A Love Letter for Mount Holyoke.

It began with a trip visiting my aunties in some place called Amherst, Massachusetts, and my father speaking sternly to me over the formica kitchen counter.

“While we’re up North visiting them,” he said, “I want you to look at Mount Holyoke College.”

“Mount Holyoke? What is that?”

“It’s a women’s college,” my father replied. I think he even braced himself for my reply.

“A women’s college?” I spat. “Over my dead body!”

Famous last words.

Continue reading

Thesis: Submitted.

Cue: blog about how utterly anticlimactic it was to shove three $30 binders fat with 119 pages into professor’s mailboxes. Subsequent happy dance, alone, in dimly lit department lounge. Mild asthma attack.

Slow walk back to dorm, took brief nap.

Response: photoshoot with self, thesis, and about 2/3 of the books consulted and employed in the writing process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

i call it: thesis face phases.

i call it: thesis face phases.

T-minus six days until the defense.

Jesus Loves Queer People! Reflections on the #UMassUnited Counter-Action to the Westboro Baptist Church

Almost a year ago, the amazing Rachel Held Evans wrote a piece on the CNN Belief Blog entitled “Why Millennials are Leaving the Church.” Of the many reasons she elucidates, she fundamentally argues that the contemporary church must be more authentic and, consequentially, extend Jesus-like love to all people:

“Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving . . . 
“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance . . .
“We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.”

Last Wednesday, bundled in my wool coat against the (unwelcome) mid-April freeze, friends and i made our way to our neighboring school, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Two weeks prior, UMass became home to the first out Division I basketball player, Derrick Gordon. It was a huge moment for the Pioneer Valley, and a huge moment for breaking down homophobic barriers in a traditionally masculinist, homophobic space.

And not a few days later did the infamous Westboro Baptist Church announce that they would be making camp at UMass to protest Derrick’s courage. (Well, that’s not the way put it, but you know what i mean.)

I sprang into action, contacting as many of my Mount Holyoke friends as i could rallying around a counter-protest. Of course, the folks at UMass were doing the same thing, but rather than giving the WBC more airplay by orchestrating a massive counter-protest, these leaders created something called #UMassUnited. A movement, a march, and a rally focused on creating an uplifting, queer-positive space that celebrated the love between people of any gender and the love of our wider community. So that Wednesday, we MHC pilgrims rolled up with our poster boards and scarves ready to join their ranks.

We wanted to outshine the WBC so much that our love was greater than the hate they bore on their signs. We wanted to show that Derrick Gordon is a whole human being, whose sexuality should not have to be so politicized as it is only one facet of his identity. And we wanted to embrace all among us who were scarred by the venom spewed by the WBC.

10250337_2266264221403_4648004000704134601_n

That night, watching video clips and reading articles covering the demonstration, i knew we’d been successful. Almost every news outlet mentioned the #UMassUnited protest before mentioning the five WBC people who decided to show up for twenty minutes across campus.

10259951_2266412825118_2675391619399941410_nI was quite chuffed to find my own sign was mentioned here, on LGBTQ Nation, and littered across Instagram. I meant every word and i was grateful that LGBTQIA people were so excited to see a Christian in their ranks.

But it was even more exciting to me to see how many other Christian signs there were in the crowd, people taking a stand for love and reclaiming a faith co-opted and corrupted by the likes of the WBC. Two of the speakers at the rally were pastors at local churches. The cohort of MHC students who i’d come with all bore signs with God-like themes: “God is Love” read one, another with 1 John 4:7 written out.

It never fails to amaze me, to humble me, and to keep me faithful when so many Christians come out for queer rights. And maybe this shocks me because, as much as i agree with Rachel Held Evans’ piece, maybe we are the majority. Maybe folks like the WBC have been given too much screen time and rallies like #UMassUnited aren’t as sensational to talk about.

10246297_2266228900520_6162120665235027386_nI meant the front of my sign. I still mean it. But i had also made my sign double-sided, in part because i wanted people to still read it when i held it up in the air, and more so because there is a second message i think necessary to the one “Jesus loves queer people.” On the back, i wrote “Jesus Loves ALL of US.

