Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What is a Masters Student? A Photo Essay

I have been meaning to finish and post a "Welcome to Chicago!" post, but alas; that hasn't happened yet. Instead, for now I will share with you the answer to the above question: what is a masters student? The following photo essay explores what I have learned about grad school life in the past 24 hours. In other words: I took these pictures just for you so you could hear all about my first day in grad school. 

1) Grad students wear "sexy librarian" and/or "stylish school-marm" clothes.
First day of school! First day of school!

2) Grad students make new friends with whom to take weird selfies.
Oh heeeyyyyyy

3) Grad students read a lot--specifically of Freud. But he is creepy, so grad students have to draw a new face on a sticky note so that Freud doesn't just keep staring at you when you need a break. Grad students are also distracting to each other and will just talk in the library for an hour before lecture about Freud and how terrible he is, only reading 6 pages of actual Freud.
Still less creepy than the real Freud
4) Grad students get to be the only person to raise their hand when your professor asks if anyone in the program reads Russian. (No picture . . . I was in lecture!)

5) Grad students lose their student ID card on the first day of class and have to pay $20 they don't have for a new one. #PocketSexismIsReal
When you realize all (read: your ID card) is lost

6) Grad students wear lucky Shakespeare socks.
Oh, hey there, Will

7) Did I mention that grad students read A LOT? Like, a lot a lot? Like this entire book in one day?
I found a great study spot int he library

8) During said reading, grad students make snarky and sometimes enlightening comments in the margins
This about sums up my thoughts on Freud

9) Grad students make "You crazy, Freud. You gotta be kidding me" faces at the long-dead theorists they are currently loving to hate

10) Grad students stay up late writing blog posts about their first day of grad school when they should be sleeping. (No picture for this one, sorry. The whole post is a visual testament to it!)

11) Grad students are ultimately really, really happy to be in grad school even though it will kick their trashes . . .
Here is that after picture, I promised you, Kagen!
11) Because grad students walk around a campus that looks like this all day, erry day.
From here

Okay, so maybe my experiences aren't universal, and I know that this won't be what grad school is actually like for me every day (except for the campus being beautiful part. And the reading part) but so far, being back in school is the best. Without jokes.

Friday, August 28, 2015

A New Adventure

A year ago, I moved away from Provo to Salt Lake. It was an important move which led to many changes, but overall it wasn't like I was leaving. I didn't really have to say goodbye to people and I was going to be coming back and even though it was a different city, it was still basically home. But now I am leaving for real!

From here, which actually proves that I am Belle
I want adventure in the great, wide somewhere. And that somewhere is Chicago. And I leave tomorrow.

The past week has been so stressful, but my car is packed and in 10 hours I will be on the road east. It's quite a surreal experience, to be moving. I have wanted to get out of Utah for so long, and now that I am it's harder than I expected. Utah has really become my home, and as much as I hate to admit it . . . I will miss it. I'll miss the mountains and nature and Temple Square and BYU campus. I'll miss my family and friends.

Chicago will be hard. In many ways, I feel like I'm leaving on another mission. This is something so new and so out of my comfort zone, yet it is also very much where I'm supposed to be. I am so excited. Chicago, watch out--I come. :)

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Some Stories from my Family History

Because I work for the Family History Department, every few weeks I am blessed with some time specifically set apart to do my own family history work. Whether this is research to help uncover new ancestors, going to the temple to complete saving ordinances for my dead, or something else entirely, it has become a source of joy in my life. Two weeks ago, I had my family history time right before Pioneer Day. Family Search sent out an email that linked you to the profiles of a few of your pioneer ancestors, and I spent my time getting to know some of my ancestors a bit more personally. I started writing this post then, but never finished it.

First, these stories, they are what really help us feel connected. Reading about my ancestors, I started to ponder what attributes I got from them. And mostly I just felt proud to be coming from a long line of good people: people who were loving and diligent and valiant and sacrificing and joyful. People who loved God and served Him and His children and understood what is really important, no matter their life circumstances.

There is Eliza Cusworth Burton Staker, my great-great-great-grandmother, who crossed the plains with the Martin handcart company as a single mother of two children. As her husband was dying in their native England, she promised him that she would join the Saints in Utah and have their temple work done. She pulled a handcart and two small children across the plains in difficult conditions. One particular story (that is often told at Martin's Cove, actually) is that while fording one river, she crossed in (in freezing weather, I might add) multiple times. She first took her son across, where she then tied him to a tree so he wouldn't follow her back. Then she carried her daughter across. And then she went back one last time for their handcart. What determination.

