Good-bye to ‘Sixteen

img_6445Hello. It’s been a while.

Let me blame it on 2016. 2016, a year that had a terribly low approval rating. 2016, which seemingly stole most things that brought us joy. 2016, of the ever-shifting, ever-heartbreaking, ever-maddening social/political/global instability. I know of very few folks who were sad to say good-bye to 2016.

My year can be summed up as follows: a crazy spring led into a fragmented summer, which led into a brand new fall and anxious winter. I read. A lot. I wrote for class, I wrote comments on student papers, and I wrote in a journal for a bit. I traveled, and I cried, and I fretted over decisions. Days turned to weeks, which turned to months, and then it was over. And I was fine with saying good-bye.

So, a recap. Sixteen Significant Things that Happened in 2016, in no particular order.

  1. Teaching full-time (at one institution) — I got to teach my dream class, teach upperclassmen, teach argument and narrative and technical writing. I was always exhausted and stressed. I was always grading.
  2. Ph.D. Institution Reveal Party — After months of applications, and some yeses and some nos, and an excruciating decision between four strong options, I selected the place I’d be giving my time, energy, and tears for the next four years. And I announced it to my favorite people with colored cake and cheap champagne.
  3. Traveling east (mostly) — I made monkey bread in Boston, avoided horse poop at Churchill Downs, and got drenched in Central Park. I rested my hand on Dr. King’s church on a sweltering day in Montgomery, saw the ocean in Mobile, wandered down Bourbon Street, rode the Kansas City streetcar. In December, I finally went west: to Seattle coffee shops and to Alberta snowstorms.
  4. Kelm Girls Take Manhattan 2016, aka the Hamilton trip — My sister and I took our first sister adventure as adults, and all we did, I kid you not, was eat dessert and see Broadway shows. The reason for the trip was, in one word: Hamilton. Seeing the show broke our hearts open and stitched them back together again.
  5. AP scoring in Kansas City — I stand by my characterization of this week as summer camp for teachers, if summer camp means a week of 8 hour days in a fluorescent convention center grading thousands of mediocre/poor essays written by teenagers.
  6. New delicious experiences — Traveling meant I had Ale-1-8 in Louisville, beignets in New Orleans, burnt ends in Kansas City, and British tea in NYC. Oh, and I ate amazing food (all of it unfamiliar, all of it delicious) at an iftar prepared by generous Muslim friends during Ramadan.
  7. Moving to the Big City — I said good-bye to my old, beautiful, drafty apartment in my weird little broken Texas town, and I moved north. Ninety miles north, to be precise. New city means new restaurants, coffee shops, and museums. Also, lots of getting lost.
  8. Podcasts — New city means much more driving, so I rediscovered my love for podcasts. Linda, Glen, and Stephen at NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour; Justin, Travis, and Griffin at My Brother, My Brother, and Me; Trayvon and Mike at The Room Where It’s Happening; and Josh and Hrishi at The West Wing Weekly are basically close personal friends of mine, by this point. Oh, I can’t forget seeing Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder of Serial fame give a lecture. Radio in real life, guys!
  9. Starting a doctoral program — Four+ more years of graduate school. When I say it like that, I feel tired, but when I break it down into component parts, I get panicky. But when I remember what I get to study and with who (brilliant faculty and brilliant colleagues), I feel lucky.
  10. Yoga and weight lifting — The day after my birthday, I went to my first yoga class (a hot one!), and I got hooked. It’s exactly my type of exercise: slow stretching. And then I found a workout buddy (shout-out to Rachel!) who has been teaching me the finer points of lifting heavy things.
  11. Kelms Invade Texas 2016 — All of my people came to visit me, all at once, over Canadian Thanksgiving: two parents, one brother, one sister-in-law, one sister, one sister boyfriend, all in one house. It was ridiculous and magical, and I felt loved.
  12. Selling merch at a show — To be specific, I volunteered to sell band merchandise at a Switchfoot/Relient K concert. It was a full-circle moment, for teenage/adult Sara.
  13. The election — I’m still at a loss for how to express my grief about what this recent election cycle and decision says about our nation and what its citizens believe about both people and words. This continues to be a significant and painful time, one that keeps teaching me the importance of being informed (locally, nationally, globally), courageous, and kind in a world that increasingly devalues each of these things.
  14. Revisiting old loves — When your heart is heavy, it helps to go back to things that you know give you joy. For example, the Great British Bake-Off, The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, Harry Potter, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Happy Endings, Sufjan Stevens, memoirs written by my favorite comedians, bands from my adolescence.
  15. Finding new loves — A few new things gave me unexpected joy over the past year of darkness: the utter weirdness of Twin Peaks, the joyfulness of Chance the Rapper, the companionship of the Royals (and the Cubs winning the Series), the unbridled nostalgia of Stranger Things, the smooth vocals of Leslie Odom, Jr. and Leon Bridges, the silliness of The Good Place, and the beauty of Chef’s Table.
  16. Reading good books — I remembered what I often forget: I love to read. This year, I read graphic novels/memoirs, illness narratives, baseball novels, comics about radio, rhetorical criticism, books about the prairie, and young adult fairy tales. I recapped all 53 books I read in 2016, but highlights were Moore’s short story collection Birds of America, Abel’s comic about radio Out on the Wire, Ansari’s Modern Romance, and McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.

There’s my 2016 in a nutshell, my way of saying good-bye to the year that was. My word for 2016 was “health,” and I’ll think more about how that word applied to the year as I try to figure out what my 2017 word will be. I have lots of thinking to do. Stay tuned — I’ll be back soon.


Summer, Changes, and Things that are Making Me Happy

Summer is fully half over, and I haven’t accomplished much.

I’ve done a few things. I went to New York City, saw Hamilton (I work that into conversation as much as possible). I went to Kansas City to grade a thousand AP exams. I taught an online class. I got a gym membership, and I started reading again. I found a new apartment and did my best to avoid all thoughts of moving and starting school again. I went to the pool.

It’s easier to count by the things I haven’t done, good ole pessimist that I am. It’s also easier to look ahead and get afraid, get stuck and mired in my own anxiety about what is to come.

The world isn’t helping in that regard.

2016, man. Giant losses. Enormous violence. Heated political rhetoric. In the last two weeks, we’ve had shootings and hate crimes, a sit-in on the House floor, and the departure of the UK from the EU. Also, Zika is still a thing. I mean, what is this life?

It’s a changing life, is what it is. It’s changing like crazy, seemingly for the worst. This world is a pretty rough place these days. People are mad, sad, and afraid.

And yet. My friends are having babies, itty bitty humans that will be living in this world we’re creating. Other friends are getting married, trusting that a life together won’t make the gloom dissipate but it’ll be less gloomy. On my darkest nights, I wonder how they’re so brave, in such a unpredictable and broken world. On my lighter days, I’m grateful for them. They might not see it as such, but their choices to move forward are a middle finger to the darkness, saying we will choose this joy despite your presence, despite the uncertainty. Their acts of bravery cause ripples of changes.

I’m taking my own steps of bravery: moving cities, starting grad school (again), finding a new community in a new Texas town. On my darkest nights, I don’t know how I’ll be able to do it. On my lightest days, I am grateful — not a condition that comes naturally to me.

