2019 Reading Goals

I like the number three. It’s not my favorite number, but it’s a number I enjoy. As such, I decided this year to have three reading goals. The word goals is used as an all-encompassing term to represent the ideals that I want to strive for in my reading.

Reading Goal 1

Never fall behind on assigned readings.

As many of you know, I am currently in grad school for my master’s degree. There is a lot of reading that goes into that. I think I averaged reading roughly the length of four to six book every week for my last semester. And this year, I’m expecting a lot of reading to come my way again.

I secretly love and loathe assigned readings. I loathe it because it’s assigned, and I always bristle at something when it is assigned to me. However, I love and cherish my assigned readings dearly because they open me to new things that I might not have read.

My first semester, I regret to acknowledge, I did not keep up on my readings as well as I should have. I barely skimmed the surface of most, and that caused my class experiences to not be as edifying as they could have been. So, I’m committing to not falling behind on my class readings.

Reading Goal 2

Read a rough sketch of an American literary canon.

The word canon always creates a war in any field. This last semester, we had many in-depth conversations about the “canon” of religious studies, going so far as to say there is a distinct canon and there is no such thing as a canon (both arguments are valid).

In the field of literary studies, the canon battle is louder than a cannon. With feuding anthologies and debating professors attempting to settle on what exactly makes American literature distinctly American or uniquely literature, we could go so far as to say there is a distinct canon and there is not one.

So, that’s why I specifically placed on this reading goal “an American literary canon.” The grammar faux pas is necessary. I will be reading the canon that I’ve curtailed for this specific year in order to read enough literature to feel grounded in the American tradition. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss further this canon and give you a taste of what it entails and why I am going on this journey this year (especially when I classify myself as a Medievalist who flirts with the Early Modern).

Reading Goal 3

Discuss what I am reading.

One of my core beliefs is that literature is meant to be read and talked about. When reading a book, we intimately inhabit the words on the page; the book changes us through this cohabitation with ink and paper, text and space. when talking about a book, we interact with each other through the medium of the words on the page; that interaction changes the world.

So, I want to talk about more books—in person and through text. If you see me, ask me what I’m reading. If you see a post from me on social media about a book, enter into a discussion with me about it. There will most likely be a lot more book-ish posts from me, especially if I want to reach this goal.

2018 Top Ten Books

I really love end of year reading roundups, so here’s mine! Here’s a list of ten books I enjoyed in 2018 with one-line review thoughts in no particular order (except the first one, because it’s my top read of 2018).

Educated, Tara Westover

I’m still thinking about this book.

Ancillary Justice, Ann Leckie

Sheher amazingness.

Parable of the Talents, Octavia E. Butler

Make America Great Again Chills.

The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

I will always sing the praises of Jemisin from now until after I die.

Vicious, V. E. Schwab

Victorious, delightfully so.

Tears in Rain, Rosa Montero

Let me go rewatch Blade Runner and reread this and then rewatch Blade Runner in an endless loop of awesomeness.

The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

My gay soul sang.

Becoming, Michelle Obama

Excuse me as I’m still in awe of this woman.

The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson

Left my queer little heart over-brimming with joy.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Blue&Simon <3.

Love, Adam.

It Hurts

The words in General Conference can hurt. I know many people who believe this “hurt” is what is meant to happen in order for those of us who don’t conform to the Church’s wishes to be influenced into conforming. It is the “hard sayings” that prick the heart of the wicked.

May I contend that there is a better way to bring about repentance than hurting people and making them feel alienated? Because I believe there is.

Certain groups of people will always be hurt when certain things are said in Conference. But they also hurt because of what the membership of the body of Christ says after those words are shared on pulpits. Here are examples of responses online that people shared when Mr. Oaks spoke:

Think about it. You are just told by an apostle of God that what you’re struggling through—your sexuality or your gender identity—is contrary to God’s plan. That’s all you’ve been told. No help is given. No balm provided. A simple “That is not the way.” Even though you feel, in the deepest part of your soul and your very biological being, that even if it isn’t “the way,” it is still something you’re dealing with.

And then, once an apostle of God has illegitimized your very personal feelings, members of the Church cheer on those “hard sayings.” Instead of providing love for people who are struggling with coming to grips with what an apostle has said, these tweets—Oaks is on fire; Oaks is coming out hitting; Oaks is laying down the law—hurt. The words people speak in the halls of the church buildings for the comings months will harm because online or in-person, many members of the Church say the same thing. These sayings rip and tear at a soul—no matter how old you are, no matter how separated from these words you seem to be. They are, to utilize the Church of Jesus Christ’s framework, Satan working through you to harm these people who are attempting to reconcile what is happening in their body and what they are  being told over a pulpit.

It is a shame on every follower of Jesus Christ when a fellow disciple cheers for an apostle to “lay down the law” instead of doing what they have covenanted to do: weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn.

Instead of cheering for an apostle who says in dispassionate terms that a friend or family member of yours is not welcome in the house of God, why don’t you reach out in love to those people?

“I love you” is a simple text to send. A heart emoji is not that difficult to type. A “I’d love to listen to your perspective on what we heard in General Conference so I can understand more about you. I don’t want to talk; I simply want to listen to you. How about dinner this week?” is not that difficult to ask.

I remember being the person who would say, “Hot dang, this apostle is really saying it how it is.” It’s difficult to get out of that mindset. But we really do need to change our mindset from one that only supports apostles to one that has room for those who the apostles are “calling to repentance.”

People are not brought to God through hard sayings; they’re brought to God through Love.

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!