Good Enough for Me

The hardest part about grad school, by far, has been the fact that I have to rely on myself to create the standards by which I will work. I choose many of my deadlines, I decide what my working hours are and what my time management looks like, and I decide what’s “enough” in terms of effort, quality, and quantity with my research. Sure, there are some structures in place for me – applications for funding have to be submitted by a certain date, other people will make decisions about publishing or not publishing my work, and there are explicit and implicit pressures to not overstay my welcome and turn a two-year program into four years or more… but none of that really helps me in my own day-to-day thesis work and decision making. I love to exceed someone’s expectations of me and to hear that my contributions are a job well done. I’ve always been great at assessing the requirements for an assignment or project and finding a way to take ownership of it, make it my own, maximize my time doing what I want to do and am good at, and avoiding altogether (if possible) the portions of the project that I don’t like or at which I am less skilled. With my undergrad papers, I often took a philosophical approach, and played around with big ideas (that’s the fun part), and then would pound out some of my thoughts the night before the paper was due, minimizing the time I had to spend actually writing the paper. I rarely proofread my work before I handed it in, and because I’m generally pretty articulate and have an eye for spelling, grammar, and formatting details, this level of effort was almost always enough to get me my desired grade (an “A” of some variety).  I’m really, really good at gauging my effort and outcomes based on other peoples’ standards… and pretty terrible at setting my own outcomes when I have nothing to go on.

A couple weeks ago I had a game-changing conversation with a very hardcore achiever-perfectionist friend who just finished an MSc in medical biology and felt uncertainty throughout the whole of her three years that what she was doing was “good enough.” She is one of those people who has a really high threshold for stress and busyness and probably gets more done in a week than I get done during the whole year. ANYWAY, she worked 12+ hour days in her lab, every day of the week, (not unusual at all for many grad students), and still questioned if what she was investing was really adequate. I have heard from SO. MANY. grad students that the hardest part of grad school for them was the lack of built-in structure, and learning to define their own standards and the parameters of their project. So I finished this call with this friend and I thought, “I’m not going to waste my time wondering if I’m ever going to impress my committee, or if I’m going to get published… I could put twice the time in that I’m putting in now, and there’s no guarantee that I would feel happy or fulfilled or be proud of my work. I’m going to decide for myself what I want to get out of this degree and I’m going to pursue that, make that my focus.”

So… what do I want to get out of this degree? Honestly, I came here because, in an oversimplification of everything, ever, The Glaciers of the World (TM) are fucking melting and they’re REALLY, really cool, and I want to see them in person goshdarnit before that opportunity is no longer there. I had a small background in tree-ring science because of my undergrad, and I love geomorphology, and especially glacial geomorphology, and I had a really incredible experience during my undergrad fieldwork standing in the presence of a 400-year old oak. That’s literally why I’m here; I wanted to hang out more with trees and glacially-created landscape features (and the glaciers themselves) with other people who know shit about them. I’m here to build relationships with trees and to love a transient landscape while it’s still here. I’m not here for the letters behind my name (although my childhood dream was (and is) to be a doctor scientist and a teacher), or to get published, or to get academic accolades. Rather than letting my worries about what I should be done at this point and what I should be doing consume me, I think I’m going to try to focus on that larger-picture goal: is my knowledge and love of the creation growing? Am I getting to know the Creator better as a result? I honestly think these are the parts of my education up until this point that I enjoyed the most, and I think at the end of the day these are the things that will inspire gratitude and contentment in me.

In so many other areas of my life, I’ve been learning to say, “This might not be the most impressive of its kind, it might not even be noteworthy to anybody else… but I like it, and it’s good enough for me.” I’ve never really said that about academia before, although I think it’s been an underlying principle the whole time, manifested by my drive in high school and undergrad to tailor school projects and assignments to my interests and specifications. So here we are, saying out loud the scary words as I bumble through this degree: I’ll do what’s good enough for me.

 

Out of whose womb came the ice?

