Life Skills 101

As stated previously, this is finals time in my neck of the woods.

This means I do slightly crazy things… like forgo bathing, rudely cut off conversations, and ignore phone calls. Please note, I now take time to eat real meals. This, my friends, is call progress.

Living off of protein bars, apples, and brownies is not really living. I discovered that gem of a life lesson during my first round of graduate finals. After eating my third protein power bar, I realized how ridiculous it was. Anyways…

When I’ve been studying too long without social interraction, I tend to go slightly crazy. You see, as an extreme extrovert, spending hours by myself in a corner muttering about theories is a recipe for catastrophe. Last night, the recipe manifested itself in a veritable pastry of awkwardness.

I was sitting in one of my usual spots at CG when a dashing man, who I had previously met at CG, came up to me. I said hello, but unfortunately, I was still in the fog of my study materials.

He extended his hand.

I stared.

He looked at me quizzically.

Then he kindly explained it was a handshake. I then shook his hand. A couple sentences later, we shook hands again. Then after another awkward pause, we shook hands yet AGAIN. (Yes, that’s three handshakes within the span of a 2 minute conversation).

I think this is a sign that grad school has made me forget basic  human social behaviors. I should probably re-learn those at some point. I think they need to design a course to rehabilitate grad students so we’re fit to mingle with the general public once again.

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Panic

Yup, it’s that time of year. The time all students dread: finals.

This round, I have been remarkably panic free. Unfortunately, today as I was reviewing on eof my favorite subjects, I realized that I didn’t know anything.

Crap.

That final is in two and a half days. Oh boy, this should be interesting.

You see, grades, are important in my grad program. Well, I guess they are in any program. Previously, I wanted to do well, but I didn’t think it was possible. I had an itty bitty taste of success this last semester. I found it to be addictive. So much so that I began to reevaluate the way I thought of myself.

As people discovered portions of my grade, I saw how they reacted differently. Part of me hated it, but secretly, part of me liked having my opinions respected. I started getting puffed up. However, along with pride comes the crushing fear of being knocked off the precarious perch that limited success brings. So here I sat, feeling too proud to work but terrified to stop. Tonight it came to a head.

Sitting in my corner at the best coffee shop in town, I realized that I had absolutely no way of replicating my little sliver of success. What then? I always said that grades didn’t matter… but the second I had taste of triumph, I forgot all of my ideas.

These circular, self-focused thoughts raised the red flag, and I went to the best salve I know for freaked out souls: Psalms.

Psalm 33:7-9

By the word of the LORD the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars[a];
he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD;
let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm

Basically, God is bigger than all of this junk. Who am I to freak out about my success (or lack thereof)? I should be looking at the One bigger than I am. The One who can contemplate storing the unfathomable reaches of the ocean. He’s big. He’s awesome. I’m not.

Sometimes, it’s a relief to get cut down to size.

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Adventures in awkwardness

I like adventures. I like adventures so much that I manufacture them out of ordinary events. You see, real adventures, (like beating he-who-must-not-be-named or scaling mountains etc. ) do not come my way too often. School, work, and the mundane tasks of life typically prevent me from wandering the globe.

Thus, I settle for the ordinary adventure: a trip to my favorite coffee shop.

I am currently a grad student, and as such, I am a fixture at the local indie coffee shop. This wonderful place is called CG. It’s a fantastic combination of garage sale chic, hippie antiques, and a dash of cowboy sensibilities. It’s also the scene for some of my favorite awkward moments.

You never know when some homeless man will come hit on you, when you’ll meet an idealistic undergrad out to change the world, or an embittered doctoral candidate muttering about the lack of proper grammar in his first-year student compositions.  In short: its a magical world where an unusual conversation is just waiting to happen.

When I go to CG , I feel a sense of excitement. Sitting at CG is like peering into someone’s life. Observing the antics of  Greek life, overhearing tense coversations, and being a witness to someone’s first date reminds me of the excitement that there is in regular life, away from the “big” moments.

It’s so easy to exalt the “big” moments. Graduations, first days on the job, weddings, births, deaths and sicknesses. It’s easy to boil life down to these moments. But it’s so much more than that. As a student, I feel like life is a constant countdown. I wait for finals, I wait for breaks, I wait for grades, and I wait for graduation. I’m sick of waiting. It’s time to embrace the adventures present right now.

So for now that means, conversations with strangers at CG. Who knows what the future may hold?

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The Polo Coup

I have been the victim of a cruel plot. Two of my friends decided to play a little trick on me, scoundrels.

If you can’t tell I tend to have “strong” reactions to well….anything. One item that invokes a strong response is the polo. I hate it, especially brightly colored polos with their collars popped.

Perhaps its residual bitterness from years at a private school (coincidentally only the guys had to wear them), or the numerous performing functions that forced me to don that hideous article of clothing. Either way, I hate them. They’re itchy, unattractive, and just plain obnoxious.

Unfortunately, most of the world (At least the one in which I currently live) loves polos.

