Seeking: Adventure

Last year around this time I wrote a reflection on my college life as I prepared to walk across the stage at my undergraduate commencement ceremony. I had no idea how much my life would change over the next 12 months, and I find myself reflecting all over again as I watch others go through the anxiety and excitement of reaching this milestone.

A year ago I was married and hoping to begin a graduate program or to volunteer with AmeriCorps for a year. One year later I’m single and living alone for the first time in my life, working full-time, and I’m more uncertain than ever about what I want to do with the next several decades (if I’m lucky). I’ve done a bit of writing for a few websites, neglected my blog, stopped reading books, was accepted into Indiana University Bloomington for grad school, and decided not to attend. I ran a little, stopped running for awhile, and recently started again.

I am fickle and indecisive and often very lonely. I’ve made so many choices this past year, some huge and terrifying and others that were seemingly simple but proved to be just as impactful. I have been so restless without any clear direction and with limited options, and that is most frustrating feeling I can imagine. In spite of all that, I survived and I feel better than I have in a long time.

I wanted to write this as a way to give advice to my friends who are graduating, but I have none to give. One year with a Bachelor’s degree hasn’t granted me any additional wisdom or insight, and that can be really disheartening at times. I want to be a resource, or at least a beacon of hope that post-grad life isn’t as bad as all the articles about Millennials say it is. Instead, I can only offer this: I know myself better now than when I began and that can bring peace no matter what you’re doing.

Classes at CCU taught me about myself more than the assigned topics. I learned about being in relationship with others, especially with people who are opposed to nearly all of my most closely-held beliefs. I realized that I didn’t have to be quiet when I witnessed problems, but I also realized that being loud doesn’t mean you’ll win the battles. I discovered how well I handled conflict (not very, apparently, but I’m still working on that). I tested my own limits and stretched them a little more than I thought possible. I think the most valuable result of a college degree is this ability to examine yourself and understand what you’re looking at a little better.

It’s also true that having a degree makes you arrogant enough to give advice to people who didn’t ask for it.

YOU’RE WELCOME.


Personal note: I am preparing a new blog with a more focused approach and will likely stop posting here. Stay tuned for more updates soon! 

2014 Best and Worst: Music

Happy New Year! As an obvious expert on media, I offer my favorite and least favorite songs from 2014. Enjoy.

Best

5. “Girls Chase Boys” by Ingrid Michaelson

4. “Blank Space” by Taylor Swift

3. “Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde

2. “Flawless” by Beyoncé ft. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

1. “Secrets” by Mary Lambert

Worst

5. “Chandelier” by Sia (I have no reason to hate this other than that it’s freaking annoying)

4. “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea (or any other song by Igloo Australia)

3. “Animals” by Maroon Five (or any other song by Maroon Five, just especially this one)

2. “Jealous” by Nick Jonas (I don’t particularly hate Nick Jonas, just this song)

1. “Paula” by Robin Thicke (or any other song by Robin Thicke)

What would make your list of best and worst music of 2014?

Movie Review: The Hobbit: Battle of Five Armies

WARNING: This review contains extensive spoilers. Even if you’ve read The Hobbit, the movie contains variances that may still be surprising.

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As the credits rolled and Billy Boyd sang sweetly into my ears, I struggled to collect my thoughts through the tears. I had just finished watching the last ever film of Middle Earth on the big screen. (I’m not really that foolish–I know there will probably be remakes, and if God loves me, a Peter Jackson Silmarillion masterpiece.)

I owe a lot to Tolkien, Middle Earth, and even to Peter Jackson; I can hardly remember a time before they were part of my life and worldview. Others may be newer to this world and yet feel the effects on their lives equally. For that reason, I think that I am willing to give this third installment of The Hobbit films more credit than it may actually deserve. I likely overlooked many problematic themes, and for that I apologize. Nevertheless, I feel burdened to write my thoughts. I can feel the weight of conflicting ideas pushing through my mind, and I need to chip away at that weight by writing about it.

This post is primarily a reaction to the frustrating aspects of the movie. Overall I actually liked it very much, despite the parts I criticize here. I maintain, and will forever maintain, my adoration of all things Tolkien. I believe, however, that the film will receive far more praise than criticism, and so I choose to focus on the negative rather than the positive.

First, the good stuff.

Beautiful cinematography: Despite the lack of sweeping landscapes of the LOTR trilogy, there are many incredible visuals. I was awed by Azog floating under the ice, and I continue to be amazed by the set details in Jackson’s films.