I was working very, very hard to mean the back.

The part about all of us. And as much as it singes my throat to admit it, all of us includes and included those five people from the Westboro Baptist Church.

The beauty of #UMassUnited was in the celebration of love, and in the refusal to give into the hate of the WBC. I may not welcome the WBC views, attitude, language, or theology. But i’m pretty sure Jesus would still welcome them to the table. Not out of approval of what they say, but because they, too, bear God’s image.

Whenever i am struggling to remember this all-embracing theology, i turn to one of my favorite human beings: Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In a sermon given in 2005, he made this radical statement:

“This family has no outsiders. Everyone is an insider. When Jesus said, “I, if I am lifted up, will draw…” Did he say, “I will draw some”? “I will draw some, and tough luck for the others”? He said, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all.” All! All! All! – Black, white, yellow; rich, poor; clever, not so clever; beautiful, not so beautiful. All! All! It is radical. All! Saddam Hussein, Osama bin laden, Bush – – all! All! All are to be held in this incredible embrace. Gay, lesbian, so-called “straight;” all! All! All are to be held in the incredible embrace of the love that won’t let us go.”

I love that. I love it because we have a religious leader who has fought injustice after injustice losing no steam as he fights the next battle. I love it because he says God loves terrorists, God loves us in our often fruitless labels.

And i love it because it means God loves broken me as much as She loves Derrick Gordon and those five people who came from the Westboro Baptist church.

1502479_2266487626988_4516971381939312068_n

 

Senior Symposium Presentation

I wrote about my baby last week – my senior thesis, capping off at 120 pages on a womanist/feminist interpretation of the Christian Liturgical year. While ten minutes feels like an inch of what i had to say, here’s the presentation i gave at the Senior Symposium on Friday, should you like to watch it!

You might want to turn up your volume to hear. Many thanks to Alex (whom i reference in the film as having presented right before me on God and the Holocaust) and Nora for filming!

Caring for the Needy: On Ailments and Adulthood

(Those with queasy tummies: turn back now. You’ve been warned.)

I have the stomach of a Victorian lady.

Assuredly, the rest of me resembles nothing of that sexually repressed, hoop-skirt bonanza, but when it comes to ailments i’m downright dainty. At least once a week i’m pumping the vending machine for a ginger ale or, better yet, sending J down to the Walgreens for more advil. I don’t get colds. I get pneumonia. For two months.

And i don’t do sick pretty, even though i do it damn often.

Which is why, last Thursday night, i was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, blue puke bag in hand.

Even for me, this was a first.

The illness had begun innocuously enough. But by the end of hour one of tummy cramps and heaving i was laying belly-up on the floor of the second floor bathroom wishing for a swift death, my mom on speaker pleading with me to call the EMTs.

“Nooooo,” i groaned, a flush in the stall next to me. “I’ll be fiiiiinnneeee.” It was the needles. I knew they’d hook me into an IV and i’d be better within hours (at least, not puking anymore) but … the needles. I’d take my arduous death on yellowing, tiled floors in a public bathroom before needles.

“Hey – uh, are you okay?” a chipping pedicure in blue flipflops asked outside my stall fortress of woe. “You know what, i’ll go get you a glass of water,” she asserted before i could protest.

Two minutes later i fumbled with the latch and a tremendously sweet hall mate prodded a mug my way. “Thanks,” i whispered, taking a sip out of courtesy. I knew it wouldn’t be in me more than five minutes, but i was feeling horribly lonely and disgusting and here was someone unafraid to offer help. The least i could do was take it.

That’s what sucks the most about adulthood, i’ve found: being sick and alone. I never want my mom there more than when i have to go buy medicine myself or i’m trying to arrange my pillows so that i can watch Netflix without neck cramps. Mom was on the phone with me, of course, but all i could do was curl up in a ball in the handicap stall and pretend she was stroking my hair.

Wouldn’t dream of asking anyone else to do that. Seriously, gross.

Kind Hallmate left, assuring me i could knock if i needed anything. Instead i’d dragged myself along the wall of the corridor back to my room, pulling of pajamas covered in sick. I just need a shower, I thought. That’ll make me feel better.

