Monday, January 2, 2012


Exactly one year ago, I wrote the following sentence ( "I'm going to approach this new year with a new attitude: I'm going to say no to saying no."  One year later, I am proud to say that I stuck to this resolution.  My pride is not a gold medal, and I do not wear it as if it were one.  At the risk of sounding dramatic (a risk I admittedly take pretty frequently), I feel like I have just crossed the finish line, limping and wheezing, having been lapped and re-lapped, and my only medal is the knowledge that I never stopped running.  My 2011 was characterized by personal, professional and spiritual vulnerability.  I took a good look at myself and made some changes that needed to be made; I entered into, initiated and deepened relationships with mixed results; I applied and interviewed and experienced professional rejection; and I came (closer) to terms with my doubt about my place in the world.  It is a place where heartache coexists with joy, rejection coexists with acceptance and cynicism coexists with dogged hope.  2011 was the year I placed experience before knowledge, and paradoxically, it was the year from which I learned the most.

How many times have you made the same new year's resolution?  Does your desire to lose weight or find the love of your life return to you like a trusty boomerang each January?  I think this is the case for most of us.  We like setting goals for ourselves, and we tend to become preoccupied by that one big one that seems to forever elude us.  Why set other goals if we can't accomplish the one that matters to us most?  Here's my problem with this kind of extreme thinking: what about those 364 days in between?  In the course of, say, one week, you may lose three pounds and have a meaningful conversation with a potential mate.  Do these things count for nothing if you end the year a few pounds heavier than your starting weight and still single?  I think not.  A year ago I was unhappily single, and today I am happy to have a better idea of the kind of person I want to spend my life with and willing to wait for that person to come along.  Significantly, this waiting does not involve pacing in an ivory tower; it involves hanging out with a lot of people and enjoying being my fabulous single self for the time being.  My advice to those who are single, heartbroken or strung along is to value yourself enough to value people who don't approach you with a name tag reading "Your soulmate."  Otherwise, you'll miss out on a lot of nice people (and, yes, a few wankers, but they are perhaps the best teachers of all).

Incidentally, I will be adopting the same resolution this year that I did last year: I will continue to be vulnerable for better and for worse.  Does this make me a hypocrite, as I have just indicated the fallacy of the boomerang resolution?  I don't believe so, and this is why: resolving to be vulnerable is essentially resolving to continue running this race known as life.  It is setting a goal to keep living a meaningful and generous life when the goals themselves are nowhere in sight.  It is realizing that the finish line doesn't appear after twelve months of majestic sprints, nasty falls, lapping and being lapped and recurring desires to turn around or stop altogether.  It is telling yourself, as someone very dear to me recently said, "Forward."  Forward.  Even as I write this retrospective, that is the direction I choose.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In Remembrance

Sleep will not come, and so this night is for words - words of anger, confusion and profound sadness.  I regret not writing anything after 4/16/07 because these feelings have had a hold on my heart since that cursed day.  I know these words will do nothing to ease the anguish of a widow as she explains to her five children that their father was murdered.  I also know that they won't bring back anyone from any act of senseless violence or prevent such acts from happening in the future.  If anything I am about to say offends or annoys anyone, please remember that I am not asking you to validate my opinion.

I did not have the best college experience.  Virginia Tech is a large, crowded campus, full of noise and activity; the latter is not always of the honorable sort.  Although I made a few good friends, volunteered regularly and succeeded academically, I often felt lonely and out of place.  I was battling anorexia the semester before and in medias res the turmoil of the April 16th shooting.  Something strange happened inside me after the massacre.  Beneath my shock and sadness over the lives lost, I felt a kind of pity for the gunman.  He was an extreme outsider who it seems had no friends.  I realized, maybe for the first time, that I had friends (maybe not as many as I wanted), people who cared about me.  Did anyone care about Cho?  This feeling haunted and continues to haunt me; I am repulsed by my own consideration for someone who could commit such a heinous crime.  A new friend recently asked me if I had forgiven the shooter, and I told him that my forgiveness was predicated on God's forgiveness; since I believe that God forgives all, I choose to side with Him.  But if I am really honest with myself, I cannot forgive him.  I can only pity him.

The numbness of the days after April 16th soon gave way to righteous anger.  In addition to being angry on behalf of the families of those killed, I was angry at President Steger, Virginia Tech officials, Cho's parents and myself.  I was distinctly angry about the jeopardizing of higher (indeed, all) education.  I wrote a very short journal entry on one of those days, and in it I expressed an odd emotion; I told Cho that he not only stole the futures of 32 people, but also my (and presumably others') willingness to express passion.  It is clear that he relished this experience, that this was a crime of passion.  He felt so strongly that he was justified that he made it no longer acceptable to be passionate about anything.  I didn't write and post anything because it struck me somehow as a conspiratorial act.  Eating, talking and laughing also seemed treacherous and unfair.  Needless to say, my faith also suffered a substantial blow during this time.

