Streed of Consciousness [Part 6 – My Phobia]

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Believer by Imagine Dragons)

You know, I sat down at the computer with an open page and no idea what to write, and as my mind drifted through my recent experiences, I remembered the recurring dream I’ve been having every night for the past week or two.

It always happens a little differently, but there’s one element conserved throughout all of them – in each and every dream, I lose my tooth.

This story goes back to high school, when I was (in ninth grade, I think) in P.E. class playing badminton. Some douchebag whose name is now forever lost to my memory went back to swing without looking behind him and struck me in the mouth with his racket. About a third of my front right tooth chipped and came off.

The first thing I thought was my mom’s voice in my head after my little brother had chipped his tooth falling on a trampoline: Make sure you grab the piece of tooth and put it in milk!

So I went to the nurse’s office and did just that, and within a few hours I was at my dentist’s office. There, they promptly glued the piece of my tooth back into my mouth, warned me something about discoloration, and sent me on my way. And I didn’t really think about it any more after that – it was just a cool story to tell my friends.

My tooth chipped twice more after that – once in my junior year of college, and once just a few weeks ago while I was on vacation. In my junior year (on Valentine’s Day, too) I managed to make a same-day appointment with a dentist here in Westwood to get my tooth glued back together, and I was home and looking dapper for my anniversary with my girlfriend.

But abroad, there was no way I could keep my tooth from discoloring over the several days I had left in France, and at that point it seemed like there needed to be a more permanent solution put in place. Somehow, I got it in my head that I needed a veneer – I didn’t really know what they were, but I did know they required a novocaine shot.

Let’s step into another story for a brief second. I’ve always been kind of nervous around needles, but what solidified it for me as a real, honest-to-god phobia was when I was in middle school. My mouth is weird – weirder than anybody’s mouth ought to be – and part of that weirdness came in the form of a enamel deposit, kind of like a half-tooth, that formed between my baby tooth and my adult tooth on my front left side. This half-tooth prevented my adult tooth from migrating downward and making my baby tooth fall out, so if no action were to be taken, I would have had one baby tooth in my mouth as an adult.

So instead, they decided it was best to perform oral surgery to remove my baby tooth and the half-tooth up in my gum. And that required – you guessed it – a novocaine shot.

I’m probably misremembering, but I recall the pain of that shot being one of the worst pains I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve never broken a bone, never had any serious injury done to me in all the years I can remember, so I don’t have a lot of an understanding of real pain. But still, that impossibly long moment of having a needle up in my gum… well, it makes my skin crawl just writing about it.

So, jumping back to two weeks ago when my tooth came out on vacation and I realized I needed a novocaine shot, you can imagine what that did for me. It got really hard to enjoy my last few days abroad, and when I came back to the U.S., I was even worse. Not a day would go by that I wouldn’t make some sort of half-joke, half-cry-for-help to friends or labmates about “getting a giant needle in my gum”.

Skipping ahead again, I was sitting in the dentist’s chair just under two weeks ago, waiting for the doctor to come in and tell me whether I needed a veneer. My mom had briefly ignited my hopes by telling me there might be an option that didn’t require novocaine, but I wasn’t about to pretend the reality wasn’t there. One of my worst fears was facing me, and making it even worse was that whatever radio station they tuned to in the dentist office was playing – not once, but twice in fifteen minutes – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons.

If you haven’t been waiting in a dentist’s chair to see if you’re going to relive your worst nightmare, and meanwhile the singer for Imagine Dragons is singing “PAAAAIN”, you haven’t known true fear.

I don’t want to keep you for much longer, so I’m just gonna say I didn’t get the needle. There was too much of my tooth left intact, and so they suggested something called a “composite bonding”. But sitting there, literally sweating all over the dentist’s chair waiting to hear a verdict, I realized something.

People are dicks about phobias.

That same stigma with which many people treat mental illness, people use on phobias. I remember my little brother telling me he thought I was making it up when we were kids; I remember the way my friends used to pretend it wasn’t a big deal; and I very much remember how just two weeks ago the dentist seemed to brush aside my concerns when I asked him about whether a composite bond requires a novocaine shot.

I can’t say it enough, y’all – phobias are real, and they’re intense. Like other psychological issues, they’re not grounded in reality, so for God’s sake don’t tell a phobic that they need to “get over it”. Just indulge them when they want to worry, and distract them when it seems like they’re worrying it too much.