Martin Freeman: Being adorable, being subtle, delivering powerful lines effectively. Martin Freeman kind of saved this movie for me.

Now, the not-good stuff.

This movie, like so many others, is all about power. There are many ways to visualize a power struggle, but the most common (and arguably the most visually effective) is control of the upper ground. In other words, who has control of the situation at the moment, as evidenced by occupying a higher position (such as in a fortress, on a tower) or by holding the means to destroy your opponent (such as a weapon, or even better control of a weapon)?

The best example of power struggle is the scene with Thorin fighting Azog in a climactic ending to their 3-film rivalry. As they battle on the ice, a chunk separates and they are forced to keep their balance while the ice is constantly shifting in the water. During the battle, their positions change every second, and with it, the power shifts. He who has the higher ground has the power, but the higher ground is in constant shift. Earlier in the film we see a broader example of power struggle: when Thorin faces an army of elves and men with only a handful of friends to back him, Thranduil clearly holds the power. When Dain shows up with an army of his own, the audience experiences the shift of power. Sometimes power struggle is about physical or military strength, and sometimes it is about emotional or mental strength; either way, it boils down to the same ideas.

This power struggle, present in every great adventure, is what makes conflict so exciting. If the power always remained on one side we wouldn’t care. I recognize and appreciate this plot device, and I would never criticize its use if done well.

My concern is this: The Hobbit masquerades as a female-empowered story, highlighting such characters as Galadriel and Tauriel, but delivers a poor portrayal of women. This is important because the book The Hobbit contains ZERO female characters. Of the two women added to the film version, Galadriel is a Tolkien original brought into the story naturally, and Tauriel is a character imagined by the film creators.

When women are added to an already established and widely loved story, there are certain questions that must be answered.

What is the purpose of bringing in female characters? What function do they serve?

An acceptable answer would be that bringing in female characters solves the problem of representation in the original story. As much as I love Tolkien, his female characters are either nonexistent or complete one-dimensional. I applaud the idea of taking Tolkien’s universe and adding complex and diverse women in the style of his work.

Peter Jackson’s answer to this question seems to be this: the function of the female characters in The Hobbit is to support and affirm the male characters, without threatening their position of power. You can recognize this by observing the power struggles in which female characters are involved:

 

Galadriel vs. The Nine

I had high hopes at the beginning of this scene, when Gandalf is imprisoned, weak, and helpless, and Galadriel comes to his aid. She is seen carrying his unconscious body several steps before she is surrounded by The Nine, supernatural beings with incredible power. Despite her obvious skill with magic (seen later in this scene and in LOTR), Galadriel is somehow overcome with fear and/or weakness. One of The Nine taunts her, saying that she is incapable of beating them by herself. She responds, “I am not alone.” Coming to her rescue (but why exactly did she need it?) are Elrond and Saruman, who handily fight the supernatural and super-powerful beings while Galadriel literally lies on the ground trembling.

Galadriel_in_The_Hobbit_AUJ

This point in the film made me angry and confused. There is NO discernable reason for Galadriel to be on the ground. She has not been injured, has not been weakened by fighting, has not been affected by magic in any way. She spends the entire battle caressing the face of Gandalf, and brings him back to consciousness with a kiss; in short, she abandons a battle for life-or-death in favor of crying over the body of her beloved man.

At the end of the scene, she forces the powers back with her magic, so where was this skill minutes before when she is pictured shaking with fear for her life? After her one show of strength, which lasts all of 25 seconds, she is weakened once again to the point of collapse. She is forced to lean on her male counterpart for strength, and Saruman instructs Elrond to “take care of her.”

There are two problems here: Galadriel has the potential to save the day with some fierce swordplay and/or incredible magical prowess. Instead, she is shown to be utterly incapable of defending herself or others. Her only contribution to the fight leaves her struggling for breath and incapable of standing, while the two male characters who participated in the fight are not sweating or even out of breath. Galadriel only briefly holds the power in the scene, and it is very quickly taken from her.

 

Tauriel vs. Anyone

When Tauriel faces a tough decision to go with Kili to the mountain or remain with her people, she is cut off from an important moment of character development by Legolas, who authoritatively states, “Leave him.” She listens instantly. Tauriel has no means of making an important decision for herself, but Legolas comes to her rescue by making the decision for her.

