Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Cake

Today, when i got to my desk, there was a note to say that Facilities was going to take the Admissions van in for an oil change. An hour or so later, someone from Facilities stopped by.

Facilities: Hi, are any of the enrollment counselors around?
Me: Um, everyone is in a meeting. Can I help you?
F: Well, we're taking you guys' van in for an oil change, but there's a box in the passenger's seat from a bakery. We'll be gone for a while, so I didn't know if you'd want to keep it in here. You probably don't want it sitting out in the sun.
M: Yeah, uh, thanks. I don't know what it could be for. I'll come and get it.
F: We didn't know if it was for a birthday or something, so I didn't even know who to talk to about it.
M: I don't think we have any birthdays. I don't know what it could be.

The box was large and cardboard. The contents felt heavy and solid, so i ruled out pastries or bagels. Almost definitely a cake of some kind. As i walked back to the office, cradling the box in both arms (it was very large), it occurred to me that, if it was a surprise cake for a birthday or other celebration, there was a good chance that there would be some kind of name or message on it. If i looked at the cake, i could probably learn who it was for.

I opened the box. Inside was a long, narrow shape with two rounded protuberances at the base. The end had a cap, or head. The whole thing was smoothly iced in flesh-colored frosting or fondant, and little swirls of dark brown icing adorned the two swellings at the base.

In short, it was a penis cake.

A chunk was missing from one of the testicles, as if someone had leaned over and taken a bite right out of the ball. The cake inside was dark and chocolatey.

I stood there a moment, stunned. Here i was, in the Admissions office of a private, conservative Christian college, and someone had left a penis cake in our van. The van that only enrollment counselors use.

I taped up the box and wrote a 'DO NOT OPEN' note on the top. I put the cake into the refrigerator and stepped into the Director's office.

Me: Hi. Do you have a second?
Director: Sure.
M: Um, Facilities is taking our van for an oil change, and they told me that there was something left in it, so I went out there to bring it in. And it's a penis cake.
D: . . . . . .
M: I didn't really know what to do, so I thought I should tell you about it.
D: . . . Huh. Okay. Thanks for letting me know about that. *giggle* Uh, okay!
M: Yeah. That's all. It's in our refrigerator now.
D: Is the box clear?
M: No, it's cardboard. I taped it closed.
D: Okay, good. Thanks.

We're still waiting to find out who it belongs to and what we should do with it.

Update: After some discussion of sneaking it into the President's office and leaving it there with no note, we decided to slice it up and serve it to the little old ladies in the building. Because if anyone deserves a big, moist, melt-in-your-mouth delicious piece of . . . cake, it's little old ladies. Am i right?

When we cut into it, a thick white jelly-like substance squirted out.

Monday, August 29, 2011


Irene is a Greek name that means peace.

This weekend, the eastern coast of the United States was hit by a hurricane named Irene.

As hurricanes go, Irene was not terrible. Thirty-two deaths have been reported so far, and while more may be discovered as we clean up, the worst that most people are facing seems to be power outages and damage to basement storage.

One of the reported deaths was in the county where i grew up.

This is the first major disaster i have faced since moving away from my family. Despite my generalized anxiety disorder (which is triggered more by social situations or getting lost than physical danger), i was not afraid. I did experience a healthy amount of rational concern, however. I stocked up on candles, got some cash, charged my Kindle and my phone, and settled in for a long weekend of Buffy and Angel marathons. (The Kindle was for in case the power went out.)

However, i was profoundly uncomfortable being away from my loved ones during a time of emergency. My mother and sisters went to a shelter that had been set up in their church. Power was out at their house and the church, but the church had an emergency backup generator. My dad was alone in his apartment, and also experienced some power outages. My boyfriend was at home with his parents, and their power also went out. In my apartment, the lights flickered a little, but other than that we were totally fine.

We all tried to use our phones as little as possible, knowing that we'd have to save the batteries for an emergency and that we didn't want to tie up the lines for people who already had emergencies.

I don't have a smart phone, which means that my battery can pretty much last all day with normal use. Almost everyone else i know has a smart phone, which means that their batteries only last a few hours. So my boyfriend and family were far away and incommunicado.

Although the experience was, for me, anticlimactic (and i am in no way trying to diminish or mock the experiences of those who died or were injured or lost loved ones or suffered some other kind of serious consequence because of Irene), it still hit me hard in a lot of ways.

