Category Archives: State of mind

How 50 Shades of Grey Turned Evangelicals into Casaubons

One of my favorite books of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It’s a rich, complex saga of trying to make the world a better place amidst fools, charlatans, cynics, and misguided morals. It’s in the last instance that we find dear, devoted, ascetic Dorothea Brooke marrying the dried up old clergyman Mr. Casaubon because she believes she can accomplish her life’s work through his book, which is a key to all mythologies.

Now, let’s be honest: Mr. Casaubon is not–exactly–an intellectual panty-dropper.

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He’s a very well-read man, but he’s self-satisfied and pedantic. He dialogues with no one and he relies on his own readings. It’s precisely his intellect that leads him to presume that he can create a Key to ALL Mythologies, and he insists on Dorothea keeping up his work after his death.

It is, of course, a fruitless exercise. How can Mr. Casaubon, a reasonably intellectual (though not curious or intuitive) man, believe that his grasp of mythology will make him the definitive expert on ALL MYTHOLOGIES? Especially since he has not traveled to other continents and heard first-person accounts of obscure mythologies? He’s simply relying on what little he’s read and assuming it comprises the whole.

What does Mr. Casaubon have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? you might be wondering, dear reader. Well, as it turns out, he’s a handy metaphor for a debate that is currently waging in the Evangelical pop culture blogosphere.

If you’ll recall, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey two years ago when I read the first book. I was motivated to read it only after seeing its inclusion on the New York Times bestseller list and realizing, “This book is a THING and I probably need to know something about it.” I was semi-curious out of ignorance, but there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz about the book beyond the cringe-worthy phrase “Mommy porn.” I won’t rehash my blog post, but I hated the book for its bad writing, its terrible depiction of a co-dependent relationship, and its misuse of BDSM as a sexual lifestyle. In short: it’s not a good book, it’s not a sexy book, and I was not about to waste my time and energy on it.

Fast-forward to this year. There’s a movie coming out. On Valentine’s Day of 2015. Le sigh. Now, everyone is talking about it, and Evangelical Christians have taken up the cry of “Do not read this book!!!!” I remember this happening in the Summer of 2006, when the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was released. This book had been out for what, 3-4 years, and it wasn’t until the movie that suddenly this huge outcry surfaced about the sacrilege, and unbiblicality, and satanic overtones. Of course, no one had actually bothered to read the book to discover it was mostly just a standard mediocre adventure/thriller with an aging academic who wore loafers with no socks (maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was turtlenecks and blazers. But it was some white-man clothing item, and I don’t care to re-read the book to recall my distaste for Robert Langdon’s sartorial choices). But that didn’t stop them from condemning The DaVinci Code from the pulpits, proudly proclaiming they’d never read it and would never see the movie.

I really dislike it when people analyze and evaluate a book they’ve never read. As a teacher of composition and literature, I penalize my students for doing this. Why? BECAUSE IT’S LAZY. And frankly, it’s an insult to my professional practice. I am going to school to be a scholar of literature, and you’re telling me that you don’t need to read the books that I’m reading to give a “better” and more informed opinion? Really?

Look, a bad book is a bad book. But unless you’ve read it, you don’t really know HOW bad it is, and you are not able to form a credible and intelligent analysis on mere supposition and Google searches.

And that is why I am deeply disappointed in the many Christian-themed blog posts admonishing us that Fifty Shades of Grey is a Very Bad and Evil Book and You Should Not Be Reading It, because I Didn’t, But I Can Expostulate on All Those Evils for You So You Don’t Have to Think for Yourself.

For people who struggle within their sexualities (whether erotica drives them away from their partner or if they are single and feeling so horny they are dissatisfied, or what have you) and think this book may be a trigger, I get it. I respect your decision not to read it, and I applaud your mature decision to do what’s right for you.

But here’s where I divide company with these earnest, well-meaning bloggers. You can decide not to read a book, and that’s fine. But then don’t act like an expert on it and tell me why it’s so bad for me, when you aren’t reading this book on the supposition that it’s bad for YOU. It’s mystifying to me that so many people are out to defame those individuals who are supposedly lapping this series up and bringing down the Christian Church with them, when they have no clue or context what they’re talking about. That’s like my student writing a paper on Moby-Dick, when he’s only read the SparkNotes and telling me that he doesn’t need to read Moby-Dick to understand it. That doesn’t work in a classroom, and it doesn’t work in real life, either.

