Confessions of an Artsy Engineer

My songful fruitcake of a biography, this is the story of how one plucky art graduate (me) went on to study engineering halfway across the world and survived (so far)… the Confessions of an Artsy Engineer.

Forever changed

First, let it be said that I have an honors bachelor of arts. And it’s wonderful. Truly. I got to study all sorts of interesting and unusual things at university that some people can’t even dream of. There was the tanuki, a fluffy raccoon-dog with enormously disproportionate testicles, and that time Aztec priests skinned (and subsequently wore) the dermis of a king’s daughter (wt?).

Do not think that you have been brought here by mishap, nor that you have come here to seek a living; you have come to die [for Huitzilopochitli], to offer your chests and throats to the knife…. You will die here but your fame will live forever.

Codex Chimalpahin, 27-9. p14

There was the time I stormed this prestigious institution and demanded the acquisition records for an obscure Egyptian statue they house in the name of research. (Actually, I emailed, and it was for a 100 level undergrad paper… but they gave it to me just the same. I also got to read in the hidden, restricted-access library above the museum, because research).

I studied the Dead Sea Scrolls and learned the basics of ancient Hebrew and Arabic, spent long nights in the darkened art room of a historic building with Harvey, a human skeleton of morally-questionable origin, and bounced around Chicago attending operas and writing papers on architecture (oh, student discount, how I miss you). There were nights cloistered in library reading rooms with nothing but strong chai lattes and scripts of medieval troubadours, and ridiculously long papers written on fig trees (yes… fig trees). Lots of interesting stuff.

The last two years at university were mostly spent running around in men’s cargo pants covered in charcoal and clay dust, with packs of razor blades in my pockets for cutting matte frames and traces of salt and splashed developer on my shoes (salt from the bitingly cold weather, developer from the photography dark rooms). There were fiery hot kilns and vain wishes for reduction reactions, band saws and belt sanders, fabric dyes and philosophy books…in the end, lots and lots of books.

As I said, it was wonderful. Throw in travels to France, rural U.S. and a Native American reservation, along with my first trip to South Africa, and I really couldn’t have asked for a better time (safaris… bungee jumps… ancestral attacks and a wind-induced fall through a window… great stuff, I tell you). But then I grew up, as one does. And graduated (for real… there’s photographic evidence).


And life went on. I ran away to be with my “let’s try not to focus on how old he is” boyfriend, was neighbor to about twenty Somali refugees for a time, ran a business selling laboratory consumables for a time, sat on the beach, wrote a few books, and also volunteered at the local penguin hospital much to the displeasure of my very jealous parrot, whom I adopted from a desperate neighbor (not the Somalis).

His name is Louis and he absolutely loves showering (the parrot, not the neighbor… or I should say the parrot is named Louis and at least one of the two loves showering… I haven’t the information to comment on the neighbor, whose name I haven’t mentioned and whose hygiene habits are not conspicuous).


And it’s showering, surprisingly enough, that brings me to engineering. As I am an author after all, I should start this right, so let’s just forget that previous sentence and begin again with this:

ONCE UPON A TIME in land far, far away from where I once called home, I showered. With or without the parrot, I cannot recall (though it was definitely not with the neighbor). And I started thinking.

Now, thinking, I feel, is a fairly common pastime during this procedure. Lots of people I know claim to think while they shower (how many of them actually think at all to begin with is another topic for debate, but for the sake of the story let’s assume they do). But this was not the ordinary, run-of-the-mill shower-time thinking. This was passionate, emotion-driven, “I’m about to make big changes in my life to make this happen” kind of thinking. And it was all because of soap scum.

Soap scum. Maybe a bit of mold also, I can’t recall. Basically it was the fact that the shower was dirty, and I was thinking about how much I hate cleaning it (Hate is a bit of a weak word. Loathe… despise… detest from the deepest chasms of my soul… hopefully you can sense the emotion I’m going for).

Again, I feel I can’t possibly be alone here. I mean, first of all the thing (like tanuki’s testicles), is enormous. You can’t just squirt a bunch of bleach around and swing a rag through it like a sink. You can’t have fun with it like you can with the floors (the cleaning of which, for me, means popping a wet umbrella in the room after it rains and then skating around on a ShamWow). Unlike sinks and floors, a shower takes legitimately long, boringly brush-scrubbing work, and I absolutely hate it.

(Or loathe… despise… detest from the deepest chasms of my soul…etc).

And that’s what I was thinking during this particular shower, which was then followed up by how great it would be if I had a robot that could instead clean it for me, which would allow me to save my batch of indignant grumpiness for more important things (like trying to match my socks). So I thought about it for a while (this was before the Cape Town water crisis became popular news, btw…), and that robot idea was quickly followed by an idea for another robot that could feed Louis if I was away, followed by another one that could clean his toilet for him (he’s potty trained), followed by yet another idea that I could maybe make him his own little shower so he doesn’t have to scream for me every time he wants to get clean.

These and lots of other ideas were then stopped by the jarring fact that I don’t actually know how to make any of these things, which was subsequently followed by the exceptionally enticing idea that I might even be gainfully employable after learning how to do said things. So, I decided right then and there to apply to study engineering, and now, having done so, this is the memoir.

Spoiler Alert: It’s going to start with a confession.