Thursday, December 19, 2013

That Grad Grind

I'm not really sure how to pass this energy.

I mean, I could do lots of things. And I'd be lying if I tried to say that I didn't cry while listening to "The Climb" by the old Miley Cyrus like a giant baby defeatist. Mostly, I've been driving and consuming and resting on the couch, watching and being inspired by a plasma screen full of people who made it. 

And me, on the other side of glory, soaking in the opportunity to fail. Guys, I'm in trouble.

But I was told recently by somebody very wise and very wonderful, that I am not powerless.  That perspective is everything. And during this horrendous albeit incredible beginning to my graduate career, I felt powerless in every way. I worked so hard, couldn't pass the tests. I explained the fundamental fabric of astronomy as eloquently as I could, my students can't tell the moon from a wheel of cheese. I have a deep love for learning, I can't fit anything else inside my head.

BUT (because there is always a big BUT in my life, always):

This is not defeat. Nor is it complete failure. It's failure all right, but not completely. Because I know that I couldn't have changed anything about this past semester to make myself magically more test-savvy. I was asked to "change everything" about the way I study and learn, and I won't. I'll always be me, babe. Sorry.

Instead, I'm changing my perspective. This is affording me the opportunity, for the first time in a while, to assess. Assess, reassess, and rework my entire grand plan for my academic life, as it were. I'm not particularly interested in staying where I am forever, nor am I particularly psyched about doing everything at light speed. I'm more of a sound speed kind of gal. Just because I'm always on the run doesn't mean I'm always running. Come on. I'm tired. What's the damn rush? I'm twenty three years young, and I want to feel and do and see everything. I'll take my time, thankyouverymuch.

So if I can survive next semester, maybe I'll just try at a Master's. Take it slow. Soak it in. Graduate education is a blessing; a unique opportunity. I don't want to rush it, squander it, glaze it over. I want all of it.

All of it, in my own time, on my own terms.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

For You, Not Me

What if my life has nothing to do with me? 

I mean, I'm this arbitrary mass of blood and bones and tissue, with a spirit that doesn't quite fit inside and a heart that doesn't claim just one single home.

So, I don't want to live for just myself. I'm far, far too flighty for that. 

But, dedicated.

Dedication is a beautiful, rich phenomenon. My hands have never moved with more finesse, my feet have never pounded the Earth with more intensity, my arms and my heart have never opened so wide for myself, but for all of you. Dedicated to you, I'm limitless.

And during this season of life where my existence is a wonderful shade of chaos and strain and stretch, the bombs are falling around me; not on me. But, I can see where they are landing, right on top of you, and I've signed up for the disaster relief. I want to ease your burns. Rebuild you. Renew you. Be your bandaid.

And on the day-to-day, I can't dive in so deeply...but I can dedicate. So on Friday, I'll know the ins and outs of harmonic oscillators for Lawrenzo. Dear friend, you are everywhere to me, just like Michelle Branch said and I decided to E/B/F# my own chord progression into a 3,000 mile drive and I feel so much better and so much like the wind, and the ocean behind my eyes, and I've spent so much graphite while reaching for the solutions to our universe. And Lawrenzo, the one of the two of us who could really understand it, couldn't carry the whole, wide world and now the whole, wide world weeps for him. But he's everywhere. He'll be with me on Friday. He's with me now. He always was, and always will be.

And for the rest of you, use me. My life was orchestrated for your benefit; I exist for you, I ache for you. And eventually, I'll heal for you. We'll heal together.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Because My Brain Isn't

Staring at the ceiling, all I see are the black dots that cover my field of view after I've taken in too much coffee. It's an anxiety symptom, it's a dehydration symptom, it's perfectly explainable from a biochemical perspective.

Let's pretend for a moment that we can chalk it up to a bad week. A bad semester, even, but maybe that's going too far already. What am I doing here? I thought I knew. I was built for academia. But, I would also like to stop feeling powerless in every aspect of my life. Academia is not the place for that.

Now let's pretend that it's just because I have that (un)fortunate case of wanderlust that prevents me from being content where I am, regardless of where I am. There's no cure for that, besides incessant travel. And I incessantly travel.

Now let's pretend that I've placed myself inside of a seemingly perfect situation, and that it's somehow wrong, or I'm wrong, or it's too much.

It's too much.

I won't get a therapist. Don't believe me when I say that I will. I should, but I won't. I know myself enough to know that much. I'm closer to getting a double mastectomy than I am to getting a therapist. It's not easier, but it's...easier.

And in general, things are wonderful.

It's just that my brain isn't.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

That Was Unexpected

If you would've asked me which traumatic event in my life would've been capable of sending me busting out of a Starbucks in tears, panicking and shaken and unsafe, I would've guessed, you know, that whole sexual assault thing. I mean...obviously.

But that would've made way too much sense to be a scene from my life. Because in actuality, I was minding my own business and studying Classical Mechanics at the Starbucks in Anderson, when the worst anxiety trigger in the whole world walked through the door.

Church people.

