The poetic, playful and prophetic musings of quintessential voices trying to keep up with life

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Women and Girls

I recently had an odd exchange with a friend of mine. It went a little something like this:

Me: I was so mad in class today because this woman took my seat. I mean, they aren’t assigned but I always sit there. It really threw me off.

Friend: *laughs*…wait, a college…woman or like an…adult woman?

This isn’t the first time I’ve had this response, but it really struck me: what is the difference? Aren’t traditional college-age women adult women? I personally don’t see a difference. College-age women are, by legal standards, adult women. But why my friend had to ask for clarification is because the normal word for a college-age woman isn’t woman—it’s girl.

What’s the problem with calling college-age women girls? We don’t generally call college-age men men; we call them guys. But guys is not the equivalent to girlsboys is. Guys doesn’t have the same connotation as girls. Guys has a sense of autonomy and is generally not age-identified. Girls translates as young, less intelligent, small, helpless, dependent, weak, and silly. People want to hang out with guys; the kids want to play with girls. By calling college-age women girls we characterize them as young, less intelligent, small, helpless, dependent, weak, and silly.

I’ve always thought of my college-self as a woman, not a girl. But I never really thought about when my peers and I transformed into women (I’m not speaking of legal recognition, of course). I always thought the last time I would struggle with where I fit in society age-wise was adolescence. In adolescence, we constantly (supposedly) struggle between the adult part of ourselves and the child part of ourselves. There is conflict inherent in being an adolescent.

But what about college…uhhh…kids? We are out on our own—some of us very far from home, all of us out of our parents’ sight. As 18-23-year-olds, we are legally adults and we are expected to act like adults. And yet, we are still tied to home. Many rely on parents for financial and emotional support, for advice, and even for things like health insurance (especially under the Affordable Care Act). So, we are in a bind. We still grapple with the conflict between child and adult. But still, we are mostly adult. If we commit a crime, we’re an adult. If we go to the doctor, we’re an adult.

So we come to my real question: why is it so hard to call college-age women “women?” Why do we have to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, women? And at what age do we stop being girls and start being women? Who decides that? College-age women are definitely not girls. So, why call them what they aren’t?

I think we’re uncomfortable with the word woman. I think we’re uncomfortable with the meanings around and of woman. I think we’re uncomfortable with women. Violence against women, women in business, women in politics, women in abortion clinics, conservative women, liberal women, women doing whatever they feel like doing because they’re adults who should be given the same rights as any other adult (especially the right to privacy). I think we’re so hesitant to call women women because we want to keep as many women as girls as long as possible because it’s more comfortable. Girls doesn’t have as much potential to challenge the patriarchal system. Girls are weak, silly, and helpless. They aren’t scary, capable women.

If we stop calling college-age women girls we give them a measure of…well, if nothing else, respect. And that’s not a bad place to start. 

Guest blogger Sarah Flinspach is a sophomore at the University of Minnesota where she studies political science and minors in gender, women, and sexuality studies.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

On Not Being Who I Thought I'd Be By Now

Recently I've found myself thinking about my 18 year old self. 
To inspire me, I dug through some old pictures. Here is Kelsey, age 18. ------>
(Note: I look almost exactly the same today and have still never worn a baseball cap well.)

I've been questioning what 18 year old Kelsey would think of the way 24 year old Kelsey is currently living her life. Because 18 year old Kelsey had big plans for her life. She wanted to change the world and change the church and also somehow have gobs of time to spend with all of her friends who just happened to all live in her neighborhood.

But 18 year old Kelsey didn't have bills to pay. She'd never been told no. She only had to think in theory. Her biggest concern was changing her major - again and again and again.

I find myself - 24 year old Kelsey - caught in the middle of a contradiction. I want adventure, spontaneity, and to be completely uprooted, while I simultaneously desire security, groundedness, and continuity.

I want to move to a new state every year (which I've done for the last three consecutive years) and make new friends and have new, crazy adventures and I also want to own a home with a picket fence and a dog and never move again.

I want to address poverty and devote my life to 15 causes and protest bad stuff and get arrested for said protesting and I also want to curl up with my girlfriend every night and watch Modern Family or Scandal and go to bed at 10 p.m. - oh, and having a record probably wouldn't look good for finding a normal job.

I still have no idea what kind of grown up I want to be.

Eighteen year old Kelsey probably did not dream of this life but what did 18 year old Kelsey know? She didn't even know that the place I currently live (Michigan's upper peninsula) exists.

She hadn't learned yet how beautiful the world is, or that she'd find herself falling in love with mountains, oceans, and most recently, very large lakes. She had yet to discover her adventurous self, the one who - just two years later - would fly to the other side of the world and, among other highly adventurous activities, hitchhike across a mountain range.

Eighteen year old Kelsey, in all of her optimism, naivety, and youth, allowed herself be wired by the community around her into a lover of humanity (for which I will be forever thankful). Her number one fear was to settle for an unfulfilled life. Her greatest ambition was to hear the secrets of everyone she met. (That part hasn't changed at all, and I know more than she would have ever hoped.)

She was ignorant in her beliefs that change was easy, that other people would want to change too, and that people would always be around to ponder the big life questions with her. But she dared to see the potential of a better world.

She was ambitious in thought, but not always very practical. For instance, 18 year old Kelsey also once promised to never make a decision based on money, and let's be honest: that's just downright stupid.

I think she thought by now I'd have finally figured out a career (which I haven't), that I'd be finishing up grad school (which I haven't started yet), and ideally that I would have ended poverty by now, and if not today hopefully sometime next week. 

Sometimes I feel like I'm letting her down. Sometimes I feel like that wild ambition has gone to waste, that all those big ideas are sitting dormant now.
I believe she would be critical of how much of a planner I've become, that she'd think I allow too little room for life's surprises. I think she would be excited about my amazing community, but wonder why I am spending so much time sitting down, letting life happen to me instead of throwing myself head first into the chaos.

And so maybe it's okay that 24 year old Kelsey is stuck with a naive, highly idealistic, and crazily optimistic 18 year old Kelsey's voice in my head, pushing me forward just when I'm ready to sit still for awhile.

When I think about the difference between myself today and myself six years ago, the thing 18 year old Kelsey did was dream bigger. She didn't do life much differently than I do, she was just totally determined that a better world was not just possible, that she could help bring it to fruition. I think 18 year old Kelsey would like to reach through the past into today and shake out the skepticism and cynicism that has slowly crept into my being.

And I believe that every now and then it's helpful for me to look at my life through her critical eye, wondering what she would say about the life I've chosen for myself.  And I have hope that one of these days I'll make her proud.

What would your 18 year old self say about the way you're living today? Is that voice helpful to you today?

