Engineering Language

Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams

The co-existence of career and writing.

I want to be writing. Instead I’m helping my colleague Tumbleweed lay-up carbon fibre. It’s an icky, sticky, process that involves gluing layers of the stuff and squishing the whole lot into a mould. There’s never quite enough space. We’re saved from cracking heads purely by the fact that his hair is thick and curly – I can feel it prickle my scalp when we get too close. I’ve been given this particular task because I’m good at patchwork quilting, or so I’ve been told. Probably the real reason is that nobody else wants it.

I’m trying to think up chapter-starters while we work. One-liners, usually. Things that might grab a reader’s attention which I can elaborate on to conjure up the oh-so-important story. The problem is, the air smells of glue (the-get-real-giggly-after-a-few-hours-kind) and whoever is currently in charge of the Bluetooth speakers can’t make up their mind about genre. We’ve had Queen immediately followed by The Beach Boys. Just another day in the composites workshop.

Today I am an engineer.

We need to get this leading edge straight, says Tumbleweed

Uh-huh, I say.

Twill carbon is nasty. The moment you move it, the fibres twist and slip causing the perfectly straight leading edge to turn into a concertina. Why is it always the start that’s hard? Where you come in. You can forgive what comes later.

I must remember that thought.

Today I am an engineer. A word engineer.

 

I pick up a carbide blade and trim off stray carbon strands. The blade won’t fit any of our craft knives so it’s been wrapped in green masking tape to make it easier to handle. I’m only aware of a vague poking sensation as I walk the length of the piece. I turn around. There’s a line of blood now from one end of our workbench to the other – not enough green tape after all.

Drama, I say.

Paperwork, says Tumbleweed.

I mop up the blood. Too much drama will kill you. Also, you don’t need to fill out paperwork if nobody knows you’re bleeding.

Well they do say that the best work is achieved through blood sweat and tears, I say. At least we have one of the three.

What I don’t say is that we’ll definitely have the other two if this mould doesn’t close.

We cut out something like 100 carbon strips. Tumbleweed puts a playlist called “power ballards” on the Bluetooth speakers at just enough volume that everyone in the adjacent office will hate us. I critique his spelling of the word “ballad” and he tells me that it’s only wrong because he tried to type the title in while driving.

There’s a story start. I almost ask him where he was driving to but decide against it. My imagination can probably do better with wild conjecture.            

We have to be done with this carbon by 4pm so that the piece can be resin-coated. Maybe I’ll get some writing done after that. Maybe I am writing already.

The end is bad, says Tumbleweed. Too long.

I try to shove the carbon layers up the mould a bit but they bunch. I hate dealing with the endings. You try to neatly trim the loose ends but you end up with threads all over the place.

Do it in layers, says Tumbleweed.

The scissors can manage three at a time. Our supervisor walks in and shakes his head at me. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh or feel stressed.         

Now for the trailing edge. It can’t be a blunt lump or the mating-face of the mould won’t squish it down enough. I trim it away in layers, a centimetre at a time. Tumbleweed gets a ruler and presses down on it all.

Too steep, he declares. The mould won’t close.

I feel awful as I cut away strands of carbon that I’m sure I’ll later find were absolutely necessary. We grab the mould’s mating-face and shuffle-dance our way around to get it into place.

Seems alright now, he says to my disbelieving expression.

The supervisor comes in and he and Tumbleweed carry the heavy mould away to be resin-coated, clamped, and cured. It’s out of my hands now.

Don’t you have some writing stuff to do? says Tumbleweed.

Always, I say.

Dig around enough and you will find a story in every part of life. 

I meander back into the office and pick up my laptop. An unfinished chapter in a messy pile of words on my screen. There’s a story in there somewhere. Probably I need to tackle it in layers. A bit of cutting wouldn’t hurt either.

Today I am an Engineer. A language engineer.

Maybe I’ll just start with the leading edge.

Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams

Deborah Williams (Ngāi Tahu) grew up in rural Northland filling entire exercise books with stories. She has worked as a High School English and Media Studies teacher, film writer and VFX artist, and was recently awarded a Master of Creative Writing from The University of Auckland.

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