Hang In There (and Keep Writing)

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Wet Sand by the Red Hot Chili Peppers)

It occurred to me this morning, as I sat facing the mirror in my bathroom shortly after waking, that I am an adult.

I’m not sure what it was that was different – maybe the fact that I had allowed my beard to grow a little scruffier than I’m used to, maybe the slight bags under my eyes, maybe that look of I’m surviving that I’ve been seeing more and more on my face the past few weeks. But for whatever the reason (his heart or his shoes), I looked at myself in the mirror and I saw an adult for the first time.

This isn’t one of those things where I go off on some ramble about how “I don’t recognize the face in the mirror anymore,” because I did. It was my face. How could I not recognize that ugly mug?

All I mean to say is that I saw myself, for the first time in my life, as an adult. It was definitely a weird sensation, especially considering the timing of it. I’ve just graduated, I don’t have a job right now, I’m 22 going on 23 pretty soon, and even when I do have a job come the fall, it will be unlikely to become a career. I don’t have a car or a credit card. I am paying for 80% of my costs of living (I’m assuming phone bill and insurance are about 20%) but I’m not doing what I expected to be doing after college – at least, not really.

Maybe it was because, for so much of undergrad, I had a plan. I was going to finish my bachelor’s in neuroscience, go to graduate school, get a PhD, and be a professor at a research university while loving my wife and cherishing my children. The plan usually doesn’t go as well as expected in your head, and I know that. But it does seem like most of the people around me – my friends, my brothers, my girlfriend – are all in jobs that translates to career-applicable skills (if not already on a career path).

I know these are biases. I know my friends are intensely motivated and most people graduate and don’t know what to do with their lives. But saying that is like walking up to a single person and saying “You know, you’ll find someone eventually.”

(Sorry, single people I’ve said that to in the past.)

I know I’m being too hard on myself. The job I took for the UCLA Library last year, the one I plan on continuing come the fall, has helped me build some great skills in communications and writing which I’m really glad to have. I guess I just assumed that graduating from college was going to mean something more for me.

It’s that classic quarter-life crisis scenario. A kid puts in all his work for thirteen years to apply to one of the best universities in the country. He goes through life there, picks up his studies even more, comes out with a (okay not great, but definitely not terrible) GPA and a degree, and… that’s it. No bright, happy lights. No fanfare. No security.

Everybody seems to have advice, but when you’re already overwhelmed by the decisions you have to make, advice becomes poisonous. You need to feel like you’re in control of your own life, and all you hear are people telling you what you should do, and something inside is saying, “Aren’t I supposed to know what to do by now?”

What a stupid place to be in. I’m a white middle-class man with no threat to his safety or well-being in this country; I’ve achieved a college degree, which many folks are not even able to have access to in the world; I had a job after graduation which I am allowed to continue while I figure things out; I have a wonderful life filled with wonderful people who love and care about me enough to put up with these rants; and somehow I can’t fully enjoy all that, just because I’m worried about the future.

But hey, I’ve said it to other people before, and I should say it to myself – there is no such thing as a quantification of problems. My problems are not “smaller” or “larger” than other people’s – they are important to me, and I am allowed to be upset about them as long as it doesn’t make me lose track of the bigger picture.

I’m having a good time right now – I really am. I just wish that good time didn’t have to be overcast with these clouds of insecurity, self-doubt, and worry.

WOW I’M SUCH A DOWNER AREN’T I.

How about some good news before I sign off? I’m beast-moding through part 2 of my novel, which I’m now fairly certain is a single novel and not a trilogy. I’m almost halfway done after only nine days of working on it – 25,000 words in 9 days is nothing to scoff at. And it’s progressing really well, and my poor characters have been through so much but they have so much left to go, and I can’t wait to see them succeed – or fail – as they will choose to.

I guess that’s the point I’m coming to. Writing is such an incredible way to focus my mind. In some situations like this where there’s no point in worrying, it helps me ignore those stupid doubts and give me some people with real problems to write about. And in other situations where I’ve needed to gain some clarity, the writing was the only thing that could help me do so.

Yet another point in the bucket for why writing is such an important thing for us to do, as bloggers and as people with problems.

Here’s to hoping all you recent or near-graduates can take something away from this rambling post.

Yours, ponderously,

-R.R. Buck

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