Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Survivor's Guilt, or Something

I don't know how to say what I'm feeling, which is why I'm here, saying something. It might sound arrogant and obnoxious and insensitive, like a scrawny person complaining to an obese one that they can't gain weight (which is a real issue, and not one that I'm trying to hate on, but you get what I mean). I will be the first to admit that I struggle with arrogance, obnoxiousness, and insensitivity. But here's the thing:

I got good grades in college and graduated with honors. I found the love of my life and got married and moved into an apartment. I got a job that actually fits my college major and I love it. All the main things in my life are going pretty great.

And a lot of times, I'm made to feel guilty about that.

In college, I studied and made flashcards and outlined and wrote. (I also watched Netflix, had movie nights, and ate dinner with my friends, just the Reader's Digest versions.) I worked really hard because I wanted A's. And my friends who strove for Cs made me feel like such an erudite brat for being sad if I got a B, like it was personally offensive to them that I thought I could do better.

So I stopped talking specifics about my grades or study habits, almost ashamed that I could pull off all A's some semesters.

When Gabe and I started planning the wedding, time became even more of a commodity. Now, if I wasn't studying or writing papers, I had wedding stuff to figure out. Venue hunting, dress shopping, taste testing, and decoration hunting swallowed up nearly every weekend. And my friends got mad about that too. I still hung out with people (though mostly my roommates), but the fact that I had a wedding to plan seemed to cloud conversations with derisive refrains of Oh, right, the wedding.

Now there are all these circulating lists and open letters about how it's perfectly fine that 20-somethings don't know how to boil water and how hard it is to find a job and yourself at the same time.

(First of all, I only recently learned to boil water, and second of all, I have a job and it is still hard to find myself.

And guess what? I got good grades and it gave me gray hair. I planned a wedding and shed more tears in six months than in the collective college years before engagement. I had a wedding and experienced the drastic drop in fitness motivation that follows. I got married and discovered just how damn much there is to fight about in a family of two. I got a job and realized that what I learned in college is only the tip of the iceberg of skills I need to succeed. I got an apartment and learned how much daily attention it takes to live above "slovenly at best.")

I have a lot of friends with whom theses lists and letters resonate. I have a lot of beautiful, funny friends who are still single. I have a lot of intelligent, hard-working friends who are still jobless. It makes me frustrated and sad on their behalves that they haven't yet hit the stride they're searching for. It seems unfair. To break my fast-forming rule about the F word, I feel for them.

But it also seems like the increasingly-popular reassurance lists and letters are aimed, in part, at people like me. At erudite brats who just got lucky and should feel guilty for flaunting our "success"--and "success" is in quotations because how successful are we really gonna feel when in ten years we realize that we didn't even know what we wanted back then and we got on a career path that isn't making us happy and don't we wish we'd taken the time to travel and make mistakes and find ourselves first? It seems like culture/social media is reassuring one group by giving another group the middle finger and saying "Well, GOOD FOR YOU" with as much sarcasm as an Odyssey Online keyboard can muster.

I am sorry that you're single and jobless. But I refuse to apologize for being married and employed. I still have real problems in my life. But I also feel blessed beyond what I deserve.

I guess that's really what it boils down to. Not the fact that I still have legitimate problems, but the fact that I'm made to feel guilty for liking my life. Half the time, I feel like I'm not allowed to voice my problems, and the other half I feel obligated to voice them just to avoid making other people jealous or depressed.

So, keep sharing the aforementioned Lists and Letters if they inspire and encourage you. We all need more inspiration and encouragement in our lives. But I really do mean in "all" our lives, even people who look like they've got it together. Don't throw shade at people who get mostly A's. Don't get passive aggressive toward people who find wedding plans stressful. Don't make people who love their jobs afraid to say so.

~Stephanie

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Hey, We Had Dinner Together, Didn't We?

I pull into the Wendy's parking lot, make almost a full circuit before I see an empty spot and pull in. I'm a little late, but it's fine. At least I'm here.

I walk in and scan the restaurant, all plastic and shiny and smelling like crispiness and sugar. I see her at a booth and head over.

"Hey!" she says, getting up to hug me.

"No, don't get up," I say, smiling distractedly. "Er, well yeah, get up." I laugh as I pull out my phone. "We need to order, I guess."

We get in line and she starts asking me about my day. I deflect mostly, just trying to get to the cashier.

"WelcomeToWendy'sForHereOrToGo?"

"TFor here," I say. "Lemme get a 10-piece with sweet and sour and a water."

I text as we take our food back to our booth. I'm not trying to be rude, this text is just about work.

We sit down.

"So," she says, smiling. "How--"

"Aren't you gonna eat?" I ask, nodding at her burger. I can't point because I'm holding chicken nuggets in both hands.

"Yeah..." She picks up the Junior Bacon Cheeseburger. "So--"

"One sec." Another text, but it's work again, so it's not a legitimate diss. It's just--sorry. "Okay." I set my phone down with an air of finality. "I actually only have like five minutes before I need to head out, but what's up with you? Oh, but lemme tell you about what happened yesterday. You seriously would not believe..."

