it turned out, if I wanted my in-laws there … it had to be even smaller, at their home. MIL father was living with them and couldn’t “travel” (I digress but they managed to put him into nursing home while they went fishing every August …)

        Compromise. Wedding with only parents, grandparents, siblings & their families, and our roommate, and best friends from school; 30 people. Crowded, but doable. Then a full reception at mom & dads the next day, extended family, neighbors, and friends (100 to 150 people). I :: Picked theme colors (Blue and Yellow … yes, in December); Could wear mom’s wedding dress; hand wrote the invites for the wedding portion (mom had invites printed and sent for reception); and told my sisters to pick matching bridesmaid dresses, in either theme color (they chose blue, and made them.) Other than that, mom and my sisters did it all. Well we chose and paid for our rings (on payments.) Total cost (’78 dollars) <$2k, full cost of rings included.

        1. Children’s librarian at the time of my wedding. I ran it like a Summer Reading event. (Some of those could be pretty hairy: 80 young un’s, 10 adult volunteers all building Mylar box kites, followed by a parade…). I’ve always figured weddings are for the family and friends, the marriage is for you and the husband.

          So the thing was mostly for the moms, but it ended up being really good fun for me too: I got to wear a-long-dressing-that-goes-swish and waltz!

  2. The “marry it” thing is interesting. While I’d love to commit that kind of devotion to writing, it’s hard to be that devoted while still looking to do wacky things like “eat” and “enjoy heat in the winter” if writing isn’t paying the bills. I devote myself in the time I can, but, honestly, the world gets in the way sometimes. Maybe writing is the mistress that you promise to marry once you can leave your old spouse(daily job)? 😛

  3. Billy Graham’s wife put it best when they asked her if she had ever contemplated divorce. “Divorce never, homicide yes.”

    It is important to remember the vows. Not just when it is easy, but when it is hard. You want someone who sees what you don’t see. That means trusting someone who sees what you don’t.

    It is relationship, not rules. The only rule: It is impossible for me to be grateful enough to my spouse.

    1. I’ve heard that same aphorism attributed to Mamie Eisenhower. I suspect its origins go back as far as marriage.

  4. Life is full of ups and downs. We just have to keep hoping for the ups when we’re down and remember there is a reason we chose to be where we are when the downs happen.

    I’ve been in IT for over 25 years. There was a time when I left a previous employer that I couldn’t bring myself to even look at a computer. I was broken. It took a few months, but someone kinda forced me into a position of having to diagnose a network problem nobody had been able to figure out at a local business. I rediscovered my love for IT and found a part of me that had been missing. And I found the strength to start looking for a job again. That led to my current position and employer, hands down the best I’ve ever had and better than any I’ve ever heard of.

    1. I ran into something similar in programming. When I first started out I was super lucky. I not only performed changes/updates (normal for newbies) to existing systems, but also got to gut, extend design/fix, existing systems, as well as design and program from scratch. On a wide variety of different systems (from business item tracking stuff to forestry to creating specialized programming tool.) Stuff even most established software developer/programmers don’t get to to do their entire careers.

      Then I had to take a position, just programming, at an entry level position … (at late 40’s, the age discrimination was in full exhibit.) Sure, new system, so challenging at first (for maybe 6 months), especially with the thrill of knowing I was really underestimated. BUT, there was no where else to go. It got boring, in a hurry.

      There was exactly one visionary, the boss, and the software was established enough, that really the vision was driven by the clients. Had no input on HOW things were to be implemented (someone else had that role.) Given that the development tools being used were 5 years out of date by the time I started, and I had more than enough, repeated, experience to know what happened when tools were not kept current, with the “wounds” the scramble to fix that defect. (Last I heard, they still aren’t current, only NOW it is 20 years out of date!!!)

      But, although I couldn’t influence the big picture, or how things were done, I could have minor influences. Over 12 years, I did. Over the last 4 years, when the “librarian” outlined new methods that had to be changed to, I took and ran with it. I essentially forced my vision on the change. Method worked. Now that I’ve been gone for over 3 years, maybe they reverted or didn’t carry on. Not my pony to wrestle, not anymore.

