Harvard Feels, Part 3

Tomorrow I start classes. Actual Harvard graduate school classes. I’m having a “I made it,” but then a “There’s so much more to go” feels right now.

Last night, I was piecing together what I’m hoping the next two years looks like, and there’s a lot to do. Right now, my Harvard feels are anticipation. Excitement. Nervousness.

Anticipation. My classes I’m taking all look awesome and work perfectly into what I want to be doing with my life.

Excitement. I’m going to be in actual graduate classes. It’s difficult to exude the excitement behind those words. Graduate classes. Graduate classes.

Nervousness. Will I be able to do what I came here to do?

Right now, I feel like this quote sums it all up:

[My] quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail to the ruin of all.

So, in the words of another one of my literary heroes: Hobey-ho, let’s go!

Other Flowers We Have

Other Flowers We Have
By Adam McLain

Consider the lilies of the field,
They toil not, they spin not.

Yet, other flowers we have,
That are not of that field.

Consider the tulips of the skies,
They lift our souls toward heaven.

Consider the roses of love,
Once hidden, now flowering, opening our hearts.

Consider the daffodils of peace,
Inviting all to envelop themselves in their calm.

Consider the hydrangeas of unity,
Together they flower—together they whither.

Consider the marigolds of light,
They brighten; they protect; they enjoy.

Consider the chrysanthemums of gold,
Wealth they share, freely and flowingly.

Them I must also consider,
And smell their aromas.

Some Thoughts from the Child of a “Weak” Family

The Latter-day Saint Church News recently stated this:

The Church cannot be strong if a majority of its leaders and members come from weak families, said President Dallin H. Oaks on Aug. 24.

“Conversely, if most of the families in a ward or stake are strong, the ward or stake will also be strong,” he said. “The same is true of the Church.”

I understand where this sentiment is coming from—the building blocks of the kingdom must be built strongly. The building block of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is family, and to the Church, a strong family is defined as a father and mother righteously leading children in attending church and living the gospel.

I, technically, come from a “weak” family, according to this definition. I was raised by a single mom. My parents were divorced from the time I was very young.

Being a male, I was groomed for leadership positions throughout growing up in the Church. I was told “One day, you will be a bishop. One day, you will be a leader in this church.”

But I was also told that a complete family was one with a mother and a father. It wasn’t my family. My family was a weak family.

With the logic that Mr. Oaks lays out—the Church cannot be strong if a majority of its leaders and members come from weak families—where do I fit in? Because I come from a “weak” family, am I weakening the Church by participating as a member or in the leadership?

The answer to that question doesn’t completely matter for this exercise of thought. What matters is that I thought these questions. I thought it every time I was told “You’ll be a good leader” and then in the same chair, just on a different Sunday, I was taught that the proper family—the strong family—is one with a mother and a father. And then, I was taught that strong families are what make up a good Church and that I should strive to create a family with a mother, a father, and children—even though my own foundation is not of that “strong” family.

It’s a cyclical thought pattern that demeans my experience and what I have to contribute to the community. Is it Mr. Oaks’s fault that I’m thinking these things? Do I think that he feels that I wouldn’t be a valuable contribution to the membership and leadership of the Church? No, I can’t know for certain what Mr. Oaks believes or what he wants. But, what I do know is that his words do have ripple effects to them—ripple effects that if we don’t talk about them, then they’ll never be seen.

Teaching that a “strong” family is one that has a father and a mother at the front, and considering families that don’t have that as “weak,” is very detrimental to people who are on the weak side of this binary. It’s not fun, nor is it enjoyable, to attend a church where each Sunday you’re told your family situation is “special,” “not the norm,” and “weak.” It is definitely not an enjoyable situation to have your teenage mind turned to this one line—”Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”—to encompass your entire family experience when you ask the question “But what about my experience?” It’s rather harmful to a child’s psyche to consistently be told that his family doesn’t fit the perfect ideal that God has set up.

Please be careful how you teach the idea of family because each family—even the “strong” families—are unique and cannot be encompassed in a single document. Rather than proselytizing the ideal, celebrate unique situations and make your church surroundings a place that can nurture any type of family.

Something to Say, Something to Share

How can I have a voice, I remember asking my introduction to literary theory teacher, Professor Silva, when I’m not unique?

