[It took me a while to figure out how to type the ˜ over the n]

As you may have already surmised, I’m trying to learn Spanish, not French.  And I built my own syllabus of free online coursework instead of spending all that time and money I don’t have on the Open University MSc program.  In short, my life plan hasn’t really changed, but it has adjusted.

Spanish is first since it seems to be the most applicable language in an International Development sense.  French would let me communicate with about 1/3 of Africa, some islands, and France.  Spanish opens up all of Central and about 1/2 of South America.  And Spain I guess.  But with any luck, I’ll learn French too.  And Arabic.  And Chinese.  Hindi.  Russian.

So far I’m moving right along with some Duolingo lessons (free language learning course), and I just finished reading “Fluent in 3 Months,” which discusses how to go about learning languages.

The goal is a B2 level of proficiency, which should be sufficient for communicating with almost anyone about almost anything in the target language.  C1 and C2 get into Mastery levels, which might be a bit ambitious for the foreseeable future.

Once I get a better handle on Spanish, I’ll get started on a long list of certification courses.  Everything from social work and construction to public health and teaching.  The reason behind this adjustment is that the MSc in Development Management seemed to lead to more of a policy-making and program-evaluating position.  Since that’s not really what I want to do right now, I thought a more on-the-ground-usefulness type of thing would be a better idea.


…Is probably the best book I’ve read.  I just finished it an hour ago and it’s difficult to write this; I can’t summarize a 933 page novel in a satisfactory fashion.

I loved the feel of the story, it was so gripping and compelling and unfamiliar that it pulled me into the crime-ridden paradise of Bombay and wouldn’t release me until I was sufficiently enamored.  I’ve never read a book with more great sentences.  There were 10 or 15 times when I stopped and re-read a section to fully appreciate the wording.

Prisons are the temples where devils learn to prey.  Every time we turn the key we twist the knife of fate, because every time we cage a man we close him in with hate.

[More quotes here]

I cannot recommend Shantaram highly enough.  Read it if you aren’t afraid of long books.

Red Flag

Tomorrow, most of my extended family members will drive down to the beach and stay in a very nice house for the week.  I won’t be joining them because apparently I’m the only one who has to work for a living.  But many moons ago, before I devolved into a responsible employee, I too went to the beach.

A storm had either just come through, or was on its way to destroy everything in its path.  Strong gusts of wind and incessant rain spat from a slate grey sky.  The beach was empty, apart from us.  There weren’t any lifeguards, but early that morning someone had speared red flags into the sand.  I did a few minutes of research and learned the following fun facts.

  • Yellow Flag: medium hazard, don’t go in the water unless you need to prove a point
  • Red Flag: high hazard, seriously, don’t go in the water
  • Double Red Flag: water closed to public use, don’t think we won’t arrest you

Since it was only a single red flag, we waded out into the choppy seas.  I was joined by two or three of my bolder cousins, one of whom was an amazing swimmer.  We were pulled out quickly and our feet didn’t touch the ground again.  Waves rose and fell in rapid succession, wind-whipped into a frenzy.  After a few harrowing minutes, it stopped being fun and started to get challenging.  Treading water in the violent ocean got wearisome, so we went back to shore.  (For the record, I wasn’t the one who said we should get out.)

But Poseidon wasn’t going to let us go that easily.  We’d taunted his power after being warned that the ocean was no joke, one last inconvenience was in store.  We couldn’t get back to the beach.  Try as we might, the waves pulled us out faster than we could swim toward solid ground.  I’m not sure how things worked out, perhaps it was divine intervention, but sooner or later we all shivered together on the wet sand, covered in seaweed and salt water.  We chuckled desperately, but our panicked eyes said “Never again.”

We looked around and realized that in about 15 minutes the current had pulled us nearly a half-mile down the beach.  So we trudged along, relieved that no one had died, and proud of being foolish enough to swim the high seas under red flag conditions.