  5. There is comfort in knowing he’ll be there when you wake up, comfort in knowing you’ll have breakfast together.

    That, right there, describes what I always wanted from family (with appropriate gender pronoun substitutions). Raised Mormon (fell out over growing inability to believe the doctrine) so that, literally, was what heaven meant to me (and, on an emotional level, still does, whatever the truth of any afterlife might be).

    1. I think my husband has this same thing. He’s got a picture of sitting happily together eating breakfast. Unrushed and peaceful. But if I set up on the deck and it’s all pretty with the food all nice he seems only grudging to humor me sitting and eating out there. Total turkey, he is.

      We went out for breakfast and he said that he really liked just sitting there talking with me and didn’t care that the food was bad and suggested that we do it regularly.

      Maybe he feels rushed just because we’re at home.

      1. It’s not so much the specific details whether it’s breakfast together or that we happen to get up at the same time or what have you, but that the person is there. We might be doing different things–I could be on the Internet doing research for a story (or just chatting with friends) and she could be poring through fashion magazines, but we could look up and know the other person was there and was going to be there, someone to listen, someone to hold, someone to care, someone to share good times with, to help carry the load of bad times. To simply know that you’re not alone.

        1. My best friend from high school was complaining about her first husband that his idea of togetherness was him working on his truck while she played with their boy in the wading pool nearby. It bugged her because I think she was upset about other things, because that’s sort of a nice domestic picture, really.

          I only bring up her story because maybe that’s an important “man” thing that women aren’t normally aware of, maybe. Maybe we don’t appreciate just not being alone quite as much as we ought.

      2. I usually feel uneasy when eating outside (bugs!), myself, but I understand this is not a universal problem.

  6. engineers don’t find jobs through linked in

    OK, the first engineering job I had, the 8080 was hot stuff, but there are still a few things that are universal.

    I attended an engineering open house at University of Redacted–classes were done, or it was a weekend–and wandered into a room where Motorola was doing a demonstration. Got to talking with the presenter, and he offered me a summer job about 20 miles from home.

    First full time job–probably obsolete technique. The UoR had recruitment, and employers would go around, looking for cannon fodder/new engineers.

    Last full time job–through a sales rep I knew. Hubby was doing a startup.

    Linked-in is an analog to meatspace networking. Drop the analog and go meatspace.

    Gotta go.

    1. Concur. Real life connections are the thing in the Engineering world. “Look, we need a EE that knows XYZ – I know this guy…”

      One way to network is the professional associations. If you just show up to some local IEEE/SAE/ASME/whatever meetings you will meet people – sometimes pretty high level people. You don’t even have to go and work the room or anything, though I’ve seen people do that; Just get there for the social time before the talk and don’t hide in the corner.

      1. Talked with $SPOUSE on the way to town (market day). My niece has a MSME and a couple years in industry. She managed to find lots of work, both during summer and during the year.

        The key for her, was she talked to her professors. (Being a really good student helped.) Her leads came through them and their contacts. One or two intern jobs, a summer gig at [redacted]DOT working in the field. $SPOUSE said she drove trucks as part of her duty–she’s *tiny*!

        My initial job search was helped by taking classes from some big-name professors and doing well enough. Three had major connections with Silicon Valley, and at least one got namedropped in an interview. (If I had gone on for an MSEE, he would have been my professor. Money called louder than more education–turns out, I didn’t stay in that corner of the field. A MS came17 years later…)

        Going back to the stone age, there *was* a job placement office in the Engineering college. They had a listing of openings in the department. I took a flex-hour job at slightly above minimum wage as a bench tech, working for a PhD candidate on his portion of a really large project at the U. That one was unusual; the boss needed N boxes built by the end of the year, and didn’t much care how quickly boxes 2 through N were completed. Yeah, the larger project also could have led to more job possibilities. Silly me, I wanted to build silicon ICs.

        FlyingMike’s idea of the professional organizations sounds good. Most of them have a student rate that (probably still) is reasonable, even on a student budget. I belonged to the IEEE, and the Audio Engineering Society as a student, though the latter dropped at graduation.

        1. Some of the folks I know are not impressed with the college career office I am closest to where high level engineering students are concerned.

          I have some stories about the professional societies for entry level engineers, though those might be tainted by an awkward sample.

