Sun Salutations in Shul

In June, my partner and I drove from Blacksburg to the Poconos to spend time with his family and on the return trip, we visited his Shanti Mama – Big Mama to many of those there.  It was definitely a kindred spirits sort of moment, wherein Big Mama and I immediately began speaking of our mutual love of comparative religion.  He took S. aside at one point and began talking with him about the connections between Hinduism and Judaism and how he and I could find much common ground between our religious backgrounds.  I joined into the conversation and (as usual) derailed it to other things, but the ideas stuck in the back of my head.  Part of the wonderful challenge of being in an interfaith/intercultural relationship is having to navigate these differences in religious traditions.

Yesterday, when I attended my first yoga class at Hillel at Virginia Tech, the concepts I had discussed with Big Mama resurfaced in my mind.  My Hillel has partnered with Blacksburg Yoga Collective to offer donation-based yoga classes once a week at at our Jewish center.  The new Hillel center has many multipurpose sorts of rooms at the center, so I was quite shocked when our yoga session was held in the main room normally reserved for services.

If you are unfamiliar with the Malcolm Rosenberg Hillel Center, the sacred space is actually one of my very favorite.  It is simple, multipurpose, and not one piece of furniture or decoration in the room stands out to me as ostentatious and unnecessary.  Natural light streamed through the room coming in from narrow windows starting halfway up the walls and going up to the top of the vaulted ceiling.  It was the first time I had seen the space not set up for worship – the chairs were stacked at the periphery of the room, the ark housing the Torah was closed, and yoga mats and blocks were stacked at the side of the room.  Sunlight poured in, heating window-shaped blocks of warmth on the carpet under our bare feet.

I was immediately struck by how awesome (an overused worse, to be sure, but in this religious setting awe-struck was how I felt) it was that we were practicing an ancient Indian form of bodily and mental meditation in a religious space dedicated to a (not quite as equally) ancient monotheistic religion from Palestine.

I will admit that with regard to the meditative quality of yoga, as with most meditation, I am completely unable to clear my mind or focus solely on my breath or the alignment of my body.  And often, when trying to ease into a particularly difficult pose, my lack of poker face shows the instructor (in this case, Thea, one of the best yoga instructors I have ever had) just how much I loathe them for a single instant (after which, I attempt to, you know, remember that I’m there to relax and care for my body and not to have angry thoughts and facial expressions…).

So it should not at all have come as a shock to me that my mind wandered back to Big Mama’s words about the similarities between Hinduism and Judaism.  And, being in a space where I’ve sung Kol Nidre, where I’ve attended Shabbat services several times, I began to hear the Hindu-inspired words from our instructor and attempt to put them into a Jewish context.

There are two things I cannot shake from brain thoughts yesterday, the first being Thea’s reminders to find support in the earth below us, to press our hands into the ground below us, to place our weight back onto our feet that ground us.  We have a phrase in Hebrew, tikkun olam, which translates to “repairing the world.”  If you research the word olam in Strong’s, there are connections with this word and eretz, or earth/land, in the Hebrew Bible.  So often my brain hears tikkun olam as “repairing the earth,” however etymologically problematic.  Tikkun olam is the directive we have as G-d’s created beings to care for or be stewards of creation.  In our yogic practice, instead of repairing the world, we actively used the earth, or land, or world to repair ourselves.  We found strength pushing against the ground beneath us, finding stability and strength in its immovable, constant nature.

In Christianity, there is a Golden Rule, given down by Jesus:  Do unto others as you would have done unto you.  In most of the World Religions textbooks I’ve taught from, they point out that “Eastern” (I use this with a slight rolling of my eyes.  Eastern from what POV?) religions generally have a version of this rule in the negative sense:  Do not do unto others what you would not have done unto yourself.  It is a difference point of view on the same basic concept.  Of course, we cannot just call this something unique – these texts refer to this negative sense of the Golden Rule as the Silver Rule, and those of us who grew up under the influence of the modern Olympics know that Silver Is Not As Good As Gold.  The Silver Rule, if we choose to call it that, is not inferior to the Golden Rule; it is simply a different way of describing the same concept.

