Saturday, March 31, 2007

and the green grass glistens

So, an update on this whole graduate school process . . . I've finished all four of my interviews (Kansas City was the last). People have said, "Wow, aren't you relieved? Now you're in the easy part." Um, sorta. Though my interview story might have sounded awkward and negative, overall, I've had a really good experience with each of them. None of them were as nerve-racking as I expected and for the most part were pretty fun. I learned a lot and met many interesting people - sadly, most of whom I'll never see again, but who knows? I've heard back from all the schools - I've been accepted into two of them, one of which has offered me a pretty awesome fellowship, and I'm on the alternate list for the other two. But now, I feel more turmoil than I did during the interviews. First off, I hate making big life decisions. When I was a senior in high school, I waited until just a couple of days before the deadline to choose which college I would attend. I said that I wasn't going to, but it looks like I might do that this time too.

There's been so much on my mind lately, I don't even know where to begin. Why do I think of the worst case scenarios when I think about those two schools? I start with one question, "What about this aspect? Do I like that?" and then my mind has begun a downward spiral and suddenly I'm stuck in a graduate program that makes me miserable. Is that really the case? I should be much more excited! I have been excited, during the interviews and applications, and I will be excited again, when I finally make my decision. I felt this same way when I was trying to decide when to graduate. I vacillated and labored over that decision, but as soon as I turned in my intent to graduate - there was no looking back! I was filled with excitement and did everything I could to achieve that goal. I hope that will be the case this time.

Something I am very excited about is mine and Britt's trip to Europe this summer. I bought our Eurail passes today! It's actually happening and it's becoming more and more real to me. It started off as something we began talking about last summer, and now we're actually doing it! Over three weeks in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

Among the turmoil and excitement, I've still managed to enjoy many simplicities. Some things that have made me happy this past week include - red wine and pizza in the botanic gardens, riding my bike, seeing the streets and grass glisten as the sun shines on them after the rain, couples older than my parents holding hands, blue eyes on men, iced coffee, and friends who are honest to share - when it hurts me, and when they share their love.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

the company of others

"I have perceiv'd that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any one, or rest my arm ever so lightly
round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?

I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.
There is something in staying close to men and women and looking
on them, and in the contact and odor of them, that pleases the soul well,
All things please the soul, but these please the soul well."

- Walt Whitman

I am an incredibly relational person. I think that we are all relational, but people vary on this. Some people need more alone time, whereas others need more people time. I am one of the latter. Alone time is great - I love being alone in my car with nothing but my radio or my prayers; I love reading by myself. I even loved traveling to Kansas City by myself because there was such a freedom to observe and carry out all my thoughts on a myriad of paths that being with others halts. As much as I enjoy those times by myself, there is nothing that gives me more pleasure than being in the company of others. I truly am an extrovert, not just in the way that we typically define extroverts and introverts based on their observed behavior, but also in the way that I experience energy. Being with others renews me. Too much time alone, and I start to wither away slowly. I grow apathetic, tired, depressed. But time with another, and I feel alive again. Sure, days straight of no time to myself wears on me, but most of the time I feel as though I could continually soak up the company of those I like, always satisfied, never over saturated. These past couple of weeks, I have felt so blessed by the company of some of my closest family and friends. I lack nothing; this is enough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you

I’m in a Kansas City hotel, in town for my interview tomorrow. I just want to write some brief thoughts and impressions before they leave my mind. This is my first time to fly and stay in a hotel by myself. Cara’s roommate had once said that whenever she travels alone, she dresses nice so that she will look older and people will treat her better. I told my mom about this, and she agreed that it was a good idea, “You could just be any businesswoman traveling.” I even used her official looking Investor Life Insurance Company of North America bag as my carryon. I felt confidant as my dad dropped me off at the gate. Here I am, just another professional. Traveling for business, or pleasure? Business. I have an interview tomorrow. No one will bother me. Forget that I’m young with longish blonde hair, today I’m on business. Why does blonde hair seem unprofessional? As I came back to my gate after eating breakfast from the airport McDonalds (bypass Starbucks, I can’t use my discount at a licensed store), I began noticing all these people around me.

All of these people, traveling for different reasons. They could be anyone. Any of these people might be interesting to get to know. But the airport is a horrible place to meet someone. Everyone is on the go, somewhere to be, this is just a means to an end, not a place in and of itself. Even if you do meet someone, sit down and share coffee or breakfast and chat for 20 minutes, then what? You’ll never see that person again. You’ll go your way and he will go his. Maybe if you both travel a lot, by chance you’ll meet again in another airport. No, the airport is not a place to meet someone.