(and the crowd gasped in horror)

It was my own fault. South Carolina is lousy with Christians, and it was Sunday afternoon. But the thing about these church people is not just that they're Christian; I'm Christian. I've just spent the past year of my life completely and utterly embarrassed by that fact, because I can't handle the baggage that comes with the label. My relationship with God became extremely personal this year; so much so that a once harmonious topic of conversation now has the power to disintegrate my voice into a symphony of atonal shakes and sounds. I can't talk about Jesus anymore. He is profoundly inside of me, and that is where He shall remain. Buried deeply. A constant companion, and a great comforter and friend. But this is for me to experience, and for you to mind your distance.

So, these church people. I recognized them. There was such familiarity there, almost tangible, glaringly obvious; aggressive, even. Aggressive because they all arrived at the same time, wearing blinding highlighter green t-shirts with their new service times in giant font on the back like some glorified heavenly billboard meant to litter the streets of gold upstairs; and their smiles and high-fives and "do you think the sound was extra loud today" and their iced teas and cappuccinos and their laughter and camaraderie and community and "let me tell you about Jesus, bro!" 

I can't.

I realized that it was too late. I had thoughtlessly chosen the one seat at Starbucks that was literally in the corner of the wall; I had cornered myself, with no hope of escape. I shuffled my papers. Everything about normal mode theory seemed unimportant and distant, and the Hillsong album pumping into my ears seemed almost woefully ironic. 

Pitifully, I scampered into the bathroom and let fall the developing tears. Because I can't help but grieve for my lost community that they are so blessed to have. And I couldn't imagine that I'd ever be welcome in a group like theirs ever again.

Anyway, I managed to escape. And I cried all the way home, furious at the Great I Am for being "so mean" as to let this happen, the day before a big exam for His sake, and furious at myself for having a bad anxiety day; I had been doing so well.

So, why had I reacted like a serious PTSD victim? It surprised me, too. But I think it's because I invested the majority of my life involved in what I believed to be (and what very well may have been, for a while) a healthy, inspiring church environment with a church family who loved and accepted me just the way I was. But the more I reflect on this belief, the more diluted I find it to be. Yes, I have some deep, genuine, grace-filled, Christ-centered friendships that still exist from my years at Trinity, but there is a devastating flip-side to this coin. I've realized that nobody has made me feel worse about myself than some of my church "family." I mean, besides my own self. But, really? A church family is supposed to stand behind its members in trying times, not kick them while they're down or fire relentless accusations out of context, standing on dated scriptures and peering through narrow perspectives, spitting venom yet speaking of love. That's dysfunctional.

And dysfunctional it was. I backed away from church. And almost a year later, clearly, I'm still in an excessive amount of grief over the loss of such a deep foundation to which I had held fast. I am happy for the lovely, smiling green-shirted church people that came to Starbucks...all at the same time. I am also green, with envy. I'm tired of feeling like an outsider. It's a giant blow to anyone with a relationship with Jesus when one feels unwelcome in God's own home. It makes it difficult to establish trust, or believe in grace from what proclaims to be a gracious community.

But, I digress. I feel no better about the situation, so I'll probably go to the damn church. Otherwise, these things will keep happening. I will keep feeling terrible. Little by little, I'll start attending; I know when the new service times are, after all, thanks to the green shirts. And who knows? Maybe it'll blossom into one of those genuine communities that I crave so heavily, and I will grow because I love to do that. I will find other people like me. I will have the opportunity to share my gifts and my grace.

Or, the green-shirted people could start an exaggerated rumor that I'm a Godless lesbian with an alcohol problem.

Either way.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hello Operator

I would say that a bottle of wine will convince you to love Quantum physics, but the truth is, it will convince you all by itself. We love things that we can understand; but more importantly, we love things that we cannot understand. Quantum mechanics is both, neither, and some star-crossed state in between. It's everything.

It's literally the reason I crawl out of bed every other day after sleeping far, far too little. It's captivating. It's my one saving grace in graduate school; the passion for the fundamentals, the moment when I realize that I'm ready to go back to basics in order to understand the basis. Genuinely, this time, and with great relish.

And now, for Quantum and everything else:

"The work will teach you how to do it."
-Estonian Proverb

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Conservation of Energy

"So, if you don't mind...what grade did you get in your undergraduate classical mechanics class?"

My, what a loaded question. I assume, professor, that you're asking me this so that you can understand how I weaseled my way into graduate school after handing in such a preposterous first homework set, furthermore seeming almost smug and extremely aware of how much sense my answers didn't make. I assume you believe me to be some sort of system-playing fraud; a woman about whom people should be advised and warned. Someone who does not put in the required effort; someone who might not survive this school.

But, let's go back to undergraduate classical mechanics. Let's see if we can dissect what really happened that year. Never mind the fact that I think that most of us were rather bored and confused in that class, or that it was three years ago, or that I hadn't written a Lagrangian since I had last been asked...never mind all that. There's quite a deeper story.

You see, I lost months of my life that year. Honestly, I can't even construct a decent continuum of memories; only bits here, bits there, bits that may come back someday...but I hope not. I do remember a few things, though; unfortunately, none of them involving how to define forces of constraint. Instead, I remember laying on the ground, unable to move, bright fluorescent lights above. I remember the never-ending days of self-imposed routine, the work, the not sleeping.

Because I knew that I had to sleep quickly and wake up early before the sun would rise. I would trudge in the dark through piles of snow on bitter cold mornings, and when I arrived at the pool all bundled up, I'd strip down to barely anything and swim as if my life depended on it, because it did. I knew that my morning swim would be the only thing to sustain my energy, my life, that day. 