Then there is her second husband, Nathan Staker. Saying that he "could not rob the dead," he was served as proxy for her first husband. Not only that, but he also had all of his children sealed to her first husband as well. I'm sure everything will be worked out in the eternities, and I have no idea how that will be done, but what a selfless man he must have been to be willing to do that for the woman he loved and a man he had never met.

There is Rodney Badger, who started supporting his family at the age of 12 to put his two younger siblings through school. He was one of the first into the Salt Lake Valley, and then helped many others across the plains. In the end, he gave his life trying to save a family of emigrants who were drowning while trying to cross a river they had been warned not to ford.

Phebe Emmeline Curtis was intelligent despite not being educated past 5th grade. She was funny and kind and a wonderful mother. She and her husband were settlers of Fairview, Utah, and she communicated with the Native Americans in their native tongue. While reading her story, it was very hard for me not to feel an overwhelming love for this hard worker full of kindness and righteous goals for her and her children.

I could go on for paragraphs and paragraphs about another great-great-great-grandfather who went with the Mormon Battalion because he knew it was what he was supposed to do, despite his initial repulsion to the idea, or my ancestors who first detested the church and then had visions to convince them otherwise and had the faith to follow. I could talk about how I wish I knew my great-grandmother better; I have vague memories of visiting her, but not really of her. But I know that, the daughter of German immigrants, she only spoke German when she started school, and she was very kind and talkative. In the words of someone (not a relative) who knew her, "[I] can be very proud to claim Johanna as a relative!"

But instead of continuing to babble on about how proud I am to come from this line of people--from varied backgrounds but, above all, hard-working and serving, I will just end with a quote from my great x 3-grandfather Mormon Miner, the sentiment of which I think sums up how I feel about most of my ancestors, Mormon or not:

"My entire life and energies have been directed toward the salvation of souls and the upbuilding of God’s work on the earth. All the temples which have been built in our State I have assisted in their erection and have spent much time working for the dead in them. I take great pride in serving the Lord and living my religion to the best of my ability."

And following that example is what family history work is about.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Like Ships in the Night (to be Cliche)

Instead of apologizing for not blogging in 2 months, I'm just going to start writing. Okay? Good.

One of the reasons I love public transportation so much is all the passing moments. 

The moments when another bus or train passes you going the opposite direction, and you look through the window and see all the other people who you have never met and never will meet, headed down a different road.

The moments when two different trains stop at the platform at the same time, and some people get out and some people don't and everyone is rushing around, ignoring the tornado of other people who are so different in life and trajectory but so similar in soul.

The moments when you are waiting for something, be it train or bus or car or rickshaw, to come and take you away, and you're all standing there waiting, but you don't know if these other people are going to go your way or their own. But for just a minute, you are both sharing the same space and time and experience on what happens to be a small intersection of your various, otherwise diverging lives.

They're so bittersweet, these passings. I started really noticing them on my mission, when I simultaneously wished to know everyone but was also terrified to speak to them. They remind me of how small I am in the world--how many billions and billions of people there are besides me. They remind me of how they all live such different, fascinating, wonderful, terrible, depressing, joyful, lovely lives, and all I get of that is an impression and my own imaginings. That's not even enough to make a memory from, usually. I will never meet them and never know them, no matter how much I want to. I had that one fleeting glimpse of them.

That's it. 

While you might brush with those people again, you will never know for sure. You hear stories of people getting married and watching old family videos and realizing that when they were 5 they were in the same park on the same day with different parties and went down the slide right after each other. But who is to say that you rode on the same train on the metro, just a few cars down? Who can prove that you had a near brush when you hopped on the same bus line but you were going north and they were going south? But then again, who is to say that you didn't? Yet even if you do meet again, and recognize each other from the blurry whiz of finger-painted passers-by, they'll be different then, and so will you. 

And that, both the differences and those very brief microseconds of commonality, is ambiguously beautiful.

Monday, June 1, 2015

If You Are ENFJ, You Are Probably a Hufflepuff

If you are not familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality test, you should be. While it is not fool-proof by any means, it definitely is the most accurate personality inventory I have ever come across. Every once in a while I get on a Myers-Briggs kick and like to go through and sort and analyze everyone I know--including myself. Here's a short run down of the classification system. You are given a 4-letter combination based on how you view the world: Extroversion/Introversion, iNtuition/Sensing, Feeling/Thinking, Perceiving/Judging. If you want to take the test, you can just google it, but you can also just narrow it down to a few (are you more extroverted or introverted? do you go with your gut or your external senses? you make decisions based on logic or emotions? are you a hippie or a planner?) and then read about a few personality types to see which one of them fits you best. My favorite place to read about them is here.