When Tauriel faces off with Thranduil, pointing an arrow at his face and challenging him to consider the bigger picture, he easily slices her bow in half (uh…okay?) and regains control. Tauriel has no means of regaining power over Thranduil, but Legolas comes to her rescue.

When Tauriel faces off with an orc to defend Kili, her beloved dwarf, she is backed into a corner and faces certain death. Tauriel has no means of regaining power over the orc, but Kili comes to her rescue.

When Tauriel faces the pain of watching Kili die, she is crippled with grief. She seems incapable of fully acknowledging or understanding her feelings for Kili until Thranduil affirms them by saying, “It was real”. She asks him to save her from a tortured love. Tauriel has no means of regaining power over her own emotions, but Thranduil comes to her rescue.

Tauriel

Have you noticed a pattern? Tauriel is a capable fighter, but when it really matters, she is incapable of defending herself. Quite simply, this is lazy writing. Why build up a character with so many admirable traits and skills and then refuse to allow that character to use them? Why make an audience believe in the compassionate yet ruthless nature of a major character and then cut her down at every opportunity? It is both sexist and bad storytelling.

 

The Women of Laketown vs. Attacking Orcs

Both leading up to and during the battle, Bard comments at least twice, “The wounded, the children, and the women must be saved!” There is at least one problem with this. First, the idea that female life is more valuable than male life is a form of benevolent sexism, and it’s not chivalrous or noble. It stems from the belief that women are weak and unable to defend themselves (like wounded men or children), leaving men with the responsibility to protect women.

After the women are shut up for their own protection, one woman rallies them together with the cry, “Come on, women! I say we stand with our men in death as well as in life!” There are two problems with this. First, why should this have anything to do with “their men”? These women are forced to fight for their very lives, but its phrased in a way that makes it about supporting their husbands and fathers. Second, the scene ends there. We hear the battle cry, but we never get to see the women joining the fight!

 

Sigrid and Tilda vs. Anyone

Bard’s daughters seemed like excellent additions to the story. They are young and inexperienced, but both seem strong in part two of this trilogy. They are a huge disappointment in the third movie, however.

thehobbitthebattleofthefive-mv-52

At every opportunity to showcase their intelligence or wit, they are pictured crying while their brother Bain saves the day. Bard’s son shows tenacity and bravery as he saves the day more than once. His character is multidimensional; he is a scared child but overcomes his fear to aid in the defeat of Smaug. Sigrid and Tilda, however, serve no function in the film except to cry over their father. In situations where the girls face danger, they freeze or run, and are saved by their brother or father or both. This is a bit unbelievable for two reasons. First, Bard seems likely to have raised daughters with stronger wills. Second, Sigrid is older than her brother, and is shown to take charge in the second film. Why the sudden shift? He is not physically stronger than her, so there is no logical reason for it.

 

Conclusions

I refuse to ignore problems in the stories that I love. I appreciate the opportunity to open a discussion about women in media, and I believe that I can foster my love for Tolkien’s beautifully created universe while maintaining my integrity. I will watch this movie many more times and I will continue to actively participate in the community of Tolkien fans, but I will always do so with a critical mind.

Ferguson Articles

I have collected a list of articles/tweets/etc. related to the situation in Ferguson, MO. Everyone should be familiar with the basic facts: on August 9th, 2014, 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by police officer Darren Wilson. Michael Brown is black and Darren Wilson is white. The shooting has sparked outrage and protests across the country.

I am not an expert. I am posting this from a position of extreme privilege, and that has colored my understanding of both this particular situation and the state of racism and anti-blackness in the United States. I have created this list as a resource for discussion, and as a way to explain to others how I’ve formed my opinion. 

If you notice inaccurate information here, please inform me. If you have anything to add to this, please inform me. I have disabled comments for this post because this is not a place for discussion, only information. You can reach me via Facebook message if you need to.

Most links were found through the site http://justice4mikebrown.tumblr.com/

Michael Brown Killing – August 9th

Detailed accounts from eyewitnesses, including Darren Wilson.

Photos of the scene of the shooting and Darren Wilson after the incident.

The convenience store where Brown supposedly stole cigars says they never called the police about a robbery.

Surveillance footage from the store shows brown paying for the cigars.

Michael Brown was shot 6 times. 

By the numbers.

 

Is this about race?

The KKK are supporting Darren Wilson and violence against protestors.

The rest of the world recognizes the racial implications.

History of black people killed by police

Unarmed black women killed by law enforcement.