“A shower?! No, honey, you need to call the police and have them take you to the ER.” Mom’s tone was getting thinner. She was on speaker now, because i didn’t have the strength to hold the phone to my ear. “And call a friend. You don’t have to do this alone.”

So i caved and called the emergency line, voice crackling with a swollen trachea pleading for help.

I managed to change clothes and then was limp-running back to the bathroom. Too late. I’d lost all strength in my legs and was sprawled on the floor, heaving and heaving.

The door to the stairs opened, EMT in sight.

“Oh,” she said. “Must be you.”

I nodded, then tried to puke. If i hadn’t been assured i was facing armageddon, i would have peed myself laughing.

Her nose wrinkled, but then she gently took my pulse and asked me how i felt. “Like shit,” i cackle-hacked. More EMTs started coming, including my own angel: Tracy, who was an EMT and lived one hall over. She wasn’t on duty but she’d heard the call, so she walked over. She’s considerate and compassionate like that.

When i called the police i’d also called Austin – amazing, fearless, dependable Austin. She loved me even after sharing a room with me for three years, so i knew she’d see me through tonight. Barreling through the double doors in sunflower yellow, i vaguely saw her pulling her hair down before she was pulling my hair back into a ponytail.

Talk about clothing the naked putrid and pathetic.

“You’re gonna be okay, sweetie,” she propped me up off the floor. That’s Austin: diving into the fray because there is a practical need she can fix.

Everything after that is blurry, but i remember Austin coaxing me to say yes to the hospital, and Tracy riding third in the ambulance with me. Tracy stayed, even when i was hurling and hurling and squeezing her fingers purple over the IV. Austin, who’d been handling the calls to both Jonathan and my mom, was finally let back to see me in the ER, after they’d given me enough meds to kill a horse.

Angels, i tell you.

When i was finally breathing normal we cracked jokes about the helluva toast this would make at the wedding. I thanked them and thanked them and thanked them, but i still cannot thank them enough. Tracy hitched a ride back to school with the ambulance, but only after ensuring i had a spare pair of hospital pants.

Around 4 AM, i told Austin to go home. The nurses tried to send me too, but then i puked in the lobby (charming) and asked to stay. At last, at last, i crashed into a dreams about 19th-century London, curled under three hospital blankets.

I woke up again at 6:30, IV out and alone in my room. I’d been so lucky to have a bed at all, and even luckier to have a room. The room was part storage, the walls stacked six-deep with crutches in plastic packaging.

And there, alone in hospital pants and shirt and having survived hell the night before, i finally started to ugly-cry. I couldn’t stop. As panicked as i’d been the night before, i hadn’t cried. I’d known it was the line of no return, the hysteria that plagued the ladies of the Victorian era from which my tummy was taken.

But man, i was bawling. Couldn’t stop. It wasn’t the pain, or the loneliness, or even the fear that thirty crutches might fall from the wall skewering me at any moment.

It was a release, and it was gratitude. When i’d been moaning and dying (ok, not dying) in the handicap stall, Kind Hallmate stopped in. Tracy came to the second floor just because she was around, not because she was on EMT duty. Austin came because i called.

While i’d been wallowing in self-pity over my lonely state as a twenty-something, people surrounded me. So that morning i just cried and cried, no moisture in me but somehow walloping out sobs, the shock washing off and the gratitude settling in.

By the time my auntie came to get me, i had run out of water. It would be a solid few days of bed rest and cheesy rom-coms, but my friends brought me snacks and my auntie took incredible Saltine-cracker care of me.

I was thankful, am thankful, that adulthood didn’t have to be as forlorn as i thought.

What are you so afraid of?

I smooth the sticky side down on my wall, willing the fan to hold off long enough for adhesive to adhese (or whatever). I want both the air of the fan and the message of the note to stick. I want both things at once even though i know they are oppositional forces. 

