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.

Do I Feel Safe? No.

A man walked into my store with a gun today. I was working at the front at the cash registers, and I saw it holstered on his hip, there for the entire world to see. He walked confidently next to his partner, browsing through the various books and merchandise. Did I feel safe with this man and his unconcealed gun walking around my store? Frankly, no, I did not.

I did not feel safe because he had a weapon and I had absolutely no idea if he had obtained it legally, if he had the proper permit (which, I discovered, you don’t need for some weapons in Utah), if he had the mental fortitude to be in public with a weapon, etc. etc. This man was respectable when he came up to pay for his books, but from a distance (and even in the exchange of money) I could not tell, nor could I trust, how he would use the weapon holstered at his hip.

It made me very nervous to have a man with a gun in the store. I assumed—I hoped—he wasn’t going to use it; logically, I know that most people do not have plans to use a gun to kill people. At least, I hope not. However, the presence of the weapon made me wary. This lack of comfort mostly stems from my not knowing anything about the man with the gun. I assume that everything is fine with him and that he is a law-abiding citizen, but I do not know that. And that lack of knowledge makes me uncomfortable.

Do I respect his right under Utah law to carry a gun unconcealed in a public setting? Yes, yes I do. Do I also respect my right to lobby for laws and changes to precedence that remove dangerous weapons from the public or at least seek for more secure ways for guns to be obtained so that I can have peace of mind? Yes, yes I do. Respecting law as it is while also working to change it are not two diametrically opposed actions. I respect the second amendment and the years of legal precedence that have shaped our current arguments around access and use of weapons in the public sphere; I also respect the idea that laws are fluid and meant to change as society, technology, and the world change.

Now, lest everyone begin to think they have me pegged on the gun rights argument, I believe that more thought and discourse need to happen. More options need to be on the table. Would it be best to remove every single weapon from the entire world? Yes, probably, but as much as I am an idealistic person, I’m also a realist. Would it be bad to remove all weapons from citizens when they cannot completely trust the government or even their neighbors? Yes, that would probably be bad. But, would it be good if we had better ways of keeping guns from the hands of bad people? Yes, that would be good. But, what if that good thing affects a law-abiding citizen in a bad way?

The nuances around the argument are not simply “take all the guns away” vs. “let everyone have guns because the second amendment says that.” It’s an argument that cannot be solved in a simple 600-word blog post. One thing I do know, and the reason I’m writing this, is that I felt uncomfortable when that man walked in with an unconcealed gun. I didn’t feel safe. I still don’t feel safe. But I do feel like I want to talk about this topic more. And I do feel like I want to work toward a better solution that helps me feel safe and hopefully makes the world a safer place in general.

That Was Not My Coming Out; Neither Is This

Less than a week ago, I published a blog article in which I mentioned that I was gay. Many of you expressed love, concern, and sympathy. Thank you. I want to assure you, though, that that blog post was not my coming out. And neither is this one.

I don’t like the term and idea around coming out. I think for some people it is a great moment of reclaiming their lives and setting themselves apart to be queer; it’s beautiful in that sense. To me, though, I think it reasserts heteronormativity.

The phrase heteronormativity might be unfamiliar. Heteronormativity means that heterosexuality is believed to be the norm within society. Hence, queer—or different—sexualities are placed against it, below it, or other to it. I believe, rather strongly, that if we continue to make homosexuality, bisexuality, asexuality, demisexuality, or any -sexuality different than heterosexuality, then we are doing a disservice to human nature and to the people that God created. Heterosexuality, instead of being the norm for society, is simply a point on the spectrum of our sexual experiences as a collective human population and should be celebrated, enjoyed, and discussed just as much as the other sexualities.

This is one of the reasons I have never had—nor never will have—a “coming out” post. This is why I’ve never been upfront with you in saying “I’m gay” and proclaiming it proudly to the world. It isn’t because I’m confused or unhappy with the way my sexuality expresses itself; it’s because I feel like it’s a normal part of my human experience and should be treated as such.