I’m more of a realist/pessimist. Brené Brown, God bless her, says in Daring Greatly  that a common coping mechanism is to approach anything joyful with deep foreboding. This can be thought of as a “continuum that runs from ‘rehearsing tragedy’ to what [she] call[s] ‘perpetual disappointment'” (121). Yep. I know that tendency. If I expect the good to turn to bad, then I won’t be upset when it happens. Besides the fact that’s blatantly untrue (I’ll still be upset, obviously), that negativity taints the joy that is right in front of me. Instead of seeing the beauty, I am waiting for the inevitable rain.

Sure, the rain’s gonna come, but it’ll be easier to manage if I’ve let myself be vulnerable and joyful, and I store those memories for a rainy day. Thus, Brené’s solution is gratitude. Remembering the good things that have happened and will happen again.

So, in this hot mess of a world, I’m working on making gratitude a more central component of my life.

I listen to this podcast (Pop Culture Happy Hour, by NPR) that discusses movies, tv shows, books, music, anything pop culture at a deep and critical level. Yet no matter how deep or critical they get, they always end the episode with the things that are making them happy. Each week each member of the round table has the chance to gush over something they are enjoying. Not only does the segment give the listeners new things to Google, it ends the episode with a subtle undercurrent of gratitude for the good things in life that make us happy — whether it’s a tv show, a band, or an experience.

The things that break our heart need airtime, but so do the things that fill us with light.

And so, this is my inaugural posting of “What is Making Me Happy Right Now.” I’d like to say it’s going to be a weekly posting, but I can’t get my act together right now, so we’ll just see what happens.

So, here’s what has made me happy this week. I’m fighting the darkness by being grateful for these things and many more.

1) Chef’s Table: This documentary series on Netflix is giving me life. Seeing artists describe their culinary work, along with the struggles they experience to do what they do, reminds me that we’re all in this together, fighting for our passions. Also, the food is deliciously gorgeous, as is the storytelling of this series. Highly recommend.

2) Lin-Manuel Miranda: If you don’t know Lin, he’s the mastermind behind Hamilton. He’s an amazing artist, but he’s also a really generous guy in so many ways. Sometime soon Imma write a whole fan letter post to Lin, describing what this guy is doing for the Broadway community, the music community, the Hispanic community, the world at large. This guy, though, posts nothing but light on Twitter. He deals in words, but he knows how to use those 140 characters to brighten and soothe and delight those around him, even though most of us have never met him. He’s my best Twitter friend, hands down. Follow him at @Lin_Manuel.

3) Iftar: Tonight the Islamic community of my town invited a number of local church parishioners to share iftar with them, the breaking of their Ramadan fast. They welcomed us into their center, prayed with us, and then made us precede them into eating the most flavorful and delicious food, which they prepared even while they fasted. I looked around the room tonight, after hearing a rabbi, a Baptist minister, and a former police chief speak words of unity and inclusion, and I only felt love for my Muslim, Jewish, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc. brothers and sisters. We were a community.

Fight the darkness with gratitude. What’s making you happy this week?

Baking and Swearing: A Post about the Future

A Friday or so ago, I was running around my kitchen, swearing.IMG_5971

I don’t really remember why I was swearing, in particular, except for the fact that I was trying to bake a cake, from scratch, from a new recipe, with limited counter space and limited time. Oh, and the cake had to be the right color on the inside.

You see, in a few hours, I would be hosting a Ph.D. Institution Reveal Party, at which I would cut the chocolate frosted cake, disclosing to my dear friends exactly what school and city would own the next four years of my life. Never mind the fact that I was questioning my decision every other moment, as well as my choice to host a party after being gone three weekends in a row. Oh, and I was having major doubt about my ability to use food coloring.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.


The plan wasn’t always to get a Ph.D. Three years ago, I applied for master’s degree programs, not doctoral programs, for a few reasons. One, I didn’t know if I wanted to get a Ph.D. Two, I didn’t know what I wanted to get a doctorate in, if I did want one. And three, I didn’t know if I could do it.

So I applied to master’s programs, got into a few, chose the one with the best funding, and moved to Waco, Texas, where I knew absolutely no one. I left a full-time job and a community that loved me for… the unknown.

The last three years have been an experience. I’ve worked hard and played hard, met new folks and turned them into good friends, grown to love an odd and unlovable place. I’ve experienced new things and those things have become familiar.

After writing a thesis, I got a master’s degree. Then I taught for two wonderful and stress-filled semesters. I loved my students, and at some points, I think they perhaps liked me. And I thought, I don’t know what to do with my life, but I think I could keep doing this. So. I applied for Ph.D. programs in rhetoric and composition so that I can study and teach writing for the foreseeable future.

I applied to six places, because I had no idea if any of them would want me. Diverse places: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana. Oh, and one place in Texas, just because my rhet/comp professors would say, “You know, TCU has a really good program.”

The acceptances started with Texas Christian University, of course, and I thought, Nope. I’m not staying in Texas. Other acceptances came, but the problem was that TCU gave me a better offer. Plus, the more I looked into their program, the more I liked it. They pursued me; they knew my work; they wanted me to come.

After visiting the campus, I thought, so what if it’s in Texas? Four years isn’t too long. And in a city, no less! With coffeeshops and art museums and Indian food restaurants! I decided I would say yes to TCU after Easter.

Well, then the game changed. On the flight to Boston for Easter, I got an email from the University of Louisville. Acceptance with a great offer, almost equal to TCU’s.

So, the next weekend, I was on a plane to Louisville. I had a great time in Louisville. I met fantastic people, I drank bourbon, I visited the Kentucky Derby Museum. I liked the school and the program. Obviously, my enjoyment of the place was upsetting to me.

I was stuck. I had to decide between two good options. And my kind, loving people kept telling me, you can’t make a wrong decision. This was true, but not helpful, because I had to make a decision, and how was I supposed to do so if there wasn’t a wrong one? How does one choose between two good things?

My deadline for deciding was Tuesday evening, 10pm. I arrived back to my apartment from Kentucky at 9pm. The day had been spent writing lists, crying, writing journal entries, staring, praying, and being mired in indecision. I texted everyone I knew, I emailed every spiritual leader I’ve ever had, and I talked on the phone to my parents and my thesis advisor. No clarity. No certainty.

Two good things. What’s a girl to do with such a problem? It’s a great problem, but it’s still a problem, and I wrestled with the decision over and over again, like a rock tumbler trying to smooth out the edges of a shard of glass. Each time it tumbled, it broke again, more pieces to put together. More sharp edges. More uncertainty.

Let me pause for a moment here and state the obvious: I’m not great with decisions. I prefer decisions that are a) made for me, or b) easily returned within 90 days with the tags still on and original receipt. I know as a grown, independent, single, strong woman I should be the captain of my own ship, the maker of my destiny, but most of the time I still want my Mom to tell me I don’t have to go to school because I don’t feel well. Decisions are hard, and they hurt. They create a crossroads, two possible pathways of which the end is foggy and undetermined. I don’t do foggy and undetermined.

And so I sat in the Atlanta airport, waiting: on God, on my mother, on some sign to emerge to tell me what to do. Nothing happened. The pros/cons lists were still there, still equal.

The problem is that I knew I would end up different, depending on whether I would spent the next four years in Kentucky, or in Fort Worth. I would be a different person on the other side. I didn’t know which one would be a better version of myself. I wanted to become the best version of me.

What I often forget, mired in the swamp of indecision, is that there will be hundreds of decisions between the me I am now and “four years later” me. Each of those decisions will change me, slightly. Or hugely. This Ph.D. decision was just the next step in a long line of decisions that had been made by me and for me for years. The journey is now. It was, it is, and it will be. I just needed to decide.

