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FAQ: My Master’s Program Part I

A couple weeks ago, I asked my friends on Instagram if they’d be interested to hear about my experience in my master’s program. An overwhelming amount of them kindly said they did, so I went a step further and asked what they would like to know. Below are some of the questions I’ve received and my, hopefully, helpful responses. Some questions I reserved for Part II because they require more in-depth answers. I will be posting it soon though!

For context, I am a graduate student at the University of Guam pursuing a Master of Arts in English with a Literature track. I began my program in the Fall of 2018 and my projected graduation date is December 2020. As such, I can only give my experience and advice based on my specific program.

Here’s what I go over in Part I:

The Process and the Program
– What’s the process like?
– Why did you decide to go to UOG?
– In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters?
– Expectations vs Reality?
– Undergrad vs. Grad?
– Workload?

– Professor interaction compared to undergrad?

The Thesis Process:
– How do you choose a thesis?
– What is the process of completing that thesis?

– Best places for sources?
– How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
– For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other cultures’ stories?

My Personal Journey and Advice to You: 
– Fav moments?
– Fav things you’ve read?
– Is it worth it?
– Does your future career choice require a masters?
– What can you do with your degree?
– What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
– Thoughts on taking a gap year?

The Process and the Program

  • What’s the process like?
    • Pre-application: For my program, I was required to submit a graduate application with my undergraduate transcript and letters of recommendation. I applied a week before classes started. For other programs, you’ll definitely need to plan as several graduate programs require you to apply a semester before classes even start and might require other documents. Make sure to do your research!
    • Credits: Once you get accepted, the English Program requires that students take 9-12 credits or 3-4 courses before they apply for thesis credits. You’ll need a total of 36 credit hours with 6 of those hours being dedicated to thesis. Most of us opted for 2-3 classes a semester as 4 classes, along with our respective jobs and responsibilities, could prove challenging.
    • Thesis: For those who aren’t aware, a thesis is pretty much a final research project, often in the form of a 45-65 page essay. You can choose to go the traditional thesis writing route or the creative thesis route. I chose the latter. Here’s a snippet I stole from my university’s website:
    • Students who follow the traditional option are those who desire to increase their mastery of a given content area and might be contemplating doctoral work in the future. Students who select the creative option might be preparing to teach creative writing in the schools, to work as editors and publishers, or will be writing for personal accomplishment. (“Admission Requirements“)

    • Whatever you choose will have its own challenges, so choose a path that’s interesting and sustainable for you. The best part about your thesis is that it’s yours. While you get to choose what you want to write about, however, your thesis should still showcase the knowledge you accumulated in your courses, which can include a strong command of language and firm understanding and application of theory.
  • Why did you decide to go to UOG?
    • Everyone thinks of cost when choosing a school. Well, almost everyone. I remember going for a drive with two friends of mine. One of them was complaining about how he had spent over $70k for his degree in business and how his job was only paying him a little more than minimum wage. At this time, I also only had a B.A. and was about to pull out loans for my M.A. while only having a part time job.
    • My other friend, who doesn’t have her degree and who was also likely tired of listening to us complain said, “I don’t even have my degree and I’m still making more than both of you.”
    • That’s when I realized I didn’t want to drop $70k+ on a big, fancy school mistakenly thinking my inevitable success would be tied to its name. I knew I could receive just as good of an education at UOG. I already knew the professors, knew that I wanted to study indigenous and pacific Literature, and knew I could accomplish all I wanted with paying a fraction of the price.
  • In what cases is it beneficial to go straight for a PhD instead of a masters? and/or vice versa?
    • I wish I could answer this, but I can’t as I have no experience with it. I can, however, table this for a later post where I interview my professors or other graduate students.
  • Expectations vs Reality? Undergrad vs. Grad? Workload?
    • Expectation: The classes will be 10x harder. I’ll hate my life.
    • Reality: When I was taking course work, I was submitting 1-3 essays a week and reading 200+ pages of text along with it. The beginning of the semester usually starts slow, but once it hits midterms it felt like the rest of the semester was me trying to catch up. The rigor and expectation is definitely heightened, but I also had the freedom to choose what classes I wanted to take.  Because my program is relatively small, the professors are really accommodating with students. They always ask for our input and what classes we would like to take next semester. I was actually super interested in what I was learning. So while it was 10x harder, it was far more enjoyable than undergrad. 
    • Expectation: I wouldn’t have time to do anything other than school.
    • Reality: I had a part-time writing job, TA’d for my division, joined an outside league for basketball, and still hung out with friends. I just had to plan, prioritize, and recognize when I needed to buckle down and write that paper.
    • Expectation: I’ll finally have my life together and have it all figured out.
    • Reality: I don’t.
    • Expectation: I’ll be broke.
    • Reality: I mean, I’m nowhere where I want to be financially but I had more opportunities presented to me in graduate school. Because I narrowed my area of focus, it was easier for me to find the right place to network and the right people to work with.
  • In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
    • Great question! I’ll save this for Part II. 😉
  • Professor interaction compared to undergrad?
    • Very good in my program! Some classes are hybrid, meaning it’s a mix of undergraduate students and graduate students (usually 1-2 other grads). In grad-only classes, the typical size is about 5 students, so not only did I form a close relationship with my professors, I also created a much needed bond with my cohort.

The Thesis Process:

  • How do you choose a thesis topic? 
    • Professors often advise students to have a potential thesis topic or area of interest in mind before they even enter the program. A lot of professors are very accommodating and will allow their students to tailor one or more essay assignments to their class and the student’s thesis. For instance, in my SciFi class, I drafted a story with the same theories I used in my thesis (post-colonialism and ecofeminism). What I learned from this essay was a valuable contribution to my actual thesis. So the sooner you know what you’re interested in, the better!
    • I learned, too, that the best way to choose a topic is to find something interesting AND important to me. Then interrogate the hell out of it.
      • Interesting: Mythology, Folklore
      • Important: My culture, my creative writing, valuable ways to create art, uplift voices from marginalized communities
      • My questions: How do Filipino myths shape the perception of women in the Philippines? How do they reflect the treatment of the environment? How can myths be adapted to reflect current times while also remaining a mirror of history/herstory? How can this be valuable and to what communities?
      • Theories: Eco-feminism, Post-colonialism, Abjection
  • What is the process of completing a thesis?
    • Before I decided to write my thesis, I first had to register for thesis credits. Before I registered for thesis credits, I first had to find an advisor or thesis chair (I’ll get into this more in another question).
    • Once I chose my advisor, I chose my committee (usually two to three other professors or scholars) to help me along in this journey. They didn’t need to be experts in my topic, although that certainly helps, but I chose them because they could offer valuable insight to my project.
    • Next, I spent roughly 6 credit hours dedicated to reading, researching, organizing and drafting my manuscript, which is now nearing 67 pages.
    • You can break up your 6 credits any way you want. Some only take 1 thesis credit a semester, others take 3-4. It’s up to you. For some areas of study, your final project might not even be in the form of a long essay. Some colleges have an oral exam. Be aware of your options!
  • Best places for sources?
    • I found a lot of valuable sources on JSTOR, but since my topic deals with indigenous narratives I had to move past the white-men-mostly databases and seek permission to access articles from universities in the Philippines. I also checked the bibliographies of the articles that related to my topic and tried to find the ones of interest to me. If it was a book, I often checked The Project Gutenberg for free texts. Otherwise, I just got really good at wording research topics and tacking ‘scholarly article’ at the end of the google search bar.
    • Before you pay for access to certain sources, check to see if your library or thesis chair is part of an affiliate program where they can retrieve articles from other universities for free. You’d be surprised how many expensive texts and articles I was able to gain access to for free.
  • How did you know who you wanted to work with? (e.g. thesis chair)
    • Before I chose my thesis chair, I had to think about the kind of student I was and the type of professors I needed. I knew I needed structure and too much freedom would be debilitating to my productivity. I also knew I wanted to work with someone who was knowledgeable about the theories I wanted to apply, but who was also open to learning about my own thesis topic and balanced that structure with freedom.
    • So I chose an awesome chair who required me to write up a 10 page proposal and have a working list of references before I even started writing. It. Sucked. But I needed it. This proposal helped me refine my topic in many ways. She also required me to create realistic deadlines and made sure I stuck to them.
    • Some professors won’t require a proposal or will give you all the freedom you need and some students thrive with this method. They have their own methods of structure and organization that, sadly, I lack. So choosing the right person to chair your thesis will be heavily informed by how aware you are of your own study and writing habits and how well you know your professors professor-ing habits (?? idk either).
  • For your thesis, would you consider doing that with other culture’s stories?
    • One of the purposes of my thesis is to illustrate one of the many ways indigenous writers can use creative writing to heal colonial wounds and rebuild their own identities unencumbered by the negative stigmas attached to their respective cultures and beliefs. My project seeks to carve a space, specifically, for Filipino narratives to converse with the wide array of stories already told in the corpus of western academia, young adult literature, and mythology. It’s so specific to my home that my hope wouldn’t be to tell the stories of other nations and cultures, but to hopefully encourage indigenous writers to tell their own stories in their own ways.