That being said, I’m also a realist when it comes to my ideals. I know that society is not where I would like it to be when it comes to an understanding of sexuality (which is a real shame because sexuality is pretty awesome). A quick experience I think can share what I believe a non-heteronormative world can look like:

I was texting my friend Maddie and I told her I was dating someone. She got rather excited and asked me who it was. I texted her his name. Without skipping a beat, she said that was awesome and wanted to know more about him. So, I told her more about him. Not once did she ask me if I were gay. We didn’t make it a big deal, and it’s never been a big deal since then. That is moving toward a non-heteronormative world: a world where instead of grand coming outs, we can simply say “Oh yeah, I’m dating this guy,” and it can be normal and beautiful and wonderful and we can all celebrate.

As I hope this post and my previous post show, I am very comfortable discussing my sexuality and spirituality. I’m also very well versed in it, seeing as how this is one of my academic specialties. There is another part of this post, and it’s when I get off my high horse about sexuality and share some frequently asked questions about my previous blog post to help clear some things up. So, without further ado, grab a Dr. Pepper, sit back, and let me share with you some of the answers to questions I’ve gotten from that post:

1. I’m not depressed. I’m not sad. I’m not confused. A lot of you who reached out to me wanted to make sure I was “doing okay.” I am. I’m actually doing great. I have a great life that I love. I’m preparing to attend Harvard (can I get a squeal, please?), I have wonderful people in my life who buoy me up, I have a full-time job (okay, I have four jobs, but that’s beside the point). My life is great.

If I were still struggling with what I wrote about, I would not have been able to write that post, let alone share it. I keep my struggles very close and private because they are sacred experiences to me. It is because I’m in such a good place that I was able to share those words.

2. Many of you have asked if you missed my coming out; you didn’t because I don’t want a gigantic coming out moment. I recognize that post might have been surprising. I have not talked about my sexuality with many of you. I want this to be very clear: I’m gay. I like guys.

3. If you’re a heterosexual male, no, I am not interested in pursuing you. Sure, you might be attractive, and I might recognize that, but that doesn’t mean I’m fawning over you. Why would I want to pursue you when you won’t return the favor? I’m not a huge fan of that unrequited love—sorry, William.

4. Please, feel comfortable talking to me about spirituality and sexuality. I cannot say I speak for other people; however, I have read a lot on this subject and I have learned a lot on this subject. I’m going to Harvard to pursue a master’s in theological studies focused on women, gender, sexuality, and religion. I understand this topic really well. So, please, if you’re a heterosexual Mormon who is confused about LGBT+ issues, if you’re an LGBT+ confused Mormon, if you’re someone who hates the gays™, or if you’re someone who just wants to understand a little bit better, feel free to talk with me.

A Hand to Hold

This blog post is an attempt to write about something that I keep rather private. It’s an attempt to write about something that is sacred to me. It’s an attempt (I hope the first of many attempts) to write openly about my spirituality and my sexuality.

On Sunday, I went to see a production of Lamb of God. This choir performance sings about the last week of the life of Christ. I attended at a local building of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I came away with a lot of feelings.

I sat next to two separate couples. Halfway through the performance, the couples held hands and rested heads upon shoulders. It was intimate and close. Those people had another human who, for that moment in time, was theirs. Those humans had a connection to them that I have rarely, if ever, experienced; within a social setting, they were able to claim and be claimed at the same time. In this world of solitude, they had someone else who they could physically, emotionally, and romantically connect with.

Simply put, they had a hand to hold.