In all the blog responses I’ve seen or watched being posted on Facebook by OTHER people who haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (and seriously? Ugh. It’s turning into this weird sex groupthink), there’s a common thread: everyone invokes the Bible as a reason NOT to read the book. I believe in the claims of Philippians 4:8 wholeheartedly. I believe in the Bible as the word of God. But then, I have to be incredibly careful how I phrase that, how I live, and how I use the Bible to support my claims. Because if I simply state, “The Bible tells me not to read this book,” that’s one thing. I have made a decision based on my understanding of the Bible and that is MY choice. But then if I tell you, “The Bible tells me not to read this book; therefore, you shouldn’t either,” then I’m imposing my my choice on YOU. I’m acting as someone else’s intermediary. That’s my first Casaubon metaphor: when we try to control others’ behavior, based on our own standards of living and morals, we end up taking away their freedom to choose. Mr. Casaubon continually declare that Dorothea is incompetent to help him make decisions, because he is more scholarly, yet his own limited knowledge makes him a poor choice to collect and anthologize mythology. He creates a will after he is dead that she cannot marry his cousin, Will Ladislaw, or she will lose her settlement–his actions remove her freedom to choose her behavior, and thus make her a slave to his idealism. How do we allow others the freedom of choice that God has allowed us? Are we not supposed to come together and then study individually, to seek truth but to challenge ourselves in the Word? Why is it that someone else decided that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad book (and again: I believe it’s a bad book), so bad they couldn’t read it, and based on their opinion, decided it was unChristian for ALL of us to read?

I find it disheartening to see such a dismissive, anti-intellectual conversation predominating the discussion surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, it’s a bad book. I’m not arguing that point. But why? I’m disappointed to hear non-readers dismiss it as pornography, lustful, or ungodly without invoking the implications of such labels. What does lust mean? What forms does it take for women and men? How do we see it or find it in our own lives and activities? For example: I find Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love gratuitously titillating and sexual. For its thinly veiled relationship to the Book of Hosea, it feels more like a romance novel for women who only read “Christian” books. And yet I’m not seeing people pouring out protests from their personal blogs. Why? What’s the difference between Michael Hosea’s emotional possessiveness and Christian DamagedGoods’ sexual possessiveness? Someone tell me. I’m at a loss over here.

On that note, the sex-oriented critiques, based on the Bible’s views of sex, marriage, and lust, have also thrown me for a loop. People have described the novel’s crudely-drawn and laughable sex scenes as pornographic and something to stay away from. That leads me to my Casaubon metaphor #2: Evangelicals are starting to reveal their deep sexual repressions, and it’s going to have to prompt a discussion on sexuality. Like, now.

*Disclaimer: I’m taking off the gloves here. I’m going to be clinical and frank. You’ve been warned.*

On the one hand, the novel itself reveals a weird, deeply-seated repression that plays itself out as fantasy-fulfillment. Christian DamagedGoods is so abused and emotionally damaged that he forces his partner to eat (food, that is–seriously, it’s super weird) and become a submissive for him? Really? And Ana Snore is sooooo virginal that she has sex for the first time and suddenly has a hilariously unrealistic amount of orgasms from missionary sex? I think we can all agree that E.L. James has no idea what BDSM is, and hasn’t had sex since the 1980s.

On the other hand, the Christian response has bewilderingly focused on lust, pornography, and pre-marital sex. Non-readers have called it pornographic and titillating to the point of being disturbing. One blogger mentioned that her mother had read it and could not get the images out of her head. Really? Vanilla sex with an unrealistic amount of orgasms is traumatic? I’m not going to lie, I was traumatized too: I was traumatized by Ana Snore brushing her teeth with Christian DamagedGoods’ toothbrush. NO. JUST. NO. I was also extremely traumatized by the detailed description of her tampon being pulled out. That’s all I can say. It was really, really discomfiting.

But still: are we  really so sexually repressed that we cannot even *read* bad cheesy romance novels that use terrible and childish sexual euphemisms without fear of being so aroused that we masturbate wildly to images of boringly described millionaires? No, seriously, I’m asking are we that sexually out-of-control that when someone watches a porn, all they see are breasts and vaginas on women everywhere? That when we read bad literature about vanilla sex pretending to be naughty, we turn that into an idol???

It feels like this line of criticism is taking the idea that sexuality is dangerous, that the only way we can remain sexually pure is to tamp it down as far as possible so that we can’t even feel a natural, healthy lust for the sexual partner that we are married to. That a woman is so sexually suggestive that the merest hint of bikini or spaghetti straps reduces her to breasts and a vagina. That a man is so sexually fired up, he is continually always one-click away from fantasizing about other women on the computer. That sex is dirty and bad, even when we are married and trying to sexually pleasure each other in the way that works best for our bodies and minds.

It’s like Mr. Casaubon. He’s a married man. He has this gorgeous, devoted wife. And what does he do on his honeymoon? He spends his time in the library searching for the Key to All Mythologies. He stays up all night and avoids going to bed with Dorothea. Dude. Make use of that marriage bed. It’s okay. You’re married now. It’s in the Bible to be naked and unashamed!

This brings me to my Casaubon metaphor #3: we as Christians see the Bible as the Key to All Mythologies. And for believers, it is. But the problem is, we abuse our knowledge to belittle or shame others into believing what we do. We argue that because we are Christians and we have accepted salvation, we have The Truth and that’s the end of the discussion. But what is truth? How does that look from faith to faith? How does what the Bible said 2000 years ago remain relevant in my life today? These are questions I wrestle with every day. I read my Bible every day, and each time, I gain new insight, new knowledge, new TRUTH.