Unarmed black men killed by law enforcement.

Young African Americans are killed by cops 4.5 times more often than people of other races and ages (source)

The 14 teens killed by police since Michael Brown.

Racism/Anti-Blackness in the United States

Reverse racism doesn’t exist.

The media treats white criminals better than black victims.

Racial bias in arrest rates.

On white privilege.  


Racism/Anti-Blackness in Ferguson, MO

Missouri’s Tortured History of Racism.

Ferguson was built on racism.

In regard to being a good place to live for minorities, Missouri ranked 49th out of 50 states.

Ferguson residents talk about racism.

 

Protests/Riots/Looting

Protests in 37 states (Nov. 26th)

Peaceful protestors mistreated by police.

Amnesty International reports on human rights violations in Ferguson.

White people rioting over sports.

Account of damage/injuries as a result of protests (from Nov 22).

Grand Jury and Indictment

Everything you need to know about the Ferguson grand jury.

It’s rare for a jury to choose not to indict, unless the shooter is a cop.

Ferguson’s Grand Jury Problem.

The entire document of evidence examined by the jury.

Links to the evidence document broken up into categories.

A statement from Mike Brown’s family after news of no indictment.

 

Can Darren Wilson still be charged?

Wilson could face other charges.

Justice Department will continue investigating.

Other possible investigations.

Use of force by police:

What Has Changed About Police Brutality In America, From Rodney King To Michael Brown. 

Killings by Utah police outpacing gang, drug, child-abuse homicides.

A closer look at police-deaths in the United States.

The US government doesn’t keep track of how many civilians are killed by police each year.

Questioning the use of lethal force by police.

Extremely rare police shooting in Iceland.

“Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans.” (source)

“Statistics compiled by the German Police University show that German police officers fired a total of 49 warning shots and 36 shots aimed at individuals while pursuing suspects last year. From those incidents, 15 people were injured, and six were killed.” (source)

I Never Really Grew Up

Some of you have probably noticed that I have miserably failed my NaNoWriMo goals. I could give lots of excuses, but none would be valid. The most significant “excuse” is that I don’t get a lot of traffic on this blog, and I get a lot of negative comments on other, more popular, sites. Both are discouraging, and despite knowing that both are to be expected, I let them get me down.

In some ways I feel like an adult: I’ve been married for over three years, I pay bills, I have a fulltime job with paid sick days and a work computer, and I do fit the legal definition of an adult. But in most ways, I still feel and act like a child. I let my feelings get hurt easily, I cry when I don’t get my way, and I want others to do the hard work for me.

Most significantly, I do not take criticism well, even constructive criticism. I want to be praised and applauded, not given valuable feedback. Despite being a pretty harsh critic of myself, I expect others to think highly of me. I’m arrogant and self-righteous.

This is my personal goal: to be able to listen to constructive criticism, and change what can be changed for the better.

This is proving to be pretty hard to do, because when I ask people how I can take criticism better, their feedback just offends me. I want them to tell me, “You’re fine, you don’t need to change the way you listen to feedback!” even though I know it’s not true. People say instead, “Well, maybe you shouldn’t take everything so personally. Maybe you could ask specific questions about what can be improved. Maybe you should make a list of goals to improve your work and ask someone to keep you accountable.” I understand that this is all excellent advice, but I cannot seem to escape that feeling that I’ll never be as good as I want.

Now that my writing has been featured on a larger platform, I also have to deal with negative feedback that is almost never constructive. Suddenly, I’m getting negative comments from complete strangers, who say harsh things about not only my writing, but about my personal beliefs as well. It’s difficult to avoid taking their criticism personally when their words are intended to be personal.

I repeat the same words to myself over and over: “Their opinion doesn’t matter. Their opinion doesn’t matter. Their opinion doesn’t matter.”

This is a lie. Of course the opinions of others matter, especially in a field where I want people to like and share my work. I depend on my ability to win people over with my words, and it stings more than a little when someone bites back.

How do I tell the difference between valid criticism of my work and negative comments with no truth or value? I wish that I had found an answer before composing this, but the truth is that I’ve been struggling with it for as long as I can remember and have found no solution. I expected to grow out of it eventually, but it seems to be one of the many ways in which I am still a child.

It’s too soon to make a New Year’s resolution, so I’ll call this an Autumn Action Plan: work on my reaction to criticism; figure out what I need to accept and change, and what I need to reject.

