Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Oh, Hey There

Hiiiiiiiii. I know it's been a while. I shouldn't even be writing this now, because I am supposed to be writing a paper that is due in 23 hours and still needs another nine pages. However, I randomly remembered that I have a blog, so here's a brief life update on what has happened in the past three months since I've last blogged.

I wrote a thesis. It came in at about 30 pages long, changed direction about three or four times, and really muddled up my life for a long time. Even though it's been done for almost two weeks now, it still feels very surreal that I'm not working on it. It's not the paper that I'm most proud of as far as content and quality go, but I am proud that I made it through, especially since a lot of the grunt work of writing it came at very emotionally-taxing times for me.

I started--and completed, more or less--my last quarter of my Masters program. The paper mentioned above is my last paper--EVER. It's a little bittersweet, seeing how this means I probably won't be back in the classroom for a while, but honestly, it's time for me to let go of academia and move my life into the professional sphere. Grad school has kind of killed my love of school (for the moment?), which in turn caused an identity crisis because I didn't like school, and I am Rachel Ashby, who even am I if I don't like school? I'm very grateful that I did my program though, because I learned a lot about myself, moved to Chicago (which is a dream), and met some really great people.

Speaking of leaving school, tomorrow I'm done with work, and graduation is in 11 days, which means I'm now on the hunt for a job in Chicago. If you have any leads of really just about anything you think I might be interested in slash would pay me a reasonable amount of money + benefits, hook me up.

I'm also going to throw my book update in here, since books are related. I've only read 2 books: Letters to a Young Mormon (which I highly recommend, it was a beautiful and enlightening read) and All the Light We Cannot See (which is beautifully written and I have mixed feelings about). I won't be writing a blog post on either of these books, because it's been a very long time since I read either one of them, so consider this my mention of them. I got behind (2 books/months) on my reading because school and thesis and mostly a boy named Spencer, who--if you don't know about him already--you'll learn about shortly.

So yeah, outside of school I try to be a person. In the past three months, I've been visited by four of my best friends, I've walked hundreds of miles around Chicago. I've been to at least three museums, some multiple times. I've watched season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, seasons 1-3 of Arrested Development, and quite a bit of some other TV shows.

I dealt with my grandmother's passing. The day the first full draft of my thesis was due, I learned that she was in the ICU and probably not going to make it through the night, which was in fact the case. I was in an emotionally catatonic state for the rest of the week and made a quick trip out to Utah for her funeral. It was a really rough week, but I made it through, thanks to my family, Spencer, and a renewed and strengthened testimony of the resurrection and eternal families. She was an amazing woman and I am so blessed to have her not only as my grandma forever, but also as a huge influence on my life.

In the past few weeks, I've made the transition from counselor in my branch's Relief Society presidency to President, so that has been an adventure. Our branch is small with a lot of heart, so I'm really looking forward to continuing to serve my sisters there.

Mostly, though, the biggest, most wonderful person/thing/event/distraction/blessing that has happened in the past few months is that I started dating my best friend. About a week before my last blog post, I started spending a lot of time talking to a kid in my branch on Facebook messenger, and we became best friends very quickly (it already helped that we had been casual church friends for like six months, but still). And about a week after my last blog post, we started dating. The past three months have been pure joy, at the risk of sounding sappy. Spencer has been by my side during all of the really hard and difficult things mentioned above, but he's also been at my side during all of the fun things like wading into freezing cold Lake Michigan, exploring the Loop, trying to try every single donut place in Chicago (which should get it's own blog post one day), meeting all my friends, and talking (whether in person or online) at literally every single hour of the day. I've never met anyone who thinks so much like me and is so similar to me, while still being so different and complementary. I'm so grateful for him. And yes, since we're together basically every single second that we are not in class or at work, it's his fault that I haven't been reading for fun or blogging. For lots of really cute pictures of us, check out my Instagram. Although, if you're reading this, you probably already knew all of this and have probably already seen all the cute pictures.

Other items of note: I mastered all of the fast raps in Hamilton, bought some furniture for cheap, tried to work out a few times.

