At the End of it All

I began Thursday sprinting across campus in the dark.

Backpack clenched in one hand, spare sweatshirt in the other, I had four minutes to cross what normally takes about ten.

I would have gotten less than five hours of sleep had I slept well. But I was repeatedly startled awake by the loud, demonic vibrations of the wind through the quirky blinds of my room, and my sleep was already light from the restless fear that I would sleep through my alarm. I had even had a bad dream about being unprepared for this fieldtrip.

And after an awful, short, and fitful night, I still overslept.

It’s one thing to worry about it, but it’s quite another day-maker to have it actually happen.

I had to be clear on the other side of campus by 5:30am. I made it by 5:31. Pride hurt, lungs burning, and limbs very rudely awakened, I climbed numbly into the van with my classmates. I was the last one to arrive. And I felt completely awful physically for a good half an hour.

This week has been full of new experiences and the discomfort and stress that accompanies that, along with unwanted happenstances tagging along for the ride: stupid blunders, forgetting important matters, botching first impressions, avoiding homework because I’m still somehow refusing to manage my time more wisely, the inability to use my car because the battery’s dead, feeling like a heretic faced with spilling my guts to one of my dearest friends about a topic we don’t agree on, making an important phone call only to be too shy to leave a message and wondering when I should try again. And because I’ve been avoiding homework all week, Thursday night promised to be rather long.

But Thursday night brought an utter meltdown. An angry, desperate onslaught of tears as I sat on the edge of my bed, elbows resting on my knees and my hands clasped behind my ducked head. Because I was just so incredibly done. With explaining myself, with doctrine, with religion, with gender roles, with injustice, with social norms, with everything. I had had it.

But I still had one more day of classes left for the week. And the last day was a new one. I would feel better once I had slept.

But Friday morning, I slept two hours later than I had wanted, and I had distressing dreams within that time, most of which was dominated by the suffocative feeling that my throat was nearly swelled closed–which I imagine was because I had unknowingly draped my arm over my breathing holes and didn’t wake up from it. Then I tweaked my neck in tennis class and it still hurts. Tonight, the internet malfunctioned all over campus, so I missed a Skype date without being able to explain before they had already left (because even my phone wouldn’t work properly). And I had homework due tonight that I needed internet to turn in.

Luckily, I found working wifi at a nearby coffee shop.

If that, too, had been malfunctioning, I might have literally flipped a table.

This has just been one of those weeks—such a short span that leaves me in the corner hissing at life by the end. I don’t know why this one particularly was so stacked against me, rendering me emotionally compromised and then continuing its abrasion. I began to wonder about spiritual warfare—as I’m getting involved in controversial matters I normally wasn’t inclined to even think about much, and that I believe the results of which will do some good in this world. And about these matters, I’m thinking critically and ardently, being more willing than ever to question the way things are done.

And the advent of progress heralds resistance, both physically and spiritually. Which is kind of terrifying.

But at the end of this crappy week, I am left grateful for a few things, things which have seemed to rise to the surface of the sludge and exist outside the timeframe of one lame occurrence after another:

 

For dear friends, who encourage discussion, who listen with open minds, who have the patience to let me rant about the awfulness I have been wading through, and who know best how to support me when I just hate everything.

For art buddies, who get excited about my work, lovingly give me feedback and offer much appreciated art major knowledge, and propose regular meetings to draw together for fun.

And for simple things, like naps, lovely morning weather, and vent art.

 

So this week was butts.

But still, at the end of it all, I know I’ll be ok.

In which Andromeda failed me

Sunday night, I had procrastinated long enough.

I had spent the day being industrious, immersed in story-planning and also weighing my options for housing in San Francisco in a year, which were painfully restricted for the sheer lack of monetary resources I have at my disposal. But it’s fine—stuff works out. And now I have a more concrete foundation with which to start planning, so things are generally looking up.

I thought it was high time I bought some mochi (doughy rice cake with red bean/taro paste in its center), and I figured I might as well refurnish the fridge with milk while I was at it. And I had a car, so I could just go and retrieve said comfort food to help me push through the remainder of my homework for the evening.

So I found my roommate and we mounted Andromeda, my little white 1999 Saturn, which I had completely paid for up front just three weeks ago. I don’t mind its quirks so much because it runs well enough. After overcoming its wayward glove compartment, which was refusing to close after I had opened it to retrieve something, I finally settled into the driver’s seat. I stuck the key in the ignition and turned it.