Doctor Who Sucks, but I Refuse to Stop Watching

I’m a big fan of the sci-fi show Doctor Who. (Note: I haven’t seen any of the show prior to its return in 2005, so my discussion here is focused on the “new” version of the series.) I started watching on Netflix about 3 years ago, and after getting all caught-up, I started watching the show as it aired beginning with season 6.

Fans of TV shows experience a frequent change that is uncommon in other genres: unlike films, characters come and go, writers and directors are exchanged, shows are cancelled altogether. With Doctor Who, this process of change is multiplied exponentially. The show is founded on a concept of near-constant change. The Doctor is a near-immortal alien who changes his face, so the actor who plays him is changed every couple of seasons. The companions who accompany The Doctor are mortal humans, and are killed/lost/abandoned every couple of seasons. As fans, we understand that this roulette of characters is part of the charm of the show; we delight in our shared sadness at the departure of beloved people, and in the shared joy of getting to know someone new.

rose on the beach

Source: tumblr.com

Nevertheless, Doctor Who has recently exhibited some serious changes in tone and content, changes that aren’t part of premise of the show. In addition to the exchange of characters, we’ve seen a distinct change in how female characters are portrayed and treated. It’s not just that the episodes always fail the Bechdel Test. In some episodes, it’s “little” sexist jokes that are offered unironically; women are constantly the butt of jokes about incompetence, vanity, and body image. In the show overall, female characters have become nothing more than the tired tropes we’ve seen a hundred times before. There’s no variety, no depth, and no promise of any new female characters that don’t fit all the stereotypes. We can blame most of this on Steven Moffat, who has consistently shown himself to be unapologetically sexist time and time again, but the fact that no-one else on the show has tried to interfere is alarming.

I’ve gotten tired of investing so much time and emotion into a show that cares nothing for me as a woman. I have to force myself to watch new episodes, and I cringe at every single reference to Clara’s body. I’ve only watched the first three episodes of the new season because it’s such an emotional drain to watch.

The most discouraging part of this recent shift is the lack of support from fellow fans. As a daily Tumblr user, I see a lot of posts about the negative aspects of Doctor Who. I see constructive discussions about what could be changed and how it could improve. And yet, for every constructive discussion, I see 10 responses saying things like, “Just stop watching the show!” Within the Doctor Who fandom exists an attitude of, “If you don’t like it, stop participating.” Fans, listen up: this is just as damaging as the sexism in the show.

I have invested nearly three years into Doctor Who. I’ve purchased and displayed the merchandise, I’ve read fan fiction, I’ve laughed and cried with the characters; I have earned the right to criticize a thing that I’ve consumed and loved and that has helped shape my perspective on the world. The show celebrated its 50th anniversary last year; there are fans who have been consuming and loving Doctor Who for over 50 years; they have earned the right to criticize.

I see this attitude of “love it or leave it” everywhere in our culture. I see it especially in reference to sexism and rape culture in popular media. Every time I see a legitimate complaint of an inappropriate or offensive “joke” in a show, song, movie, etc., I see hundreds of supporters claiming that it’s all part of the package, and if we don’t like it we can leave.

The creators of “humorous” content that makes light of rape, sexual assault, racism, mental or physical disabilities, and mental illness are shouting at us, “LEARN TO TAKE A JOKE” while they belittle our experiences, our pain, our oppression. In reply we answer, “Please recognize our humanity by allowing us into the discussion.” We are met only with more belittling.

A lack of criticism in communities only benefits the oppressors. It is useful for an oppressor to perpetuate an atmosphere where the oppressed must grin and bear it or be removed from the community; in the end, this demand to be silent damages the content, the creator, and the consumer alike.

So, I will continue to watch Doctor Who and I will continue to be a voice for change, both in my fandom and in the world at large. I refuse to abandon a community that I love without first making it a safer place for the fans who will come after me.

NaNoWriMo 2014

November 1st kicked off NaNoWriMo, aka National Novel Writing Month. The goal: to write a 50,000+ word novel in one month. Although I’ve written some poetry and short fiction in the past, I’ve never been interested in writing a novel. Nevertheless, the dastardly Mindy Hood has challenged me to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, and since I am always up for new ways to motivate my non-fiction writing, I have accepted her challenge.

The guidelines for the official NaNoWriMo can be found on the organization’s website, but they are incredibly simple: write a 50,000 word novel draft during the 30 days of November. By the time you reach the end, you have a substantial amount of material to work with.

