One Less Step to Becoming a Teacher

(Reed’s song of the day: Tape Machine, by STRFKR)

Hi all,

Sorry I’ve been AWOL for the last few posts. I’ve been studying for tests, which as we all know, is a pleasant and exciting task.

I think the last time I posted a life update, it was about my decision to try out teaching. I’m happy to say it’s been about four months since then and I have yet to change my mind again, making it the most permanent career choice I’ve made since graduating.

Ha….

But in all seriousness, it feels like something has fallen into place since I had my realization about teaching. Now all that’s left is to move down the path towards my goal.

I went home recently and talked to a few of my old teachers, just trying to glean some wisdom about my path. They had some really good points to give (some of which have already been given to me by family members who teach). One of these bits of advice was to try substitute teaching before committing to a master’s program or a teaching credential program, just to make sure. As one of my teachers put it, “After a few months of substitute teaching for high schools, you’ll know whether it’s something you want to do as a career.”

This actually works out perfectly for me, as I had my teaching realization just a bit too late to apply for master’s programs in Fall 2018. So in this gap year before I go back to school, I intend to substitute teach in LAUSD and really see what it’s like.

Of course, there are a few tests that have to be taken first. The CBEST, the general education test, is the first and easiest of these tests. There are then CSET tests, one for general sciences and another specifically for life sciences. And here I was, just starting to be sure I wasn’t going back to grad school and I wasn’t ever going to have to take a test again… nope.

The good thing is, I had my undergraduate education in the life sciences, which means I’m already familiar with at least some of this stuff. The bad news… I gotta relearn physics for the general sciences test.

But here’s the best news!

I already took my CBEST. And passed.

WOOOOOO!!!!

Of course, the CBEST has been described by everyone I know who’s taken it as a big joke. It’s that thing you give to all prospective teachers so you can say, “100% of our California distinguished teachers have passed this test” but it really doesn’t mean very much because the test is so easy.

Still, though, taking a tangible step towards teaching is exciting for me! I think at this point I could technically start applying for substitute teaching positions; of course, there will be much fewer in the summer than in the fall, if any. So I’m going to spend this summer continuing writing, as well as studying for the CSET tests. I don’t know if it looks better for me to have taken CSETs before applying to substitute teaching jobs, but it can’t hurt, and I have to take them for my master’s program anyway.

So, that’s me right now. And to all the teachers in my life who’ve encouraged me and given me advice – thank you. Seriously.

Hopefully I’ll have more good news later in the summer! But until then….

Yours, cracking open dusty chem and bio books from undergrad,

-R.R. Buck

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Blank Page Blues

(Reed’s song of the day: Madelyn, by the Wonder Years)

Just write.

Stop reading this and start writing words. They don’t have to be good words. They don’t have to even be understandable. Just start writing something.

You are not going to have a moment where writing feels comfortable – not if you’re just starting out. You’re gonna have to fight for every single word. You’re going to hate yourself. You’re going to think you’re the worst writer ever.

You’re not. Move on.

We get stuck because we hesitate. We let perfect be the enemy of good. Our work will never be perfect. We just have to start writing.

A minute ago I was staring at a blank page, no idea what I would be posting. Now I’m already past 100 words. It’s that simple; don’t tell yourself it isn’t.

If it helps, don’t try to write anything in particular. Write what comes to mind – any single scene, any moment that speaks to you. If we have too many goals, too many things to accomplish when we set out to write, of course we’re going to fail.

Make this your one goal. Write something today. Write 100 words. Write 50. Write 10. This is a sentence of ten words – it’s that easy. 

Think of a character – a person with a drive. Maybe they’re hungry and all they want is a decent sandwich. Maybe they’re a teacher who’s finally fed up with the classroom. Maybe they’re an ancient queen commanding hundreds of thousands. Maybe they’re a pauper looking to survive the winter.

Write what they do. Write what they say. Don’t think about where the story is going – that will come later. Just write it.

There are no excuses, no justifications, no explanations. Write something. Write something of utterly shitty quality – something so spectacularly shitty that even shit looks beautiful by comparison.

