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.


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.


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.


-R.R. Buck