Feeling Thankful, or Having Mixed Emotions? Learning to Embrace Where We Are

    Sometimes, I feel like my life is a strange mix between New Girl and Portlandia. 

    I think what I like about both of these shows is that although they are funny, they also show that life isn’t always perfect.  Most of us young adult professionals fall somewhere in between having it all figured out and feeling like a complete hot mess.  I know that in New Girl, I most identify with Jess and Winston because they fall in the middle spectrum of their friends.  Schmidt is the epitome of the successful, handsome early 30 something who has his choice of the attractive women, although he has his own personality quirks, which is why he’s funny. Nick, while very nice and fun, doesn’t seem to have much direction in his life.  But he’s trying, so I as a viewer have sympathy for him. Jessica and Winston know their strengths and have an idea of how to use them, but sometimes have a hard time finding a “niche” in terms of a precise job.  They have a supportive group of friends who care a lot about them, but their dating relationships tend to be more touch and go. They, like me, have a hard time finding people who are in their in the right place and time and who fully appreciate what they have to offer. Nick and Jess are now together, but it’s unclear whether it’ll work out in the long run, as it should be if the writers know what they’re doing. Winston is at least trying to date again, and he has a good companion in his cat Ferguson. Therefore, I appreciate the show’s honesty in showing likable characters my age who are trying to find their way.  And I appreciate the Portlandia characters for embracing the weird.  If there’s anything I’ve learned to do in my first year of Ph.D. work, it’s to embrace the weird.  

      On this Thanksgiving day, some people feel like they’re in a place in their life where things have fallen into place nicely.  Their facebook profiles are an honest portrayal of their lives rather than a reflection of the mostly good because really, things are good.  For some people, Thanksgiving feels more like Sucksgiving.  It might be one of those seasons in life where it seems like everything that could have possibly gone wrong in the past six months to a year has gone wrong.  Maybe you’ve had health problems, maybe you’ve had a falling out with a steady significant other, maybe you’re having problems at work, maybe you’ve had a recent loss in your life, or maybe you just aren’t able to see your family and/or significant other for whatever reason.  Or maybe it’s a combination of several of the above.  If that’s where you are, I’m sorry because I know how those periods in life feel.  That was me pretty much all of 1993 to 1994, when I was adjusting to braces and a move across the country in addition to the more run of the mill middle school problems, which we all know can be hell even on their own.  That was me in January through March 2011; after going through a really good streak in my relationships and work, I felt a lot of things crumble right in front of my eyes for no apparent reason.  Fortunately, I had supportive coworkers and friends to help pull me through, and my cousins moved to Atlanta a few months later, which also helped.  So if you’re in one of those really sucky periods, I hope it gets better for you sooner rather than later, and it will eventually get better.  It might not happen overnight, and it might involve you having to re-evaluate some things and some people in your life, but you will make your way from the valley further up the hill.  That’s all the wisdom I can really offer, as someone who’s still on an upward climb. 

      Most of us, if we’re honest, are somewhere in between.  We might have climbed out of the valley, but we’re not quite at the top of the hill.  If that’s us, the holidays can still bring some mixed emotions.  Maybe it’s because for single people, the holidays can have a way of making you feel even more “by yourself”.  Maybe it’s because you’re not happy at work, or maybe it’s because it seems like everyone around you has it better than you.  But, try to embrace the good things.  For me, some things in my life have gone really well in the past six months, and some things have not.  I am in a new graduate program that seems to be a great fit for me, and I’m finally on my way to doing what I believe I was truly called to do, which is to write and research and to teach college students.  And I’m so grateful for everything in my life that led me here.  However, moving to a new city and being in graduate school brings its own set of challenges.  For some of us, myself included, it takes a toll on personal relationships, in part because some of the people you love just don’t understand what you’re going through, in spite of any good intentions they may have.  If you want to go to graduate school because it will advance your career, more power to you, and it’s a great decision.  Just know that it’s far more challenging than undergrad, both work load wise and emotionally.  But, you meet a lot of really interesting people and grow a lot, so it’s worth it if you’re ready for it.  

     If you’re going through one of those seemingly perfect periods in your life, I’m glad, and I ain’t mad.  Go ahead and post your family pictures on Facebook.  But if you post too many happy status updates in a week, I might have to temporarily hide you from my news feed.  It’s not personal, and I’m not doing it to you; I’m doing it for myself.  I’ll re-follow you once I have my own life a little bit more ironed out.  And if you’re going through one of those Sucksgiving periods, if I haven’t given you a big hug in person, think of my blog as a virtual hug to you.  If I know what you’re going through, I will think of you and pray for you and hope it gets better soon.  And since I’m “mildly Episcopalian” (like one of the Brittanick boys) with some flower child leanings (without the drugs), I’m giving you a verse from Ecclesiastes and a really cool 60s song that I still read over again when I just don’t understand some happenings in my life: “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” In other words, there is a spiritual purpose to life, even if it’s not immediately tangible.  I tend to be a perfectionist, and I tend to like my life to be certain, resolved, and with direction.  But, as my wise father pointed out to me, if your life is too certain for too long, it’s boring.  So, embrace some uncertainty and enjoy the journey.  (Yes, I know it’s easier said than done, but I too am learning that it makes life less stressful).  My father is my age plus 35 (I’d rather not age either of us more than that, but that at least gives you a guess within 5-10 years), and while he has a whole lot more figured out than I do, not everything in his life is 100 percent certain at the moment.  So, he and I have to remind ourselves and one another to enjoy the journey and not over-worry about the destination.  I think if you at least have a sense of direction in life, and if you try to do right by people, the destination has a way of working itself out with time.   