As I stretched and pushed my body ever so slightly past where it was willing to do, finding strength in my breath and the ground beneath me, I was struck how my yogic practice was the inverse, or a different point of view, on the same practice only a few weeks ago I had done in that same sanctuary space.  Instead of vowing to help repair the world, the world – the earth – was repairing me, was helping me to realign my sore joints and come as close to achieving five feet of height as I ever will.

The second thing I was struck by was the sunlight itself.  As part of our morning practice, we performed the surya namaskara (sun salutation) multiple times.  I have performed yoga in multiple states, over about a decade, in various spaces, but never in a space with that much sunlight washing over us.  In college, yoga class (my PE credit) was held in an auxiliary gym with no windows.  At Virginia Tech, our on-campus classes are held in an, again windowless, gymnasium.  When I lived in Athens, my favorite classes were held in an old warehouse, again, sans sunlight.

To perform a sun salutation, in my Jewish house of worship, while being mindful the creation words of Genesis 1, was powerful.  It was about 30 degrees Fahrenheit outside when I left for yoga, bundled up in a hoodie, but inside the sanctuary, I was not cold at all in my yoga pants and tank top.  It was the first time I had ever truly performed a sun salutation (and I’d never realized I hadn’t!), and the feeling was almost overwhelming.

I am one that tends to get quite sad during the winter months.  The shortening days and the lack of sunlight (we don’t call it Bleaksburg for nothing) really does get to me.  Even as much as I love rain, days on end of bleak weather can bring me down.  This year, I have read/reread about 100 books preparing for my comprehensive examinations for my Ph.D., and I spent as much of that reading time outside as I could, either on my back porch or, for most of this summer, in California, soaking up the sun like a lifesaver.  In fact, I think this summer was the first time in my life I’ve been even remotely tan (yes, Dad, I did wear sunscreen).  And the fact that most of the major changes in my life that have come in the last year have been supported by my partner whose name literally means Sun was not lost on me as I stood there, toes grounding me to the earth, beams of light flooding the room.

I doubt I would have felt this way if we had had our practice in any other room of Hillel.  The merging of two forms of religious practice, and the meaning that can come from interfaith dialogue, should never be taken for granted.  Shanti mama, you are right; there is much that can be found in common between Hinduism and Judaism.  I had not, however, expected to discover some of these connections so powerfully as I did at my Temple during what was supposed to be just me getting up that day and heading to yoga.

In Defense of the Selfie

So I promise you this post isn’t trying to piggyback off the success(?) of ABC’s new show, but hey, if it gets me traffic, who am I to complain?

There are tons of arguments out there against selfies.  That they add to our society’s narcissism.  That people are taking them at really inappropriate times.  And this might be a fair assessment, but I look at it this way:  if someone wants to find a way to express themselves, they’re going to.  This generation’s way of doing it is selfies.  And it’s not like we haven’t done this before (Polaroid selfies ftw).

But today, I write in defense of the selfie.  And this is why.

For my parents’ twentieth anniversary, I thought it would be nice to get twenty pictures of them from throughout their marriage to put into a matted picture frame.  My parents’ anniversary was in mid-December, so I had to find a day when my brother and I were home and they were out to go through photos and pick out the best ones.  It was a hurried affair, as we didn’t have much time before they got home, so I didn’t notice the size of the pile as I went through.  I pretty much just threw anything aside that might vaguely count, figuring I’d go through them later after they went to bed.

Wait, did I say “pile”?  I really meant a complete lack of pile.

In the 20 years of marriage my parents had had prior to that point, there were 16 pictures.  I’m not including any formal Olan Mills’ family shots.  I mean candids and home photos.

Sixteen.

But why?  Why would there be so few?  My parents were together constantly.  Neither traveled much for work (Dad had the occasional Navy TEMDU, but that was about it), and nearly both always went on vacation together.  You’d think there would be more photographic evidence of their marriage.  My mom has had a beautiful film SLR my whole life and was the photographer of the family.  I had just been through bags and bags of old photos and found a mere 16.