It is a post-it note. “What are you so afraid of?” in block blue letters on a block of blue paper. Above the cross on my desk with a cheesy verse from Jeremiah that i love for both its cheese and its calories.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom is on Skype with me, glasses perched so far down her nose i swear they’ll fall off if she belly-laughs again. My legs are gluing to the wood chair, this miserable heat making me melt like Elmer’s. I envy Mom in the air conditioning promised inside her Southern home. New England winter is coming, you can already see the trees dressing in fire in the corner-most branches. But mostly the fire in New England right now is not a burning heat so much as it is a miserable slop, a clinging film of stick on everything not made of icebox rock.

“What are you so afraid of?”

I pull the fan closer, picking threads of hair off of my neck and re-wrap my hairtie. It’s the longest my locks have been since i started school, a reversal of fifteen-year-old lizzie who chopped off fifteen inches at Governor’s School to prove cookie-cutter wrong and feminist liberation right. Still feminist, still cookie-lover, still no cookie-cutter.

“What are you so afraid of?”

Mom looks at me now, serious-eyes over the tortoise-shell rims. “You’ve been talking about this since before you started school, honey,” she chides. A perfect blend of you-know-better and you-can-do-it. Someday she’ll teach me that recipe, maybe, if i have to tortoise-shell-glare my own daughter. Maybe. “You should be scared to death. Anything worth doing is scary.” I nod. Air forced in, air forced out. This heat, this heat and my tiny lungs are not friends. Makes oxygen into sluggish glue that sticks going down and never really makes it to the bottom. Anything worth doing is scary.

“What are you so afraid of?” 

I look at my note now, it blue on blue hanging by a thread to my sweating wall. How it hangs on, i’m not sure, but i’m glad i don’t have to move the fan. Mom’s right, i know, and that’s why i call her. When i need her to give me the permission i seem unwitting or unwilling to find myself. Permission to be scared of writing a thesis, permission to be scared of tomorrow. Permission to say “to hell with being scared!” and make defiant post-it notes in cookie-cutter rebellion. 

“What are you so afraid of?” 

current jam: ‘eavesdrop’ the civil wars.

best thing: blue valentine.

pre-order my book!

The Drive Back.

It was the ninth time i’d made the trek.

Four Augusts ago, my mother came home armed with Bugles and window-paint Crayola markers; the Bugles, because she says no road trip is complete without crunchy tornado-shaped crackers from a gas station. The markers, so i could plaster her CRV with “Mount Holyoke or Bust!” and “Go Pegasus!”

It was the first road trip to my new home in South Hadley, Massachusetts. We took I-95, with a stop-off at an Aloft hotel somewhere in New Jersey. Mom did all the driving, because i was barely 18 and really not adept at highways in New England. Further proof of my inaptitude for staying in the lines came when i realized i’d mixed up my move-in date – we were a day early. Gracious Residential Life staff handed me a key anyway, and my mother set to work arranging my furniture in spacial relation sense and i planned wall-pockets for my posters.

I remember going to the parent-daughter tea without her. I’d insisted i’d be fine if she left before all the parent orientation activities. Strapped up my red boots and Ghanaian bracelets and told myself i was brave and true like any good Mount Holyoke woman. I sat in the corner, keeping tears in my chest and falling in love with new friends all in the same cup of chai. She says now it is one of her greatest regrets – listening to me and leaving when she did.

Everything and nothing has changed since that August. I still make her mix CDs when i leave for long periods of time. I don’t record voice messages on them anymore, but they’re as carefully curated as the day i handed her my “i’m grown and going to college and trying to be cool, but damn will i miss you” CD. (I changed the title for her; something cleaner and more sophisticated in block Sharpie writing). She came over before this big drive to help me fill my van again, her spacial relations genius only paralleled by her ability to leave hidden notes among my treasures.

But the most obvious change was who i made the drive with.

IMG_4707

I picked Jonathan up from the Divinity School around 2:30 after an embarrassingly tearful farewell to our kittens (they were having a weekend with my mother). We made excellent time, pulling into our stop in Pennsylvania at precisely 10 PM. Our route has changed since the plastered-in-paint CRV days. I prefer the leisure of I-81, the highway clinging to Appalachian mountains and off-the-track home diners. And the decided lack of the Jersey Turnpike.