As soon as these thoughts were complete, I noticed a young bearded man, Middle Eastern looking. Five years ago, every passenger here would be needlessly scrutinizing this young man. As we came closer, recognition hit. “Reza?” It was my lab mate from a freshmen level psychology class, now bearded. He hugged me and we chatted briefly. He was traveling home to Chicago for spring break, and I told him about my interview in Kansas City. We parted, and I was astonished to run into a familiar face at all places, the airport this strange hub where people are shuffled off from one destination to the next.

Boarding the plane, I was disappointed with how empty it was. Having never flown by myself, I wanted to strike up a conversation with a stranger. We might just make some smalltalk and read our books and magazines, or he and she might be a talker. No such luck.

On the flight, I finished the second novella from Michael Cunningham’s Specimen Days. Since reading The Hours a few weeks ago, he is quickly becoming a favorite author. This book is inspired by Walt Whitman poetry, with three novellas set in New York City’s past, present, and future centered around variations of three main characters – a man named Simon, a woman named Catherine, Cat, or Catareen, and a boy named Lucas or Luke. Finishing the second tale, I watched the plane descend into Kansas City. The first thing I noticed where the trees.

Trees, everywhere. Even without leaves, you can tell this is a beautiful place. No wonder people say that Texas is flat and ugly. I could make a life out here, outside of Texas. Not in New York City or California, but somewhere like this area. I could live among the trees, in that house with the big yard, outside of a city where I would commute to work. I could raise my children in a house like that, and read them Walt Whitman, and there would be snow in the winter for them to play in. Yes, I would be far from family, but I could fly them home to Texas every three months for them to see their grandparents. Flights aren’t as expensive to places like this as they are to DC or New York or Chicago. A couple of thousand dollars a year. And friends and family would come visit, of course. They’d love my house among the trees. They’d love seeing the life that I’d make in a place like this.

From the airport, I hopped aboard a shuttle to my hotel. There were three other passengers, a silent young business man working away on his laptop beside me, and a talkative Arizonan man and a woman who was on my flight in front of me. I listened to bits and pieces of their conversations. They were both teachers; he taught high school graphic design. I could marry a teacher and we could live in that house out there among the trees. I’ve always hoped that my husband would also be in a helping profession, a doctor, or teacher, or something. Not a businessman or a lawyer. Yet I’m often attracted to musicians, artists, poets, writers. Do musicians help others? Not in the way that teachers and doctors do, but they bring art, creativity, and expression to the world.

The driver asked if this was anyone’s first visit, and I told him that it was mine. He began pointing out different sights as we passed them. “Here’s the first glimpse of the downtown skyline; you could see it better if it weren’t hazy today . . . here’s the Missouri River, and on the other side is Kansas . . . we just passed the Folgers Coffee Plant. Can you smell it? They don’t grow it here, but they roast it and grind here . . . that monolith there is the country’s only World War I memorial, and that newer building next to it is the IRS headquarters . . . we’re now in the oldest part of town, where all the old trails out west used to intersect this town, the California Trail, the Oregon Trail . . .”

Kansas City could be any city. Parts of it remind me of Dallas, New York, San Francisco. Yet as a whole, it is none of those familiar places. Texas is Texas, but Kansas City is America. Kansas City is trees and hills and Walt Whitman and agriculture and Western expansion and the Industrial Revolution and skyscrapers and factories and monuments and two story Victorian homes with basements and the taste of steaks and the smell of coffee. By itself, Kansas City is completely unremarkable, but it represents the whole of America, or maybe just white America, the America we were taught in history. Kansas City could be any city, but today, for me, it is Every City.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

if you follow me, you'll see all the black, all the white fade to grey

It wasn't that long ago . . .

When loving God meant giving up something.
When the right decision was always the hard one.
When surrender was only defined as sacrifice.

During most of high school and the beginning of college I lived in black and white days. I acted under the beliefs that being a Christian was supposed to be hard and that a narrow set of actions was God's will for me. If I truly loved God, I had to be like Abraham and be willing to give up that which was most precious to me - whether God had demanded it or not. Surrendering my will to the Lordship of Christ entailed giving up my desires and needs. Even as I write this, I still find some truth in these ideas, yet I know that those statements are incomplete without the joy and freedom that Christ offers.