Between bites of whole nuggets, I fill her in on my day, ending with a modest request for her to drop off some milk at my place later. I want to make the really good hot chocolate.

"So this was fun!" I say, raking my trash onto the tray and standing up. "Dinner tomorrow, same time and place?"

She smiles, looking a little sad, which is ridiculous because I just offered her my time again for tomorrow.

"Yeah," she says. "Tomorrow. Maybe I can call you later toni--"

"Gosh, I don't know," I say. I speak over my shoulder as I dump my wrappers and containers into the trash. "Tonight's kind of busy. How about I just see you tomorrow? Okay? Great."

In Jesus' name,
Amen.

I would never treat my friends this way. So why do I treat God this way?

Feeling convicted this morning.

~Stephanie

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Grammar Fallacy: Yeah, but does she know what it means?

This isn't what I'm being paid to do right now, but hey, I will work until 5:30 and happily call it worth it.

You know how sometimes you'll see or hear something that gets under your skin, and you feel as though you absolutely cannot think of anything else until you respond? Something that makes you fidgety, like you need to stand up and move around, cool off a bit? Something that makes your heart pound and your tongue wedge between your teeth?

Well, that's happening to me. And it isn't even something big. In fact, most of you will probably be disappointed when you find out what's bugging me, because it isn't a big political issue, or a body image issue, or a feminist thing, or even something you already know outrages me, like sex trafficking.

It has to do with four-year-old Brielle who has appeared on The Ellen Show. I saw this video on Facebook this morning, and loved it. Brielle is confident and polite and well-spoken, even though she has trouble forming her words sometimes. Oh, and she's an absolute master of grammar ("grammar": the vocabulary or principle elements of any subject).


So impressive, not to mention adorable.

Since she's only four years old and has had time to learn all this, I immediately wondered if she was homeschooled. I started Googling to find the answer, and found other videos of her. She also knows the entire periodic table of elements.

Automatically, because I'm just naturally a glutton for punishment, I scrolled down to see the comments on the article about her knowing the periodic table. Lots of people were nice ("Good girl!! Hope she falls in love with learning...!"), some people--of course--criticized the parents ("Child abuse."), but one comment made me stop cold. Made my heart pound and my tongue wedge between my teeth. I had to stand up and walk around.

"OK, idiot savant... But does she know what the table means?"

*pauses for a moment, collecting self*

Maybe that seems like a legitimate point to you, and if it does, I'm not mad. I'm actually really glad that you're reading this, and I hope you'll read on.

The simple answer? No, Brielle probably does not fully grasp what the periodic table "means." She has probably memorized a lot of words and terms and definitions that don't mean a lot to her right now. She probably doesn't know exactly what protons or electrons ARE. Little kid brains are just wired for storing information. Little kids are THE BEST at memorizing because their brains are trying to collect info to help them understand the world. Memorization is obviously not impossible once you get older, but it is more difficult, especially if you didn't exercise your memorization skills as you grew up.

So right now, Brielle pretty much only knows the words. She knows facts and sentences.

But fast forward to high school, when she starts doing "real" chemistry. Her classmates have never really thought about the periodic table of elements. They don't know the order of elements, and consequently don't know the atomic numbers of elements. They don't know what any of the elements do, except maybe that hydrogen has something to do with water. Brielle's classmates must memorize the table of elements, at the same time that they're trying to learn and practice chemistry. They're trying to get good grades while learning the grammar (the vocabulary) and the dialectic (applying concepts and asking good questions) at the same time.

But Brielle? Brielle thinks back to the "empty" words and terms and definitions she memorized when she was four. The words didn't mean a lot to her then, but now, with her more mature understanding, she can recall that information and quickly attach more meaning to it. Brielle won't have to memorize the periodic table (or the bones in the human body, or where all the countries in the world are). Instead, Brielle already has that information and can immediately move on to things that are more complex than memorization.

The words and terms and facts she has memorized provide "pegs" for her to hang future knowledge on. The words and terms and facts naturally grow with her whenever she learns new information. If she hears something about hydrogen that she's never heard before, the information will not go in one ear and out the other, because there's already a box in her mind that contains "Hydrogen" facts. The box has been created and is partly filled, and she has only to add this new information to her collection.

If you hear a new fact about breakfast cereal, don't you think you'll store that information better than a random fact about, like, the Winter War?

When I was ten, I memorized a list of 160 historical events. I didn't really know what some of them meant ("The unification of upper and lower Egypt by Pharaoh Menes"?), but now, when I hear something about the ancient unity of Egypt, I'm like "Oh, okay, yeah. Pharaoh Menes did that," and I know that it came around the time of the Tower of Babel and the Old Kingdom in Egypt, because I know what historical events came before and after it.

So to answer your question, "Tonye," no, Brielle probably doesn't know exactly what the periodic table means. But that does not detract from the value of what she's doing. One day, all the "rote memorization" that came easy as a child will pay off, giving her the boost she needs to move on to true understanding.