This is an idea that I’ve wrestled with off and on as I’ve pursued a career in the humanities. When I first began as an English major for my undergraduate degree, I questioned the uniqueness of my voice. I didn’t feel that unique—I was male, I was Mormon, and I (regrettably) thought I was straight. Since I was at Brigham Young University, I was surrounded by so many people that I thought were just like me.

I asked this question as we talked about feminist theory and critical race theory, two theoretical methods that attempt to share the words of voices that have been marginalized throughout history. If these two theories were attempting to share unique voices, how could I get a unique voice when I fit in with so many other people who had already written things?

I’ve gone on to recognize that I do have a unique voice. I mean, coming from a Mormon background, being gay, and living and working within predominantly conservative areas leads to that uniqueness, along with so many other factors in life. I have discovered things I want to say, and I know I’m the one who can and must say them.

Those moments in my undergrad when I questioned whether or not I had something to say have taught me that sometimes it’s not about what you have to say; sometimes, it’s about what you have to share from others.

For the past week, I was in Utah producing the first season of my podcast, Queer Spirituality. This idea of something to share really hit home as I recorded the various queer and queer ally voices. I attempted to have every episode speak for itself, without me saying anything, because, despite having opinions on matters related to queerness and spirituality, I wanted to give the stage to other people to simply share what they experienced.

And shared they did.

The fundamental reason for my methodology of Queer Spirituality—to let the people I interview speak for themselves, with little to no input from me during the episode (I did walk them through how I wanted them to discuss queerness and spirituality in relation to each other)—hearkens to this idea that I discovered in the beginning of my undergrad. Despite having things to say, I can (and should most times) be quiet because sometimes it’s more important to share what other people have to say, rather than sharing simply what you have to say.

I know that I can’t say everything that others experience, either individually or collectively, which is why I’ll share what they say. I’ll share the space, so they can speak for themselves, and I’ll share their words, so they can voice their experience as their experience. When I was inducted into the Women’s Studies Honors Society, I made a simple pledge—to use my privilege to help others—and that’s the thing about saying and sharing: it’s using what I’ve been given to help everyone.

Queer Spirituality, A Podcast

Coming later this year . . . Queer Spirituality, a podcast.

Queer Spirituality is a weekly podcast that I will be doing as a personal project and as part of my master’s degree. It is an ethnographic investigation into how people straddle the world of sexuality and spirituality, queerness and religion. With so much rhetoric around and so many lives affected by the seemingly clashing worlds of “queer lifestyle” and “pious believer,” I am doing a long series of interviews that focuses on the lived experience. How does gender and sexuality queerness affect people’s belief in God? How does interaction with the queer community change performance within a religious community? Why does religion negatively affect some queer people, and how does religion positively affect others?

For the sake of this podcast, I define queer and spirituality in the broadest sense in order to try to encompass all possible lived experiences. By queer, I mean anyone who is LGBT+, anyone who is an LGBT+ ally, and anyone who has felt a profound impact from the queer community on their spirituality and religious performance. By spirituality, I mean anything that takes you out of the mundane and into a state of transcendence, a sacredness. I want to interview anyone from the strongest atheist to the most devout disciple.

If you would like to be interviewed or if you know anyone who wants to be interviewed, please contact me! I can do interviews through Google Hangouts, phone call, Skype, in person (depending on where you are), etc.

Some Vulnerable Thoughts on Father’s Day

I debated back and forth about posting this blog. Father’s day is meant to be a day of rejoicing in fatherhood and the amazing awesomeness that fathers bring to the table. But, I promised myself that I would be more vulnerable, so here’s some raw vulnerability for you few who follow my blogging exploits.

Father’s day is a difficult day for me for two reasons. The first deals with my own father. At this moment, I do not have contact with my father. I haven’t spoken to him for almost nine years. Honestly, I’m not even sure I could point him out in a crowd because I have no pictures or mementos of him. This isn’t because he has passed on; it’s simply because on a fateful day in December I chose to estrange myself in order for me to live a good and happy life.

I’ll probably always remember that day. Walgreens parking lot. Two days to Christmas. Accosting. Why haven’t you come over to our house? When are you coming over? The dread. The tears. Talking to my mom. Talking to my bishop. Making a phone call. And then, click. No more father in my life.

I’ve struggled a lot with this moment—my estrangement from my dad and stepmom. I remember discussing it with multiple people from my mother to my ecclesiastical leader to friends to a therapist briefly. I remember logically processing the entire event and the why behind it all. I remember how six months later I began emotionally processing it—an emotional process that is still happening to this day.