My Personal Journey and advice to you:

  • Fav moments?
    • My favorite moments all revolve around my cohort. There’s no specific moment, but there’s the specific feelings of struggling and despairing, doubting yourself and what you’re writing but ultimately pushing through and doing it with a supportive group of friends who are all going through the same thing. Sometimes we’d be so stress that our only response was to laugh like psychos over very real fears like what if we don’t finish in time or what if we can’t find a job after?
    • & to me, those are my favorite moments because they taught me that even in the midst of all this underlying fear and palpable stress, that we could still find the energy to laugh and have a good time. Those moments really convinced me that no matter what happens, it’ll all be okay.
  • Fav thing you’ve read?
    • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
    • I read it in my EN680: Seminar in Contemporary Critical Theory class and wrote an essay applying my knowledge of environmental stylistics. I hated this paper so much that my love for it was inevitable.
  • Is it worth it? 
    • I’m always weary of answering this question: Is it worth it? It depends on what your goals are and what you make of your degree. I know everyone hates that answer, but it’s the most truthful one I have. I do think my degree was and is worth it because I learned so much about myself and my area of study. BUT I KNOW! We want to know about job opportunities. See the next question.
  • Does your future career choice require a masters? 
    • No. I would like to work in a publishing house, specifically in adult literature, or become a self-sustaining author. Both of which do not require a master’s degree but it does help in whatever profession I do choose to go into and it does entail a pay increase, soooooo.
    • Yes. I would also like to work as a librarian, which does require a master’s degree in Library Science.
  • What can you do with your degree?
    • Other careers I could pursue with my degree: Marketing, Advertisement, Public Relations, Freelance Writing, Media and Journalism, Law (e.g. paralegal, lawyer), Copyediting, Technical Writing, Teaching, etc.
    • You can basically do anything with an English degree if you’re driven enough to apply what you’ve learned and know the value and application of cross-disciplinary skills–– of which English has many. The most common and most valuable for almost all job markets are a strong command of language, exceptional writing, and strong communication skills.
  • What inspired you to keep going when thesis research got bumpy?
    • I didn’t want to be a little cry baby bitch. I thought about how many people would kill to be in my position, people who don’t have access to education, and who don’t have a supportive group of family and friends–– all people who deserve the right to an education. So I didn’t and don’t want to waste such a blessing. CORNY, I know, but that’s my honest answer.
    • When I first began this specific journey, I wanted to make my parents proud. As I near the end, I’ve come to realize that it’s just as important to make myself proud, which is arguably a lot harder.
  • Thoughts on taking a gap year?
    • I think for some people, it’s a great idea! I know fellow graduates who took a gap year, travelled, taught in other countries, accumulated “real world” experience and came back refreshed and even more ready for the school year. They dominated their course work.
    • In contrast, some people would rather just get straight into it, i.e. me. I was afraid that if I took a gap year, I would lose the motivation to go back to school. So, again, it depends on the person.

I’m all written out. Thank you for reading and I hope some of what I’ve shared has been useful in some way. Maybe it even convinced you to say, “Fuck a master’s degree!” To which I reply, “Do you, boo.” I don’t think a master’s degree is necessary (for the most part!) to be “successful” but I do believe knowledge and education are always an investment and you are worthy of that.

Some questions I’ll be covering in Part II:

  • How to deal with full time and school! Mix of online and in person classes? Gives and takes. 
  • In what ways did this program nurture and limit your growth as a writer?
  • What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?
  • My tips for optimizing your reading and writing time

 

 

 

 

 

“How Do You Know You’re A Writer?”

Sometimes the words fall through the tips of my fingers with the same excruciating slowness as that of the leaves of a hibiscus detaching itself from its stem.
Other days my hand speeds across the page with the same intensity as a tornado threatening anything that gets in its way.
Some moments I wish I never have to pick up another pen or glide it across another page.
Many days I hope to spend the limited seconds of my life buried in words so deep, I’d collapse from my final breath before I’d ever crawl out.
Often, I wonder if I should keep going, keep connecting the curves until the ink runs out. Or I wonder if I’ve fallen hopelessly in a passionate outburst of words born out of over-inflated self importance.
I write and I write.
And I am tired.
I am exhausted by the mental capacity needed to come up with another simple sentence, another worthy thought, which almost always comes up short.
And before I know it, I am just a word that flows into the air, evaporating into the clouds until it is barely the shadow of a letter.
It is like a wish being thrown into a well falling until its echo is just a whisper. Sometimes someone hears it and other times, no one does.
And so it falls like dead weight to the ground.
But I cannot not write
because there is no other choice but to be
and for me, to be is to find those cursed words
that I write over and over again, until they lose their meaning.
And so I write.
And I write.
Nd I write.
D I write.
I Write.
Write.
Rite.
Ite.
Te.
E.

The Vain Pursuit of Unrealized Truths

The Vain Pursuit of an Unrealized Truths
An Exegesis of “Eyes of a Blue Dog” by Gabriel Garcia Márquez

“Like all dreamers I confuse disenchantment with truth.”
Jean Paul Sartre

“Necessity has the face of a dog.”[1]
Gabriel García Márquez

[Please Note: I wrote this when I was an undergrad. I am now a graduate student and my current sentiments are as follows: FUCK FREUD]

When the sun dips and the world outside cools down, it is time to sleep. For many, this is a simple ritual. They rest their heads on their pillows. They close their eyes and suddenly they are flying, reliving distorted childhood memories, or traveling the various avenues that their dreams take them. Then when they wake in the morning, they think nothing more of it. Hidden beneath the depths of the mundane façade of these landscapes and events lies a deeper, more profound truth of who these sleepers are– what they crave, what they fear. What are dreams if not windows to the subconscious? In The Uncanny[2], Sigmund Freud writes that “the meaning of our dreams usually remains obscure, the reason is that at night we are visited by desires that we are ashamed of and must conceal from ourselves, that have for this very reason been repressed, pushed into the unconscious.” This idea sets the stage for longing and desolation to manifest in “Eyes of a Blue Dog”[3] a short story by Gabriel García Márquez in which the narrator meets the perfect woman in his dreams each night. They gather in the shadows of a cold world of solitude that provides solace because they share it together. Yet, there lies danger in the man’s suppression and idealization of the object of his desire.

Dreams forgo logic in favor of depicting one’s most raw self. So what is the narrator longing for without end? It is clear that he recognizes his meetings with the woman as something that has been ongoing on for years. Some nights he can feel the sheets fall from him, magnifying the cold, and in others he wakes to the sound of a spoon falling. This may emphasize the intensity and ceaselessness of his yearning but does not reveal it. Consider Freud’s interpretation of dreams: “A jocular saying has it that ‘love is a longing for home‘, and if someone dreams of a certain place or a certain landscape and, while dreaming, thinks to himself, ‘I know this place, I’ve been here before’, this place can be interpreted as representing his mother’s genitals or her womb.”[4] We can view the woman as a being of comfort, of home, of care and love that is often associated with a mother. The narrator longs for the feelings associated with whom he first desired in this world. It is a comforting sentiment knowing you are not alone, but the solitude of these two beings–whether fictitious of not– is only heightened in this illusory world. It serves as a stark contrast to the yearning and passion that lay between a lonely man and woman. Everything they wish for is within proximity, but they still cannot have it. Perhaps this is why the woman is characterized as being “oily, slipper,” an object that could easily slip through his grasp the moment he tries to latch on to her (Márquez 433). She is present in his dream because she is absent in his reality.

In Being and Nothingness[5], Jean-Paul Sartre touches upon the relationship between lovers. He writes: “While I attempt to free myself from the hold of the Other, the Other is trying to free himself from mine; while I seek to enslave the Other, the Other seeks to enslave me” (Sartre 475). He goes on further to note that to know someone is to own them. In his dream, the man and woman own one another. He wishes to dominate her and to be the center of this woman’s world. In his dreams, he is. Márquez writes: “Her life had been dedicated to finding me in reality, though that identifying phrase: “Eyes of a blue dog.” And she went along the street saying it aloud, as a way of telling the only person who could have understood her” (434). The woman even reveals her nakedness to him.[6] In this dream world, his cravings are realized, and to a small extent, met. Sartre also expands on this possession as being something that travels beyond the physical. He claims that “if Love were in fact a pure desire for the physical possession, it could in many cases be easily satisfied” (Sartre 478). The characters’ encounters are far from “easy.” They are in the midst of their deepest wants, but cannot attain them. The narrator is seeking something deeper than touch. He craves connection. Moreover, not only does he desire a partner in his solitude he also desires possession. The narrator claims, “I’ve always wanted to see you like that, with the skin of your belly full of deep pits, as if you’ve been beaten” (Márquez 434). The bruises serve as a sign of her submission to a stronger power, himself.