Silence.

Confused, I paused, turned it back, then tried again.

Nothing responded. No clicking, no revving. Absolutely no response whatsoever.

“Are you serious?” I laughed sharply, trying it again with a greater amount of desperation.

Surprise gave way to anger. Seriously. I’ve only had this car for three weeks. I bought the thing with my own money. I had so much faith in that car. And I’m sorely awaiting my next paycheck. I’m saving up to travel—a trip I have been looking forward to for a good year and a half. How much money would I have to spend on this car? Would it jeopardize my finances for my trip to Costa Rica?

I called my friend with a car to see if she was available to jump it—which was a dumb idea, I realized, because I wouldn’t have wanted to drive it anywhere anyway—because it would likely leave me stranded wherever I took it.

As I tried to remember how to jump a car without getting electrocuted, I received a text from my dad to call home when I had time. I had texted him about the car.

I called and, as I explained the situation, assuring him I wasn’t stranded, I fought to keep my voice steady. I was so freaking angry. I wanted to demand an explanation from my silent little car. It just sat there, quiet, unresponsive, unapologetic. It should have looked downright penitent, but of course, it’s a car, so that wasn’t happening.

And it wasn’t really the car’s fault, I guess. I had just desperately hoped something like this wouldn’t take place. Because it was the last thing I could afford. An acutely disconcerting event I pray is not an indicator of its performance in the future when I can afford it even less.

My dad thought it was the battery, which I had been a little too flustered to even think about. I had just assumed my car had called it quits. He offered to bring me a new one next weekend, meaning I don’t have to pay for it, and I’ll learn a bit about cars for future reference—which kind of puts my mind at ease.

But still.

My friend offered to drive us to where we needed to go, but while we were at a gas station headed through town, her water pump started leaking a rather alarming amount, so we had to turn back (she has an old car too). So I gave up on excursions for the time being and made myself coffee, having received a whiplash reminder that unexpected things happen. Stupid, inconvenient, last-thing-you-can-tolerate-right-now things.

But alas. Life goes on. And it generally turns out all right in the end, wherever that may be.

I shouldn’t freak out so much.

Milk Tea

milkteaI had ridden the bus from Monte de la Cruz back to San Rafael perhaps once or twice in my life, and I was still feeling nervous as I arrived back at my host family’s house. The rest of the evening stretched before me, of sitting and socializing as best as I could with my unconfident, apologetic Spanish before I settled down to work on my mountain of daily homework. Being an introvert using broken Spanish in an unfamiliar environment, I wondered where my limit was with this routine.

“Do you want coffee or tea?” Rosi asked as I sat down at the glass dining room table and my host mom continued through the white-curtained doorway to the kitchen.

“Tea’s fine,” I responded, glancing at the clock. “Thank you.”

“With or without milk?”

“With milk.”

Rosi and I would sit at the table enjoying afternoon coffee or tea quite later than normal for many Costa Ricans, since I came back from classes around 6pm. Usually, she would do most of the talking in our conversations, and I would nod and do my best to comprehend and answer questions. I usually understood most of what she said. The structure of our conversations suited me well back then, in that it wasn’t demanding or too terribly stressful, and I learned quite a bit about faith, family, and life in general.

And Rosi, a petite woman with short, curly black hair and an eager smile, has had some amazing experiences. In a constant battle with herniated discs in her back, she has faced death twice, but pulled through. She and Gilberth, her husband, believe God provides and that each day, healthy or otherwise, is a gift. And while I agree with them, I know I don’t understand it anywhere near as well as they do.

Rosi and Gilberth do their best to remember to speak clearly and enunciate when they talk to me, but sometimes Rosi especially gets excited and goes off a little too quickly for me to follow. I’m getting better at it, though.

Many afternoons, I would have té con leche with Rosi and Gilberth, and it was the best tea I had ever had. Up until that point I had experimented with adding milk to tea, but it had never been as perfect as the tea Rosi makes.

God willing, this summer I will be able to go back to Costa Rica and spend time with my host family, to have tea and share more stories and make more memories, now that my Spanish has improved and they’re extended family, not friendly strangers.