On my mission, I wrote to my mission president to discuss this estrangement with him. I had felt promptings to write my father a letter because he sent me one. My mission president encouraged me to write, even after I had explained to him what it was like growing up and the reason I had estranged myself. I started that letter many times, but I never finished it.

When I went to Australia, the place where my father served his mission, I felt a kinship. While the friends that I went with attended church, I chose to walk around. I wrote a letter to my father then. I never sent it.

A few years ago, on father’s day, I went home from church and wept for two hours. My best friend held my hand and gave me a hug later that day, but I didn’t tell him why I had shut down from social contact. I never tell anyone.

Father’s day always passes me with feelings of forlornness and wanting. My relationship with my father is nonexistent, but there is still a connection inside me. And this day brings that feeling to bear. A multitude of what if scenarios play through my mind and the raw feeling of wanting things to be different permeates my being. “I love my father; I just can’t have him in my life.” The mantra that played through most of my latter teenage years as I cycled through these emotions.

The second reason father’s day is a difficult day for me deals with a question.

Will I ever be a father? Ever since I was young, I’ve wanted to be a parent. I’ve wanted to have children—and not just one or two. I wanted a decent amount of them. Perhaps it was my Mormon upbringing, perhaps it was my semi-only-child-childhood. Whatever it was, I had this desire.

Then, growing to comprehend my sexuality jostled that dream. In the first years that I truly wrestled with sexuality, one of the fundamental things I did not, I could not, give up was this desire to have children. It kept me up late at night. How could someone with these feelings have children in the Mormon faith? At the time, I was a very active LDS participant, so it was the lens that I saw the world through. I kept coming back to questions surrounding that premise—can I marry a woman with these feelings in order to fulfill my dream of having children and being a father? Can I overcome these feelings so I can have children? My prayers for relief from my sexuality centered around that fervent dream—to have children, to be a father.

A few years later, my thoughts and prayers transformed. I was no longer praying for God to take away my sexuality so I could have children and raise a family and be a father. Instead, I was considering other avenues, asking new questions. Can I be a Mormon and be a single parent? Can I find a woman who is okay with marrying a gay man and adopting children? Still, the more prominent questions appeared, questions that I’m now ashamed to have asked. Can I hide my sexuality from my wife and fake it in order to have children and be a father?

I don’t ask questions like that anymore. As I’ve come to accept my sexuality, there’s come with it a dullness to the thrumming desire for children. Do I still want them? I don’t know. When I hold the children of friends, like little Felix and tiny David, I think, fleetingly, that I want that. When playing with young Eli after a dinner at a friend’s house, I thought, I want my own tiny human, one that I can raise and call my own. I cried the entire way home from that dinner because the desire—and the reality of my situation—was too much to handle.

The desire now only comes fleetingly, like a whisper of wind through a partially open window, caressing my thoughts but then gone in moments. Like today, when I sat in Shake Shack and watched children running around Harvard Square as I typed away, the desire twinged, but only a little, and then it was gone.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get a tiny human. Right now, it’s not a possibility; it may never be a reality. There’s not much hope for children in a gay man’s world.

Harvard Feels, Part 2

Well, friends, I made it here. After a thousand-something-mile car ride to Kansas, I spent some lovely time with my mother, grandmother, and brother, and then I took a red eye to Boston where I was picked up by my loving friend Madeline and the next morning I was in my dorm. Some of the people in the dorm have been asking me if it’s been a hard transition, and truth be told, the moving part isn’t that difficult. Moving is rather easy for me. Transitioning is a little more difficult.

I’ve felt rather despondent since being here. It’s a lonely process, moving to a new place. You upend all of your habits and have to form new ones. For example, I miss going to gym in the early morning. Now all I have is a little fitness room to go to, and it isn’t the same. I miss going to Costco on Sundays with my roommate. I miss my Starbucks near University Place. I miss my people. I was discussing earlier today the process of moving with a fellow Harvard student to be, and I told her it all goes down to feeling lonely.

It’s been a little depressing too because I haven’t felt that strong feeling of correctness, rightness, about this move. For most of the moves I’ve done before, I’ve felt something strongly inside me that has confirmed it was a good decision and good things would come because of it. This move to Boston has been different. I don’t know that it is the best decision. There are a lot of factors that come into play when delving back into education, and a lot of those factors are negative factors when considering Harvard.

However, I know I will make it the right and the best decision. That’s what’s great about decisions—you make it what it is. A decision is a neutral thing; the outcome is based on you. Even things that seem like “bad” decisions can become your greatest decision.