But I guess one of the reasons I like Myers-Briggs so much is that I have never found something that resonates so much with me and who I am--who I actually, truly am. It's kind of a joke between me and some other MBTI-interested friends that I am the most ENFJ person ever. This means that I'm extroverted (but for me, just barely), go off my intuition, feel with my whole heart (I do like thinking, but that is not how I make decisions), and like to have a plan goals.

The thing about ENFJs is that people and relationships are the most important things to them. Not only do I love people and want to do everything I can to love and support them, I also have a special knack for understanding people, bringing out the best in them, and knowing what they need. With many people I seem to have an "instant best friend" connection. But the other thing about ENFJs is that being alone is so important but also hard for us. Especially for me as a borderline introvert. It's difficult because I build relationships in a much more introverted fashion (meeting new people and opening up is often hard on my end), but I need those deep relationships with almost everyone. I want to love everyone, and I want everyone to love me. And even though I am really awkward and tense in new and large social situations, I draw energy from people and being alone is really hard for me. I do need it sometimes, especially if I'm only with people with whom I don't have a deep or sincere relationship--because I feel like I can't be my true self around them--but for the most part, if I'm alone it is a very dark place for me.

This introverted extroversion is actually really common with ENFJs. I am more reserved about being my true self. While this can be great in connecting with a variety of different people (think about a social chameleon), it also means that I have a hard time really opening up to others. I need people, and I need them to need me, and so if I don't have a close relationship with everyone around, I feel lonely. Big groups of people I don't know are hard. Small groups are much better. And the best thing is a big group of so many people who I love and know very deeply, where I can just float from person to person giving them a lot of individual love and attention. 

Honestly, the real teller for me of being an ENFJ is that long before I ever realized that I was an ENFJ and long before I even realized that I needed to stop being such a bossy smart alek and just shut up and listen and help others, God told me that joy comes through serving others. There's a reason the site I linked to above calls us the "Givers."

Although I'm strongly opinionated and often vocal about them, if someone else will not agree with me, or if expressing my opinion will make them uncomfortable or prevent them from being their best, I will often not speak up and show my true colors. It's interesting, because I used to be much more vocally opinionated, but I realized probably about 10-15 years ago that that behavior was inhibiting my relationships and that good relationships were what I really wanted from my life. Unfortunately, this often means I let people walk over me, and it's hard for me to find the balance between speaking up for myself and my needs and just sitting quietly and being ignored.

Take this example: I hardly ever comment in church or class settings, and it's hard for me to express such deeply personal things. I also like to think things through before I say them. Things need to be perfect so that I do not offend anyone and so that people still think highly of me. This is often why I communicate better through writing. And when I do comment, you can be assured that not only is it something I feel very strongly about, but I feel very strongly (usually through the Spirit) that I need to comment to help fill someone's personal need--even if I don't know what that need is.

Because I am so focused on loving others, it is often hard for me to confront my own feelings and needs. I realized a few years ago that I have what I like to call the "strong" complex, where I feel like I need to be strong for other people so that I can continue to meet their needs. Unfortunately, this often leads me to forget about what I need, or I try to push down and suppress my own emotions and needs.

This also leads in to what I think is probably my biggest weakness as an ENFJ: I hate conflict. I hate it even when I'm not involved in it. I want everyone to love each other, and I especially hate it when people are mad at me (or I at them). I feel like I have failed them. Because I hate that feeling and because I don't want to ruin relationships or take away from what other people need, I will avoid conflict. I'll suppress things and decide they're not important if I think they will detract from a relationship--which usually backfires, so . . . but still. I. Hate. Conflict.

But what do I love? I love inspiring people and helping them, especially in one-on-one settings. I get energy from being around people and have to be with people most of the time. I might seem confident, and in many ways I am. I have a talent for picking up anything I put my mind to and am interested in. I focus on the future and love setting goals and helping people become better. 