I remember those black and white days as a freshmen in high school, when I felt convicted to make God my greatest priority and give Him my time and energy. In order to do this, I felt that I needed to drop my Pre-AP Biology class, because the course load was so much more demanding than most high school classes and it was sapping away my time and energy. If I wasn't working on our lab notebooks or studying for exams, I could spend so much more time reading God's word and reaching out to those around me. I wanted to be in that class and I wanted to excel in it, but that was prideful. Dropping the class would humble me, as it would go against all the expectations I have for myself and my schooling. I even imagined the dramatic statement I could make with this. People would wonder, "Why did she drop this class?" and I would tell them how I didn't want to do it, but I needed to for my commitment to God. Though I contemplated these things, I never did drop the class. I worked through it and made an A. Looking back, I think I was very sincere but rather misguided. Why would God want me to forsake the talents that He created within me?

I was reminded of those black and white days when listening to Jars of Clay's first album in my car -

"Can I be the one to sacrifice
Or grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow

To love you - take my world apart
To need you - I am on my knees
To love you - take my world apart
To need you - broken on my knees . . . .

. . . More and more I need you now,
I owe you more each passing hour
the battle between grace and pride
I gave up not so long ago
So steal my heart and take the pain
and wash the feet and cleanse my pride
take the selfish, take the weak,
and all the things I cannot hide
take the beauty, take my tears
the sin-soaked heart and make it yours
take my world all apart
take it now, take it now"

Listening to this song, I cannot help but remember those black and white days when I first heard this song and prayed that God would take my world apart and strip me of all the things that were hindering my love for Him. I wanted to be the one to sacrifice, not the one who held the blood and water soaked spear. God had done so much for me, and I owed him.

Did I really think that during those black and white days - that I owed God for his sacrifice? It almost seems unbelievable right now. I know my intentions were sincere and my passion was real, but how could I possibly give God anything to make up for what He has given me? Eventually, I felt convicted to break up with my boyfriend, who wasn't the one for me and who was robbing my heart from God. Maybe, so I believed at the time. When I broke up with him, I felt that was the sacrifice that God demanded. As if breaking up with a boy would ever come close to sending my only son to the cross. I could go on and on with more stories from my black and white days, but I think those two convey it well. Looking back I wonder, "Did I even understand what grace was?" I still don't comprehend it and don't fully know how to respond to God's grace.

I still believe that sometimes God demands sacrifices, but it's for our own good as well as His. Imagine how Abraham must have changed after being commanded by a heavenly angel to stop as he held the dagger over this son. Imagine all the emotions he could have felt at the sight of the ram he was to sacrifice instead. We are given a hint about how he must have felt -

" 13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided." Genesis 22

The LORD Will Provide was what he called it. What a title of gratitude and praise! From this we learn that God will provide the sacrifice, not us. The LORD Will Provide the ram, his Son, and all that we need.

As thankful as I am to be moving into a greyer world where God's grace is becoming more apparent, I sometimes miss those black and white days. In those days, decisions were easier. Pick the harder option, the one that requires the most sacrifice and that will bring the most glory to God. This is still my temptation when making decisions - turn down that great offer the world gives, ignore the desires of my heart, because surely the world and my heart are wicked. But this is the battle in finding wisdom in a greyer world - sometimes my heart speaks from the flesh, but sometimes it speaks from the desires that God has given me. I pray for the wisdom to tell the two apart and to accept the grey.

Monday, March 05, 2007

An Interview Story

1:45 pm. I was ready to meet with two professors back-to-back, starting at 1:50pm. Neeta, whom I had met at the previous week's interview, walked with me out of the second floor, into the stairwell. She went up, and I went down, each wishing one another luck. Rounding the second flight of stairs, my heel slipped. I began falling forward, and managed to grab the railing before I tumbled all the way down, but not before my left shin and knee scraped across the concrete stairs.

"What happened?" Neeta yelled down. I must have screamed or made some noise that alarmed her.
"I fell down the stairs."
"Oh my god! Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine," I assured her, as I pulled myself back on my feet, wincing. "Are you sure? Do you need anything?" I inspected my leg. Quarter sized spot of blood on my knee. Nickel-sized on my shin.
"Yes, I'm ok. Don't worry about me, just go to your interview, I'll be alright." Though I wanted someone to be there with me, I knew I could handle this by myself. The last thing I wanted was for Neeta to miss her interview on account of me. Survival of the fittest. Leave the injured behind, don't look back, just do what you have to do.