I like how I didn’t post for months, and then you get three blog entries ALL IN ONE DAY. But why would I schedule them… these are all thoughts for right now, so why not serve them up RIGHT NOW, you know? Anyway, this is something I was thinking about yesterday in church (while the pastor was delivering a clutch sermon on something completely different…that I might write about later because it was also relevant to me):

Much of my ongoing despair with my grad program comes from a sense of helplessness, and a feeling that I (and potentially others) am thwarting my access to the knowledge, understanding, and therefore success that I desperately want and need. While everyone else was reading the A+ passage in Matthew about not flaunting your holiness with dramatic fasting and noisy generosity in church yesterday, I was reading Job 38-41, which is my favorite passage in the Bible because it’s literally just these gorgeous descriptions of earth processes – God binding the stars of the constellations together, God doing the bookkeeping for the storehouses of hail, tucking darkness into its bed at night, playing fetch with Leviathan – anyway, as someone who’s into earth processes, this is my jam BIG TIME. So I’m reading this in church because it’s what I turn to when I need to be reminded of who God is. He offers this incredible unveiling of Himself to Job in the midst of Job’s profound grief and suffering, and I love it. I came to a line that said (it’s in KJV because… I like getting to read the word “ass” in the Bible and also the KJV is poetic af): “Hast thou perceived the breadth of the earth? declare if thou knowest it all,” (38:18) and “Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?” (38:29)

YO.

OUT OF WHOSE WOMB CAME THE ICE. THESE ARE MY KINDS OF QUESTIONS, PEOPLE. (And it is a CRYING shame that I can’t title my thesis using that verse.)

And it occurred to me that I keep assuming that all these other people in my program – my supervisor, all the other super smart people who have come before me in my lab – are the gatekeepers of my knowledge and of my success. I feel like they all know the things that I want to know and don’t know. (And you know what? That’s true…) But also… have they perceived the breadth of the earth? God holds the complete picture of creation – He knows the answers to my research questions and is both the holder and the giver of the knowledge of creation and the delight in it that I seek. That means that not even *I* get to be the gatekeeper of my own knowledge. I am so, so incredibly frustrated by not getting to engage with my thesis material in that beautiful ancient paradigm of knowing and loving. I’ve had such a hard time building intimacy with the landscape I’m studying (doesn’t help that I have yet to go there in person…). I want to deeply know and delight in the glacial history of the mountain upon which I am going to work, the geomorphological processes that shaped it, the climate forcings that influenced the various glacial advances and retreats, the details of subalpine fir and mountain hemlock growth. Knowing these things in an intimate way feels so elusive to me. It was like a gust of fresh, relaxing air to realize that it is God who holds all these things and that it will always be He who will invite me into the inner workings of His created world, though our data collection and analysis methods an whatever other means (if my entire thesis could be delivered to me in a revelation, that would also be cool). But it is God who holds this knowledge and offers it to us, and I am very privileged to have a supervisor who, though not a Jesus-person, deeply and intimately loves and knows the created world with which he interacts.

So. This week is still kind of a bummer and I still suck at grad school, but the despair is less… not even I am the gatekeeper of my own knowledge… and lemme tell ya, that’s a huge relief.

Post thumbnail picture is Joshua, taken in Yachats, OR.

Wonder Woman

OKAY, FOR A WAY HAPPIER POST THAN THE LAST ONE (WHICH I PUBLISHED A FEW HOURS AGO), CAN WE TALK ABOUT WONDER WOMAN.

******MEGAAAAAA SPOILERS AHEAD******

What did I love? (EVERYTHING! Okay but actually there were some things I didn’t like or had problems with. I’ll go through various aspects of the movie and give my thoughts. Also, must credit Valerie Complex and Robert Jones Jr. for raising some important issues and helping me think critically about the movie (and friend Christie who shared the article!). I disagree with a lot of their interpretation of the Steve/Diana dynamic, but their insights provide a much-needed perspective: Read their review here)

Themyscira. Glorious. The island was absolutely stunning, and I cannot possibly get enough scenes of badass women in gorgeous costuming performing incredible feats of strength and kicking serious butt. However, most of my beefs with the movie occurred here. I get that the audience gets lost if you have too many characters, and that it served screenwriting purposes to have Diana as a “loner” on the island, but the lack of meaningful relationship with anyone apart from her mother and Antiope really bugged me. In other tellings of the WW origin story, Diana is initially presented as just another Amazon. She is often in competition with Artemis for the bragging rights of “fiercest warrior,” and while she usually has some element of leadership within the group, she is almost always “just one of the girls.” As Joshua, my husband, pointed out, WHERE WAS ARTEMIS with a whoop of acknowledgment of just how BADASS IT WAS when Diana blows Antiope away with her bracelets of submission? Everyone just stares at her with ambiguous expressions of fear and judgment. Really? On an island of warrior women, nobody thought that was pretty rad? You don’t really get to see Diana be a normal part of Themyscira, which is a huge missed opportunity. Also, as addressed by Complex and Jones, why did no one catch that it was insensitive at best to have Diana’s nanny be black when the three most powerful women on the island are white, and the one black woman who gets to have a speaking role gets cut off during her one line by one of these aforementioned powerful white women??? Just a really poor casting choice, imo. There was no reason not to feature more people of color and diversity on the island. More interaction between Diana and her Amazon sisters would have provided more opportunities to give diverse Amazons stronger presence and more prominent roles, and would have strengthened the concept of Themyscira and the storyline as a whole.