You do not get the luxury of knowing the story. You do not get the luxury of having the words come out pretty the first time. If you love writing – if you really love the craft of it, the way words come together into a tapestry of imagery, development, and tension – you will write.

DO NOT USE THE DELETE KEY. KEEP ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING.

Give the middle finger to the blank page blues. Write something today. And then send it to me.

Yours, unified in the artist’s struggle,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#7 – Descriptive Passages]

(Reed’s song of the day: Miss Jackson, by Panic! At the Disco)

Hi everyone,

It’s been a hell of a week this past week. My laptop charging cable broke last Wednesday and I had quite the rude awakening about my dependence on technology. I couldn’t write a single word on paper, nor study for my CBEST and CSET exams… which meant I had some very long days to fill with reading and video games.

But enough about me and my shitty problems – let’s talk about writing! Today I had the horror and privilege to sit down and work on the first few paragraphs of Sleeper again. (For context, I met a really nice indie author who gave me some feedback on them and encouraged me to edit and resend.)

I don’t have to tell you all how important your first paragraph is in catching a reader’s eye… but I’m going to. It’s everything. By the time you’re done editing and ready to send out to agents and publishers, it should be absolutely perfect – prose dripping with intrigue and excitement.

Well, even with my newest edits, my first paragraph hasn’t reached that point. But it is a lot better than it was before.

Let’s take a look at Version 1, from the link above:


A warm mist obscured the dreamscape in every direction. It blanketed the ground like a dirty silver snowfall, never rising above knee height, perpetually shifting and flowing. It seemed to have a sort of sentience in its movement as it wormed through the young woman’s legs like a stream between logs.


This isn’t bad, but it’s a far cry from good. The first sentence has a little bit of a hook – the use of the word dreamscape tells us something different is happening than your usual London fog. But even though we get an understanding of this mist through the next few sentences leading up to the protagonist’s reveal, it feels kinda flat.

Why? Well, we have a bit of telling instead of showing (“it seemed to have a sort of sentience in its movement”), some repeated uses of the word “it”, and an overall lack of interesting descriptive language.

Oh, yeah. That third one.

If you’re anything like me (and I pray you’re not), you have a lot of difficulties with descriptive language. The irony to me is that I have such a powerful imagination but such a poor mind’s eye. I can invent all these really fascinating worlds and settings and when it comes to describing them, the best I can do is “perpetually shifting and flowing”.

I used to see description as fluff – the kind of thing that goes into a story because we want to imagine what’s happening, but really it’s just a background for the action or the dialogue or the characters. What I’m now realizing, with the help of this indie author who shall (for now) remain nameless, is that description sets the tone of an entire passage.

I’m gonna say that again because it bears repeating. Description sets the tone of an entire passage.

That’s because descriptions often come at the beginning of each new passage. We have the ability just by describing the scene to give the reader the ominous undertones of doom, or the rowdy commotion at a tavern, or the dark and savory intrigue of a thief’s gossip, without a word of dialogue entering the passage yet. And even the best dialogue with the most emotionally charged language might fall flat if it’s not happening in an ideal setting.

I guess I’m kind of likening it to the moment in a movie when the score turns dark and brooding, even though things still seem to be going fine. That’s when we as consumers start to say, “Oh, shit, what’s about to happen?”

So if I have one piece of advice to other would-be good description writers out there (besides the usual like “follow your five senses” and other shit), it would be to consider the tone you’re going to try to establish during this description. This is a good thing to do before writing any passage, not just description, but it’s especially important for description. And especially especially important for the first paragraph of a book.

Okay, so with that in mind, I took another look at the first paragraph of Sleeper and asked myself, “What do I want to accomplish in this first scene?”

The answer was impotence. I want the protagonist to immediately feel overwhelmed by the mists, oppressed by them, maybe even controlled by them. That was a tone I had never really accomplished in the first version above.