Mom always took the pictures in the family.  The few pictures of my mom separately from my dad were from the random times he would grab the camera to make sure there was at least one picture of Mom from our trip (usually so my grandparents could see it).  There are lots of pictures of me/Mom/bro and me/Dad/bro, but very few of the four of us together.

Now, I’m sure if I went to my aunts and uncles, I could have found many more photos.  But in my parents’ personal collection, in twenty years, there were so few pictures chronicling their life together.

I’d give anything to have some ridiculous pictures of my parents in their 20s and early 30s.

So why write this post, and why now?  I just sent on a seven day road trip with my partner from Blacksburg, VA to Boston, MA.  Seven days together is an eternity when you’re in a long distance relationship (He’s in SoCal; I’m in SoVa).  When you have so few moments together throughout a year, everything suddenly becomes more important.  So yes, I have pictures of our food, of that horribly amazing round of Cards Against Humanity that Rando Cardrissian won, of our family and friends.

And of course, of us.

Are most selfies ridiculous wastes of “film”?  Probably (thank G-d I didn’t have to spend money to develop these).  Exhibits A-D:

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Then, there are the ones that your mother gets pissed at you for:

Okay, so she *may* have a point...

Okay, so she *may* have a point…

But then, when you get it right, it makes her so happy:

You're pretty gorgeous too, Mom!

You’re pretty gorgeous too, Mom! Also, my screenshot skills are really poor.

Yeah, we’re (and by “we” I mean those of us lucky enough to have cell phones…) taking more photos these days.  Front-facing cameras and the fact that you don’t have to pay to develop film mean we’re photodocumenting our lives at a much larger rate of speed.  But I hope that when my kids (G-d willing) are going through old photos, whether it be for my 50th birthday or my retirement from teaching at the ripe old age of 80, they will have evidence of a happy life, full of friends, family, and love.

So if the selfie is the only way I can take a picture with my partner near the Robin Williams memorial in the Boston Public Gardens:

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Or during one of my best friend’s wedding reception:

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Then, I’m going to do it.  And when I go through the photos with someone else, I’ll have a story I can put with each photo.  A snippet of a memory, captured in pixels (or if I can actually get myself to CVS, ink!).

So I stand firmly in support of the selfie.  Selfies, you’re alright.

5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.

This East Coast woman has been living in California the last almost-month, predominately in Irvine, with stints to LA, Hemet, Huntington Beach, and Newport Beach. What I did not expect was to experience complete and utter culture shock in my mother’s own home state. So what I plan to do in this post is to give all of you attending an Indian wedding for the first time some tips for getting through the multitude of events you are about to experience.

My current S.O. is Indian, and as part of this trip, I attended the wedding of the fantastic N. & N. (names redacted to protect the spiderphobic subjects of this post). I’ve been to all sorts of weddings, and for crying out loud, I study and teach both religions (Jainism/Islam) covered by this wedding. I’ve heard stories of other weddings and seen my fair share of Bollywood movies. Yet, nothing could have prepared me for these series of days.

Yes, days. We actually missed one of the first events, being held on a Wednesday, or otherwise, it would have been a Wednesday thru Saturday celebration. Traditional American weddings: take notes.

I won’t bore y’all with the details of every single ceremony (by my count, we attended at least 6 separate things spread out from Orange County to the LAX Hilton), but I thought I would share some things I’ve learned about myself and my new partner’s traditions while attending the various portions of this wedding week.

(Thanks to N&N if they’re reading this for inviting me to be a part of their special week. But seriously, y’all, stop getting married. What are you up to, 15 separate sets of vows?)

5 Things I Learned the First Time I Wore a Sari. Or, Bring Aspirin to an Indian Wedding.
1) Let’s start with “bring aspirin.” Unless you’re a dancer used to dancing barefoot, parts of your body you didn’t even know could hurt will hurt for 2-3 days afterward. And yes, part of this may be a “Holly needs to be in better shape” issue, but part of it definitely was a lack of arch support. And with regards to arch support, in the immortal words of Danny Glover’s Murtaugh, “I’m getting too old for this shit.”