This has been a busy week.  In the last few days I’ve changed my life trajectory three times.  I was planning on being a missionary, but realized that my personality and skill-set didn’t align with that sort of thing.  Then I thought I’d serve the needy all over the world, mostly focusing on the poor and orphaned.  I figured I’d need a location-independent marketable skill in order to sustain that type of lifestyle, so I started looking into IT and cyber-security.

After a few days of researching the necessary certifications, tests, programming languages, and degrees I’d need to become a certified ethical hacker and work in the cyber-security field, I changed my mind again.  That potential course was more complicated and difficult than I’d hoped.  I’d have to reinvent myself and all my qualifications to get it, and cyber-security wasn’t as location-independent as I had hoped.  It would have afforded me a well paid, comfortable life in the US, but that isn’t the goal.

At this point, I got back to International Development Management.  It would be better for me to find a sustainable way to help people, which is what I really want to do.  So here we are, many hours of research later, and I think I’ll start working on a few credentials.

First, I’ll take advantage of the free web-based Disaster Response training that the American Red Cross offers.  Simple stuff, entry level, but it’s free and it will help me decide if I want to invest more in this sort of thing.

Then, I’ll try to learn French.  The current dream is to work for the UN, and French is their secondary operating language after English.  It would open doors and make me more useful in more places around the world.

Next, I’ll get going on an MSc from Open University.  It’s a three year program which costs about $25,000 and 15 hours every week.  This one scares me.  I don’t have that money so I’ll have to re-appropriate some of what’s paying my existing loans.  I don’t have that time so I’ll have to fill my weekends and some evenings with coursework.  However, three years from now I could be out of debt with an MSc in Development Management, I could know French as comprehensively as Rosetta Stone can teach me, and I could be useful in a Disaster Management position overseas.  Which would be amazing.

Right now, I’m just trying to keep calm about the expensive and difficult road ahead of me.  Since this is what I want to do with my life, I should be able to handle it.  But I guess we’ll find out.

Stay tuned next week for when my entire life plan changes again!

Retirement Party

Yesterday after a very busy time at work I changed clothes, switched cars, and sat in traffic for nearly two hours on the way to the dressiest pool party I’ve ever attended.  My Dad’s cousin retired from the US Air Force as a Colonel after 26 years of service.  I couldn’t attend the ceremony since I had to work, but I joined about 250 people that evening for the house-party.

I parked a long way down the street and followed the noise to what I hoped was the right place.  There were no signs and I hadn’t been there before, so I just walked in and grinned at anyone who looked askance at my late arrival.  After a few minutes, I knew I was in the right house and hadn’t barged into someone else’s gathering.  It was a catered affair with a rather limited open bar.  The basement was full of people watching the World Cup, the pool was full of kids splashing around, the trampoline was full of kids flailing around, and the yard was full of hundreds of people.

That party alone was a great testament to her years of service, and to Emily Buckman as an individual.  To bring so many relatives, airmen, and friends together, and have a place big enough to accommodate all of them, was impressive.

Of course you can’t get so many people together without a few things going wrong.  I looked into the pool and wondered why a man was swimming with his oxford shirt on.  Turns out, a little girl had floated into the deep end and her brother tried to help her out of the water but he couldn’t swim well enough for both of them.  When they started to sink, this man and the child’s mother dove into the water and saved the day.  Two teenage lifeguards were chatting at the other end of the pool.

I also got the opportunity to talk with another relative-of-little-relation’s boyfriend about his time teaching English in China.  I learned a lot about China, Southeast Asia, teaching, travel, and professional considerations from that chat.  Most of which may not matter for the next few years, but it was edifying all the same.  Most importantly I need to know why I want to go, and have a plan in place.

Four relatives stayed here for the retirement festivities, which is why I’m typing this from my old desk in my sister’s old room / sewing room / office / temporary housing.

Congratulations Emily, and thank you for your many years of service.