          Thing about the professors, that is a little dependent both on the quality of the professors and on one’s relationships with them. Graduate school or undergrad research with a common research interest may be the best way to have those relationships if the undergraduate to faculty ratio is pretty high. It also probably depends what kind of institution you are at, and what you are studying. Some places have a very good pathline to a large local employer for certain subjects, but if your interests in that discipline are not the right ones, you won’t be having that first job arranged for you by a professor.

          Your niece has the advantage that she is a woman with a serious interest in engineering, and the large bureaucracies assume that women have serious interests in engineering at the same rate men do, and they need to be addressing the gender imbalance. Straight white men don’t have the advantage that the bureaucracies are trying to do something probably unwise and definitely difficult, and hence will throw anything at the wall to see if it sticks. So straight white male engineers need to rely on working personal connections, identifying passions, and searching for good fits. And use that battler ‘white privilege’ from the toxic patriarchy of western civilization.

          1. My niece is also pleasant to talk to, and pleasant to look at. 🙂 On the gripping hand, both SIL and BIL have EEs, and niece seemed to get the best part of both of their smarts.

            The prof I namedropped was running a senior level lab course; maybe 20 students, with the professor doing some of the hands-on stuff in the lab. He had good contacts with the Valley, not least because he scrounged most of the fab equipment from the companies.

            Niece didn’t go to a big-name school, but one more than good enough. She’s working at a medium sized company (intern jobs were usually at smaller companies, barring the state DOT).

            Yeah, Marshall is going to have a harder time than ____. Still, it’s doable.

  7. No one stays in love constantly. Note I didn’t say no one stays in love forever.

    This reminds me of a realization Beloved Spouse confessed to, a resentment that my love seemed inconsistent, that there were times when it seemed I did not love Beloved Spouse as Beloved Spouse felt i ought.

    Then Beloved Spouse realized there are days when Beloved Spouse was none too fond of Beloved Spouse, and that demanding a higher standard of me was a sure route to dissatisfaction.

    A problem of marriage is it short circuits many decisions. You can feel “stuck” with a partner when, had you thought a few seconds more you’d have realized you would choose to take on that partner’s troubles if you were not already committed to that. The problem today is too many do not truly appreciate what it means to commit, whether to a person, a principle or a cause.

    Commitment is easy when the road is smooth.

  8. he doesn’t know HOW they find them.

    This is just a suggestion, but he could possibly make a project of hunting down engineers and asking them how they got their starts? It is necessary to be clear he isn’t hitting them up for a job, merely seeking to build information on how to look for a job.

    Hit them up at lunch, or after work decompression sessions, or professional society gatherings and be VERY clear he is sincerely interested in their stories about how they broke in.

    All due courtesies are essential, of course, and he should be quite clear he isn’t slinking about trying to curry connections. At the same time, should he hit it off with somebody, he might ask would they be willing to stand him reference should he need such listing on any job applications.

    It doesn’t apply in all professions, but an awful lot of careers get started by being in the right place at the right time, rather than by sending out resumes and waiting by the telephone. Networking has been abused by people thinking it is a short-cut to a job (just as too many think of dating as means of getting sex) but if there is an engineering firm doing the kind of work he thinks he’d like there are worse ways of killing time than by shadowing somebody doing what he’d like to do.

    1. That has some value. Issue is, some of that stuff was by mechanisms which no longer work in the same way.

    2. My fellow presidents of the Library School student body whatsit and I set up a bi-weekly brown bag lunch with a local professional. It gave fellow students a chance to chat with folks in the real world, and gave us amazing connections. (Did you NASA has a librarian on staff?)

      I don’t know how tight the time crunch is, but organizing something like this could be helpful. Have the university’s school librarians research local candidates from gummint, corporate, and NGO employers.

      Shoot. Your uni librarian ought to be able to pull up the list of candidates anyway.

      You’ll want a good guide to cold calling as,well.

  9. I do not know how an engineer finds work.

    For an engineer, graduate level scientific research requires a driving passion, that will keep one taking that next step on the current project with a hundred and one other things pulling at one’s attention. Faculty can tell when someone doesn’t have it for a common research interest.

    Second hand, I can tell that your second son has some passion driving him.

    Several thoughts.