Let’s now take a look at Version 2:


Warm mist blanketed the dreamscape like a silver snowfall. A sea of dense, smothering vapor drifted at knee height, its languorous movement just slightly too directed to be random. It crept over trickling streams and tufts of slick grass. It tangled briefly in the roots of withered trees before freeing itself and moving on. It encircled the wrists and legs of the girl who had collapsed to all fours on the sodden ground.

The girl’s falling tears cut paths through the mist and vanished.


Okay, so it was technically two paragraphs. But I couldn’t leave that last sentence out.

So, sentence by sentence. The first sentence I switched up a little bit, going for the poetic language (the silver snowfall) early – but I kept the word dreamscape in to keep arousing interest in readers.

In the second sentence, I removed the telling language about sentience and made it a little more showing and descriptive. Adding words like “sea” and “smothering” also gave the mist a lot more of an oppressive vibe.

Now, to those non-descriptive uses of “it”. It wasn’t until I tried rewriting (and sat for an hour at my computer just staring at the screen) that I realized what I was trying to do. I wanted to put the protagonist at the end, like an afterthought, to show how little she mattered in the context of the mist. And what I was originally subconsciously trying to do with multiple uses of the word “it” was to reinforce how much the mist dominated her.

So I made that even more apparent in this second edit. I made the last three sentences – short, evocative moments of the mist moving through and around things in the environment. Putting them in parallel structure makes the girl seem to come through much more as an afterthought, and the added detail of her being on all fours makes it possible for her to seem manacled or chained by the mists.

And what’s better, it totally conveys that ominous tone which is the source of the paragraph’s intrigue. Why has she collapsed like this? We read on and get only one sentence which continues to heighten the tension:

“The girl’s falling tears cut paths through the mist and vanished.”

It’s not the best it will be, but it’s better than before. It’s vivid and evocative, and better than most descriptive writing I’ve done. I’m really hoping I can continue to carry this kind of description into the rest of my book.

Although if it took me an hour to get down a single paragraph like this, I just might shoot myself first.

Well, anyway. Hopefully this helped! And good luck with your writing endeavors 😀

Yours, so stoked to be writing again,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review: Parable of the Sower

(Reed’s song of the day: Pirates, by Bullets and Octane)

Hey all,

I’ll be doing a lot of book reviews in the coming few months since I stocked up on new books at the LA Times Festival of Books! I hope to be bringing you some great picks for new voices in SFF.

Today’s book, however, actually came recommended from a friend. Thanks Audrey! Let’s dive in.


Title: Parable of the Sower

Author: Octavia Butler

Genre: Postapocalyptic low sci-fi, spiritualism

Premise: A young woman lives in a near-future earth gone straight to hell. Water and food scarcity, masses of homeless and criminals roving uninhabited, dried-up California, walled communities barely kept separate from the gangs… it’s kind of like The Walking Dead except without any zombies. This woman, Lauren, chronicles her experiences first in her home town and then on the highway heading north, trying to survive while debating with herself about life, religion, and the importance of things.

So like I said, my friend recommended this one to me and I happily accepted; I’ve been wanting to read some of Octavia Butler’s work for quite a while now and never got around to it. It’s interesting because, despite being science fiction, it’s really nothing like the usual Dune or Foundation or Ender’s Game. There’s no space exploration or alien races, no ridiculous technologies and organizations. You don’t have to memorize a long list of acronyms.

It’s much more low sci-fi than that – somewhere between Book of Eli and The Walking Dead. The book is written in the fashion of a young woman’s diary, chronicling her daily experience with the various horrors greeting the post-apocalyptic teenager. But what’s more interesting than that is that a decent portion of the book is dedicated to Lauren’s thoughts on religion – her dad is a pastor, but she’s creating her own belief system named Earthseed.

Lauren travels around, gathering people up into a little group from which to form a small Earthseed community. There’s a lot of debating spirituality and philosophy interspersed with graphic murder and heart-pounding action, which makes for an interesting read. Honestly, fans of Kent Wayne’s Echo series might like this, although I find it reads very differently.