I remembered the bandaid in my purse and found a first-floor bathroom. I ducked into the handicap stall and stripped off my hose. After placing the bandaid on my knee, I inspected the beautiful textured hose that I had bought for my friend's New Year's Eve wedding. There was a huge hole ripped into the left knee. Dangit. Oh well, there were more important things to worry about now. I almost lost it right there. On any other day, this wouldn't have been such a big deal. The scrapes wouldn't have hurt as much, and I wouldn't have been as frazzled. But today, on interview day, with my heightened anxiety and my need to make everything go perfectly, this could have been enough to break me. The tears welled up in my eyes. I wanted to break down right there in the stall, and just start sobbing.

"Having some hose issues?" Another student had walked in.
"Not exactly. I fell down the stairs, and I needed to put on a bandaid."
"Oh no! Are you alright?" No, of course I'm not all right. I want out. Just let me run away to somewhere small and dark.
"Yeah, I'm fine, it'll be ok. I have an interview in a couple of minutes," I stated as I put my hose back on.
"Oh, ok. Well, I hope it goes well."
"Thanks, yours too."

I exited the bathroom and was greeted by smiling Carlyn, the second year student who had helped plan this day.
"Hey Kelly," her North Carolina accent rolled off her tongue, "How's it going? Anything I can do for you?" Finally, an appropriate person to show my anxiety too.
"I'm alright. I just fell down the stairs, and I feel stupid, but I'm really frazzled." The smile lines around her eyes disappeared as her brow furrowed with concern.
"Oh no. Do you need ice or anything?" Ice, I hadn't thought of that.
"Yeah, ice would be good, but I have an interview right now."
"Ok, let's get you to your interview, and I'll bring you some ice."
"Thanks, I really appreciate it."

Carlyn guided me down the hall to the small interview room, which on most days is probably used to see clients. The adjunct professor who works for the counseling center hadn't arrived yet, so I sat down in a cushiony chair as Carlyn disappeared. I was thankful for the quiet moment before the interview started, thankful for Carlyn and her motherly concern over me. Deep breaths. Inhale through the nostrils, fill up the chest. Exhale slowly through my mouth, feel my chest deflate. Mike, a third year student who was also helping run the interview day, arrived with ice and said that Carlyn was on her way with bandages. I thanked him, and placed the ice on my still slightly throbbing wounds.

My interviewer arrived. He asked how I was, and I told him about the fall. "Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about that. How about we start chatting a little while we wait on those bandages? Tell me some about yourself." I began talking and he began asking questions, as if this was a normal getting acquainted conversation and not a high-stress interview. This was probably the best thing for me. I just needed someone to acknowledge that I had been hurt, and then to carry on as if nothing had happened. As we talked, my leg stopped hurting, my breathing became normal, and I felt much more at ease. There was something comforting and familiar about this professor. Though we had just met, I felt like I could be open and vulnerable with him. By the time Carlyn had dropped off the bandages, the explanation for this familiarity hit me. He had many of the same mannerisms and speech patterns as one of my ex-boyfriends. Bizarrely, here he sat, legs crossed, fingers linked over his knee, that thing he does with his lips when he's thinking, the tilt of his head when he's really engaged and listening, his rate and tone of speech, my ex, thirty years older and now a therapist, come back from the future to interview me. I tried not to let this futuristic doppelganger intimidate me, but the similarity was hard to shake.

"Now, how would your friends describe you?" Whenever I'm asked this question, my memory immediately travels to a xanga entry that Cara had written about me two years ago, in which she described me as compassionate, inspiring, skookum, bohemian, and keen.
"Well, my friends have said that I'm very empathetic and caring. They've also described me as inspiring, quirky, bohemian."
"Bohemian, huh? What exactly do they mean by bohemian?" Hell if I know. Dangit, why did I say a word that I don't even think describes me? Because it sounded impressive and unique. Because I want the professors to remember me, "Oh yes, that was the bohemian girl that I interviewed." I muddled through some answer about having unique interests, unique tastes in fashion and music, and that made me bohemian. Bee-ess. Even if other people say it, I'd never want to say, "I have a bohemian style." Except that I had just said just that. Oh well, I answered the question, "How do others describe you?" Bohemian was an honest answer.

The interview continued with questions that I answered much more smoothly. The second faculty interview went even better, and the pain actually disappeared, and I didn't even have to distract myself by examining the mannerisms of the second interviewer. By the end of the day, I was actually having fun. I went to happy hour with the other interviewees, current students, and two faculty members. I talked and laughed with the current students and felt like I connected with most of them. As I was leaving the restaurant, I spilled a cup of water all over my legs and feet. For a brief moment my emotions flashed back to the fall down the stairs, but I quickly threw my hands into the air, "Whatever, the day is over!" and we all laughed. I smiled.