Strong References & Cover Letters
I was surprised at how much tonight's cover letter workshop perked up my mood. I spent much of the holiday break before 2017 in a funk and at a loss for what to do without the structure of my C4Q responsibilities. Normally I do fine with a limited amount of free time amidst a full schedule, but my dealing-with-my-brain-alone-for-long-stretches-of-time muscles were out of practice after months of C4Q's intense requirements. I both over-estimated what I could do in a week on my own and under-performed during said week.
Lesson learned: account for drastic switches in schedule with both time to decompress and recompress (is that a thing?) and have a time for a new schedule (with ramp up and ramp down times if necessary) to kick in during the break. That said, I don't think we'll get another break like the holiday break before the end of the fellowship, but this is something I'm going to keep in mind as we move from the technical portion of the fellowship to what I imagine will the the more open-ended job-searching portion.
Writing always perks me up, in part because it's a skill that both does and doesn't come naturally to me. What is natural is my desire to communicate and my respect for the written word. It's great to hear people from other cohorts say they've enjoyed reading my blog and it's a stellar way to introduce myself and what I care about without actually being in the room.
Writing itself, however, didn't come naturally for me. I was a poor writer until freshman year of high school when an English teacher (hi Ms. Frisbee [Editor's Note: Yes, that's her real name]!) took the time to sit down with me after class for weeks and taught me how to re-read and edit myself. It's easier to be proud of something you had to fight for, and careful re-reading taught me I was going to have to fight to get my words to say what I meant them to.
Much like drawing is really about seeing negative space and the relationships between it and the shapes that make up the positive space, to me, writing is really about honing your ability to re-read yourself with fresh eyes as an imagined reader and edit what's there to make it say what you really want to say.
The last component that makes up my writing is voice, which I believe only comes with practice, much like your "style" in illustration and drawing. Voice isn't something you're taught so much as how you give back everything you've been taught, what you've chosen to forget, and what you've left open to yourself to learn. When it comes to non-fiction personal writing (the kind I'm most familiar with), your writing "voice" is often very close to your natural speaking voice when you're talking to a fresh, new acquaintance that you really get along with, i.e., slightly more enthusiastic than you'd be with an intimate friend and very willing to explain things that are unique to your point of view.
It does me good to remember how I built up my writing skills over time and with help as I continue to tackle Swift, XCode, and software engineering. My latent perfectionism (forever lurking and ready to pounce the moment I have the slightest doubt) tells me if I'm not a natural at a task—especially if I'll at some point share the result with others—than it's too risky to attempt at all. But that's actually not been the over-arcing narrative of my life. Most of the skills I have now I've built up slowly and steadily and with lots of care.
Another example: I also used to be much more introverted than I am today, but have done lots of hard work to accept this tendency in myself and turn it around so that I seek out the more introverted or quiet people in a crowd and make introductions with them first. The lesson I've taken away from my own introversion is that just because someone is quiet doesn't mean they don't have a lot of interesting insights to contribute to the conversation and I seek that out in others. It's always paid off. It's one of the main things I was proud of when I was elected Cohort Historian at Coalition for Queens (C4Q): it meant that people knew who I was—same thing when people from other cohorts recognize me and say "hi." Being a known entity at C4Q means I've come a long way from the near-silent, new transplant to my high school who ate lunch alone in the art room until my future best friend came up and invited me to join her at her full lunch table (Editor's Note: hi, Jess!).
Later, when I was in college studying illustration, my peers would often be intrigued by my draftsmanship and ability to mix colors. Sometimes they asked me what the trick was and I would stutter something out that I only half understood. The truth was: I'd asked for my first drawing class when I was six years old and had been able to take extracurricular drawing classes from local artists in Georgia from then until high school, where I drew a ton because, at first, I could barely bring myself to speak and I had to do something to get those teenager feelings out of me. Sure there was a little magic (I still vividly remember the rush of awe I felt the first time I mixed blue and yellow paint to "magically" make green in preschool) at the very beginning, and a few times down the line, but overwhelmingly the day-to-day of it was drawing a lot, adjusting what was wrong and finessing what was right and learning to tell the difference. Telling the difference meant augmenting my taste, which I did by looking at other artists' work as much as I could.
So really, upon closer examination, my ability to draw is not so drastically different from my ability to write. I'm competent in both now, and becoming so required lots of help from others and steady, daily practice. The one I devoted more time to earlier in life, drawing, made me seem more advanced at a younger age, but nothing I'd done wasn't teachable to someone else who was able to put in the same time and have similar opportunities to learn as I did. The one I struggled with a lot at first, writing, I was able to improve at through my enthusiasm to communicate and concentrated effort, listening, and reading (did I mention I was an avid reader growing up? More reading equals better writing, I think).
The way all this applies to this new skill I'm learning—coding—is that my coding education is definitely going to have a lot of the same elements that learning to write did at first. I'm going to have to really listen to my teachers, humble myself, and Carefully! Read! Good! Code! On! The! Regular! as much as I can in order to improve. I also have to remember that when I see other "gifted" students that I (and my perfectionism) am tempted to compare myself to, there probably isn't any "trick" they're gifted with or hiding from me. Those students have put in the work, too, and while they may be naturally talented at some things (just like I had a natural knack for colors without formal training in color theory) that doesn't mean I'll never get to their level. It just means that, for me, it will take more training and careful attention.
I'll close with my favorite quote from art school by my comics teacher, Seth Tobocman. I came into class one day quite dejected—my roommate at the time had experienced a devastating loss the night before and I was shaken. I felt useless to help her and unable to draw. "I don't have anything to say," I told Seth, expecting comfort.
That's not what I got.
Instead, Seth looked me dead in the eyes and said:
You have a LOT to say.
I still have a lot to say, to communicate, with the world at large. I'm learning how to do so with code. I'll get better, day by day, because my need to communicate has lasted me my whole life so far and likely isn't going anywhere. The struggle just means victory will be all the sweeter.
And I know Seth didn't lie.