The day I found out, part of me died. And everything is jumbled up after that. The phrase "sexual abuse scandal" barely begins to scratch the surface of the horrible things that were being unveiled in front of my family's eyes, but any other phrase cuts too deeply. And then, the bad press. Every inaccurate news article about our private lives was taken and laid  bare for the internet, at the mercy of any bored, ignorant passerby. And oh, how they relish in the opportunity to volunteer a digital opinion! Some expressed keystrokes of sympathy and disgust, others essentially called us liars, and probably everything in between. And we hid. We pretended it wasn't about us. We tried to protect ourselves.

I lost my mind that year. I became severely unwell. I was exhausted, unreliable, ridden with anxiety, useless, helpless, defenseless, and depressed. I was a little more than a high-functioning corpse. Even now, just the memory of it...it is by grace that I do not remember most of this, but, oh! I'm being rude. You asked me a question!

See, I'm caught in a nuance of the memory now, scrambling so that I don't drown in it. It is several years later, and I have certainly healed considerably. But the mention of that year, of anything during that time, has the potential to send me reeling backwards. Because sadly, I lost everything I once knew about classical mechanics. I lost almost everything that year.

But you didn't ask for that. You didn't ask for details, or context. You asked for a number.

"I received a 2.5 in classical mechanics."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughts, Uncategorized

I am not a patriot. I am not a nationalist. I don't like these terms for the same reason I didn't like the concept of religious denominations, when I used to actively discuss my faith. I feel as if, instead, my time has been better spent developing an understanding of what it means to be a decent human being. Not a decent American, a decent Christian, or any kind of decent specimen of any number of subcategories in which any organization-driven mind might automatically place me.

Rightly, or wrongly.

But then again, what's right is seeming to be more and more slippery and abstract as time goes by. The right shoes for me are certainly not the right shoes for you, if you don't have a size 9 foot and hate Converse. It's as simple as that, but on another hand, far, far more complicated.

So, I let you buy your own shoes. I'd appreciate it if you'd let me buy mine. Just two decent humans, unassumingly wandering about in our respective perfect pairs of shoes.

It seems so obvious, so easy. But I'm not that brilliant. Sure, I'm working towards a PhD in physics, but when I get sad, I can just go and do some math. And there's plenty to be sad about, nowadays, even in the middle of a life that far exceeds my expectations, or wildest wishes. A life that makes me happy, when other things make me sad.

Everything is balance. Everything.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Sinking

Are we supposed to be ashamed of everything, now? Of our bodies, our choices, our thoughts? The things over which we've thought and prayed; the things for which our hearts beat? The cruel realities of our pasts, and our most precious, fragile, hopeful wishes for our futures?

I'll have no part of that.

"If grace is an ocean, we're all sinking."

I'm sinking in God's grace, in growth, and in life. Sinking into deeper depths and out of the shallows. Finding creative ways to be genuine. Pulsing every second. Probing along with curious, careful fingertips. Learning to accept myself, to love myself, to embrace myself. 

I won't own any more shame. I can't afford it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Slam

See, people like me, 
from day one, 
have felt like some unwelcome side effect of a pill
that was supposed to make them feel so good inside
but instead
it deteriorated their entire selves
in exchange for a brief moment of pleasure,
of solidarity.

And people like you have made people like me feel worse
for decades after that
and decades
and even now.

Because, see, we as a society have convinced ourselves 
that the inside of a mailbox
or something that has been dead for 30 million years
or money
is more important than the pulsing inside of a
currently breathing
human being
and her soul.

Daughters of the universe, be strong.
Be aware.
If my daughter ends up
in jail for any length of time,
I want it to be the result of her standing up
for her beliefs
her convictions;
unafraid and unshaken
by the foolish screams around her.

This is something that I understand.
How awful it feels
to lose your community
your foundation
because you have done 
what
was
right.
And then I will know what to say 
to her
in encouragement.

Because you, in your irrelevance,
your lack of perspective, 
your lack of vision,
scribble your judgments 
and your hatreds
onto rectangular scraps of paper

and you take your words to the bank
and you pull them out of your
back pocket
but I know from whence they really came
just around the corner

and you take your words up to the counter
but you can't cash that check, baby.

It's going to bounce.

Now watch me do the same thing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Owning It

Oh, healing process, how you take forever. Forever.

At this stage, I am grossed out by everything and have patience for nothing. I'll take this over irrational paranoia, but still. This is a tough one. It seems that the only way to grow through this phase is to painstakingly, monotonously, begrudgingly do very small, very basic nice things for myself.

To Do (or die) List:
1. Take a damn shower...eventually.
2. Buy some organic zucchini.
3. Go the hell outside and climb some buttes.
4. Make some kale chips.
5. Sit on your yoga mat with a cup of tea.
6. Pick up Symone and sing another vocally lazy rendition of "Skinny Love" like you actually know what the lyrics mean.
7. Love yourself. Try to be convincing.

See? Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. It's one of those times when I know that I'm the problem, the solution, the victim, and the survivor. I'll figure it out. I'll talk it out. I'll stretch it out. Eventually, I'll stop feeling like a leprous criminal. An intruder in my own life. A square peg in a round hole. Diseased. Twisted. Wrong. 