So. I got back to my apartment. My dear friend Sara came over. She looked at my lists, and then turned them over. I cried a little more, and she held my hand. Then I wrote an email, and clicked Send. We went to Chick-fil-a at 10:30pm to eat fried chicken in celebration.

But before we did that, I burned my pro/con lists. They didn’t go up in flames, but rather smoldered away, little by little, turning to embers and flying into the sky.


At some point in this long process, I realized at no point had I celebrated. People kept telling me congratulations for all of these acceptances, and I would look at them, confused as to why they would congratulate me for the torment caused by the decision-making process. I would sigh, and say, it’s a hard decision. At no point, did I feel like I had accomplished anything.

Because of this, I decided to throw myself a party.

I invited all of the people who had been listening to my neverending processing about cost of living and public transportation and  the price of health insurance. I told them that the party would be like those baby gender reveal parties, where I wouldn’t tell anyone my decision, but rather I would bake it into a cake. We would cut the cake, everyone would cheer, we’d drink champagne, and I’d feel proud. I’d celebrate.


The day had come, and I was swearing at the cake. I had no idea what color it was inside. I know what color I had tried to make the batter, but my cheap food coloring plus a slightly yellow cake and my lack of baking prowess was throwing off all of my plans. I had no way of checking what color the cake was without cutting it open. And people were coming over in mere hours.

I hurriedly made chocolate frosting and covered the whole darn thing, before running around my apartment like a mad woman, looking for belts and lipstick, and my master’s hood, which I was going to wear, because I paid for that thing in blood/sweat/tears and there are very few occasions on which a master’s hood is an appropriate accessory.

My friends arrived with seemingly endless bottles of champagne. Joseph brought his world-class guacamole. In the center of the table was the cake.

Would it be red, for the University of Louisville Cardinals? Or would it be purple, for the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (that’s right, I said horned frogs)?

They all took a poll, and of the twelve individuals present, they were almost split down the middle. Everyone was nervous, excited, including me. On the video (below), you can see my lack of certainty: in my cake-cutting abilities, in my food-coloring abilities, in my decision-making abilities.

But I had to cut the cake. It was waiting to be cut, to be claimed, to be celebrated.

I looked around and knew that even though I would never trust my own decisions, my friends thought me wise, capable, and intelligent. And I trust them. At that moment, for a split second before I doubted myself again, I knew I made the right choice, because I had simply made a choice. And I would become the woman I have always hoped to be, by sheer force of will and bold decision-making.

So, along with of a celebration of myself and my future, I chose, in that moment, to celebrate those around me in person and afar: my advisors, my playmates, my audience. My friends. My family. My fellow journeyers toward truth, goodness, and beauty. The people who came to celebrate me, even while I was determined to celebrate them.

I cut the cake. It was a dull blue-grey. One could say, practically purple.

Cue the champagne.


So, I’m doing it. I’m going for my Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition at Texas Christian University. That means four more years in the great state of Texas. Fort Worth has museums, art, music, coffee shops, tacos, and an airport (or two). The program at TCU is top-notch, and I cannot wait to begin the next phase of my academic journey, learning more about the composition and rhetoric discipline in which I plan to make my mark. I look forward to investing in the TCU graduate community, and eventually teaching the students at TCU (after my first year fellowship).

Most of all, I’m excited to take my next steps, say good-bye to Waco, and move 100 miles north to the big city. I can’t promise certainty at any step along the way, but I can promise a healthy amount of swearing at baked goods.


If you want to see the reveal, here it is!

After ‘Fifteen Comes ‘Sixteen

IMG_5706Hello. It’s been a while.

Let me blame it on 2015. It was a hard year, man, as evidenced by my lack of posting and high number of emotional breakdowns. Yet, it was good. Friendships fell apart and then were pieced back together. Movement happened. Graduations, applications, uncertainty and confusion. Much changed, even while I so desperately tried to hold things the same. It was a year that involved plenty of growth, and the realization that I have a lot of growing to do.

Writing-wise, I wrote a thesis that was 136 pages long, and I wrote lesson plans for plenty of classes, but I didn’t do any other writing. For months, I wrote only for school, for class, and for my freelance projects. I barely read: 17 books in 2015, as compared to 50 books on average the previous four years. But I worked so hard. 2015 was the year that made me tired. So, I have some plans for 2016.

First, a recap. Fifteen Significant Things of 2015, in absolutely no particular order:

  1. Ate mole in San Antonio – not mole like the animal, mo-lay like the delicious Spanish dish. San Antonio is a lovely place, even in the rain.
  2. 4 Cs – Going to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (in sunny Tampa) showed me that I do actually love the field of rhetoric and composition. A good reminder, in the midst of thesis stress, that pain has purpose.
  3. Turned down a job – So I was offered a job, with health insurance, and I turned it down because I think I would have been really exhausted and really unhappy. Sometimes self-knowledge can be scary…and empowering.
  4. Seattle with sister-friend and farewell to Newberg (again) – I went to the West Coast to watch my sister graduate, see evergreens, and say good-bye to Newberg all over again, as my best friends sold their home and moved to the East Coast.
  5. Got my master’s degree, and my parents were here to celebrate – I did it. I finished. 136 pages and many tears later, I got a fancy new hood, a new line on my C.V., and exhaustion.
  6. Moving – is the worst. But my new apartment has interior glass doors, wood floors, and lots of natural sunlight.
  7. The summer of everything, then nothing – The first part of the summer was thesis to the max. The second was pool to the max. I loved the pool part of the summer.
  8. Went to a Czech festival and a Texas rodeo – Central Texas, a hotbed of cultural experiences. Who knew?
  9. Learned how to curl my hair – Learning new skills keeps the brain cells from dying.
  10. Taught full-time (at three different institutions) – All I can say is that there are a lot of names to memorize and a lot of assignments to grade. And every once in a while, there’s a brilliant exquisite moment of clarity that tells you it’s worth it.
  11. Won trivia – I’m busy Thursday nights. My trivia team has gotten pretty darn good, and I’m prouder of this than most other aspects of my life.
  12. Broke into a house with a credit card – Relax, I knew the owners. Just know that the context for this act was stomach flu at a wedding. Also, Alabama is lovely!
  13. Anything involving Madelyn Christine – This kid is now 20ish months old, and she’s a gem. Sure, she drives her mother crazy, but she’s smart, funny, silly, curious, and straight-up adorable. I love seeing that little girl whenever I can: in Newberg, in Boston, over Skype. She owns my heart.
  14. Star Trek: The Next Generation & Jurassic Park – 2015: Captain Picard kept me sane through thesis-ing, and now I get why I should be afraid of velociraptors.
  15. Hamilton – I know, I know. Me and everyone else. But it is straight up brilliant, and I’ve been following the career of Lin-Manuel Miranda for years. It’s both a revolution and a revelation. Just stop being cynical and love it already.

So, that’s 2015 in a tiny nutshell.

It’s just like me to do a year in review over three weeks into the new year. Same for resolutions. I like to bypass the window of failure. By making the resolutions late, I’ve already failed. The pressure is off!

In years past, I haven’t really done resolutions. I find them anxiety-producing. So, I’ve conceptualized the year’s goals differently: using words (no surprise there). In the past, I’ve chosen one word for each year, words like yes, brave, balance. I guess I didn’t chose a word for last year. I don’t think I had any idea what my life would be like in that year.