 Steve Trevor. Okay. Chris Pine KILLED IT. In other WW stories, I have almost always been disappointed by Steve, and I honestly think that’s part of the point… he’s supposed to kind of be a zero, especially in comparison to a demigod. But that’s always brought up questions for me. Why does Wonder Woman bother to hang out with him? Why does she put up with his soggy ass in scenes where he harasses her with lame pickup lines? In versions of WW’s story where she and Steve have a romantic thing, it’s always come across as contrived to me. It’s hard to believe that someone SO phenomenal would have any sort of meaningful or substantial connection with an average-at-best, lowkey pervy guy. Diana is a goddess/demigod, one of the fiercest warriors ever, her education and training are unparalleled, even amongst other Amazons. You’re really trying to tell me that anything short of the best men that earth has to offer are of interest to her? I’m not buying it. ANYWAY. I felt like this movie rectified that and in so doing, made Diana seem even cooler. I’d often felt in the past like Steve was dumbed down – wouldn’t want Wonder Woman to be underwhelming, right? But by making Steve resourceful, determined, loyal, valuable in the war and prestigious as a spy, respectful, and witty, they made Wonder Woman seem all the more impressive to me. You can’t just be anybody to get her attention… I still wouldn’t say WW and Steve are peers in the new movie. But this Steve Trevor isn’t going to try to get WW drunk and take her home, or swindle her into marrying him. He risks his life to save others on numerous occasions, she genuinely enjoys his company and there is companionship and friendship that gets developed, and Steve listens to Diana in a time and a culture where women didn’t even have the vote yet.

Diana’s Character. This Wonder Woman was a complex, believable hero. She, of course, had her superhero elements, owing both to her identity as the daughter of Zeus and also to her upbringing as an Amazon – speaks hundreds of languages, incredible tactician in battle, dominating warrior, super strength, flight(??). But this Wonder Woman was also reckless with consequence, socially klunky, couldn’t be subtle if she tried, not a great team player/doesn’t work particularly well with others unless she’s in charge and doing 95% of the smashing, etc. She had weaknesses in addition to being a fighting powerhouse. She cries, she rages, she’s delighted by simple pleasures like ice cream and snow, she has meaningful, multifaceted relationships with Antiope, her mother, and Steve… she was believable and real and I loved that. Sometimes I see statements intended to empower women drawing from this idea that we don’t need anyone. We don’t need men, we don’t need relationships to make us happy, we don’t need other people to do things for us – all you need is you. While I wholeheartedly agree that so many of us need to keep growing in self-love, independence, and making our own happiness, it worries me when these ideals result in disparaging women who value the opinion and support of men in their life (fathers, brothers, friends, significant others, etc.) or who naturally like having people around. Sometimes I’ve felt like an inferior feminist because I’m married to a man and do healthy marital things like compromise when we have conflicting opinions. Part of the complexity of Diana’s character that I really appreciated was that she DOES have a relationship with Steve, and that she’s emotionally attached to him. I felt like her all-powerful rage at the end of the movie, when she breaks out of her metal encasement, wasn’t about losing Steve the lover… it was about the loss of someone who embodied her values – a rarity in the dark, corrupted, and selfish “world of men.” Steve reminds her that she dreams of a higher justice, one that uses power to save those weaker, especially when they don’t deserve it. I loved that the strong and fierce Diana let herself trust Steve and engage with her feelings for him, and that she mourned him and the loss of that companionship when he was gone. I loved that a beloved friend’s selfless sacrifice is what brings her “back to herself” in her fight with Ares.

Which brings us to… Ares. I KNOW Ares is WW’s main opponent and if he didn’t make an appearance, it would be like the first Superman movie coming out sans Lex Luthor. But I was still a little disappointed. Dr. Poison was so promising, and then they made it seem like she was just a harmless pawn. I would have loved to see more of a showdown between WW and Dr. Poison. That being said, I really enjoyed the movie’s unusual portrayal of a superhuman male villain. Prior to this, I would have pictured the god of war as huge and hulking, with Roman centurion-style armor and belts. David Thewlis’ Ares is… normal-sized, sporting a moustache and some college-boy flow. Initially, I found it underwhelming, but by the end of the movie, I thought it was refreshing. I appreciated that Wonder Woman was more the “tank,” and Ares was like a sly wizard. Instead of the Ares vs. WW fight being brawn against brawn, it was WW’s strength and passionate determination matched by the persuasive cunning of a god of war who rarely fights himself, but whispers fear and slightly twisted versions of the truth into people’s ears. Wonder Woman is direct and up-front, unquestioning of her values and beliefs. Ares works in the background, manipulating and preying on doubts and fears. I really enjoyed seeing the showdown between them. Their fight had a bit of what I call the “ultra-anime effect,” which is where you started too big and outrageous to begin with, so when you try to “level up” your characters or go for the BIG win in your final boss battle, there’s… uh… there’s nowhere left to go. You can’t go bigger because you’ve maxed out everything already. And the battle felt a little fake and unbelievable like that to me, possibly just because it was between a god and a demigod. But other than that, I really enjoyed seeing Ares and Wonder Woman pitted against each other.