I'm sort of the dad of my house. I am the one who most often remembers to take out the trash. I am the one who most often remembers to lock the door at night and turn out the lights. I am the one who knows things about fiberglass mesh tape and different kinds of pliers. And when we were preparing for the storm, i was the one who told my roommates that, when Massachusetts is officially in a "state of emergency" and has shut down all public transportation and asked people to stay off of the highways, it's probably not the best time to go to Applebees to watch a UFC match. I was the one who filled up the bathtub so that, if the power went out, we could still flush the toilet. And when the drain on the bathtub wasn't working, i was the one who went to the attic, found an empty plastic storage bin, and filled it with water. When the storm was over i was the one who emptied the bin. Had we experienced any serious storm-related emergencies, i am certain that i would have been the one directing recovery efforts in my apartment.

It's weird to be the adult. It's especially weird to be the adult when you are the youngest person in the house. And it is exceptionally weird to be the adult when there are no other adults you can lean on, or even consult with. I couldn't ask my parents about how to light our gas stove with a lighter if the power went out. I couldn't double-team with my boyfriend to storm-proof the house and make sure that my roommates were safe. I was all on my own.

This post is pretty fragmentary and pointless; i'm mostly just reflecting on my experiences and emotions. So i'll conclude with some fragments of a poem i'm working on, based on a text my boyfriend sent me about a month and a half ago.

if the world is coming to an end
i want to go down in your arms
let the water swirl around us
i'd trade the sunrise for your eyes

I guess my point, which is parenthetical at best, is that even a potential emergency has a way of putting our hearts on our sleeves. We dig down deep to the cores of ourselves and find what matters, find what we're really made of and what we really want. And if we're smart, then when the crisis has passed we hold on to what we've found.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I Don't Want To Be A Teacher

Here's the thing: I am passionately interested in education. I've mentioned before that i was homeschooled, but i haven't said much about it before. That's a subject for another post. For now, i'll just say that public schools were ill-equipped to handle me appropriately.

I have two BAs, one in English creative writing and one in the psychology of child and adolescent development. I wanted to work as a counselor with high school students. Not a school counselor or a guidance counselor, but a psychologist who worked with troubled children and teenagers.

But once i got to college, my focus shifted. More and more, i saw students who were unprepared for academic success. I saw that students on the extremes of the spectrum (gifted or struggling) felt that their needs were not being met, and that average students were bored and frustrated by teachers who "teach the (standardized) tests".

After my sophomore year, i got a summer job in the admissions department of my college. One of the things i was working on was a spreadsheet for a particular academic review committee. This committee made final decisions about students on the low end of the spectrum. Sometimes it was clear that the student worked hard and wanted to learn, but that a learning disability or family situation had gotten in the way of their academic achievements. Sometimes it was clear that a student simply wasn't able to handle higher education.

Managing this spreadsheet was deeply and profoundly depressing. In many cases, it was simply too late for us to do anything. If a student has reached the 12th grade without attaining at least a 9th grade competency in the three R's, what can a college do to bring them up to speed? This child should have been helped far earlier. But now they have somehow graduated, and there is nothing we can do.

But this wasn't only depressing. It also made me angry, and i couldn't quite put my finger on why. One day, i was asked to write a brief description for the catalogue of our academic support program. As i researched this program, i found something that explained my anger. According to our website, the purpose of this support program was to help students who had graduated from high school without being academically prepared for college.


The whole point of high school is to prepare you (academically, socially, psychologically, etc) for whatever comes next. If that is college, great. Your SAT scores may not be off the charts, but you should be able to take that next step. Maybe you need a little extra support. But you should be able to graduate from high school and make a fairly seamless transition to college. And if college is not in your future, it should be because you don't want to go to college, and you should still be intellectually, socially, and psychologically prepared to go out into the workforce. It makes absolutely no sense to me that any person can graduate from high school and not be prepared for that next step. What are the graduation requirements that you have fulfilled?

More and more, this issue worked its way under my skin and itched. My head swirled with the names on the spreadsheet, the experiences of my friends, my own memories of public school. I resolved to take my degree in child and adolescent development, get some advanced degrees in human development (and cognitive processes, research, public policy, etc), and take on public education. I wanted to fix the system.