    The business case for an engineer is in the money he will save with his technical decision making. Passion drives technical excellence in ways that suit only a portion of businesses. Finding the right portion is difficult.

    The current state of engineering in any area does not yet have all the tools it will need in a future. What is he willing to do to find, make, or validate the tools for the area his passion demands?

    What is a good kind of team environment for him to work in?

    A lot of time the passion or the next step in fulfilling the passion narrow down the people who are desirable collaboration partners. Get in contact, see if you can learn more about if their engineering team is going to advance your goals, communicate the passion.

    Anyway, I think I need to shoot you an email, and see if you think forwarding is a good idea.

    1. Email sent. Sarah, if you haven’t got it, there’s a good chance both of your emails I used are wrong or out of date.

  10. Quick note for youngest son (Michael, right?). Not sure what type of engineer he is (becoming), but my company frequently has lots of openings in Denver and Colorado Springs. Tell him to check out: https://careers.boozallen.com/jobs/search. We also have a summer interns program, although it’s already up and running this year.

      1. Given the kinds of mentalities over-seeing most Civil Engineering chores it seems likely that remaining civil would prove challenging.

        Can you imagine dealing with the County Commissioner equivalent of Maxine Waters or Sheila Jackson Lee?

      2. Might he be interested in Boeing? I’ve got a friend who might be able to get him in there (I’ll talk to him if Marshall is interested, and make sure — friend is a head-hunter for engineers in WA).

        1. Not too sure about the short term prospects at Boeing:


          I think Boeing has to relearn the first law of the hole.

          It used to be “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going.” (Especially after Crash-by-wire became a feature in Airbus planes.) Right now, it’s “Boeing? Can I think about it, after I call AAA?”)

          I’ve been following the aftermath of the bridge collapse in Miami in March, 2018. *That* is an extinction event for a few companies and people. I think Boeing has a better chance of survival, but having them on your resume might not be great, just now.

          1. Yeah, look up some of Trent Telenko’s posts at Chicago Boyz.

            May or may not be a cause of the crash, but is definitely evidence of a serious flaw in the process Boeing had in place for that aircraft.

            Getting aircraft that work reliably is pretty seriously challenging. It takes a lot of serious procedure to be sure you’ve covered the technical challenges correctly. There is an art to that procedure, and like most engineering arts it is really easy to screw up.

            That said, Boeing has a lot of business units, and we are a ways from knowing narrow rot from broad rot. Narrow rot, or a narrow technical interest may mean that they are still a good choice. A company in trouble can be a good opportunity, if you are careful and competent.

            1. If the ZH article is correct, it’s a new screwup; apparently related to a microprocessor failure–adding a whole new dimension to BSOD.

              Unrelated to the crashes, but still in the trim system. Urrrk!

              1. It sounds like journalists trying to understand … well, pretty much anything: Any “chip not responding fast enough” that can be fixed with a software patch is not a chip problem.

            1. Starting to read it. Failure analyses from IEEE Spectrum were really good some years ago (been retired too long to know current). They had a good human factors article after the Three Mile Island meltdown.

      3. Ah yes, Marshall. Sorry about that. Apologies to Marshall. Many of our jobs are software of some sort although we do have an initiative on hypersonics (not in Colorado), and we have a contingent at NASA Ames in the Bay Area. Many of our folks are EEs unlike me, the History major.

        1. EE these days appear to often have some strong programming chops. ME has a large curriculum overlap with AE, and those are both a good way for the foundations in hypersonics. Of course, that rapidly goes into questions of personal preference.

          I know that some of the career search activities can result in people checking your LinkedIn Profile.

          1. Y’know, if he needs to come interview at the INL at some point, hit me up for crash space.

  11. “don’t let anyone tell you differently, people aged HARDER.”

    Oh lordy yes. One of the things I explain to new cast members when we’re doing Pirates of Penzance is that the nursemaid Ruth, at the age of 47, is decrepit. I mean, you don’t cast a modern 47-year-old to play Ruth if you’ve got an older option; ideal casting is about 60-something if you can get it. After all, I’m 42 and astonished a new cast member by saying I’d been with this company for 14 years—he’d apparently thought I was in my 20s. (Nevermind the gray hair; I started that when I was 27. Noticed it in a cast of Pirates of Penzance, as it happens.)