Enough about the past, here's to the future! Here are some quick bullet points about what I'm looking foward to in the next three months--although I do hope that I blog again before that rolls around:

  • Finishing this paper and graduation
  • Meeting Spencer's family and visiting him in Utah a lot/his visits to Chicago (I am not looking forward to being apart from him for three months)
  • job  career
  • NYC with some of my best friends to hang out with them and see Hamilton
  • A month of yoga
  • Moving into my own apartment--no roommates, no furnishings, just me in a studio or one bedroom somewhere in Chicago

Monday, February 29, 2016

Sometimes I Write Poems

Sometimes, when I'm bored or in love or thinking deep thoughts or all of the above, I write poetry. It's not bad poetry, but it's certainly not brilliant. But it's still a piece of my soul. Today, while bored in class, I decided to write about something very dear to my heart. Throughout my life, I've thought a lot about Heavenly Mother and the Divine Feminine, and lately it's resurged and has been very present on my mind. I believe that God is our loving Heavenly Father--and I also believe that He has a wife, God the Mother. But even though I know She exists, there is so much that is unknown about Her. It's hard to learn about someone who is rarely talked about, and it's hard to become like someone I don't know about. Yet She is there, and one day I'll know Her.

Are You My Mother?
There’s a children’s book called
Are You My Mother?
About a young bird looking for his mother.

He’s never met her.
No, she left right before he hatched-- 
To go find food,
To care for him,
To do what was best.
Because she loved him.

But then he hatches,
And she’s not there.
So, knowing nothing,
He takes off to find her.

It’s a desperate search full of hardship:
Questions, no answers.
Silence, Snorts, terror.
Unexpected help when it’s needed most,
From the very things he thinks are dangerous.

I, too, am looking for my Mother:
That Goddess,
The Divine Feminine,
The plural in the Elohim.

I’ve never met Her.
At least not like I’ve “met” my Father.
But She feeds me
And cares for me,
Even if it’s hard to see.
Because She loves me.

But as I progress
And She’s not visibly there--
Not in the temple, not in prayer--
I wonder if I’ll ever find Her,
What She’s like,
If I’ll ever be like her.

It’s a desperate search full of hardship:
Questions, no answers.
Silence, scoffs, terror.
But unexpected help when it’s needed most,
From children’s books, from the Spirit
From Her Herself.

The little bird found his mother,
And he recognized her.
But only because of his search.
Because he looked.

And as I search,
I know She is there
Because I feel Her.
And I know who She’s not,
And I have some of the pieces,
And I have faith--

Faith that one day I’ll return to the nest,
To my heavenly home.
And when She asks if I know Her,
I can and will answer:

Yes, You are my Mother.

For more reading about Heavenly Mother, check out these two essays: "A Mother There" and "Mother in Heaven".

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Daring Greatly

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly." -Theodore Roosevelt

My first book of the year was Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. I had wanted to read this book for a while. Brene (I'm promoting us to first-name basis relationship) became a voice of trust for me after I first heard her TED talk on vulnerability. And vulnerability is something that has been hard for me since moving to Chicago, since starting grad school. Not that it was easy before. But a lot had changed, and life was hard, and I needed this reminder.

First, some background:

Last May (?), my life was basically as good as I could have hoped. I had chosen Chicago for grad school. I was working a lot and my future looked bright. And then, one day, I just broke. I realized that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. And while this seemed sudden and unexpected, now looking back on my life, I can see other times in my life when it's been an unnamed ghost in my life.

And guess what. Depression and anxiety suck. Especially together. And the change of coming to grad school, losing my close (in both strength and proximity) support system and being lonely, new stresses, financial struggles, and an identity crisis when I realized that academia--what I have always loved and been good at--is no longer my place . . . all of this compounded has made grad school terrifyingly difficult. It's hard when you can't bring yourself to care about things you used to love, but still desperately want to love it. It's hard when you know you will hate yourself for not doing work later, when you know you want a perfect outcome but you just don't have the motivation to put in the work. What I wanted to be so great led to breakdowns, loneliness, and overwhelming mountains of inadequacy and hopelessness.

I'm now meeting with a therapist and trying to be more compassionate with myself. I'm trying to meditate and exercise and accept and sleep and be social and not care so much about school while also letting myself enjoy bits. And so as I started to tease through these things, started to try to fix myself, I returned to the idea of vulnerability.