In my junior year, i made friends with an education professor. He had taught high school English for nearly ten years before returning to his alma mater to train the next generation. He began telling me that i should be a teacher. I resisted this. I didn't want to teach; i only wanted to work in education from the outside. While i conceded that a teaching background might give me credibility and valuable experience in my quest, i also thought it would be good for me to do this research without being biased by my own students. I wanted to look at hard data and make my decisions with an open mind.

In my senior year, i had decided to defer grad school for a time. I wanted to narrow my focus a little more so that i could select an appropriate graduate program. I wanted to pay off my student loans. I wanted a break from school. I had prayed about it and felt that it was right to take some time off before pursuing advanced degrees in psychology. But this friend, Ben, wouldn't let the whole teacher thing go.

More and more, i thought about teaching, and more and more i resisted the idea. I don't like talking to people. Teaching is all about talking to people; and not just students, but also parents and administrators. I'd have to do SAT prep, which would go against the grain of everything i wanted to accomplish. I'd have to make lesson plans, which would be boring. I'd have to do the same thing year after year after year, and i'd be doing it for very little pay. I felt no attraction to that path in life.

People began telling me that i would be a good teacher. People who had no idea that i was thinking about this. People began asking me how my student teaching was going because after four years, they had forgotten that i was double majoring in English and psych and just assumed that i was an education major. I was working in a private school and seeing the things done well and things done badly, and i couldn't stop myself from making mental notes about how i would do things.

Finally, i realized that God was definitely calling me to teach. I was pissed. I tried to argue the point with Him, but He wouldn't cave. He kept making counter-arguments, and although He totally could have, He never resorted to the cheap, "Because I said so," rebuttal. But we both knew that that sentence was between us, the unspoken ultimate ultimatum.

If pressed, i'd have to say that my decision to teach was made reluctantly, even irritably, because everyone else has fucked it up and now i have to go in there and fix it. I want it to be done well, and i realize that the best way to ensure that it is done well is to do it myself. But that doesn't make me any less pissed about it. I still plan to get my advanced degrees in psych and to work in research and administrative positions in the general field of public education. But for now, all of that is being deferred in favor of an M.Ed. I'm going to teach high school English, and i'm going to do it well, and i'm going to be pissed about it.

But i'm going to do it well. Ben insists that, once i get started, i'll love it. I think i probably won't hate all of it. This was never what i wanted to be doing, but life hits you that way sometimes. It's a means to an end, and when all is said and done, there are worse ways to fix public education than simply going in there and teaching. And since we've already tried pretty much all of the worse ways, it may be time to admit that we've run out of options.

I don't want to be a teacher. But i do want there to be more literate people in the world. I do want those who want to go to college to have that opportunity. I do want people to speak and write clearly and correctly. And i have enough self-awareness to know that i can't keep my hands out of this effort. I have to be involved. So i'll teach.

Friday, August 19, 2011

On Eves

When i made the big move from Maryland to Massachusetts, my mom packed up an SUV with all the things i'd had in storage at her house. I spend the next few days (or rather, weeks -- no, let's be honest -- months) figuring out what to keep and where and why and what to do with the things i no longer wanted. In all the unpacking and repacking and putting away and sorting through of the first seventeen years of my life, i came across a few surprises. I found things i thought i'd thrown away, things i'd forgotten i was working on, things i couldn't believe i'd ever cared about.

One of my surprises was a piece of notebook paper from high school. I'd written a few thoughts the night before my graduation, and had titled the piece "Graduation Eve". The first paragraph is rambly, pretentious, and bad, but the second one is decent, and has become even more meaningful to me in the five years that have passed since i wrote it.

Tomorrow, everything changes. You are still you, but now you are in a new environment. Even if you haven't actually gone anywhere, you are still "a stranger in a strange land". Your whole geography has somehow shifted, and you foresee this on that magic night. That night, if any, is the night when wishes come true, but the one wish that will not be granted is to go back, because now more than ever, you must move on.

It's not quite the eve of anything now, but the first day of school is fast approaching. Many of my friends will be going back to their undergraduate courses. But some of them will not. Some of them will not be returning to Quincy at all. And as for me, i'll be going to graduate classes. Yes, it will still be in the same buildings. Yes, it will be with some of my old classmates. But it will only be two classes a week, at night.

Everything is different now. I'm learning that by degrees.