    And my Nana was old. That’s not just childhood memory talking; I can look at pictures of her, white-haired, mostly toothless, hunched, the whole nine yards—in her 60s. She died at the age of 76, which my mom is going to hit in a year or two, and my mom walked the Camino, 500 miles across Spain, when she was 71. She has all of her teeth. Her back is straight. She’s not as strong as she used to be, but she’s in her mid-70s after all.

    It’s amazing what good food, climate control, and vaccines have done for better health throughout life.

    1. To confirm, from reading Patricia O’Toole’s book about Woodrow Wilson, “The Moralist”. During the first world war a cabinet member is diagnosed with Diabetes. It is a death sentence. Wilson’s first wife dies in 1914 of kidney failure (bright’s disease), with no hope. Things we take for granted, killed then. When George Washington died, he had no teeth.

      This is the golden age. Don’t take it for granted. Reading the Wilson book, a major theme is how in world war one, both sides were sure they would win. It reminds me too much of today and our current civil war. In 1860 both sides were also sure they would win.

      Civilization is fragile. Just ask those who lived in 1176 BC. (Just finished rereading the book by Eric Cline “1177 BC, the year civilization collapsed”. So appreciate what you have, and get a colonoscopy.

    2. It’s genes, too. The grandma who had the hard life – third-ish world until she was Mrs. Hoyt’s age, lived to 95 and was spry unti the very end.) Mom got here in her late teens and worked like a dog, and she’s looking to go the same route.

      The other grandma: Born and raised in heartland U.S.A. fits your Nana’s description.

      1. Admittedly, my Nana had adopted my mom from her SiL (following my grandfather’s death in WWII), so she wasn’t my *biological* grandmother, and she did all the worst things she could for her health. But still. She wore those years hard, and if she’d been born a generation later, she likely would have aged much better despite her poor choices.

  12. One of the Wise Faculty in grad school cautioned us never, ever to take up a dissertation topic just because it was “hot” or “the latest thing.” We had to find something we loved. If we loved it and were really interested, we’d fall out of love but keep working and eventually start enjoying the topic again. If we didn’t start out loving our topic, we’d probably never make it past the rough places.

    He also warned that two people could make or destroy our careers: our archivist, and the departmental secretary. He was oh, so right. Never, ever, tick off your archivist. Even if you are the Great Doctor So-and-So.

    1. Not in history, and don’t know some of this other stuff, but yes.

    2. He also warned that two people could make or destroy our careers: our archivist, and the departmental secretary.

      Fight with your adviser if you need to; ultimately, he needs you as much as you need him. But you treat the department secretary like the queen she is.

      1. Interesting — my sister is the department secretary for the engineering department at Oregon State. I’ll have to ask her about this!

        1. Yes. Learned that for Forestry at Oregon State. The queen of secretaries was the school’s forest manager …

          Don’t know if still true. It has been 40 years. Also, don’t know about Engineering at Oregon State.

          1. The secretary is the one who knows where all the bodies are buried. She also controls administrators’ daily schedules.

            Many’s the time I got bumped ahead of Very Important People as an undergrad to see the dean I needed to sign the waver for taking extra classes, because the then-dean’s then-secretary simply likes me. (We’re still friends. She’s secretary of the music department now. She’s still a great person.)

            1. That’s not just a college rule; it’s a general career rule: Always make friends with the secretaries/administrative assistants. Prioritize this before all else at a new place of work. I can’t count how many times this practice has worked out much better for me than for my peers who treated them as menials, or as furniture.

    3. The military version of this is that you can have the CO mad at you, or the First Shirt mad at you, sometimes at the same time, and your career might survive. Get the CO’s civilian secretary ticked off at you and you’re toast.

  13. So my main piece of career advice: Go ahead and make your leap-of-faith for that job you will certainly love, but have your parachute packed full of generally applicable job skills in case the dream job bursts into flames. And then go get a job in a field in which you can stand working, and you will eventually build that relationship and find true career love again. Arranged marriages work too.

    1. The “What Color Is Your Parachute” community talks of transferable skills; Scott Adams, of Dilbert fame, refers to skill stacks. Both are ways of looking at the same phenomenon, leveraging your accumulated talents and training to achieve a gal in a variety of circumstances. Many of Heinlein’s heroes demonstrate just that capacity (although I admit none come immediately to mind.)