Eventually.

For now, I'll own my perceived disfunction in an otherwise successful, colorful, wonderful, adventurous existence. I'll enjoy the ride until the next stage, whatever that may be. Hopefully, it'll be the part when I actually see myself as my friends do, as my colleagues do, as my little sisters do, as my big sister does, or most profoundly, as God does. 

Hopefully.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Soul Update

Oh hi there, readers. 

I would just like you all to know that I am in the middle of, perhaps, one of the happiest times of my life. Adoration for my job and for the people with whom I interact is continuously present, and I'm honored to be doing exactly what I had wished I could do.

But still, as per usual, I want more. I always will, which may be a contributing factor to my becoming a scientist. This time, though, I think it's because I finally have time to rest and to think about what exactly I'm missing. Sure, I miss MSU as well as my friends and family, but this is different. This is the kind of mourning that happens for something that hasn't happened...yet. It's when I realize that everything might be connected, and the bottom line is me.

The truth is, part of me really, really wants to be that girl in the sports bra and the bare feet, the one picking the organic kale from the Farmer's Market, scaling rock faces and freely expressing herself in the yoga studio. That girl loves her life. So do I. That girl loves her body. I do not.

And the fact that I hate my body so much is probably intimately connected with how dissatisfied I am with my insides. My life is incredible; my soul is broken. I'm just now beginning to realize the true scope of my brokenness, but I think that maybe that realization is an important part of healing. It's simple: I'm not getting what I need. Not physically, not mentally, not emotionally, not sexually, not relationally, not financially, not medically, not nutritionally. Now, I don't think that others are so much to blame for any of this. Some of it is just because of the season of my life. Most of it is because of me, and my blatant refusal to take care of myself because I, for whatever reason, do not believe that I deserve to be taken care of. It's ludicrous, but it's completely true. It's been true for a very, very long time. 

I've had bouts of serious self-love, but they never seemed to last. Something would happen; I'd lose community, I'd lose time, or I'd lose my mind. Something. And just like that, I'd internalize my negativity and begin to doubt myself again.

It's time to stop. It's time to realize that all of my self-directed dissatisfaction covers every aspect of my life. I've been frustrated lately because I thought that I was stuck; that I didn't have a clue how to proceed in my own healing process. Maybe I can begin very simply. I can begin to feed myself healing foods that can feed my soul instead of just feeding a sugar craving. I can get outside into the sun, and under the stars. I can let myself sleep. I can sing, I can pray, and I can write. Everybody knows that this is a journey, and it's time I started moving forward in mine.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Manifest Destiny

No, no. Not Manifest Destiny in that awfully imperialistic and self-righteous sense; I mean it in the sense that I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be. Beautifully, and divinely. 

I love this feeling. It usually births itself around June, or so. Truth is, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be because I'm not in Lansing, which has been a little bit of an enormous pill to swallow for some people in my life. It isn't personal. I mean, it is personal, for me. My life, my happiness, my education, and my potential require me to be as far away from Lansing as I can drive, so I happily oblige.

It's incredibly energizing to be out here teaching astronomy at Badlands National Park. Often times, I momentarily think about the amazing fact that I'm here, doing exactly what I love to do, and how simple it all was. There is something humanly magnificent, magnificently human, about gracefully achieving a personal goal; it makes me smile for that brief second of thought.

I'm getting used to working nights again (sort of) and using the night sky as my own personal chalkboard in my vast universal classroom. I get to talk about lots of things. Things about which I'm well-versed, and things about which I have some knowledge, and things about which I want to learn. Crazy things, non-intuitive things, mind-blowing things. I love how curious, inquisitive, and clever our visitors are; in particular, I love how excited people get when they see solar flares or Saturn's rings for the very, very first time. I've had people from the countryside, people from the city, amateur astronomers, and all of their children.

Oh hi there, baby fever. Welcome back! You guessed it: the kids are my favorite.

There have been a few particular tots who have captured my heart lately. One very young little girl was given the opportunity to see the Sun through a solar telescope, through which the viewer can see solar flares and sunspots on a big, red circle of a Sun. It's always hard to know whether or not the kids can see what's in there, because most of the time they have to be picked up by mom or dad to get to the eyepiece. To both of our delights, she saw the Sun and triumphantly declared: "Circle!!" I told her that she had done very well, and that the circle she had seen was the Sun. And my heart melted.

Today, I was climbing one of the buttes behind our housing units, and two little boys from the house across the field came over to keep me company. One of them, clutching a plastic figure of an alien, told me that he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up. Then, we talked about what kinds of aliens we would like to discover; what they would look like, how many arms they would have, and of course, how many balls they could juggle. And my heart melted again.

Then tonight, while Tina and I were setting up the telescopes for the Night Sky folks to see the Hercules cluster and Saturn, I was in full-on teacher/fact-spewer/excited scientist mode. And the moment that melted my heart beyond any possibility of repair happened while showing Saturn. Another very small little girl, being held up to the eyepiece by her father to see Saturn, squealed in the most perfect, ecstatic little voice: "You can see its rings, daddy!!" 

I died. Of joy.