I’m always saddened by people who “proof text” their way through an intellectual discussion, arguing that because Paul decried the sexual practice of a pagan temple, gay people should not get married. That because Paul declared a woman should not preach in an area where women were priestesses at a pagan temple, women can’t preach. That because Deuteronomy 22:5 declared that a woman should not wear a man’s clothes and vice versa, it is sinful for a woman to wear pants. This kind of spiritual practice does not invite people to know Jesus–it establishes us as The Key Mythologians and others as Wrong. Mr. Casaubon denigrated Dorothea’s assistance, love, and help, because she had an inferior education and a woman’s mind. Rather than invoking discussion, he decried her differences and shamed her into silence.

Let us not go down that dreary route. Instead of simply denouncing something as bad and wrong, let us ask each other why and how we know this. Where do we obtain our knowledge? How do we know our knowledge is credible? Let us, above all, not be made to look silly over something as silly as Fifty Shades of Boring Grey.

 

*If you want an excellent and well-informed blog on why Christians should not read the novel, Jeannie Campbell invokes her skills as a LMFT to provide a therapist’s perspective on Christians, sex, and abusive relationships that is both insightful and godly. *

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Filed under Books, Culture, Faith, Marriage, State of mind

The Face of Love: Why “Just Be Celibate” Is a Poor Response

This conversation about same-sex civil rights and its relationship to my Seventh-day Adventist faith community has exploded in the last few months. I have been following lots of developments–the recent General Conference vote to pass guidelines that would exclude “practicing” gays and lesbians from church membership and the Andrews University LGBT forum are just a few–and reading lots of opinions and blogs, including this most excellent one by an Andrews University student, who responded to a young woman who’d attended the forum (and her initial piece is embedded in his–read them both).

It’s gotten me to thinking about some of the critiques I’ve heard against LGBT inclusion or same-sex marriage within my community of faith. There’s one that’s always bothered me tremendously, and I want to talk about it today. It’s the line of thinking that goes, “You can be gay, but you have to be celibate,” or “You can join our church, as long as you’re celibate.”

Ugh.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for a free-love, hippie-dippie sex romp in the prayer gardens of Pioneer Memorial Church. I just think we glibly state the “I don’t want to be intolerant, but I must follow the party line procedure, so I’ll just comfortably talk about celibacy when I’ve been married for 20 years and have no right to do so” catchphrase, because we (I’m referring to Christians here) don’t know how to talk to gay people. Or about sex. Or to gay people about sex. Or about marriage, for that matter.

People who follow the “Just Be Celibate” line of thinking sincerely believe that this moral standard should also be enforced on the straight single people in church. I’m not decrying their sincerity or consistency here.

But that’s what gets me. We don’t ask single men and women, “Are you practicing sex?” or “Are you celibate?” when they code straight and/or cis-gender (that means, you were born a specific gender and identify as that specific gender as an adult, for those readers not in the know). And when we do discuss sexuality and celibacy with straight singles, there’s always an “end point” to their celibacy:

*Oh, the right one will come along.

*There’s “still time.”

*Have you met my (cousin, nephew/niece, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, etc)?

*All in the Lord’s time!

*Just for a season.

*[Insert link to ChristianMingle or AdventistSingles.com]

We assume that God will provide the lamb and end the accursed celibacy for straight singles, when the Bible discusses it in far different terms. These above statements assume that celibacy is a cross to bear, whereas Paul treats it as a blessing and a desired state:

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34 There is[a] a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35, NKJV).

Paul sees singlehood as a blessing to be desired for the ministry of Christ? Interesting. Because I went to more than one chapel or Bible talk about what to do “until…” with that assumption ringing that there was SOMEONE out there for me, and that the marriage bed was God’s desired plan for my life.

There is a clear pressure to get married in the faith community. Those of us who are married are immediately pressured to have children–I won’t rehash the blog post from last week, but suffice it to say, every year I get closer to turning 30, the coy “When are you having children?” questions become less coy and more pointed. Those who aren’t married get marketed for singles gatherings and ministries. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but I believe we set people up for failure and discontent when we treat marriage and parenthood as the ultimate desired goal for life and singles are treated like the sad cat ladies who just “can’t find a man.”

And that’s where my issues with enforcing celibacy on unmarried folks enter this conversation. I am married; I made a choice to be married; I had the legal right to be married. Therefore, my choice reflects my opportunities available to me. How can I then flaunt my privilege in someone else’s face because they don’t have either the opportunity or the resources to be able to make the same choice I could? I find that fundamentally unkind and unchristian.