 

 

The Seoul subway system is glorious. With a good map, a naïve traveler like myself can easily traverse around the staggering size of South Korea’s capitol. On my juniors abroad trip this last May, we learned to navigate said system, and we had ample free time to explore and have adventures, some of which took us to Kyobo Bookstore, the Eat Your Kimchi Studio, and Namdaemun Market.

One of the many things I love about Asia is that milk tea is super available there, in convenience stores, grocery stores, coffee shops, and even in the subway. On one occasion, a few friends and I were on our way back through the latter, and we found a small bubble tea shop. (Bubble tea is milk tea with tapioca pearls or the like in it).

Spur of the moment, we entered, because I’m obsessed with milk tea, and why not? We had time. And they had taro bubble tea, which I couldn’t pass up.

I tried to use as little English as I could with the cashier. In South Korea, some of the people we encountered at the register were eager to talk with us and ask where we were from. Others would get this nervous look in their eyes, as if silently willing me not to start spouting a significant amount of English. I understand the latter feeling all too well, and I tried to have mercy on them. I only wish I spoke more Korean.

We stayed in the bubble tea shop until we had just about finished our tea, because even though the space was tiny, it was also bright and friendly, and there were a few tables, despite the scarcity of elbow-room. Part of me wanted to leave because we were so close to the cash register, but I found ways to keep my awkwardness at bay—mostly by watching my friends talk to the women working the counter.

We didn’t stay there significantly long, but I still clearly picture that teashop between two subway lines under Seoul. When I have similar drinks here in the United States, I still think of the that place, of trying to take up as little space as I could because 5’5 ½” is still kind of tall for a person in Korea. I think of the new friends I made and everything I saw and learned in my short time there.

 

So I have a preoccupation with milk tea. In and of itself, the drink is beautiful, hot or cold. But for me it is also a reminder of my travels, of the relationships and experiences I have found through them, and how they continue to change me. And it serves as a teaser, a deep-seated conviction that many more experiences are yet to come.

While my studies are keeping me more-or-less tethered to one region for the next eight months, I keep Tutti Frutti tea from Costa Rica, black tea, and sugar in my cupboard, and milk in the fridge.

For now, I’ll work and study and dream, and when the time comes, I’ll break out my passport again.

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.

I’m not dead, I promise.

While I’m making adequate progress on editing what I hope will become my debut novel, as well as trekking through writing another book, one would think I’d be able to write just as avidly about other stuff.

But blogging is hard for me. Pathetically hard, in fact.

I forget about this blog for excruciatingly long stretches of time and only remember when I want to rant. And I don’t want a ranting blog, so I don’t post what I write. And then I get squashed under an overwhelming lack of anything meaningful to say, or I feel like I’m saying the same things over and over again…Especially when much of anything non-fiction I write tends to wax optimistic every single time, or have some kind of hopeful message that, after a while, feels dishonest or overly positive. It even happens when I’m generally feeling hopeless–whether it’s purely from habit, or it’s an attempt to soften the angst in my life, or insecurity about fully expressing said angst, or feelings that my life isn’t interesting enough for anyone to be truly interested……and I could continue muttering about possible reasons until the rise and fall of the zombie apocalypse…

I’m inclined to say I’ll do my best to do better. Maybe when school starts up. Maybe when I publish my book. Maybe when I figure out my life. But to be honest, I’ve determined to be better many times, with little actual progress to show for it. And I’m still fed up with pressuring myself to do anything.

But I still want to keep trying. Because, like everyone else in the world, my voice matters–and I’m still trying to convince myself of that.

So while this blog has had a fitful update schedule of late (meaning mostly no activity whatsoever), I haven’t given up yet.

To those who have stuck around: Thanks. :)

Doubt

A couple months ago, I saw the Heaven is for Real trailer in theaters, and it brought tears to my eyes. Not from joy, nor expectation, nor from an overwhelming sense of goodness.

Instead, the sudden, surge of emotion pulling at my ribcage came of desperation.

Most Christians, I imagined, should have been getting chills of excitement to see such an inspirational story become a full-length movie that will probably reach millions, spreading the truth about God. To see Christianity boldly permeating the highly competitive film industry. Perhaps I should have reveled in the anticipation of a strong story of hope and reconciliation.

But it was with a deep sense of grief that I watched the wholesomeness flash across the screen.