These observations all lead to yet another question: Is the woman imagined? Is she a tangible and active participant of the “real” world? Several instances indicate that this woman is merely a figment of his imagination. Why can she remember the contents of the dream and he cannot? She is a reoccurring participant of his fragmented dreamscape is fully cognizant of who is sleeping outside of the room they share and what is down the hallway from their tiny space. For her, he is the Other. Despite the dream being an object of his own construction, he is the intruder in the world that she is a part of. While the narrator remains cold due to the sheets falling off in his sleep, the woman can warm herself over the flames of the lamp in the room. That is, he is subject to the happenings of the outside, while she only exists and experiences what is in the room– in the dream. In addition, the lamp shared between them is almost a border stopping him from crossing into the world she lives in. While he wishes to touch her, he cannot. Rather, “[He] kept on walking with the cigarette and matches in [his] hand, which would not go beyond the lamp” (Márquez 435).

It can further be argued that the woman is even his own subconscious come to him in the form of what he both fears and desires the most. For him, she represents both companionship[7] and loneliness. They are both desolate creatures and when he looks in the mirror he sees himself. Take the following lines from Márquez:

“I thought she was looking at me for the first time. But then, she turned around behind the lamp and I kept feeling her slippery and oily look in back of me, over my shoulder, I understood that it was I who was looking at her for the first time” […] and “I said to her again: ‘I see you.’ And she raised her eyes from the brassiere again. ‘That’s impossible,’ she said. I asked her why. And she, with her eyes quiet and on her brassiere again: ‘Because your face is turned toward the wall.’” (Márquez 433-434)

Even when his gaze is not directly on her, he knows what she is doing: “She had raised her eyes;” and what part of the room she lays: “Sitting in front of the mirror again” (Márquez 433-434). It is as if every movement of hers is his own. Her longing for him is the most extreme version of his own yearning. While she wakes up from each sleep remembering the phrase they use to find one another: “Eyes of a blue dog,” he never fails to forget despite him being the one inventing the phrase for them to use. It becomes apparent that he is the one who truly wishes to find her, but, ironically, is the one who cannot remember the happenings of the dreams when he wakes. Thus, this only affirms the suppression of his longings in the real world. More than that, the woman tells him not to come closer or he’ll ruin the illusion. If he breaks this fantasy of her and of their shared space, he will come face to face with his own unfulfilled desires and his own solitude. If we take the woman to be an extension of his subconscious, the narrator is warning himself against that which would shed light into his deepest fears.

The woman is both a symbol of his loneliness and a balm for it. Yet, his idealization of her is only damaging the ability of his subconscious to reach a resolution. He traps her in his gaze. Sartre writes, “The Other [the narrator] looks at me and as such he holds the secret of my being, he knows what I [the woman] am. Thus, the profound meaning of my being is outside of me” (Sartre 473). Her being is only given value from his view of her. By “her” I am referring to any companion the narrator wishes to find in reality as the woman of his dreams is a representation of the unrealistic expectations he may project onto women in the real world. In this dream, he designs her to be perfect, but in doing so, she is confined to such perfection. By idealizing her, he offers no room for improvement. It stunts her growth and in a deeper sense, their potential growth as a couple. Were he to actualize this desire in the outside of his subconscious, the manifestations of his unrealistic expectations would only disappoint him once he comes face to face with the inevitable flaws of reality. Thus, suppressing his desires, failing to bring them into the light–– into the real world where they can be resolved–– the narrator only fuels his solitude, only heightens his cold. His fears and desolation must first be recognized before his desires can be actualized. Only when the narrator meets his repressed feelings of solitude and desire for companionship can he go beyond the lamp, warm himself from the cold, and truly wake up.

Notes

[1] This quote is the English equivalent of the Spanish proverb “la necesidad tiene cara de hereje,” which translates to “the need has the face of a heretic.”

[2] Freud, Sigmund. The Uncanny (Penguin Modern Classics) (Kindle Locations 1534-1536) Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

[3] Márquez, Gabriel. “Eyes of a Blue Dog.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, pp. 433-437

[5]Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness. Washington Square, 1993.

[6] In The Uncanny, Freud explains this nakedness as the desire for truth. When a dreamer is naked, he/she is in their most raw and honest form. Thus, the narrator desires to know someone when they are their complete, honest self—a form of intimacy deeper than touch.

[7] In the following passages, the idea of “her” can be understood as “companionship” and its derivatives–the longing of it– or the extension of the narrator’s own being rather than the actual woman herself.

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion

Confronting the Burden of Freedom in the Face of Systematic Religion
An Exegesis of “The Saint” by V.S. Pritchett

“My thought is me: that’s why I can’t stop. I exist because I think… and I can’t stop myself from thinking. At this very moment – it’s frightful – if I exist, it is because I am horrified at existing. I am the one who pulls myself from the nothingness to which I aspire.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre

“How extraordinary it is that one feels most guilt about the sins one is unable to commit.”
V.S. Pritchett

“Il n’y a de réalité que dans l’action.[1]
Jean-Paul Sartre

The great burden and blessing of life is the innate freedom belonging to humanity. We are free to live, free to die, free to walk to the grocery store or drive there. Our very identity is comprised of choices that have been dictated by our own actions or inactions. Perhaps the question is not whether or not we have choices but rather, which one is the better of the two, or the three, or the myriad of other possibilities. The facticities of life may illucidize[2] us into believing we are limited in opportunity– that the only choice is to take that test, to continue living, to wallow in poverty– yet what this truly points to is the reluctance of individuals to accept the responsibilities, burdens, and uncertainties of the other options we are too afraid to unbury. In V.S. Pritchett’s “The Saint,”[3] the burden of freedom surfaces from the depths of systematic religion– that which confines its congregation to routine behaviors that restrict individual consciousness and displaces responsibility.

In the Church of the Last Purification, the image of God is unsullied by imperfection and is revered. Mr. Timberlake and his congregation all seek an entity who will cast his final judgement on the world, determine the outcome of their individual lives, and thereby, remove the responsibility of action. To be a part of the Purification is to become a passive participant of one’s own life. It is to immobilize the fearful limbs of uncertainty. When the narrator describes Mr. Timberlake after he unmasks the pretense of the Purification, he claims, “By no word did he acknowledge the disasters or the beauties of the world,” (Pritchett 620); he was a man unable and unwilling to grasp onto reality long enough to participate in the world around him. The characters in the text illustrate this passivity through their dependence on God to provide the necessities of life. The uncle is described as a man “always in difficulties about money […] convinced that in some way God would help him” (612). The congregation lays in constant wait for the way to be “shown” to them rather than actively pursuing their opportunities (615). In Being and Nothingness[4], Sartre writes:

I am abandoned in the world, not in the sense that I might remains abandoned and passive in a hostile universe like a board floating on the water but rather in the sense that I find myself suddenly alone and without help, engaged in a world for which I bear the whole responsibility without being able, whatever I do, to tear myself away from this responsibility in an instant. For I am responsible for my very desire of fleeing responsibilities. To make myself passive in the world, to refuse to act upon things and upon Others is still to choose myself, and suicide is one mode among others of being-in-the-world. (710)

What the characters in the story are doing is allowing their abandonment to take root and control their lives. The facticity of their worlds remains unmastered and prevails through the weak will to substantiate their existence.

The Purification, moreover, is under the misconception that attaining a transcendent state of being will fill the lack, the nothingness, that all humans come from. Yet, this pursuit is a vain endeavor. Humans are incapable of perceiving perfection– a state which, by its very definition and the facts of their very existence, is unattainable. Sartre writes, “Human reality arises as such in the presence of its own totality or self as a lack of that totality. And this totality can not be given by nature, since it combines in itself the incompatible characteristics of the in-itself and the for-itself” (140). Thus, because they cannot perceive or experience perfection, they can never truly attain it. Because humanity possess consciousness, they can never truly become a being-in-itself. They are confined to the for-itself. To immortalize God (a being-in-itself) as they are (a being-for-itself) is to immobilized the progression of humanity– to deny the ability to surpass even the standards by which perfection was first casted.