AND THAT NO-MAN’S LAND SCENE. This scene  W R E C K E D  me. I cried at the clip of it every time I saw a trailer before the movie came out, and in the actual film, I just sat shaking in my seat, beyond tears. It was such a powerful image for me of what Christ does for us and of the hope that miracles bring. I feel like I’m going to have to sit with it for a long time before my thoughts percolate enough. Maybe I’ll write about it again at another point. It accessed the place in me that longs so deeply for redemption and prays for freedom, truth, and true life for the ones I love; it accessed the overwhelming surge of joy I’ve experienced when I’ve gotten to be part of epic, Kingdom-of-God reconciliation here on earth. Man. Just talking about it makes me jazzed like a bean… good thing I’m seeing the movie again tomorrow!!

Those are my Wonder Woman thoughts! I would love to hear yours!!

Post thumbnail picture is from the movie and obviously not mine. 😉

No-Man’s Land

I WISH this post was about the no-man’s land scene in Wonder Woman… but that’s for another blog post, I think. Today’s post (and the first one in months, whoops, sorry) is a confession. It’s one of those days where the internal pressure has come to a head… I’m pretty tired of not being “out.” I’m tired of not being “out” to my conservative, Christian friends as bi/pansexual and I’m tired of not being “out” to my LGBT2QIA+ community as someone who isn’t actually sure yet if we really are made for romantic and sexual same-sex intimacy. Ugh. There. I said it. This crisis is catalyzed by the Pride week festivities in my city next month, and the fact that I will (conveniently?) be on a glacier, collecting data and doing fieldwork, in a galaxy far, far away while they’re taking place. On the one hand, I’d really like to go. On the other hand, I’m really grateful to get to avoid the existential crisis of “Do I go to Pride and out myself as bi/pan? Do I go and out myself even as an ally? Do I go and try to keep it a secret?” (And on the third hand (so… my foot?), I hate large crowds and Leaving the House (TM) and would probably be miserable watching a big-ass parade regardless of the theme.)

The pressure comes from me not wanting to be put into a neat little label box of “ally,” or “out and proud” or “homophobic,” with all the associated assumptions, but also from not wanting to rock the boat in conversations or on newsfeeds, AND from wanting to be honest, with myself and God, and with others. Am I an ally? Well… yeah! I think that marriage equality is essential. I think we need more representation of LGBT2QIA+ individuals, couples, families, and communities in media. I think many of my friends’ same-sex dating and marriage relationships are life-giving and wonderful, and I support them. So what’s the problem? Why am I hesitant to advertise myself as an ally, or even as bi/pan? Like I mentioned before, I have yet to see a presentation of Scripture that convinces me that homosexual relationships are blessed in the mind of God. (There are some interpretations out there that come oooh so close, but… I always end up remaining doubtful at the end.) Does that make me homophobic, even if I still support my gay friends? Do I still count as an ally? I have so many friends with same-sex partners who have beautiful relationships full of commitment and honesty, who are so loved and supported and challenged by their partners. I look at their abundant love that seems so healthy and selfless to me and I think, “Now, how can that not be a thing that brings God honor and joy? How can that not be what we were created for? How is that not “okay” if heterosexual love is?” And I have no answers.

Of the minorities of which I’m part (Christian, queer), I am part of an even smaller group, and I have to say (my little pity party moment here), it’s pretty lonely in this third, sub-sub group space. Anyway, that’s it. No real conclusions or anything, just a couple confessions because I’m tired of trying to subtly navigate conversations so that I can be true to myself without alienating myself from the friend with whom I’m interacting. I think that’s a big part of what this comes down to… I don’t want to lose relationships that I care about because I appear to be on one side or the other. If I truly felt convinced that the Bible and Jesus sanction same-sex dating and marriage relationships, it’d be a different story, because being true to myself would be holding those views in the face of a traditional interpretation of the Bible. But I can’t accept that as truth so here we are. (In case you haven’t picked up on it, that is what I would like to accept as truth.