I’m not saying that we should all be practicing celibacy and abolishing marriage. Good grief, no. What I *am* saying, however, is that the Adventist Church has implicitly come to regard celibacy as a burden, a cross, a temporary state that singles should not desire. So I find it deeply hurtful to have such a fugue state imposed upon LGBT members. If we don’t want to relegate straight men and women to “being alone,” why on earth would we wish that upon singles who are queer? I don’t, and this is a major reason I stand up for same-sex civil rights. If I am to follow the teachings of Matthew 7:12, which states,  “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” I must treat someone else the way I would want to be treated (NKJV).
I do not want to be told that I must be celibate to be a member of a church.
I do not want to be asked if I am “practicing” my sexual orientation.
I do not want to be told that I must live alone and never have even the chance of a marriage partner.
Therefore, if I ask these kindnesses for myself, I must then reciprocate in kind. I don’t have an answer for doctrine or church policy. But in practice, I have been asked to be God’s face of love. And if I am His face, then I must shine with love and acceptance and kindness in my everyday life.

 

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Filed under #thefaceoflove, Faith, Family, Marriage, State of mind

I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

Mother’s Day is next weekend. I have always been excited about thinking of out-of-the-box books to get my mom and now mother-in-law, and the phone calls or messages I send to the women who genuinely mean something to me, and have been there for me in tangible and intangible ways. I could name them all, but it would take all day. I’m one rich woman.

Woman. That’s what Mother’s Day has meant to me–celebrating the women that made me the woman I am today. But not everyone celebrates it in that way. There’s an excellent blog post going around about the tradition of acknowledging moms at church on Mother’s Day weekend by asking the mothers to stand, either as recognition, or to receive a special flower or token at church. I’ll link it here, because you really should read it. It’s all about the compassion we need to bestow on women, particularly those who bear no visible sign of motherhood but may be hurting in deep, deep ways: http://www.messymiddle.com/2012/05/10/an-open-letter-to-pastors-a-non-mom-speaks-about-mothers-day/

Back? Great. This piece really resonated with me, because Mother’s Day didn’t really become an awkward holiday for me until recently. I’m 29, married, no kids as of now, and no plan for kids in the immediate future. I want them someday, but right now, I have a dissertation to finish drafting (by the end of summer, as per my director’s and my goals, but that’s a different blog post) and a salaried job of some kind to get. I know a lot of women my age in church who have kids already. A. Lot. And it’s put me in a strange spot in this faith community. Don’t get me wrong, no one is persecuting me or singling me out or belittling me for not being a mom. Although, at Christmastime, a complete stranger (one of the parents of the kids at The Chancellor’s school) rubbed my stomach and asked me why I didn’t have a baby yet. I KNOW.

Still, there is this odd undercurrent around Mother’s Day Church that feels like a rite-of-passage. That I won’t be seen in my faith community as a WOMAN until I am a mother and receiving a cheap carnation from a bodied child or standing and being applauded for having a child.

When I think of the many women in my church who are not married but have served God faithfully and joyfully, blessing my life in the process, I can’t help but become a little upset on their behalf. Where is their recognition? When I think of the work that the Chancellor and I do, reaching out and educating students, many of whom have fractious relationships with their parents, I wonder why being an actual parent automatically holds more value in the eyes of my church than in the missions we undertake.

I don’t intend this to be a poor-me post. I am not poor. By no means am I poor. When I think of the students whose paths I have come across, I feel lucky. When I think of the fellow graduate students and colleagues I have worked alongside and mentored and encouraged, I feel blessed. When I think of the miracles worked in my life, the trials, the joy, the deep, deep joy that lives in my heart, I realize that I am a woman. I am not a woman with children, but I am a woman.

If you are a fellow childless woman who has been made to feel less for not having children, I hold your hand in solidarity. If you are a woman who has lost a child, I hug you from this page. If you are a mom, I salute you. If you are a mentor, a friend, a guide, a leader, then I applaud you for making this world a richer place by making the world your children.

It is my hope that our world will recognize the many ways in which we can guide and direct and love without necessarily being a parent. That parenting is more complex than a fleshly child handing you a carnation. That loving a child or a soul is all it takes.

I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

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The Un-Happy, Happy, Happy Truth about Freedom of Speech

There’s this little show called Duck Dynasty. I’m sure by now you’ve all heard of it. The patriarch and inventor of a certain duck whistle, Phil Robertson, made remarks during a GQ interview that have caused a huge stir. In fact, I’m just going to link to that interview so you can read it for yourself.

Back? Okay. Now we can talk.

Here’s the thing. Phil Robertson is welcome to his own opinion. He is welcome to believe whatever he wants and say whatever he wants. First Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.

But that’s where it gets complicated. The First Amendment allows you the freedom of speech, but it does not protect you from the consequences. You can SAY whatever you like, but that doesn’t mean there is no price to pay for what you say, when you say it.

Phil Robertson made these remarks on an interview for Duck Dynasty, which means that he is not spouting anti-gay or selective history comments on his own time and dime. No, he’s doing this under the auspices of the show. It’s a work-related interview. And his employers are not happy.