I am in a much better place now than I was when I was at VT, both before and after the shooting, but I will always love and be grateful for my alma mater.  It houses a superb English department with superb faculty, and I grew in ways I wouldn't have if I had attended a smaller college.  It is hard for me to reconcile my feelings when events such as today's shooting and the beheading at ABP create a media frenzy.  All at once, I am resentful that VT is perceived as a crime-ridden institution, glad that people are paying attention and sad that other senseless acts and tragic deaths are placed on the back burner.  I hate that I feel entitled to express more sorrow than people who did not go to Tech and that I relish the sense of community that I never felt while attending school there.  I hate that I am worried about what to buy for Christmas when some people just want their loved ones back.  My stomach and heart ache for the family of Officer Crouse, for Lauren McCain's family, for Jamie Bishop's sweet wife (both of them excellent German professors), and for the families and friends of the other victims.  I hate that anyone has to lose anyone.

The hate is out now.  There is just no place for it in my heart or life anymore.  I will hold on to the anger and the sadness because those are the things that keep me from forgetting, but they will not rule me.  Every day I think about April 16th, and now I will think about December 8th as well.  You may remember other days, and they may be worse or far better than the ones I remember.  That is OK.  The important thing is that we remember something and modify our actions for the better to reflect the power of that remembrance.  We are responsible for shaping the future denied the slain.  As Dumbledore said, we should pray for the living rather than for the dead.  May they rest in peace.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I'm keeping this short and sweet. Here's my top 10:

1. Jesus
2. My beautiful family
3. My beautiful friends, old and new
4. The resilience of the human spirit as exhibited by three of the most special people in my life
5. A growing awareness that happiness is always is a choice and that I am always able to choose it
6. A job that allows me to live pretty independently, provides savings and benefits and has introduced me to some lifelong friends
7. A nice, spacious apartment shared with my soul sistah
8. My church's praise band - amazing fellowship, lots of laughs and incredible talent
9. Music in general
10. The fact that we are all imperfect but still wake up every day and decide to give it a go; fumbling and faltering, we make small talk because we are small, help each other because we need help and forgive each other because we have been forgiven.

Please comment with your top 10! Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Good Fight

Until perhaps this very moment, I had always been confused by the expression "fighting the good fight."  It seemed either like an untenable paradox (how can a fight be good?) or an empty cliche for doing your best or trying hard.  As an English major, I am pretty comfortable with paradoxes, but as a human being, I find that living them is a lot harder than writing about them.  How is it possible to love yourself and be your own worst critic?  How is it possible to have pride in who you are and know that, at some level, you will always be a failure?  How can you strive to be independent without pushing away those you care about most?  How can you care about what people think of you and not obsess about it?  These are my questions.  You may have different ones, but we all have them, and we are all searching for the answers.  Here's another paradox for you: when we search for the answers, we both are and are not fighting the good fight.

By seeking answers, we do fight the good fight in that we attempt to grapple with the fundamental issues of our existence.  To borrow from Max Lucado, we are "facing our giants," an image which clearly implies conflict.  Here's where it gets tricky, though: when we face our giants, most of us discover that they are too huge to collapse; we are not David, felling Goliath with a slingshot.  I say "most of us" because there may be some Davids out there.  I don't know any, but I would be remiss to assume that they don't exist.  Anyway, when we discover that our giants are too big to defeat, we can either turn our backs on them or keep loading our slingshots even though we know we will never win.  This is where the paradox occurs: after that first defeat, we think we have fought the good fight, that it is behind us.  Yes, we have fought the good fight, but it is not finished.  It is never finished.  We do not fight the good fight unless we never stop fighting.

The Good Fight (its universality lends itself to capitalization, methinks) can be brutal and is never comfortable or easy.  I have waved my white flag countless times.  Ironically, I have surrendered not only by ceasing to care about the questions but also by forcing myself to answer them.  When I felt a lack of control, I imposed strict control upon myself; in so doing, I made myself the giant and defeated myself.  We must accept that we are not in control and that we will never know the answers, but we must never stop asking the questions and believing that the answers exist.  It is futility in its purest form, and we must immerse ourselves in it.  But we musn't do it alone.  If we do, we will sink.

The best people in my life are the ones who want what is best for me.  Period.  They do not want to placate or please me.  They are honest and straightforward and sometimes harsh.  Sometimes I want to run from these people or make them feel sorry for me (tough to admit) to avoid conflict.  Sometimes I mistake them for my giants and try to fight back.  But they are not my giants; they are my equals.  They are facing their own giants and have decided, for some beautiful and unknowable reason, to help me face mine.  If that doesn't make the good fight worth fighting, nothing does.  I want to be like these people and also be myself.  For the first time, that doesn't seem like a paradox.

