Home vs. School: Smashing the Closet Door

In my last post, I talked about behaving differently depending on circumstance, and considering myself one thing while keeping the flip-side of the coin “closeted”. Now, I’m bringing the issue of the metaphorical closet up once more, this time relating to how it’s been affected in light of my recent move from Harrogate to Knoxville.

For the good majority of my life, I’ve lived in this general area. I grew up in Middlesboro, Kentucky just a drive through a tunnel away, then moved to Harrogate for my middle and high school years. And, of course, I ended up staying in Harrogate for college. I thought that I would be living here until I graduated, but with my family’s move to Knoxville before the start of this semester, things aren’t so simple anymore. When not at school, I’m going home to a completely new area with new people, environments, expectations, and opportunities. Meanwhile, being at LMU in the place where I’ve lived for years sends me back to a familiar environment – almost a comfort zone, if I can call it that. However, my mindset regarding this area and how I interact with it has definitely changed since moving.

LMU has become a “safe zone” for me in this area. For the sake of a nerdy comparison: if my general range of “homes” is an area in an MMO, then the university is my starting zone, a place that I know is safe, familiar, and devoid of monsters. The people here have many different points of view and personalities, but in the end we’re all here for the same purpose: to learn. I feel comfortable revealing parts of myself to them that I wouldn’t ordinarily because diversity is both expected and respected. Others learn from me and I learn from them without being attacked. Here, I can live mostly with the closet door open.

My long-time home, the Harrogate-Middlesboro area outside of LMU, is the “wilds” area right outside the safe starting zone: familiar, navigable, and not incredibly dangerous, but an area that I still have to tread cautiously in. While LMU is full of people that I’ve known only for a couple of years, elsewhere in the surrounding area are people – family, especially – that I’ve been around practically my whole life, or a good portion of it. They’ve come to expect that I behave, look, and be a certain way, and some of these traits they’ve applied to me are vastly different than what I’m like now. I’ve found myself stepping back behind the closet door when in this zone of influence.

The new place where I’ve bound my “teleport home” spell, Knoxville, is the big city at the other end of the wilds. It’s vast, new and exciting, and most of all it’s as anonymous or as personal as I want it to be. This city has so many different areas and niches that I can choose to seek out others or be alone if I wish. I can reveal as much or as little as I want, because for every person that may disapprove of me there are more that won’t. When I was limited to LMU and the Harrogate area, I had only a small spot on the map where I could truly be myself, because everywhere I went I would bump into someone who shouldn’t see me as I am. I had nowhere to hide. In my new home, I have everywhere to hide, and everywhere to not hide as well. I have another and larger “safe zone” to retreat to. Here, I can rip the closet door off of its hinges.

While I had a permanent residence near LMU, I was always careful to keep certain things hidden, especially those things pertaining to my spirituality, romantic orientation, mental state, and other potentially sensitive subjects. This wasn’t because I feared making things more difficult for myself, but because I feared any trouble that it might bring to the people around me. However, as circumstances have changed over time, I’ve become more willing to open up about myself, especially now that I have access to any number of potential communities to connect with in my new home city. Over my next three posts, I’ll be touching on different aspects of myself that I’ve kept closeted for what I feel has been far too long: how I’ve dealt with them in the past, how they’ve affected my interactions and relationships at LMU, and how I’m moving forward in regard to them as I adjust to home life in an urban environment. Feel free to follow my blog to keep up with the rest of the series!

A Closet Extrovert?

During a conversation a while back, a family member of mine said something to me that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since:

“Sure, you may be introverted, Alex, but you’re a closet extrovert. Look at how you act when you’re onstage, or at one of your anime conventions!”

This statement baffled me. I’ve always considered myself a complete and total introvert; if you were to give me a codified personality test like the Meyers-Briggs, I would score as introverted every time. I love alone time and need a lot of it. I’m rarely excited to be around large numbers of people aside from during special events, and on the rare occasion I am around a lot of people for a long time, I have to withdraw immediately to “recharge my batteries”. How on earth was I capable of being extroverted in any way?

Not only was I not sure how I could even be considered extroverted, but didn’t want to be. Once upon a time (and by that I mean only a few years ago), I gloated in my status as a personality type that I mistakenly saw as being a minority, and saw myself in an elitist “I’m a super special delicate and sensitive snowflake and better than you” light. While I’ve since left that mentality behind, and I’m definitely happier for it, I’m still comfortable with my introversion and see it as a simple reality of what I’m like as a person. For someone to suddenly define me as something I’ve never considered myself before was disconcerting, to say the least. Continue reading

The Power of Unironic Enthusiasm

In my last post, I know I promised to keep you, my amazing readers, up to date on my summer adventures. This is certainly a promise I intend to keep, but those adventures might not be quite what you expect. College students are supposed to find jobs, internships, and be amazingly productive during their summers; that post-graduation résumé isn’t going to build itself, after all, right? If this is indeed the case, then I must confess that I have been a terrible student these first two weeks of summer. Although I have managed to locate a job at my church’s nursery and am talking to a local school system about a short internship, I’m not nearly as excited or invested in these things as I think I should be.