I don't think growing up is something that happens. Not all at once. It's something that slips over you gradually, in tiny moments and realizations. And it never ends. You never reach a point where you're done growing up, where you've fully arrived.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say. -- J. R. R. Tolkien

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


This entire post was copied and pasted from here. The annotations in italics are mine.

On Introversion
Linda Kreger Silverman, Ph.D. Gifted Development Center Denver, Colorado

The American dream is to be extraverted. We want our children to be "people who need people." We want them to have lots of friends, to like parties, to prefer to play outside with their buddies rather than retire with a good book, to make friends easily, to greet new experiences enthusiastically, to be good risk-takers, to be open about their feelings, to be trusting. We regard anyone who doesn’t fit this pattern with some concern. We call them "withdrawn," "aloof," "shy," "secretive," and "loners." These pejorative terms show the extent to which we misunderstand introverts.

The majority of Americans are extraverted (about 75%), but the majority of gifted children appear to be introverted (about 60%), and the percentage of introverts seems to increase with IQ (Silverman, 1986). In addition to the problems encountered with being gifted, these children are frequently misjudged because they are introverted. Introversion is a perfectly normal personality type identified by Carl Jung. It is actually healthy to be an introvert. The only unhealthy part of it is denying your true self and trying to disguise yourself as an extravert.

Introverts are wired differently from extraverts and they have different needs. Extraverts get their energy from interaction with people and the external world. Introverts get their energy from within themselves; too much interaction drains their energy and they need to retreat from the world to recharge their batteries. People can be extreme extraverts, extreme introverts, or a combination of both. Since extraversion is the dominant mode in our society, there are no "closet extraverts," but there are many "closet introverts," people who are so ashamed of their introversion that they try to be extraverts.

Here are some tips on the care and feeding of the introverts in your family or classroom:


  • Respect their need for privacy.
This refers both to physical privacy and informational privacy. Introverts need to be alone, but they also need to have secrets, and they need to feel that those secrets are respected. They will share when they feel ready, but you shouldn't try to force them to divulge information in the name of intimacy and sharing.
  • Never embarrass them in public.
To you it may be a minor event that everyone can laugh over in a few days. To the introvert it is a moment that will haunt them to their dying day, and their hearts will be full of bitterness toward you for the part that you played in their humiliation.
  • Let them observe first in new situations.
My mom always tried to get me involved in things right away, convinced that i was not having fun if i was not participating. To an extravert, part of the fun is making a fool of yourself with a bunch of other people while everyone is getting to know one another. To an introvert, part of the fun is observing the social dynamics of the group, and they won't be able to relax and have fun without this prior period of observation. There are many situations where i have more fun watching than i ever would participating (and yes, i have learned this through trial and error).
  • Give them time to think. Don't demand instant answers.
You know how some people like to think out loud? They may simply need to hear a voice speaking in order to form their thoughts, or they may need to bounce their ideas off of another person. Either way, they process externally. Introverts, on the other hand, process internally. A long pause before an answer means that they are thinking, not that they are ignoring you or zoning out.
  • Don't interrupt them.
You may have gathered at this point that it is rare to hear an introvert speak. When they do speak, they are rarely babbling thoughtlessly. They are usually divulging something about which they have thought long and hard, something that is important to them. For you to interrupt those words is deeply hurtful and frustrating.
  • Give them advanced notice of expected changes in their lives.
I do really well in two situations: when i have a tightly regimented, extremely detailed schedule that i follow exactly, or when i have no plan at all and simply make it up as i go along. Anything in between these two extremes causes me deep anxiety. If you have given me a schedule and you need to change it, do your best to inform me well ahead of time. Even if the change is better and easier, it will freak me out if i find out about it at the last minute.
  • Give them 15 minute warnings to finish whatever they are doing before calling them to dinner or moving on to the next activity.
See above.
  • Reprimand them privately.
DO NOT "make an example" of an introvert by reprimanding them publicly. This is the same as public embarrassment, and far from teaching them to behave themselves in order to avoid such humiliation, it will simply make them hate you.
  • Teach them new skills privately rather than in public.
This should need no further explanation at this point.
  • Enable them to find one best friend who has similar interests and abilities: encourage this relationship even if the friend moves.
Okay, i am not this pathetic and i don't know any other introverts who are. We have more than one friend, and often more than one best friend. However, if a very good friend does move away, it can be very difficult, though introverts are often pretty comfortable with and skilled at maintaining long distance relationships.
  • Do not push them to make lots of friends.
When it comes to friendships, or really any social interactions, introverts prefer quality over quantity.
  • Respect their introversion. Don't try to remake them into extraverts.
This one is HUGE. I know it is difficult and confusing for extraverts to see their introverted friends sitting quietly in the corner at a party. I know you think you are helping them when you push them to socialize or to try new things. But introversion is perfectly healthy and normal. Believe me when i say that it is far more enjoyable for an introvert to sit quietly at a party and watch everyone else "have a good time" than to actually participate in what is going on. Don't ignore them completely, but let them be.

