24 May 2015

An update: baby, school, anniversary, and finding one's joy

     As I write this, I am drinking a cup of coffee that reminds me of a French café allongé (an Americano, as we know it) in my old -- now closed -- favorite café in Lille and listening to the White Album. I'm not sure why this relatively bizarre collection of Beatles' songs has always held a special place in my heart, when there are so many other albums of theirs that are much less full of angst, but it must speak to the first times I listened to it as a pre-teen and life events of that time. This is therefore a particularly apt choice of music for this morning, as I have about a million near-nostalgic thoughts swimming around in my mind. Thanks to some much-needed downtime after three weeks of harried PhD exam writing, I am realizing that there is much to share and record. I apologize in advance for what I know will be a long post; in anticipation of this I am sectioning it into titled sections so that you may read in various sittings, should you wish.

Section I: An apology for insensitivity

     My last post came on a bit too strong, and I want to apologize for any offense that was taken from it as a result. I knew, in the moment I wrote it, that I was extremely wound up and emotional, and should have at least sat on it for a day or two before rereading and posting. Part of this lack of responsibility might be attributed to pregnancy hormones and the fact that things that would already upset me do so to the extreme right now. However, I find this still to be an excuse that can't stand on its own two feet, given the fact that one should always remain acutely aware of the strange permanence of posting something to the digital universe. Even short Facebook posts can deeply offend, and the oft-over-defensive retort that, "It's a free country and we have freedom of expression/to each their own" etc. etc. is frankly just a way of saying that one doesn't have the patience to reflect upon the impact that words can have -- sometimes lasting much longer than a physical injury. I completely own up to this type of attitude when it comes to my previous post, and I hope that you will accept my apology.
     The topic of Val Plumwood's book is also extremely complex, and for this reason I think my post was not only offensive, but likely confusing. Plumwood is a philosopher, and I think anyone who is not a philosopher would agree that philosophical texts tend to be extremely challenging, no matter how much one cares about the topic discussed. While what I have read of this particular text seems quite straightforward, it addresses an astounding breadth of issues and information in a mere 50-60 pages. For me to attempt a concise discussion and reaction to such an excerpt is nearly as silly as the tone that I allowed to seep through my commentary.
     I hoped that what I was saying was coming from a "good" place, and I meant for it to. However, I would hazard to guess that anyone who read it and had no idea who wrote it would see clearly its lack of openness. Please know that, while the majority of what I said is truly how I feel, this was not at all my intention. In future posts that discuss any such issues, I will do my best to better reread and edit for tone and objectivity.

Section II: Baby's moving!

     I am 19 weeks along today and baby is due on October 18th. With exams done, I am finally starting to allow myself to think about all the things a first-time mom thinks about during pregnancy. Yesterday, I spent most of the day working on registries -- not an easy task prior to knowing whether we're expecting a boy or a girl (we'll know soon). While overwhelming, it is an important task as I anticipate the 3-4 baby showers that will take place over the next four and a half months. Michael and I are constantly looking at each other and talking about how lucky we are to be surrounded by such a host of family and friends who have already given us so much for Baby B.
     It was fitting that the first time we felt the baby move was this weekend. I have had pretty bad discomfort all around the mid-section (not surprising, but the intensity has jumped significantly in just a few days), but thanks to realizing that my stomach is no longer where it used to be, I was able to distinguish a baby-limb poke from indigestion late last night and this morning. It is just the strangest thing. Frankly, much of the changes and feelings and realizations of being pregnant have grossed me out. I know many women are just enamored with this experience, and I in no way am resentful of the changes or wishing that they weren't happening. However, the intense stress I've experienced throughout this quarter has elevated each change to a bizarre place, and one that has been hard to process when I have rarely felt like there are enough hours in the day to simply get through when I need to! Having said this, the movement has, not surprisingly, made much of this change to feel more positive than angsty.

Section III: PhD exams, another obstacle passed

     On May 1st, I began three weeks of intense writing and study that ended just about a week ago on the 18th. This period followed about two months of equally intense reading and preparing, all while maintaining a 5 day/week 5am wake-up in order to arrive to campus to teach at 8:30am. It has been, looking back, one of the hardest seasons of my academic life. This is a super obvious statement but one that I needed to make, since it is very nearly over! My oral exam will take place this upcoming Friday from 12-2pm. After all of the hard work and fatigue that I've gone through in such a short time, I am surprisingly calm about what is, in some universities, a full-on interrogation about what you just put your mental blood, sweat and tears into. I can say with quite a bit of confidence that I anticipate neither an interrogation nor being put on the spot in an uncomfortable manner. If you can't answer a question, you either didn't really do your work or it's something that you can gracefully displace to dissertation research in a response.
     I often found myself reflecting on a similarly-intense period during my Master's in Chicago as I read, wrote and rewrote. In many ways, I often felt like I had an easier time pushing myself during that period, as I was living alone. However, having to balance a pregnancy, interpersonal communication with Michael, care of three crazy felines and a much earlier schedule deepened the experience and often sharpened my periods of reading and thinking. I can honestly say that I learned many lessons over the past several months, and that they weren't all related to 19th century literature or Animal Studies. Through it all, I have felt or been reminded of the Lord's provision of the strength and concentration that one needs in such times when we are very aware of the fact we are traversing an obstacle or a time of trial.