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Autumn

The end of summer is always a quantum shift of sorts.  No other change in season is quite so pronounced or quite so disheartening; in addition to the new chill in the air, autumn ushers in the responsibilities of school for some and the nostalgia for those days in others.  W.B. Yeats conveys this unsettling dichotomy beautifully in his poem "The Wild Swans at Coole."  For Yeats, autumn marked the frenzied flight of swans from a cold pond to some warm unknown shore.  In their clamorous wings he saw both his own desire to flee the coming season and the pain of having to adapt, to leave things behind.  He felt and understood that our desire for escape inevitably coexists with our fear of it.  I have felt a bit nostalgic watching my cousins and some friends return to school, but my increasing awareness of the passage of time, of missed opportunities and regrets, is somehow making me fearless rather than crippling me with fear of continued failure.  I have adapted before and I am ready to adapt again - more ready than ever, in fact, because I am investing in people and activities that affirm rather than challenge and undermine my identity.  I have no doubt that I am embarking on warmer shores than those I laid on so carelessly during the hot months of summer.  Are you?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Old Souls

My grandfather was a simple man.  Born in 1910, he came of age during the Great Depression.  He was thin, quiet and good-natured.  His friends called him "Red" for his reddish-brown hair - hair I never saw because the pictures are black and white and because he had only sparse white hair by the time I came around.  He met a stubborn, creative and whip-smart woman with a Mona Lisa smile - a knowing little smirk - and knew he couldn't live without her.  He wrote her letters, poetic in their straightforwardness, and she decided she didn't want to live without him either.  They married, had four sons and lived modestly but comfortably in New Albany, Indiana.  He was a self-employed contractor and landlord notorious among his clients for his impressive work ethic and among his tenants for his unsolicited generosity.  He and my grandmother smoked because they didn't know better and traveled in their later years because they knew they would not live forever.  When they visited my family, I was content to sit on my grandfather's lap, facing him and exploring his face with chubby fingers.  I found his bifocals and his wrinkles and his smiling lips, and I was delighted to have caused that smile.  I can't remember these things without the aid of home videos, but I feel them at my core.  Sometimes these feelings are the only things that I truly grasp.

Next year my sister and her husband will become parents and my parents, grandparents.  I wish my grandfather could witness these beautiful graduations, could see what an amazing gift he has helped create.  At the risk of sounding selfish, I also wish he was here to help me remember that I am the same girl who made people smile with my insatiable curiosity and quirkiness.  He is the reason I am an old soul, the reason I tend to relate better to my elders than I do to people my own age.  Does anyone else feel this way?  Maybe it is too simplistic to say that one person causes another person to be an old soul; it is more likely the feelings inspired by that person.  Perhaps we old souls feel that our elders will be less judgmental than our peers.  Perhaps - and this may be a long shot - those of us who are highly sensitive feel we have lived longer than our years because we experience things without filters.  There are many theories, all of which are probably partially correct, but one thing about old souls is certain: we understand and appreciate time and its ability to both give and take.

I do not remember how or when my parents told me about my grandfather's death.  I do not even know when I started missing him.  Since his death and that of his wife, I have not lost anyone as close to me, but I am fully aware that it could happen at any time.  It could happen to me; September 11th and April 16th should have taught all of us that.  And yet, despite that knowledge, I will not pretend to assert that I am living life to the fullest.  In fact, my life sometimes feels very empty, and that is my own fault.  I struggle to understand whether this emptiness is caused by actual lack or by my own distorted perception.  It is probably a bit of both.  I know I am not alone in this struggle, but if you can relate at all, I would love to hear from you.  In the meantime, take care of yourselves and each other.  And hug your grandfathers, as greedily as children might.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What I'm Learning

I am not really in a writing mood right now, but I am in a list-making mood.  And an honesty mood.  Since I doubt you are interested in reading my grocery and errand lists, I am going to share a (slightly) more interesting list.  Here are some things I'm learning about myself, others and life in general:

1. I am indeed learning without being in graduate school.  I am still struggling with feelings of regret and insecurity about not having a master's degree (and the career to whitch it hypothetically leads), but I am still reading, seeking knowledge and interacting with people who enrich and increase my understanding of and appreciation for life.

2. Holding grudges holds you back.  Forgive yourself and others so you can move on with your life.

3. You get out what you put in.  Don't expect others to include you in things if you never include them in things.  Relationships are built on mutual initiative and inclusion.

4. Try to keep the seriousness/silliness ratio around 40/60.  Smiling and laughing is always more attractive than scowling.  More importantly, it makes you feel better.

5. We all feel alone sometimes.  Thinking you are always the only one who is alone is extremely self-centered.  If you need help to get rid of this feeling, get it.  And then join the rest of us crazy loners as we fumble around, shaking hands and making small talk because the awkwardness always outweighs the loneliness.

6. The harder you fight for control, the more it will elude you.  That said, some things are worth fighting for.

7. The best antidote for worrying about yourself is helping other people.  In fact, it is probably the best antidote for any emotional ailment.

8. Be generous with your time and money, but only to the point where it feels comfortable.  Do not give grudgingly; if you do, the gift has no value.

9. If you are worried about what others think of you, recognize that they rarely, if ever, do.  I do not say this cynically; it's just the truth.

10. To end with the most cliche of all cliches, life is short and uncertain.  We are fragile and at the mercy of forces beyond our control.  What we can control is how we treat ourselves, each other and our planet.  I'm learning to treat these things with a little more love.  Thank you to those of you who are doing the same.