Never undervalue the power of kids "just memorizing" without true understanding. They are just collecting the light bulbs that will go off later.

~Stephanie

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Reason in the Rhyme: having kids when I'm selfish, scared, and cynical

Spoiler alert:  I am not pregnant.

Anyway.

Having kids has never been a question for me. Of course I am going to have kids. When I was little, I thought it was just what happened when you grew up and got married. As I grew up, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind (where I stored the information gleaned from The Talk) I knew that I didn't HAVE to have kids, but I always knew that I would. I loved babysitting; I never completely grew out of my love for "playing pretend;" I enjoyed conversations with children. Kids never intimidated me, even the ones "you couldn't do anything with."

As I grew even older, I began to think about what it would be like to raise a mini-me. What would she look like? Would she love to read? (Of course she would love to read.) Would she be allergic to peanuts? Would she be a worrywart like me?

When I fell in love with Gabe, my future wonderings grew concrete in a breathtaking, exhilarating, frighteningly real way. His was the other half of my kids' DNA. Brown eyes are dominant, so my kids would now probably have brown eyes. Gabe is much more patient than I am, more steady. Maybe my kids would have his patience and surefootedness, rather than my peanut allergy and inclination to stress about literally everything. Maybe one kid would be like me, another like him. Maybe they'd all be perfect mixtures. Maybe some would be completely out of left field and we'd have to learn them together.

I've never doubted that I want kids.

But then...

Then we started premarital counseling, and had to put our goals into categories:  short term (3-5 years), medium term (5-10 years), long term (10+ years).

Clearly, at age 22 and wanting four children, the logical category for kids was Short Term. But a spark of panic leapt into my stomach and bloomed into something hot and scratchy.

Three to five years? Gabe won't even be finished with school for three and a half years. What, he graduates and gets a job and then BAM--babies? No time as married adults with regular jobs? No years as DINKS to travel and eat at fancy restaurants and go to movies at full price?

Was I terrible for thinking that way? I really did want kids. I love kids. I want my own kids. I want to read to them, and fix their favorite foods, and take them to historical places, and play pretend with them, and hear their thoughts about the world.

But I already worry about my body. I'm already a bit of a hypochondriac. Can you imagine how worked up and freaked out I'd be if I were pregnant? Still worrying about myself all the time, except ALSO worrying about the little person inside of me, and how my own health would affect him or her.

And, if I'm absolutely throwing good taste to the wind, I might as well say that the idea of being pregnant freaks me out. My stomach is going to swell. There is going to be an ANIMAL (I know, a person, I'm there with you, but it is, in fact, a creature) forming out of tissue and soul in my stomach. Growing. It'll be like I swallowed a person, except that it keeps growing.

And don't even get me started on how scared I am of actually giving birth and nursing not sleeping for months.

Also, the world today. What if my baby has to know Hilary Clinton as his first president? Or Donald Trump? What if my baby's best friend has two mommies? What if my baby tries to tell me that he thinks he's actually a she? What if my baby's brain is skewed by the prevalent use of social media? What if he subconsciously feels like if he doesn't take a picture of an event, it might as well not have happened? I already struggle with that, and I wasn't even born into this craziness.

I feel so scared--and so selfish--when it comes to having kids. I feel like a bad person. Sometimes I want kids RIGHT NOW, sometimes I can't even pretend like I might want kids any time soon. But God is doing several things to keep me sane about this, the biggest of which is my job.

I work for Classical Conversations: a classical, Christian, community-based curriculum program for homeschooling families. Its mission statement is "to know God and to make Him known," and one of its core beliefs is that parents are the best educators for their unique children. I did this program growing up, and its philosophy and content prepared me for college and life better than anything else could have. Seriously, I will have to write a post entirely about this company sometime.

But this is not that post.

I'm the assistant editor for the multimedia side of the company, which means that I get to read a lot of the curriculum and the catalog and the resources and the emails and basically everything that this company is putting out there for parents and students.

And guys, it makes me so excited to have kids.

I want to read Story of the World to my kids. I want to hear their little voices rattling off complex history sentences from memory, the way I did when I was their age. I want to show them the beautiful logic behind Latin, and how fun it is to read original documents. I want to see the light go on in their heads when they see laws of science work in experiments. I want to hear their thoughts on the Dred Scott decision. I want to see the map of the world they can draw from memory.

I want to help them love learning, even more than I did. I want to help them understand the truth, goodness, and beauty of the world even better than I did. I want them to live a life of learning, even more intentionally than I did. I want them to see the connections between Latin and music, western culture and theology, math and literature even better than I did.

I want them to live with more love for and awareness of God than I did. I want them to feel His joy more than I did. I want them to see His connections better than I did.

Every day, I get to work with resources that help kids become the best humans they can be for God. I'm selfish, I'm scared, I'm cynical, but how can I not want to have little humans who will learn and grow and love and explore and understand better than I did? I know it sounds sort of backwards and silly, but Classical Conversations is such a great program that it makes me want to have kids just so they can participate.

