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.

Greetings, I’m a Science Major. How do art?

I didn’t expect to feel so strange as soon as I walked through the door: so naive and babyish–like my presence was confusing and unexpected. I guess it would have been, since, until a couple semesters ago, I had spent the majority of my time around the science department.

This semester, I had decided to take the suggestion of a friend and enroll in Figure Drawing, an upper-division drawing class. I had finished the prerequisite, after all.

Monday evening of syllabus week, I hurried to class in the dark, looking forward to actually having an art class with friends. As it turns out, having friends in the room made it even more intimidating when the realization hit me that I had inserted myself into a class of upper-division art majors. Perhaps a little too audacious for comfort.

I wanted to be there. I want to learn to be able to tell stories well through both the written and visual arts. But still–what business did I have being there, griped a sinister voice in the back of my mind. Who was I to get involved in classes for people as talented and skilled as art majors? Was it even my place to have so naively decided to take this path?

Yet here I stand, announcing to the world little by little that I have determined to pursue writing and illustration when I could have played it safe and become a physical therapist. Even as competitive as the physical therapy programs are nowadays, that option was my comfort zone. 

As the professor explained the course and its requirements, the class drew a still life. I had gone through this earlier that afternoon in Drawing II, and I was determined to apply the advice I had received then to make round two better. After an hour or so, we took a break, getting up and roving around the drawing horses to look at each others’ work–an exercise I’m still uncomfortable with. I hoped no one looked at mine for too long. My sketch had improved, and I was mildly happy with it, but also very disappointed. The pieces of the other artists burst with life and expression and style. Mine felt quite a bit simpler and more rigid. A “good try.”

Mediocrity breathed uncomfortably down my neck. I have so much catching up to do…but I guess this also means I have a great deal of room to improve. “If your dreams don’t scare you…” right?

I have no doubts as to whether this was a mistake or not. I ask myself over and over again, “What am I doing?” but more as an effort of stress relief. Not that I’m actually having concrete second thoughts.

I already know I’m most insecure in art and writing classes, as those are the subjects I care most about. They are areas in which I most want the skills to evoke meaning and purpose from my work, and not to be overshadowed by crippling inadequacies.

I think about how much I will learn and improve this semester, and I am determined to plow through any amount of intimidation to get there. In theory, at least. I’ll take the waves as they come, and buckling down to receive them should grow at least a little easier with time.

I may be naive. I may be insane. But this is what I want.

And even in the midst of my insecurity, I feel good about this decision.