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Somewhere in the Shenandoah Valley!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Sun-dappled photo opp in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Day two took us through rural Pennsylvania which bears a remarkable resemblance to the Trossachs in Scotland. Clearly, i wasn’t the first to think so:

IMG_4728

(I’ve also seen a rather gruesome-yet-compelling film that re-tells Macbeth, entitled: Scotland, PA)

Scotland felt so far and so close all at once. Mount Holyoke has been such a constant in my last three years that it seemed unfathomable to think of it changing, and yet i wondered how new it would look to me after nine months away.

Contemplating what it would be like returning to a home so beloved as a woman so changed sat with me for the drive. I loved my time abroad, still ache a little when i think about how beautiful Edinburgh must be in the (assuredly rain-splattered) fall. Missing my friends across the pond, missing my friends scattered across America. It had been a long summer. A summer of tremendous loss in my family, but also a summer spent with the man i’d committed to spending the rest of my life to. More transition than i thought possible in nine months away from school.

But there are some things that never seem to change. With New England temperatures come New England donuts – and our first Dunkin’ Donuts run! (I’m aware they do exist in the South, just in disappointingly small quantities!).

IMG_4730Clambering off of I-86 in Hartford onto I-91 remained a nightmare (the tunnel!) but my hands were steady on the wheel, the route still ingrained. We were staying with friends with Amherst for the night, but i insisted on taking the long way round. I wanted to drive past it, a tease, to see the campus from the roadside before moving in the next day.

My posters have changed since first year – all save one. I keep them all stored in the same long green bin, but the only recurring character is Rosie the Riveter – a poster i bought on my middle-school field trip to Washington, D.C. She’s crumpled on every corner and it takes some ten thumbtacks to hold her up, but it wouldn’t live in a room without her. Some days just need that muscle-bearing woman to get me through.

Jonathan was an asthma-saver unloading the van while i flittered with where to put what. The lack of A/C in our dorms rarely poses a problem past the fifth of September, but move-in day is always a humidity fest of misery and stale air.

And yet, all my tummy-knots were coming unraveled one thread at a time. It had been a fat nine months of change, but the campus was as beautiful as that first drive four Augusts ago. When mom and i pulled up to a building i didn’t yet know the name of that now i know houses the Religion department. My second home on campus. When we looked at the green and the lake and the Hogwarts-like library and both wondered who i’d be when i left this place. Wondered how i’d get through those first few tummy-knotting weeks.

Sometimes i still wonder. The similarities can seem minute, like the spaces between them eat away at the reminders they bear. But still, devotedly, i tack those ten pins around Rosie the Riveter. Still i look to her on those miserable Massachusetts snow days.

IMG_4811

And i’m learning, in that sluggish every day way, to sit with the paradox of big changes in small things. Jonathan and i are old pros at the distance, now, however begrudgingly so. And i wouldn’t trade that big change for the world. So with new Scottish flags on my wall and well-worn pens in my backpack, the semester is starting. And i’m glad to be home, if for only one more year.

IMG_4803

current jam: ‘from this valley’ the civil wars.

best thing: convocation!

pre-order my book here! 

Making Today Great.

At the helm of a particularly grueling day, i looked over my plate of perogies for dinner talking with my dear friend Olivia. After a staff meeting, we were sharing our woes over struggling to find presence in our days despite unending to-do lists. Olivia is the kind of friend whom i can always find new avenues of conversation with – what a gift of a friend. But that night i was somewhat preoccupied at first with stabbing at a perogie with too much force, knuckles whitening at the thought of the boxes as yet unchecked by 7 PM.

And then, with a steam-blowing sigh, Olivia said to me: “There was something you said to me at the start of the semester i think of all the time.”

Spreading from the corner of her mouth was the smile that made me sure we’d be friends when we met last year. My curiosity now thoroughly pricked, i rummaged in my head for what potential piece of wisdom i could have possibly given her. I was coming up short when she revealed the words i’d so conveniently forgotten:

“You said: tomorrow will come. And it will. I think about that all the time.”

For a bite into cheesy potato goodness, i was stunned. I said that? Damn. I need to be writing these things down more.

I chose, then, to smile at the recollection of words i had – frankly – forgotten. Our conversation rolled on, and i was almost too foolish to believe that would be the last to-remember phrase of the night.