I know this isn't the best thinking process, and I'm struggling with whether or not I should even hit "Publish," but this is my truth for the time being. This is my reason in the rhyme. This is how I'm staying sane and wanting kids even though I'm selfish and scared.

*shrug* I'll let you know how I feel in three to five years.

~Stephanie

Friday, September 2, 2016

~Identity~

I changed my name.

I'd been practicing my new signature for weeks, anticipating my new title as eagerly as I await summertime every year. Meter. Stephanie Meter. No longer Stephanie Bailey. I was excited, and excitement is as deep as my thoughts on the matter went.

Then I got married. It was the perfect wedding. I wouldn't change a single thing. I even remember most of it, despite being assured that it would all be just a blur. And the honeymoon was amazing. And I am completely in love with my husband; I fall in love with him more every day.

Then Gabe (Gem) and I went to another wedding, and I saw my place card at the reception: Stephanie Meter. I felt that happy thrill of excitement. But then a little snaky stream of resentment followed.

Wait, what? Resentment? How?!

That surprised me. It made me very uncomfortable. I was wholly delighted to be a Meter. I could not be happier. So what was this?!

It continued to bug me. I changed my name on Facebook, and every time I saw "Stephanie Meter" appear, I felt that ambivalent rush of joy/resentment. She wasn't ME. That name belonged to someone else. I didn't know a "Stephanie Meter." How could I BE her? How could I not know who I was?

Stephanie Bailey is a writer, a dancer, a bibliophile, a logophile, a best friend, a classmate, an occasional emotional wreck. I know who she is. I've been her for twenty-two years. And now, just because I joined with another person, I'm expected to change my name? My identity?

Maybe it's just because words are so important to me. Names are important to everyone, but ESPECIALLY to me. Words are treasures whose values run deep, all the way to the core of the universe. Whether you say "cat" or "gato" or "Katze," you speak, in much the same way God spoke when he created reality. In changing my name, I am changing my reality, my identity. It's symbolic (and not required), but it's huge.

I suddenly found myself more attached to "Bailey" than ever before. Before marriage, I'd debated whether I would keep "Bailey" or my middle name to go with my new last name when I officially made the switch. Now there was zero question. I was keeping Bailey; it was a part of who I am.

I changed my Social Security Card. I changed my license. I changed my company email. For about an hour, my company email was "smeter@classicalconversations.com." But then I sent an email and asked to change it to "sbmeter." I love Meter. But I love Bailey too. I love who I was.

But I am loving who I am too. And I'm finally, finally starting to get it, starting to get why it's so important and symbolic to change your name.

I am NOT Stephanie Bailey anymore. I gave her up when I got married. Whether or not I ever changed my SS card is irrelevant. When you get married, you cease being your old self. (Hear me out.)

Marriage is about identity. No, I am not changing who I am to fit Gabe; he is not changing who he is to fit me. We are BOTH changing who we are to fit Married Stephanie and Married Gabe. According to God, we are now one person. We act as a unit. We absolutely retain who we are (I love clubbing; Gabe is never ever going to love clubbing), but we change who we are a little bit too. I can no longer be the girl who doesn't rinse her dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Gabe can no longer be the man who doesn't put the toilet seat down. We're changing.

I was right in my initial hesitation about Facebook's "Stephanie Meter." I DON'T know who she is--I've never been her before--but I get to decide. I'm not Stephanie Bailey anymore; I'm Stephanie Bailey Meter. I am changing because I'm growing, and I'm growing differently than I've ever grown before.

I need not feel any resentment toward Stephanie Meter. She's still me, or at least she will be. I was much too young to decide who I was when I got my first last name; Stephanie Bailey just sort of happened. But this time, I get to be intentional. Who is Stephanie Meter? Is she kind? Is she fun? Does she love Jesus with all her heart? Is she a writer? Is she a dancer? Does she cook?

I can't wait to find out.

~Stephanie Meter

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Weirdly Awkward

"I'm nervous."

"It'll be fun!"

"But I'm so awkward!"

"No you're not."

"I am! I'm super weird."

"That's not the same as awkward."

I paused. It wasn't? Huh. It wasn't. I am weird, but that doesn't have to mean I'm awkward:  "causing difficulty; hard to deal with; causing or feeling embarrassment or inconvenience." Being weird doesn't necessarily mean socially unskilled, unrelatable, distasteful, dull.

Being weird is an asset; being awkward is a handicap.

Somehow I had never noticed how I was conflating the terms. I have been living my whole life thinking that because I'm weird--because I read "school books" in my spare time, have two razors in my shower, get dehydrated easily, and can't get into binge watching TV--I am an "awkward person." But that's not necessarily true.

What if owned my "weirdness" and stopped acting like I thought it made me an awkward person?

What if instead of hiding my copy of Romanticism and Consciousness, I brought it with me to the pool and used it as a conversation starter, or even just let people think what they want?

What if instead of making an apologetic explanation for my two razors, I said "Yeah, I have a weird system. But hey, at least I don't leave food debris in the sink. That would be a lot harder to live with."