I can't wait to hear your stories,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Who Am I to Judge?": Why I'm Cautiously Optimistic About Pope Francis I

There’s been a lot of buzz about Pope Francis’ first extensive interview since his election, which was released to the public last week.  As the resident Catholic of Her/Story, I figured I should spend some time reflecting on what the Pope had to say in what proved to be a wave-causing piece.  Before I dive into the article, however, I want to share my initial thoughts about our new Pope.  I’m not gonna lie…I was hesitant when he was first elected to fully embrace him as my spiritual leader.  I knew very little about him (he was no even a blip on my Papal radar…I was pulling for Cardinal O’Malley myself).  Immediately after he was elected, I heard mixed responses from my fellow Catholic-people.  Most of what I knew and heard was good and encouraging: he’s from Argentina and is the first Pope from this side of the Atlantic Ocean, he was a member of the Jesuit order, and while serving as Bishop in Argentina he passed over many of the “perks” of the job to live a simpler, more humble life.  So that was good.  Not so great were rumors that he was ultraconservative, and that he was negatively involved with past political conflicts in Argentina.  Again, though, I knew very little, so I decided to withhold my ultimate opinion until I saw what he did with the position.

Six months later…I’m really starting to like this guy.

He is turning out to be a bit of a rebel-rouser, which I greatly enjoy, and he hit the ground running when it came to implementing some changes to how things are done, especially by the Papal Office itself.  Pope Francis continues to maintain his modest and humble lifestyle, not living in the papal apartments, but in the less elegant guest house.  During Holy Thursday last year, he washed the feet of juvenile inmates…including the feet of a couple of girls, which had never been done before by a Pope.  I won’t get into all of the reasoning behind not washing female feet…just know that this was a significant moment in the history of the Vatican.  He began to rework the Curia to de-centralize power, and then there was his now widely known comment in regards to gays and lesbians: “Who am I to judge?”

And now, with his big interview, he has given me more reason to be optimistic.  He called the Church out for negatively obsessing over gay marriage, abortion, and contraception.  That is not to say that he approves of any of the above (one step at a time, people), but he acknowledges that “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.”  He has been criticized by the more conservative side of the Church for not speaking out about these issues yet.  But the Pope wants to turn the Church away the path that it seems to have found itself barreling down, which makes it appear rigid, uncompromising, inhospitable, and exclusive.  Instead, he wants the Church to put its focus back towards Jesus, and work on healing “wounds” and warming “the hearts of the faithful.”  Whereas Pope Benedict sought to protect the church by solidifying the core of ardent believers, Pope Francis seems to want the Church to be a welcoming community that all believers can feel at home in.  True, there is still a long way to go for the Church to be considered completely inclusive, and I don’t think even under this Pope we will see same-sex marriage accepted, or the ordination of women into the priesthood (although he does say that the role of women needs to be seriously considered, and a stronger theology of women developed).  I truly hate using political terms when discussing Church matters, but I wouldn’t put Pope Francis as a liberal, or a conservative for that matter (his passion for the poor and social justice would not fit the mold).  Instead, he is in the middle, trying to balance traditional doctrine and modern ideals that seem to have only clashed in the past several years.  I remain cautiously optimistic, however, in what Pope Francis could do for the Catholic Church.  If nothing else, he is setting the stage for a future we might not have thought as possible before.

What are your thoughts on the new Pope and what he’s been saying and showing to the world?  Let me know!

Bye for now,
Erin B.

For the English translation of Pope Francis’ interview, following the link to the American Magazine website:

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Living (with Grandma)

You know how sometimes when you go to bed, you think back on your day and what you've accomplished (and haven't accomplished) is radically different than what you were planning in your head that morning?

If you had asked me last August what I was going to do in the next year, I would have said find a great job in Minneapolis, live with a couple stellar roommates, bike all over the city, and drink delicious beer.

I don't have an eloquent synopsis of the last year of my life to offer you. My story doesn't come together like a pretty gift with a perfectly tied bow on top. But most of life isn't like that, anyway.

What happened instead is this: last August I got a call from my parents that my grandma, my dad's mom, was sick. They didn't know what kind of sick or how long she would be sick, but as I didn't have a job situation figured out in Minneapolis yet, I decided to to back to Iowa for a few weeks and live with Grandma.

I continued to apply and interview for jobs in Minneapolis, but after we found out that she, in fact, had cancer and that it was, in fact, terminal, I officially moved to Iowa, found a job in Iowa City, and started learning how to live with Grandma.

One of the first things I realized was that Grandma knew a lot of people in that town. She had a ridiculous amount of visitors. So I taped a sign to the door that went to the garage (we always left the garage open) that said "Come on in!" and we became quite used to people coming into and out of the house regularly. I've also come to decide that it's a great life motto.

Grandma also received tons of cards and phone calls. We couldn't leave the house without coming back to a voicemail on the answering machine.

I've always said that people learn a lot about each other when they move in together, and I found that to be true with Grandma. I made her go to bed at 10:00 (by telling her all the grandmas go to bed at 10) and every night she would tease me about why she shouldn't have to go. I learned that she liked her kitchen a certain way, and even though she was no longer cooking food, I would never be allowed to change it. I saw the way she moved her index finder when she was thinking hard about something, the way she always answered the phone so full of energy, even if she didn't have any, and her love of watching the news three times a day.

I lived with her during the week and my aunt stayed on weekends, so I got to see a lot of friends this past year. I was everywhere from Colorado to Vermont, and dozens of places in between. I also got a massive amount of family time, as my parents visited Grandma and I twice a week, my aunt and uncle lived in town, and my aunt came every weekend.

This summer, my girlfriend, Lisa, came to Iowa and lived with Grandma and I, and I loved to joke about Grandma and her lesbian roommates. But the arrangement was good for everyone. Lisa and I went to six weddings this summer, and a couple days after she moved to Iowa, she, Grandma, my parents, my aunt, and my cousin watched me run the Minneapolis Marathon.

I was asked by a lot of people in the last year why I made the decision to move in with Grandma. The truth is, it just always felt like the right choice. We didn't always get along, but we had a pretty good time together. We laughed a lot. We walked all over the neighborhood together. We got lots of bonding time.

Grandma passed away at the beginning of August and my family and Grandma's friends (and she had a lot of them) mourned the loss of a fantastic woman.

I don't know what I'd be doing right now if I had stayed in Minneapolis, but the detour never felt like the wrong decision. Two weeks after the funeral, Lisa and I moved to Michigan's Upper Peninsula where she'll finish her last year of school. And me? I'm excited for a new adventure.

It's been a year of life and of death. But mostly life.

Thanks for joining me,

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summertime Recap

Hello, loyal Her/Story readers!  It's been a while, hasn't it?  Sorry about that, but summer...ya know?  This post isn't going to be anything real intellectually or spiritually substantial (I gotta ease back into this), but I kind of wanted to tell you all a little about my summer and what shenanigans I managed to tangle myself in.