To expand, in the narrative, Mr. Timberlake serves as a god amongst men and women. He is idealized and glorified. His presence in the narrator’s home is described as an honor. The narrator recalls, “It was unbelievable that a man so eminent would actually sit in our dining-room, use our knives and forks, and eat our food. Every imperfection in our home and our characters would jump out at him” (Pritchett 613). The flaws of their daily living, mundane aspects of their home that another would hardly notice, are starkly contrasted in the presence of this ideal being. His every word is law. Again, the narrator continues, “Whatever Mr. Timberlake believed must be true and as I listened to him at lunch, I thought there could be no finer life than this” (Pritchett 614). Yet, what we will come to find is that Mr. Timberlake is merely a human hiding beneath the pretense of perfection. He is a man who has abandoned the onus of his existence. He was a man “formally acknowledging a world he did not live in. It was too interesting, too eventful a world. His spirit, inert and preoccupied, was elsewhere in an eventless and immaterial habitation” (Pritchett 619). Mr. Timberlake looks at the physical world with “boredom,”(Pritchett 619) not actualizing his physical presence. He is disrobed of the illusion when he falls into the river. The narrator describes the moment: “It was a fatal flaw in a statue, an earthquake crack that made the monumental mortal… he was a declining dogma” (Pritchett 617-18).

In the text, the Purification and the existence of a God functions more as an illusion of security than an genuine pursuit for self-fulfillment. Yet, The inability to recognize the deficiencies of life, puts the members of the church in danger. Pritchett writes:

We regarded it as ‘Error’– our name for Evil– to believe the evidence of our senses, and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them they therefore did not exist. (612)

When Mr. Timberlake accompanies the young narrator punting down the river, a branch bares itself in the way. Governed by rules that deny the existence of a hazardous situation, Mr. Timberlake denies that there is a branch and as a result he falls in the river. Despite reality, in the eyes of the Purification, he did not fall and the branch was not present. In accordance with his faith, he continues on the day acting as if he is not drenched and the event did not happen; God would not bring into being an object that would hurt his creations. Sartre argues, however, that, “[humanity] is responsible for the world and for [themselves] as a way of being… since [humanity] is the one by whom it happens that there is a world; since [humanity] is also the one who makes [themselves] be” (707). The belief of the Purification displaces the responsibility of action to that of a being with no physical existence– who lacks any grounding in reality. Moreover, renouncing the onus of existence is still an act in itself. Sartre continues, “I am ashamed of being born or I am astonished at it or I rejoice over it, or in attempting to get rid of my life I affirm that I live and I assumed this life as bad” (710). There is only the world which we live in and there are only the choices we make. The trees, the air we breathe, the solid ground beneath our feet are tangible proofs of existence. To place blame on anyone other than himself for his own actions, Mr. Timberlake–– and in a larger sense, the Purification–– refuses to accept the burden of responsibility that freedom entails. They seek purification to provide the comfort of a predetermined existence. The narrator comes to realize this for himself when he is disillusioned of Mr. Timberlake’s ideality. He states:

I saw the shoes dip, the water rise above his ankles and up his socks. He tried to move his grip now to a yet higher branch– he did not succeed– and in making this effort his coat and waistcoat rise and parted from his trousers[…] It was at this moment I realized that the final revelation about man and society on earth had come to nobody and that Mr. Timberlake knew nothing at all about the origin of evil. (618)

The narrator realizes that this man, whom all members of the church have glorified, is no better than the rest. Yet, perhaps Mr. Timberlake had been aware of his lack all along when the narrator recalls, “[Mr. Timberlake] had come out with me, I saw, to show me that he was only human,” (620) which illustrates the active choice in remaining ignorant.

Another confining aspect of the Purification that Pritchett brings forth is the threat of a blanketed ideology that denies individual consciousness. An unspoken rule to establish membership in the church is that one’s own thoughts are poisonous to the goal– to the pursuit of transcendence. What follows are guidelines set to deny the negative outcomes that inevitably enter the lives of each character. Once again, when the narrator warns Mr. Timberlake of the branch obstructing his path, the faithful man proclaims that the branch is barely a challenge. The narrator then thinks to himself, “I did not want to offend one of the leaders of our church, so I put the paddle down; but I felt I ought to have taken him further along away from the irritation of the trees” (Pritchett 616). In an earlier passage the narrator is discouraged from exploring his thoughts when his uncle remarks, “This is my nephew. He thinks he thinks, but I tell him he only thinks he does” (Pritchett 614). This mentality discourages individual existence and reduces it to a whole, unified being. The foundation of this perceived unity, however, is laid with fear of repercussions from all members of the Purification. Sartre writes of subjectivity and individual experiences that “for [him], this glass is to the left of the decanter and a little behind it; for Pierre, it is to the right and a little in front. It is not even conceivable that a consciousness survey the world in such a way that the glass should be simultaneously given to it at the right and at the left of the decanter, in front of and behind it” (405). Thus, individual experiences are the only truth there is. A life cannot be dictated by a universal ethic, by which there is none.

Despite recognizing the restrictive nature of religion, one is left to wonder why it still prevails to this day. Churches are filled to the brim every Sunday. Theology is a pertinent subject in many private educations. Priests stand around pews preaching homilies from morning, afternoon, and twilight. Religion is, to many, a necessary part of being. While the primary argument of “The Saint” demonizes the Purification, the system of religion as a whole should not be demonized. For followers of Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, and the countless other gods, a sense of belonging overshadows individuation. The hope for an hereafter designed as paradise or the fear of the afterlife consumed in fires, albeit intangible and unprovable in our reality, can greatly drive one’s actions. Sartre writes: “My abandonment–i.e. My facticity– consists simply in the fact that I am condemned to be wholly responsible for myself (711). Hence, should our endeavors never reach fulfillment or our lives turn dark with dismay, we must assume the burden of the outcomes. This proves a paralyzing concept and some may find comfort in an assigned or predictable routine. What many view as “freedom” or “lack of freedom” is a neutral concept awaiting to be assigned a negative or positive character created by a subjective experience.

In a more positive light, while done to the extreme may prove unhealthy, perhaps denying the negative events that occur can alleviate the stresses of life and provide a sense of comfort. After his incident in the river, Mr. Timberlake tells the narrator, “Let’s go on. We‘re not going to let a little thing like this spoil a beautiful afternoon” (Pritchett 618). As the story progresses, the narrator recounts, “Heart disease, it was plain, was the cause of the death of Mr. Timberlake… It was a miracle, the doctor said, that he had lived as long. Any time during the last twenty years the smallest shock might have killed him” (Pritchett 620). It is at this point of the story where the narrator comes to realize that the Purification and its teachings saved Mr. Timberlake from an untimely end. This only affirms the notion that religion serves multiple purposes. While for the narrator it disillusoned him into discovering his own consciousness and reclaiming his freedom, for Mr. Timberlake, his faith, while a pretense, prevented a heart attack; he had “made for himself a protective, sedentary blandness, an automatic smile, a collection of phrases,” which provided him the comfort and security many seek for in religion.

Thus, to truly understand our purpose in this world, we must first recognize it as the only world. We can only fully understand our reality through our own experiences. Following this, we must reclaim our responsibility and move from a passive existence to an active one, in which our pursuits are predominantly governed by physical, forward motion and effort. What then becomes of our actions after this revelation? We may realize these truths, but to what end? The answer is that we must cast off the illusion, understand our responsibility and then decide if we should continue on our existence as individuals in a collectivist society or if we should partake in the ideals of our congregation and alleviate some burden of responsibility. Regardless of the outcomes that follow thereafter, we must always remember that we are never as alive, never as able, and never as responsible as when we become fully cognizant of a moment in which the progression of our lives depend on our action or inaction.

Notes

[1] There is no reality except in action.

[2] For the purposes of my paper, I took the liberty of creating my own word. To illucidize is to incite illusion or cause it to be.

[3] V.S. Pritchett. “The Saint.” The Art of the Tale: An International Anthology of Short Stories, edited by Daniel Halpern, Penguin, 1986, 612-21.

[4] Jean-Paul Sartre. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. Translated by Hazel E. Barnes, Washington Square, 1993, 405+.

Of Love and Other Demons

Demonizing the Hegemonic Culture of 18th Century Colombia
An Exegesis of Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel García Márquez

 “Absence is God. God is the loneliness of man. There was no one but myself; I alone decided on Evil; and I alone invented Good.”

Jean Paul Sartre[i]

“Take care. Sometimes we attribute certain things we do not understand to the demon, not thinking they may be things of God that we do not understand.”

Gabriel García Márquez[ii]

The pursuit of a higher existence following death, one that lacks any form of pain or hardship, sets the tone for the actions carried out by those who adhere to the belief of God and heaven; and even more inspiring than the fruitful promises of Paradise lies the fear of its dreaded counterpart, the devil and hell. While the genesis of such beliefs may start with good intentions–– i.e. to prevent chaos and disorder–– the results are often manifested through fear or ignorance, producing a lack of empathy and hindering moral progression. Thus, what may start out as a means to deter evil, becomes a vehicle for demons to come out from the shadows. Of Love and Other Demons[iii], a novella by Gabriel García Márquez, places itself in the midst of social-transformation that evolves during the decline of the Spanish Inquisition and slavery in colonial Colombia. It is here where evil takes the form of sacred institutions and hides behind individuals comprising the dominant upper class. The effects of this pandemonium are most apparent through Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles[iv], the foundling virgin who is subject to the horrors created by those who present themselves as her saviors. What results from the blind faith inspired by the Inquisition and the persistent oppression of non-Western tradition by the dominant White culture is the gradual degradation of the purest soul in the novella, Sierva María.