What if instead of chewing my nails off and smiling weakly and having an inner freak-out when I'm getting dehydrated, I said "I'm really thirsty. Wanna go with me to find something to drink?"

What if instead of chiming in with a lame "Oh, Pretty Little Liars...yeah...I saw an episode one time, maybe..." I just came right out and said "You know, I've never really seen that. What's it about? What are the characters like?"

What if I stopped mining every conversation for the hidden "right" next thing to say, and just focused on being Real? What if I talked when I felt like talking, and let silences flow as they would? What if I used my weirdness as a way of being profoundly honest and authentic? What if I used my weirdness to put people at ease with their own selves? (After all, aren't we all a little odd?)

That sounds a lot easier and more fun--for everyone involved.

Yeah, I AM weird. But I can have a perfectly "normal" conversation with you. I can go to normal restaurants and watch normal movies and listen to normal songs and have a normal good time. Not only that, but because I'm actually weird, I can probably offer you something that the next "normal" person can't.

I'll be interested to see the effects of this latest revelation :)

~Stephanie

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Processing "Rape Culture"

I'm not sure how to write about this. I don't even know what I want to say yet (which is--as always--why I'm writing in the first place).

You've probably already heard more than you care to about the girl who was raped behind a dumpster and how her rapist got sentenced to only six months in prison. Part of me agrees that you can never say too much about how awful that was. But part of me is also emotionally exhausted by all the hate and horror floating around on the internet.

If it's not police violence, it's a gorilla getting shot. If it's not a gorilla getting shot, it's how males are absolute pigs and responsible for "rape culture."

Are males responsible for rape culture? Well, they are statistically more often the rapists and than the victims. Males do have more of a reputation for objectifying and sexualizing women, and reputations don't just form for no reason. So, I guess yeah, males are primarily responsible for rape culture.

But not ALL males. Gem is not responsible for rape culture. My dad is not responsible for rape culture. And I resent all the broad, sweeping statements about how "No, you know what, because you have a penis you ARE part of the problem and the fact that you don't think you are means you're even worse and there's nothing you can say or do to make me change my mind."

I'm sorry, but isn't that just another form of sexism? Don't women get enraged when sweeping statements are made about them? People are individuals. "Men" is not a homogeneous group of macho rapists any more than "Women" is a homogeneous group of emotional b*tches.

Brock Turner did something wrong. But TWO other males did something right by stopping him and calling the police.

Yeah, males are primarily responsible for rape culture. But not ALL males.

I also happen to think that it is really stupid for a young woman to get so drunk she can't remember her night, so drunk she thinks it's wise to wander behind a dumpster with a strange boy. I do NOT mean that it was "her fault" that she was violated. But you are more likely to get knifed in a dark alley alone than in a well-lit Starbucks. You are also more likely to be molested if you are totally plastered and unable to enforce your wishes. (A 2012 study posted by Campus Safety Magazine reports that "90% of acquaintance rapes involve alcohol.")

But then again. I just read an article (why do I even do that to myself? It's like reading the comments on YouTube) by a 20-something Christian guy who made a point I had somehow overlooked:  "As men, it’s our job to protect women regardless of what they wear or how much they drink."

Oh.

How could I have forgotten the way I was raised? How could I have forgotten the Southern values I hold to so proudly? How could I have forgotten the Biblical responsibility of men?

I've been so caught up in how dumb and irresponsible it is to wear short skirts and get plastered in an alleyway that I forgot that THAT SHOULDN'T MATTER. In a common sense and empirical kind of way, it totally does matter, but on a moral, Christian, Southern level, it shouldn't matter at all.

Men are supposed to protect women, not because women are weak or cowardly, but because it's polite (and clearly women are the ones who need protection in this particular case, since most rapists are men and most victims are women).

But no matter how confident in and proud of Gem and my dad I am, I will never wear a short skirt and get plastered in an alleyway.

~Stephanie

Saturday, April 2, 2016

You Might Be an English Major If...

~ You like to laugh at whoever made notes in your literature book before you. They had no clue what they were talking about.

~ You get a special thrill when you've already underlined a passage your professor highlights in class.

~ It takes you three times longer than necessary to study for a literature exam, because you keep getting caught up in how beautiful the words are.

~ Your idea of "relaxing" is paraphrasing Paradise Lost in modern English.

~ You're reading a book for pleasure, but keep feeling like you ought to be taking notes.

~ People ask you grammar questions instead of looking up the answers, because you're faster.

~ Some of the truest joy you've ever felt comes from finding a book source that is truly PERFECT for your research paper. (This happened to me about an hour ago and I'm not gonna lie, I'm still coming down from it.)

~ If listening to your favorite song looks like this.



~ You experience gut-wrenching horror, anger, and sorrow when book-burning is mentioned.

~ A fun evening of relaxing can totally include watching a Macbeth adaptation or reading scholarly articles on femininity in "The Birthmark."

~ You are beyond tired of the question, "So do you wanna teach then?" English majors do not have to be teachers any more than math majors have to be calculators.