On a different, yet connected, note, I went out into the city to explore today. I walked a block and bam, I was at the Longfellow House. (So, not that much exploring.) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow lived a block down from me. How cool is that? America’s poet in the Victorian period—America’s face at the time, according to some scholars—wrote his poetry, cared for his wife, and raised his children mere feet from where I sleep every night. I think that’s pretty legit.

In touring his house, the history of this entire place—Boston—struck me. I feel so much more connected with the history here than I ever did to the history in Utah. I actually feel like I’m walking near where giants tread. I never had that feeling when I looked into the history and sites in the West.

While on the grounds, it struck me that I’m surrounded by amazingness. I have amazing people supporting me. I have amazing history at my very fingertips. I have an amazing legacy to live up to and surpass as a writer.

So, what are my Harvard feels right now?

Anticipation. I start learning French tomorrow and get a baptism by fire back into academia. Bring it on.

Excitement. There’s so many new things around here, and I’m excited to explore them all.

Nervousness. Will I fit in? Will I make these two years work in my favor? Will I be okay?

Wonder. What will I do in the time I’ve allotted to Harvard and Boston? What will I accomplish? How will I fail? How I learn? And, most importantly, what will I give?

PS: Cool Longfellow history fact. His wife owned the house and all the land around the Longfellow house. She bought it from her father for $1 and love. The little feminist in my squealed at that!

Of Doors and Mountains

Of Doors and Mountains

A prose poem

Whenever I leave a place, I write a eulogy to the place. This eulogy is of words poetic and visions imagined, hopes lost and dreams realized, doors opened and mountains climbed.

To Utah, I offer gratitude. My forming years were here, where, beneath the shadows of mountain majesty, I discovered who I was and what I wanted to give to the world. Utah has been a place of hardest challenges and strongest allies, a time of exploration and self-discovery in a place cradled between stalwart sentries.

I speak of hopes and dreams because I have legion. Some shifted, some morphed; others died, and many more perished. Some lived, some survived, some were realized. Hopes have been lost, while other dreams have been lived. I sorrow for the loss, but I rejoice in the gains—the twisted path of life is lit by the inner flame of dreams driven by hope.

To BYU, that great monolith in the middle of a small town that took up most of my time in Utah, I offer hope. I hope for a better future inside its hallowed walls. I hope for a greater sense of purpose within a place that I see as sacred for what I learned and what transpired within me while there. If a gay man can enjoy so much a place that stifles the soul, then there is hope.

I speak of doors and mountains because they represent my time in Utah: passageways and climbs. Of doors, I remember brown, red, green, and white. Brown doors led to greater knowledge; a red door led to family; a green door to discovery; and a white door toward home. Each door opened and each door closed; but each door remembered. Of mountains, I remember craggy and steep, harsh and beautiful, cloudy and clear. Each climb and each descent; but each experienced.

To you, I offer thanks. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have survived my time in Utah. If it weren’t for you, I would have lost who I was; instead, I discovered who I am. I live by a solemn promise I made to myself years ago: to affect each life I come in contact with just as much as my life is affected by each life I interact with. I hope that showed through.

Harvard Feels

I had dinner with my Provo family last night (my sister’s in-laws, who graciously adopted me while I was at BYU). Because they are off on professorial travels for the next month, this was our journey on dinner. I say journey on instead of goodbye and farewell because I dislike how final those two words are; by saying “journey on,” I share my hope that somewhere down the road our paths will cross again and our journeys will intertwine once more so we can buoy each other up, pat each other on the backs, and continue forward.

I have a lot of what I’m calling “Harvard feels.” In a month, I’ll be back in Kansas with my mom, grandma, and brother; two days later, I’ll be on a plane and landing in Boston for an entirely new life. I’m sure I’ll get to my room and begin to feel excited for school to start, nervous about what the future holds, stressed about learning French in eight weeks, and exhausted from the emotional overload that will have just occurred.

If you asked me a year ago if I would be attending Harvard, I would have probably shrugged and said “I don’t know.” In all honesty, I applied to Harvard on a whim. Out of all of the programs I applied for, it was my “random” program. It’s always nice to throw in a curveball when applying to things. I’m glad I applied, though, because being accepted and preparing to attend this wonderful institution has lifted up my eyes toward a life of greater heights.