So here’s the thing about this book. It’s very slow-moving and takes quite a bit of time to build up momentum, like a lot of sci-fi. I won’t lie; I had to struggle a bit through the first eighty or so pages. But once things started to pick up, I began to get invested very quickly.

I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite novel, but the strong points in it are very strong. The spirituality is an interesting twist and evokes some sincere thought on the reader’s standpoint; the characters are engaging and relatable; and the little bits of science fiction sprinkled throughout are tantalizing, with interesting applications.

On the not-so-great side, there’s the slow, gradual pace. There’s also a lot of comma splicing that drives the grammar part of my mind nuts (petty, I know, but some people will definitely be put off by it). It’s written as a journal, but it has all the commas, of a person, speaking, and thinking, about what they’re saying, and making, those little characteristic pauses we make, when we talk, you know what I mean?

Overall, though, it was a pretty solid novel. I would recommend it for anyone who likes their genre fiction served in a dense, creamy spirituality sauce.

Reed’s Rating: 7.5/10

Yours, getting into dat vampire suspense next,

-R.R. Buck

I’m Stoked.

(Reed’s song of the day: Africa, by Toto)

Hi all,

Well, this post is going to go pretty much nowhere. As a matter of fact, I was thinking I wasn’t going to write anything today, but I wanted to share something with you all.

I’m stoked.

I had a great week last week. I got to go back to my hometown and hang out with my parents, as well as my high school best friend (whom I haven’t seen in over a year). During that time I had the opportunity to speak to a few of my high school teachers and ask them about the path to becoming a teacher.

Being away from Los Angeles and the pressures I face here was awesome. Spending time with my best friend and my parents was even more awesome. Everything was so restful and quiet – I got to write, read, and play video games for like six hours a day and think of nothing.

Then I went back up to LA, taking my friend with me, and we met up with other friends for a birthday party. There were people there from all aspects of my life – my apartment cohort, my lab, my hometown, and my previous job – but the group was still small and intimate.

Sitting back, watching them joke with each other as though they’d been friends forever, I realized how blessed and lucky I am. And really, that’s what it is – I am so lucky to have the friends I have. It’s like my one talent in this life is to find really incredible people and bring them together.

I was afraid this summer was going to be lonely, and I’m sure in some ways it will be. But so far, all I’ve really felt is stoked to be in such contact with so many wonderful people. I need to write more Life Counselors posts because all of them deserve my sincerest gratitude.

That’s all I really wanted to say, other than that I have my next steps ready for my career path. I’m going to go into substitute teaching! So I’m sure I’ll have more life updates after getting started on that.

Overall, I’m just stoked. I hope you’re all doing as well as I am right now. If you’re not, see if you can spend some time with a friend or someone you love soon. They’re bound to cheer you up.

Yours, sappy as a maple tree,

-R.R. Buck

Editing Discoveries [#6 – The Dialogue Checklist]

(Reed’s song of the day: We Built This City, by Starship)

Hi friends!

Before we get started here, I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to my friend and fellow writer Audrey Miano, who’s started her own blog. She’s a great writer and I can’t wait to see how her blog develops.

You can find it here: https://www.audreymiano.com/

Enjoy!


Aight, let’s be real for a second. At the four-month mark a few days ago, I was mostly through editing the seventh chapter of my novel, Sleeper.

Not even seven chapters in four months. Suffice to say, editing is going terribly.

But when I think back to my first attempts at writing and how long it took to get good at that, I feel like I need to relax a little bit and let myself be terrible for a time. I’ve not ever really tried to self-edit before, and I’m going at it blindly for the most part. (If you recall, I’m really bad at researching writing advice.)

Well, it should be a mark of how badly it’s going that I actually went out and bought a self-editing book. It’s called Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, and I now own both versions of it. I would highly recommend it for anyone who’s having difficulty editing, as it breaks down the process into a few easy-to-manage steps. It even has practice exercises at the end of each chapter which I don’t do because, as we’ve established, I’m a little bitch.

BUT I’M GETTING BETTER!