Me at the JFK Museum
I spent the whole month of June in Boston, and was super poor so I didn't do a whole lot.  What I did do, though, was pretty sweet.  I finished editing manuscript one of my trilogy (there may be a promotional blog post about this later...stay tuned).  This was significant because editing is my LEAST favorite part of the whole book-writing process.  I was able to explore the city, though, and that was great because I hadn't been able to do a ton of that kind of thing during the school year.  I marched in the Pride Parade, which was an experience I will never forget.  I visited museums (I highly recommend visiting the JFK memorial museum and library if you're ever in the area), and spent time with many of my friends, growing closer in my relationships since we were without the overshadowing presence of school stress.  I even went to Maine, which. Is. GORGEOUS.

Glorious Maine
Most of my summer, however, I spent in Iowa with my family.  Circumstances made it necessary for me to fly home for an extended period of time, but I wasn't really upset about it.  I love Boston, and I love all of my friends there.  But I never miss Boston like I miss Iowa (
and when do miss Boston, it's mostly because of my friends there).  When I miss Iowa, I get this dull ache in my chest, like my heart is desperate to be there.  A lot of that has to do with my family (save for a cousin in Texas, pretty much my entire family, immediate and extended, is in Iowa and Nebraska), but some of it really has to do with the state itself and what goes on there.  I love Iowa in the summer.  Near the middle of summer, it gets really beautiful when the fields are green for miles and meets a wide, pure blue sky.  When faced with that, I can't help be feel happy and content.

I loved being home.  I got to watch my little brother rock at varsity baseball (he's going to be a sophomore), and help my sister prepare for her next life  I got to spend time with my mom and my dad, joking, teasing, pranking, and fighting.  I was able to see much of my extended families, through reunions of various sorts.  I hung out with some of my closest friends, and even participated in one of their weddings.  I turned 24!  I also was able to find work, and received a much appreciated scholarship that's going to go a long ways to ease my financial burdens over these next few months. 

All-in-all, my time in Iowa was wonderful, and I'm sad to be leaving.  I'm not sad to be going back to Boston, though.  Like I said, I miss my friends there and am ready to get back into a routine with school.  I have one year left before I'm forced to face the real world, and though I would love to come back to Iowa (or nearby) right away, I'm leaving myself open to whatever opportunities may arise in the near future.  I'm happy with my life, and I'm happy with where I think it's headed.  But, as summer starts drawing to a close, it's a little bittersweet.  I know that I will never be able to repeat several of the experiences I had over these last few months, and that next summer will look very different that this one has.  That's okay,'s part of growing up (or so I've been told).  So, I hope you all had a great summer as well.  I also hope you stay with Her/Story, and continue to read and interact with us.  We love doing this, and as we enter our second year of blogging together, we hope to continue doing this for a while.  Until next time!

Erin B.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Praying for Re-imagined Prayers

Hey, there. It's been awhile since our last post on Her/Story. Don't worry, we didn't go anywhere. We were just taking a little summer break, as everyone should. But we are rejuvenated and ready to share stories.

I want to spend a little time reflecting on prayer. If you consider yourself a person of faith (or not) I'm hoping that you'll spend a few minutes with me as I pour out some of my thoughts and feelings about prayer. I remember having a friend ask me a few years ago to write a blog post about my "theology" of prayer. I was 19 at the time and didn't really give the post a whole lot of thought. My opinion was something to the affect of, "Yeah, prayer is good, but we needn't always rely so much on it/pray for dumb, unrealistic things." I've matured a lot since then, and now being in Divinity school and having to do a lot more praying to get me through the chaos that is the academy, coupled with other young adult troubles/worries, I want to revisit my thoughts on prayer.

I want to be clear from the start that I do believe in the power of prayer. Unexplainable and extraordinary things happen every day, which some folks credit to God answering their prayers. I'm not trying to take that spiritual comfort away from anyone. But I do think there is merit to probing our assumptions about prayer and why it's [supposedly] a key marker of what makes a "faithful" person. I also think that generally there's a lot of bad theology floating around out there and when our prayers don't get answered, people tend to get angry with God and take it out on the church. There are a lot of ways to pray, and many kinds of prayer, but I want to talk specifically about the kind that goes on in Christian churches/circles as it relates to assumptions about who God is and what God does. I'm not claiming to have an ultimate authority on the subject, but in my experience prayer isn't as simple as I once thought. So, let's unpack some things.

For me, prayer hasn't been a thing I could easily or actively engage in because I was thinking about it in ways that made me very uncomfortable. Any time I imagined praying, I felt rigid and fake because in my head (and probably in the heads of many other folks) prayer has been conceived a linear pattern of rituals, words or actions that aren't easily connectable. I say 'easily' here because I personally do find a lot of beauty, comfort and hope in the ancient prayers of the Christian church, but I know that not everyone is down for high-church, scripted prayers. But even when we Protestants or low-church folk talk of "praying what's on our hearts" there's enormous pressure to say the right things in the right way even if no one acknowledges that pressure. If you've ever been asked to pray over a meal or give a reading at someone's celebration/funeral, you might know what I'm talking about. As much as we might not want to admit, we hang onto those words and hope they fill the void(s) in our lives and hearts. Knowing all of that, I felt like a phony pray-er because I couldn't embody the words I was saying that were supposed to mean something.

As a post-evangelical-ish person, one of the things I could never stand about being in that kind of environment was having people constantly say to me, "I'll be praying for you" whenever I wasn't 100%. It wasn't that I didn't like that people were thinking about me...but it was the way they said it that made me feel ashamed or in need of pity. I'm not a person who likes to admit I need help very often, so the last thing I want is a bunch of folks feeling sorry for me, fasting, and begging God to help me. It also doesn't actually do anything practical to help...

If I'm being honest here, prayer has become a cliche. Or rather, the PERCEPTION of prayer is cliche. It's become a way of saying, "I'm really sorry for what's happening, but instead of doing something about it, I'll just think optimistically that it will get better." That may or may not be the sentiment that all folks have when they talk about praying, but it's certainly how it sounds in my ears about 80% of the time.

I'm a firm believer that there's no one way to pray, but what if we change the way we think about prayer and what it means to pray?

What if the image of prayer that came to mind is not one of asking and receiving? What if our understanding of prayer was not of being a "warrior" on the defense against evil or standing on the battle fields? What would happen if we stop asking so much of God, or any other higher power, so to not set ourselves up for failure when the outcome of our wishes is not what we thought it would be?

Recently I was driving by a church that had a sign out front that read: "If you pray, you need not worry. If still worried, then pray."