To provide context for the points to be argued in the following passages, what directly follows is a brief summary of the novella. One fateful Sunday on a South American seaport of Cartagena, a twelve-year-old Sierva is bitten by a rabid dog. She shows no apparent signs of infection other than a barely visible abrasion. However, perpetuated by her animalistic behavior–– taught to her by Dominga de Adviento, the black slave woman charged with her care and the girl’s practice of the Yoruban beliefs shared with her by the other slaves of her father’s home–– she is believed to be possessed by the devil. When Dominga de Adviento dies, the child becomes the sudden responsibility of a hateful and absent mother, Bernarda Cabrera, and an apathetic father, the Marquis de Casalduero, who, previous to his revelation[v], despised the girl for reminding him of her mother. To avoid responsibility of their unloved heir, Sierva is abandoned to the Convent of Santa Clara where she meets Josefa Miranda, the bitter Abbess and Father Cayentano Delaura, the priest entrusted to carry out her exorcism. Yet, rather than removing the demons believed to be devastating her soul, Delaura falls hopelessly in love with the tragic creature and his actions incite a divide between his desires and his duties. What results from these events is the death, or arguably the murder, of Sierva María through the rituals of exorcism.

The most pressing question of the novella persists throughout the text: Is Sierva María really possessed? To answer this, we must first indicate the symptoms often associated with possession. According to scholar Michael Grosso:

The possessed person behaves in ways that are totally alien to his usual self. He (or more probably she) blasphemes and acts out violent loathing of the conventional sacred symbols; is, moreover, tormented by physical contact with them; demoniacs recoil in pain from holy water sprinkled on them […] The moral otherness of demoniacs looks like an invasion from without; to view it as “merely” a revelation of something repressed within is no less uncanny […] Another symptom of possession is said to be the preternatural strength displayed by demoniacs. (510)[vi]

In the novella, Sierva shows little to no aversion to sacred symbols and does not scream or yell obscenities when Delaura sprinkles holy water in her cell. Any signs of preternatural strength are presented only as rumors spread by others rather than actual events narrated by Márquez. Following her arrival in the convent the persistent destruction of the edifice and the odd behavior of the farm animals surrounding it supports the assumption that “nothing occurred that was not attributed to the pernicious influence of Sierva María. Several novices declared in the acta that she flew on transparent wings that emitted a strange humming” (Márquez 69). To further emphasize the ability for these scandals to manifest in the community, Márquez also writes, “The fiction that Cayetano Delaura was the Bishop’s son had replaced the older rumor that they had been lovers ever since Salmanca” (138). He utilizes qualifying diction such as “novices declared,” “they said,” “rumor,” and “the fiction” to show that these tales are the creation of humans rather than the devil. Meanwhile, the physical and psychological signs of Sierva’s possession are a result of the harsh treatment done unto her by her exorcisers or, as they claim to be, “healers.” Márquez writes: “Sierva María felt as if she were dying […] after two fruitless weeks she had a fiery ulcer on her ankle, her body was scalded by mustard plasters and blistering poultices and the skin on her stomach was raw” (51). Along with these physical ailments, Sierva experiences delusions, convulsions, and loses control of her bladder and bowel movements, but such symptoms are the effects of others’ treatment of her.

Animalistic behavior, moreover, is often associated with demons. This is the sole trait displayed most by Sierva. The young girl is prone to biting and to ferocious tendencies. When the priest first encounters Sierva she “look[s] at Delaura for the first time, weigh[s] and measure[s] him, and attack[s] with the well-aimed pounce of a hunted animal” (Márquez 85). She is described as being “a viper,” “a tiger,” and “snapping at the air like a dog” (Márquez 64+). Sierva’s behavior, however, is more so a result of her parents’ abandonment and her lack of formal education and social grooming. Her behavior is akin to that of an animal because she is raised with the “primitive” characteristics of slaves who were treated like beasts by the Whites. In regards to animalism, Julia Kristeva writes in “Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection,” that “the abject confronts us, on the one hand, with those fragile states where man strays on the territories of animal. Thus, by way of abjection, primitive societies have marked out a precise area of their culture in order to remove it from the threatening world of animals or animalism, which were imagined as representatives of sex and murder” (12-13). This attitude is prevalent in Cartagena as the upper class continues to treat slaves like property, Other Blacks, and characterize African rituals and beliefs as savage, animalistic. The Marquise only perpetuates these stigmas when he tries to undo the teachings the slaves teach Sierva. He “tried to teach her to be a real white […] to suppress her fondness for pickled iguana and armadillo stew,” (Márquez 47) exposing his belief in a wrong culture and a right one. Sierva is thus Othered and oppressed by the onslaught of the dominant Western culture.

Despite the perpetual demonization of the slaves, Marquez’s text argues that the real villains are the colonizers. In fact, it is the “savages” who take in Sierva and treat her with kindness. They teach the foundling their traditions and beliefs. Sierva would often be found in the servants’ courtyard “helping to skin rabbits, and her face was painted black, her feet were bare, and her head wrapped in the red turban used by slave women,” (Márquez 16) and when she relived herself she would  “urinate behind the tree, squatting and holding a stick at the ready to defend herself against abusive animals and predatory men, just as Dominga de Adviento had taught her to do” (Márquez 64). She is the antithesis of her aristocratic family and adopts her own “lower-class” identity. Márquez writes, “‘The only thing white about that child is her color,’ her mother [Bernarda] would say. This was so true that the girl changed her name to an African name of her own invention: María Mandinga” (45). It is because she is so similar in behavior to the despised Blacks but white with ethereal, coppery hair– qualities favored by the West– that she often confounds those around her. She is what Kristeva would describe as being “repulsive and fascinating, abject” (158) and her juxtaposing behaviors and looks “disturbs identity, system, order” (4). She is the living product of two cultures integrated into one being; and society’s exclusion of her and of their non-Western counterparts, illustrate the failure of the Spaniards and Christians to adapt to cultural evolution. In simple terms, it is not the act of the devil, but the West’s persistence in hegemonizing­­­­­ South America that demonizes Sierva María, or more precisely, that demonizes the lower class and culture.

Ironically, the most prominent face of evil in the novella wears the mask of Josefa Miranda, the Abbess of the convent in Santa Clara. She is a woman fully governed under the pretense of “faith” and duty and lacks any indication or desire for truth and reason. When she leads Delaura to Sierva María’s cell and exclaims that the wall is covered in blood, Delaura admonishes her for being so rash in her declaration. He claims that “just because the water was red, that did not mean it had to be blood, and even if it were, that did not mean it had to be diabolical” (Márquez 82). This indicates the impulsive inclination those blinded by faith possess to believe the worst in matters that they do not fully understand. The insidious nature of religion is further emphasized when Abrenuncio, a well educated doctor claims, “‘There is not much difference between that and the witchcraft of blacks […] In fact, it is even worse because the blacks only sacrifice roosters to their gods, while the Holy Office is happy to break innocents on the rack or burn them alive in a public spectacle’” (Márquez 72). The nuns of the convent view the girl with curiosity and wonder rather than disdain. In fact, “the presence inside the convent walls of a girl possessed by demons had all the excitement of an extraordinary adventure” (Márquez 70). The nuns break into Sierva María’s cell and plead with her to speak to the devil and intercede on their behalf–– asking her to illicit impossible favors from the very entity they vow to despise. This further highlights that the pretense of religion and faith are merely the masks of corrupt sacred establishments. Delaura and Abrenuncio, both well-read scholars, and the Abbess, a cloistered nun dependent on the teachings of the Church, represent the divide between religion and science, but even deeper, the divide between women and men. The Abbess and “all women of her day were forbidden any kind of formal education, yet from the time she was very young she had learned scholastic argumentation in her family of distinguished theologians and great heretics” (Márquez 82). The Abbess is a product of the institution that raised her. Allegorically, this contrast reflects the period of the Spanish Inquisition, the coming of the Enlightenment, and the damaging effects of a patriarchal society.