Surprise: still no idea what 2016 will hold. But the word that keeps coming to mind is Health. Honestly, I hate it. I hate this word. It makes me think of the doctor and diets and exercise and making good choices that really actually suck. But I can’t get it out of my mind. I think it’s my word for 2016.

It’s my word, I think, because I’ve made some choices this past year that weren’t healthy: physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally, spiritually. We can’t make the best choice 100% of the time, but I’m realizing that I want to be healthy. I want to feel proud of the progress I’m making in my life. I don’t want to get stuck; I don’t want to indulge habits that feel good in the moment but ultimately leave me empty.

That’s the idea, isn’t it? Health means fullness. It doesn’t mean deprivation or frustration or isolation. It means goodness, hope, energy, life, and fullness. So, here are some ways I’d like to be healthy this year. I’m not holding myself to any of them, but I’m interested in seeing how my life could change.

Physically: Make choices that give me more life, instead of sapping my life (this probably means an emphasis on the exercise/vegetables/sleep side of things)
Emotionally: Take a Sabbath for my mind and heart to rest
Relationally: Spend time with ones who naturally bring me joy instead of trying to force joy
Professionally: Work hard and give myself grace (and a lunch break)
Artistically: Give myself the room and the permission to write and read
Spiritually: Use these other means of health to clear the way for sacred experiences

Who knows what 2016 will bring? Already, it’s more of the same: fighting, blizzards, and uncertainty. But I’m going to approach it with clarity, hope, and health. We’ll see what happens. Hang in there with me, will you?

End-of-Semester Stress Disorder

944234_10201276693383348_532355830_nPeople, this is it. We’ve now hit finals week, and the work continues to pile up. Being both student and teacher has taken a heavy toll on my mental status. While I thought I was doing fine, recent events have proven otherwise. I’m calling this “end-of-semester stress disorder,” and it’s serious business. So here are some warning signs for EOSSD that you might want to look out for, from one who has experienced them. All of them. I’m not kidding. This is a record of my recent life. I can’t make this stuff up. As I continue to slide down the slope toward insanity, I’ll continue to add warning signs at the top of the list. And you should let me in on your EOSSD insanity via comments. Because if we’re not laughing hysterically, we’re sobbing on the shoulders of strangers, so let’s laugh, people.

You may be experiencing “end-of-semester stress disorder” if…

–You consider riding your bike to the farmer’s market but decide not to because you might get hit by a car and break your arms. Now is not the time to take risks, my friends.

–You leave binders of papers open in the middle of your living room floor in the hopes that someone else will put them away. You have somehow forgotten that you live alone and thus you will be the one to trip over them repeatedly. And the one to put them away.

–You bring chocolate chips as a “sharable snack” to a study party. Granted, you bring three different kinds of chocolate chips, but they’re still chocolate chips.

–You stop everything, and I mean everything, to text a friend about it being Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson’s birthday. To be fair, you’re both really big fans of the Rock.

–You start researching academic articles on the rhetoric of “A Prairie Home Companion,” because you think you might want to do a dissertation on Garrison Keillor. By that, you mean just listen to “A Prairie Home Companion” instead of doing real work.

–You take a walk to clear your head. While walking, you come upon a huge branch in the street. You think, “There’s a big branch. Don’t trip on it.” You trip on the branch.

–You get really teary watching Planet Earth, because the baby elephant walks the wrong way, away from the herd, and you realize that baby elephant is you, and you’re going to be eaten by a lion called academia.

–You leave a coffee shop because “the air is bad” and you can’t possibly work there if the air is bad.

–You look in the mirror right before you leave the house, and you can’t remember if you put on makeup. Like any makeup. Also, you can’t figure out a way to tell if you put on makeup because you can’t remember what your face looks like with–or without–makeup. For all you know, you’re looking at a stranger.

–You forget the name of the new wine you had with a friend approximately six times over the course of 24 hours. Each time you forget, you ask that friend to repeat the name of the wine. She does so the first five times. The sixth time you ask, she tells you and then threatens violence if you ask again. At which point you have already forgotten the name of the wine. You don’t tell her.

–You stress-eat turkey pepperoni, which is probably the least sexy food to stress-eat. Slightly better is the stress-eating of the chocolate chips, of which you have three kinds (milk, semi-sweet, and dark, obviously).

–You stress-wash dishes, both yours and a friend’s. The friend is grateful. You pretend to have done your friend a favor. You did not.

–You stress-bake cookies that are actually so good that you forget that you baked them in order to avoid work, and instead you think you did something for the good of humanity. You’re welcome, humanity.

–You yell at the dryer. In your defense, the dryer was being unreasonable.

–You see an acquaintance in a place you are not expecting to see anyone you know. This acquaintance asks you what you’re doing at this place, and you suddenly can’t remember. You mumble incoherently. She leaves quickly.

–You buy boxed mac and cheese even though you are a grown-up and that stuff is probably toxic. You also make said mac and cheese with Greek yogurt because you’re out of milk. You pretend that this makes it classier and fine for an adult to eat. You eat the whole box in one sitting.

–You make plans for spending time with friends after the semester ends, but each time you do so, you have to intentionally stop yourself from saying, “If I’m still alive then.” It’s possible you would be making a joke, but no one would be sure, including yourself.

–You are at a friend’s house, alone, presumably working. Suddenly you hear a scratching noise. You distrust your own senses, as you realize you are constantly moments away from emotional collapse, but then you hear it again. It sounds like it is right next to you, scratching at the wall. You text your friend after noise number three, just asking out if he’s ever heard anything like that before you freak out. He hasn’t. You hear it again. The fifth time, it essentially sounds like there is a giant mouse-raccoon monster under the bed you are currently sitting on. At this point, you call this friend, speaking in panicked, incoherent sentences, finishing with “It’s probably fine Bye” and hanging up abruptly. This alarms him enough to come home and check. There is nothing there: not under the bed, not under the couch. The walls make no noises. He gives you a look that is too kind. You realize he is convinced you are crazy. He might be right, but you decide to never step foot in his home ever again.

–In the office, you develop a plan with your colleagues to quit everything and become beach detectives who turn cases into murder mysteries that are performed at your beach theatre. Also, one of you is highly invested in having bees, which another claims he will be able to train to sting the bad guys. This is all highly suspect, but it’s the end of the semester, so it makes perfect sense.

–You edit this blog post for three hours instead of working on your papers and grading. Because you’re an artist.

–You try to remember if you’ve ever been this crazy before, and you remember the last week of spring semester last year when you had a real pacing problem. As in you couldn’t stop pacing. A friend took you to the grocery store (presumably because you shouldn’t have been left alone), and you wandered up and down the aisles, wringing your hands and doing Lamaze breathing. Your friend kept asking if you were okay. The response is not part of the memory. Remembering this, you’re not sure if you’ve gotten better at handling stress or worse.

Church, pt. 3: Further Vignettes

IMG_2306(Better late than never, this is a post I wrote a few months ago. It’s truer now than ever.)

During Advent, I resolved to go to church every Sunday. I felt strange that I was in a phase of life that I had to resolve this, but I did. And so every Sunday of December I went to a different church. One held friends and Advent wreaths, another liturgy and a communion I didn’t stay for, another a windowless room and loud music. The last was my father’s church, a big Baptist church that welcomes Calgarians of all backgrounds to worship together. And they do: Filipinos, Africans, Koreans, Chinese, many recent immigrants who are looking for a home, both physical and spiritual, in the cold North.