Because I want them to experience what I do and think that it's the coolest thing they've ever seen. Not for my benefit, but for theirs. In one of the several NOVA Science Now episodes that I've watched today, a female Japanese scientist who is developing incredibly intelligent prosthetics has devoted lots of her time to becoming a role model for young girls, future scientists. She nailed it when she said that she hoped that "they would do better than me." Educators do not educate for their own sakes, or for vanity, or for heaven's sake, the salary. We educate because we haven't given up on humanity. And because kids are damn clever. Smart and resilient and curious; they already are scientists. I am glad to work in an environment where that curiosity is encouraged rather than snuffed out of them by rigidity, rules, and standards. They can breathe a little bit easier out here, and so can I.

Also, the video for Rusted Root's "Send Me On My Way" was absolutely filmed in the Badlands. You all now have every reason to be incredibly jealous of my life right now. Guys, I'm happy.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reservations on the Reservation

Firstly, I realize that the following post will probably read a lot like the previous ones. I also realize that my entire life has changed between then and now; specifically, I've graduated from college, spent a week in Europe, and moved to Badlands National Park to teach astronomy. Graduated life is incredible so far, and I have been bent and stretched and challenged in many ways. The following text is my reflection upon visiting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

_________________________________


Wednesday was a little bit ridiculous.


Let’s try something for a second. Let’s fold a bunch of different topics, feelings, facts, opinions, and emotional rollercoasters into one day. One single sunrise to sunset. Everything happened on Wednesday.

Imagine American Indians, the Vagina Monologues, a Latin American history class at MSU, imagined communities, imperialism, nationalism, bleeding hearts, ticks, dogs, a dead cow, chocolate with cayenne pepper in it, an awesome native depiction of Jesus, buffalo skulls, and Lakota rituals.

All of that happened on Wednesday. At least.

I am an incredibly spiritual person. As such, I tend to be quite emotionally involved in lots of different things. Consequently, I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and not jump to conclusions. However, I found it difficult to separate fact from opinion during my visit to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The reservation is a broken place. It’s a broken place, but I’m pretty sure it’s largely the fault of US imperialism (at least from my understanding of history.)  However, even in brokenness, there are only so many fingers to point before you’ve exhausted all of your workable hands and have suddenly spun yourself a Charlotte’s web that spells “Jaded.” There are two sides to every story.

In the past, US troops have, for lack of a better phrase, royally screwed over the Lakota bands. In the name of Manifest Destiny, we denied the natives the very thing that our ancestors had pursued by leaving England: religious freedom. Because of course, especially in the Civil War era, anything new or different (or brown) was scary and inappropriate and had to be eliminated or made “civilized.” This has been the story of America from the minute the European settlers landed, and remains to be the story today. We justify it by believing in Nationalism to a fault, to the extent that it becomes not the fabric upon which we weave our patriotic passions but rather the ink pen with which we sign away the rights of those who do not appear to belong in our homogenous American community. This seems quite extreme, but it’s absolutely true; and the most dangerous part is that it’s impossible to see from the inside. The most radical of patriots forget the cost of the thing that passes as freedom here, or worse; they ignore the casualties and flippantly wave them away as necessary collateral damages. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: I live in a nation of self-indulgent thieves. Our legacy is littered with fear-driven decisions and catastrophically impulsive actions, but even so, I think I’m realizing more and more that the USA is the home of the brave. Just not in the sense that we universally believe. 

The brave ones are the ones who can see past all of the screaming flag-wavers and can rather hold their own American flags in their hearts. My America is the one in which I am given the opportunity, as a woman from a small town, to have an incredible education. My America allows me to travel wherever I please, purchase whatever I please, speak however I choose, and work wherever I am qualified to work. But I also know that my America is not necessarily the truth. I am privileged, but that privilege came at a great cost to somebody else. So, I give back. I listen, I talk, and I help whenever I can. I try to restore some balance to all of this chaos that we’ve caused. And I am not interested in pointing fingers or dancing around the truth.

On the reservation, our tour guides were adamant about a few things. Firstly, they made sure we understood the differences between their ways and the ways of the white man. Secondly, although the Lakota are a warring people, they professed a love for peace within the community. After all, “Lakota” literally translates to “friend.” But, wait a minute. How can one profess a love for peace and then dance around the details of a troubled relationship with the white people, with a rather detectable bitter tone? And how can one proclaim that there is very little violence in the community when I have heard specific stories of severe physical and sexual violence perpetrated internally? Now, there is probably a reason behind such violence, namely PTSD from sexual abuse of Lakota children in the mission schools by white evangelists, which is the worst and how dare they and not again, but it’s the truth. It’s a classic case of soul-loss. The Lakota have a ritual where they call their soul, their “nagi,” back to them. The Lakota Warrior Society has been formed for just that purpose: to heal the generation of Lakota men who have suffered from sexual abuse so that the cycle can be broken. I have to believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I have to believe that things will get better eventually, and that I and the folks at V-Day won’t have to feel so broken up over the fact that after everything that the Lakota people have endured from outside oppressors, the women in particular now have to deal with internal oppression. It’s pure madness, at least. I don’t know what to do about it, and I’m not sure if anybody does.