I am loyal and probably the best friend you'll ever have if you let me in. I need to talk through my problems and often need other people's opinions to help me make decisions, and thanks to that and my constant desire to help and be a part of everyone's lives, I often can be overbearing and smothering. I get attached deeply and quickly, and even if I can't actively be a part of everyone's lives constantly, I definitely will try to be. And so I hate it when people decide that relationships are a matter of locality or that work is more important, etc. If you do decide those things, I won't understand. I hate feeling like relationships are a business or something of convenience, because people are so much more than that. They are everything, and if I feel like a relationship has potential or is a close one, I will have a hard time letting it go. I will probably recognize your boundaries and back off, but I will be deeply hurt, because it says that you don't need me and that I can't trust you. It tells me that you don't care enough about me as a human being to actually try to make things work, which hurts since that is something I will do with the vast majority of people.

Granted, I recognize that not everyone thinks that way I do, and I will usually see that right away and readily try to meet your needs (part of being an ENFJ!). But that doesn't mean that I understand it, and it doesn't mean that it is easy for me to accept.

TL;DR: Basically I want to be BFFs with everyone, and so I am sorry if I smother you, but it just means that I really care about you and I do it to almost everyone. I just need you to need me--and I need you to recognize my needs so that I have someone I can lean on too (even though this is probably the only time I'll ever admit that). I just crave deep, intimate relationships. 

I don't know if this was a good description or not. I am sorry it was long, but thanks for letting me kind of express myself and my needs and my thoughts. Being an introverted extrovert who likes to focus on others because of love (and also kind of distraction from my own problems) is hard sometimes. 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

More Than I Imagined

Jive 2006. Bohemian Rhapsody
Over 10 years ago, I walked onto the stage in Roper Auditorium for the first time. I performed on that stage so many times. I laughed, I cried, I acted, I sang, I danced. Being on stage was where I felt most confident in high school. I never really got nervous--just a huge adrenaline rush. But that stage was big, and that auditorium sat so many people.

I remember my first solo. It was the opening song in our "Mamma Mia!" medley for Jive Night 2005. 10 years ago. I stood at the back of the stage and when I walked forward in the lights to 1500+ people cheering and waiting . . . I was alive. It meant even more during my last Jive Night when one of my best friends and I sang "For Good" and it perfectly encapsulated those 3 years of my life.

Tonight I had the opportunity to see my little sister perform some of the same songs I did. It was a wonderful moment to look back on all those memories that I haven't thought about for such a long time. As she sat on that stage with her two best friends and sang "For Good," I knew how she felt, because once upon a time I felt those same things. And I was so proud of her. But I also kept thinking about everything she has in store for her, because I remember thinking 8 years ago that nothing could be better than Jive. But so much has been. I always treasure those moments, and they made me who I am today, but Jive was just the beginning.

So tonight after the show when I stood on that stage again and all the best high school memories came flooding back, I also looked at the past 8 years of my life--as well as the upcoming years. And looking out into the empty auditorium, I realized that it's so much smaller than it used to be.

Or maybe I'm so much bigger.
From here

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Coming Full Circle: a Saga of Revelation and Decisions and Grad School in Chicago

I've talked a lot about grad school recently--and also in the past. Well, as most of you who are reading my blog probably already know, I have made a final decision. While I still don't know what the next move after the program (called MAPH) is, in the fall I will be moving to Hyde Park in Chicago to earn a masters degree in Humanities from:

The thought of Chicago is still pretty surreal to me. I had 4 other acceptances, all from fantastic schools. I had been offered thousands and thousands of dollars from one. My decision was very, very difficult, but also surprisingly easy. In a blessing right before I went on my trip to visit and make a final decision, I received a promise that I would "know with a certainty" where I needed to be; that is, where God wanted me. Chicago just felt right. And, you know, I think a part of me always knew that I was going to end up at U of C--just like I always knew I would go to BYU and study English, just like I knew I was always going to go on a mission.

I don't know when exactly it started, maybe even as far back as freshman year, but it was definitely before my mission. I don't know why, but somehow I grew attached to the idea of going to grad school at the University of Chicago. I had never been there. All I really knew about Chicago was that camp song "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" and that my great-grandmother was born there to German immigrants. I assumed I'd be going to grad school in English lit, but I just thought that grad school in/at Chicago was my future.

When I got back from my mission, it took me a little while to come back to the grad school dream. I wandered. I was lost. I had always just known through this weird type of personal revelation what I was supposed to do and now I had no idea what was supposed to come next. Looking back, this wandering helped me recognize that grad school is something I really wanted and needed, as well as helped me build a stronger application.