I sat next to my mother, the same spot I used to sit in the church in Minnesota, in South Dakota, in Washington, and now in Alberta. I know she loves to sit next to me during church, and while my siblings often sit with friends when they return home for Christmas, I sit with her, because we need each other, her and I. We shed our winter coats, our scarves and gloves, stashing them under the pew in front of us. We seek the warmth of church, of Christmas, of hope in the midst of the cold.

My dad sneaks in next to me, during the worship songs. He’s about to do his work, his busiest day always the day of rest. He generally sits in the front row, for easy access to the podium, but when the kids are home, he likes to sit with the family just for a song or two. I wonder, not for the first time, what it would have been like to be in a “normal” family, where the preacher wasn’t Dad and Dad wasn’t the preacher. That moment passes as I hear my dad sing, and I realize it doesn’t matter. He’s doing what he was always meant to do.

I look up at the Christmas decorations, giant stars hanging from the ceiling. In a few days, we’ll be back for Christmas Eve, then for the Sunday service post-Christmas. For the woman who grew up in the church, this is normal; for the woman who hasn’t a church home, this feels like a lot. But I know Dad will be up front most of those times, and I’ll hear his pastor voice proclaim the good news:  Jesus is born, and we are here, and we should rejoice. In a time when little else feels solid and true, I’ll hear his voice and believe it.

I read a book before going home for Christmas that rattled me because it was about a young man who found himself going to two different churches, the two churches that I had been rotating between. He pinpointed some of the same concerns that I had with one, and also pinpointed some of the beauty I had seen in the other. The latter was an Episcopal church that I had felt drawn to even while struggling to reconcile it with the Quaker faith testimony that I identified with. How could I do both, the open worship and the traditional liturgy?  I panicked and emailed a friend who had been Episcopal in a former life but now does not attend church. I knew he had attended a Quaker church in a former life too. I asked him why he had stopped going. His email back was was honest: he had worshiped with the Episcopalians because the church was close to his home, he liked the people, and the service times worked with his schedule. In my heightened emotional state, I felt that he was being blasé about this spiritual crisis that I was having, but now, thinking back, I realize he was telling me what he always tells me: to relax. To live. To let the combination of my daily life and my eternal soul and my battered heart tell me what I needed. It was okay to go to a church because the times worked well. It was okay to go to a church because the sanctuary was beautiful. It was okay to find a home you weren’t expecting among people you’d never thought would welcome you.

After the New Year, I couldn’t wait to go to my Oregon church on a rainy Sunday morning. It had been nearly eight months since I saw my Quaker friends in that wooden sanctuary with the small stained glass windows. As I entered, I greeted the usher, whose name I never remember. He doesn’t remember my name either, but he remembers my face, and so we just mutually recognize each other and smile. I find a seat in the pew in front of my friend Nancy, and we talk about the changes at my former place of employment, where she still works. And then the service started.

The usher whose name I can’t remember came up to me during the greet-your-neighbor time. Would I help with the offering, he asked. I hesitated a moment, pondering whether or not to tell him that I’ve been gone from this church for a year and a half. But before I knew it, I said I would be happy to help.

While we sang 90s choruses and old hymns, I wondered why I said yes, why I couldn’t let myself just sit and visit. And the answer came simply: I considered this my home church, the place I most belonged on a Sunday morning. I wanted to serve by taking up the offering because this place had given me so much comfort and challenge, had given me my voice and a community. So of course I would help.

This is what I longed for in Texas, this is what I craved and what made me cry and what I begged for in the brief silence of every church service I had attended in the last year and a half. I begged for another place like this.

So when the time came, I stood up with the wicker basket and moved to the front of the sanctuary. I passed the basket, and endured the smiles and the whispers of “you come back, we put you to work!” I was grateful for the gentle teasing, because it meant that people knew I had been here, that I had left, and that I was missed.

The man preaching that morning, not the usual lead pastor, said he remembered walking into this old sanctuary for the first time, looking up at the front, and feeling like he was home. And I looked at the framing behind him, the lack of a cross where a cross could be, the stained glass with a dove and an anchor, two symbols I often pondered during the open worships when I could not focus.

During open worship, I sat in the silence and felt my body relax, and focus, sharply, intently. I was grateful for the open worship, to hear the community I missed so much share what darkness the Inner Light had illuminated. And I was grateful to heard a member of the community speak words during the sermon that illuminated the Quaker peace testimony in a world so dark and violent, a testimony that is foolish in its hope and its practice. At the end of the service, my fellow Friends teased me, saying that they always ask visitors to collect the offering, and I said I’m not a visitor. I’m family.

I had coffee with my dear friend Jay, once again in the Oregon area for Christmas and his brother’s wedding while I was in the area to cuddle babies and drink loose-leaf tea. We met at the coffee shop we always met at as undergraduate students. We caught up about life and grad school and teaching and family and future plans. Then he mentioned he had been going to both a Quaker meeting and an Episcopal church as part of his spiritual practice. Jay grew up in the evangelical Quaker church, and he embodies so many of the things I love about it. They are part of who he is, and so I asked the question that wouldn’t leave me: how does he do it? How does he reconcile the complete lack of sacraments and hierarchy within the Quaker church with the full-on liturgy and ecclesial faith practice of the Episcopalians? He paused for a moment, and said it was all about encountering Christ. The way he sees it, both faith traditions put a premium on a personal encounter with the living God, whether through the Inner Light and open worship, or through the Eucharist and the liturgy. Vastly different practices, but with a similar result. The power of the Eucharist, of the bread and wine, is something that cannot be explained but can only be felt and experienced. It’s the very same thing with open worship. I realized in a moment how rigid my rules had been, how I was missing the underlying spirit of these faith practices. And I suddenly knew I could try again.

I was going to do it this time. Come hell or high water (all puns intended), I was going to take communion at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I was going to walk down the center aisle, up the stairs, through the choir stalls, up three more stairs, kneel, and accept the bread, accept the cup. I was going to do it.

It was my first service back after Christmas, and the sanctuary was the same: beautiful, sacred, and filled with grey-haired parishioners who bowed their heads at the right times but didn’t even attempt to get into kneeling positions. Neither did I. I wasn’t ready yet. I also didn’t cross myself when others did. I knew the motion wouldn’t mean anything to me, and I couldn’t pretend it did. I hoped, though, that other things would have meaning.

The choir sang a beautiful hymn, a stellar young tenor taking a solo that “brought me to Jesus,” as some faith traditions are known to say. The sermon was short, as the rector’s voice was gravelly due to a cold. Even so, he spoke simply and honestly about the need for the church to move outside of its walls, of how it should work to bring people into this beautiful space by going out and getting them.

I felt at peace in this sanctuary, the dark beams above, the stained glass over the altar and along the sides, the creaking of the pews, the calming pattern of the liturgy that lulled and challenged. I started listening to the words that we said aloud, that we claimed to believe together, the forgiveness we asked for together, and the people we prayed for together.

I started to notice things that felt familiar from my time with the Quakers. The silence, for one. For another, calling government leaders by their first names during the Prayers for the People. The prayers for peace: the recognition that we are part of the problem and we can pray for a solution. The allowing of children in the service, and recognition that they can experience God too. The belief that women, if called, should lead a church. The idea that the community hears God together and participates in his spirit as one.