Evil does not lie only in sacred institutions as the face of the teachings of a debauched society is also visible in Sierva María’s mother. No one is as repulsed by the girl nor wishes her demise more than Bernarda. She is incapable of loving her own daughter and is apathetic in all aspects of life irrelevant to her. When Sierva María is first bitten by the dog, the primary concern of her mother is that the reputation of their family would be tarnished. And again, when the Marquis  explains to her that their daughter has been left at the convent, she cries; we are first moved to see the first indication of her love only to be disillusioned by her next words: “‘You mean that now our shame is public knowledge” (Márquez 108). Yet, like the Abbess, she is a product of her time and society. The degradation of her soul had been enacted far before Sierva María’s birth. She had been whored to the Marquise, through the will of her father, and ordered trap him into marriage through means of impregnation. The Marquis, himself, had desired Bernarda only for the physical pleasures of her body, rejecting her when she first came to him with child and only submitting to an official union when his life is threatened by her father. Thus, the societal view of her as the submissive gender reduces her to merely a body easily distributed and discarded by men. To add to the evolution of her sour character is the death of the only love of her life, Judas Iscariote, a black man who perishes in a fight against three other slaves. She laments, “‘I would have been capable of hacking them [runaway slaves] to pieces with a machete. And not only them but you and the girl and my skinflint of a father, and everyone else who turned my life to shit” (Márquez 141). While Bernarda victimizes Sierva María and abandons her to an ill fate, in the end of the novella, we see that she, too, is a victim of her place in life and is haunted by demons of her own.

Although Sierva shows signs of aggressiveness, aversion to society, and ferocity, she possesses no evil entities within. Rather, the real demons lie without. They hide behind the mask of the Abbess and the executors of the Spanish Inquisition. They lurk in the corridors of apathetic parents, slave-traders and colonizers. They prey on those who oppress others in order to maintain their high position in the hierarchy of corruption. More than anything else, they are creatures of humanity that create their own demise. Of Love and Other Demons is Marquez’s critique of society and religion and the corrupt individuals that the teachings of both have brought forth. While not wholly representing every devout Christian or all Spaniards of the 18th century, Márquez does opens the cracks of a system built atop decaying foundations. By adhering to the strict and limiting orders of hegemonized institutions that fail to integrate themselves into a diversifying world, his characters fail to transcend the boundaries of their oppressive society and such attitudes often lead to demonizing and destroying the most innocent of souls.

Notes

[i] Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Devil and the Good Lord,” in The Worlds of Existentialism: A Critical Reader, ed. Maurice Friedman (New York: Humanity Books, 1999), 248.

[ii] Gabriel García Márque Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons, (New York: Vintage International, 1995), 80.

[iii] Gabriel García Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons. New York: Vintage International, 1995.

[iv] According to Márquez, Sierva Maria is based on a corpse he had come across while transferring unclaimed crypts in the convent of the Clarissan nuns to a common grave. There, he came across the decayed body of Sierva María de Todos los Ángeles with a long flow of coppery hair that belied her deceased corpse. He claims that this reminded him of the story his grandmother told of a twelve-year-old Marquise with long, fiery hair that preformed miracles.

[v] When arguing with Bernarda about the state of their daughter’s health, the Marquise comes to the realization that he truly does love Sierva and from that point on works to rectify his mistreatment of her.

[vi] Michael Grosso. “Possession & Exorcism: Understanding the Human Psyche in Chaos\The Devil Within: Possession and Exorcism in the Christian West,” Journal of Scientific Exploration 28, no. 3 (2014): 509-17.

 

 

To All My Dramatic Dreamers (Myself Included)

Yesterday, I wrote a piece about superstitions and my experience with the paranormal. I forced myself to write it. After I finished, I decided to hold off on posting it and wait till the next day– today. This evening, as I sat in front of my computer ready to publish my piece I decided to write something different (which is this post that you’re reading right now). Why? I can’t really say. Perhaps it’s because what I had originally intended to post didn’t seem adequate enough. It felt rushed and forced and all it had to offer was mediocrity. I can’t deny that I’ve been in a stump these past few months. As you can tell from my lack of posting, I’ve lost enjoyment for my craft and have been feeling passionless, which is scary because I’ve convinced myself that writing and reading are my bread and butter. I’ve told myself that it’s all I have to offer the world.
Reading and WritingReading and Writing Reading and Writing
I’ve lived most of my life assuming that my career would center around these two words that have consumed me for most of my academic life.
 Then all of a sudden I lost any motivation and desire to continue reading and writing, and I was lost– am lost. I know this isn’t groundbreaking. Everyone is lost at 21. Boo hoo, Via. Welcome to the most inclusive club on Earth!

Despite this suffering being a communal affair, I still feel helpless. My world has tilted from 23º to 90º and I’ve been left with the one question that has paralyzed any forward movement in my life: Do I like reading and writing because I’m actually passionate about it or do I like it because I’ve been told that (relatively) I’m good at it? Thereby convincing me to love it? Because if I didn’t actually love it, where would that leave me? What would I do then? If I truly loved something, why did I give up on it for months? Why did I lose any desire to continue? Why did I dread reading and writing during my final semesters? Hello, existential crisis.

I thought back to my undergrad and realized how I fell out of love with reading and writing because I felt forced to do it. I needed to write that 10 page exegesis because I needed that grade to pass and ensure my parents’ sacrifices for my education weren’t in vain. I needed to work those hours at the Writing Center, reading and peer-reviewing other students’ papers to make money. I needed to complete my Literature degree because I had already come so far. I was so surrounded by what I thought I had loved that I felt suffocated by it.

And then I thought about the potential career I had planned for myself (publishing), which more or less, would be the same thing. Would my attitude towards reading and writing– my supposed passions– shift from adoration to resentment then? 

Then I wondered if anyone else has thought this. Do accountants become accountants because they love numbers or because they’re good with them? This question reminded me of an article I read claiming that we do ourselves and our community a disservice by building a career solely off of something we love. It argued that, more or less, following your dream is a waste of time if you’re not one of the lucky few. This post went against everything I’ve been taught. Not follow your dream? How… pessimistic– or perhaps, now, realistic? After all, it’s called a dream because not everyone has what it takes to make it tangible. Or maybe they do, but they’re perpetually screwed over by the injustice of a fickle world. I questioned constantly the validity of this statement. It had merit. There are countless artists– writers– out there who love an industry that doesn’t love them. There are hundreds of unrecognized talents who are overshadowed by those who were in the right place at the right time but are mediocre at best.

Then I considered the idea that I lost my love for reading and writing because I lost faith in my ability to actualize my goals– because I was afraid what I wanted to do wasn’t what I should do, that it wouldn’t be profitable or I wouldn’t “make it”. And then my mind went on a tirade bombarding me with questions of my quality of life if I were to pursue a career in publishing that has less than fruitful results for the majority. Then it bombed me with questions regarding my happiness were I to do something I could find security in but didn’t fulfill what I really wanted. Then I paralyzed myself even more from my inability to just decide. Then I attacked myself for being so consumed with needing money. I rationalized this desire by understanding that I obviously need money to survive. Then I thought about how broke I was and questioned how I could ever become independent. After I went through this– for lack of a better term– episode, every romantic notion claiming that we foster happiness by following our dream was folded in half and stored in the far off drawers of my mind. 

And then I went crazy.

When I calmed down enough, I then thought about the binate system we’re conditioned to follow: this or that but never both. Or or or or.  It always had to be one or the other. You either follow your passion and risk a less stable life or you choose a profitable job which you might be good at but have no real interest in. In the midst of this dimming thought, I realized I never asked myself why I couldn’t do both. More than that, why did the choices have to be either good or bad, or bad or worse? Why couldn’t the options be good or best? With such a dismal outlook, it was no wonder I “lost” passion. 

I thought back to Bukowski’s famous words: “Find what you love and let it kill you.” I had been consumed by this line when I first came across it. I remember reading it, letting it sink in and thinking they were the most profound words ever arranged in a 9 syllable sentence. Fuck yeah! I couldn’t wait to be killed by my passion. MURDER ME, CHARLES BUKOWSKI! MY BODY IS READY.

But here I am, years later, figuratively dying and wondering why does it have to be so dramatic? After all was thought and anguished over to an overwhelming amount, I thought about those who follow their dreams as a hobby while they pursue more profitable avenues; they continue to hone their art in some hope that one day they’ll find their big break. A practical and reasonable choice. I don’t think it’s giving up–more like… being wise. Why does following your dreams often equate to being impetuous and foolish? Why is there no smart way to accomplish your goals? Practicality isn’t romantic, sure, but that doesn’t make it a less viable option.

So here I am, slowly trying to figure out a smart way to be what I want to be. Do I love reading and writing again? I’m working on it. In fact, this is the first time I’ve been inspired to write all summer and I must say that I feel satisfied having completed something of value– at least to me. That’s a start. I’m also thinking that I’ll try the practical route and see what comes from that. I might also change my mind the next day and just wing it all, but I’m thinking that that’s okay too.

So while I’m often subjected to boughts of hopelessness and despair and all the dramatics of life in regards to the future, I’m quite eager to figure it out as I go along. I’m learning to trust myself and understand, that for all my mistakes and flaws, I know I’ll be okay in the end. Again, maybe that seems arrogant, but what I’ve also learned is that you need a little ego to be where you want to be in life.

 

What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your opinions below. Let’s have a discussion!