      1. Yeah. As economic animal at one point in time, a specialist. As a robust surviving animal across a range of time, a generalist.

        Engineers have a lot of pretty much necessary soft skills that aren’t necessary for passing engineering school, which wouldn’t be as effective if you could simply recite from a book. After you get out of engineering school, you need to be aware that you will be picking those up, and also the hard technical skills in your area that will be invented between getting out of school and retiring.

        1. Engineering jobs change because of changes in the economy and in technology. You shouldn’t assume that they won’t change out from under you without obvious signs. So, an engineer’s continuing education (o copious free time), should be for what you guess of the next state of your current job, and for a couple of contingencies for jobs that might exist and are near to what you can already do.

          1. Are you suggesting that a career path dedicated to laying railroad track is no longer sufficient to assure long term employment? C’mon, man, that’s crazy talk.

            1. Suspect ‘career path dedicated to’ may be obsolete for engineers, except in the broadest sense.

              Might be error based on relevant examples of the least stable possible variety. And/or my usual paranoid intelligence gathering process that may produce substantially focusing on risks, uncertainties, and instabilities.

              I think maybe if you are an older engineer, who has spent at least five to fifteen years doing cool things (building expertise) and talking about cool things (networking), you may have enough contacts to make it pretty easy to find more work in the same cool thing.

              Another problem, there is a serious OJT learning curve, and even after that, there is time before you are really adding to an engineering team everytime you switch.

              I know some parts of the feds are hiring again. (Sarah, if you haven’t gotten the email, I talk a little about that, I don’t know I have anything to add with your contacts. He has had some time talking with Dot Grant, and Old NFO, right?)

          2. I figure every 5 years my technology stack has to change. Structured programming to object-oriented programming to web services to semantics and so-called artificial intelligence. That’s life as a software engineer in modern times. That career path requires lifelong learning and the eagerness to look for the next thing.

            Of course my experience dwarfs my expertise in current technology at this stage of my career, and it’s always the same basic problems just dressed up in different guises and attacked with different tools.

            1. “experience dwarfs my expertise in current technology at this stage of my career, and it’s always the same basic problems just dressed up in different guises and attacked with different tools.”

              Yes. Code caused problems have the same root cause regardless of the methodology or tool used to code. Whenever I had to change tools some of my first questions always was how to determine a pointer. I’d get told coding tool didn’t use pointers … Uh, yes it did. Might hide it. But they are there.

              That doesn’t count that user’s thought processes haven’t changed, ever. And you still can’t tell them to pack up their computer and sent it back … no matter how much you may want to.

        2. My husband is a very good programmer. That gets him paid. He can write up explanations of what he’s doing that the non-programmers can understand. *That* gets him promoted.

          1. I can see two major pitfalls to your husband continuing to accept promotions on that basis (in no particular order):

            1. He could be promoted out of his expertise (some doers have trouble managing doers).

            2. He could be promoted out of his passion (some doers hate going from doing to managing doers).

            One feature of the National Guard is that the Guard doesn’t have the “up-or-out” system that the Regular Army has. As such, I was free to refuse consideration for promotion for many years, once I reached the maximum rank and duty position in which I felt comfortable (SFC/E7 platoon sergeant).

      2. Hugh Farnham leveraged his various talents and skills to achieve both a goal (surviving a nuclear war) and a gal (Barbara).


        1. I am sorry, you will have to be whipped.
          How DARE you bring up “Farnham’s Freehold”, that totally un-PC, RACIST, SEXIST, Debacle of a Book. How did you even FIND a copy? You mean that there is someone so lacking in indoctrination that they would even have this book let alone SELL it???

          Can you not feel the waves of anti-progressiveness coming off it’s pages.
          Farnham is mad that his eldest SON wants to be around his WIFE and is SAD when they are together. It has a slave system that works and has for hundreds of years. And they eat “THE MEAT” but NEVER the DARK Meat.

          Please, if you are Woke don’t go near this book. It will destroy your mind and your LIFE. If your friends see that you HAVE this book, they will disavow you and inform everyone you are beyond the pale. It is worse than even the dreaded “Starship Troopers”.