For a gay man in the LDS church, this is not a possibility at all. I’ve been told many times that it is possible to be gay and Mormon. Honestly, I do not see that possibility when one of my deepest desires is to have the connections of those couples that surround me in the church—to have a hand to hold while walking down Main Street or worshipping God. Having an intimate, romantic, physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual connection with someone of the same sex is forbidden in the church. Sure, someone in that type of relationship can attend church and be a part of the community (All Visitors Welcome, right?), but they are excommunicated from the spirituality the church and the gospel it teaches provides. As a man initiated in the priesthood, I am shamed for rejecting my eternal calling of being sealed to a woman and leading an eternal home in righteousness, even though if I were humble and obedient to the Lord and bowed the knee and got married to a woman, I would be destroying that woman’s mortal and eternal life.

The most difficult thing about having been raised Mormon and being gay is that two of the most intimate parts of my life—my spirituality and my sexuality—are put at odds. I want what the church gives: the direction, the purpose, the community, the doctrine. I love the church; I grew up with it and dedicated many years of my life to it. It helped me through dark times and helped me survive an emotionally and psychologically abusive childhood without taking my own life. It’s done great things for me, and I love it and I’m grateful for it. My problem comes when my love of it is equal to the desire for a hand to hold; I want that someone to call my someone and for me to be considered his. But I also want the church and the gospel.

That’s the struggle “Mormon and gay” forces upon people who have grown up in and loved the church, yet find themselves attracted to the same sex. They want both, but one of the two says they do not want them.

Yes, most members are kind and willing to step up and show love. But, institutionally the church rejects its members who want to be accepted in the church community. I cannot sit in a sacrament meeting with the man that I am dating and hold his hand like heterosexual members can with their significant other. I’m sure that many people would be fine with me coming to church with a same-sex partner, but the institution is not comfortable with it, thereby making it a very uncomfortable reality—for what I love and want in this life, I have to give up this other part of my life. For that hand to hold, I have to give up Christ’s hand as provided through the LDS church. And that’s the hardest decision I think I’ll ever make in my life (for the record, I have not made a decision either way).

It’s the reality I face every time I come close to the church—like this past Sunday, when I attended the performance of Lamb of God. I want the feelings that come with the church—the peace from the teachings, the encouragement toward goodness, the community of people who care—but I can’t get past the fact that if I have that, I will never have a hand to hold. As it stands, there is not a place for both. And it hurts, more deeply than you can ever know.

On Form, Looking, and Being: Some Muddled Morning Post-Gym Thoughts

Over the last month or so, I’ve been consistently going to the gym. It’s been tough work. I’m not the most fit person. According to the doctor’s handy guide to body size, I’m what the medical profession would term “overweight, almost obese.” I’m sure that brings up pictures of me as a rather large person, but I don’t think I’m that large. I am no Chris Pratt post-Parks&Rec/now-GuardiansoftheGalaxy (working on it, though. #Goalz). I mean, here’s a picture of me:

Whenever I tell people I’ve been going to the gym, I get the response of, “Oh, you’re not too fat” or “You’re beautiful just the way you are.” Thank you for the positivity. The truth of the matter is I don’t go to the gym just because I’m too fat or want to lose weight. I don’t go to the gym because I want to fulfil some cultural perspective of tons of abs and super huge muscles and beautiful masculinity.

I go to the gym because I want to be healthy.

I go to the gym because I want to be fit.

And, yes, I go to the gym because I want to look great according to our cultural standards of greatness.

The reasons behind that will be in a different post, but for this one I want to focus on why I want to be fit instead of simply looking fit. Hence, why I said I go to the gym to be, not to look in the first two lines above.

I noticed today that there are a lot of people who swing weights while at the gym. This is not good form because instead of using your muscles it utilizes physics to propel the weight up and down.

I tried to put myself into the head of these weight swingers. If I were swinging weights, I could look like I’m lifting a lot of weight and thereby feel like I’m lifting a lot of weight in order to perceive that I am strong and fit and muscular. That plays right into cultural views of beauty and how we must look. It helps you think you’re doing great, but it doesn’t help you actually do great. You leave the gym feeling pumped (“I just lifted 200 pounds, bro”), but you never make any true and serious gainz.

If you use proper form—control your weight movements—then you actually begin to grow muscle, tone your body, and use the gym properly.

