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

Scholars’ Pride

School spirit?  Oh yeah, I’m into it!

Well…maybe not in the way most people think of the term.

When I was in grade school, the concept of taking pride in one’s institution of education was a foreign concept. School was a place I went to learn stuff, end of story. However, as I grew older and manifested a desire to be part of a closer group, I found that closeness in school organizations. At first it was cheerleading, then middle school marching and concert band. As the majority of these activities required me to take part in athletic events in some way, acquiring “school spirit” was a part of the package if I wanted to look awesome and shout on the basketball sidelines or play flute at football games.

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This is what “school vs. school” spirit looked like to me in high school – one big fight.

By the time I finally made it to high school, the roaring blaze of my school spirit was beginning to die down. Something had changed. Rather than playing in marching and pep band because I wanted to support my school, I participated because I wanted to continue learning and playing music. Even in school-related functions that I undertook, such as my unsuccessful attempt at running for sophomore homecoming queen, I did them not because I wanted to contribute to the school but because I thought they would be fun. (A gorgeous dress, strutting my stuff in front of the whole gymnasium, forcing the majority of the student population who thinks you’re a nerdy loser to pay attention to you? Who wouldn’t leap at that chance?) Even when I began my own school-centered organization, the Cumberland Gap High School Anime Club, I did so not to enrich my school but to create a place of belonging for those who wanted to share a common interest.

In short, I stopped seeing myself as part of a school and began seeing myself as part of something beyond a community defined by a mascot.

When I began attending LMU, some part of me thought that I would begin taking pride in my specific institution of education again. Surprisingly for me, that wasn’t the case. Don’t misunderstand me; LMU is a wonderful school, and I’m intensely grateful to be able to study at a university where I feel so at home. At such a small and close-knit school where I instantly found a ring of friends and my professors know me on a first-name basis, I feel like an individual, a scholar, not a number on a class roster like I would feel at a larger university. That being said, pride in the “team”, whether it be an athletic team, a club, or the school community at large, exists here as it does everywhere.

Both within and beyond this team mentality, there is a much larger and stronger team that I discovered here and take pride in: a universal community of scholars, thinkers, and learners. Through speaking with and learning from the professors from various departments (especially my preferred one, English), I’ve come to discover that this sense of scholarly thinking is very present at this university. I’ve seen the university’s Pep Band director get so into the basketball games we attend and play for that it’s almost gotten me into the sports mentality; however, the games eventually end, and he remains a scholar of music rather than a participant in the just-for-fun conflict between teams. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw him the next day in a jam session with other musicians from competitive colleges.

Team-mentality-based school spirit is something that exists, and can be important or unimportant for individual people; it can unite, but it can also divide. However, the spirit that all of us as students possess is the spirit of the scholar; our presence at the university alone proves this. We are privileged enough that we can spend years of our lives learning about whatever mysteries of the universe that we see fit to study – and we care enough to take advantage of the opportunity. All students – whether they’re grade-schoolers, LMU students, students at other universities, or unofficial students who take every chance they have to study something new – are united by our desire to learn.

No matter when, where, or how we go about learning, the important thing is that we learn.

This semester is drawing to a close, readers – a busy time that I can’t wait to tell you about! Feel free to follow my blog to keep up with the excitement.

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!

Yama-Con 2013: Nerds Have More Fun

As a member of the collective community of fandoms and interests most often known as “nerds”, I’ve begun to associate the concept of home with not only where I live and study, but also with the constantly changing places that I’m able to gather with other members of the nerd community, which are most often in the form of conventions.  One of the most amazing things about this group of people is that we’re all so varied in our interests, and yet see ourselves as a huge family.  Whether we like Japanese animation and manga, American animation and comic books, science fiction, fantasy, or some combination of all of the above, we’re able to interact with each other coming from a place of understanding and comradery.  I was fortunate to be able to experience this comradery once again when I attended Yama-Con in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, only about two hours away from LMU.

This particular adventure began when a friend of mine asked me if I would help him run an educational panel he would be presenting at Yama-Con.  Realizing that this would be an amazing chance for me to obtain practice with both public speaking and teaching, I told him I would think it over.  When my best friend Hayley’s mother asked if I would help her chaperone the students who were a part of the Anime Club she ran at a local high school on a trip to the convention, the deal was sealed for me.  I began planning the trip immediately! Continue reading

What’s Your Talent?