It’s exhausting to walk this middle line (but what am I saying? We’re all exhausted here). But it’s even more exhausting to keep it hidden and try to pretend (to people on all sides) that I feel differently than I do. So… as terrifying as it is to circulate this, I feel like I want to.  If you feel frustrated that I can’t freaking seem to choose a side, believe me, I’m frustrated too.

Post thumbnail picture was taken in Palestine.

Anna the Academic

Once again, long time no post. And once again, it’s more school/life path related than anything else.

Last semester was the worst semester of my life barring the first semester of my undergrad. I have never felt so incompetent, so prone to failure, so deceptive, and so lost in my life. The last four months have been characterized by a general lack of direction and feedback combined with high expectations from myself, and everybody around me assuming that I already have the skills and knowledge to do what is required of me. Every other day I considered dropping out of my masters program, and was deterred only by the sinking feeling that I wouldn’t be any better at anything else.

So here we are, after all that, with a new semester. I didn’t drop out; I’m still here. I think it’s more fair to say that I haven’t dropped out prior to this point more because of inconvenience than anything else. But I’m glad that I’m still here, because I’m learning. I’m learning like I’ve never learned before. I have learned so much about my needs, and how to mobilize resources around myself to have them met. I’ve learned so much about who it is I want to be as a wife, an individual, a professor, a professional (and also who it is I don’t want to be), and I’ve developed confidence in prioritizing activities that allow me to develop the skills and habits that *I* think are important. I think, for the first time in my life, I feel confident about time management. I am also comfortable with failure. I’m comfortable with the incredible discomfort of doing something and feeling like shit about it, with coming back from a lab session where I’ve been the TA, feeling discouraged and embarrassed about what I had to offer, and going back the next week anyway. I’ve learned to ask a question or make a comment, have it answered disparagingly, and to still ask a question the next time.

The academic skills are coming, too. I’ve grown as a presenter and in my marking, prep, and instruction as a TA. I’m learning how to absorb papers efficiently, I’m learning to ask for help when I need it, I’m learning to be articulate with my questions and how to find the best person to ask. I look forward to growing in my ability to critique research, to write well (first I have to learn to write at all), to tell a story with my research, to market myself  both honestly and appealingly. But I don’t despair anymore that I don’t know these things. Isn’t that why I’m here? Am I not here to learn? Will I not always be here to learn and to share what I have learned and am learning?

This is brief, and very school-heavy, but I just wanted ya’ll to know… I’m living with some of the most painful identity growing pains I have experienced thus far, but now I’m beginning to see some fruit… (and BLESS that it was only four months of not seeing fruit, and not years!!!!) Popping up all around me are areas of growth I had no inkling I was immature in, traits I’ve only ever dreamed of possessing but am discovering I’ve had all along, opportunities to hand over the illusion of control and see what magical, mysterious masterpiece God creates with my ashes, and it is grand.

Post thumbnail picture was taken on an early BC Ferries morning.

Oh, Trinity.

ICYMI: my alma mater, Trinity Western University, won a legal battle in the BC court, putting us further towards the school’s goal of opening a law school. If you aren’t familiar with what all the hullabaloo is about, students who go to Trinity submit themselves to the community covenant, some points of which are generally inconvenient (e.g. not drinking on campus), but easy to respect. Other points are more controversial, like the one that gives a shoutout to the traditional interpretation of sexual intimacy being reserved for one man and one woman in the context of marriage. In theory, the school is just asking students to live according to a certain code of behavior for the duration of their time at the university. In application, it gets very messy… as you can probably imagine.

What does enforcement of that kind of policy look like? Would a student actually get kicked out if they were found to be in a same-sex dating relationship? At least in the past, yes. At present, part of the lived-out reality of such a policy is that we talk about “gay issues” as if there is no chance that LGBTQIA students are in the room, and as if by nature of their gender expression or sexuality, any Christians who are also queer are second-rate people of faith… closer to being sinners and falling into sin than the rest of us. Because I only ever dated men while attending Trinity, and married Joshua, probably the most harmful part of my experience as a queer person at the school was the assumed heteronormativity. …and I do mean pretty hardcore assumed heteronormativity, with examples like a prof once going on a rant about the legalization of gay marriage in the US, not considering that statistically, 2-3 of us in the room were likely to be queer. …but that was about the extent of my damage. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for others. I have linked two of the publicly blogged stories here, as well as the student newspaper feature that highlighted LGBTQIA alumni stories, both of which share much, much more serious consequences of the environment at Trinity for queer students.

