Friday, December 21, 2012

Psalm 139:24

This has been a week of lots of feelings. Reunions with old friends, finishing up finals, navigating frustrating bureaucracies, making plans, holiday and Urbana anticipation, presents, addressing failures, watching AYOQ (which has reunited for a week!), meeting new people, combating laziness. It's been dripping with feeling. I started sobbing yesterday because I climbed up too high on a ladder and couldn't get down. Clearly I was super stable. (Pun mercilessly intended. ;P)

But through the broad variety of wonderful and horrible things I've been feeling, the most dominant emotion is probably anxiety. And the worst thing about anxiety is that it is irrational but all-consuming. It's knowing that you're crazy, but you can't stop the craziness taking up residence inside you and yanking on all the strings. Maybe it's because I was a worry wart as a child. My mom used to joke I was going to give myself an ulcer over my profound fear of arriving places too early or too late. I know now that worrying is bad for me, so I try to avoid it.

Still, I'm so overwhelmed by all these feelings I feel! I want to bury myself in mindless digital media, and then sleep until I've out-slept all the opportunities and all the consequences. It helps clear out the confusion, and it's really the confusion that makes me anxious and overwhelmed. And it's tricky because this is a layered, contorted confusion that is both holistic and self-referential. I don't know anything. I don't know what to do about anything. 

But I find this is what I do every time I'm overwhelmed. And when I'm anxious. And when I have so many feelings churning around inside me that I can't respond to or process. I retreat, I avoid. When I don't know what to do with the sheer volume and profundity of my feelings I find that the only thing I can muster to do is bury inside of myself.* 

I sense intuitively that this response is very unhealthy. (Also, see peer-reviewed research on the efficacy of avoidance as a defense mechanism. Overwhelming.)

So if I can't beat the confusion with avoidance, then I'll reach for clarity some other way. It's time for me to make a list of the things I know.

I know I love people, and people love me.
(And that when I feel most like tunneling inward, it is imperative that I reach outward.)
I know I like this CD
I know my family will have a happy Christmas.
I know that Urbana is coming whether I'm ready or not, and that will be fine.
I know that the summer and beyond is a question mark, and that will also be fine.
I know that all will be well. ("You can ask me how, but only time will tell.")
I know that He is closer than my own heartbeat, that He will never leave me, that He is faithfully rooting up the ugliness in my heart and that He is leading me in the way everlasting.

*Or blog. Sometimes I blog. There's some masochistic relief in vomiting my anxiety onto the internet. 

Monday, December 17, 2012


I am captivated by a good story. Who isn't? I saw my dear Minnesotan friend for the first time in months today, and stories were brimming in a moment. This is my favorite time of year. Back they come, returning with their stories.

Pinterest. Stories. ESPN. Stories. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr. Stories. People worry that the news industry is becoming a changeling, but the face of news is as constant as ever: stories.

But still I am afraid. Afraid I don't have a story to tell.

But I'll tell you one anyway. And be warned, it's a Hayley story, full of extraneous detail and an unsatisfying punch line. I had this one professor this semester . . . I hardly know where to begin. I picked up one of her books and read the inside jacket over the summer. It was a charming bit of literary nonfiction about Chevalier Jackson and his foreign body collection, and I thought to myself, I was looking forward to taking a class with this woman. A real author of a real book that real people actually read. Oh, but it was not until halfway through the semester that I realized the magnitude of the intellect I studied under. Apparently she's a pretty big deal? A Google search of her name returns over a million results. (For your reference, Wendell Berry returns two million results.) She has won a Fulbright, she has taught all over the world, she has been scammed by plagiarists posing as The Guardian, she has battled cancer, she's hobnobbed with myriad academics, and even introduced one to our class. (I've met enough famous people this year to get a list going; none of those are good stories, though.)

Her class gave me panic attacks. I've gotten used to sitting through classes where I have no idea what's going on, it's been a humbling quality of college, but this was different. I felt like I was Alice in the rabbit hole, falling falling falling infinitely, rolling head over heels, with nothing to grab onto. Terminal velocity. Weightlessness. I spent every class feeling sick to my stomach. I was sure I would keep falling straight through to the end of the semester. 