When Phil Robertson and his family signed a contract with A&E, they willingly allowed cameras into their lives and to script certain things to create a show. This, in effect, makes them employees of A&E. They have WILLINGLY ceded control of their lives to A&E, for a not-at-all-small sum of money, and they agree to let A&E script/edit the show as A&E sees appropriate. This means that what they say and do under the show’s umbrella makes it a product of A&E. But again, they get money for it, so their acceptance of the money means they agree to the terms and conditions of their contract.

This is very much akin to just about any work situation, except that most of us make a lot less money and don’t have a camera inside our home. When I worked at Culver’s at the ripe old age of 14, I made an agreement in my contract that I would not slander the company and I would not disclose procedures of food preparation or ingredients for two years. When my friend K worked at Bath and Body Works, she signed a non-disclosure agreement as well, which meant she could not mention the name of the store on any of her personal social media forums. All employers have something. I am very careful not to complain about my job here on this blog or on Facebook. Once, I made a remark about getting an article rejected, that was critical of the unnamed reviewer, and then I deleted it. You have to be careful in public. You don’t want careless comments to turn around and hurt your career.

I’m fairly certain that this is not the first time Phil Robertson has said crazy things, as a newly-resurfaced 2010 sermon can attest. In fact, I am certain that A&E made specific cuts to protect the family and to protect the show and the show’s image. Now, however, Phil has gone off script. He has made inappropriate public remarks while at work, and now work wants to collect. In fact, if work doesn’t collect, they may face legal action from anti-discrimination groups.

It’s like the case of Angus T. Jones (the kid from Two and a Half Men). While still a contracted, salaried employee of the show, he decided to air his newly-found beliefs and made disparaging remarks about the show. Child, you can’t do that. Not as an employee. The honorable thing to do would have been to gracefully resign and THEN say those things.

If Phil Robertson and co. are unhappy with the constrictions of their contract, they should bow out gracefully and find another broadcaster that will let them do their thing.

Freedom of speech is not endangered, THANK YOU, SARAH PALIN. Phil Robertson is not a martyr for freedom. He’s an old, ignorant man who made crazy remarks, and now his employers are having to take action to prevent further damage to their moneymaker, and to their own image.

The point I’m trying to make is simple: you can believe and say whatever you want in this country. But if you signed a contract and you embarrass your employer, don’t expect to keep your job.

*I will not get into those remarks. I won’t. I can’t. That black people comment almost killed me, as it was. Seriously, we JUST GOT DONE talking about Paula Deen. This is not removing any of my prejudices about the South.*

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Filed under Celebrity, Culture, State of mind, Television

The post-DQE update

If you are my real-life or Facebook friend, then you know that I passed my Doctoral Qualifying Exam on Wednesday. It’s been anything but a blur. I can still remember how I felt when I stepped into the elevator to go up to the examination room, the eager excitement welling up as one of my committee members tapped into an idea I’d been secretly playing with, the sweat on my palms as I waited almost 15 minutes (maybe it was 10–it felt a LOT LONGER) to hear my results. But I still find myself strangely incapable of putting together coherent, linear thoughts on this blog. So I thought, why not a bullet-points list? Sorry if it’s disjointed. You still get the picture:

  • I joked to my friend S that I felt like I was getting married again. Funnily enough, I wore the same sandals I got married in, as well as the dress I purchased on my honeymoon.
_DSC5154

Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

And really, if you think about it, I *was* getting married: to my topic. Now that I’ve signed off on the paperwork and said “I do,” there’s no going back now. It’s finish or nothing at this point. What an exhilarating and terrifying thought!

  • Like my wedding, I was also filled with this strange enthusiastic energy to undermine any nervousness I felt. Although, at my wedding, it meant cracking a series of dirty jokes to The Chancellor during our photo shoot.

    _DSC5083

    Do not be fooled by my innocent face. Judging by The Chancellor’s smile, I have just said “That’s what she said.” Photo courtesy of Brad Leavelle, Red Dirt Photography.

Thankfully, no dirty jokes were cracked. I did, however, make a gratuitous Benedict Cumberbatch reference during my DQE. As well as notes about Wills and Kate memorabilia cranked out by the Heritage Industries in Britain (though the latter was brought on by a question my dissertation director asked).