Summer Styles

I started researching men’s fashion when I realized that as a 20-something, I should dress a bit more maturely.  This was a difficult decision because I’ve received a few compliments on my woot t-shirts, and I’d hate to start wearing boring Adult clothes for no substantial reason.  I learned more about hot-weather wear and different types of cotton like oxford, broadcloth, twill, poplin, and madras.  I learned that American menswear was heavily influenced by the English, which is unfortunate in the hot and humid summers the Mid-Atlantic experiences.  I learned that a pocket square could be used in lieu of a tie, to add color and show that I didn’t forget a tie, I chose not to wear one.

I dress properly for work (because bills to pay) but not when I’m off the clock.  Anyway, I thought dressier casual clothes would give me more credibility.  We know that people treat you differently based on how you’re dressed and how you carry yourself.  I could use a few changes to my advantage.

So I took my mileage reimbursement check and the money I should have put into my Roth IRA this month and bought some clothes instead.  I’m not proud of that decision, but I stand by it.  Two hours later, I walked out with six wardrobe components guaranteed to make a difference.  People would stop and stare as I swaggered past with my well-styled selections.  My fashion sense would inspire so much vindictive jealousy that scuffles would break out in the street.  Paparazzi would start to follow me around and I’d have to hire a bodyguard to protect my new poplin shirts.

None of that has transpired as of yet, but who knows.

Voice and Language

I’m not sure when this turned into a literary review site either.  I heard about Megan Foss’ Love Letters a few months ago, but only got around to reading the piece on this quiet Saturday morning.  Storytelling facilitated her transformation from imprisoned prostitute to English professor.

I went to jail and I wrote because the writing had value.  It was a commodity and I could trade it for freedom.  It had a purpose I could identify.  In the process I discovered the myriad other purposes and value inherent in the act and I ended up writing in jail for the same reasons I wrote them letters I never mailed.  I wrote to discover and I wrote to heal and I wrote to decide.  I wrote to make meaning in a world that held none.

Her 11 page essay told me more about the importance of writing in one’s honest voice than any university course ever could.  The grammar and the word-choice and the syntax needs to be perfect.  But, especially with creative non-fiction, that “perfection” sterilizes the story and silences the author’s unique voice.  Communicating one’s meaning is paramount, much of that meaning lies in fragments, contradictions, discrepancies.

But one thing I learned early on was that people are judged by their use of language—that how they spoke could define them as trailer-park trash or it could define them as being potentially suitable for admittance to the country club….By the time I transferred to the university I was an English major thoroughly indoctrinated in how to speak and compose according to arbitrary conventions created by people who’d been dead for centuries and whose lives bore no resemblance to my own.

I grew up in a relatively safe relatively bland relatively respectable series of suburbs.  I haven’t done any drugs, missed a meal out of necessity, or been arrested.  Love Letters showed me what changes language can bring in someone’s life, in a way I never appreciated.  I grew up with English teachers telling me where commas go and how each paragraph should have its own focus and that I damn sure better use conservative language and leave two spaces after a period.  Megan’s story starts somewhere I’ve never even visited and she’s right, I can’t relate.  My language and modest education hasn’t held me back because I started off on the other side of the glass.

The gentle elderly professor of my nonfiction class told me that he’d be more comfortable if I’d present my prose as fiction.  Perhaps then such a voice would be acceptable.  In real life no one would ever believe that a $20 hooker with an eighth-grade education would know what hermeneutics meant.  And when I tried to tell him that he was wrong—that I had known what the word meant—he told me it didn’t matter.  No one would believe it.  I could never tell it true because the truth was somehow too disturbing.  And it wasn’t the $20 blow jobs or the self-mutilation of my veins that disturbed him as much as it was the apparent conflict between language and experience.  I think I understand what’s at the core of that discomfort.  I think I understand that to accept that the drug-addicted hooker that I was could have possessed intelligence and critical thinking skills somehow speaks to a societal failure as well as my own.  And so rather than forcing the world to question its own assumptions—rather than challenging the status quo—I was told to present my life as a lie—as a piece of fiction.