When I decided which schools to apply to, University of Chicago was an automatic in. Yes, I had questions about the program and whether it was right for me and many other things, but it was what I had always wanted (again, for some really odd and undetermined reason). And even though there were moments when I felt uneasy and uncertain about it (mostly as I worked on my application), I think I was mostly resigning myself to the fact that maybe I wouldn't get in or, even if I did get in, God would lead me somewhere else. But get in I did, and Heavenly Father definitely gave me strong and clear certain knowledge that Chicago is where I need to be.

It's really funny to look back at the past few years of my life. 5 years ago if you were to ask me where I was going to grad school, I would have said Chicago. And yet, I have spent so much of the past 3 years worrying about my future and how everything was uncertain and this was new because I had always just known the next steps. Now that I am actually going to Chicago, it's so funny to realize that I knew all along where I needed to be and where I would end up. I might have taken the long road there. I might have not recognized that as actual revelation until very recently. I might have made everything much more difficult than it needed to be. (And by "I might have" in all those sentences, I mean that I did.) But I don't know if I would have gotten in without the extra years of experience and preparation. And without the extra journeying, I might always be questioning whether or not it was actually right, whereas now I know that it is.

So now I'm on the other side, and I have learned a lot about myself, personal revelation, the Lord, my future . . . I could go on. And this is truly right for me. I mean, just look at it!

University of Chicago is Hogwarts/Oxford in a big city. It is basically a dream, and it is beautiful, and I love the city of Chicago, and this place is perfect in pretty much every way for me. In a lot of ways I feel like my soul is there; in a lot of ways it's already home. But really, I feel like I'm coming full circle, blending my old and new selves, because part of me always knew that Chicago was where I belonged.
All pictures in this post are from uchicago.edu

Friday, March 20, 2015

Thank You, Jane

Last week, I was reading Persuasion by Jane Austen. One morning on the train, it once again struck me how realistic Jane Austen's situations and characters are--especially for a single, Mormon, 20-something trying to navigate the perils of dating in Utah YSA culture.

Ironically, just a few hours later, I stumbled across this on Pinterest:
From here
I was kind of in shock, because as much as I adore all of Austen's literary love interests, I had just been reminded that morning that there is nothing unrealistic about any of the expectations or situations that Austen presents--or that Austen herself lived. In fact, Miss Jane Austen actually has given me realistic expectations about men and dating: expectations that are not overly romantic or sugar-coated but still full of hope (albeit struggling sometimes) in my own financial, personal, and romantic future.
I mean, just think about it a little bit. Let's start with the most famous: Pride and Prejudice. Yes, almost every woman loves Mr. Darcy. But whether you prefer Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen, or (my personal favorite) Daniel Vincent Gordh, Darcy starts off as a very awkward introvert who comes off as a jerk and sometimes even actually really thinks those jerky thoughts. He is far from perfect; he is a real human being who makes mistakes, and Lizzie has to learn who he is and how to forgive and love him. It's not an easy path for them.

And before we can even consider Darcy romantically, we have to go through Mr. Collins and George Wickham. And here's where the dating crap gets really real. You have Mr. Collins, who is awkward and seemingly over-the-top and so focused on finding a wife and . . . well, I could go on, but we know how long-winded I can get. In short, Collins is a good person (yes, he really is), but he's just not right for Lizzie. We've all been there. And then there's Wickham. Almost everyone I know has a Wickham from some part of their lives: a guy they really liked, who charmed them, but was really just lying or using them or was too immature to know what they wanted.

And all this isn't even delving into the fact that Lizzie is so imperfect herself. It doesn't touch on the Jane-Bingley situation, or the exploration of Charlotte's "settling" with Collins and whether or not she (or anyone) could actually be happy in that situation. It's ignoring the complex family relationships, such as Lizzie's crazy mother or Caroline Bingley. It's skimming past all of the other novels and their relationships. After all, each novel portrays very different situations and characters. I could dissect all of them: Edward Ferrars vs Colonel Brandon vs Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, Philip Elton vs Robert Martin vs Mr. Knightley vs Frank Churchill in Emma, etc. The point is that Austen's romances are real. They're hard, they're rocky, they're fraught with heartbreak, and although they end happily for the most part, it's not an easy road to get there.