In honor of my hatred, some of my friends mounted a “Polo” Day. I arrived at my class to see over 15 of my classmates wearing this hideous garment. As the day went on, I kept running into various acquaintances, all wearing a polo and knowing smile.

But this whole day, as amusing as it was, was a brilliant wakeup call.

I hate polos for an irrational reason. I immediately make assumptions about individuals wearing polos. Simply put, I judge people based on what they wear.. I’ve become a reverse snob.  I see the polo (especially the fancy kind, typically bearing an emblem of an alligator, moose, or English gentleman engaging in an equestrian sport), and I make assumptions about the person. I had developed a blind spot that allowed me to judge someone’s character based on something as ridiculous as what shirt they wore.

Good news: God is better at reminding me of my shortfalls than I am at seeing them.

James 2:1-5, 9

1 My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? 2 For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. 3 If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, 4 doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?58 Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 9 But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.

Yup, I’ve been wrong. Sure, I don’t normally think, “you’re wearing a polo, so you must be a bad person.” But, I’m guilty of choosing to stay with people who think like me. It’s more comfortable, It’s easier, but it’s wrong. God calls use to live real lives with people who are different: rich or poor, smarter or less educated, undergrads, graduates, working professionals, singles or families. I am called to love each person as I love myself.

So it’s time for some change. I’m going to love people. Even if they look like these guys…


 

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Stranger than fiction

Have you ever noticed how we like characters in movies, books, plays, etc. that are like us?

I’ve often watched some movie and attempted to find myself presented in the heroine. It’s as if I think that finding myself in fictional form will somehow present a roadmap for my future. Whether I resemble Elizabeth Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, or any countless number of other cinematic/literary heroines, I keep trying to smoosh myself into another mold.

It’s not that I want to change who I am. No, generally, I like the bare essentials of who I am (recognizing MASSIVE room for improvement). It’s just that I would love to be able to have a small window into what could happen in the future. Finding the fictional version of me would give me a test case, a  laboratory of sorts.

IE if I am like Elizabeth Bennet, then my propensity to develop ridiculously strong loyalties instantly is justified. Similarly, if I’m like Emma Woodhouse, then perhaps I should give up on my matchmaking endeavors since all of hers failed.

I think there’s a deeper reason why we love to identify with the fictional people that populate our free time: if there is a fictional character out there bearing your traits, then you are validated. Sure, you may have some weird ticks, but some author/screenwriter/playwright out there imagined someone with those same traits. Plus, you have the added comfort of knowing that fictional character succeeded (or failed…). It’s as if you have a stamp of approval, confirming that you aren’t crazy.

Unfortunately, upon further reflection, there will never be a character exactly like you, me, or any other human being. As much as all human beings are the same (as one of my profs says, “fungible”), we all are distinct.  We carry our own story. Our own secret excitements and pains. Each moment, we are being formed by the circumstances surrounding us. This complexity simply cannot be summarized by a character in a fictional work. The fictionalized world takes us to a snapshot of the most exciting, important, or significant moments in the character’s life. Real life, on the other hand, is a series of busy nothings that cumulatively leads to those “big” moments.

So, looking for the fictionalized me is a fruitless race. I’m never going to find another heroine who makes strange noises (in the style of Angry Birds or Blues Clues), loves opera, and  has an extraordinary interest in British TV, obsession with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and a passive aggressive temper disguised beneath a veneer of forthrightness.

Yup, that’s just not going to be written into any screenplay hitting the theaters soon.  I just need to live my life in such a way that I’m living a story that’s worth telling.

 

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ro(manless)ce

I used to do this a lot. This whole blogging thing. The whole thinking.dreaming.analyzinglife.thing.

I think it’s time to do it again. Today, I was challenged by a random message left affixed to my temporarily abandoned laptop. The note simply asked, “where’s the romance?”

Now, this wasn’t a new way of hitting on a grad student.

No, this was a message bigger than that. Romance is about being swept in the immediacy of a moment. It’s more than simply finding some dreamboat of a man who happens to share my affinity for sharp rejoinders and sees life through the kaleidescope of a faith the refuses to be reduced to shades of black and white. (fyi if you find this mythical creature send him my way. prrraow.) That kind of adventure is all fine and dandy, but this is something more basic.

Finding romance is about forgetting the infite trivial details that rob the instant from having a purpose. I fall into this trap daily. I waste time when sitting through classes, conversations, and other endeavors contemplating the next step. Constantly plotting the next maneuver, a pithy response, or a to-do list.

I’m not living.

This is why I miss performing. It was a moment to slither out of my skin and crawl into that of another. I could breathe the air from someone else’s lungs and live precisely in their own fictional life for a specific moment.

I need to discover a sense of immediacy.

This isn’t just a result of my wannabe hipster sensibilities. Jesus wants us to live in the moment  too. Losing my sense of immediacy causes me to fear the future, regret the past, and forget that God is big enough to handle whatever will happen.

 

 

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