Is this what having faith means? What does this imply about prayer, praying, and how we live our lives? Has our relationship with divine-creator God been reduced to a spiritual transaction? Is prayer a commodity for feeding God's ego, or maybe our own?

I understand this ideology often comes from a particular reading of Matthew 6:25-34, and to an extent, yes, we should not be consumed with worry to the point that we cannot live a full life. But this theological view of prayer and what it means to be a "faithful" person is precisely what I find troubling as I look at the prospect of a future in ministry. -- If I pray a little harder I won't have to worry about paying rent? Or being a statistic of the 1 in 4 women who are sexually assaulted in their lifetime? Or whether there will be justice given to my neighbors experiencing oppression at the hands of the government and/or society? Or for the health and well-being of those I love? ... Does worry mean lack of faithfulness?

I sincerely hope not.

What this comes down to is a question of God's sovereignty versus human free will and agency over our own actions. This debate has captivated Christian thought for centuries. However, I'm not about to dive into that in this post. I'll save it for a constructive theology paper.

What I will say is that for a lot of people, being worried about things can be a motivator. It can also be a stressor that can be disastrous to our health, which is what I think the passage in Matthew is getting at. I don't think it means a person who worries lacks faith. Surely prayer is important. But maybe the act of praying can have an influence on the way in which we see our worry. Maybe acknowledging our worry can compel us to act.

This summer I was feeling bored at work and decided to browse Craigslist. I know what you might be thinking... But for a poor grad student, Craigslist is a treasure trove of things I wouldn't normally be able to afford brand new in a retail store. So whatevs. On this particular day, I decided I was going to buy a guitar. I don't really know why, but I've always wanted to learn to play. And since I'm living in Nashville, it seemed like a good enough idea. I found a barely used Fender acoustic guitar with a chord book, unopened pack of strings, picks, tuner, capo and soft gig bag for $75. Jackpot.

I've been teaching myself to play that guitar, and damnit, I love it. I'm getting better at switching between chords and things, and can sort of play a number of praise band songs of which I happen to have the tabs for. I was getting nostalgic for my days on the worship music scene; judge me.

But as I was strumming a very simple version of Amazing Grace one rainy afternoon, a very strong and powerful energy took hold of my body. I ignored all pain and numbness in my fingertips and simply sang and played while the candle light flickered against the foggy, rain-splashed window of my living room. I was crying. And I was praying.

At the time I was thinking about my future and my calling to serve in ministry. As I experienced this moment, I felt God saying to me that it's ok to be unsure. My questions about ordination in the United Methodist Church would be answered in time, and my heart would lead me to a place where my gifts could be utilized and graciously received. I felt calm. I felt less anxious about my upcoming year in seminary and that, in time, I would find my way.

I tell that story because after that moment, my perspective about prayer changed forever.

I'm convinced prayer isn't always about sitting in church, saying things in unison, hoping things will change. Nor is prayer only when we're talking to God before bed, or in the shower, or when you're in desperate need of something. Prayer is not a transaction. Prayer is a mindset that carries action and a way of embodying the Spirit.

We have the ability to pray with our bodies, minds and hearts in ways that don't have to look like the static, linear ways we've always known. It's when we are in full communion with God and with others that prayer can take on a whole new life of its own with dynamic meaning and powerful resonance. Prayer, coupled with faith and not a lack thereof, is what motivates us to respond in times of uncertainty. What I felt was a physiological and spiritual release during and post-prayer that I can only attribute to being in a certain state or consciousness, which I hardly experience when I'm asked to pray over a meal or during the 'joys and concerns' portion of a church service.

This doesn't mean I think prayer is only a meditative practice which lacks the ability to communicate struggles, fears, doubts, joys and praises. Quite the contrary. Prayer can do all of those things. What I disagree with is the notion that prayer fixes all our problems, and once we utter some words we no longer have control... Or that praying hard and often will be a cure-all for chaos. I think prayer is beautiful, liberating and hope-filled in so many ways...but not in the ways I normally hear prayer spoken of. The act of praying has the ability to comfort, heal and deliver, which allows us to see God's activity and presence in answering what's on our hearts and minds. (Note that I didn't say God is answering all prayers in the way we want... Nor do I think God is some meany-head who just chooses to ignore prayers.)

Since that afternoon, instead of just sitting around hoping my anxiety would go away on its own, I've been reaching out to people, talking, and listening hard. I'm confident that I will "find my way", but I've been seeking the guidance of the professors, friends and mentors to help me discern my future. Sitting, playing and praying that afternoon as energized and motivated me to make decisions and take initiative in a way I probably wouldn't have done if I was just going through the motions of school, work, sleep, repeat.

I think it's time we see how prayer, as an activity and not simply an action, can open new doors and possibilities of how to be in fuller presence and relationship with God and neighbor. I know so many people who think prayer is useless because the way it has been conceived is of talking to thin air, or in stuffy pews, or as a condescending remark on a pass-by. Prayer should be opening our eyes to God's presence and vision of justice. Prayer should be illuminating paths for community and relationship building. Prayer should be full of dynamic energy that inspires us to act, for ourselves and with (not on behalf of) others.

Prayer in and of itself is not a marker of what makes the most faithful person. Rather, prayer helps us envision what faith means lived in the world.

Thanks for listening,
Erin G.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Pain of Love...And Why We Want It So Much

Feel free to listen to this before, during, or after you read this post.  It's just a good old-fashioned love song :)
I struggled to think of something to write for this week’s post.  Seriously, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t come up with something that would make a significant piece that would be worth writing...let alone reading.  But then, as I lay on my couch watching 27 Dresses it struck me…I could write about love.  I’ve written about love before, but that was more about loving everyone in a way that would keep us from being assholes to each other.  This time, I want to write about the one-on-one love (mostly romantic, though I am not discounting friendships and familial love by any means) that both fascinates and terrifies us…that drives us towards committing ourselves (whether for the rest of our lives, or for just the present moment) to another person.  I am writing this as someone who has never actually been in love, but has observed it enough to have some sort of understanding of how it works…I think. 

Love has actually been on my mind for a while now.  I have quite a few friends who are getting married, engaged, in serious relationships, or have reached a point in their lives where they are ready to intentionally search for a love in a way they hadn’t been before.  I’ve also been watching a lot of romantic comedies lately (I am currently unemployed and have a lot of time on my hands).  Now, I know that Hollywood’s depiction of love and romance is not always right…and not always healthy…but I think there is some truth in what is portrayed, at least as far as reflecting society’s obsession with love and finding love.  We sing about love, we write about love, we read about love, and we flock to see love portrayed on the big screen in various scenarios.  Love makes us laugh, cry, hurt, and feel more joy than we probably ever thought possible. 