  • In the elevator, I prayed deeply and hard. I prayed for the calmness of spirit to not be nervous. I prayed for God to take it all, and empty me completely. I prayed to give it my everything.
  • I am super grateful to my committee, who made the exam an intense, but oh so valuable process. They asked tough but fair questions, pushing me to consider my own stance further, and to help me recognize my limitations at this point in the research.
  • Keeping Calm and Carrying On is a secret ingredient to success during QEs. It was important in helping me remember text names, theorist names, and certain ideas that I had wanted to bring up. And since I’m better at writing than verbal exposition, it was vital in not wandering off into a needless tangent.
  • I talked about Jane Austen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Hanif Kureishi, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, William Faulkner, Ralph Ellison, Henry James, Louisa May Alcott, and William Dean Howells. A formidable host of writers, by whom I deeply honored to surround myself, both in the project research and the larger teaching field.
  • In the waiting room, I prayed again. Gratitude, joy, relief. Glad to be over, relief that my part was over, and joy that pass or fail, I had given it EVERYTHING. I would so much rather have failed honestly giving it my all than to half-heartedly pass.
  • Ultimately, I’ve decided that DQE was, to this date, the single-most beneficial exercise I’ve undertaken in grad school. I know where I stand in my research, how well I know my field, and what steps I need to take next to strengthen my project and my knowledge of my teaching field. What could be better than that?
  • I’m excited to start writing. Yesterday, I played catch-up with teaching and graduate business, and today, I found myself rereading my first text. During my reading and note-taking process, a potential chapter outline presented itself to me. So I wrote it down. You can understand my excitement.
  • Once the paperwork comes through (I’m guessing in a few weeks?), I’ll *officially* be ABD (that’s all-but-dissertation for my non-academic readers). The next best three letters to the best three letters I hope to receive!

So that’s the latest from my world. At some point, I need to write a teaching post, because I am simply in love with both my classes. They are energetic and bright women and men, and I have high hopes for their potential and success. Oh, this life. It fills me deep, abiding joy sometimes. And I can barely even scratch the surface of it in writing.

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Filed under Beginnings, Books, Doctorate, State of mind

Dante’s Seven Circles of Sunburn Hell

Right now, I am pretending to work on my dissertation prospectus. It’s not just for the usual procrastinating reasons, either. Kids, I got badly sunburned this weekend, and I am MISERABLE. In high school, I got made fun of all.the.time for being a pale white girl. What can I say, Irish girls without red hair are all going to look pasty instead of porcelain. We just don’t have enough melanin to look bored and expensively tanned. It’s been a good 10+ years since I felt the need to go fry out in the sun, and this last experience has cured me from ever wanting to be anything but pasty white.

The Chancellor ran an awesome race with obstacles this weekend, and I came along to spectate. We both (wrongly) assumed that I would have a pavilion to sit in, grandstands, areas with shades (and therefore, I did not think to bring sunscreen for myself). Boy, we could not be more wrong. Towards the end of the afternoon (and far too late), I found myself sitting under an underpass reading a doctoral exam book. That evening, I was bright red.

Yesterday, I had meetings galore and some gatherings with friends up in my school town. My best friend J could not stop giggling about how burnt I looked, and one of my colleagues cracked a (super clever, I’ll admit) joke about my appearance. My dissertation director had the good grace to pretend I was not anything but my usual-looking self. My friend S threatened to laugh, but my misery was palpable enough to earn compassion. Last night, I could not sleep because I itched so bad. I’d take a picture to show you, but I’m practically naked right so I can keep slathering on aloe. I do, however, have a somewhat analogous picture for you. If you are at all into True Blood, then you will remember this saucy lady:

About the only family-friend picture of our friend Lilith that I could find...

About the only family-friendly picture of our friend Lilith that I could find…

I feel like being sunburned is an endless loop of pain and discomfort. Allow me to introduce you to Dante’s seven circles of hell for people foolish enough to get as sunburned as I am:

Circle 7: Day 1–you feel slightly pink, and a few hours later realize that you are SUNBURNED. Your skin is burned and itchy, rather inconvenient with your clothes rubbing against all your burns.

Circle 6: Still Day 1–you start to feel feverish, and your teeth chatter, because your skin is not able to process temperature. You slather aloe before bed and sleep heavily.

Circle 5: Day 2–after gingerly showering and layering more aloe, you get dressed and go about your life until you realize that blisters on your forehead are popping and oozing. While you’re in a meeting. Charming.

Circle 4: Still Day 2–layer on more aloe and then spend the entire night awake because your shoulders are too burnt to let you sleep.

Circle 3: Day 3–your forehead blisters have popped and are scabbing, leaving your forehead crusty and discomfitingly discolored. Your scalp is now peeling, leaving dandruff-like flakes everywhere. Still red. More aloe.

Circle 2: Still Day 3–it is a delightfully cool day, and so you open the windows to breeze over your body. That is, until a child wanders into the yard and risks seeing your near-naked body. You shimmy under the covers and pray fervently until she disappears and then you shut the curtains.

Circle 1: Did I not mention you *also* have a nasty cough and pulled a muscle in your foot on top of it?

 

So there it is. My foolishness summed up, and the annoying consequences. I am starting to feel a little better, I promise. The burn on my upper chest has mellowed from a deep maroon to a dark pink, which is highly promising. But it’s not enough to get me out of the house or into some clothes.

And if Samantha asks, NO you do NOT WANT A  CHEMICAL PEEL.

Okay, my face actually looks pretty similar to Samantha's right now.

Okay, my face actually looks pretty similar to Samantha’s right now.