Anyway, I wanted to take some insights I’ve had from dialogue editing (of which I’ve been doing a disgusting amount) and combine them with what Self-Editing teaches to give you a little dialogue checklist for each scene. Hopefully it helps!

Let’s dive in:

1. Strip adverbs and emotional language from the dialogue mechanics.

This is something we all do as new writers. “What the hell are you doing here?” does not require she shouted angrily to be understood. We can tell from the dialogue itself that this person is upset – that’s what makes it good dialogue. So if you’re leaning on props like adverbial descriptions or different ways of saying “said”, stop. Instead, make the dialogue completely clear and powerful and it’ll speak for itself.

Here’s an example of dialogue I’ve written where (I hope) the characters’ opinions towards each other come across without one single “she shouted” or “she whispered forcefully”:

“So then what would make ‘em move down there?” Lena played with a coin, rolling it between her fingers. One of the nonpareil rounds from the initial payment.

Damn, but she was good. And a liability. Still, she was one of the best in New Tix, and she had been able to find out where Orrie had kept her incoming messages. Without Lena, Melira wouldn’t have been able to steal this client in the first place.

“Lena, put that down and let’s speak seriously,” Melira said.

“Right,” Lena said, tapping the coin against the edge of Melira’s desk – but not quite putting it down. “Actually, we haven’t had us a serious chat about my fee.”

“We agreed ten percent off the top, withholding any bonuses.”

“Right, but that was before I ended up doing all the work besides wringing the poor sod’s neck myself. The way I see it, I should be getting half… including the bonuses.”

2. Adjust interior monologue as necessary.

One of the helpful tips from Self-Editing was the other half of the ’emotional language’ question – if I remove emotional language from my dialogue mechanics, where do I put it back in? Besides the obvious answer (the dialogue itself), you can also add it back in using internal monologue. Of course, you have to strike a good balance; doing it too much will make a reader feel as though they’re being handed a character’s emotional state, whereas doing it too little will leave the reader feeling disconnected from your characters entirely.

Let’s look again at the example dialogue snippet I provided above, but specifically at Melira’s internal monologue:

Damn, but she was good. And a liability. Still, she was one of the best in New Tix, and she had been able to find out where Orrie had kept her incoming messages. Without Lena, Melira wouldn’t have been able to steal this client in the first place. 

This text tells us a decent amount about both Melira and Lena and helps to establish the power dynamic in the conversation which sets up for the later dialogue about payment.

 

3. Adjust beats as necessary.

Beats are the bits of action that occur during a scene. Someone pausing to walk to the window, light a cigarette, or toss their hair – these are all beats. I’ve noticed one of the most subtle problems in my writing is that I lean on beats far too much in dialogue instead of just letting the characters talk. Self-Editing helped me remember beats are supposed to be just frequent enough to break up multiple lines of dialogue and give the reader a jump-start to their imagination while still allowing the reader to draw up most of the scene.

So let’s take a look at the beats in my example:

Lena played with a coin, rolling it between her fingers.

Lena said, tapping the coin against the edge of Melira’s desk – but not quite putting it down.

See, this is one of the few times where my beats were actually good for multiple purposes. They broke up lines of dialogue and gave a hint of what was happening without being overbearing, but they also served another purpose in showing us Lena’s greed and distrust/disrespect of Melira.

If only I could write good beats more often.

4. Read it aloud and see if it sounds right.

Ah, the one I never do. I keep telling myself I will, but I don’t. Even though literally every book I’ve read on writing says I should read it aloud.

The reason we have to do this is to see whether the conversation sounds realistic and is achieving the tone we’re trying to accomplish. Oftentimes things come out when we’re reading aloud that seemed to make sense in print but don’t really sound very good.

We can also hear how characters’ voices sound aloud. If we read through my dialogue scene, we can hear Lena’s more rough word choices – for instance “poor sod” – next to Melira’s more cultured voice – as in “withholding”.

So, to recap:

1. Strip adverbs and emotional language from the dialogue mechanics.

2. Adjust interior monologue as necessary.

3. Adjust beats as necessary.

4. Read it aloud and see if it sounds right.

If you go through all four of these, you’ll probably catch most errors in juvenile dialogue writing. Whether or not it will actually make your dialogue incredible… well, probably not. It certainly hasn’t to mine. But it will put you on the right path, and that’s the place to start….