Introverts need to learn about the positive benefits of their personality type. They need to be taught that reflection is a good quality, that the most creative individuals sought solitude, and that leaders in academic, aesthetic and technical fields are often introverts. Parents need to know that more National Merit Scholars are introverted than extraverted, and that introverts have higher grade point averages in Ivy League colleges than extraverts (Silverman, 1986). Contrary to public opinion, success in life is not dependent upon extraversion. Introverts also have an advantage at midlife in that long, hard journey to the soul which heralds the second half of the life cycle. The time has come to respect the introverts in our families and classrooms, and the hidden introvert in ourselves.

I recommend the book Please Understand Me for parents, teachers and students to gain a better grasp of the different personality types in our lives. Great for family reading!

Keirsey, D., & Bates, M. (1978). Please understand me: Character & temperament types. Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Books.
Silverman, L.K., (1986). Parenting young gifted children. In J.R. Whitmore (Ed.), Intellectual giftedness in young children. New York: The Haworth Press.

How to Tell I Need A Life #7

I've been pretty broke lately, so i've been bringing sandwiches or salads to work for lunch. And because i take my lunch break at a different time than everyone else in my office, i've been sitting outside of the student center, alone, eating my sandwich and reading. And since eating a sandwich only takes a few minutes and my lunch break is an hour long, i use the rest of the time to knit.

Lest you think that this is the pinnacle of sadness, allow me to reassure you: it gets worse.

For the last two days, it has been raining, so i could not eat my lunch outside in the sunshine and fresh air. Instead, i took my LeanPocket to the mezzanine floor, which is right above my office. I can hear all of their conversations from up there. I sat in front of the elevator two days in a row, eating my LeanPocket, knitting, and trying to pretend that i was not still at work.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Beer Street

My housemates and i have started a new blog. It's like Texts From Last Night meets Shit My Dad Says meets The Jersey Shore. Read it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

It Is Well With My Soul

This song presented me with my first ever theological issue to wrestle with. I remember singing it in church one evening and thinking about how beautiful it was, and then suddenly becoming profoundly uncomfortable with the lines:    
     Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
      It is well, it is well with my soul.

Thou hast taught me? I was confronted with an image of God as an unsympathetic math professor saying, "You will use this every day for the rest of your life. You need to learn how to do it right. Say it: It is well with my soul." I didn't have the education to articulate all of my thoughts correctly, but if i had i would have said that i pictured myself as a dog, and God as Pavlov, teaching me to respond in certain arbitrary ways to His predetermined stimuli.

I asked my mom about it. Since we were still in church, she couldn't address the issue fully, and i was left with my question only half-answered. She said that it was less about God teaching us (forcing us to recite) something, and more about us learning (wilfully submitting). But i was still uncomfortable with a God who, when tragedy struck, would ask us to simply recite a cliche refrain and expect us to be comforted. Merely saying that it is well with my soul does not make it so.

I faced a lot of other theological wrestling matches over my life, and this one fell to the wayside. But it was never really resolved. I read The Problem of Pain, and while it helped, it did not really answer the question. I heard sermons, i read books, and experience taught me. I eventually figured out that "taught" could mean an experiential lesson, that this was not a stern task-master forcing me to recite a memorized lesson; God had "taught" the lyricist to say that by showing him the beauty and peace that exist even in the darkest moments. God became not a Pavlovian dictator, but an advisor who walked beside me to teach me to see beauty in life.

But this was not enough.

There may be a rose growing in the dungheap, but while it may distract you from the grim reality, it does nothing to correct or even lessen it.