Graduation, Lactose Intolerance, and Vomiting in My Car– some minor and major life updates for ya

Given that my last post was months ago, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to know that life has been pretty hectic lately. So here are some minor updates followed by a few major ones.

Minor Updates: 

  1. I’ve developed an intolerance to lactose
    Apparently this is a common occurrence for Asians and I’m still pretty pissed off about it.
  2. I recently presented The Secrets to Success at the Sigma Tau Delta International Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio
  3. I picked up crocheting
  4. My current goal is to crochet a queen sized blanket using the waffle stitch pattern.
  5. My friend threw up in my car
    Yes; we’re still friends.
  6. I’ve downloaded Clash of Clans all for the purpose of destroying my girlfriend’s home base.
    I’m looking for a clan. Hit me up if you need a new member!

Major (?) Updates:

  1. I got a tattoo
    I chose my adoption date. I knew that my first tattoo would have to be something special to me. This date is a constant reminder of how fortunate and blessed I am.
    IMG_1958
    I actually got this tattoo a while back– let’s say around October of 2017– and only a handful of people know about it. It was never something I really wanted to flaunt.Also, my parents don’t even know and they would kill me. (Sorry mom & dad!!)
  2. I have a girlfriend
    To many, this has been a surprise considering I had only dated men in the past and I’ve received a lot of questions about my relationship; but I don’t want to make this update about the fact that I’m dating a girl. As my wise friend, Tamar, once stated: “Differentiating this relationship from others solely because of gender would only detach it from the conversation about relationship norms.” What I want to focus on instead is how healthy this relationship has been thus far and how it has changed both me and my partner in better ways.But I’ll talk more about this in another post.

     

  3. I’m graduating in a month
    It’s funny. When I first started my journey towards my B.A. I couldn’t wait to finish and get it all over with. Yet, here I am with the finish line in sight and no definite idea of what to do next.

    Will I go to grad school right away? Maybe.
    One year hiatus? Possibly.
    Continue with Literature? Debating.
    Finally finish that novel I started? That would be ideal.The point is, I don’t really know yet & I’m sloooooooOOOOOooowly (very, very slowly) realizing that that’s okay. I’ve come to understand that the sadness and ocean of hopelessness that I’ve been feeling over the past few semesters were a product of all the pressure I’ve been putting on myself to know– to know everything and to know it all right now.  To know what I’m going to do and how I’m going to do what I want to do before I even know what it is I want to do. But as Lily once said on season 4 of How I Met Your Mother:

    “You can’t design your life like a building. It doesn’t work that way. You just have to live it and it’ll design itself.”

    This is not to say that I’ve completely abandoned all recourse for responsible action or that I have now become a passive participant in my own life; rather, I’m teaching myself to trust in my own abilities more and to know that I can make the best of whatever comes my way.

    Anyways, enough of the life lesson. What I really wanted to share was that I’m graduating May 20th with a degree in Literature and a minor in Writing. My very tentative plan is to pursue a Masters in Literature with a focus on ethnic literature (specifically Latinx literature) within the next 5 years. Hopefully get more serious about publishing, and eventually retire with a house filled with large windows and pets.

    In a nutshell, this has been my life for the past few months. Granted, I can’t detail every notable moment, nor would I ever want to bore you with that, but I hope some of these updates have been interesting or relatable in some way.

    I know I haven’t been great at keeping my blog updated, but that will change! So let’s talk! As always,  please feel free to offer any constructive criticism, comments, or suggestions on what you’d like to see me post about next.

    Happy Reading!

Inevitable Lessons of Being A Sad Girl

Life is crazy. No surprise there.
It’s unpredictable.
It’s hectic.
It’s all types of fucked up and all kinds of beautiful.

Most of all, it always moves forward. Luckily for me, much of the momentum that pushed me through this past year and a half had comprised of bouts of sadness so deep, it scared me. It felt inescapable and unmanageable. With my graduation date quickly approaching, I constantly worried about the future: where I would be, what I would do afterwards, where I would work, and mostly how I would pay for myself once I became independent? How could I make something of myself if I was too afraid to take the risk of following my passion for writing? I was stressed and sad and angry that I didn’t have the answers so all I did was remain stagnant in my position. And because of that I felt I had no purpose. I was pushing against a rock I couldn’t move.

Without going into too much detail, much of the depression that I experienced was also a product of internal issues (self-confidence, stress, anxiety, uncertainty, etc.) along with a few other moving and unpleasant events that were outside of my control, but manageable had I simply approached the situation better (failed and strained relationships with friends, family, and lovers). I had harbored and nurtured these problems with negativity and worry and this reflected in my work ethic, my social circles, and my daily interactions with other people. I was easy to anger, to irritate. I pulled away from many people, and procrastinated at every opportunity. Most damaging of all, I convinced myself that I deserved to feel this way– to hate myself for having no “real” excuse for being sad, but still being so anyway.

But I look back at those dark moments in time, even with the happy days in mind, and cannot think of anything I could be more grateful for. I mean that with the utmost sincerity.

You may be wondering why I would be praising something many would consider a misfortune. Why would I be happy to have been sad? I realize that may seem odd and perhaps offensive to some who have been clinically diagnosed with depression or mental illness. That is not my intention at all. But it is because of that deep depression that I have come to learn more about growth and happiness, and most importantly, myself.

Now, I am not a guru of life. I don’t have all the secrets of the world nor do I wish to. These lessons I’ve learned have not automatically brought me to a realm of absolute happiness. But I have learned that “happiness” as a perpetual state of being is not possible, nor should it be. I don’t say this because I am a pessimist, but because I’ve come to understand that the goal of life isn’t about finding absolute bliss for the rest of our days.
It’s about living.
And to be alive is to know pain and hardship and heartbreak and love and laughter and moments of joy so profound it’s impossible not to believe in something greater. It’s about trying to understand world and coming to terms with the fact that we never truly will. To be alive is to live in a paradox.

This leads me to

Lesson One:  Let go of the need for happiness. 
I read a quote once and though I am unable to relay it verbatim, it went along these lines: If you forbid yourself to be sad because there are others who suffer more, then you cannot allow yourself to be happy because there are many who are happier than you.

I spent many months being upset– mostly at myself.There was so much guilt whenever I felt sad or angry, because every night I took a step back and thought to myself: What do I really have to be sad about when I have supportive family and friends, food on the table, shelter over my head, and a stable education? If I started to feel sad I’d instantly beat myself up for looking at the world so negatively. I forced myself to be positive and would get upset when I couldn’t be. How could I when I would constantly meet and interact with people who suffered more tangible worries than I could even imagine?

But I had to learn that feeling completely out of sorts with the world and with myself is an inevitable part of living. Feeling guilty for natural, valid, and uncontrollable emotions is unproductive and unreasonable.

IT’S OKAY TO BE SAD SOMETIMES.

To be in a spectrum of emotion is to be whole. No matter my economic circumstance, my personal situation, my work or school life– be it in a terrible state or a great one– I learned that it’s okay to feel. To live. It was time to stop being so hard on myself for being human.

Lesson Two: Only I am responsible.
My parents, my friends, and my environment have all shaped me. Yet my mold isn’t merely governed by these outside forces. It’s subject to internal movement: my thoughts, my goals, my emotions. Every inch of my mind. The world I live in and how I choose to perceive it is up to me and whatever comes of that is my responsibility.

I worry about what’s to come constantly. I have no idea what will become of my life in ten years or five or even two weeks. What if someone I love dies? What if something comes around and completely throws me off my path and sets me back? What if I can’t get a job after I graduate? This anxiety only fueled what had already been a chaotic mind.

What I had to understand is that outside forces beyond my control will always be there, but to place blame on the state of my life on anyone other than myself is to disregard my ability to rebuild myself and grow from hardship. If someone pushed me down and I stay there, that is my full and conscious decision. Instead of blaming the world for placing a rock in my path, I learned to break down that rock into fragments so fine it would be unrecognizable. Weather it down with water and knead it until it became clay. Then mold that obstacle into whatever I chose. Because only I am responsible for it.

Lesson Three: It’s all about balance.
I remember a time where the playgrounds I once frequented had thin metal beams that I would walk with precarious steps. And I remember the time my friends had dared me to run across the beam without falling down.

I failed.

That experience taught me two things.

1. Balance is crucial.
2. I have to walk before I can run.

This past year I had to relearn these lessons. I reached my capacity for stress, but continued to add things that only pushed me even further past my limit. I overloaded on classes, work, and extracurricular activities and let my work pile up. And when I would silently crumble under the pressure, I’d beat myself up for not being able to handle the stress. I expected so much from myself for no other reason than I wanted to be better and I wanted that now. But rather than benefit me, it only weakened my resolve. I placed my goals on the foreground and pushed my mental health in the background not knowing that there was space for both in the front. Here I was walking on a metaphorical beam of life, holding a feather in my left hand with a ton of bricks weighing down on my right. How could I have possibly stayed balanced?

