Saturday, July 2, 2011

Poet vs Engineer

I feel like I am coming out of the closet here ...  there is traditionally so much animosity between the Arts and the hard Sciences, especially engineering, including in my soul at times, I fear.

My first degree was in English Language and Literature, at Queen's University Kingston.  It was a classic survey course covering everythig from Pearl and Sir Gawain in the original Old/Middle English through Chaucer, the Elizabethans, Dryden, Johnson and the 17th century writers, the Romantics and the Victorians.  It stopped dead at Hardy:  no modern poets, novelists or essayists.  I was a passable student who filled her elective courses with mathematics and microbiology.  Definietly confused. 

When I began my final year of English, I panicked at the available career choices:  teaching, government or insurance companies seemed to be the offerings.  So I negotiated with my generous parents and applied for Applied Science.  Amazingly, I was accepted, into a class of about 5% women.

I fell in love with geology but pragmatism reared its head and I plumped for Civil Engineering instead, thinking that way I would avoid spending my summers in a tent.  I specialised in traffic and transportation. 

All the time I was studying, I was torn: frustrated by the lack of the concrete in Arts and the lack of the mystery in Science.  This continued in my working career.

The best jobs I had as an employed engineer were ones in strategic planning, where I was trying to forecast future trends and develop ways to modify traveller behaviour.  I felt I was finally combining the two sides of my brain, and I was writing poetry in my spare time.  Not that I had much spare time as I was completing my MSc, mothering two babies, squeezing in a husband and working full time.  I used to write on the train going to and from work.

I really miss the intellectual challenges of working and the sense of being 'in' on many of the big development decisions in government, but working full time was exhausting and the move to Malaysia - which in many ways was incredibly difficult (a subject I will save for another post) - gave me the break from the rat-race I needed.  I couldn't work in Malaysia as the government there does not support accompanying spouse employment and the logistics of having young children in boarding school also did not favour the time commitment a job would entail.  I did do a few freelance studies 'privately'.

This is very long-winded and I still haven't answered Tim's question: do the mental pathways of engineering, or the language, influence my poetry?   

Yes, I think so.  You may have noticed I'm not one for fluffy pink goo and I tend to be a little tough and realistic (I hope).  But engineers aren't alien creatures, they do have souls, love music and art and poetry (Marius is a violinist) and well ...  if the human mind isn't smart enough to understand itself, how should I know?



Jenny Woolf said...

I've always assumed the distinction between an arty "type" and an engineering "type" was rather forced. I mean, I can't see why they should be mutually exclusive. In practice, I suppose one has to suppress certain personal characteristics in order to (a) fit in with colleagues and (b) focus on the job.

Tim Jones said...

I'm glad my question provoked such a thoughtful post! Part of the reason I asked it is that New Zealand writer Pip Adam foregrounds the fact that she's also an engineer - e.g. see her description of her creative writing PhD project here:

... and I was wondering if you had ever thought of doing something similar. Of course, just because a poet is also an engineer, doesn't mean that they are obliged to write poetry about engineering!

Friko said...

I can see no reason why a scientist cannot also be a poet or vice versa.

In fact, I think you are enormously fortunate to be able to operate in the arts and engineering. You will always be able to choose between them.

Isabel Doyle said...

I do actually think there is a fundamental difference in the approach to the world - of seeing the world - from these two disciplines. Although the thought processes for both poetry writing and engineering problem solving may switch back and forth from open to focussed, to projecting and listening, I believe they are quite different. It is more than right brain vs left brain thinking, but it is analogous to that model.

Believe me, I have yet to find an integration only oscillation (which sounds like I should be writing a poem on the subject, doesn't it?).

jabblog said...

My husband's an engineer and his thinking is more analytical and precise than mine and he also appreciates music and beauty. He's not a poet but a rather good painter and photographer.

Not Just Another Mother Blogger! said...

Music is all about the math, if you listen for it. Math is very important to engineering, yet here it is in the middle of some of the most beautiful sounds in the world. So why would it be so difficult to imagine a poet who is also an engineer?

I think that is awesome.

Anonymous said...

Hi Isabel,
thanks for popping over to my bloggy - you mentioned the little crochet covers for milk jugs?

No I dont do them, but are you after some? I have some old ones rolling about here somewhere..

Jenny Woolf said...

Funny I seem to be missing some of your posts although I am subscribed. I wasn't notified about the fish one - just decided to check your blog anyway.