So, I wasn’t sure what to believe. This isn’t mathematics. I can’t just find one counterexample and negate the entire proposition. But a lot of things disturbed me today, as they should have, especially the obvious ones like Wounded Knee which never should have happened and I am ashamed of the US military for exercising such poor judgment during that time, to say the least. But the subtle contradictions made me the most uncomfortable. Mostly, it was the attempt to make the reservation appear friendly and hospitable to guests, as some delightful festival of colors and love and harmony…but then the veiled confession that due to past abuses, the tribe may be experiencing a cycle of violence internally…but there are organizations that have been formed to offer help…but then nobody really has any funding…but then…it’s all terribly complicated. Yes, there were some facts, but mostly outcomes. Mostly dancing around a point. Mostly the inability to tell it to me straight. I don’t like that at all.

But again, as I mentioned: being a spiritual person allows me the tendency to give the benefit of the doubt. So instead of spitting out my own facts and truths for the most part, I simply felt. And to be honest, I felt a whole lot more spirit in those spaces than I have felt in quite some time, and I had been hungry for it. My miniscule amount of native heritage perked up a little, because for some reason, I’ve always wanted to be serenaded by a native in his native tongue. That happened, and I am happy!

I can’t figure out how or why we as a whole have allowed things to become so messily irreparable. So instead of focusing on the whole, on the imagined Nationalist community of America or the United States of Delusion, I will focus on my America. This beautiful land with which I have been blessed. The individuals that weave actual unity instead of imagined homogeneity. People, like me, who were born to repair. The land of the free-spirited and the home of the brave-hearted. That America.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What My B.S. Stands For

Lots of wonderfully flighty things are floating around in my mind on this humid Tuesday of Finals Week. Firstly and foremost: that final that I took today? That could have gone better. 

Loads better. I think this is the first time in my collegiate career, or rather my schooling overall, that I have been actually legitimately concerned about passing a course. That's a little embarrassing. But alas, regardless of how much time I put into it, or how much I enjoyed the course overall, or how much I would recommend it to my friends, or how much I absolutely adore the professors, that particular course has been my sacrificial lamb this semester. I sacrificed attention to this course so that I could either a) sleep for once, b) visit my graduate school, c) work on an international collaboration in computational physics, or d) make sure that my thesis would not be just mediocre. No, scratch that: d) make sure that my thesis would be damn good, and publishable on top of that. And it is!

And then I began to think about all of the sacrifices that I have made in pursuit of a B.S. in physics as well as a B.S. in astrophysics. I've sacrificed a lot of things; sometimes to the extent that I am now simply unwilling to make such sacrifices anymore. 

I have sacrificed time with friends and family that I won't get back, and perhaps time for which I have tried to make up over the past couple of months. You know, as soon as I realized that I have no turnaround time, and I am absolutely outta here, because I have to do it this way. 

I have sacrificed decent nights of sleep in the interest of finishing assignments (mostly) on time. I have learned exactly how many hours there are in a day, and what a girl can do with them. Most importantly, I learned that the night is not infinite just because you've stayed awake the whole time. The sun still rises, and although it seems like the height of rudeness at the time, the sunrise is, at least, one thing that remains constant and faithful.

I have sacrificed my physical health. In my fatigue and awkward working and schooling hours, I probably haven't worked out in over a year and I am tipping the scale far more than I probably should. However, that's not permanent, and I am looking forward to having a few months to my own devices in the wilderness soon and then moving to Appalachia where I can conquer hilltop after hilltop! 

I have sacrificed my mental health. My mental health has risen and fallen drastically, and I have largely tried to keep that under wraps as well. I have come to the difficult conclusion that just because one fills her time with an impossible amount of school things, it doesn't mean that life stops. Life still happens, and I try to be conscientious of this fact with my peers as well as my students. There is a whole lot of trauma to experience in this life; especially when I largely live my life from one trauma to the next. During my work with the MSU Sexual Assault program, I have learned the meaning of "vicarious trauma" and have linked it back to my own private pains. It's a hard thing to process, sometimes. However, I am happy to say that this July I will be three years depression free and I am learning to accept my anxiety as something that is a gift rather than a crutch. Sometimes, it forces me to rest. Sometimes, it prevents me from jumping head first, eyes closed into an emotionally damaging situation. Sometimes, it simply allows me to feel, reflect upon, and connect with my own body and mind. It is growing me. I am growing, and for the sake of that growth, I am glad for it.

I have sacrificed money; dollars and cents that were not always mine to begin with. There isn't really much that can say about this. I'm eternally in debt, eternally grateful, and eternally blessed. I cannot wait for the opportunities to give back.

With all of these sacrifices, one might wonder why I didn't change plans and just become a singer, like I am in real life. People often ask me if I've ever wanted to just give up, if I've ever wanted to quit. You know what? The miracle here is that I can look such people in the eyes and tell them that no, I've never wanted to give up. I am exhausted in every way a woman can be exhausted, and sometimes I simply can't finish what I've been asked to finish, but I have never wanted to give up all the way. I am so convinced that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, doing what I am supposed to do, and I'll keep fighting for that. That's not something to take for granted. That's a gift.

So when I accept my B.S. on Saturday afternoon, I will remember what it meant. B.S. does not just stand for Bachelor of Science; it stands for Big Sacrifices. There are some things that I will never get back, but they pale in comparison to the things that are coming. Was it worth everything?

Absolutely.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Crisis

I love crises.