  14. Sarah, I know a guy who is a headhunter for engineers. He primarily works in Washington State, but I suspect he has a pretty good network. Do you want me to see if we can put you and him in contact?

      1. Sarah,
        The company I work for is a small engineering consulting company headquartered in Montrose CO. We do work mostly in the electric utility business, and about 60% nuke plants. Thermal-hydraulic analysis, valve analysis, testing, software services, etc


        Don and his managers are always looking for smart kids finishing engineering school. True North was sold to a slightly larger company last year as Don is looking to retire in about 5 years, but they have not changed how TN operates (so far). We’ve got several interns working for us, including one Aggie in our group. So many of us working there are old farts rapidly approaching retirement that we need to train our replacements.

        I assume you can see my email address, So if your engineer son is interested, have him send me a resume and I’ll pass it along.

        1. BTW…. most of us work from home. Out of roughly 50 employees, only 6-7 work in Montrose.

          1. Oh! In that case. Could I trouble you, since we’re about to go to bed to travel to LC, in case this falls out of my head, email me at sahoyt at hotmail dot com? He has a light schedule this year, and is looking for work he can do while in school.

        2. Until he finishes next May he can’t actually move from Colorado Springs (notice grumble about schools.) would sending it now in expectation of next year’s graduation be too early?

              1. When younger i was really good at debunking, but age, sleep apnea and bad habits have since rendered me too prone to smack the snooze alarm and roll over.

  15. Interesting post.

    Good luck on your son’s job search. I’ve searched for jobs via company website resume shredders twice now in my career. It sucks. The best job I’ve managed thus far I did via networking. (Pestering the project head on Linkedin and having a friend on the project to vouch for my application.)

    Personally I’ve really got to figure out if I want to ‘marry’ my career/vocation or not, or try last minute to date/romance/find a spouse. If I don’t start laying the groundwork for a family now, I won’t have one in the future. This seemed like a good idea, for that matter the only possible path, in the past. The price is high though.

    1. Whoever invented the “Applicant Tracking System”, or for that matter decided HR needed to be it’s own corporate fiefdom apart, needs to be fed feet-first into a shredder dulled by the passage of 10,000 resumes. 😛

      1. It says a lot that all the most effective advice on the best way to be hired, good times or bad, starts with “get past HR to the hiring managers attention”.

        When the entirety of a groups utility to the hiring process is to insulate applicants from hiring managers, that says everything you need to know about HR.

    2. PPS – for whatever reason, WordPress.com decided it needed me to sign in before commenting on any wordpress blog. It also decided my old e-mail wasn’t good enough. Hence my new, avatarless pseudonym.

  16. The wise old fairy tales never were so silly as to say that the prince and the princess lived peacefully ever afterwards. The fairy tales said that the prince and princess lived happily ever afterwards; and so they did. They lived happily, although it is very likely that from time to time they threw the furniture at each other.
    — G. K. Chesterton

  17. A friend recently fell into conversation with a woman visiting from another country. She said that the woman was a Phd in a biological science, had 4 kids including a daughter living in the US. My friend remarked that she seemed to have had a good life. To which the woman responded that she was *tired of all the reading and studying that she had to do*. (She was also upset that her daughter, who was attending college, was pursing a career rather than marriage/children)

    So it seems likely that she never really had a true vocation for her research field.

  18. Oh, and one likely unnecessary additional piece of advice: No matter how much an offer is, do not accept a job out here in Silicon Valley or Ghu Forbid up in SF. There is literally no place for new hire level folks to live. No, really. Good-salaried technology workers are living in RVs on city streets. “Wow the offer looked really good, but after I got here I could not find a place to rent that I could afford even with that income – I’m moving back” is a standard lament.

    Just say no.

      1. Yeah, that’s why I said “likely unnecessary”: I gathered he is a wise as well as smart youngling, but it only hurts to cover all the bases when there’s a lefty loon shooting at the players.

  19. Sadly I have some ideas about how to get engineering jobs in MN, not so much elsewhere. As much-maligned and noisy as it is, Linkedin is where some small companies (like mine) have been posting all their jobs, and even if they don’t have intern positions it’s not impossible they’d be interested in a well-rounded college intern. (We’d love an EE/ME combo, but again… MN…)

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