For once, I didn’t let myself get distracted by the differences; instead, I rested in the similarities. I didn’t need to become confirmed in the church. I just needed to listen for Christ wherever I could, and if I could hear him surrounded by Texan Episcopalians who crossed themselves while juggling multiple books and saying ancient words together, if I loved the church for the beauty of the sanctuary and the words said aloud in it, and if I felt like I could be known here, then Jesus was there with me.

Later that day, I went to the zoo for the first time since the fall. Only as I walked toward the orangutan complex did I realize it was my first visit since Batari’s death. Batari was the little girl orangutan, born right after the birth of my goddaughter in May. Every time I saw her little monkey face, her crazy hair, the care of her mother Mei, I thought of my little Maddie. Batari’s death in December crushed me in a way that I didn’t expect. I cried for the little girl monkey and the unfairness of life, and I asked what the point of this all was if baby monkeys die and baby humans die and adult humans do too. At that point, I didn’t know when I’d come back to the zoo, because I was so sad. But I did go back, because I love the zoo and I’ve felt at home there.

Approaching the orangutan complex, I thought about church that morning, and why I kept going back to church even though it was hard, even though it didn’t make sense most Sundays. I realized I went back because I needed to go, even if it hurt, even if I felt lonely or sad or discouraged. I went back because the joys that I have known in the walls of a church—through my dad’s voice, through open worship with the Friends, through the poetry of the Episcopal liturgy—outweigh the pain I feel. At the core is always hope: hope for community, for family, for an encounter with the divine. It might be a foolish hope, but it’s one that has been realized before, and so I’ll keep trying to put myself in situations where it can be realized again.

So, as I leaned up against the railing at the orangutan complex, not seeing the grieving orangutan couple, but praying for them regardless, I felt a peace, just like the one that brought me to tears that morning after tasting the bitter red wine of Christ’s blood on my tongue, the dry wafer of his body crunching between my teeth. The priest had given them to me after I had survived the long walk up to the front of the nave, and I had taken them. Then, a rush of gratefulness and peace, a salve for a tired soul. I had found a place, for now, to add to the places that I can encounter Christ: a pew between my parents. A creaky sanctuary in Oregon. A kneeler in a nave in Texas. And a zoo that gives me joy and pain because it is something sacred.

Eulogy for a Stranger, or Good-bye Harris

harris-wittels-amy-poehler-mourns-harris-wittels-ftrI follow a lot of comedians on Twitter. They’re usually the ones who tell me to pay attention to something or someone. Because I’m someone who gets has a hard time handling the darkness of the news, I depend on the Twitterverse to inform me of anything important, especially deaths. This may be a flawed way of engaging with the world, but I’m barely holding my head above water with my own life. So snarky jokes on Twitter it is!

Last Thursday, Twitter told me that Harris Wittels died.

Every day or two someone famous or marginally famous dies, and someone does a quick Twitter tribute. It takes literally seconds, and so I rarely take a second look. But this, this was an outpouring of grief from every corner of the comedian Twitter universe. For someone whose name I had never before.

I should have. Harris had been a producer on one of my favorite television programs, Parks and Recreation, as well as a writer, actor, and stand-up. He coined the term “humblebrag.” He performed stand-up at the comedy club the Meltdown in Los Angeles the night before he died.

On the day before Harris died, I went to an Ash Wednesday service. A somber affair, a number of octogenarians and I kneeled as we prayed for absolution from the sins we commit daily. Then, as the priest smudged a cross on my forehead, he said in his soft Texas drawl, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

A thought both frightening and freeing. Our time here means so little in the long run. It makes me wonder sometimes why we work so hard when all of our accomplishments will go to dust, just like our bones. We have a limited lease on this planet, 80 years give or take a decade. If you’re one of the lucky ones. Harris was 30.

He was only a few years older than I was. In his three decades, he had accomplished a lot, written a lot, made a lot of people laugh. He’d gone to rehab twice. By all accounts, he was trying. And then…he died. An overdose, they think.

As I thought about Harris, this person I didn’t know existed, I realized I follow the careers of comedians because I find their creative process interesting. I find it fascinating how a joke, something enjoyed by an audience and seemingly off the cuff, requires crafting. How a persona, which seems familiar and natural, is created. And how these performers have found ways out of self-loathing and self-consciousness into the world of comedy. They who were outsiders created an inside, just for themselves. Few people are funny because they had amazing childhoods and were part of the in-crowd all through high school. Most funny people are funny because they had to survive.

Harris wasn’t famous, but he was funny. He was known and adored by a small group of people, those who knew comedy and respected those who did it well. By all accounts, his star was about to rise, with the end of Parks and Recreation and new projects in the pipeline. He was seemed to be getting his life on track, talking about his struggles with addiction honestly in podcast conversations. Every day is a long one when you’re fighting the tide of addiction, so every day matters. He seemed to know that, his friends say now.

Tides are strongest when you’re swimming against them. At some point your body adjusts to the strain but the beginning can be the hardest, every breath a minor victory that must be followed by another victory, and another, and another.

By all accounts, Harris’s death was an accident, an overdose by someone who was fighting to get well and who just let the tide take him a little ways. His plan was probably to start swimming again the next day, after one more night of floating. Instead, he drowned.

Days later, the people who loved him are still re-tweeting his best lines on Twitter, a form of communal grieving that both eulogizes and memorializes. It says, “Look, here he was, and wasn’t he damn funny?” It’s a tribute using his own words; the gift that he gave to the world is now being given back in his honor.

I worry about these comedians that I do not know, the ones who always seem one instant away from self-harm (see: those years I worried about Dan Harmon, who seems to be doing fine). I worry for all those who swim against the always-pulling tide of addiction. I think of Robin Williams. I can’t help wondering what would have enticed him to stay here a little longer, to try once again, to make us laugh one more time. That sounds selfish, but I can’t believe that life here is better because he’s gone. Same for Harris.

That’s the only truth I can come to in times like these. I know life is hard and dark and dismal sometimes, especially for those who need applause to feel like their lives have meaning. But I cannot imagine how life is better now that these voices are gone. I don’t think life is improved without any voices who are considering quieting themselves—maybe just for a night, maybe forever. Those voices matter. All voices matter. I have to believe that; otherwise, I think we’re all wasting our time here.

So, if it’s you, if you’re Harris or Robin, needing a fix of substances or adoration in order to get through the day, you have value beyond that which controls you. Your voice has worth. And don’t ever believe the lie this world would be better off without you. It most assuredly would not be.

It’s a selfish thing to ask, me asking you to stay here, but I’m asking because I think you are capable of the impossible (with help): you can swim against the tide and you can make a difference while doing it.

And for those of us who have never had to swim against the tide of addiction and hatred, those of us skimming the surface with our Jet-skis and motorboats, how dare we judge those who, because of brain chemistry or history, are stuck in the water? Instead of making it harder for them to swim, we should try to pull them along. We cannot remove the tide; we can only work to ease the way for them.

Tonight is the finale of Parks and Recreation, a television sitcom that has given so much joy to so many people. To me. Its boundless joy and optimism about friendship, love, and local government has lightened world of television in a time when optimism is hard to find and jokes can cut to bleed. Leslie Knope is no-nonsense, strong, and infinitely full of hope. Harris helped to give us that hope.

So Harris, thank you for Parks and Rec. Thanks for being a man who was loved by so many. Thank you for making us laugh. And I’m sorry you are gone and that we will never know how life could be better because of you. But maybe, just maybe, someone will swim a little harder in your honor, knowing that you couldn’t.

Maybe that will make this end, so heavy, a tiny bit more buoyant.