In order to adapt the program for non-fiction, I’ve put together a daily writing plan. Rather than updating my blog every day, I have various projects in mind, some of which will not be public until far into the future, if ever. I will, however, be updating my blog here far more regularly, so you can look forward to hearing from me quite a lot in the next few weeks. Here are my plans:

  1. Write no less than 1,000 words a day. That doesn’t get me quite to 50,000 words, but I want to set a goal that is not so difficult that I give up halfway through.
  2. Update my blog no less than twice per week. I will post every Sunday and Thursday during November. Hey, maybe I’ll become one of those “reliable” bloggers that updates more than twice a year!
  3. Set long-term writing goals and begin making tangible steps toward achieving those goals.
  4. Support organizations dedicated to literacy and education.

I don’t anticipate this being easy for me; I’m not usually very motivated to write, so it will take a lot of tea and a lot of time staring at a blank document before I settle into a rhythm.

Note: I accidentally skipped November 1st because I forgot, so I’ll be making up those missed words throughout the month.

In the spirit of my fourth NaNoWriMo goal, I’d like to highlight the non-profit work of the NaNoWriMo organization. Among other projects, NaNoWriMo has developed several education programs:

  • The Young Writers Program promotes writing fluency, creative education, and the sheer joy of novel-writing in K-12 classrooms. We provide free classroom kits, writing workbooks, Common Core-aligned curricula, and virtual class management tools to more than 2,000 educators from Dubai to Boston.
  • The Come Write In program provides free resources to libraries, community centers, and local bookstores to build writing havens in your neighborhood.
  • Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat, designed to provide the community, resources, and tools needed to complete any writing project, novel or not.

(BTW, I’m totally counting all that as part of my daily word count, even though I copy+pasted it from their website).

As a first step as part of my NaNoWriMo goals, I have made a $25 donation to NaNoWriMo, and I encourage you to do the same.


How can you help me?

  1. Give me ideas: what do you want me to write about? Who do you want me to interview? What books or movies do you want me to review? What recipes should I try so that I can document my failure?
  2. Find education/literacy organizations and share them with me.
  3. Share your writing process: what motivates you to write every day? What are the best locations for writing? What atmosphere inspires you the most?

Perhaps you can all take a look at my plans and keep me on track, or maybe some of you will join me in my efforts. Either way, good luck to all of us!

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Have you missed my work on other sites? Check out my most recent articles:

Feminspire: Jealous? Try Abusive: Nick Jonas’ New Song is a Train Wreck

writerbuilds. Making Friends: A Networking Crash Course

Decisions

Imagine me, just graduated from college; I have a summer job, but no idea what will happen come August. My job will end and I have no plan for the future. I’ve applied to some grad school programs and a few jobs, but no one will answer my emails. I have very few marketable skills, and a dwindling (sometimes empty) bank account. I want adventure, to satisfy my curiosity about the world, but I’m constantly anxious about how to pay my bills without a legitimate job.

I spent my summer perpetually anxious about what would come next in my life. Just when I had given up hope of having any future at all, I landed a great volunteer position with AmeriCorps. I accepted it, then a few days later I was offered a great full-time job with people I know and love. Then, I was accepted into grad school and offered a chance at a full scholarship. Then, I was notified of a paid internship that encompasses all of the experience I will need for the career I eventually want.

Within a week, I had four incredible opportunities in front of me, and all I could feel was intense anger. Why did I have to spend a miserable summer wondering what would happen to me? Why did I have so little time to make such an important decision?

————

Making decisions has always been stress-inducing for me. As a teenager, I struggled with how to make plans for my future in light of “God’s will.” For those of you who are not involved in the Christian community, there tends to be quite a bit of emphasis on the mysterious will of God. Some explain it as a broad set of guidelines that apply to everyday life. For example, “It is God’s will that we treat people with respect and sacrificially help others.” This kind of advice can be applied to any situation or career choice. Others believe that God has a more specific plan for each person’s life, and are far more concerned about decisions; what if God wants me to be a teacher, but I choose to be an accountant instead? How many people will go to hell if I make the wrong career choice?

I lived in limbo between these two views, and obsessed about even small decisions that I felt could impact the rest of my life. It was a miserable way to plan for the future.

My perspective on faith and fate has changed significantly since high school, but I struggle with the same doubts. It feels like every decision is an irreversible step, either toward something great or something terrible.