Section IV: Celebrating 6 years and finally starting to understand "wedded bliss"

     Six years and one day ago, Michael and I were married on a gorgeous, 75-degree sunny day in front of family and friends. I must admit that, being quite sick the day of, I remember little of that day that I can't find in the many photographs that we have. This has often embittered my feelings about it, since so many anniversary posts of friends, family, and acquaintance on things like Facebook are effusively reflecting on the intense joy and emotion felt on that "best day of their lives". Quite honestly, I have not been able to say that and mean it, which has always made me feel like perhaps I'm secretly a horrible person. However, the past year, I have slowly but surely felt that May 23rd, 2009 might just have been the best day of my life.
     I'm sure that, even if one only read my sporadic blog posts and never interacted in person or via email with Michael or myself, it would be clear that we have undergone intense struggles in our marriage these first six years. If you are married, this is perhaps a ridiculous-sounding statement, since all marriages, no matter how happily they begin, are bound for rocky seas at one point or another. Michael and I just happen to be particularly skilled at setting ourselves up for some of the most challenging circumstances to even give "wedded bliss" a chance! The first two years lived apart, three moves in a year and a half (one cross-country), major job transitions (including getting out of the Army after 7 years), and finally having to navigate the dynamics of nearby in-laws for both of us are just the visible transitions we've stumbled through. (Let me be clear that this last "struggle" is one that came/comes not out of dislike for either set of in-laws, but rather from a pronounced difference in upbringing that is only ever made evident after two people begin living together and interacting frequently with the other's family!)
     While I personally think the term "wedded bliss" is a bit of a fabrication, I don't think marriage was made by God with the intention of feeling like purgatory. The oft-circulated sayings about how married life is meant to be miserable feel equally superficial to me. Our culture seems to only be able to comprehend and accept intense happiness and extreme misery, and thus more often than not actively rejects and ridicules anything in-between. It's wonderful to celebrate happiness and to bemoan the dark moments of life and love. However, I think the intense hesitation to see and expose the messy in-between, the workings-out, the sharpening of our souls on one another through our relationships, is ultimately detrimental to them. If we can only show to others (or our spouse) the fabulous or the horrible (i.e. "wedded bliss" or divorce), we eliminate the richness of truly living and experiencing these true struggles of becoming. A wedding day is by all means a very sacred time for a couple -- you pledge in front of God, family and friends your commitment to each other and to becoming one. However, this oneness by no means happens by some magical and perfect kiss on the lips witnessed by those in attendance. A dear friend of mine has consistently explained to me how in her marriage, after 15+ years, she is just now beginning to feel like she is beginning to be one with her husband. It is work, not magic. God is 100% capable of miracles, but he will not allow us to bypass the grittiness of relationship to jump to some kind of perfect state of being with one another. This is also true, in a slightly different sense, in friendship. The idea that fighting with one's spouse or a dear friend is the end of that relationship and should be avoided at all costs is sadly mistaken. ("Fighting" is taken as too strong a term by some that I've spoken with -- "significant differences of opinion" or "disagreement", etc. are also good terms. I by no means mean a fight in a boxing ring or one that becomes verbally abusive.) Such a moment is an opportunity! Yes, an uncomfortable, awkward and hard-to-navigate opportunity that does not always feel fruitful at the time. But an opportunity indeed! When a couple is in a period of perfect harmony, it is certainly wonderful, but conflict expands the potential for us to understand one another better, and to continue to "learn each other". The same friend I mentioned a few lines ago also describes the clearest movements towards feeling more like one as the times when she or her husband are purposefully attempting to be students of the other. Let us be students, not critics.
     I am happier than I have been in a very long time, perhaps ever. Michael will tell you that I "only get excited about three things: new episodes of the TV show Bones, ice-hockey, and France". It's true that I am not a very outwardly bouncy person, though I don't think I'm outwardly an Eeyore, either. Whatever I am, he has helped me understand that we should try to show our small moments of joy and happiness to those around us, whether it comes naturally or not. Despite his knowing that I'm not naturally this way, Michael is the kind of person who looks for visible signs that I am happy or satisfied with something instead of just taking it for granted. I have had to hear this over and over from him for me to finally start to realize that it is totally in my "power" -- or God's, though prayer and requesting more of this impulse -- to improve this aspect of our marriage. "Fake it 'til you make it" will always sound cliché, but I would propose that it's usually true, though the reasons why are different in each context of application.
     The trials of the past six years have made me more grateful than ever for what I have. Sometimes, marriage and life feels a bit like listening to Revolution #9 on a good sound system (it's playing as I type this sentence): a bit confounding, very bizarre, disorienting. At others, you notice the moments of beauty in the "song": the baby laughing, the now passed-on John Lennon speaking and making weird noises, the everyday sounds of the city. But if we can listen to the messiness of the middle, and let it wash over us and just settle in to it, it's easier to let go of the angst of that struggle and to "enjoy" the growth that can happen and the crescendo towards the resolution of that struggle -- however "blissful" by society's standards.

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