(And if you think that it’s easy to just force yourself into dealing with your phobia and getting over it, remember that I got three tattoos and I still cry when I get my blood drawn. So no, it’s not that easy.)

Yours, a man who will gladly die of rabies before getting a rabies shot,

-R.R. Buck

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Get Motivated!

(Reed’s playlist for the occasion: Imagine Dragons does T-Swift)

I am feeling pretty great right now.

I’m writing this in my apartment, having just eaten a smoothie bowl (chocolate banana, homemade granola) and done *most* of the dishes that have accumulated over the past few days from myself and my roommates. Earlier today, I wrote a little bit – just 1500 words, but since I hadn’t written in the past week and a half, it feels like a victory – as well as finishing Summerland, the subject of my last book review.

This is a lot more productive than I usually am.

And yesterday went just as well, with even more things on my plate. For some reason, after a long summer of up and down, I’ve gotten back into that efficacious mentality. And maybe it’s because I can see the end of things – I’ll be employed again for the fall in about two to three more weeks – or maybe it’s the post-vacation laziness leaving me.

But it could also be this post I read on Reddit the other day, which (at the risk of sounding overdramatic) I want to say changed a lot for me in terms of perspective. If you have a spare few minutes, I’d recommend you read the post, as well as the top comment directly below it.

If you don’t have the time, here’s the tl;dr:

User maxstolfe talks about how they can’t seem to find the motivation to do well. They’re in college and their grades are in that perfectly mediocre C range; they have things they want to do but they can’t seem to summon up the energy to do them; and although they feel guilty about not doing anything, it’s never enough guilt to actually do something about it.

The top comment, by user ryans01, is full of positivity and strategies for making the most out of each day. It got 83 Reddit gold (if you’re not familiar, Reddit gold costs real money, so multiple people spent their money to upvote this comment). In his comment, ryans01 outlined four good strategies:

  1. No zero days. Try your hardest to do a tiny bit, every day, to move yourself towards your goals. If you can’t run a mile, run a few hundred meters. If you can’t write an entire chapter, write a few hundred words. Just do a little bit every single day to propel yourself, to keep that momentum going.
  2. Be thankful to the three you’s. Past you is responsible for everything good in your life right now; be sure to thank past you every single time something goes right for you. Present you is going to help future you have an even better existence – so try your utmost to keep holding up the tradition and do things today that will benefit you in the future.
  3. Forgive yourself. If you slip up one day, or a week, or a month, forgive yourself for not doing the most you can. You can’t move forward to having a non-zero day if you don’t forgive yourself for all the previous zero days. Nobody is superhuman, and sometimes you’ll fall by the wayside, but if you’re able to let that go, you can start making progress again.
  4. Exercise and books. Exercise your body, exercise your mind. It makes you feel better overall, keeps you learning, and can be the inspiration for even better changes to come. Plus it’s just a healthy habit to be in. (To be honest, the exercise is the part that’s the hardest for me, but hey, maybe I’ll go for a run today. Like I said, I’m feeling good.)

It’s hard to keep motivated, and I know this better than anyone. I don’t consider myself the absolute laziest piece of shit, but there are areas in my life that need improvement, and I’m going to do everything I can to make each day a non-zero day.

It seems like most of what I’ve been posting recently has been motivation materials for other struggling writers. I know it’s because I’ve been going through so much of that myself. So do yourself a favor and check out that post (it’s much more eloquently written than my summary) and also check out some of my other motivational posts. Here, I’ll even put them a click away. Here, here, here, here, here.

And then get to it, dude. Get straight to writing, because today is gonna be the first non-zero day of the rest of your life.

Yours, stoked as hell,

-R.R. Buck

Book Review: Summerland

(Reed’s Playlist for the occasion: Salty Eyes by the Matches)

I usually don’t write reviews for books I haven’t finished yet, but in this case I’m making an exception because I’ve read Summerland a few times as a kid. It’s been about ten years since I last read it, and I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype I remember.

It did.

Title: Summerland

Author: Michael Chabon

Genre: Middle Grade Fantasy

Premise: A trio of twelve-year-old kids find themselves suddenly immersed in a fantasy realm known as Summerland where all the fairy folk of lore make their home. Searching for one of the kids’ dads, who has been kidnapped by the trickster god Coyote, the children find that in order to successfully navigate the realm of Summerland, they must recognize their own abilities, both in magic… and baseball.