2) Aunties are your friend. No seriously, collect them like Pokémon or POGs. Aunties will help you redo your sari when the pleats get screwed up (they will), will reattach your bindi, and will explain to you what the hell is going on with all the ceremonies you’ve never seen before (assuming you’re white or non-Indian like me). They are basically G-d’s gift to first-time wedding-goers. Ask questions. Many people from the community my own age didn’t even know what was going on (Indian traditions are so varied, after all), so chances are you’re not the only one with questions.

3) Prepare to be emotionally and physically wiped. Seriously. You’re going to be active for 15 hours a day. And most of what you experience is going to be brand new and wonderful, from the music, to the food, to the conversations. There will be so much sensory input your brain is honestly just going to get tired. And after your third night of only 5 hours of sleep, you’re going to get cranky. Plan ahead, stay hydrated, and remember, you will have fond memories of your experience (G-d willing) after you get some much-needed sleep. (And you will need sleep. Prepare to take an entire day off after the last event).

4. Don’t be surprised when you start picking up on Hindi/Indian vernacular words in future conversations. You absorbed a lot more than you realized the last few days. This literally just happened to me. Some woman on my plane literally just hollered “Chalo!” (Let’s go!) at her kid. (If you’ve ever travelled to the Middle East, this is gonna be your “yalla.”) My head whipped up like I was being yelled at. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you start acclimating to the new culture and traditions you find yourself surrounded by.

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5. Finally, embrace the sari. Or whatever clothing you wear, even if it’s Western. I was terrified of the sari for the first hour I wore it. It wasn’t mine (Thanks, S., for letting me borrow yours!), it is different to wear than any other formal clothing I have ever worn, and I was terrified I was going to trip and munch it horribly. (I did, once. And I didn’t faceplant, so go me.) And know that there are probably at least 5 other people there just as uncomfortable for that first hour as you. At least two Indian women approached me to tell me I was wearing the sari well and asked me how often I’d worn them. They were shocked to find out it was my first time and responded that even they avoided them at all costs. What I’m trying to say is you’re going to be far more comfortable and confident than you thought you would be. Be prepared to kick off your shoes and dance for hours. Feel free to move and have fun in whatever you’re wearing, whether it be a sari, kurta, or suit.

So, hopefully the spirit intended by this list comes across. Of course, everyone’s experience will be different, but this is what has been mulling around in my mind since the wedding was over on Saturday (at 2 a.m.). On my way back to Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) now. Y’all have a pleasant sleep.

Accidental Chametz

Well, it’s the first morning of Pesach and we’ve already had a chametz fail in the House of Jordan.  R. came over to sign tax forms (blech, April 15), and I offered him breakfast.  Eggs or cereal.  A perfectly fine offer if it weren’t the first morning of Passover.  He poured out cereal.  I then freaked out and realized what I’d done.

Oops.

This year's seder.  Photo credit C. Matheis.  http://oughtornot.net

This year’s seder. Photo credit Christian Matheis. http://oughtornot.net

I’m starting to think that the annual Passoverification of one’s home isn’t as much about the ritual cleaning of the home, which strips it of any leavened product, as much as a way to force yourself from doing exactly what I just did:  forgetting it was a special week of our year and offering chametz to the first unsuspecting victim.  It forces you to start the week acknowledging it’s different and special.

In case you missed it in Sunday School or didn’t learn about this in high school or college, the story of the Exodus hits its climax when the Egyptian Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave Egypt and head home.  Of course, this happens with little warning and everyone must flee immediately.  The story goes that they left so quickly that they did not even have time to let their bread rise before baking it.  As such, Jews now eat matzah (unleavened bread) during Passover and strip their homes of chametz, or leavening.

By strip, I mean a top-to-bottom cleaning of the home to remove even a crumb of chametz.  It’s kind of like spring cleaning and sets you up for the rest of the holiday cycle.  In recent years, I’ve gotten kind of lazy about it.  Passover hits right during crunch time during the school year, and frankly, I can’t often afford to give away (or G-d forbid throw out) all of the chametz in my home (This is a cool tradition btw.  You’re supposed to get all the bread, flour, etc. out of the house and either burn it or donate it to a needy family.  Nice!).  Sometimes, I’m responsible enough to put it all in a bin and hide it for the week.  But no, not now.