A Day After Valentine’s Day Letter

vintage_valentine-13Hey you,

It’s February 15, 2015.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and Prospective Students’ Weekend, and Graduate Student Day at the Farmer’s Market. Oregon turned 156, and it was almost 80 degrees in central Texas. Before riding my bike to a friend’s house, I put on shorts and a tank top and marveled that this is my life.

But that was yesterday. It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, so let’s talk.

I’ve spent 27 Valentine’s Days without you, and the last few writing you letters. Some have been sappy, some have been powerful, and others have been kind of apathetic. This Valentine’s Day, I’m in all of those places and yet none of them.

Plus, I’m surrounded by people in different stages of love.

I have a dear friend who is deeply in love, the kind of soul-stirring, life-ending, life-beginning love that we all pray for and fear in equal measure. This friend’s life is set in motion by this love: life moves and breathes in response to this other human, beautiful and painful all at once. Together they are making plans, sharing hopes, crafting dreams that involve two instead of one with this sense of almost-but-not-yet. I watch it with jealousy, and confusion, and wistfulness. It is a brave love.

I have another friend who is madly (and maddeningly) in love with a tiny human, a stubborn, spunky little girl who just had her first Valentine’s Day. She has changed the shape of my friend’s life; she has altered its very schedule, dictating how life ebbs and flows in accordance to her needs (and increasingly) her wishes. I see my friend love fiercely this little girl who can’t crawl or walk or talk but who can feel deeply and truly, and this girl is loved even when her parents are irritated or fearful. It is a brave love.

Another friend is grieving the loss of love, a ridiculous phrase because love is never suddenly lost, even when love with a particular person is no longer being pursued. The timing is wrong, but the decision was right. So, instead of a romantic dinner and walks hand-in-hand along rainwashed streets, my dear friend had dinner in a group even while feeling very alone and singular. Single, one could say. And this love is brave too, for it dares to think two people could eventually be better off without each other and maybe with others instead.

Other friends are purely and truly single, though that looks different for each. Some are saddened, some are free. But all, at times, feel the weight of being alone, of not being someone else’s priority, of not being allowed to make someone else their only purpose. It’s a burden, to be single. It’s a joy, it’s a freedom, but it’s also a burden. And so they seek out those others who are like them, in hopes that company brings light, and it does. It is a brave life they live, a brave love they seek, a brave hope they kindle.

So this letter isn’t really to you, dear sir, is it? You specter, you unshaped desire, you unknown entity. I am writing to the air, to a future version of you who may hear these words as echoes from the past.

Instead, it’s a letter to those in love, those in fear, those in pain, and those in uncertainty. Mostly, it’s a letter to me.

And all I can say is it’s going to be okay.

It might not be right now. Your heart might be en-route to another coast, checked in the baggage of the one you love. Your heart might be shattered into a million pieces, until you are able to melt them down and recast a new one. Your heart might be so tired that its angry and afraid and then she smiles and you’re filled with joy for a split second. Or your heart might be heavy with all of the hope it’s carried that you’ve tried to jettison but somehow it still begs to be held.

I don’t know how on God’s green earth it’ll be okay for you, you lovers and loners. But I’ve got to believe it will be.

Today at church, the priest spoke about the Transfiguration as recorded in Matthew. He said that God spoke amidst the confusion, the cacophony of voices and shining prophets, and he said the word beloved amidst the chaos. Within the chaos, God spoke the word beloved to the one he loved.

I think that’s the only way we’ll get through this, all of us: by grasping for those whispered beloveds that are barely audible above the din of life. Maybe we whisper it to each other, maybe the divine presence whispers it in our ear, maybe it’s just a feeling that we have for a moment before it’s gone. Maybe it’s in a love note or a baby’s laugh or a memory or a dream. A way of knowing our belovedness.

So if you’re in love, you are beloved.

If you’re out of love, you are beloved.

If you’re praying your love sleeps through the night, you—and she—is beloved.

And if you’re waiting with no good reason to hope other than you can’t help it, you are beloved.

(Lastly, hey you. I am talking to you too. You’re beloved as well. Be safe, be strong, be gentle, be kind, be soft, be true. Love deeply and wisely; learn well and carefully. Love with a brave love. Talk next year, or see you soon.)


Best of ‘Fourteen

2014 was to be all about continuum and balance, words I forgot within a month of posting them. Looking back on the year, though, I think I did pretty well on finding the in-between that worked for me, finding that which gave me joy and gave me challenge. Basically, I did what I wanted and needed, and sometimes they overlapped. To that end, here are my “best of” lists. (Also, maybe the dates are off because I left my calendar at home so JUST DEAL [also I know you don’t care]).

Best of 2014 FirstsIMG_3230
Had real Dr. Pepper with real sugar 1.21 – big deal in Waco, TX
Skyped with a baby (three-week-old Alice) 2.5 – first baby Skype date of many
Bought a Cameron Park Zoo membership 2.8and I never stopped talking about it
Had a Sergio’s burrito 2.15 – you really just don’t know what you’re missing
Went to a tennis match 2.23 – sunshine, sitting and ridiculous scoring, which is sporting ideal
Ate my first King cake 3.5 – apparently this is a cultural thing
Went to Oklahoma for a conference 3.6 – where the wind goes sweeping down the plains
IMG_2510Visited Hill Country, Enchanted Rock 3.13 – beautiful places in this here Texas
Drove a Prius 3.19 – and it was a frickin’ dream
Had a drink with the sister 3.20 – having adult siblings is the best
Had 4 out of 5 Kelms in Texas 3.22 – I make my family come to me
Visited the Waco Mammoth site 3.27 – THERE ARE [DEAD] MAMMOTHS IN WACO I’M NOT KIDDING
Hammocked 4.29 – also a cultural thing that I love very much
Drank a mint julep and watched the Kentucky Derby 5.3 – apparently the Derby is three hours of preshow and then a minute of sports
Became a godmother 5.10 – and she’s the best and cutest thing in my life, by a long shot
Drank champagne from a bottle 5.12 – I’m an adult; I can do what I want
Ate a piroshky in Seattle 5.23 – another cultural thing; I don’t know, it was delicious
Learned to read a foreign language in five weeks 7.3 – HA this is a joke but also I got 6 credits for it
Gained a sister (in-law) 7.5 – another awesome blonde Kelm
Went to the Calgary Stampede and ate poutine 7.7 – culture, culture, culture; also, rodeo
Kayaked 7.10 – summer in Texas is a billion degrees but also kayaks!
Went swing dancing in Austin 7.17- ridiculous swingin’ fun
Saw fireflies 7.19 – I swear I had never seen them before but they are pure magic
Saw a musical in the park with good friends 8.2 – Oklahoma! in Texas with a New Yorker, a Missippippian/North Carolinian, and a real Oklahoman!
Ate fried okra 8.3 – delicious because, fried
Saw Les Miserables like it had never been done before 8.7 – futuristic dystopian Les Mis? YES PLEASE.
Turned 27 8.8 – eh. Had to happen eventually.
Ate fried pickles 8.8 – delicious because, fried
Had my bike stolen 8.13 – NOT GREAT
Taught two classes right in a row 8.22 – Exhausting but delightful
Ran through a fountain on Baylor’s campus 8.28 – sometimes you gotta be an irresponsible child
Learned what sorghum is at Homestead Heritage 9.1 – it’s a syrup, kinda
Heard Marilynne Robinson speak 9.11 – I’ll love her forever for Gilead
Rode my bike to the zoo 9.13 – bike rides are my jam
Heard Amy Tan speak 9.19 – A delight
Attended a real Texas tailgate 10.11 – and there was barbeque
IMG_4079Rushed the field at a football game 10.11because sports! (also, “rushed” might be an overstatement)
Went on a road trip to Arkansas 10.17 – #fayettevillefallbreak was magical
Had a baby houseguest 11.6 – I learned much about baby children and received a lot of cuddles
Had buttermilk pie 11.8 – another delicious cultural experience
Watched a wedding online 11.8 – huzzah for technology and the interwebs!
Surprised sister in Seattle 11.13 – super proud of this, btw; also, she’s an acting rock star
Saw a celebrity on an airplane 11.13 – David Alan Grier, LA to Seattle.
Ran a 5k 11.29 – and I didn’t even stop even though maybe I wanted to give up and die?
Saw Chip and Joanna at a concert 12.5 – if you don’t know who they are, you don’t watch enough HGTV
Gave a final 12.7 – i.e. gave encouraging smiles and checked FaceBook for two hours straight
Ate duck feet 12.22 – not a fan, not a fan at all; also, WHY