Now, I want to be really, really clear about where I stand in this post. I support my alma mater having a law school under religious freedom. I signed the covenant while I attended Trinity and didn’t have a problem adhering to it. I also support the interpretation of marriage that the school officially holds.

What I don’t support is my school pretending that it is an inclusive, accepting environment for LGBTQIA students when many of the stories say otherwise. My frustration in all of this is that we seem to forget that the experiences and views of individuals in LGBTQIA communities are as vast and varied as the individuals themselves. Trinity has heard a number of reports of LGBTQIA students who had excellent experiences during their time at the university – for the most part, my experience falls under this category. However, the positive stories of inclusivity, acceptance, and healthy relationships do not in any way negate the profoundly painful and dysfunctional experiences other students have had. Sides get polarized so easily in these situations and as a Christian who is also queer and does believe that we are called to abstain from romantic and sexual same sex intimacy (minority views in all camps), I feel torn in pieces the more polarized the sides become. Not everything about my experience at Trinity was positive, but much of it was, and I do love my alma mater. However, I also deeply love friends who have been grossly wounded by this place that I love. My heart is hurting that a place that I love and am proud of has facilitated such painful experiences and stories, particularly for people that I care about so much.

Post thumbnail picture is from the courtyard of a church in Nazareth, from one of my trips.

Addendum

I wanted to add to the last post that everyone I know who is in transition right now is having a hell of a time, so if you are regretting your choice to go to grad school, or university in general, or to extend your schooling by yet another year, or to take a year off school and work, or to try and enter the workforce in your field, or whatever else you chose, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There’s a great big bucket of us, all a little lost and potentially regretful and striving towards bigger and better and more “us” things.

Pheobe believes that this too will pass, and that it might even be a lil’ bit fun as it does.20160929_175451

The Thief of Joy

Hi all!

Whoops, it’s been a LOT longer than two weeks since my last post! And, contrary to what I said at the end of my last entry, this post is not going to be about my journey as a Christian… instead, it’s some quick, short thoughts on a great phrase I heard last weekend.

I was at a wedding about a week ago, and the maid of honor gave a stellar piece of advice in her speech. She reminded the bride and groom that “comparison is the thief of joy.” DANG!!!! COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY! Tuck that one away, folks, because if it isn’t relevant to you now, it probably will be in the future!

There are abundant “new” things in this season of life for Joshua and I. We’re in a new city, we’re still newlyweds, we’re living in a new apartment, trying to make new friends, going to a new church, trying to figure out new routines with making time for ourselves, each other, cleaning and errands, friends and family, God. There are lots of things about our current situation that we’d like to change. Examples, if you’re curious, include wishing we had more time. for everything. (Who doesn’t wish this?) Wishing we could afford a snazzier apartment, wishing we could afford (in terms of both time and money), a fancier anniversary celebration this year, Joshua wishes he was settled into a long-term career track, I wish I could freaking get my crap together and be motivated about grad school. In all the newness of school, I also find myself insecure and wishing to be someone else, as I blunder through the learning curve of running labs, having responsibilities in a new school system, making friends in my lab and my program. I wish I wasn’t so lazy, I wish I was prettier, I wish I was more confident and funnier and less awkward, I wish I didn’t sweat so much (real talk), I wish I wasn’t injured so I could enjoy regular exercise, I wish I was more organized, I wish I was a better teacher, I wish, I wish, I wish…

But in actuality, I am deeply grateful for our life here, and I love who God is making me to be. Yes, my first two labs went so poorly I never wanted to show my face again. Yes, I have pitted out every single shirt I have worn this week. Yes, our apartment is smaller and has less natural light than our dream apartment. But I have to say – I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. Once I stop to think about it, that is. I am so, so grateful that Joshua and I have a space to call our own, and it’s enough space for all of our material biz AND our cat (she refused to be lumped in with “all our material biz”). I love myself, awkwardness and acne and all. I am thoroughly enjoying getting to know my labmates and other peers in my program. I love my thesis and am excited about the work I am going to get to do (even if I am dragging my feet like crazy on all the pre-work for it…..). And I love – love, love, love – that I get to share life with Joshua and come home to the space we’ve made together at the end of the day.

But the instant I start pining after the top floor 3-bedroom with skylights, the confidence of other TAs, the flawless skin or amazing hair or flat abs of someone in my life, I forget my own happiness. And in no area is this more toxic to do than in my relationship with Josh. It is SO, so easy to see great things in other peoples’ relationships and wish for them in my own.