In a way, that is true. Many decisions are irreversible, and many have a significant impact on my life. For example, deciding to go to CCU certainly changed the direction of my life. More impactful, however, was the seemingly simple choice to take Intro to Short Fiction instead of Creative Writing one semester; because of the discussions that followed, that decision resulted in the most positive personal growth of my life so far.

———–

I don’t often work on craft projects, but when I do I face the same kind of anxiety. I’m not particularly skilled when it comes to working with my hands, so what I picture in my head rarely ends up manifesting itself in reality.

Embroidery 1

In crafting, most decisions are irreversible. The first time I penciled a design all over a canvas, applauding myself for making a plan before acting, I had no idea that pencil doesn’t really erase from a canvas. My doodles had to be covered up with various other materials, and my “art” spiraled into the hottest of hot messes I had ever created.

 

Embroidery 3

Because of my inexperience, each brush stroke or stitch is a permanent choice; it is far too difficult for me to fix mistakes, so I just have to make them work. With embroidery, I understand that the smallest out-of-order stitch has the potential to skew the entire work. I also understand, however, that an out-of-order stitch will remind me of the hours I got to spend watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer while I crafted; it will remind me that a skewed work of art is no less beautiful, and that it is better than anything I could have bought because it is a part of me.

———–

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott tells a story about deciding whether or not her young son, Sam, should be allowed to go on a complimentary paragliding ride. Sam desperately wanted to go, but Anne was torn; should she let him live adventurously, or was he far too young to do something so dangerous? Anne writes about asking friends and family for advice, considering the consequences of both decisions, and seeking guidance through prayer; none of these gave Anne enough confidence to make the right choice.

Finally, Anne decides to consider her own gut feeling: “I thought about how I would feel if I let Sam jump: my heart lept into my throat, as if to escape rising water. Then I thought about how I would feel if I called the paraglide pilot and canceled. I felt euphoric, like Zorba and the Greek…I went off to find a telephone and cancel.”

I have used this method several times since reading Traveling Mercies; each time, I picture myself living within a reality in which I have made a certain decision, and then living within a reality in which I have made the opposite decision. Sometimes this is easy. It is easy to compare realities when the decision is between staying the same or making a change; for example, should we move to a new house or stay where we are?

It is much more difficult when change is inevitable, and I am forced to decide between two alternatives. There is much more uncertainty and guessing, but I can still search my gut for direction.

Reflecting on her decision not to let her son paraglide, Lamott writes, “I did not know what any of this meant, only that I had asked for help and received it. Now I could say to God, Thank you for showing me I didn’t have to toss my child off the mountain.”

———–

It’s impossible to know the most fulfilling scenario for my life; the best I can do is to make decisions that feel right. For now, that means turning down AmeriCorps, grad school, and internships to work full-time for CCU.

I cried when I made this decision; my friend Amanda says that all change is loss, and that we have to mourn the loss before we can embrace the change. I have mourned the loss of these opportunities, and have embraced the decision.

Now I can say to God, “Thanks for showing me that I don’t have to jump off a mountain just yet.”

Sometimes I think I can hear Her respond, “Your mountain is not that far off.”

 

My Depression

I have depression.

No, I am not depressed all the time; I have the medical condition known as clinical depression, and in my case, it comes and goes. At the best times, my anti-depressant medication and weekly counseling keep me level-headed and relatively happy. At the worst times, I want to end my life. In August 2013, I spent a few days in the psychiatric ward of Mercy Clermont Hospital on suicide watch, and that wasn’t the last time I felt badly enough to kill myself.

Now that I’ve reached a relatively good place emotionally, I can better understand what would have helped me the most at my darkest times. This is what I wish I had known:

  1. You’re not the only one who feels like this, but that doesn’t mean humanity is hopeless.

When I heard about other’s experiences with depression or other mental illness, I didn’t feel better. People would say, “Don’t worry! You’re not alone in feeling like this; a lot of people feel this way, too.”

This made me feel so much more hopeless. I wanted to believe that I’m the only one who can’t function properly, because that would mean that the world could continue on just fine without me. All of the normal, have-it-all-together people could patch up the shitty holes I made while I was alive, and then keep doing have-it-all-together things once I’m gone.

The truth is, everyone experiences the emotion-type of depression at some point, and many people experience the clinical disorder of depression, but that doesn’t mean the world is doomed to fail. While it is comforting to know that you are not the only one drowning, a person with depression also needs to know that there are systems in place that help those of us who need it; we’re not all just floundering around half-dead.