Love can be impossible.
Sometimes, we scoff at love because we don’t want to seem squishy and sappy (as I write this, I find myself wincing at some of the sappiness that is leaking through…but we plunge ahead!).  We harden ourselves to it because our world is sometimes so cynical, there seems to be no room in it for love or the desire and hope for love.  We can have the wrong ideas and expectations of love, thinking that it’s supposed to be this force that makes us happy all the time, every day.  The reality, though, is that real love is oftentimes one of the most painful things we can ever experience.  Love is terrifying.  It makes us vulnerable and opens us up to a special kind of hurt that only that person who we give our love to is capable of inflicting on us.  We face heartbreak, hopelessness…and outright rejection.  Love can make you want to curl up into a little ball and never face the world again.  It can make you want to lock away your heart and never give it away, so that you never have to feel that kind of pain.
Complicated: Check.  Scary: Check.  Doesn't Always Go the Way You Hope: Double Check
For all the pain love can make us suffer, however, we still obsess over it.  As mentioned before, I just finished watching 27 Dresses before sitting down to write this post.  I love that movie for several reasons, but one reason is because it shows that sometimes you find love where you weren’t looking for it.  Love can be complicated, and I always appreciate movies that portray this.  I also watched Love Actually for the first time, and, well, I loved it (teehee).  I liked that it showed different kinds of love…and that not every couple ended up living happily ever after.  It’s closer to real life.  While I do love the stories where the couples overcome every obstacle to be together (I’m a hopeless romantic at heart), I recognize that that is not always the case.  Love can be gritty…and sometimes it can be hopeless.  Another movie I watched that reflects this is My Best Friend’s Wedding.  Sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you wish it, your love is not always returned and it does not always win.  It’s sometimes a harsh reality, but it doesn’t mean you give up on love.  You just can’t let the heartbreak stop the rest of your life from continuing on. 
Love isn't always where you think it will be.
Ultimately, though, love and being able to love is worth fighting for.  I don’t think any group of people demonstrates this better than the LGBTQ community.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to walk in the Boston Pride parade not that long ago, not as a member of the community myself, but as an ally who believes no one should have the authority to tell someone who they can love and what kind of person they’re “supposed” to be.  I think it is an amazing testament to the importance of love that people are willing to fight so hard for their love to be acknowledged as equally important and as worthwhile as others’.  I think we could all learn something from the LGBTQ community about the importance and commitment of love…because I think the rest of us too often take advantage of love and too easily throw it away.

Despite all of the pain and fear that love can throw into our lives, however, it is a truly beautiful thing.  To truly find love is to not settle for the shallow, feel-good love that ends when the honeymoon phase is over, but to strive for the kind of love that causes us nearly as much pain as joy, that gives us the courage to fight to keep it, to throw all of our cards in on the person we think we can make a real life with.  If you are lucky enough to find this kind of love, the love that meets the test of time, the kind of love where you lay everything you are out in the open for the other person to see, the kind of love you are willing to fight and work for…then you are the reason the rest of us keep hoping, keeping searching, and keep risking the pain on the off chance that we’ll also find that joy.  Love is never neat and clean, and it shouldn’t be.  That much emotion, that much dedication, should be something that challenges us every day and makes us grow as individuals and as couples.  I am not in love, and don’t think I can honestly say I have ever been in love…but it is something I hope for, and will continue to hope for.  Not everyone feels the same as I do, and that’s okay.  Love can come in all shapes and sizes, and people might not always want to find romantic love.  But I think it is one of our greatest capabilities as human beings, and despite what real life often shows me, I will always be secretly sappy and I will always cheer for, and hope for, love.              

A little treat for all those hopeless romantics out there (like me)...and because I watched this movie this week as well :)
With love,
Erin B.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Family/Story: Claiming a Hybrid Identity

When was the last time you filled out a form or application and were asked to identify as a particular race or ethnicity? Do you remember your answer and, depending on the format, the categories/boxes that were available to be checked? What about the 'Other' category? What does 'Other' mean anyway?

More importantly, why does that matter?

Until taking a class in my (recently completed) first year of seminary, I really didn't think a whole lot about those questions. And why should I? After all, checking a box doesn't actually define who we are... Or does it?

Few people know this about me (and you certainly wouldn't guess it by looking at me) but I was born & grew up in the Caribbean for a little while and was one of few white children in my pre-K/Kindergarten classes. At that time, I probably wasn't aware that differences in skin color meant anything...because they shouldn't...but 5 year old Erin was just a kid, doing what kids do, and didn't care that my white skin turned red in the sun and other kids' skin didn't noticeably change color.

But when I moved to Iowa, everyone looked like me... But I knew I was also not quite like my classmates. My last name is Guzman and that's not really common in Iowa, especially not in my small town where so many families are related.

When I took my first standardized test as a 1st grader, I came across the 'Race & Ethnicity' question. I remember not understanding what they were asking of me, so I confronted my teacher with what box to check. I knew that something about me was different, but asking me to "identify as something"did not compute. After a moment of consideration my teacher told me to check 'White/Caucasian.' --First grade Erin could not have anticipated what the repercussions of filling in that bubble would mean nearly 20 years later.

#RealTalk: Seminary is/has been really great, but it also has the ability to mess things up for you/your routine. Some would argue that's a good thing -- dis/rupt the hab/it YAH! Others will tell you that's entirely undesirable, especially when trying to discern a laundry list of things to help prepare you for your future. For me, it's both and... In my Pastoral Care & Theology class, we were asked to create a genogram (an overly detailed family tree) to examine the ways in which our families have shaped who we are as people/pastoral care givers. I knew the project was going to be hard... What I didn't expect to discover was that I had been living the majority of my life under some false impressions.

Here's what I learned:

American (left) - Mexican (right)  borderland
My grandfather grew up in Southern Texas, basically in Mexico. In the 1920s Mexicans experienced a great deal of discrimination based on how they look (GEE, THERE'S A HUGE SURPRISE!). My grandfather, having grown up in the wake of such treatment, resisted/tried to protect his family from further discrimination by saying he was Native American rather than Mexican. This defense mechanism is not exclusive to my family, but is a common way of identifying oneself as part of the "dominant group"of a given society to avoid negative treatment. Today, many Mexican-Americans refer to themselves as "white" rather than fully embrace their heritage for a variety of reasons, one of which is self-preservation. This disassociation with our Mexican roots was subsequently passed on through our family for a variety of other reasons related to their circumstances and into my naive self-perception.

It wasn't until I interviewed my aunt that I made a discovery: I'm a 1/4 Mexican.