I had read an article earlier that afternoon. Honey Grahams had released a commercial involving diverse types of families, including a homosexual couple. And, as with any controversial subject, they received quite a bit of flack for it. So they decided to turn the hateful comments into something beautiful. In a subsequent video, a couple of artists took all the negative comments printed out on pieces of paper, rolled them up, and stood them up to arrange them into the word “Love.” This word, then, was surrounded by a sea of all the positive feedback they had received, which, rolled up and stood on end like the previous words, took up almost the rest of the floor around the word “Love.” The main component of families, they argued, is love.

I was inspired that they could respond so gracefully to the hate.

But then I made the mistake of reading the comments, and the hatred there blew my mind. Hatred toward homosexuals, hatred toward Christians. The caustic discourse just continued on and on, and anyone who tried to step in was chewed out and the argument began anew.

I have seen this trend on tumblr as well. The shift from pushing so hard for acceptance of the trans that people have started to hate the cis. And Christianity has come under fire for being overbearing, traditionalist, and judgmental, supposedly leading the charge in resisting this area of civil justice.

Christians haven’t had a spotless history. Take the Crusades and the Inquisition, for example. We have a reputation for being narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical, and we as a group are often hated for it. Yes, we are human. Everyone struggles, but the sheer amount of judgment and pride that goes on in the church, and the almost venomous secular response against the evangelical, conservative Christian ideals screamed in my face, and I felt I had been stabbed.

What happened to love, I wondered. How have we let this happen?

Where is the line between fudging ideals and being accepting? Are we taking verses out of context or being too literal?

Ultimately, relationship with God is what matters. If a personal choice doesn’t hinder their relationship with God, I’m not going to nit-pick it.

So I commend Honey Graham’s audacity, and I think Heaven is for Real looks like a ridiculously fascinating movie and I want to see it. But it is infuriatingly apparent that both sides of the social change discussion obviously have many prejudices to get over.

As for me, I’m only certain of a few things:

I dislike overbearing traditionalism and hoop-jumping.

I hate arguing (which is why I would make a horrible debater and I avoid opinionated political discussions like the plague…).

I never want to be the one to tell a fellow human being that their feelings, struggles, and victories are invalid.

God is mysterious and unpredictable and if we think we understand something, we don’t.

And finally, that God is loving. So I will love.

 

Rejection Letter

I never check my mail, but the other day, my friend convinced me to take the five extra minutes to descend to the depths of Beebe Hall to see how many graded quizzes had been bestowed upon me.

I wasn’t disappointed in my expectation of returned literature quizzes. However, I didn’t expect the envelope from an unfamiliar address, bearing my address written in my own handwriting.

I was a bit confused for a moment. Perhaps I was sending mail to myself from the future!

But then I realized it was probably the result of a publication submission I had made in Magazine and Feature Writing last semester.

I didn’t get my hopes up, because I didn’t feel good about really anything I wrote for that class. When I ripped open the envelope, I found the first page of my manuscript accompanied by a message from the magazine editors.

My article had been rejected.

“I knew it!” I laughed, almost triumphant.

I smiled at my rejection letter, happy to have at least received a reply. The editor’s letter mentioned they don’t respond to everyone’s submissions, increasing my appreciation for the yellow slip of paper.

Even though my work didn’t make it into the specific magazine I had pitched to, they had acknowledged me, however slightly–which made me feel like a writer. A legitimate writer, who still doesn’t like freelance, but who might try my hand at it again. A writer, who is currently editing the 492-page manuscript of her debut novel.

I was rejected, but maybe I really do have a chance.

[In other news, my only excuse for my absence is: "How does time pass so quickly?" I can't believe the semester is already almost over. So much is happening, with even more to come. Sorry about that. I'll be working to remedy my noncommittal blogging habits.]

Embracing Intimidation

I decided to work on my drawing homework Thursday night–and I kept complaining to my forever-gracious roommate, knowing my petulance wasn’t helpful for anyone. But such restless negativity rose in my throat as I contemplated the simple, beneficial task of flipping through a packet of basic head anatomy and practicing the concepts. My brain froze up whenever I touched pencil to paper. I had so many other things to do aside from this, all of which were overshadowed by the endeavors I would rather have been working on.