~ It feels completely normal to spend 80 minutes talking about phallic and yonic symbols. In fact, you don't really even notice.

~ The inappropriate use of "literally" makes you want to walk away from a conversation--LITERALLY.

~ You are the go-to person whenever someone needs his or her paper edited. And you don't mind.

~ You hear the phrase "country matters" and start giggling mischievously, because Hamlet.

~ You check out a book at the library called "Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon:  Beowulf as a Metaphor" JUST BECAUSE IT SOUNDS INTERESTING.

~ You have turned in over 100 pages of writing this semester.

~ You cringe whenever directly quoting forces you to use controversial punctuation. {I like my Oxford commas, thank you very much.}

~ You actually have an opinion on the Oxford comma.

~ You go out with your friends and end up talking about Hamlet's psychological state, why you're in love with Emily Dickinson, and how Wallace Stevens was a total nihilist.

~ You care enough to compile a list of things called "You Might Be an English Major If..."

Bonus Round:
You might be a SENIOR English major if...

~ You accept the challenge of writing a paper on a text you have not quite finished reading.

~ You email your professor a question about your paper and justify crossing off "work on paper" from your To Do list.

~ You really hope your professor remembers the amazing paper you wrote freshman year and gives you a massive benefit-of-the-doubt about this current one.

~ You write a blog post about your paper and justify crossing off "work on paper" from your To Do list.

~ You do not crumble at the thought of reading 250 pages in a weekend, and another 400 between Monday and Thursday.

~ You start crying when your professor changes a paper requirement from "12-15 pages" to "10-12 pages."

~ You start crying when your professor postpones a paper deadline by a week.

~ You just generally start crying a lot.

You might be a senior English major at Campbell University if...

~ Your professors are some of the most important and amazing people you've ever had in your life, and you are going to miss them every bit as much as you're going to miss your friends. And free pizza.

I'm not even going to make a joke about Just Kidding I'm Gonna Miss Free Pizza More.

I can't believe this part of the journey is almost over.

~ Stephanie

Thursday, March 10, 2016

There is No Brunette Superwoman

I want to live in Italy for a couple of years.

I want to live in Germany for a couple of years.

I want to have four kids.

I want to get a PhD in English literature.

I want to get into fantastic shape.

I want to learn Greek.

I graduate college in T-minus two months and then my "real life" begins. As I look for post-graduation jobs and plan my wedding, I am frequently plagued by a relatively new thought:

What if I don't do all of that stuff?

That has never really occurred to me in quite this way. As a kid, you never really connect with your Grown-Up Self. Adult You is a separate, theoretical entity that exists by himself in the future, with no concrete bridge to Actual, Current You.

When I planned/plan my Future, the plans are for the brunette superwoman I wish I could be. It is only lately that I'm starting to realize the fact that I am the only "me" I will ever have. There is no point where this oxymoronic, scattered, passionate twenty-something will cleanly dissolve into the universe and Brunette Superwoman will come to live the rest of my ideal life for me.

If *I*--real me, right here, right now, as I am--don't live my dreams, then I won't live my dreams.

And that is terrifying and stupidly surprising. Like, wait, what? I personally have to weigh the pros and cons of living on another continent from my family and trying to work in a foreign country? I personally have to push four small humans from my body? I personally have to dedicate my time and energy and passion to words and research for another bunch of years? I personally have to eat right and work out? I personally have to find a Greek curriculum and do the work?

What if I--this oxymoronic, scattered, passionate twenty-something--can't do that? What if it looks too overwhelming and I just get tired and settle?

What if I decide that I don't want those things anymore, now that I personally have to do them? What if I disregard them for truly good reasons? How will I know I disregarded them for good reasons and not because I got scared?

How seriously do other people take me? When I say I want to live in Italy and get a PhD, Gabe believes me. Will he be disappointed if I don't follow through?

My fourteen-year-old self had THE MOST grand plans for my twenty-something self, and even better ones for my thirty- and forty-something selves. She intended for me to Change. The. World. Not that she matters anymore (seeing as she doesn't exist), but what if I disappoint her? What if I disappoint my twenty-two-one-month-and-three-days self?

I know living a happy, successful life has nothing to do with money. I believe that. I have never struggled with and am at complete peace with that. But I have always thought that living a happy and successful life means Italy and Germany and four kids and a doctor of philosophy and a strong, healthy body and an ability to read Greek. What if that is just as wrong as placing my happiness in money?

I know true happiness comes from Love: love from and for God; and through him, love for others and myself. But now, with reality staring me in the face, I am wondering how much I will really accomplish--not how much I CAN accomplish, mind you; that's what trips me up. Dismiss me as arrogant, but I know I am capable of fantastic things. The question is, will I do them? And if I don't, how much does that matter?

As always, I will let you know if I ever find out.

~Stephanie

Monday, February 22, 2016

What Had Happened Was...

Some people are sick of me telling this story. But some people still haven't heard it. So, people in the second group, here it is. The Night Gabe Proposed.