  1. You are a complete person.

The worst part of my depression was feeling like an incomplete human being. I let my homework wait until the last minute, and by the time I started I had a reason to tell myself that I was lazy for not starting sooner. I rarely washed my dishes, and the worse my kitchen got, the more I told myself that I was disgusting for not having an organized and clean home. I spent hours on my couch or in bed watching Netflix, ignoring all responsibilities until I started sobbing over my lack of self-control.

All of this made me feel like I wasn’t capable of living, and at the time, that was technically right. Looking back from a healthier perspective, I recognize that I needed help to get through those times. I also recognize, however, that I didn’t need to rely on that help forever. Despite needing a hand here-and-there, I was still a legitimate human being with worth and value. Every person, despite illness or disability, is a legitimate human being with worth and value.

Although I had very little control over my thoughts, the idea that I was incomplete made my depression so much worse. I needed the people around me to constantly affirm that I wasn’t worthless, and although it took a long time for it to start being effective, I eventually got to a place where I believed their affirmations.

  1. The church isn’t the only way, or the “best” way, to get out of depression.

Note: This is obviously a personal experience that cannot be applied to all churches or individuals. Please understand that this is not an accusation of any specific church or individual, and is not intended to be applied to Christianity as a whole.

The church has failed people with mental illness in a big way; specifically, the church has failed me in a big way. I spent three years in a dark depression, and I expect to struggle with periods of darkness again in the future. Those three years were spent buried deep within the Christian community; every aspect of my life was permeated with faith. I attended a Christian university as a full-time student. I worked at the same university as a tutor and administrative assistant, and all of my co-workers and supervisors were Christian. I volunteered as the Children’s Minister at a church that I helped plant. I had absolutely no friends who were not Christian, and most of my friends were volunteering in church ministry as well.

Those three years surrounded by Christians were the darkest of my life, and within weeks of taking a break from church I felt better.

Churches tend to ignore the existence of depression, treating it like an issue of emotions rather than mental illness. I heard over and over, “You can’t choose your circumstances, but you can choose how you respond to them,” and, “You may not be happy all the time, but if you are seeking after God you will always have joy.”

The truth is, I tried to choose how I responded to my circumstances, and I failed. I prayed about it; I read my Bible for at least an hour every single day; I sought out the advice of Christian leaders and friends; none of it worked.

I dislike the Christian idea that contentment is the ultimate goal. We sing, “It is well with my soul,” while in the pews sit people with souls that are anything but well. We sing, “No matter my lot, You have taught me to say…” ignoring the fact that a lot of people have a “lot” that totally sucks and warrants an unwell soul, and a lot of others have a brain chemistry that does not allow them to make normal choices about their emotions.

The church doesn’t often tell people how to find help for brokenness, they just tell them that now they have Christ they have EVERYTHING they need. I don’t think that the church is incapable of helping; in fact, I think the position that the church holds in society means that it has the potential to be life-saving for those with depression. I also think, however, that it needs to drastically adjust its teaching on joy and contentment.

Please think about how you interact with people with depression.

As a survivor of suicidal depression, I’m asking that you please stop assuming that you know how I feel, unless you’re also a survivor of suicidal depression. I’m asking that you please stop saying that God is the only way to heal. I’m asking you to do some basic research.

If you’re a part of the Christian church, please stop telling people that being discontent with their lives is the ultimate sin. Stop telling people to give up ambition and idealism. Stop telling people that the secret to happiness is prayer and allowing yourself to be “led by the Spirit.”

Instead, talk honestly with the people in your life who struggle with mental illness. Listen to what they have to say. Offer to drive them to counseling appointments, or to the pharmacy to pick up their meds. Help them find a psychiatrist in their insurance network.

Find something they’re enthusiastic about and share that with them; as ridiculous as it sounds, one reason I hesitated to kill myself was because I wanted to see how Battlestar Galactica ended. I thought that everything in my life was worth giving up on except for a TV show on Netflix; find the Battlestar Galactica for your depressed friend and participate in that activity as much as possible.


Most of all, don’t abandon the people in your life who have depression. It probably bums you out that your friend isn’t herself anymore, but that doesn’t give you an excuse to stop pursuing your friendship. If she drops out of contact, text her constantly. If he stops coming to class, show up at his door and find out why. Be annoyingly present in your friend’s life. In the end, that is what helped me the most.