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Filed under Friendship, Life and Living, State of mind

The Extroverted Academic

I’ve seen a lot of books, social media, and clever analogies devoted to introverts. And with good reason: introverts are deeply intricate, mysterious individuals who can (but not always) keep personality traits close to them until they feel safe enough to be themselves around trusted friends. They are fascinating, exciting people of great depth, wit, and character. I should know: I married an introvert, and many of my family members are introverts, as well. In fact, so are many of my friends and colleagues. I do greatly enjoy reading about the care and feeding of introverts, because it reminds me that Not Everyone Is Like Me. Did I forget to mention? I’m an extrovert with a  capital-E. Really, in my mind it reads more like EXTROVERT!!!! but you get the idea. By the way: if  you’re not terribly familiar with an extrovert, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert yourself, I highly recommend reading this blog on The Care and Feeding of Your Extrovert from an extrovert’s point of view. Rowan, an extrovert, does a great job of explaining the complexity of what has often been seen as a “simple” personality trait.

When contrasted to the many, many introverts in my life, I realize how different I can be and seem. Especially in my profession. As my faithful readers know,  I am a doctoral student in English Literature, and currently teaching courses for the university at which I am enrolled. Many (but certainly not ALL) academics I know tend to be introverts , and if you think about the nature of academia in English Studies departments, it kind of makes sense. Our work involves, with a lot of teaching, a lot of research, introspection, and connection to ideas, theories, and insights. To generalize: a lot of thinking and reading. By stereotypical standards, introverts would thus seem to be a perfect fit.

As an extrovert, I find myself fighting stereotypes over both academia and extroverts. You see, some individuals are guilty of setting up false dichotomies about personality types, with introverts depicting extroverts as shallow, unfocused butterflies who flit from one shiny thing to the next and suck the life out of everything with their obnoxious energy, and extroverts depicting introverts as withdrawn, unfriendly, and selfish. Neither of these stereotypes is fair. But, I’ve yet to see the outpouring of literature that accurately describes extroverts in the way that studies have churned out books about introverts. I sometimes secretly feel that though we perpetuate the myth that the world is made of extroverts, my own life experiences has shown me that it’s just not true.

If you think about the Myers-Briggs Type Indictator (MBTI), you will realize that extroversion is one of eight personality indicators, and those who identify as extroverts come in eight combination types: ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ, ENTJ. While I often test between ENFP and ENFJ, I really manifest as an ENFJ. The Myers-Briggs website describes an ENFJ as “warm, empathetic, responsive and responsible. Highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. Find potential in everyone, want to help others fulfill their potential. May act as catalysts for individual and group growth. Loyal, responsive to praise and criticism. Sociable, facilitate others in a group, and provide inspiring leadership.” Thus, I am less likely to be “logical” and task-oriented than an ESFJ, but I am highly attuned to the potential of others. In fact, the ENFJ personality type is often described as Teacher, which I think is a fitting nod to my profession.

Academic myths that we perpetuate tend to value the individual over the community, the intellectual thinker over the sharer, and knowledge over people. If you look over the many blogs and articles written about the current state of academia (which I do not urge you to do–it is rather grim right now), you will see that the bottom line and the tenure line takes precedence over building the sort of idealistic communities that extroverts tend to yearn after.

And with these two perceptions, I sometimes find it very daunting to be an extrovert in academia. What follows is a guide that has helped me articulate who I am in my professional environment. If you are yourself an extroverted academic, or know one, I hope this will provide some clarity and insight. Disclaimer: this list is not to be taken as an insult to introverts or a poor-me manifesto, but an exploration of the joys and challenges of my personality type within my particular occupation. This is not a one-size-fits-all list, but rather, a guide that expresses my particular manifestation of extraversion:

1. Human interaction is a basic emotional need for me. I am fueled by my relationships with my friends and colleagues. This does not automatically mean that I looooove going to conferences (they’re just okay) or am awesome at schmoozing (I’m not, and for reasons I’ll articulate in a little bit); rather, I am fueled by my interactions with my colleagues and peers. I am energized when several of us get together and share ideas/stories/critiques.

2. It’s true that I love to talk and will share my ideas, especially if I find you interested and receptive. But I also enjoy listening and hearing your ideas. Basically, if you give me a teaser or introduce yourself in the conversation, I will welcome you with open arms and shut up attentively. But I am not a mind reader. I don’t know if you’re secretly resenting my seeming domination of the conversation, or if you’re just being a good listener (though your body language can certainly help me make that distinction). If you keep listening and I have something to say, I’ll keep talking. But if I have nothing to say, I won’t say it. I don’t just gabble on because I love to hear my voice–I enjoy hearing yours, too.

3. I genuinely like teaching. I’m not posturing when I say that I really like my students, and I find it to be my calling. As an ENFJ, I am peculiarly attuned to the potential that other people house within themselves. Therefore, I make it my mission to help my students unleash that potential. I find a batch of poor grades as much a reflector of my teaching as I do on my students’ performance (though circumstances could tweak that mindset, certainly). Therefore, I find it terribly hurtful when I’ve had colleagues suggest that I am not “mean enough” to my students or that I “give to0 many As.” As someone who puts her heart into making her courses concise, understandable, and meaningful, I find such suggestions denigrate the way I relate to my mentees, and to their potential abilities.