  • I was vulnerable when a conversation with my dad caused an anxiety attack, and I opened up to my parents for the first time in literally years and told them about my depression and anxiety.
  • I was vulnerable when I decided to honestly tell people in my program how I was doing.
  • I am vulnerable when I think about building relationships and letting people see me in all my flaws and my strengths.
  • I am vulnerable when I talk to my therapist, when I allow myself to feel emotion, when I let myself blow off homework without beating myself up when I just can't, and when I somehow push through and allow myself to feel the joy of school that I know is somewhere inside me. 
  • I am vulnerable when I take Brene Brown's (and my therapist's) advice to reframe my goals to be "show up and get wet" instead of focusing on all the shoulds, all the invisible, unrealistic expectations that I somehow think other people have for me.

Reading Daring Greatly, I knew I needed to write this post, at least for me. It was painful to read at times, to look back at my past and realize that there have been times when I was so happy because I loved and was vulnerable and just let myself live and enjoy it--instead of trying to force myself into a box because I don't want to be a burden on other people. It was difficult to read because it was too real for me in the midst of depression and anxiety.

But it was also so cathartic and validating.

This book reminded me of things I need (validation, connection, praise, love, recognition) and gave me a lot of those. It endowed me with some coping mechanisms for my really hard days (or weeks) and the permission from myself to have those days without shame. It inspired me to write this post (which like all blog posts of mine, is turning into an unwieldy monster that is longer than I expected).

While perhaps Daring Grealy as a book is probably not for everyone, and a few things I didn't necessarily agree with, the basic principles are things that everyone needs to be reminded of on a regular basis. And so here is my daily reminder to myself.

I am brave.
I am worthy.
I am enough.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Long Week

Grad school is hard, guys. Let me rephrase. It's not that grad school itself isn't hard, but my program is hard. There are so many pros to it, but I think one of my friends in the program experienced it best:

MA student in a 2-year program (MA1): So do you think you're going to take this class?
Friend of MA1 who is in the same program (MA2): I really want to, but it will be my 3rd class this quarter.
MA1: Oooo, 3 graduate classes? That's a lot in one quarter.
MA2: And I'm working on my thesis, too.
MA1: Yeah, you shouldn't do that.
My friend: *Turns away and sinks into her chair BECAUSE THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT EVERYONE IN MY PROGRAM IS DOING*

To put it another way: after talking to many, many people in my program this week and asking them how they are doing, only 1 person said anything resembling "good." 1. And he is also sick. So . . .

It's been rough.

I enjoy all of my classes well enough, I'm fairly excited about my thesis topic, it's been wonderfully frigid outside. But I just don't have the energy to go and go and go non-stop. Who do you think I am, Alexander Hamilton?!

But there have been a lot of little victories this week that I should acknowledge.
  • Monday I got out of bed and made it through the day. It was also really beautifully cold and snowy and I loved it (read: that was really the only good part of the day. Besides coming from behind to win at Settlers at FHE)
  • Tuesday was really fantastically productive, which was a huge deal, especially after how terrible Monday way. I also emailed some potential thesis advisors.
  • Wednesday I didn't freak out in my seminar class and pushed through a long day despite being tired.
  • Thursday I met with not 1 but 2 potential thesis advisors, who both gave me great insight. One flat out said he'd be willing to work with me and the other said that he promised he never would (he's emeritus so he can do that) but that my project is tempting and he'll let me know. !!!
  • Friday hasn't happened yet, but I don't have any scheduled academic commitments and no work, so I'm just going to have brunch with some friends and take care of myself and clean and do laundry and buy groceries (those 3 are really big adult deals) and meet with the sisters.
So I'm really just surviving, but somehow coming out on top anyway. God sure loves me. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2016 Book List

Count: 6/112 
(completed books in bold, with titles linking to my blog post about them)

Instead of doing my required grad school reading for class tomorrow, I'm compiling a book list! I have a goal to read 100 books this year (not counting grad school books--or at least only counting a few of them maybe). "How do you have time for this," you ask? "You are in grad school and will spend half the year writing a thesis while taking a full load of graduate level classes and working!" Well, it's simple. I'm cutting back on Netflix, Hulu, and the like, and I am requiring myself to read something non-school related for a bit every night before bed to me hopefully relive some anxiety and sleep better. And once I'm out of school, I'm hoping for a lot of time to go sit out by Lake Michigan and read . . and reading on public transit on my way to work (because I'm also hoping for a job) . . . and reading all the time like I used to. So here is a list of 112 things to read this year (I will probably combine some of them) that I compiled from about 5 different book challenges. I'll try to remember to come back and update the list with what I chose to read when I finished each item.