And I say hey! What a wonderful kind of day….

Okay, reference over. Have a good day everyone!

Yours, dia-lagging,

-R.R. Buck

When the Drum Ceases to Beat [Shitty Poetry]

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: the entire contents of my old Ipod Touch)

Hi all,

I’m having a terrible time editing my novel, so I’m gonna break to write something else. This one goes out to all the pairs of shitty headphones I’ve ever had.

Enjoy!


Hear music around him always. Hear it slip from leaky headphones. Notes like fish, awash at sea, carried on the crashing waves.

Monday morning it’s ’80s classics. Wednesday night a movie score. The sound itself seems not to matter, as long as drums are at its heart.

Tinny echoes resound around him – flashes of his oldest friends are summoned up in voice and rhythm to carry him from place to place.

He knows them like he knows a lover. He knows the instruments by rote. And every day the open air takes some of them away, but does he care?

Oh, no, because the beauty in the sound is in its fleeting life. The beauty in the drums is that one day they’ll cease to beat for him. But every strangled moment when the sound is lost to open air, he can fill it in his mind and come to be a part of it. He can take his place amongst the Robert Plants and Dire Straits; he can be first chair at the greatest performance ever played.

So when his headphones come to fray. When the sound cuts in and out. Frustration will rule him a moment in the maddening silence. But when the drum ceases to beat, and when the music has dried up….

He’ll carry it with him always. The memories of friends who’ve gone.


Yours, in harmony,

-R.R. Buck

Life Counselor #6

(Reed’s song of the day: Show Your Face, by Balance and Composure)

Hello, o fearless leader of the Nudie Boys.

Hoo boy, this is going to be a hard one to write. I feel like every facet of what it means to be a brother, both the good and the bad, is prevalent in our relationship. We’ve been down a long, twisting road together. Somehow, we’re still doing pretty okay.

You have probably had more tangible impact on my life than anyone else, at least in sheer numbers (although Lindsay’s starting to get a leg up on you). You were the one to instruct me about philosophy and writing, the one who got me into punk rock and straight edge. You helped design the first tattoo I ever got and paid for it as a gift.

You’ve shown me what it means to be a thinking person. You’ve shown me how we can’t be content to ever just be content – that we have to keep moving forward, learning more, carving our path throughout the world. You’ve pushed me, and in some cases you’ve been the incentive for me to push myself. You were a standard I could never reach, but I kept trying anyway.

But honestly, I think some of the things you’ve taught me were things neither of us were really thinking about at the time. Some lessons I’ve had to take away myself with time, but you were the first person to plant that seed of thought (in some cases unconsciously).

Like the time you were going to see your ex, but I was having some sort of stupid girl troubles and you sat with me in the car for like a half hour, keeping her waiting, to make sure I was okay. I just remember being there and thinking, this is what I should be like to Trevor. This is who I want to be to the people I love.

And all of the times we’ve talked, all of the times I’ve had some sort of strange inferiority complex when speaking to you about a decision I’ve made, it’s forced me to realize – I need to have more confidence in my own capabilities. I need to not filter everything I think and do through the lens of your (or anyone’s) approval. And most importantly, I can accept offers of help, opinions, and even criticisms of myself without letting it impact me so damn much.

I’m still not great at treating you like a peer instead of a superior. There’s a decent amount I still have to let go. But I need you to know something.  I need you to know I’m learning and moving forward. I’m learning how to separate my personal validation from the comments people make on my work or my choices. I’m moving forward towards being centered and trusting myself.

I need you to know I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you the past few years. I had so much anger and such a lack of understanding. Every time you tried to help me or offer advice, I lashed out at you. I remember feeling so bitter all the time; I’m so glad that part is over. But there are still reparations to be made.