     EXEMPLI GRATIA: I have a friend whose significant other really loves giving detailed gifts. One of my love languages is gifts, and I really value details – wrapping paper folded crisply, gifts layered in symbolism, notes that are both filled with meaningful words AND aesthetically pleasing. But gifts do shit-all for Joshua. They’re nice… he’s not opposed to them… but he’d rather have a hug or have you take him out for a beer any day. I can see the amazingly intricate and thoughtful gifts that my friend receives, and wish that Joshua gave me detailed, creative gifts. If (and when) I do that, though, I’m forgetting that Joshua intentionally chooses, on a regular basis, to express love to me in a way that is not his first choice. He frequently brings me home little things – a bar of chocolate, a handful of baby’s breath, a picture of Hello Kitty merchandise he saw while out – because he knows it’s meaningful to me, despite how little the same kinds of gestures would do for him. His gifts don’t boggle my mind with their creativity and complexity and perfectly folded corners. What does boggle my mind, however, is how relentless Joshua is in choosing to perform gestures of love that are more significant for me than they are for him. That may not sound noteworthy, but in my own gestures of love, I opt first for things that make me feel good…. I give intricate, detailed gifts! I write articulate, loooooong-ass cards. The fact that Joshua writes me cards at all is a testament to his selflessness and ability to put himself in someone else’s shoes, because I am pretty sure I am the only person on this earth he writes cards for… or would even think to write a card for… Anyway, the point is that regardless of how anyone else’s significant other expresses love, I am grateful for how Joshua expresses love to me. But I could easily forget that if I focus too much on wishing for aspects of someone else’s relationship. The point is that comparison is the thief of joy, and that if part of your unhappiness is related to pining after what other people have, gratitude is a fulfilling fix.

This has been a PSA about finding what it is that you truly, genuinely enjoy about your life and relationships.

Anna out. Maybe next post will actually happen in a couple weeks and maybe it’ll ACTUALLY be about my journey as a Christian, as promised. 😉

Post thumbnail picture is from the airport in Munich, from one of my trips.

Queerdom

For the longest time, I thought I was a lesbian. From middle school until halfway through my undergrad, I wrestled on and off with terror and guilt resulting from knowing, deep down, that I wasn’t entirely straight. Whenever I tried to mentally settle into the idea of either being “gay” or “straight,” I felt like I was lying to myself, and missing part of the picture. It didn’t occur to me for years and years that I didn’t have to figure out and “pick” one gender expression to which I was most attracted and that I didn’t have to put a label on my sexual orientation. When I did realize that I was allowed to just feel what I felt – without any sexual orientation label that had to fit properly or make sense to me or anybody else – it was a HUGE relief. It was also a multi-step process… the chronology of which is vague in my memory… This post will be moments of particular import in my sexual orientation journey thus far!

I switched between a few different majors in my undergrad. In my philosophy major phase, I took a class called Philosophy of Sex and Gender in which we read a book called “The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are” by Jenell Williams Paris. This book changed my life. Among other things, it introduced to me the concepts of both gender and sexual orientation as a spectrum. This book also was one of the first times that I had encountered someone talking so in depth about sex and sexual identity without a large part of their message being a declaration of their own gender expression or sexual orientation. If I recall correctly, Paris never actually assigns herself a sexual orientation label, and it drove me nuts. I scoured the book, trying to figure out what she would choose for herself, and then, in a moment of lifegiving revelation, I realized that the label didn’t matter. YES, all of her thoughts and experiences came from a certain perspective, but I didn’t need to pinpoint where on the spectrum she fell to listen and consider her words. And suddenly I realized – hey, maybe I don’t need to pin down where on the spectrum *I* fall, either… (I was still, at this point, stressfully waffling between wondering if I was straight or gay, but the concept of a spectrum was the first of many stepping stones into a better way of understanding things.)

It was also during this time that I had moved out and was living with three female friends. This experience also changed my life: it changed the way I viewed intimacy, and therefore also changed the way I viewed my “problem” of feeling attracted to women. For one of the first times in my life, I was not afraid of being a lesbian – not because I never had romantic or sexual feelings for other women, but because they didn’t seem like a big secret deal to me that prohibited trust and vulnerability in my female friendships. Up until this point, I HAD been part of some amazing female friendships, but they had also been colored here and there with fear of rejection if those friends ever found out that I had sometimes had feelings for them, or other girls. For a handful of reasons, including desperation, and God, I was more willing to risk that rejection with my housemates, and it was more clear to me with them that I would not be rejected. I got to have flourishing, intimate relationships with my housemates that were largely very healthy and very healing for me.