That's probably an interesting thing to say, but it's true. I work with sexual assault survivors. I am a sexual assault survivor. I have to love crises. It's not a love that is rooted in a like; it's a love that's rooted in my addiction to community, to bandaging wounds, to lifting faces towards the sun, and if I'm being honest, to making myself useful on a broader scale. It's a love that I've built out of a hate.

So when I heard about the Boston bombings, I had to resist a little bit before jumping on the social media bandwagon, and then, apparently, gave in.

I had several initial thoughts. Against my better judgment or my personality in general, but perhaps excusably, my thoughts went sour. If things like this are just going to happen without any sort of rhyme or reason, and by extension, if I have to watch so many of my friends and family (and myself) deal with the aftermath of our own demons and monsters and terrorists, then by golly, I don't want to live on this planet anymore. We humans have doomed ourselves. If thousands of years of evolution could weed out several of our weaker traits, why hasn't it gotten rid of the sadistic ones? We can't stop this. We can't just get rid of a few bad apples. We all have to die. That's the only way to fix this.

But I can't afford to think like that. Evolution can't suppress something that is innately and inertly human. But luckily, there is a counterpoint to all of the madness. This is the beauty and the curse of a crisis: nothing else allows us to experience the extremes of human capability over such a short period of time.

Nothing.

It begins with the bad, and evolves somehow into this brilliant example of inter-woven community. Mr. Rogers said it best when he talked about what his mother would say when he saw something awful happening. "Look for the helpers. You will always find people that are helping."

Look for the helpers. That is our saving grace. Grace, the theme of my life, that beautiful, sweet redemption. Because being human is about experiencing those extremes. It's about our capability to destroy, but more importantly, it's about our capability and responsibility to repair. It is our thoughts and our prayers and our hard-working hands that save our species from becoming as barbaric as our darker halves suggest. Our spirit is what develops us, changes us, and keeps us human. We have been and have become a species capable of surviving adverse situations. And when we survive, we grow.

Just keep growing.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Pre-Thesis Implosions

Ignore this. Ignore this. Ignore me for right now, because it's a real shitshow over here.

But I just need to write, and to pass this energy somehow. 

I've heard that things are not this way everywhere in the world. Now, that's a relatively ignorant thing to say; or rather, it makes me sound quite exceptionally ignorant. But, I suppose I am, to some extent. I've been exclusively stateside for several years now, and I guess I've forgotten that the rest of the world can't be described as just "that other country just like America." 

I mean...obviously. But sympathize with me for a second. I live in an incredibly loud nation, and everyone seems to be obsessed with every shade of American business; that is, whenever they're not self-obsessing.

And I'm a little sick of it. I could use a getaway. I could use some quiet. Happily, there are such places within the States, places of peace and quiet, of wilderness, of spirit. I'm going to those places, soon.

But I guess I'm tired of such abrasive American attitudes. Specifically, I have absolutely had it with people who systematically and unapologetically put their own agendas and wants before the needs of others. I live in a nation of self-indulgence, sure; but even worse, I live in a nation of thieves. 

Takers of rights, stealers of soapboxes, quenchers of revolutionary thinking. Because somehow, it's still okay to...

...I trailed off there, because I'm a coward. I can't say what the bottom line is for me. I can't express what I'm really thinking, because I know that it all stems from the root of what is wrong with me. I wish there were somebody who understood what was going on with me without my saying anything, because I want impossible things. What's the big deal, Becca? Why can't you just be honest for a goddamn second? What are you so afraid of, girl who claims to be fearless? 

I dance around my core, like a proto-planetary disk, because I don't want to implode like a dying star. But I'm almost past that critical point when there isn't anything left that I can do to prevent that inevitable supernova. I will die, somehow, if I don't talk about this sometime soon. Because it has to be fixed, and I don't know how to fix it, and once I say things out loud, they aren't so impossible to overcome.

For now, I will just say that I yearn to live open-armed. I want the tired and lonely and broken souls to come into mine, and realize that there is so much of a reason to live. I feel for their tiny tremors and oceans of tears, and I want those tremors to mean something, and the oceans to rise in tidal waves, and for those trauma symptoms to become sources of energy and power in otherwise feeble, tired, violated, powerless little bodies. I want to help us create out of what others have attempted to destroy. I want to help.

Also, I want to get better. I want to get better. I want to get better. Please. I will get better.

For now, though, I'll write my thesis and continue to live a wonderful life.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Confessions of a Newly-Hatched Chreaster

Firstly, the happiest of Easter tidings to my small following! I'm a big fan of this day and everything it stands for. From its ancient roots celebrating fertility, to the triumph of Christ's resurrection, to consuming enormous amounts of chocolate bunnies, I'm down with it all.

In my last year of undergrad, I came home for probably the last Easter for a while. I had already decided in my mind that I would go to my home church, and everything would be fine, and it would be lovely, and a great production, and a meaningful message, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Easter is a family holiday. I wasn't going to let my selfishness get in the way of family time at my family's church.

But I haven't been since Christmas.

And during the car ride, there was much discussion about people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, while those participating were clearly unaware that I am among such people. 

Whoops.

Admittedly, I've been traveling on my weekends lately, and I did attend another church (just once), and I've also been sleeping in and catching up on the week's chaos. Laundry, groceries, chores, thesis, St. Patrick's Day, etcetera. I'm not overtly rebelling, I'm just not going. 