As I began putting these threads together, I felt all sorts of confused and hurt. Why had my dad not told me the truth in 6th grade when I did that project about his ancestry? Why had no one acknowledged the fact that all of my aunts and uncles have significantly darker skin than other folks in the family? Why did I somehow not find offense in the "dirty-Mexican" jokes that spread like wildfire through my hometown whenever migrant workers came in from working in the cornfields? I also felt an enormous urge to reconnect with this part of my heritage. Yet, because I've been immersed in "white culture" for the majority of my life, how genuine of an effort would it be to actually reclaim this identity? Because I don't "look the part" would I ever be able to truly identify with this part of me that is now inescapable?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Weight/Story: Rebuilding a Broken Relationship

This post is geared primarily at women, who have likely been sent similar messages about their bodies as I have. I fully acknowledge that men also have absurd body standards, but as I have no experience being a man, this post is directed at women. While writing this post I felt myself touching the edges of race and class, knowing that beauty standards differ across social groups, and so I feel that it's important to also note that my experience is that of a white, middle class woman, and many of my encounters in life are a reflection of those identities. I believe the way we've been socialized and the experiences we've had greatly impact us, and the issue below is absolutely representative of that.

There is a weight problem in this country and I'm not talking about obesity. It's everywhere I go, in every show and movie I watch. It's taunting me, talking behind my back, and toying with my emotions every chance it gets. The obsession with a single woman's body type, a certain, specific, often unattainable body type, is running rampant everywhere I look and it has got to stop.

My body and I have had a broken relationship for an entire decade. Let me be clear, I've never been very overweight. The battle has been mainly internal, but at times it has been absolutely all consuming.

Sometimes this problem manifests itself in intense loathing, other times it's a subtle choice to avoid and ignore my own body and its needs. As I have eluded to in the past, I spent a chunk of time in high school starving myself, attempting to become someone I'm not, struggling to fit myself into a tiny box that no one should ever be trapped in.

When I gave up this harmful behavior, I went to the other extreme. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror and began eating food without thought, scared I would once again fall into the trap of being consumed by the amount or kind of food I was putting into my body. I refused to listen to my body tell me it was hungry, tell me it was full, or even tell me when it enjoyed the food I was eating.

It felt like a trade off. Either I cared about my body and what I ate, became obsessed with controlling my diet and exercise, or I had to ignore my body completely. For awhile, I chose the latter, believing that avoiding part of myself would allow me to regain the things I lost during my stint with anorexia - a social life and the ability to focus on something besides food, exercise, and my weight.

Mark Parisi Cartoon
I lived that way for many years, graduating from both high school and college with this attitude. Finally, my perspective began to change right after college when I lived with three women who loved food for how it tasted, for what it did for their bodies, and for the energy it gave them. Slowly my mindset changed and I began seeing food differently. At some point in this journey, I began enjoying food again. I learned how to cook food I like to eat. I learned how to eat food that would make my body feel better. I learned that food is a tool that my body uses to help maintain an active lifestyle.

After 10 years of battling my own body, I can finally say I (mostly) like my body. I like how it looks, I like what it does for me, I like living in it. I've (again, mostly) stopped caring that my body isn't the ideal image of beauty. I've started putting health before the attempt to conform to someone else's standards.

But this isn't exactly a happy ending.

Call it a first world problem (and if you've missed out on this ironic way of talking about problems, just click on the link and get with the times!!), but I've found it oddly unsatisfying to be happy with my body. After a decade frustration, I now find myself wondering what all the fuss was about. Why in the world did I spend my entire teenage life and my early twenties consumed with this superficial quest?
In fact, I would absolutely call this weight obsession a first world problem. First world, as in it disproportionately impacts people who have time and energy (and often money) to put into attaining (or attempting to attain) a particular figure. People who have easy access to the media and feel pressured to look like the people they see in it. I know with absolute confidence that I'm not alone in my tendency to be consumed by body image issues. This problem has spread throughout first world countries (and beyond), sucking our time, our energy, and our happiness.

Let me be clear that I truly believe that taking care of our bodies is essential for living a good life. But where we go wrong is when we mistake slender figures as a sign of health. While being thin can absolutely be healthy for some, others must starve themselves (which is awfully unhealthy) to achieve these same standards.

We've forgotten that our bodies are all different. We've forgotten that diversity is a beautiful thing, that everyone looking the same, weighing the same, would be boring as hell.

And, as a result, we end up trying to attain this one precise figure, one that for a lot of people just isn't sustainable, life giving, or even fulfilling.

This attitude is absolutely everywhere I turn. Have you ever listened to people after they finish a big meal? What words come out of their mouths? "I shouldn't have eaten all that food." "Well, I'm going to have to go work that off." "Why did you make me eat all of that?" Or the even more unhealthy language, "I'm going to have to skip dinner for a week now."

We've been taught that our bodies don't look like they should and it leaves us feeling constantly guilty for enjoying food. Rather than focusing on how our bodies can be healthy so they work efficiently and effectively, we are overwhelmed with media images of the same thin figure over and over and over. We hear a constant chatter about weight all around us, we hear (thin) people talking about how fat they are, we see people judging others solely on the basis of their weight.

As Abercrombie showed us this month, we've been taught that to have a certain body type is to be happy, cool, to be popular, and to have it all.

But for those of us to whom a model's figure doesn't come naturally, how can we possibly have it all if we're not taking care of our bodies?

So I ask you: what is health? How do you know when you're healthy? How much effort have you put into attempting to achieve the perfect body? Do you struggle to find the balance between treating your body well and becoming consumed with food, exercise, etc.? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Iron Man 3 and How to Survive Graduate School Finals

I just finished finals, which consisted for two fifteenish page papers, two ten page papers, and two classes.  Needless to say, I have very little to offer in the intellect department this week, but I wanted to post something anyway as a kind of brain detox.  So between this and countless episodes of Boy Meets World, I am letting my brain relax a little bit and not think about the apocalyptic components of Biblical texts and about how people in Victorian America adapted the Gothic style of architecture to Protestant values so it could become a part of their domestic Christianity.  I got mini-headache just typing that sentence.  Anyway, the following post is a two-parter, and neither section has really anything to do with the other.  Why?  Because I said so, that’s why.  The first part is a short little review of Iron Man 3.  It’s short because I can’t make it long without giving away spoilers, and it’s still so new that I am less confident that everyone has seen it.  The second part of this post is a survival guide of sorts.  It’s a list of things to remember/do in order to survive graduate school finals (though most of the list could be applied to any level of finals-taking-torment).  So, let us begin.