At some point, while I was dating the man who is now my husband, I had a conversation with a female friend who, at the time, had only ever been with women. Said friend and I were chatting about some romantic feelings she had developed for a man, and what these feelings meant for her. Did they meant she wasn’t a lesbian anymore? Was she bisexual? And how should she move forward? I said some (much less eloquent) version of the following: “So-and-so, I don’t see why your experience with this guy has to throw into question your identity as someone who generally likes girls. Can’t you just kind of see how it goes and adjust the labels as you need to?” And I had one of those lightbulb moments where I realized that the words coming out of my mouth applied PERFECTLY to ME! For some reason, up until this point in my life, I hadn’t really understood what bisexuality was, and hadn’t noticed that it applied very nicely to my romantic and sexual feelings for both men and women. All of a sudden, I felt so excitedly sure that I had finally found a label that didn’t make me squirm with its incompleteness – I was BI! YES! At the time, it was so liberating to have a word that I felt encompassed my feelings and that connected me with other people who had similar feelings. I didn’t feel torn between two sexual identity labels that didn’t quite fit me.

I told a few people about this newfound revelation… mostly people who I knew would be unphased by it. I wanted to feel like I had “announced” it somewhere, so I made a single post about it on one of my social media accounts that would be hard to find and had barely any followers (looking at you, Tumblr). And I shared my revelation with Joshua, who was already fully aware and hadn’t realized that I hadn’t realized I fell somewhere on the spectrum that wasn’t the clear-cut box of “straight”.

As my understanding of gender has changed, so has the label that fits me best for my sexual orientation. I am, indeed, attracted to men and women (and when I say “men” and “women,” I am including transgender men and transgender women in my understandings of those terms), but I’m also attracted to just people. In general. It is to the whole gamut of gender expressions which I have encountered that I am attracted. By *technical* definition, this makes me pansexual.

Sometimes I say I’m bisexual to simplify the conversation, sometimes I’ll say I’m pansexual to someone who is a little more familiar with the slough of LGBTQ+ terms out there. Sometimes I don’t say anything (that’s most of the time, as my attraction to all gender expressions is generally irrelevant to the conversation at hand). And sometimes I describe my range of attractions without labels, because sometimes a term, with all its potential pre-conceived connotations, just isn’t helpful. All of us are so much more than the labels either we have chosen or the labels others have chosen for us, and so often, when I do talk about my sexual and romantic attractions, I’ll do it without labels. I think it helps me, as well as the other person in the conversation, to stay engaged with the complex dynamics present in my sexuality when there isn’t a neat little box-label to put me in. The one exception to this is the label “queer.” I quite consistently use this label to refer to myself… but even then! When I’m in a situation where it would unnecessarily create an us/them dichotomy, I sometimes refrain from labeling myself as “queer.”

 

Up until this point, I have generally been quite careful and calculated with where and when I throw out my sexual orientation labels. Because I mostly “pass” for straight, I have experienced only the absolute smallest portion of ostracization, hate, and discrimination that so many other members of the LGBTQ+ community have endured. I am very aware of this, and am always hesitant to lump my voice in with those who have suffered profoundly as a result of their queerness, when I cannot honestly say that my queerness makes my life that much more difficult than it would be if I was more on the “straight” side of the spectrum. I am also often hesitant to speak up as a bisexual or pansexual voice because my perspectives belong only to a very small minority within these communities (more on these ~minority within a minority~ views later), and I do not want to be the token LGBTQ+ friend in someone’s life whose opinion they reference when my views likely do not represent the rest of the group.

 

I am married, in a monogamous relationship, and as such, I’m not interested in pursuing my feelings for anyone (be they male, female, somewhere in-between, somewhere else entirely), who isn’t my husband. So the dominant, guiding aspect of my sexual orientation is this: I acknowledge but take a pass on attractions towards anyone, regardless of gender, who isn’t Joshua. Of course there’s more to it than that… and future posts will discuss further how crushing on people has worked for us in a committed relationship and particularly now that we’re married, and what kind of presence our differing sexual orientations has in my marriage with Joshua. But for the most part, that idea of “I acknowledge but take a pass on attractions towards anyone, regardless of gender, who isn’t Joshua” is what dictates my actions and how I process my thoughts related to sexual orientation.

 

So that, my friends, is label one, explained and deconstructed a little bit for us all. Any questions? Comments? Have parts of your journey been similar? Have parts of your journey been wildly different? Did I misrepresent/misdefine a term? Have I been offensive or exclusive? Is this encouraging? Do you have concerns? Let me know, in either the comments or in a message!

     Next up: the Christian label explained!

Thanks for reading!

Post image is a screenshot from an anime called Darker Than Black.