I supposed I could perform the bare minimum in response to my time constraints, but I wanted to practice through all of that oddly infuriating packet. Not just for the sake of overachieving, but for the purpose of giving myself as much practice as possible–an expression of determining to work much harder than I feel I’m capable of.

So, I was frustrated, but I worked on it anyway. Not really in the sense of “grin and bear it”–more in the sense of blasting angst music and scowling at my sketchbook as I drew and erased line after line. I must have looked furious–as, in a way, I was furious–but not filled with hatred, surprisingly enough. I felt relief, in the acknowledgement that I am not at all happy with my current ability level, and that my desire to improve makes it difficult to live in the moment.

I’ve been reflecting on this week and its predecessors. The ups and downs. Fleeting moments of excitement and aggravation, comforting assurance and cold mediocrity. It reminds me of gymnastics, actually–something I used to be obsessively passionate about in high school. Perhaps one of the most important lessons the sport taught me was that bad days eventually lead to good ones.

Struggle ends in growth.

I think it’s just been a disconcerting transition. I have been so incredibly inspired the last several months, but as this semester continues, this optimism is slipping away, and I find myself faced with a choice. It’s time to either buckle down, or to give up–to shift to second gear or to back out while I still have time. I have to decide if I’m ready and willing to weather the storm. To persist when doubt creeps in, plans fail, and motivation dies. To refuse to let go when holding on begins to hurt.

And to embrace intimidation.

This week, I have learned intimidation is not necessarily bad when used in the context of the creative arts. As I have mentioned in previous posts, my drawing classes this semester are full of people much more skilled than me, and this sometimes (or often) sets me ill-at-ease. But art class is not a competition, and my peers really are fun individuals to get to know and grow alongside.

Feeling mediocre and inferior in the shadow of greater experience is natural, and those feelings are valid. But they must be taken further. A tumblr post by Noelle Stevenson really encouraged me regarding this concept. True, intimidation can drive an individual to discouragement, but it can also be a powerful motivator to push someone to strive to be better, work harder, learn more.

So, I must encourage those already much better than me, as well as have the courage to believe in my own ability to improve. Despite my chronic impatience, I must make every effort to enjoy the journey–an endeavor which has never come naturally to me.

For this, I am exceedingly glad I don’t have to sort through everything alone.

God keeps me sane. Keeps me hopeful.

A Mind Full of Questions

The last couple weeks have been pretty chill. And intimidating, discouraging, and terrifying.

whatamidoing

But nothing has really even happened.

I’ve been returning from  my figure drawing classes exhausted and pensive, having spent the last three hours keeping waves of inferiority at bay. My classmates have much more experience in not only drawing, but in technique, design, color, an so on–having taken many more classes still unknown to me.

My artistic education has mainly consisted of derping around with a computer art tablet for a year, finding what references or tools I can and practicing when I have the motivation. Granted, I’ve been drawing and writing obsessively through the duration of this time, and my work has seen drastic improvement since then–but I’m still so far behind.

Thursday afternoon, I attended an artist talk as part of an assignment for my drawing classes, in which an artist whose work was being featured at the university gave an informal presentation about his art and methods. As he talked, I wondered yet again what I was getting myself into. 

And then we went to see the gallery of his work. I silently threaded through the crowd, taking in the artwork, devoid of companions to discuss it with, trying to figure out how one properly appreciates art. The pieces in the gallery were fascinating, but I had to force myself to really look at them. I felt so out of place.

I tried to mask my growing surliness until I had made my rounds through the gallery, and then marched straight back to my dorm. I shut the door behind me and paced. Angry. Asking God “Why?” over and over again. Why did I feel this way? Who was I to think I ever had any place in the world of the visual arts? Why was I embarrassing myself like this? Why did I want this? Why was this so important to me?

I’ve always wanted to tell stories, and I still do–very much so. Create characters, engage, inspire, encourage.

But who am I to have such audacity?

The last couple weeks, I’ve been uttering, “What am I doing?” as a stress relief–laughing off my discomfort and insecurity. But that night, it was an honest, furious question. What have I done? What in the world do I think I’m doing?

Where will this path end up? Will my decisions this year burn me in the end?

This is just the next stage, I suppose. Life can’t always be optimistic ambition and inspiring happenstances. Sometimes, we’re sent reeling, asking “Why?” But challenge is part of the package.

Good things are worth fighting for, after all.