I need you to know that I know you care about me. Everything you do for me (even if it’s not something that’s best for me at the time) is because you want to see me succeed. I’ve been so lucky in my life to have a whole community of people standing behind me, rallying me and inspiring me to do more, and you’re straight in the middle of that. It may be only in hindsight, but I appreciate all that you’ve done for me.

I know it’s easy to find ourselves back home and regressing to our high school selves. I know it’s a lot harder to remind ourselves that we’ve all undergone an enormous amount of personal growth – and that the person we are now is not the person we remember the last time we saw each other. I think all of us are blind to the improvements the others have made.

But we’re improving. And I’m proud of you even as I’m proud of myself, because we’re starting to put the worst parts of ourselves to rest and become our most perfect selves.

I love you. I need to visit more. Even if all you want to do is play Fortnight.

Yours,

Little brother

Second Summer

(Reed’s Song of the Day: How Deep is Your Love, by Calvin Harris and Disciples)

I’m back, bitches.

I apologize for the hiatus; I was finishing out my last week at work, and then I had a friend over for the better part of a week. But now I am officially able to dedicate all my time, thoughts, and energy to you….

…because I’m once again unemployed.

I’ve had this happen two years in a row now. The UCLA Library employs me in limited appointment positions for 1,000 hours at a time. When that 1,000 hours is up, I’m out of a job and must take a few months of hiatus before I can be rehired. Or, that was the case last summer.

This time it’s a bit different. Apparently I can only have two limited appointment positions with the university before I have to be hired for a permanent career position. Which means I’m about to have some very interesting conversations with people in the Library.

The good news is, I have options. The bad news is, there’s no longer a guarantee I can find a position. But the whole thing isn’t nearly as worrisome to me as it was last summer. Which actually is the point I wanted to get to.

See, standing on the precipice over the long unemployed summer has given me the opportunity to examine how I feel now in relation to how I felt last summer, or the summer before when I was just graduated. And right now, I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made.

I don’t really remember how well I documented last summer in this blog, but if I can be completely frank here, it was kind of a mess. In fact, most of last year, or even most of the time since I’ve graduated from undergrad, I’ve been a mess. Somewhere between the quarter-life crisis, crippling insecurity about succeeding, and recent political developments, I’ve felt disillusioned about the world and my place in it.

A lot of it was tied into the work I was doing for the library in the 2016-17 academic year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this, and I’ve developed a conceptualization of what I see as the “levels” of self-efficacy a new adult must feel in their jobs before they can be truly comfortable. Maybe it’s totally bullshit (probably is), but I’d like to share it anyway:

Level 1 – Having a job (which shows the adult somebody thinks they’re worth investing in, even if it’s as a fry cook at Burger King)

Level 2 – Having a job you actually care about (which shows the adult they can minimally succeed in their career field)

Level 3 –  Doing necessary work (I’ll explain this one a little better below)

Level 4 – Doing work no one else, or few others, would be able to do (which shows the adult they’re absolutely essential to the operation of their company)

I was really lucky upon graduation to have a job lined up for me – I was going to be an orientation counselor for UCLA for the summer. And while that job was great, fulfilling that Level 1 thing immediately, it came with a whole host of drawbacks. Suffice to say being an orientation counselor is not something I’d want to do for the rest of my life, even if I could.

Then I got lucky again and the Library wanted to hire me after graduation for the 2016-17 school year.  That was kind of hitting Level 2, although I didn’t know it yet – I was able to work in the academic field and start the path to being a teacher. But I still wasn’t quite at Level 3, which was one of the things I think weighed upon me.

Let me give an example. If you’re going to get coffee for other employees, making copies, and other such tasks, you’re doing work that is necessary for the company to run. But at the same time, it doesn’t quite feel (at least to me) like you’re doing something that feels completely integral. As if, if you weren’t doing that work, it would be a minor inconvenience to everyone, not a crippling of function.

When I was at that Level 2 last year, I felt like I was catching a lot of things that fell through the cracks for other employees, and in that, I was successful – but I wasn’t doing work of my own that really allowed me to flourish as an employee. It led to me wondering whether I was really an important part of the Library.