It was before dinner on New Year's Ever, my second favorite holiday (after the Fourth of July), and Gabe and I sat on the screened porch in Mom's big square armchair. (To make room for the Christmas tree, Mom's chair gets relocated every December.)

"Do you still wanna do fireworks tonight?" Gabe asked.

"Definitely. Just us?"

"Mm. Yeah. What would be more Meaningful to you, before or after midnight?"

I thought. "After," I said. "That'll be easier if we want it to be just us. We can just wait for everyone to leave."

"True. Okay."

Dinner was spectacularly good. Pork chops, mashed potatoes, corn casserole, iced tea...

Every year for New Year's Eve, we get all dressed up. And go nowhere. Sarah and I invite a couple of close friends and we all eat snacks and watch The Twilight Zone and play games and generally have the funnest New Year's Eves ever.

This was Gabe's and my fourth New Year's Eve together. Actually, now that I think about it, he is the ONLY one who has ALWAYS come.

True to tradition, Gabe, Cassidy, James, Sarah, my parents, and I played Monopoly and Ticket to Ride. We took a break and visited Jesse at Taco Bell who sadly had to work that night.

11:50pm arrived and we gathered in the living room to watch the ball drop in New York. Five minutes later it was 11:55 and we passed around the glasses of sparkling cider. Four minutes and fifty seconds later, we began chanting the countdown.

Ten, nine, eight... I looked at Gabe. I never used to be a sappy person, but I can't even tell you how excited I was to have my first real New Years Kiss.

Seven, six, five... "At zero?" Gabe asked me. I nodded.

Four, three, two...

One. Add "Real New Years Kiss" to my list of experiences.

We all drank our sparkling cider and walked around clinking glasses. I felt really good. Especially good. I felt sort of giddy and floaty, like liquid sunshine was sloshing around inside me. 2016 had a great ring to it.

I had just gone to sit with Cass on the couch when Gabe announced, "All right. Let's go shoot off fireworks." Everyone looked excited.

I stared at him. Oh. Guess it wasn't going to be just us after all.

I said as much, clearly put off by the change in plans, but went to get my coat. Gabe followed me, completely confused.

I glared at him. "You can't announce fireworks at a party if you don't want everyone to go!" I said to him in the hall. "I wanted it to be just us too, but now everyone has to come. It is ridiculously rude for the two of us to go wandering off by ourselves at a party!"

"I'm sorry!" he said. "No, it's just us. It's just gonna be us."

He just didn't get it. "I don't care if that's what you want too," I said. "At this point, it is rude for us not to include everyone."

Mom walked by. "What's wrong?" I explained. "Oh. Well, Sarah's still carsick [from the hot, cramped drive to visit Jesse], so I doubt she wants to go anyway. James will probably stay with her."

"Let's just us go," Gabe said again. "Please. Come on."

Eventually I relented. Boys can be so oblivious though, am I right?

We started the walk down to the lake, through the trails in the woods. Normally, it's a really pretty, fun short walk. But it was midnight and pitch black. Oh, and it had been raining for like the past two weeks. One step off the sidewalk and onto the trail and my new boots squished down into that Carolina red clay.

"Wow, I did not think about it being muddy," I said. "I would've worn my hiking boots."

Gabe glanced over his shoulder as we continued. "I mean...do you want to go back and change?"

"Yeah, kind of," I said. Gabe said okay, and we turned to head back. But then I was hit with a flood of sheepishness. Could I just cut the poor guy some slack? First I chewed him out about excluding people, now I was being all prissy about my shoes... "Actually, no, it's fine. Thanks though."

We continued on.

We stopped at the clearing with the picnic shelter, just before the dock slopes down by the lake. The big open gravel space was the perfect spot for shooting off some massive fireworks.

I stood several yards back. Gabe lit the first firework and ran towards me. The firework whistled into the sky and exploded loudly just as he reached my side. A huge smile lit up my face. So loud. So exciting. So pretty. We both laughed.

"Another one?" he said.

"Yes!"

We lit and ran.

Despite the perfection of everything, a shard of sadness suddenly pierced my heart, as had become routine in beautiful moments. You see, I was really looking forward to moving in with my best friend Cassidy after graduation. But at the same time...I wanted more from this man I loved. We used to talk about getting married. Our relationship used to feel like a slow, steady progression toward doing life together forever. But lately that felt farther away than ever. He'd been gone for Christmas, which put more of a strain on my soul than I'd expected. Being apart from him at school was beginning to feel less and less like something all couples did, and more and more like something that was really Wrong for us.

We ran from another whizzing firework, and an icy tear slid down my cheek. Stop it! I sharply rebuked myself. This is an amazing night. Stop being so miserable about everything and appreciate what he's doing.

I wiped away the stupid sadness and smiled. We lit a third firework and ran.

"Another?" he asked again.

I really smiled. "Yes."

He put his hand in his sweatshirt pocket to get the next one ready. In the dark, he struggled with it. "Can you get your flashlight? he asked.

"Sure." I pulled out my phone, turned the flashlight on, and shined it on his hands.