Life is full of dungheaps, and there is no good reason for this. The fact that i have been taught to find hope in darkness does not excuse the existence of the darkness in the first place.

magnet in my school store
I wish i could say that i had recently had some great revelation on this point. I wish i could share twelve alliterative bullet points, or a promise verse, or a piece of wisdom suitable for bumper stickers and t-shirts. I have none of that.

I can tell you that i have found peace to be a far deeper and less joyful concept than i had previously believed. You can be at peace with a situation and still be pissed as hell about it. You can even be pissed at God about it. Being at peace with a situation doesn't mean that you are happy about it, or even that you are neutral about it. I can't tell you yet what 'peace' does mean. I don't know all of the words to explain it, and i haven't completely figured out how to feel it.

Sometimes, even now, when something happens to me or to a loved one, i hear the little bell ring, and i obediently recite the cliches i have been taught.

I know that peace is something you have to fight for. I've seen the t-shirts: "Bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity". I understand the point, but it's not really right. Peace is not something that just happens. It's not the natural order of things. Everyone is born a virgin, but they are born into a world of conflict and pain. Fucking for virginity will get you nowhere. But you can't have peace without a struggle. This is the shape of things.

I have learned this: there is an extent to which merely repeating a worn out cliche does bring some measure of comfort. They are cliches for a reason. Truth does not become less potent with age or use.

And that's all i've got. It is well with my soul, but my mind is troubled. And i guess i'll have to learn to be okay with that.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

love languages

Quality time:
John and i spend a lot of quality time together. Recently, we were sitting on my couch while dinner cooked. We were each playing our own game on our own computer. We were not watching TV together, we were not playing a game together, we were not cuddling. We were not even talking. But we were together. We each knew that the other person was there, and it was enough to simply be together in that moment.

We also eat meals together. We go on walks together. We spend time with friends, we go to concerts and plays, we go to church, we sit and talk, we watch movies. Quality time is important to a relationship. Whether participating in a specific event or simply being in the same room while you each do your own thing, the act of occupying the same physical space is powerful and wonderful.

Physical Touch:
This isn't just sex. This is when John and i are driving somewhere and i reach over to run my fingers through his hair. This is when we're at lunch with friends and he touches my knee under the table. This is when we're watching a movie and i lean against him. This is when i roll over in my sleep and he rolls over too, because even asleep he wants to be near me.

This is a simple expression of emotional intimacy. Skin-on-skin contact speaks volumes, and while we still don't fully understand everything about touch communication, we know that it is important and instinctive.

This is more than materialism. This is about sentimentality, tangibility, and permanence. I save everything, even ticket stubs from shows that John has been involved with, because they are a tangible reminder of something special that we shared. Yes, big sparkly diamonds are nice, and they are certainly also a tangible expression of memories and affection, but a gift can be an expression of love even if it is only flowers that you picked from your mother's yard (and John has brought me such flowers twice). Spending a lot of money on someone really does make a statement about your perception of their worth. But so does spending a lot of time making something for them, or spending a lot of energy to find the perfect greeting card.

Gifts are important because you can keep them. Quality time passes by, physical touch is fleeting, words are forgotten and acts of kindness come to an end, but gifts can be preserved. I still have gifts from old boyfriends that i don't even talk to anymore, because they are tangible memories of significant relationships. The relationship may not be in my life anymore, but it was important once, and it is partially responsible for me becoming who i am today.

Acts of kindness:
A few weeks ago, i came home from work to find the kitchen in shambles. We had all been up late the night before and had not cleaned the kitchen before going to bed, and the evening was full of gym trips and social engagements for my roommates. That left me to clean the kitchen or to not eat dinner. Before anything could be cooked or eaten, the dishwasher needed to be emptied and the dishes put away, the dishes in the sink needed to be put in the dishwasher, and several things needed to be washed by hand. The counters needed to be wiped down, the trash needed to be taken out, the stove needed to be cleaned, and the floor needed to be swept and Swiffered.

As i began unloading the dishwasher, John began washing the dishes in the sink. He had not dirtied any of them. I had not asked him to help. I was complaining about the fact that my roommates hadn't done anything in the kitchen, but i was not dropping hints. But he helped me anyway, because i was tired and stressed and he wanted to make my life better.