And what are the reasons the road is so hard? Why do relationships not work out in Austen's novels? Oh, there are a lot of them. Timing, unfounded snap judgments, people being downright jerks, age gaps, meddling friends and family, desperation, conflicting feelings between the parties (one is feeling it and the other isn't) . . . does any of this sound familiar? Because it sure does for me. There's a reason modern-day adaptations of Austen's work such as the Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Emma Approved (which are both fabulous and you should watch them) work so well. It's because the characters and the situations are so realistic that these stories can be so easily transported into our current culture. In short, while love is wonderful, dating itself sucks, and Jane Austen (who died single at the age of 41 during an age when it was much worse to be an old maid than it is now) knew that.

All of that being said, let's return to Persuasion. Persuasion was Austen's last novel, which makes it even more hopeful and humbling to me. It's about Anne Elliot, a 27-year-old woman who still loves the man she turned down (on advice of an old family friend and mother figure) 8 years previous. She seems to have lost all hope for marriage or even for happiness in being single. When Wentworth comes back into her life, and as she tries to manage the terrible world of dating and adulthood, she grows and becomes hopeful.

Anne is one of my favorite Austen heroines. She's fiery and opinionated, but in a very quiet and subtle way. If Lizzie or Emma or Marianne are the burning blaze, Anne is the glowing embers hidden under the charred log. The fire isn't readily apparent, you have to dig to find it, but it's there and it's bright and it's warm. She is smart and accomplished, but very humble. While more introverted and preferring to be in the background, she loves people and being around them and helping them. She is kind and sweet, and although she is single at an old (for that time) age, many people love and admire her. In fact, Wentworth was/is not Anne's only option for marriage; she has/had quite a few other suitors. But she wanted and needed to do what was best for her. 

So, Persuasion and Anne's journey are about choice and love and friendship and self-discovery and self-actualization. It is about realizing who you are and what you can do and that you can competently run your own life. And it is especially about hope: hope in yourself, hope in others, hope in forgiveness, hope in love, hope in the future.
I know this was long, but this, this focus on hope and the possibility for love of all kinds (romantic and otherwise) to bloom in a world full of imperfect people, is why Jane Austen did not give me unrealistic expectations for men or life in general. How brilliant is it that her characters are so real and well-rounded. After all, her heroines and heroes each have many faults. She shows many different types of real, flawed, and (mostly) loveable people. And while the happy, good endings exist, it takes a lot of crappy, horrible dating stories to get there.

In Jane Austen, love is not easy It's not a fantasy. It is very, very real in that it is not easy. It is hard work, forgiveness, humility and admitting that you're wrong, and vulnerability. But most importantly, it is hope that someday, somehow, we'll be able to get past all of the mess and find happiness and love in all our relationships.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Before the Future Comes the Present

Lately, my life has been full of waiting. In many ways, I feel like Rapunzel at the beginning of Tangled: "When will my life begin?" I just want so badly to know where I'll be going to school in the Fall, to make that decision, that I often forget the good things in my life right now.

First, I have a great job that is really kind of a miracle. First off, it's temporary, meaning that when I told them I was most likely leaving at the end of the summer, it wasn't a big deal and they still hired me. Second, it's only 28 hours a week, which means that I still have time to do my freelance writing and also just do my own things. 

My job also has some wonderful perks. I work in the Church Office Building, which means that every day as I come into and leave work, I get to see the beautiful Salt Lake Temple. I love the temple, especially because I have worked hard to gain a testimony of it. And while the SLC temple isn't my favorite . . . have you seen it in the morning and evening light? When the sun comes up and bathes Temple Square in a gold glow in the morning as I'm getting off TRAX at City Center, the temple is beautiful. Speaking of TRAX, I love riding public transport regularly again. I just love it. That's all. The last perk of my job is the cookies. All of the church catering in the COB cafeteria is delicious, but my daily lunch cookie is seriously one of my favorite parts of the day.

Second, the waiting is starting to pay off. Out of the 8 applications that I've sent in, I have heard back from 4 schools. And they've all let me in. All of them. I just keep waiting for one of them to reject me. But it's not happening. In a lot of ways, I actually want to start getting some rejections. I was feeling like this would be a very hard decision for me to make, and now that I'm starting to have options, that is proving to be true. So at this point, the fewer options I have, the easier my choice will be. But then I start to think about the schools I have yet to hear from and I honestly still want to get into them all.

Lastly, there are a lot of other great things. I have money and friends and a life. I have been making some progress on personal goals, like becoming more of a morning person and keeping tidy. I am also going to write more often. I need to start writing to help prepare for school, to get the words and the thinking back in my mind and fingers, so I've started developing a list of topics. I want to post at least once a week. So, this is an update and an announcement. Keep a lookout for posts on my family history, love and dating, Russia (of course), grad school (of course), and self-exploration. Because life is good, and as much as I want to jump ahead to the future, right now is pretty great too.