That’s why I want to be fit instead of look fit. Yes, I should push myself and try to lift more weights each time I go to the gym. But I shouldn’t do that at the expense of form. The gym is not a race. It’s not about who can lift the most. It’s about consistency. It’s about persistence. It’s about making yourself do better, even if it’s just a little bit better form on the same amount of weight each time.

My Five Tools to Living My Most Effective Life

I use my twice in the title of this blog post because these are tools that I use for my life. I don’t think they’ll work for everyone, and that’s okay. A lot of the enjoyment and fulfillment that comes from this life is discovering who you are and what helps you succeed. I share these in an effort of communion, and I’d love for you to share five tools with me from your life. I might not implement them into my life, but I’d like to hear about them because your life is important to me.

(Random picture of a puppy because puppies are important to effective living, imho. Photo cred.)

Make Bed Every Morning.

I make my bed. Every. Morning. Why? It helps my bedroom feel like a place of peace and stability. When I look at my made bed, I know that sleep is important and worthwhile. Even though I don’t sleep as much as I should, the time I do spend in sleeping is made even more important by making my bed every morning (it’s a mental thing). My bed becomes a calming focal point in my life.

If my bed is made, I know I’ve accomplished one thing, and that’s worth it.

Reset. Weekly.

On Sunday, I clean my room, my house, and my life. After I tidy up the physical things in my life, I organize my computer. I make my desktop look clean and clear. I put files that I don’t need any more on my external drive. I clear out my Dropbox and decide what projects I will be working on for the week. It’s a moment where I get to rest, relax, and rest.

Utilize white boards.

Currently, I have two white boards in my room. I utilize them for different things at different times. Right now, I have some due dates, project titles, random thoughts, reminders, and quotes written on them. They help me physically manifest what’s happening mentally in my brain.

I’m a fan of the to-do list; it goes up on my white board so anyone who enters my room can see it and so that I can be accountable to my white board.

I named one of them Larry, the other Carl. Might change, but I like them right now.

Think. Write. Repeat.

A lot is happening in my brain. I’m thinking about research I’m doing or creative projects I’m working on. I think about people I need to reach out to or little things I can do to help my roommates. When I have these thoughts, I try to write them down. I use my Notes app on my phone because it’s in my immediate vicinity always (hashtag Millennial problems, anyone?).

When I do my reset on Sundays, I try to go through my Notes app and see what I’ve thought about so I know what I can work on. It doesn’t always work (I have a lot of notes from the week), but sometimes it does.

Challenge Self.

The final thing to living my most effective life (in this list at least) is I challenge myself. I am my greatest rival. When I work on things, I want to do them faster and better than ever before. In this way, I continue to become a better editor and a better writer. For me, constantly improving means I’m living. I’m not stagnant. I keep moving forward.

I’ve shared mine, now it’s time to share yours. Shoot me a message or comment on this post so we can discuss what your five tools for your effective life are.

End-of-Year Editing Deal

Hello writing friends,

I am offering an end-of-year deal for my editing services. I edit all types of genre fiction and nonfiction—really, anything that has words or images in it. The deal is as follows:

  • First-time clients get 20% off their first editing job with me (this is a constant discount)
  • If you contract with me before December 31 for a job in 2018, you’ll receive 15% off (if you’re a new client, you’ll receive 20% plus 15% off)
  • If you don’t know the exact work you’ll have ready in 2018, you can sign a preliminary contract. This means you promise to work with me on at least one job in 2018. The preliminary contract holds a spot for you in my editing schedule and saves you the 20% off (if you’re a first-time client) on top of the 15%. If you do not work with me on a project in 2018, you’ll just owe  $15 by the end of the year (this is just to pay for him keeping track of your discount and sending you encouraging emails with memes and writing quotes and other things throughout the year in order to help you finish your writing project).
  • When you sign with me, be sure to tell me who referred you (if you came across this on my website, tell me that and I’ll enter the referral bonus into a raffle for all my clients, including you). I give a 10% discount for each referral who signs with me. The 10% can be used with any other discount.