Also, as one last side note: in my searching for book lists, I found this one: a woman read a book from every country in the world one year! Maybe I'll do that in 2017.

  • Woman under 25: I am Malala, Malala Yousafzai
  • YA author of color
  • Graphic novel by a woman
  • Post-apocalyptic novel by woman
  • Southeast Asian writer
  • Popular author's first book
  • Never-read author
  • Favorite author but previously unread
  • Author with my initials
  • Celebrity author
  • Modernist woman
  • Comedian
Expanding Horizons:
  • Non-western history
  • About an indigenous culture
  • Middle Eastern (by/about)
  • About an immigrant/refugee to US
  • LGBTQIA memoir
  • About Africa by an African
  • One book from each continent
  • About an unfamiliar culture
Form and Genre:
  • Essay collection
  • Contemporary poetry collection
  • Non-superhero comic (released in last 3 years)
  • Play
  • Short story collection
  • Satire
  • Feminist sci-fi
  • Classic romance
  • Futuristic romance
  • Murder mystery
  • Dystopian novel
Adaptations and Translations:
  • Book that is now a movie
  • Translated into English
  • Book that inspired a TV show
  • Based on a fairy tale
  • Movie coming out this year
  • Favorite childhood book
  • Makes me cry
  • Required high school reading
  • 1st book in a series I've never read
  • 1st book in a series by an author of color
  • Trilogy
  • Book and it's prequel
  • Science
  • Biography
  • Feminist
  • Food memoir
  • Political memoir
  • Autobiography
  • About women in war
  • Based on a true story
  • Religion
  • Self-improvement book: Daring Greatly, Brene Brown
When Published:
  • the 1980s (or the decade in which you were born)
  • 2016
  • Before 1916
  • 1989 (birth year)
  • 20th century classic
Awards and Recommendations:
  • Audie Award (listen)
  • Recommended by librarian/bookseller 
  • Chosen for me by friend or family member: The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
  • Banned
  • Pulitzer Prize: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
  • Book Mom loves
  • Bad reviews
  • National Book Award
  • YA bestseller
  • NYT bestseller
  • Recommended by someone I just met
  • Oprah's Book Club
  • Family member recommendation
  • 1st seen in bookstore
Length, Titles, and Covers:
  • 500+ pages
  • 600+ pages
  • Under 150 pages
  • Under 100 pages: Letters to a Young Mormon, Adam S. Miller
  • # in the title
  • 1 word title
  • Antonyms in the title
  • Color in the title: The Red Notebook, Antoine Laurain
  • Blue cover
  • Based on its cover
Shame On Me:
  • Been meaning to read
  • Should have read in school but didn't
  • Started but never finished
  • Own but never read
  • Intimidating
  • Bottom of the to-read list
  • Book that scares me
Set In . . . :
  • Pre-1900 (historical fiction)
  • A place I want to visit
  • The future
  • Where I live
  • Christmas time
  • My home state
  • Europe
  • Summer
  • A road trip
  • An island
  • A world with magic
  • Main character deals with mental illness
  • Nonhuman characters
  • Protagonist shares my occupation
(EDIT: I realized I should probably cite the original booklists I compiled this from. The 2015 and 2016 Popsugar challenges, Bustle, Read the World, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and Book Riot Read Harder)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Bye, 2015

In 2015, my blog was neglected, in large part due to grad school eating my life, but let's be honest--the first part of 2015 wasn't full of regular blogging either. Anyway, I have a resolution to blog more for myself and what a better way to kick that off than with this Buzzfeed inspired review of 2015.