Part One: Iron Man 3 Review

I’m not going to lie…I freaking loved this movie.  I’ve heard that it’s been getting kind of mixed reviews, but I was blown away by it.  Not only was it epic, action-packed, with a bit of romance, but it was also HILARIOUS!  There are so many zingers in this movie (that Robert Downey Jr. delivers perfectly, by the way), that I was laughing about as much as I was thinking, “Holy shit, that’s awesome!” (in regards to explosive fight scenes, high-tech badassness, and Downey Jr. getting thrown into various walls).
The movie has a different feel to it than the first two and The Avengers.  Tony Stark is dealing with a lot of deep, personal stuff throughout the whole thing, and I think he is actually in the suit less than the first two (but when he is in the suit, epicness ensues).  Not only does Tony have to deal with his own issues, but he has to balance being a superhero with his relationship with Pepper Potts, as well as track down an enemy he doesn’t even know where to begin to find.  Ben Kingsley as the villain of the movie, the Mandarin, is wonderful, and he’s a bad guy whose terror lies in what he represents…fear in something that you don’t fully understand and can’t know what to expect from.  The gadgets that Tony has in this movie are also really, really cool.  They range from an electrified garden-glove, to the seemingly boundary-less J.A.R.V.I.S. we have all come to know and love.  And of course, there is the Hall of Armor, displaying all of the previous models of the suit from the first two Iron Man movies as well as The Avengers, which is just plain nostalgic-cool. 

There is a lot of symbolism in this movie, playing into the deeper issues for the characters.  Again, I can’t really go into detail without giving away significant moments in the movie, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one.  Overall, though, Iron Man 3 is less “look at all of the neat stuff I can do because I’m a superhero” and more “what are some of the consequences of this hero-stuff?”  Granted, I think The Avengers is still the best movie Marvel has put out so far, but really, how do you beat something that’s pretty much every Marvel movie (literally) rolled into one sweet package?  There are also a lot of references in Iron Man 3 to the events of The Avengers (some of those events being the cause of Tony’s inner turmoil), so it’s a really smooth transition between the films and continuation of the overarching storyline shared by all of these movies of a larger universe with extraordinary individuals existing within it.  In summary, go see Iron Man 3, or don’t be cool.

Part II: Erin B.’s Tips to Surviving Graduate School Finals (Or Other Levels of Finals-Taking-Torment)

1.      Plan ahead.  I know, I know, you’ve heard it before, and it’s easier said than done, but seriously…if you are staring down a week in which you have more than forty pages of paper-writing due, you need to plan that week out.  There are only so many hours in a day, and only so much time you can consecutively spend staring at a computer screen before your eyes cross or you pass out.

2.      Go where you can be productive.  If, when studying at home, you are at risk of easily giving into temptation and watching four episodes of Boy Meets World back-to-back as a “study break,” then you need to get the hell out of your house.  Personally, I found I could put up a better fight surrounded by my studious peers who could make me feel guilty enough to actually focus on my work.

3.      Caffeine, caffeine, caffeine.  This one is pretty self-explanatory.  If you try to avoid drinking caffeinated anything in your everyday life, good for you…but all bets are off during finals.

4.      Nap in public places.  If you need a nap, I suggest taking one in the library lobby or somewhere equally accessible to anybody.  Why?  Because then you won’t be tempted to keep sleeping after your 20 minutes are up.  Every time I try to take just a 30 minute nap at home, I’m lucky to be up after two hours.  Avoid naps where no one can find you.

5.      Don’t let your social life die.  This one may surprise some people, because it might make more sense if I said do let your social life die.  But no, your social life doesn’t have to die, it just has to get mono and not make out or swap water bottles with anyone for a little while.  Interacting with people is fine, healthy even, so that you don’t become a zombie-shut-in who forgets how to actually talk out-loud.

6.      Watch what you eat.  Try to consume a least one thing during the day that isn’t going to leave you hyped-up on sugar and caffeine.  Remember, your body still has to be able to function once the week is over.

7.      Don’t listen to the Les Miserables soundtrack while trying to write a paper.  Just don’t.

8.      Protect your space.  If there are undergrads filling up the space in your library, don’t feed them or they’ll come back.

9.      Take dance party study breaks.  Just do.

10.  All’s fair in love and war…and finals week.  Finals weeks are not like any other time of the year, so don’t think that you will be able to function like they are.  Writing quality can plummet, friends can turn into enemies, and harmless undergrads can seem like the most annoying things in the world.  But no worries…it will all balance back out once that final exam or paper is done.                    

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Souls and Stories: Identity, Batman and Doctor Who

I read comic books. So far they have not been mentioned on this blog and thus far a cisgendered male has not written here either, so today I break two molds and hope to begin a discussion on identity - who we are, how we define ourselves, how others define us, and what all that means, if anything. But bear with me, because to get started we have to talk about comic books. When I was in grad school I rekindled my childhood love for superheroes by reading Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl, Nightwing, Red Robin, and every other comic featuring the Batfamily. The mythology found in comics, the ethical struggles that oscillate between nihilism and teleology, the question of evil and the hope of a better future mirrored much of my seminary education; comics were just more fun to read than Augustine’s Confessions. I was never much of a Superman person simply because we all know that in a fight Batman would win, every time. Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl et al. have had better writers, artists, story lines, movies, along with the best villains in comics, not to mention the GLAAD award wining lesbian hero, Batwoman, aka Kate Kane, and the first openly trans person in mainline comics (spoilers though, it was in the recent Batgirl 19, you’ll have to read it yourself).

However, it has been Superman’s identities as Clark Kent and Superman that have been philosophized over, and I blame Kill Bill 2 for popularizing that. 
What sets Superman apart is the alter ego that according to Bill all other heroes have. Batman is really Bruce Wayne. In Bill’s line of thought it is Bruce that becomes Batman when he puts on the costume, yet underneath it all he is still Bruce. Superman, on the other hand, is always Superman and the costume that he wears is that of Clark Kent, the bumbling, lacking confidence and somewhat unreliable journalist. Dressing like a human with a suit and tie (without as much class as JT mind you) is the costume that covers Superman. Bill assumes that there is within us and Superman a self, an identity that is lasting, something that makes us us, something that we do not become but are born with. Even if we sometimes wear a cape and tights with our underwear on the outside to cover our identity up, the core of our identity remains nevertheless.

I took a lot of philosophy and religion classes in college and suffice it to say, college ruined my life. The seemingly simple realties of existence were no longer as effortless to understand as they had once been; even the complexities of our existence that I had learned to live with through my adolescence in Iowa were now more convoluted than I imagined.

I remember learning the phrase, “Cogito ergo sum”, I think, therefore, I am. My professor, who came to class with neat and combed hair that became more and more uncouth with each new thought said to us, “I am a thinking thing, a thing that thinks, but I cannot know that you think and you cannot know I think. I think, I am, you, I’m not so sure about.”

I think, and so I am, you think, I assume, and so you are. But what exactly are we? What is this I; who are you? Does Bruce Wayne become Batman when he changes clothes, or through the course of his life has Bruce transitioned into Batman and is only, truly, himself when fighting crime on the streets of Gotham? Is there a core to our being, some immutable essence to us that makes us us or is the self the result of approximately 100 trillion cells functioning together while electrons fire to and fro, connecting synapses that create an illusion of consciousness and a semblance of the self?