The most important thing I’ve done so far this summer? Get into the Captain America: The Winter Soldier fandom.

Yes, you read that correctly. I am completely obsessed with this movie. I’ve seen it twice in theaters, watched and re-watched every clip of it I can find on the internet, bought and listened to the soundtrack on iTunes multiple times, signed up on Amazon to be notified via email the minute the DVD becomes available for pre-order. I’ve read fanfiction of it, written fanfiction of it, am currently planning a Winter Soldier cosplay, and have already bought quite a bit of its merchandise. I have fallen in love with every aspect of this story (especially its characters), and it’s the absolute BEST feeling in the world!

I honestly can’t think of a more satisfying state of mind than this uncontrollable excitement. Throughout my entire life, I’ve always been happiest when I’ve flung myself into something I love wholeheartedly, when I am literally unable to get it off of my mind because I’m just so pumped about it for whatever reason. Whether it was never missing an episode of Teen Titans and pretending to be Starfire in grade school, my love affair with The Twilight Saga in 8th and 9th grade, reading all of the Harry Potter books in the span of two weeks in anticipation of the final movie, or flinging myself into Marvel headfirst after seeing The Avengers in theaters for the first time, I always remember these experiences incredibly clearly: they were when I felt the most alive. I’m definitely not the only one who shares this sentiment, as evidenced by YA author and YouTube sensation John Green:

“Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff! We don’t have to be like ‘oh yeah, that purse is okay‘ or like ‘yeah, I liked that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself LOVE it! When people call people ‘nerds’, mostly what they are saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all, like: ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.'”

I think this perfectly portrays what being a “nerd” is: loving things and getting excited about them with every fiber of your being! Showing enthusiasm (what I like to call “nerding out”) for things that you love isn’t something to be avoided because it might seem “weird” – excitement is infectious! I often find myself feeling happier and uplifted when listening to someone talk about something they’re genuinely enthusiastic about, rather than trying to underplay it: whether it’s a professor who teaches their subject matter like it’s the most marvelous thing in the world or a friend having a mild freak-out over the latest episode of her favorite TV show, most of the time I end up getting excited myself, even if it’s not something I’m into, because I enjoy seeing how happy it makes them. And this goes for anything: whether someone “nerds out” over chemistry, Disney, 19th Century French poetry, teen paranormal romance novels, existentialist philosophy or anything in-between; unbridled love for something not only makes the person happy, but everyone around them who notices, and that’s absolutely beautiful.

It doesn’t stop at simply happiness, however – this kind of jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself enthusiasm has actually helped me be more productive and effective. In my American Literature class this past semester, I remember literally doing a “fangirl wiggle” at my desk because I was so excited about the prospect of writing a paper about the symbolism of the trickster archetype in American mythology. Guess who got an A on that paper? I’ve written small novel-length fanfictions about video games that I simply couldn’t put down. My love for The Hunger Games trilogy urged me to fling myself into researching what I could do to get involved in social justice causes that dealt with economic inequality. These kind of things are capable of happening on a larger scale as well; The Harry Potter Alliance is an activist organization created by people who loved Harry Potter enough to battle inequality with the book series as its figurehead, and The Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck is a charitable organization built by a community called Nerdfighteria, whose “nerdfighters” (of which I am one!) built the community on a basis of embracing things they love and getting excited about learning new things.

In the end, being uncontrollably enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness is what makes the world such an awesome place. It may seem farfetched to say that having a Captain America addiction like my own adds happiness to the world…but every little bit helps!

As you can probably tell, I blog about these types of subjects quite frequently – I’d love it if you want to follow my blog to see more, and of course I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!

Freshman Year: Mission Report!

It’s almost too difficult to wrap my mind around – almost ten months from last August, I’ve successfully completed two semesters of college. In all honesty, I didn’t think that finishing my freshman year would seem like such a big deal to me when it happened, but seeing as how almost nothing went exactly how I expected it to, it suddenly feels like a huge accomplishment that I survived at all! Nevertheless, I’m still here, alive and kicking with my scholarships intact, GPA still in the safe zone, and my sanity only slightly eroded. This year was obviously a completely new experience for me, and I had to spend quite a bit of energy adjusting: some things I feel I dealt with well, while others I could’ve done better. Some experiences were nonstop fun, others lots of hard work, some anxiety-inducing, and some simply heartbreaking – however, I managed to learn from all of them, and I’ll be able to use that knowledge to better handle what comes next!

Here’s a recap of what I managed to pick up in terms of life experiences this year:

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The Tony Stark method of studying: guaranteed to leave you sleep-deprived and your short-term memory overworked!

– Don’t become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics the night before the test (AKA, study ahead of time!)

I picked up the unfortunate habit of waiting too long to study for exams near the end of my first semester – particularly pertaining to the final exam for my least favorite class, math, when I put off preparing for it until the day before. Whatever I did must have worked, because I got an A; however, it had the unfortunate side effect of making me think this would work every time! The spring semester was full of procrastination when it came to tests, even in classes that I liked. While night-before studying kept working technically (my grades didn’t slip much), it certainly wasn’t much fun, and caused me far more stress than it was worth. When the fall 2014 semester rolls around, I’ll be planning out my study schedule much more carefully and save myself a lot of worrying – and a lot of sleep!