She told me how she had also, within the same week of my apparent doling out of wisdom, had a meeting with her advisor. She had enumerated how excited she was for the coming fall and that she wanted to make this year a great year.

He then said to her, “make today a great day, because they only come one at a time.”

Make today great, because they only come one at a time.

I inhaled deeply, both the words and the smell of my last perogie, basking in the simple wisdom. Olivia and i shared a look of knowing, knowing that in our too-many-classes lives and overbooked work schedules, this is precisely what we needed to hear.

I’ve been trying to channel this into my life in the everyday. Looking at what needs to be done today, rather than trying to tick off boxes in my to-do list notebook for the whole week on Monday. Asking J three things he’s grateful for every day, and asking myself the same. Looking for small things that carry large weights of happiness, blessing, privilege, wonder. Trying to be still, be present. Tomorrow will come, but i don’t need to worry about tomorrow when focused on today.

And while i know it’s far easier to say such things than to live them, i’m working on it. Making today great is a self-help project i can get on board with (so to speak) because the commitment is to today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not for the next year. Today. Everyday is today, but they only come one at a time.

I’m making today great by taking time to rest, and not apologizing for it.

What will you do?

current jam: ‘love is easy’ cover by carrie hope fletcher & the vamps

best thing: 4 days. 4 days. 4 days. 4 days.

Voting Don’t Stop for Sandra-Dee.

Sent off my absentee ballot for the state of North Carolina today! This is my first time voting in a presidential election, so i’m pretty stoked – and i’m able to vote in a swing state, which is really satisfactory. No rager of a hurricane stops this lady from civic duty or casting my vote for Obama!

North Carolinians: if you are still uncertain about local elections, i highly recommend you check out EqualityNC’s Voter Guide! It’s a list of all anti-Amendment One and pro-LGBTQ equality candidates in the state. Our voices matter, and no real change can happen if we don’t put pressure on the powers at be to represent all the people of this country.

Stay safe out there, ya’ll. This storm looks as feisty as Olivia Newton John in that leather suit.

What was it like when you voted in your first presidential election?

if you like this post, you might also enjoy my post about voting against amendment one.

current jam: ‘shark in the water’ vv brown

best thing: civic duty, ya’ll.

Follow Me to The Mountain!

Today was Mount Hoyloke’s 175th Mountain Day – a cherished tradition wherein the bells are tolled one hundred times at 7 am and the community takes the day to clamber up the ridges of our namesake. None but the President of the College’s office know when the day will fall, so there’s been expected anxiety and predictions made working our way up to this brisk, falling-leaves-dappled day!

kate & i following the bus to the mountain!

I climbed the mountain with two of my darlings here at school, Carter & Kate! We were well bundled in our New England layers as we started the (paved) portion of the trail. When we embarked upon the actual (non-paved rocky terrain) trail, clambering over roots and stones alike, my wheezing asthmatic lungs were definitely struggling with the blustery air. Kate & Carter were champs about stopping every couple of minutes and letting me pump some oxygen back into my system. But! It was a prime time to capture some cute photos!

The trees were a vision of fall, their leaves gradients of bursting orange and sing-song yellow. Though this was certainly later in the year than i’d hoped for Mountain Day, the splendor of Massachusetts in her peak season makes it impossible to say the wait wasn’t worth it!

After half an hour of lung-pumping and trail-traversing, we reached the summit, delighting in the view of the Pioneer Valley stretched deep beneath us.

the oxbow!

squinty-smiles!

the most excellent jumping shot ever taken at the summit of mount holyoke. really.

The best part of the day, however, is that there is ice cream at the top served to you by the fabulous staff of Mount Holyoke and the President herself, Lynn Pasquerella. All that sweat-working-up and inhaler-employing was so worth it for this delectabel treat!

Our bellies sated, we began the trek back down the mountain to bask in the rest of our free afternoons. I decided then to truly take the day for myself, writing this blog post (ahem) instead of studying for my Islam midterm on Monday. Let’s hope the magic of mountain day is one of longevity and fortitude when writing about hajj!

current jam: ‘lover’s eyes’ mumford & sons.

best thing: j on a plane, bound for me!