Be sure to capitalize on this wonderful opportunity! You could earn up to 45% off your editing.

Contact me today to learn about my pricing and services, and see what I can offer you.

19 Days, 5 Hours, and 25 Minutes Later . . .

I just finished The Wheel of Time series audiobooks. Over the last two months, I’ve been able to follow the adventures of Rand, Egwene, Mat, Perrin, and the numerous cast of other characters that Jordan used to reveal his world to us. I will be going back through the books in order to create a series of blog analyses of certain aspects of the text and world. Before that, though, I want to leave you with some thoughts from the series.

  1. Scope

The Wheel of Time has received a lot of flak for its epic scope. The series began as a trilogy and then turned into a fifteen-book behemoth saga about the impending destruction and salvation of an entire planet.

Each book (sans the prequel, New Spring) is roughly more than 800 pages, with the longest (The Shadow Rising, book four at 393,823 words). The total word count for the entire series, including the prequel, is 4,410,036 words. That’s a lot of words. (Hbint: a typed, double-spaced page is about 250 words per page. That’s roughly 17,640 double-spaced pages.)

I love this aspect about the book. I love the gargantuan effort it is. I love that it’s truly epic. When I think of epic, I think of Beowulf, the Odyssey, and Paradise Lost—epic poems written before there were typewriters and computers. These are stories on the grand scale, just like the Wheel of Time is.

The scope of this book is epic, and it delivers on that promise.

  1. Side Characters

The epic qualities of this series provide for the excellent use of side characters. Jordan really knew his characters. Many parts of the novels follow side characters down side plots that are woven back into the entire pattern of the story. I love these moments because side characters—especially well-developed, dynamic, and defined side characters—make or break a story for me.

One of my favorite side characters is Sebban Balwer. Introduced in the sixth book, he works for the Children of the Light and then moves with the main characters once the plot continues. His character is fascinating, though, because of how Jordan uses him. If I remember correctly, he doesn’t get a POV chapter, but through his interactions with the other characters, we see the depth that Jordan put into this character who could just be filling an archetype.

  1. Gender

Gender in this book is complicated and nuanced, just like it is in the real world. Yes, women are high in power (being the only gender to have access to the magic system at the beginning of the series), but sometimes Jordan’s treatment of women feels rather patriarchal. I actually rather enjoy this part of the series; it shows how imperfect we are as humans. Even with a society that has women in a place of power, there are still issues related to gender.

One of the good qualities of gender in the Wheel of Time is that it departs from former science fiction and fantasy series and their treatment of women. For example, The Sword of Shannara and The Lord of the Rings contain large travel journeys where the travel group contains only male characters. The Eye of the World added female genders into the travel group with characters Moiraine, Egwene, and Nynaeve. While I can’t claim Jordan’s series was the first to do this, I do believe it to be one of the most epic and largescale stories that did it, even with numerous examples of it not being done before him.

So, here I sit, typing after 19 days, 5 hours, and 25 minutes of listening for the past two months. I feel fulfilled. I feel like I want to delve more into this world with another reread. I feel like I want to understand more of what this text has to offer because it has a lot to offer.

New Website: Under Construction: Stay Tuned

It’s been a long time coming, but I wanted to update to a new website that was more focused on blogging and representing my work/services that I have to offer. So, without further ado, here is my new website.

I’m sure it will be a little bit klinky over the next few weeks. But, I hope it will be a great place to combine a lot of things.

One of my main goals with this website is to create a presence through blogging more—especially about books. Since I have deleted all of my social media accounts to focus more time on people, writing, and books (in that order), I still need a way to have a presence online. It’ll be these blog posts (which will mostly be reviews of books, thoughts about writing, and important updates in my writing career) and this website.

I hope soon to set up a way for you to receive updates in your email for when a blog goes live. Stay tuned.