Summerland was one of those one-off books I found as a kid while checking out almost every book at my library and making monthly trips to Barnes & Noble. It falls into that category of “middle grade books who seem, in retrospect, a lot more adult and complicated than they once appeared”. The book follows not only the children but also the father, Mr. Feld, as his kidnappers take him through the faerie world; it speaks a lot to the various types of relationships parents can have with their children, and how it feels to know one has fallen short as a father or as a child.

Borrowing from a plethora of folklore across various cultures, Summerland weaves a world in which baseball and magic are inexorable, and all the fairy folk from giants to ferishers to were-beasts come out onto the diamond to settle disputes. Maybe it’s just because my little brother Antelope played Little League for a really long time (I want to say four years, but it might have been longer), but I really like the way they integrated baseball into the book.

It’s also astonishingly dark for a kid’s book. There’s a fair amount of violence and unnerving content, written in a comical way to take some of the bite out of it, but still. It doesn’t pull any punches with its audience, no matter their age, and I’m certain this was one of the things that made me gravitate towards it as a kid. That, and the depth of characters and content, really seem to make this book a home run (okay, I’ll see myself out now).

I would recommend this to both adults and kids, especially smart kids and dumb adults. It’s a heart-aching exposure of the bittersweet relationship between parents who can never seem to quite be there for their children, and children who can never feel quite up to their parents’ expectations. Summerland is so full of heart and I’m glad it was a part of a childhood – and now my adulthood.

Reed’s Rating: 9/10

Yours, unsure of what book will come next,

-R.R. Buck

Back With a New Writing Strategy!

(Reed’s Playlist for the day: Back in the Saddle by Aerosmith)

Hi, everyone. Miss me?

Okay, okay, I owe you all an apology. I took way too long of a break from this blog after I got back from Europe about a week and a half ago. In my defense, there were three birthday parties – one of them my own – in the last week, and I was pretty busy, but still, it doesn’t take more than an hour at most to post.

My life is kind of run by the principles of inertia and momentum. When I get myself started, I keep moving along, churning out words at a pretty good rate and making myself happy with my productivity – but then something will bring about a disruption, and after that point, I have to put so much effort in just to hop back on the path.

So, that should be a lesson to me – and in extension, to you – about writing, or honestly about any creative project you’re planning on pursuing. Take a leaf out of Shia’s book and JUST…. DO IT. I still think one of the hardest things to do as a writer is write every day, but getting yourself in a rhythm can do wonders for your writing experience. And, barring even that, just starting that project that’s been sitting in your head for the past few months can initiate good forward momentum.

Seriously. Do it right now after reading this. Write even five hundred words – I swear it won’t take longer than a half an hour. And if your writing is good, you’ll want to write more. Push yourself to create.

In the name of that forward momentum, I’d like to share an idea my older brother Ram shared with me when we were abroad. Knowing him, it’s probably backed up by a bunch of famous authors and literary theorists. He said that you really only need three things to start a writing project: a premise in the form of a short sentence telling you what the first event of the plot is (and no more), a purpose statement describing what you’re show the reader through your work, and a character – just the one protagonist – whose personality you should know fairly well.

Premise, purpose statement, character. The premise and the character will work together to form the story, which will require new elements – new plot points, new characters, situations, locations, et cetera. And whenever you add in a new element, you refer back to your purpose statement – does the new element help further that statement or theme you’re trying to express? If it doesn’t, you shouldn’t be putting in that element.

To any of my fellow writers who are, like me, planners in the extreme – you know who you are, with your detailed outlines and your every piece of backstory already written before you even set pen to paper – I’d like you to indulge me in trying this method. It’s going to be weird for both of us, but I feel like when we’re at this early  stage in writing, we need to try a bunch of different ways before we settle on something that works for us.

So I’m setting forward on a new work, something I thought of relatively recently and am trying not to overthink. I don’t have a title right now, but I do have those three things which I’ll share with you:

Premise – A group of adolescents live in a city where every single person has a form of mental illness, and this is considered the norm – until they find out that their “city” is actually a massive asylum meant to keep them separate from the “normal” folk.

Purpose Statement – What we define as “wellness” is not an adequate description for wellness.

Character – The protagonist of this story is a new kid who is thrown into the asylum-city despite having no mental illness.

I’m putting aside my little side project, Sordid Tales, for this new big one, and I’ll keep you updated on the progress. But my challenge to you still stands – try a project, even a short story, without the outlining and the overanalyzing and the plot-making, just this once. And let me know how it goes!

It’s good to be back.

Yours, already half a chapter in,

-R.R. Buck