And somehow, I fell straight into her good graces. To be fair, everyone in the class was in her good graces; she's a professor who cares foremost that her students learn what she has to teach. (Which is a considerable amount.) But the more I asked questions, parading my perplexity for the class to share, the more she asked, "Are you sure you're not an English major?" She still asks this, and I shudder at the thought. The thought of writing pages and pages of meaningless analysis, asking fruitless questions, pouring over the minutia of countless texts. Dratted details. Is that all I'm good for? I hope against hope it's not. 

And don't get me wrong, those of you know know me know that I love literature. That I will wax pretentiously on The Lost Generation or gothicism in Flannery O'Connor's short stories or anachronisms in Shakespeare's plays. I like to read. And I love stories. English as an academic discipline is by no means worthless, in fact, it is one of the more worthwhile things students can turn their attention towards. (English majors, my hat's off to you. You were braver than I.)

Still, I'm flattered that she sees a place for me in the study of the literary. My heart of hearts knows it is not stern enough for the challenge, but I am comforted that she sees my bewilderment as an asset. That my curiosity is a skill. It is sobering that she thinks the things I write are worth reading. It is terrifying that she thinks my mostly addled musings are worth saying, never mind sharing. And so I can't help but write my final paper with fear and trembling . . .

What if she sees me for what I really am? A mediocre student who really knows nothing about where the literary intersects with the acoustic, who didn't really enjoy her class, who wrote most of the assignments for this class in the middle of the night before they were due and forgot to do the rest of them. A fake who feigned a wee bit too much ignorance, who simultaneously understood more than she let on and comprehended less than she pretended, who stammered questions about MLA-format and writing a literary analysis despite her prior dabbling with both. (What if she sees this post?!)

I have a hunger and ambition to exceed expectations.
But I am sated by fear and laziness.
And so I chronically set expectations low enough to exceed them with ease.

Mine is the story of the underachiever who would be the overachiever. I neither Olga nor Dymov. I am incompetent. I could have cried in the middle of the Christmas party. These kids deserve so much better. 

So I'll keep hunting for my niche, the place I can carve out for me, with my jagged-deep flaws and acrylic bright side and wordy stories. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Issues with Womanhood

I feel like I am constantly being told what womanhood is supposed to be.

I actually appreciate this. I like instructions. I like formulas. I like easy, comfortable answers. "I'm black or white, but I can't stand the in-between." I am content to be handed the answers, and in my lazy simple-mindedness I would awfully gratified if someone would sweep away the confusion and give me a pretty-packaged checklist of what to do and who to be. 

But instead I hear lots of conflicting advice, instruction, and exhortation.

Modesty    Dress modestly to protect yourself from being objectified! Cover up to keep your brothers from falling into temptation! You were created to be a thing of beauty; dress to reflect that! Don't wear sweats in public or you'll never get a husband! Modesty is an attitude! Modesty is a way of dress! Don't wear expensive clothes. Don't wear scrubby clothes. Dress like a woman. Dress however you want. 

Education    What are you doing exposing yourself to that cesspool of public education? You have to have a way to support yourself in case your husband dies or can't take care of you. Education should be spiritual and not of wordly things. Guys like smart women. Guys don't like women smarter than they are. Study something useful. Study what your passions are! College is a bad investment. College is the best place to get a ring before spring.

Dating    Don't actively pursue guys, but build your character as one worthy of marriage. Show guys that you're interested or they'll never have enough confidence to approach you. Don't date. Do date. If you're not sweet, demure, and skilled no worthy guy will want you. If you are too occupied with your spiritual walk and education, guys will be too intimidated to pursue you.

Marriage    The husband is the head of the household and the wife is his helpmate. Good marriages are built on love and respect. The curse placed women at the mercy of men, but godly marriages are supposed to reflect the restoration Jesus is bringing. Marriages are teams. You might be called to singlehood. You're probably not called to singlehood. Egalitarianism. Complementarianism. 

Family    A woman's role is biology: have children, nurture children, build the next generation. You can't have a family and a career and all the rest without failing in one area. A homemaker is the highest calling. God has called each person to a unique path. You better homeschool your kids. It's perfectly okay if your kids go to school. Dishes are a woman's job. There's nothing wrong with a stay-at-home-dad.

There's probably lots of truth in a lot of what I've heard. But I suspect there are a lot of lies and (albeit well-indended) misconceptions, too. And I'm just over here like, "Can I just skip all this confusion and go straight to heaven before I have to figure out what I think about all this stuff?"

What does it mean to be a woman? I have no freaking clue.