Best of Television
Sherlock-S3-still-2-1024x649 HGTV ruled my life, as I graded papers to the dulcet tones of the Property Brothers (I like Drew’s suits, but there’s something about a man with a hammer…). I was obsessed with Fixer-Upper, because Chip and Joanna are the cutest, and it’s set in my home of Waco. Also, sports became a fixture in my life between the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and the World Cup, the latter which I became obsessed with. I also watched gone-too-soon shows like Happy Endings and Pushing Daisies, both cleverly-written in different ways. Thank you, PBS, for showing Endeavor and Vicious, not to mention the long-awaited return of the third season of Sherlock. Benedict and Martin forever. Lastly, while Doctor Who had a rocky season, I’m in for the long haul.

Best of Movies
This year I binged on movies, particularly Netflix’s independent films, foreign films and social documentaries. The highlight of the latter was 20 Feet From Stardom, a documentary about backup singers which you need to watch right this second. Also, I watched Six by Sondheim (a documentary about the man himself) and 700 Sundays (an HBO production of Billy Crystal’s one-man play) on a really delayed plane, and both made me cry. I was pleasantly surprised by movies like The Lego Movie, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Into the Woods. I also got to share two of my favorite flicks with good friends, and so I watched those older movies over and over again–I was not complaining. The Way Way Back means it’s summertime and waterparks all the time, and Noises Off! captures the joys and pains of theatre productions. Basically movies are the best.

Best of Theatre
So many good live theatre performances, but the ones that stand out: 1) Oklahoma! (Zilker Summer Musicals) in Austin was an excellent outdoor performance of a musical that is simultaneously cheesy and terribly dark. 2) Merrily We Roll Along was a recording of a London revival, but this tragic and touching show about the pursuit of art and loss of friendship may be my new favorite Sondheim. 3) Lost in Yonkers at Seattle Pacific University was not only poignant, but also my sister was amazing in it. 4) Proof by TheatreSquared (an incredible company in Fayetteville, Arkansas) had a beautiful set, an intimate space, and strong performances (shout out to the fabulous Seth Bridges!). 5) Lastly, Dallas Theatre Center reenvisioned Les Miserables in a futuristic dystopian setting, which worked unsettlingly well. Besides a stellar performance by Nehal Joshi as Valjean, the production made me consider how little the world changes and how we still deal with the pain of poverty and social unrest.

Best of Music
Well, duh, like everyone, I listened to the Frozen soundtrack until my ears bled. Dave Van Ronk, thanks to Inside Llewlyn Davis, graced my Spotify playlists, as did Lorde. I finally got a new record player, thank God, and listened to Bob Dylan as much as possible. Towards the end of the year, it was the Lone Bellow and JohnnySwim, thanks to a fantastic concert with the two groups. The entirety of December was basically Pentatonix Christmas, which I may still be listening to (don’t judge me).

Best of Books
Mostly I read books for school: modern novels, American realism, the Harlem Renaissance, and Shakespeare. Oh, and I learned French. In the midst of all of that, I read some books for fun, somehow. Rainbow Rowell’s novels Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Fangirl got me through Spring Break, and the latter in particular resonated with my inner fangirl. Gaudy Night was a mystery jaunt with sides of academia and Britishness. O’Connor’s Prayer Journal made me think about how writers choose to express their inner selves. Rabbit Run was my first Updike reading, and I reread The Giver, remembering how subtly genius it is. I love my memoirs, and highlights were Preston Yancey’s Tables in the Wilderness, Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk, Nadia Bolz-Webber’s Pastrix, and (FINALLY) Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. And lastly, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is just as quiet and simple and utterly beautiful as I had always heard, a lovely musing on spirituality, family, and growing older.

Christmas Eve [Advent 2014]

FullSizeRenderThis morning, I woke up thinking about Christmas.

I know I’m not the only one. I join the scores of thousands of children all over the world who are just getting through today, counting down the minutes until the designated moment. The trees are lit,; the menorahs are too. The gifts are wrapped. Everyone is just waiting.

We’ve already done most of our family Christmas traditions. My brother and his wife will be leaving for her family’s home this morning, so we had Christmas dinner yesterday, complete with Christmas poppers, Christmas tissue paper crowns, and a rousing rendition of “We Three Kings” on our numbered Christmas whistles before watching all of the classic Christmas movies: Charlie Brown, Rudolph, the Grinch. It was a wonderful Christmas Eve Eve.

This morning, the lovely couple is preparing to depart, my sister is sleeping, my mom is cleaning the kitchen, and my dad is at the office, preparing his Christmas Eve sermon for tonight. Christmas is changing for our family. Even so, the core of Christmas, the story I woke up thinking about, is the same.

I mean, but it is it? The story changes as I change. I understand it different and better and worse, and it gets clearer and more obscured the older I get.

It’s like Santa. As a kid, you sing the songs and draw the pictures and get excited for gifts, whether or not they’re from the big man. You learn he represents generosity and kindness. And then you grow up and think about what Santa means economically, and socially, and racially, and historically, and spiritually, and commercially, and familialy. It’s a wonder we don’t get exhausted and give up.

Tonight’s the final Advent candle. The Christ candle.

If there’s anything I know for sure this Christmas, that this Advent season has taught me, it’s that I don’t really understand hope. I don’t really understand peace, or joy, or love. I don’t understand what it means to have a king. I don’t know what it means to have a child. I don’t know what it means to leave one’s livelihood for hope.

But I’m starting to understand the need to stop work for the sake of the soul. And I’m barely starting to understand the joy that a child can bring into a world, even a normal human child and not a Godself child. And I’m realizing the need to have my passions, my dreams, my hopes, my desires managed by a kindly ruler.

So tonight, at the Christmas Eve service, while my father tells the Christmas story, I’ll hope in the dark to understand more fully. I’ll make peace with myself and this violent world, listening to the silence. I’ll sit in the joy of this serious world, be willing and present. And I’ll love because I was first loved: those around me, those away from me, those in Alberta and Oregon and Minnesota and Alabama and Florida and New York and Missouri and Texas, those I’ve lost and those I’ve found.

And I’ll think about Christ, who is the only possible way I can hope, peace, joy, and love. Christ, who has come and is coming and will come every year, forever and ever, amen.

Praise be to God. Merry Christmas.