You may have noticed that most paragraphs have began with “I” statements, “I read”, “I took”, “I remember”, and “I think” and if you’ve made it this far I hope you are wondering who does Nate think he is? How dare he write in such a self aggrandizing and narcissistic style on Her/Story about comic books and Kill Bill! Well, I am a straight, white, middle-class, United Methodist pastor currently living in Fairfield, Iowa. I have two sisters, one older and one younger making me the middle child, not only of siblings but of generations, found in the space between but also within generations x and y. Currently I have two cats, even though I had dogs as a kid. I grew up with both of my biological parents and they are still living, though none of my grandparents are. I am in a loving and life-giving relationship that is, for now, long distance. I like camping and I think manicures feel great. Whenever I shave I use a preshave oil and a badger brush to apply shaving cream followed by a moisturizer under eye cream because I like how it makes me feel and look. Whiskey may be my favorite drink, especially ryes, but when I go out to a bar I usually get a Guinness. Most days I go to the gym. My Myers Briggs personality type is INFJ. I am a right handed and a progressive, feminist, liberation theologian with an appreciation of queer theory that reads comic books, but you already knew that. I play video games from time to time and care more than a person in their late twenties probably should about their social media presence. These attributes point to aspects of my personality and identity, yet on their own, none of them makes me me. Some of these traits are shared with many other persons, others are not. In the realm of personality typing INFJ is the least common, shared by maybe 5% of humanity, yet within this 5% exists innumerable possibilities of personality and definitions of identity. Whatever I am, however my identity is found and developed, both through my own self-definition and the ways that others define me, is found in the totality of these, for lack of a better word, things.

All of these things mean something to me, and you, regardless of whether you share a trait or attribute with me or not, you understand the word as a representation of said thing. Our understandings, however similar, may be different. Take the word, “Queer.” In an essay on queer theory Annamarie Jagose wrote, “If a potentially infinite coalition of sexual identities, practices, discourses and sites might be identified as queer, what it betokens is no so much liberal pluralism as a negotiation of the very concept of identity itself...queer is less an identity than a critique of identity.” (emphasis was the authors). For myself, queer is a continual critique of what I understand to be normative, a way of embracing myself as a masculine and feminine person while remembering that masculine and feminine are socially constructed. For others this may not be the case and probably isn’t. Some persons that claim queer for themselves my not see my life as queer at all. My identity is not the same as it is for others that identify as queer, especially as I understand myself to be a cisgendered male that is attracted to females.

For example, contrast my identity and understanding of queer with that of Jack Halberstrom.
Jack is a professor of English and she is also the director of the Center for Feminist Research at USC. He teaches courses in queer studies, gender theory, literature, art, film and has written many books, recently on “Gaga Feminism”. Now, I switched back and forth between the pronouns “she” and “he” originally for Jack, but from now on Jack will be he because as he said in an interview, “You know, people are kind of calling me he nowadays. I’m going with that.” While Jack goes with he, he is also known by a few folks as Judith, others call him Jude and Jack has found comfort in the mixing of names, pronouns and identities, allowing them to be what they are. Jack identifies himself as butch but readily admits that when he started using the term in the 1990’s it meant something to him that it may not mean to people now. There are assumptions about “butch” that seem to point to some masculine ideal, yet an ideal creates a normative classification where there is one real butch identity at the center with other butches on the margins only attempting to be truly butch. The idea and identity of butch has been colonized for some, though for Jack butch is a term and idea without a center. This is similar to Jack’s gender identity. Jack calls himself a “blanket” saying that he is blank in terms of gender and just added the “et” to it. Jack’s queer identity if found in the space between Judith and Jack, where masculinity and femininity meet and overlap, separate and dance together in whatever ways he wants them to and whatever ways feel right and speak to his identity at that moment in time and space. There are some similarities between Jack and myself, yet we are nevertheless different when it comes to our understanding of what it means to act on our queer identities. Jack sums up why this is ok, but still complicated, “Nobody should accept one standard way of saying things, but I want this to be clear too, that at the same time you can’t have endless varieties of people naming themselves, we do live in a world of categories. Some of these categories have contemporary currency and some don’t.”

It has almost become cliche in postmodern conversations of identity to view ourselves as the sum of our social relationships and to use these relationships to define ourselves in such a way that does not present one stand way of saying things. We are the culmination of our DNA combined with the interactions we have had, a mix of nature and nurture, we are the persons and situations that we have loved, hated and felt indifferent about. Who we are can be understood through the lenses of our socio-economic status, gender, sexuality, education, ethnicity, and so on. For me, it is jarringly peaceful to realize that I have been, and continually am, shaped and developed by forces beyond myself. I am, whatever I am, becoming who I am and will be through this ever growing sum of social relationships. Identity, it seems, is about becoming, developing and changing.

But what of the narrator of our story, the internal editor that seeks to make sense of our social relationships, that attempts to integrate the new experiences of who we are becoming with who we have been? What is it that creates continuity and stability in this ever changing and ever becoming self? To make sense of this I have to consult the Doctor.

Doctor Who has been around for 50 years now and the Doctor has lived through a number of transitions and changes through the centuries of his life. The Doctor’s body changes with every new incarnation, as does the Doctor’s style and personality. My favorite Doctor is 11 and I am partial to Amy and Rory as the best companions ever, plus, bow ties are cool.
Throughout all of the incarnations, the various changes, the transitions from being known for wearing a long and multicolored scarf to an overcoat with a suit and chuck taylors to bow ties and a fez, something of the Doctor has remained constant. The Doctor is always the Doctor. In the recent episode, “The Rings of Akhenaten” this continuity through change was witnessed. The Doctor, and his new mysterious companion Clara Oswin Oswald, save a young girl from a Sun that is worshiped as a God. The “old God” sometimes called “grandfather” feeds on the souls of others, which in this episode means their stories. It is our stories, our memories, that shape us and make us who we are.

Our identity, the essence of who we are, may be found in who we have been, the stories that shape us, and all of the experiences that bring us to where we find ourselves now. It is the story of the Doctor, the stories of those hundreds of years and adventures that has made the Doctor who he his and the memory of these stories, the chapters that keep getting added, create and continue his ever evolving identity and soul.

We all have a unique story to tell, and in it we come to know our ever becoming identity. I may not know who I am, but I know who I have been and I have a sense of what I want to become, what stories I want to live. Memory can be a fickle thing, but without it, who would we be?

So who are you? What story will you tell and how will your soul, that spirit of you (that I still believe in even if I can never exactly say what that ineffable essence is) that creates continuities between all your stories, edit, revise, and become who you are invited to be?


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