Monday, February 9, 2015

And So It Begins: Girl on Fire

Back in September when I somehow (read: God) got a perfect score on the verbal section of the GRE, I managed to hold back my tears of gratitude, overwhelming joy, and surprise until I got to my car. When I finally shut the door and turned the car on, rain started pouring down, and this song started playing on the radio.

Since then, "Girl on Fire" has been my unofficial theme song as I've fought my way through a few really wonderful, but surprisingly difficult months. And I'd especially think of it when I was struggling or discouraged with grad school applications, as a reminder that I could and would do it and rock it and that my future was in my hands and God's hands and that it would all work out. Because I have flame in my eyes and in my heart, and I'm going to light up the world.

So anyway. Since I finished my grad school applications a few days ago, I've been going stir crazy. Since my part is completely done, I just want to KNOW. I want my acceptances or rejections so that I can have another part in deciding my future again. This means that I have been checking my school email compulsively while at work (oh yeah, I got a real job. I will write about it soon). Constantly. But a few minutes after I got home, I opened my email, not expecting anything, and saw an email from one of my schools: "Brandeis Joint MA."

My heart stopped. Opening that email was almost like opening my mission call, suspense and excitement and terror. Except I didn't have any warning or time to prepare like I did with my mission call. And when I opened it, I read these words:

"Dear Rachel Ashby:

I'm delighted to tell you that the faculty committee in English and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis will be recommending to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that you be admitted to our Joint M.A. Program. We were highly impressed with your application, and we think that your interests would be an excellent fit with our vibrant community of graduate students and faculty. "

I. AM. IN.

I don't know if I'll end up at Brandeis. My hope is to get into more schools and have options. But even if this is the only school I get accepted to, I'd be THRILLED to go to Boston and be a part of this program. I am so grateful for God's help and for the loving support of so many people who have gotten me here. I have just been in shock all night that this is really happening.

I'm going to grad school, guys. This girl is on fire. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Tinder Chronicles, Part 2

So my tindering has majorly slowed in the past week. After Thursday, my swiping started to get very sporadic. I'd often get bored and fall into long streams of only swiping left. The danger with that is that sometimes you swipe left on cute boys that you actually wanted to swipe right on--especially the ones that you actually met at a party and talked to and that have a lot of mutual friends and you've heard a lot about. But it is really fun(ny) running into a lot of friends there.

So essentially, I am probably going to keep Tinder, but I will swipe a lot less often. Especially since people actually chat and follow through a lot less often than I originally imagined (pretty much like normal life, right?). What is the point of swiping right in the first place if you're not going to even try to connect with the person? I mean, I know why, but that is one thing that bothers me about Tinder.

This stems from the fact that I'm an ENFJ. (I will probably write another blog post on this later). I need sincerity in my life. And so while the matches and casual flirting are nice confidence boosters, it all just feels really fake to me. Especially since I can see that it has a lot of potential to not be fake. It's like doubly fake since it could actually be really good but that isn't utilized most of the time.

In short, here is my Tinder verdict: I'll keep it, but it's definitely a joke or a game to play when I'm bored (literally). I am not emotionally invested at all, which is a big deal for me, simply because it seems so pointless.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Tinder Chronicles, Part 1

I know, I know. Tinder is old news. I'm slow to the boat, mostly because I made fun of the app and never saw myself getting it. But Tuesday night I came home and found my best friend/roommate had gotten Tinder. Watching (read: helping) her swipe was addicting, so I decided to get it for myself. These are the results.

Oh Vova...you definitely go to the left. Via Huffpost UK
Tuesday: I spend the rest of the night swiping, ending up with four matches and a conversation, partially in Russian. I am excited when a friend--who I know is/was Tinder-obsessed--pops up. Of course, I swipe right while laughing hysterically. I am mostly in shock that I caved and got Tinder (I had always said I would never get it), but to my surprise I'm having fun.