– It’s okay to have awesome friends and spend time with them, and it’s also okay to want to be alone.

I met so many amazing people at LMU, especially in the Honors Program, that I can now call best friends without hesitation. I love them all so much, and we’ve had a ton of fun together over the past year, from sitting around complaining about classwork to going to movies, or just watching each other play video games and talking. Even though we’re pretty close now, they were still new friends near the beginning of the year, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible – but I’m not wired to be around people all the time, and now I realize that that’s perfectly fine.  Since moving into a private dorm this past semester, I’ve been able to socialize on my own terms; whenever I want to be with people, I can be, and when I want to spend time by myself or withdraw for a while, I can do that too. As much as I imagined myself being an instant social butterfly when I started college, I don’t have to be all the time.

Me singing “Let It Go” from Frozen at karaoke night in the student center – one of the few events during which I actually did “let it go” during my 2nd semester!

– Don’t get so caught up in acting “grown up”; it’s alright to ask for help and to be a bit unsophisticated!

I remember clearly how I felt when I first began college: at last, I had left the penitentiary of superficial immaturity also known as “high school” behind! I was an adult, and could thus start focusing on serious adult business. I was going to decimate my way through freshman year if it was the last thing I did, all the while being completely responsible, strong, and self-sufficient! Yeah, you guessed it:  didn’t work out so well. I ended up needing tons of practical and emotional support from my parents, friends, and faculty. A legal adult I may be, but for all intents and purposes, I’m still an adolescent, and that isn’t a bad thing – it just means that I still need a few safety nets as I take on more responsibilities. And becoming more “grown up” definitely doesn’t have to mean becoming boring. If anything, letting loose and forgetting about serious adult business to have fun for a while is even more gratifying now than it was in high school!

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Sometimes it helps me to imagine my life as a book when I’m struggling with particularly difficult times – would my readers cheer for my choices or be disappointed?

– If something goes terribly wrong, let it take its course, but don’t be destroyed by it.

Midway into this past semester, I was told that something I had been counting on happening in my academic career wouldn’t be going quite the way I anticipated it to, and in fact wouldn’t be happening at all. I was devastated – furious, frustrated, like I had a rug pulled out from under me with no warning. For a few weeks near the end of the year, I even suspected that my depression might be returning because of it. I had to take a mental health day from class or have a good cry now and then, but I knew I couldn’t let the news destroy me completely, because my time in college was limited and precious and I’d never get this semester back. And so I pressed on the best I could, still disheartened and frustrated but doing what I knew had to be done. It was definitely hard, but I survived – and that’s what counts.

Perhaps overall the most important thing I learned this year? To not compromise myself for anyone or anything, no matter what happens, and to keep moving forward no matter how difficult a situation is or appears to be.

Sophomore year doesn’t start for another few months – I’ll have plenty of time to plan my approach to the coming year during that time. Meanwhile, I’ll be keeping my blog updated with what’s going on in my life this summer, so feel free to follow me to hear more about my adventures!

Alex’s Declassified Writing Survival Guide (Results May Vary)

After a lovely winter break that was a bit longer than expected due to the Polar Vortex of Iciness and Doom, my fellow students and I are back at LMU for another exciting semester of studies! Thankfully, the two extra days we were out of classes to avoid freezing didn’t do much to quell my enthusiasm – if anything, it gave me more free time to kick my creative juices into gear and work on a favorite hobby of mine: writing. I’m taking quite a few humanities-oriented classes this semester (American Literature I, Comparative Religions, World History, and an Honors course devoted to second-order reasoning), and thus I expect that writing will play a decent part in all of them. While I, of course, prefer to devote time to my own fictional creations, I also enjoy writing academically, not only because I’m fairly adept at it but also because it allows me to hone skills that I can carry over to any type of writing. A few of the things I try to keep in mind before beginning or while working on a writing project can be applied to both writing for school and writing prose for fun.

1) Write about things that you like – if that’s not possible, find something to like!

Being able to write academically about things I’m into is an amazing feeling – even if my analysis can never live up to the primary source!

I completely feel your pain: your professor assigned you a five-page paper about the absolute dullest thing you can imagine, right? Been there, done that, and it’s not the end of the world. In academic writing, if you have even the slightest hint of a chance to choose what you can write about, by all means choose a topic that you can get into and are excited about analyzing or researching! On a major research paper in a past English class, I was given the chance to choose my own topic and chose to write about the cultural impact of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, my favorite book at the time, and thus writing the paper was nothing short of a blast. Things don’t always work out so well, though: if you find yourself stuck writing on a completely blah topic, then it’s possible find some way to make it interesting! For a Sociology paper on gender roles in children’s advertising, I chose to analyze the commercials shown during a cartoon I loved as a child, Yu-Gi-Oh!, rather than bore myself waiting for commercial breaks during preschool shows to write about. If one looks hard enough and doesn’t get discouraged, almost every writing assignment can be at least mildly exciting. Trust me on this: pieces of writing almost always come out better if you’re interested in the subject.

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