I’m really happy to say this year changed things for me. Not only did I have additional responsibilities with the Library which I felt were crucial, but I also was allowed to take on my own projects and roles, including that of instructor, which I felt were necessary to both myself and the Library as a whole.

I’m not quite at Level 4 yet – and I don’t think I will be until I finish graduate school and start as a teacher – but I feel so much more satisfied with myself than I did last year at the same point.

And more broadly, as I’m facing down my third summer since graduating from undergrad, I feel different. I feel like I understand the world and my place in it. I feel like my philosophy and outlook, even my goals for myself, were forced to flex and bend the last two years, but now they’ve finally grown back stronger. I feel more well-rounded as a person and as a young professional.

Basically, whereas the last two summers I had mental health issues and concerns for myself in the career field, I now find those pressures have lessened significantly. And maybe they won’t go away for a while, but I’m so okay with that right now.

If you’re struggling with that quarter-life crisis still, I want you to know I feel for you. It totally sucks trying to orient yourself in the world, especially if it’s the first time you have to do so.

Keep on. You can do this, I promise. And all of that struggle will make you stronger.

Love you, everyone. Glad to be back 😀

Yours, revamping that resume,

-R.R. Buck

Streed of Consciousness [Part 12 – The Beauty of Language]

(Reed’s song of the day: Cheap Beer, by FIDLAR)

I’m not going to say anything new or original here; I just want to reflect on some stuff many of us know but is still pretty cool.

I’ve been thinking a lot about linguistics and the formation of language recently. It’s been swirling around in my head ever since I decided to create my own language for my current writing project. Well, if I’m being honest, it’s more of a framework than a fully speakable language, but it’s still fun.

Language is great in science fiction and fantasy novels. It gives the reader a feeling of being in on some otherworldly or ancient lore; it makes the world feel more real; and it has all the appeal of another language without the buy-in and practice required to fully learn something.

But more than that, language is interconnected with culture and thought. When learning a new language, you get a glimpse into how those who speak that language understand the world around them. And you can see the interplay where the language shapes the formation of thought just as much as thought shapes the formation of language.

I haven’t studied linguistics, and I know so little about it that I’m working with a friend who has studied linguistics to create my fantasy language. But I love the way that even the sounds of words can indicate something about the culture they’re from. And, of course, idioms and choices of words also reveal that cultural lens – like how the Spanish phrase for “to give birth”, dar la luz, means literally “to give the light”.

When I started to create my new language, I thought a lot about kudrans, the race of people who speak it. These fictitious folk have lived tribally for much longer than other races, choosing to be a part of the land instead of reacting against it. Their earliest words had to be short, choppy, and harsh – the kind of words that get the attention of someone in a fight against a wild animal, or that impose dominance and hierarchy.

But over time the kudrans have been swept into mainstream society and learned from other cultures who consider themselves more “civilized”. And the kudrans, who have always been proud people, adopted the subtler, finer bits of their neighbors’ languages and incorporated into their own. Whereas old kudran words may sound like a harsh mix of Japanese, Russian, and Arabic, their newer words have more vowels and longer syllables – something closer to native Hawaiian.

Grammar and sentence structure also impact language a lot. I personally love to think about the Subject – Verb – Object (SVO) versus Object – Verb – Subject (OVS) format to sentences. SVO is how English is spoken, as in “I threw the ball.” OVS is more common in Eastern cultures, as in “The ball threw I.” When you look at the two sentences, you can see that SVO places emphasis on the person who’s doing the action – perfectly aligned with this Western concept of rugged individualism and action – whereas the OVS format places emphasis on what is being done, leaving the subject out until the end of the sentence.

Any good linguist is probably cringing right now at the way I’m misusing terminology. But hey, that’s what happens when you’re learning. And I’ll never be some Tolkein writing a dozen fully speakable languages, but at the very least I can borrow some of those principles, some of that knowledge, and make something cool to speak or read.

So ne-kieran, everyone. I hope you’re learning fascinating things today, too.

ke-zhol,

-R.R. Buck