Words of affirmation:
This one is the most important one to me, but everyone is different. I express myself most easily and understand others most clearly through words. This is why i write letters, this is why i ask questions, this is why it kills me that i don't have a word to express how i feel. There is far less ambiguity in words than in anything else. A touch on the arm could be affectionate or accidental. Helping me with the dishes could be an act of love or a desire to hurry up and get the kitchen clean already so i can make your dinner. A gift could be meaningless to you, whatever significance it has to me, and quality time could simply be killing time until something happens. But words are what they are.

I save text messages and post-it notes from John. This poem was written almost entirely from those texts, notes, and actual out-loud conversations. Words matter to me. Gifts are great. Spending time together is great. Doing nice things for one another is great. Physical affection is great (actually, physical affection with John is amazing). They say that actions speak louder than words. But words speak more clearly.

Friday, August 5, 2011

God is Love

We say this so often that it has lost all meaning. Think about it: what do you mean when you say that God is love? What do you think of when someone says it to you?
God is love?

If taken to its fullest extent, it must be reversed: love is God. Every time we show love to one another, it is God.
Continue in this train of thought for a time: God is nothing more or less than love, nothing more or less than emotion, nothing more or less than charity, friendship, and trust. God is not a being, but a feeling.

For what elevates us like love? Everyone from two to a hundred suffers agonies and celebrates triumphs because of it. There is no passion quite like it, no emotion that can come near it in terms of its power to shape and hold us. Is it so different from our ideas of God: an all-powerful being or force, which has some measure of control over all of us, which we can never completely understand, and which all of us need in order to be fulfilled? Is it so outrageous to suggest that Love might, after all, be this thing that we have worshipped?

Don’t walk away. I’m not finished yet.

The truth is, love is God. God is the God of emotion, the God of charity, friendship, and trust, the God of interactions, of relationships, of intimacy. Any time that we open ourselves to another person, God is indeed in that openness.

All love is love, as i said before. And while it may be true that only God is capable of a love so deep, so pure, and so strong as to be called “agape”, it is also true that all love springs from this. The most shallow, tainted, and weak attachments have their roots in agape, for God is love is love is God. It’s all the same.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not claiming that God is only emotion; rather i am claiming that this particular emotion is more than just a feeling that we sometimes experience. And do not make the mistake of believing that this idea in some way degrades God. It is not humbling to say that God is love; rather, it is elevating to say that love is God. We are all capable of some form of love. We are therefore all able to see God, and to be God to others.
Yes, love is God. No love is possible apart from God. Perhaps this is the Divine Spark that is in each of us, this ability to love. Perhaps this is what makes us the children of God.

For love is a powerful force, one more healing than compassion and more destructive than hate. Love creates both connections and divisions. Love made whole makes both the lover and the loved whole with it; love broken breaks us.

Love is something beyond our comprehension, something that makes life worth living. How can we doubt that it is closely related to the nature of God? How can we doubt that God is love; and, once we have accepted that, how can we doubt that love is God?

1 John 4:7-19

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed His love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because He first loved us.
(bolding mine)

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Someone once said that when we are young, we believe that there is only one kind of love. Then, when we are older, we believe that there are many kinds of love, and that the Greeks had different names for all of them. And then, when we are older still, we know that there is only one kind of love; though it is deep and many-faceted, every layer of it is still love.

Countless books, sermons, and devotionals have been written on the different kinds of love. Every word was penned in the devout and sincere hope that it would help to clarify this complicated topic; but
more often than not we are left more confused than ever, these brief flashes of illuminated thought having served to blind rather than enlighten us.
I think we overcomplicate love. Yes, love expresses itself in a lot of different ways. Not all of these ways are healthy, and not all of them are obvious. We do not all experience love in the same way. We do not all express love in the same way.
But we do all love. Some of us are shy of our emotions and give our love only to a few. Some of us are starved for love. Some of us are prodigal with our love, and some of us are surrounded by it. But love is something we all have access to on some level. Love is something we can all give, something we can all have.
We are told that only God can love completely and perfectly. But we all can love God, and His love in us can bring us to new heights and depths. We’ve been told to read through the “love chapter” and replace every instance of the word “love” with God’s name. We’ve been told that this is a good way to understand what God is like.
We are called to love with the love of God. If we read the love chapter and replace each instance of the word “love” with our own names, will this not teach us a more excellent way? Will this not show us how we are to behave toward one another and toward God?

1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
(bolding mine)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

all for love

I'm an odd mix of cynicism and romance, as you've probably gathered from the posts so far. But this post will be a departure from the norm. In this case, romance totally trumps cynicism.