What I learned from falling too far over the edge is that I didn’t have to carry a huge weight on my shoulder in order to make something of myself. Most of all, I didn’t need to do any of that now. I was trying to fly through the stages of life, but I had no idea what I was rushing for. Maybe I had been in a silent competition with those my age who already seemed to have it all figured out. Whatever the reason, I have come to determination that when I reach my goals, I will go into them with a clear and balanced mind.

Much of what I’ve presented so far may seem preachy coming from a young adult who still has so much left to experience. I have no idea if I’ll come back to this and find that all I’ve written contradicts what I will learn in the following years. Or maybe I won’t.

I don’t really know and that’s okay.
I can’t unpack the entire world in only 21 years.
And you know what?

That’s okay too.

My Life Explained By Numbers

Challenge Day 1: Introduce Yourself 

I have lived a grand total of 1,070 weeks, which, factoring in the date of my birth is exactly 7,489 days today. This is not including leap year so really I’ve lived a total of 7,494 days. That means I am made up of 10,791,360 minutes of alternating good and bad decisions, lazy days, detours and misadventures, lies, love, 99¢ ramen runs and 1 Rihanna concert. I am 3 inches above 60 and 115lbs of solidified magic and madness. I have been with 3 people, only said “I love you” to one, have 5 close friends I would do anything for, 4 parents I love more than anything, and a dog I would jump in front of a slowly moving car for. I am the 3rd kid in a group of 5, but I am legally an only child. I was adopted 1,089 days from my birth and have lived on the island of Guam for nearly 6,400 days.

Roughly 40.8% of my time has been dedicated to aiming for decent grades, memorizing various literary devices, and trying but failing to find the solutions to limits as x approaches a constant. Since I will be entering my senior year of college in 3 months I still have about 180 days left of school. I spend around 8 hours studying and attending classes 5 days out of 7. That’s roughly 40 hours a week pursuing my academic goals. This number, of course, varies upon the time in the semester, the amount of credit hours, and the type of student, but I’d say it’s comparable to a full time job. That leaves the other 59.2% of my time left to spend with my family, friends, and pursuits towards personal endeavors outside of academia.

As for a few defining moments, towards the middle of 2015 and the beginning of 2016 I experienced the best and worst time of my life. I spent 305 days in a different state, attending 12 hours of school each week and a large part of the the remaining 156 hours mainly focusing on a healthy appetite for social interaction. During those days, I spent 5 months nurturing a relationship, which 153 days later would fall apart once I flew 7,145 miles back home. This, coupled with the fact that I’d be leaving the satisfaction of sudden independence and roughly 25 brand-spanking-new good friends, left me with 213 days battling with what turned out to be the hardest yet most transformative season of my life thus far.

My first day back on Guam I landed at 10 o’clock in the evening, fell asleep around midnight, and 6 hours later woke up to go on a morning hike to distract myself from the pain I knew would be inevitable. The next 2 days succeeding that were spent with tears wallowing in sadness so deep, at times I could do nothing more than curl up in a ball and force myself to go to sleep. It was nearly 3 months of complete devastation and a sense of yearning for something I couldn’t yet name.

On day 3, I had had it with depression and vowed to do everything in my power to never feel that way again. As a result, the 76 days that followed from then on were spent actively trying to distract myself from the hollowness I couldn’t seem to shake; This included watching movies nearly every night at the theatre, going out with friends, cleaning and reorganizing my 4 year plan for university, hiking, running, swimming, eating, and most of all: avoiding. But as ever, that perpetual shadow of what I could only call grief– the loss of what I left behind– continued to plague me for more hours than I wish to count. I spent nearly 22 hours a day questioning why this was and came to the conclusion that my sadness was the result of an idle summer– jobless, purposeless, and holding on to a past I hadn’t yet learned to let go of.

On day 79, I went back to school. I had a reason for getting up again. The sudden routine didn’t provide for me the solace I had hoped for right away, but I started getting back on my feet and focusing on life outside of what use to be and who it had been with.

214 days after that cloud of darkness shaped itself above my head, I had successfully worked with my pain instead of against it and from that blossomed a strength I once thought impossible.

48 days after the new year, about 8 months after my return home and my months long depression, I met someone new. Thus followed a good 4 to 5 weeks of first experiences with a new person, a different pair of lips, and another wave of sadness, which came when it all came crumbling down roughly 47 days later. In those weeks, life grew even more hectic. Final exams and papers worth 20% of my grade approached their due dates, work peaked, family crises rose from the ground like weeds in the soil, and my usual 9-5 at school turned into 9-1. The hands of the universe were arranging my life in an intricate pattern of dominoes which fell piece by piece leaving me to catch them all in the tiny expanse of my 2 hands. It was yet another season of learning and growing, and reaping lessons I still haven’t fully grasped.

I don’t want to dwell on such things, however. I am 151 days into 2017 and 2 full weeks of happiness. This has been a year which has proven to be a fruitful experience of soulful expansion and youthful optimism and it’s only just begun. In the grand scheme of things, if I live up to 73, the average lifespan of females in the world, I have a good 19,723 days before I die. This is assuming that I don’t get hit by a bus or contract e-coli before then and that I pass away exactly at 11:13 p.m. on November 23rd 2070. This is also assuming I’m average- which I’m not– thank you very much. I have about 2,818 weeks left to see Coldplay live, visit 10 countries, skydive from 14,000 feet in the air, and reach my goal of having read at least 2,000 books in a single lifetime. I have 53 years left to grow the seeds of my purpose and create a garden that will continue to flourish even after I perish.

I am the summation of 3,747 nights, 3,748 days, 179849 hours, and 7 very important people. I am chasing life with 2 legs and grasping for experience with 10 fingers clasped tight. I am learning. Although I am made up of numbers which simultaneously increase and decrease as I continue to create myself, I am essentially just 1 being ceaselessly racing towards infinity.

(I wrote this on May 31st, 2017. The numbers should reflect that.)
(Also, I’m really bad at math.) 

Growing Older, But Not That Much Wiser (?)

You know what I hate about growing older?

Constantly being asked what I want to do in life and what my plans are for the future. And I realize that this is a question that’s been asked to us since we could walk, talk, and perceive what the world could offer, so really, what’s the big deal? The difference is that now we are no longer kids and our answer to this question really matters.

In school we’re taught the basics of achieving our dreams. But what about finding them? Of knowing what we want to do in life? Are those not essential as well? Why is there no class teaching us how to find our passion in life? The simple and real answer is because this isn’t something you can teach. There’s no formula to finding passion. And isn’t that a bitch?

This feeling isn’t something new to me. Actually, I’ve struggled with it for quite some time now. Last year when I was attending The University of North Texas, I saw a guy holding a sign that read: “Sit down and tell me WHY you’re Stressed”

Now, these types of things are particularly exciting to me. I’m not sure if it’s simply because I admire people who reach out to complete strangers or because I’ve watched enough cheesy movies to know that every protagonist undergoes some life changing epiphany after five minutes of conversation with a complete stranger– usually a homeless person. But to be honest, the only thing that I took away from it was this:

“Sit down and tell me WHY you’re Stressed” Dude: What’s stressing you out?
Me (more or less): I have no idea what to do with my life.
Dude: You say that as if every fucking person here knows what they want to do with their lives.
Me: DUDE! You are so right.

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Me and “Sit down and tell me WHY you’re Stressed” dude. (I wish I could get an actual name for you. :/ )
So yes. The guy had a point. How many 20 something-year-olds do you know have their life together?  Yet, despite this revelation I couldn’t help but feel completely… average. How could I take comfort in knowing I’m just like everyone else? I questioned why this was hitting me so hard. So I dug even deeper. I utilized my resources (Google) and learned that there were many people who didn’t reach “success” until later on in life. Ray Kroc was 52 when he bought McDonald’s and turned it into a billion dollar franchise. Vera Wang didn’t start her career as a fashion designer until the age of 40. Henry Ford didn’t create the Model T car until he was 45. There are tons of stories just like these– stories of people who truly embody the saying that “good things come to those who wait.”

After reading these stories, I asked myself if I felt better about my current position. My answer? Hell no. I still feel completely lost and stressed about what’s to come. Furthermore, I don’t want to wait till I’m 40 or 50. 

But you know what I did learn from all this? That it’s okay to feel this way because it’s just a natural stage in life. Why does it have to be? Who gaht damn knows? But I also know that when you’re lost, you’re bound to find something that others haven’t found before.

I know. That’s probably not the cliche answer you were hoping for. I apologize if you came to this post hoping to come out with some life-shattering realization, but alas! I, too, am still trying to get my shit together.

So, here’s to life, here’s to being 20, and here’s to hoping it’ll start to make some sense sometime soon.