1. What did you do this year that you’re proud of? Two words: grad school.
2. Who did you meet this year that inspired you? All of my good friends in my program. Smart, lovely, energizing, wonderful, inspiring people.
3. What did you read that you think bettered you? The Elegance of the Hedgehog. It was a reread, but this book never ceases to instill in me a deeper love for all the people and little miracles all around me.
4. What are songs that you will always hear and think of this year even when you’re listening on some contraption that hasn’t even been invented yet? Hamilton. Fight Song by Rachel Platten. And Taylor Swift's 1989 album.
5. What were some times that you laughed so hard you could barely breathe? The two that come to mind are pretty recent, both at home with my family. The night Matt got married on Rebecca's bed with her and Elizabeth, and Christmas Eve when we were watching old family videos.
6. What were your favorite movies? Not what was good, not what you had to see because of your friends or the media. What were your favorites? I didn't see a lot of movies this year, actually. I really loved Star Wars, Inside Out, and Pitch Perfect 2. But there were a few more that I didn't get to see but really wanted to
7. What are some fears that you had at the beginning of the year that you overcame? I don't think I've completely overcome this one, but I've certainly learned how to be alone.
8. What were quotes that you loved this year? Anything from Hamilton.
9. What are ways that you exercised self care? Well, this is one that I actually really need to do better with, but 2015 taught me a lot about how and when and why I need to exercise greater measures of self care.
10. What are things you want to see more of next year? Museums and shows. I live in such a great, big, beautiful city now, and I want to take more advantage of it. Also, just the world in general. I want to travel more and spend more time in nature.
11. What are five things you did that you never thought you’d actually do? Live by myself (more or less), move out of Utah (I guess I knew I'd do this one, it just felt like it took a long time coming), take out student loans . . . I guess I need to do more things that are hard for me?
12. What were your favorite things this year? The weddings of my best friends, hiking Angel's Landing with Katelyn, roadtripping across the US with Kate, visiting Utah at the end of the year, and really just living in Chicago.
13. What are the most important things you learned this year? How to be alone and lonely, that it doesn't matter what I do for work as long as I like who/what I'm doing it for and feel valued, and that I'm much more capable than I sometimes think.
14. What is your favorite photo from this year? I feel like I've become a pretty good phone photographer this year, but I think my favorite one I actually didn't take. It's this one from April.
15. What are five things you want to say to people you love? I love you, thank you, visit me, how's your soul, here's a hug 
16. What are some places where you feel true joy in your life? Lisa and Will's house in Madison, in the mountains, the branch building, art museums
17. Where do you feel most yourself? Anywhere with my dearest friends
18. What were your favorite meals? sandwiches from Plein Air and Toast (yes, I'm counting it as a meal)
19. How did you calm yourself in times of stress? I took up meditation this year, which has really helped.
20. What are some compliments that you received that deeply affected you? My old Bishop mentioned that he was sorry he didn't use me more in the ward, Catherine called me her angel, and Kate wrote me a very touching "letter of recommendation" that contained numerous compliments that really meant a lot.
21. Who are people that you believe are bringing out the best in you? My branch (especially our sister missionaries and the rest of the RS presidency) and my dearest friends
22. What items of clothing did you buy that felt the most you? The JCrew paisley pencil skirt I used to borrow from Tracy all the time before I bought my own
23. What are you excited about leaving behind in 2015? The things I want to leave behind I actually have to bring with me into the future, but I'm excited to learn how to better deal with them this next year.
24. What are five things that you were hard on yourself about but would never have been hard on a friend if they were experiencing it? My depression/anxiety, not dating, procrastination, body issues, spending money
25. What are the best pieces of advice you heard this year? I don't even know.
26. What are the best pieces of advice you gave this year? I used to think I was good at advice, but this year I haven't felt that way.
27. What things have you been putting off doing because you didn’t have time? Exploring more of Chicago, reading more books, putting music on my phone
28. What are some things you’d like to focus and work on in the next year? My thesis and finding a fulfilling career, my emotional and mental health, cooking, keeping tidy
29. What are the best parts of you that you feel really showed through this year? My courage, kindness, and resilience.
30. What are your biggest hopes for 2016? Love, stability, and joy.