I won't name my home church because I believe that it is a wonderful establishment that is overflowing with success and potential, and I wouldn't tarnish that reputation. But I do not exist to be silent. I exist to tell the truth. But it is my truth; my side of the story. Proceed with a large grain of salt, if necessary.

Several months ago, the leadership at my church began receiving anonymous and accusatory phone calls about me from people who, clearly, do not know me at all. Long story short, I went under investigation for living an inappropriate and unconventional life, and was told that even though I was probably being judged unfairly, I would have to essentially plead my case in front of one of the church's elders if I wanted to continue leading vocal worship at church.

At first, I didn't really take it seriously. The accusations were mostly so far-fetched and far-right that I figured that anybody with an ounce of perspective could see that my methods of outreach and evangelism and living, though unorthodox, are effective and genuine. I cannot apologize for being human, and I won't apologize for the relationships that I have formed with people who wouldn't fit into the typical "church crowd." It has been in these relationships that I have found the most perspective and enormous amounts of grace.

But it didn't stop. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the target off of my back. Arrows kept flying, and I couldn't block them. I didn't have time for this. I'm teaching two classes, taking classes myself, and writing a thesis. I'm trying to graduate. Didn't these people also have other things to do? To make matters more confusing, some of the leadership at church seemed to act as if their hands were tied, as if they couldn't really advocate for me, as if I were guilty to a degree...or at least until I had been proven innocent. On the other hand, others at church encouraged and affirmed my life, professing that I was an example of somebody who is willing to extend her comfort zone for the greater good.

My paranoia grew, as did the feeling that I was unwelcome; a criminal in the house of God.

I refused to meet with the elders. I felt uneasy and prematurely condemned. I, as graciously as I could, backed out and backed down.

After nights of tossing and turning and pulling over to the side of the road and crying harder than my heart had ever cried before, I began the grieving process. I was, and still am, heartbroken over the loss. I loved that place. It was home, and it is God's home, and if I felt unwelcome and unfit in the house of God, then where...? Fortunately, nothing about this experience has altered my faith in God. At all. There is no way that it possibly could, because I've walked through more fierce refining fires and I've been rescued from deeper depths. He is doing this for a reason, even if I can't quite sort it out yet.

Unfortunately though, this has deeply shaken my faith in church communities and corporate worship in general, and has essentially erased my willingness to share my love for Jesus with others. I just...don't anymore. I don't have the support system at my home church, so what's the point? I remember, just a few short months before this happened, living nearly penniless in Boulder, CO with only faith and physics to get through. There, I met a woman who would soon become my dear big-sister figure, and one of the first things I can remember sharing with her was that my default is love. I try to love with Christ's love, and I love not just because we're commanded to love but because I want to love, and because I want to invest in the lives of others because Christ has invested in mine. And I could tell already that I recognized her heart, and that she would be one of those people that you meet and just know that the friendship had been there all along. And that woman, this dyed-in-the-wool atheist, loves me back tenfold. She loves me and she respects my beliefs, preposterous as she believes they may be, and she has walked through this whole ordeal by my side, patiently listening, offering advice and perspective, and telling me that I have the right to be here, and that she loves me exactly as I am.

That is the love that we are supposed to have for everybody, as a church family, as a church, as a community, as God's children. But, we're too busy fixating on other things. Like the Chreasters. Why do they get to only come to church on Christmas and Easter and call themselves "Christians?" What phonies. What pretenders. So we shout louder, we add more lights, we add more electric guitar, we make a bigger production in order to hide our bigger judgments. 

But Jesus commanded us to go to church, right? So people that don't go are sinners, right? Sure. That's biblically-based. But I think that the context is bigger, here. What if we read between the lines and dug a little deeper? I think that we'd find that what Jesus wanted was a community, a support system. Things weren't too great for the early Christians. They needed to have each other's backs. And when two or three are gathered, well. We can pray for each other, fight for each other, intercede for each other, account for each other, rejoice with each other, celebrate with each other, give thanks together, worship together, be together.

That is church.


But we're open-armed, to an extent. We have open doors, if you fit. We love you, if you're in the crowd. We'll keep in touch, if you keep coming back to church. What kind of love is that?

It's conditional. It's the kind of love that lets fear drive, and that isn't love at all.


Who are we to judge people for not coming to church each Sunday, or for doing anything else, for that matter? Judgment is the fruit of fear, and the moment you allow fear to drive is the moment your church becomes irrelevant.

Please. Don't become irrelevant in this broken and seeking world. The stakes are too high to be blind. Open your eyes. Wake up. Wake up!

Now, I remain optimistic for my home church. As unenthused as I was to be there this morning, it's irrelevant. There are worshippers there. It's going to be awesome. It is awesome, but I believe that it will be more so. So much potential there. So many hearts on fire. So much work to do, so many workers. I remain optimistic for myself, as well. I'm moving away next month, and I couldn't possibly be happier. Perhaps I will find a new church family, and even if I don't for a while, I will, with the help of the Big Man, begin to talk again about how much I love Jesus. I am excited to begin building new, genuine, deep relationships. I am excited for this depth. I am hungry, willing, and ready. I am ready for community.

Let's challenge ourselves to be the community, and keep our eyes open. Let's love without abandon. Let's love like Jesus does. Let's love.