He was not holding a firework. He was holding something tiny and sparkly.

"Wh--"

He dropped to one knee and my whole world exploded into a dreamlike blur. My knees buckled and I knelt with him, then immediately remembered that I should be standing for this. I popped back up.

Somewhere through the haziness, I heard his voice:  "Stephanie Bailey, will you marry me?"

"Are you serious?" flew out of my mouth.

He laughed. "Yes."

"Yes!" I said. "Yes! Are you serious?"

Everything was blurry and blotchy and shaky. Somehow I ended up facing the other way, in his arms, my face in his shoulder, shaking and still asking if he was serious. I had had so many dreams about him proposing. So many times I had become engaged only to wake up.

Finally he became good-naturedly sarcastic. "No, this is just the cruelest joke ever played," he said.

I laughed, and at that moment it became real. Tearless sobs escaped my mouth.

"Let's see if this ring fits," he said, feigning impatience. I had all but forgotten that there would be a ring involved, and it was still in his hand.

He slid it on my finger, and I gasped. "It's beautiful..." Of course, I couldn't really see it in the darkness, but I saw enough to know it was perfect.

Eventually, we walked back to the house. I stopped several times on the way, completely unsure of how to contain the joy in my body, much less interact with other people. Gabe, always the calm rock, guided me back, bursting with happiness himself.

When we came through the front door, I realized that everyone had known. Mom, Daddy, Sarah, Cassidy, James. They all slowly approached with huge smiles, and a few tears. I broke into happy tears again and hugged everyone.

I have never felt joy that complete in my whole life. Everything about the night was absolutely perfect. Gabe did so, so well. I could not be happier to plan and live a life with him. What an incredible partner he will be! I hope I can make him feel just as lucky and loved as he makes me :)

~Stephanie

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Why I Freaked Out (Today)

Well. I was sitting in class, listening to the professor wrap up our discussion on Lee Smith. I was thinking about how different Fair and Tender Ladies' plot is, and how different the plot of our next book--A Death in the Family--is from the plots of all my stories. Fair and Tender spans the character's whole life, flowing and falling over the moments she chooses to capture in letters to people she loves. There isn't exactly a climax. There aren't any real plot twists or sudden stretches of intense action. But it's wonderful.

A Death in the Family takes place mostly within a couple of days. The characters sit around and wait and talk and think. You get into their minds in stunningly real ways. The way the children think rings so sweet and true and naturally childlike that it's impossible to imagine a grown man writing the story. But nothing much really happens. As in Fair and Tender, the story's beauty and heart lie in the gentle, raw, realness of it all. The people are real not just because they're "complex," but because we Meet Them.

Lots of books have great characters, characters that seem original and believable, and--until now--that's all I'd ever thought a "well-written character" needed to be. But it occurs to me now that there is a difference between Believing a character and Meeting Them, leaving the book and feeling like you've just had a conversation with someone very old who lives in the mountains, or a little child who wants you to help him understand the world.

Until JUST now, I assumed that one feels like she has "met" a character only if the story is written in first person; otherwise the character is just believable and well-written. But A Death in the Family Introduces you to the characters without ever slipping into first-person narration.

But this doesn't explain why I "freaked out" in class. I freaked out because...I don't know how to write characters like that. I might be flattering myself, but I think I can write believable characters, characters that are at least somewhat original. But writing characters that the reader truly Meets is an entirely new animal, an animal I didn't even know existed much less know how to catch.

I think it has something to do with the type of story, which really fueled my panic. I think it has to do with the stories relying not so much on plot, but on characters. Ivy just recounts her life, in a simple yet poetic way, and the reader followers her as she grows up. Fair and Tender Ladies is crudely lovely, a classic. A Death in the Family conveys Real People and Real Feelings more by observing a family for forty-eight hours than by exploding into a dynamic story arc. The story is gripping and fantastically good.

And then you have my stories.

Girl, Boy, Magic Mirror, Other World. Secret Family, Language Barriers, Epic Journey. Big Decision, Twist Ending.

Evil Lord, Six MCs, Dramatic Escape. Rescue for World, Love Triangle, Complex Culture.

Ancient Civilization, Laws with Unintended Consequences, Resistant Love. Big Realization, Thought-Provoking Moral.

I think my stories could be good. I think I could maybe write them well and maybe get them published and maybe people would read them and like them. But I am afraid they won't ever be Great in the way the books I read for school are Great.

In my wildest, wildest, silliest dreams, I could be in the category of J. K. Rowling--and I would be absolutely floored and honored and ecstatic and lucky if I were.

But...there's such a difference between the outstandingly successful Harry Potter series and the writings of Lee Smith, James Agee...Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and all the things I read for my classes.

What do you have to do to be Great? What is it that these authors have?

And how can I get it?

Can I ever get it? Am I "that kind" of writer? Do I want to be? Or do I want to be J. K. Rowling? (What writer WOULDN'T want to be J. K. Rowling...?)

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. And for a girl who has always assumed she would one day be a writer, that causes a freak out.

~Stephanie