These are wonderful people and they are definitely worth a dollar.

Emily is one of my dearest friends. Even if you don't necessarily support either of them, you should still give money so i can wear a pretty dress and give an embarassing toast at their wedding. I promise i'll post a funny and touching (and probably slightly cynical) story about it!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Trapped in a Video Game

I have always had an overactive imagination. I'm not sure whether my imagination grew from restricted TV/computer privileges or whether the pre-existing imagination made the restrictions bearable, but the fact remains that as a child, i was only allowed one hour of TV or computer time each day. For those of you who think you may have read that sentence wrong, allow me to reiterate: in a given day, i could watch one hour of TV, or i could use the computer for one hour. When i was in middle school, the growing prevalence of longer films such as The Fellowship of the Ring convinced my parents to extend our priveleges to three hours a day. But by then, i had already spent much of my childhood outdoors.

Keep in mind that one hour of computer time was hardly restrictive to a seven-year-old in the pre-Facebook era. I mostly used my computer time to play computer games, and i was perfectly happy to invent my own games when not reading or watching "The Magic Schoolbus". In fact, my siblings and i often invented games together. We'd play slaves or pirates or war (or some combination of the three) on the dirt pile by the deck. We'd climb to the top of the swingset and inch our way across. I'm not sure what the point of this was, but it was fun. We'd deconstruct our plastic play house and rearrange the parts into castles and businesses. We'd make whirlpools in the swimming pool, we'd prepare for an apocalypse-level natural disaster in the corner by the peach trees, and we'd build houses out of discarded tree limbs and bricks found in our grandmother's back yard. But our favorite game of all was "Trapped in a Video Game".

The fact that none of us had ever played a video game until 2000 or so did not deter us one whit. We played this game for several years, often adding sequels to the original game that had started us on this crazy adventure.

I'm not sure where the idea came from. I know we were aware of video games, and i know we'd seen Jumanji, so it's possible that it was some combination of the two.

Basically, a highly-anticipated video game was released on the black market. The reason it was only available illegally is that every single person who had played it during the testing phase had mysteriously disappeared. No one knew what had happened to them, but since this epidemic was only affecting players, it was assumed that there was some kind of link. Of course, since this story was written by Hollywood -- i mean, a bunch of homeschooled children who had never played video games -- the game continued through all the testing phases despite the ill-defined danger that threatened all players and was released, albeit illegally.

My siblings and i got our hands on a copy of the game and began playing. It was prefaced by a disclaimer, warning us of the danger that awaited all players. We ignored it, chose our characters, and began to play. Suddenly, we were pulled into the TV screen! We dissolved into pixels and found ourselves inside of a strange, digital world. We realized (because we were psychic, i suppose) that we had to play through the game and defeat it in order to escape and rescue the other players. None of them had been able to finish playing yet because none of them had our intelligence, strength of character, physical fitness, or resilience. (Also, though we didn't know enough about video games to think of this, because most of them were testers who were stuck in a beta test version full of bugs and half-written story lines.)

We were eventually victorious, of course. The game involved a number of dangerous challenges, such as climbing on top of swingsets and jumping around on dirt piles and battling fierce (imaginary) foes. The sequels that i mentioned before all happened as a result of our cunning and courage. After everyone had been freed (and made up some more plausible excuse for their disappearance than "sucked into a TV screen and trapped in the video game"), the makers decided that their game wasn't so dangerous after all. And since we had "defeated" it, ordinary citizens could now play without danger of entrapment. So the weird rumors died out, the game became immensely popular, and the makers decided to capitalize on their success by creating a sequel. Whose testers all mysteriously disappeared.

By the time we got to the third or fourth sequel, the world had pretty much figured out the pattern: testers all disappear, game somehow gets finished anyway, banned because of disappearances, sold on the black market, and then somehow everyone shows up again and the game is fine. So legally, of course, the games couldn't be sold, but no one in our imaginary universe really cared if the games continued to be made and sold. And so my siblings and i were able to buy all the sequels as soon as they were released, and save the world over and over again for many years. You're welcome, world.

And if you're thinking that this all sounds a lot like Spy Kids 3, i'd remind you that these games had pretty much ended by 1998 or 1999, while the first Spy Kids movie didn't come out until 2001. And also that we didn't use any lame 3D special effects.