Wednesday: I am officially addicted. I refrain from swiping most of the day, but it's hard and distracting. I learn an important lesson: if you want matches, you need to swipe right. But I am very selective with my right swipes. I get some more matches, have another conversation with a guy, and start to learn some things, including:

  • I apparently find beards a lot more attractive than I originally thought.
  • I am much more picky than I originally thought, too.
  • Based on my matches and my recent actual interests, there is a 4-letter combination/name that is apparently attractive to me/finds me attractive.
  • It is really satisfying to get a match. Surprisingly so.
  • I get really frustrated when people don't have anything in their profiles.
  • Tinder could/would be really useful in trying to get over other people.
  • People aren't really as chatty as I would have thought.
  • Beyonce-style: To the left, to the left. Everybody here in the box to the left.
  • I'm really bad at small talk and coming up with conversation starters (but I really already knew this one).
Wednesday's Tinder adventures also featured my roommate and I swiping and/or matching with the same guys, old flames, and Elders from my mission (of various levels of acquaintance).

Thursday: I wake up to a notification that I have a match. I feel like I could be genuinely interested in this guy (you know, based on the small amount of information in his profile), but I have no idea what to say to him. Because I'm awkward like that. 

I decide to swipe a little bit before working. One of the first guys who pops up in CUTE. I can tell from his picture that he's LDS, but he has absolutely nothing in his profile, and we have no mutual friends. I decide to swipe right, and it's an immediate match.

(Side note: I am a researcher. So if you pop up on my Tinder and I can't tell anything about you, I am going to actually try to find out what I can. If there's absolutely no information to be had, the default is left. So the above right swipe was kind of a rarity. I know that's not how most people use Tinder. But it's what I do. I'm weird.)

Here's where things get interesting. He starts the conversation out with a...well, it isn't how I'd prefer to have someone I don't know start a conversation, but it was flattering. My feminist side was not sure how to feel, because while it was borderline cat-call-y, I also didn't feel degraded or objectified. However, my suspicions are soon confirmed: he's looking for a hookup. (This is why I'm very selective with my right swipes) But he offers very respectfully (!) and respects my choice not to (!). We end up talking a little about Nietzsche and writing. I decide to take a break from swiping at least until later tonight.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

I'll Always Be Сестра Ашби

Yesterday marks 4 years since I entered the MTC to begin my full-time mission in Moscow, Russia for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The first okrug
It's funny to see how the passing of time changes my perspective. As I marked the day, I realized that while I still missed my mission so much and while I will always treasure that time of my life, I didn't necessarily want to go back. I realized that I am where I need to be and that I am on the precipice of many more great and wonderful things in my life. But despite that knowledge, I am always, continually thinking about and reflecting on my mission.

Sometimes, I think back on my mission, and I guiltily think about all the things I could have done better and all my many imperfections as a missionary. I should have talked to more people. I should have been more diligent in helping other missionaries be obedient. I should have had more courage I should have set a better example. I should have been more obedient myself (not that I was disobedient, but if you've been on a mission you know what I mean). I should have had more faith. I should have been a better missionary in so many ways. Often, I wonder if I had been a better missionary if I would have seen more visible success.

But then I think about Ksusha, and my companions, and the Elders I served with, and all my areas, and all the people that I still (and always will) love with my entire heart, and the miracles I did see, and the fun times, and the times that were so hard but I treasure them with all my heart. I think about putting my nametag on and passing out Kniga after Kniga after Kniga and really connecting with people individually. I think about bearing my testimony time and time again. I think of my heart breaking and the times I cried on the street because someone rejected the message. I think of the joy I felt seeing people I didn't even know (and especially those I did!) enter the waters of baptism and receive the Holy Ghost and just progress in the Gospel--even if it didn't lead to baptism right then. And mostly, I think of the changes for the better and the blessings I am still experiencing in my life as a result of those wonderful 19 months. I left my mission knowing that no matter how much I touched people's lives there, my mission was a success because I let the Lord and the people of Russia touch my life and my heart.
I love this book and this place and this language and all the people I gave one of these to
So, yes, I should have been a better missionary. There were days when I probably COULD have been a better missionary. But when I came home and was being released, I had a very sacred moment with my stake president. Because of its personal sacredness to me, I won't share the experience itself, but this was the resulting revelation:

No matter how "perfect" of a missionary I was, God knew that my heart was always fully committed to my mission and trying to do my best to serve him. And He accepted and loved my offering, my mission, and me. 

Even with the mornings I physically could not get up and then freaked out when I realized I had slept in, even with all the people I was too shy and scared to talk to, even with all my imperfections--He accepted what I could and did bring and sanctified it and somehow turned it into something worthwhile that I hope touched others even half as much as it touched me.
I will always miss this.