Being on the cusp of this brand new adventure is rather nerve wracking, but that’s what this blog and writing in general is meant to help with. By sharing what I feel I am sharing my personal, lived experience, a testament that I was here and that I live. So, some of my feelings:

I’m excited. I’m really, really, really excited to be going back to school. This last year of not being in school has been rather difficult for me. I’ve been working an 8-hour, 7-days-a-week job, and I haven’t necessarily enjoyed it. It’s been nice and comforting to know I have money, but it also hasn’t been as fulfilling to me and my chosen and desired path. I was looking through the class list the other day of potential classes I could take and they range from the basic theories and methods of religious studies to studying the perception of the hero through literature of the seventh century. Like, how can you not be excited for that?! (It’s okay if you’re not excited for that; I understand that literary folks can be a little crazy in our excitement over the teacups Oscar Wilde drank from or the length of beard of Merlin in a French lady’s poetic retelling of King Arthur or the existential, metaphoric reason that the door is blue.)

I’m nervous. I’m really, really, really nervous about being able to survive in Massachusetts. It’s expensive. Coming from living quietly in Provo, Utah, one of the best places to rent for a student, it’s difficult to grasp just how much things cost out there. I’m also nervous about graduate school in general. Will I do well? Will I make the right connections? Will I do enough to get into a PhD program? Will I be true to myself while experiencing new things? Will I finish the goals I’m setting up for myself or will it all crumble around me and need to be rebuilt yet again?

I’m sad. I’m leaving some great people in Utah. Yes, I’m pretty good at keeping connections with people open, but that doesn’t make it less sad to leave people. Wherever I go, I try to love the most and love the hardest and the deepest because I don’t know how much time I’ll be there and how much time I’ll have with people. Doing this, though, makes me even more sad when it is time to leave and continue on in the journeys of life and pursuits of happiness.

I’m happy. I’m going to Harvard. How can someone who loves academia and research so much not be happy? I’m happy that the Harvard admissions committee allowed me to enter. I’m humbled that out of so many great candidates, they chose me. And, I’m happy that I’m getting to pursue what I want to pursue. When I was applying for schools, I was all over the place with what exactly I wanted to do, but with being accepted into this program, my plans are solidifying. They’ll always be pliable, but they’re becoming a little more focused, a little more me.

In a month, I’ll be sitting in my room in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and I’ll let you know my feelings then. For now, I have a lot of expectant feelings, but I’m also hoping to make the most of the days I have left.

Also, I was told blogs need pictures, so here’s one of me staring off into the distance while the sun sets behind me and there’s a beautiful tree too. Photo cred: Adam Sims, my roommate.

Essaying; or, Why I Blog

Talking with a friend, I realized I should take a moment to explain the reason I am blogging. My blogs are chances for me to essay. Essaying is a verb that means, literally, “to try” or “to attempt.” Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), a French essayist, called his writings essays because he was attempting to put his thoughts onto paper. In this way, my blog is my attempt—my essaying—to try to put thoughts onto paper.

Well, screen.

To me, writing is a spiritual practice. It is a movement toward greater understanding. It is a journey toward apotheosis as I come to know my humanity better through the words I write. I write because it allows me to ruminate on a subject, not coming to a definitive conclusion, but rather opening the door to understanding, even in just a little way, the simple complexity and complex simplicity of the universe that surrounds us.

I write to think.

I also write to share. At the end of my first writing class in college, taken from one of my all-time favorite writing teachers, Lisa Harris, I was asked as a final assignment to write about writing. This is what I wrote:

Sharing Imaginary Friends

I’m an atheist; I’m a Christian. I have magic; I live in space. I argue, defend, or offend. I waltz at a ball, kill a dragon, and fall in love. Writing gives me the chance to be anything I want. Through the power of my fingertips, I’ve lived a hundred lives in black and white, even though I’m only twenty-one. I’ve grieved at a death, watched the birth of a child, and visited with angels and demons. Writing is like chipping away at the walls between imagination and reality just to peek in, say hello, and discover new friends. Writing is my tear-wetted pillow, my frolicking through an open field, and my mountain ascension. I fly; I swim; I run. Writing grants me freedom to enjoy the human experience in any possible way I can imagine. Writing defines and refines me. Writing makes me an author. Authors are people that have the privilege of sharing their imaginary friends with the world.

I still believe this is true. I can share the craziness that happens in my head through writing. I can attempt things, I can fail at things, and I can succeed at things, all through writing. This blog will be a place of failure, but it is in those places of failure that we succeed the most.