        Life isn’t always easy, especially on the holidays.  But today, I’m thankful that I got to have a nice lunch with my parents and with a family friend close to my age, and I’m thankful that I got to face time with my cousins and with my little sister and her husband’s family.  Face time and Skype might not be quite the same as face to face interaction, but they’re a whole lot better than just talking on the phone.  They make the love of many natures more palpable in people’s eyes when I talk to them, so I hope to utilize it more to talk to my friends who don’t live in my city. I’m grateful for the friends in Atlanta I saw and will see during Thanksgiving week. I’m grateful that I have enough food to eat, clothes on my back, and a warm place to sleep.  Not everyone has that.  

      And I’m grateful that I’m in a place in my life where the people I’m around teach me to embrace the weird.  

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Today, I March

      This week, at the University of Georgia, the Black Affairs Council and the LBGT Resource center received hateful comments on their Facebook pages.  This person stated, “Let UGA be RIGHT for good WHITE Christian students.”  Well, I am White, I am a Christian (albeit a very liberal one), and I find these comments very hurtful, to the point where I get choked up upon reading them.  A number of people I care about are Black and/or Gay, and they deserve to come to visit my town and to attend my University and feel welcome here.  

     I got my undergraduate degree and a master’s degree here, with an add-on creative writing certificate from KSU, and am now working on my Ph.D.  I love the University of Georgia and am proud of the degrees I have gotten and will get here; I’ve worked very hard for them.  UGA is a competitive state university, and I’m proud of that reputation.  And I’m proud that Athens is a community where many people are known for being supportive of immigrants and undocumented students.

      But this week, I was embarrassed to learn that a person possibly affiliated with UGA made such hateful comments. To quote a statement made in the movie Crash, I say to this person: “You embarrass me.  You embarrass yourself.”  Yet yesterday, I was also uplifted to see how many of my professors and also my friends sent messages about the Black Student Council’s march today and encouraged us to participate if we can.  And I was uplifted when some of my friends said about the march, “I’m going too.” 

      Today, I march.  The Black Student Council has asked us to wear black to show a sense of unity and solidarity, and perhaps because black is one of our school colors.  I also wear black today to show my sadness, although hopefully, after today, my sadness will turn back into a sense of hope. We will march together across the bridge in front of Sanford Stadium, to show our support for minority students and to show that UGA is indeed a place where many people value diversity.

     Today, I march for my grandmother, Iris Rose Gibson Ruffing.  She passed away on February 29, 2008, but on days like this, I can feel her watching me, telling me what to do.  She opened the first racially integrated Girl Scout Camp in North Carolina, and she used to tell my mom and my aunt to sit at the back of the bus with the Black people, to make a stand against segregation.  Long before the Jim Crow laws were deemed illegal, my Gran taught her daughters that segregation was wrong.  I’m sure my mom, my Gran, and my aunt didn’t sit in the back of the bus without getting stares from multiple people.  So, I want to make sure that what they did, along with the people involved with the Greensboro sit-ins that my mother remembers from the 1950s, was not without forward progress.  

     Today,  I march for my former middle school students.  I came back to Athens to get my Ph.D. because I realized I could better help the educational system by writing, researching, and running teacher workshops than I could by teaching in the public schools.  It’s a better use of my strengths and gifts.  But some days, I miss my students very much.  In particular, there was a group of students I had last year who I taught for Homeroom, Language Arts, and Reading.  They were students labeled as gifted, and they were one of the smartest, most creative groups of kids I ever had the pleasure of teaching.  We were close, in part because I saw them more hours of the day than I see most of my family and friends.  The majority of them were races other than White/European American, including Black, Multiracial, Asian, and Latin@.  I know that most of them will blow the SAT’s out of the water, get good grades in high school, and have the opportunity to attend UGA with the Hope Scholarship if that’s what they want to do. If they come here, I want them to feel welcome.  By the time they get here, I will have my Ph.D. and will most likely be living and working somewhere else.  But I march for them today because I want UGA to be a better environment for the students I taught, whether they are White or minority students.  Some of the students I taught in my early days are here now as undergraduates, and others will be here in the future.  I want UGA as a whole to feel more like Leadershape UGA 2001, where we all got along and were friends regardless of race, religion, and creed.  

      Today, I march for my future nieces and/or nephews and for my future young cousins, who will be born into Interracial and Interfaith families.  I’m proud that my extended family is both Interfaith and Interracial, and I think that’s becoming more common.  I want my future relatives to grow up in an environment where they won’t have such hurtful language directed at them.  Is that ambitious?  Perhaps.  But I think today’s march will bring us steps in that direction.  

      Today, I march for my friends who are Gay and who are in Interracial relationships.  I think they should live in a world where they can hold hands on the street  and give goodbye hugs and kisses without people staring at them.  We’re not there yet, but we’re headed in that direction.  On a related note, read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.  It’s an awesome book about the forward progress being made in support for Gay couples.  I happen to believe that being Gay is not a choice, and reading Two Boys Kissing further reinforced this belief of mine. 

      Today, I march for the undocumented students who I heard speak in my Critical Pedagogies class on Tuesday night.  They are talented, wonderful students who deserve to have a college education, and they might not get to here in Georgia due to some of our laws on educating undocumented students.  Regardless of your beliefs on immigration, these children did not have a choice to come to this country.  They were brought here by their families.  So why not give them a chance to better their lives and use their gifts.  And besides, we cannot always judge an immigrant’s actions, whether or not they were legal.  Some of them had to flee for their physical and emotional safety, and I wish our country would be more supportive of such situations.  

      People cannot control their race or their sexual orientation.  And regardless of nature versus nurture, man’s inhumanity toward man  should not be tolerated in any way, shape, or form.  And for what it’s worth, person who posted those disturbing comments, I think if Jesus Christ were here on this earth today, He would be joining this on our march for social justice.