Prilla is a relatively inexperienced fairy, eager to try new things – just like us!

Nearly everyone who knows me on even a minimal level knows that I have many passions; check out my About Me page for nearly the entire list!  With all these different things I’m interested in, it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park to decide what I was going to study here at Lincoln Memorial University.  I suppose if I had to summarize why I chose to declare as an English major, I would do it best with an analogy from someone else’s story:  Gail Carson Levine’s Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, which follows the story of Tinker Bell and the other fairies of the magical nook within Neverland, Fairy Haven.  Yes, I know what you all must be thinking:  a collegiate-level writer, using children’s literature to prove a point?  Stranger and far worse things have happened, readers.

In Fairy Haven, each fairy has a special “talent”, what she or he is innately good at – their passion, their craft, and essentially their purpose in relation to the fairy community as a whole.  When a fairy is born, they will make what is called “the announcement”, where they reveal their talent to the others.  This announcement is effortless and intrinsic, as natural as breathing or flying.

Of course, us college students aren’t fairies (unfortunately, as I’d love to be one) – our purpose in life isn’t always so clear.  Many students choose their “talent” – their major, for all intents and purposes in this comparison – based on passion, but many also choose based on economic necessity, what their parents or friends want them to do, or what will lead them to the most success financially.

I almost chose my “talent” based on what I thought would bring me economic success – while I was still in high school, Mass Communications was originally my choice for a major, after I realized the career choices that would open to me with a Communications degree.  However, the longer I pondered on it, the more I wondered whether I was starting out on this path for the wrong reasons, and eventually gave up on the idea.

When I finalized my decision to attend LMU, I still wondered what I would study, since I had pretty much abandoned my first plan of action.  As I continued thinking about what I could possibly do (buying into the myth that my major would determine my career for the entirety of my life), I began agonizing over the impending choice; I was figuratively driving myself insane.  I felt much like Prilla, the main character of Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg, a fairy who arrives in Fairy Haven seemingly without a talent, and feels very lost and unsure of herself for a good majority of the story. When I went to my mother to vent about the issue (I am immensely grateful to be able to do this without reservations), she offered me wise advice, as she always does:  “You’re a writer, and have been for years.  You can do a lot with that, and you love it. Why not go into writing or English?”

Now that got the ball rolling.  I thought back to my earlier years and realized that through all of them, I had loved reading, and excelled in my literature classes.  When I was in middle and high school, I spent the good majority of my free time writing; I took my favorite characters and put them in situations that hadn’t happened in their original stories, and then began to create characters of my own and craft their stories.  In school, I looked forward to writing assignments more than anything else, whether it was creative or informative. Perhaps, I thought, this was what I was meant to do after all.

When asked to confirm my major at the LMU New Student Registration over the summer, I replied “English”.  It was effortless, intrinsic, as natural as breathing or flying.  Just like Prilla, my “talent” had been there all along; it only needed a little bit of a push to bring it to the surface.

Stories are one of my talents – what are yours?

Keep in mind that – I’ll keep saying this – college students aren’t fairies.  Our “talent” doesn’t necessarily determine our purpose in life, nor is it the only thing we can do well.  My major may be English, but that doesn’t stop me from participating in the various music ensembles of LMU and being entranced with the fascinating study of Sociology.  I’ve met Criminal Justice majors who can’t get enough of creative writing classes, English majors who excel in biochemistry – the possibilities are endless.  This is, in a way, what our college experience is all about:  expanding our horizons.  Even if you love your major, don’t let it limit you.  Prilla, even after she found her talent, still enjoyed joining her friends in the activities that went along with their talents!

Perhaps it’s not a walk in the park or a fly through Winter Woods to choose a major, but with a lot of thought and a little help, anything is possible! Have you discovered your “talent” yet?  Have you always known what your talent was?  Are you still searching, still waiting for the push that will reveal the right talent for you?  Or do you have more than one talent?  I look forward to hearing your stories in the comments!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to overanalyze more children’s literature.  If you’d like to know more about my literary antics at LMU, feel free to follow my blog – I’d love to share my adventures with you!