4. I will not be shattered if you offer constructive criticism or legitimate concerns that you can back with specific examples. I *will,* however, be devastated if you are a jerk behind my back, if you attack me for no good reason, or speak badly about me when I have given you no reason to. I have been at the receiving end of backhanded criticism, and I spent HOURS trying to decipher what I’d done. I analyzed and second-guessed everything in my interactions with a few of my colleagues. In the end, I had to conclude that it wasn’t my fault, and all I could do was be polite and respectful to my peers. But I have never forgotten those comments, and I never will. And I think about everything I say before I speak to those individuals.

5. I am a social person, and I realize that I am intense, and can come off too strong. So, I try to control myself, and can often seem shallow because I offer up small talk as a “warm-up.” Listen, I am more than happy to discuss auteur theory with you. But I am equally happy to discuss the Kardashians (and it’s true, I know way too much about that family). See #1. It’s just that I’m afraid to overwhelm you with my intensity. Which brings me to…

6. Though I naturally gravitate towards human interactions, it comes with a nasty companion: constant, social anxiety that can sometimes overcome my joyful embrace of humanity altogether. If you are cold or unresponsive, I am (usually) quick to recognize that and may end the conversation as soon as I can think of it–this may make conversation awkwardly abrupt. I may become afraid that I am boring you and get out of a conversation, even if I’m enjoying it. I may be afraid to approach you, simply because I don’t want to seem like I am foisting myself upon you. My need for human interaction is linked to my need to be accepted and nurtured. Thus, I can’t let some things slide as easily as my more introverted companions. I overthink conversations constantly and cringe at all my mistakes. Thus, I sometimes find it awkward and difficult to schmooze with academics, particularly if I am afraid that I am going to be judged because I like Jane Austen (and seriously, the academic backlash against Ms. Austen is unbelievable, but that will have to be another blog post), or because I listen to Lady Gaga unironically. And not to hate on academics, but seriously, we can be a judgy, pretentious bunch sometimes.

7. Having a cheerful…no, let’s be honest, perky…demeanor often works against me. I am a small-framed, white, blonde, feminine-looking woman with a high voice who dresses in bright colors, and often wears dresses and flip-flops in the summer. I smile A LOT. Kids, I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna. I’m just in love with life, and if it’s a good day, I have no compunction about showing it. Therefore, I have been seen as fluffy, not smart, an airhead, you name it. Being treated this way by men is a grim reminder that the glass ceiling is alive and well. And yet, if I am assertive or aggressive in defending my theory/reading/ideas, I am then called a bitch. I work hard, and my appearance or demeanor does not (or should not) overshadow the seriousness with which I approach my occupation.

8. Sometimes, I become lonely in toxic academic environments. In places that value the individual and unintentionally reward backbiting and other nasty behaviors, I withdraw when I realize that I am not going to be appreciated. I’m not shy, and I’m not a snob. But I can recognize where I will be hurt or unappreciated, and so I take measures to protect myself. But then I suffer, because I crave a nourishing, balanced community made of accepting and loving people with whom I am an equal.

9. Despite some of the posts that jokingly assume that extroverts see a book as a paperweight or a doorstop (really, Tumblr? Really???), I enjoy reading. I’m not a nonstop party, and I like my down time, too. I find that reading nourishes and develops other sides of me. I can sit for hours with a book and be transported into other worlds and ideas. I just might text someone throughout the process, though. Because if I’m engrossed by something, then I have to share it.

10. I can commit to things, and I can follow through on some of my grandiose ideas. It’s true that I’m not the best planner or the most logistical of thinkers. But that doesn’t mean I flit carelessly from one idea to the next. I stumbled upon my dissertation idea last spring, and it’s stuck with me ever since. I’ve had to change/abandon a few related ideas, but the overall topic has remained the same, and I’ve had no hesitation about sticking with my commitment. On that note: yes, extroverts can and do commit. I’m not quitting my PhD program any time soon in favor of becoming a basket weaver or a yoga instructor (can I get a sarcasm font for that?).

11. I love to share. Really. If I have a great idea, then I share it. If something works, I want to talk about it. I’m not backhandedly suggesting that your teaching is bad, I’m just sharing what has worked. And, in fact, I will also share my failures and frustrations with you. In that respect, I am a sort of open book. I’m just as open about my failures as I am about my successes, and I will be the first to beat myself up about them.

How do you see extroverts, if you are an introvert? How do you see yourself, if you are an extrovert? Please feel free to share–I find personalities fascinating, and I’d really love to have more dialogue about extraversion, especially in light of the explosion of texts about introverts.

 

 

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Filed under Doctorate, Outlook, Personality, State of mind, Teaching