I found this awesome resource about the history of the cleaning out of the chametz that says even better what I’m feeling this rainy morning:

In cleaning for Passover, we are first and foremost fulfilling the mitzvah of biur chametz – getting rid of chametz. Biur chametz is actually quite an easy mitzvah in terms of physical exertion. The Torah says: “tashbisu se’or mibateichem” — make all your sour dough rest. The Torah commandment is that you can possess all the chametz you want, but in your mind it must be dust — ownerless and valueless.

Now obviously we are dealing with something subtle and vague. What goes on in your mind, no one knows except you and God. It’s quite easy to think you have considered everything “null and void,” when in truth you can’t wait for Passover to be over so you can partake of all those goodies!

So the Sages instituted a requirement to physically destroy chametz. This mitzvah is known as bedikat chametz. The Sages say it is not enough to emotionally write the chametz off as “dust”; you must actually search out any chametz you can find — and physically destroy it.

(from http://www.aish.com/h/pes/l/48970611.html.  Ironically, aish means “bread” in Arabic…)

So I learned the hard way why the bedikat chametz is so important.  I fully plan to get my tuchas in gear next year and start doing this correctly again. Lesson learned.

In close, may you have a blessed Passover.  Chag samach, y’all.

New (Totally Awesome) Lyft Service in Tampa

So sometimes this blog deviates away from academia to travel.  Given I used a brand new form (to me) of transportation this trip, I figured I’d give them a shoutout.

I was in Tampa for the 2014 AAG National Conference, but my flight (through Allegiant Air) was out of St. Pete’s.  SuperShuttle wanted 56 bucks (what?? Hosers) to get me, so I started looking for other options.  My awesome partner-in-crime S. suggested Lyft, which I’d not heard of prior (I live in the sticks, y’all).

I'm seriously.

I’m seriously.

I downloaded the app and was immediately rewarded with 50 free rides in Tampa Bay.  Seriously.  50 free rides.  I asked my driver if this was going to affect his pay, and he said absolutely not.  So yeah, don’t feel guilty about using these free rides.  At all.  Why the free rides, you might ask?  Well, Lyft just opened up its market in Tampa four days ago, so they’re trying to boost business.

So anyways, back to using the service.  I of course had the typical raised-in-the-90s paranoia about strangers, but Lyft is awesome.  People sign up with their cars to give you a ride.  Drivers go through background checks and their vehicles go through safety inspections prior to being allowed into the fleet (clearly I did some research on their website).  They show up with a massive fuzzy pink mustache in their back window (their icon/symbol), and you are required to sit in the front seat and actually talk to your driver.  You pay completely thru the app (I thought the app allowed for tip, and if you can tip thru the app, I’m techno-stupid and couldn’t figure it out.  I’m so sorry, Collin!).

Say hi to Collin!

Say hi to Collin!

Speaking of Collin, my driver was awesome.  A graduate of USF, he actually got to work with Susan MacManus during the Bush/Gore election. The Susan MacManus.  In Florida. The national capital of hanging chads. Awesome.  We also talked about SEC football, family stories involving La Jolla, Calif., and the ridiculousness that is mass transit in Tampa and Atlanta.

This repartee is what sold me on Lyft.  I’m a naturally social person, so cab rides where I sit in the back seat through interminable minutes of awkward silence are just awful.  A taxi service focused on actually providing a fun ride instead of just a service is something I can totally get behind.  And the driver had a similar school background as me.  How awesome is that?

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit.  I'm on a lot of DayQuil.

Excuse the grammar and adverbtive vomit. I’m on a lot of DayQuil.

Reservations are made through a smartphone app (sorry dumbphone users) and payment is made through the same app.  A receipt gets mailed to you immediately for those of you who need it for reimbursements or tax purposes.  And the fees are reasonable.  I was able to calculate my fare within a dollar before I even reserved.  When you pay, you can leave a review and vote 1-5 stars (Collin totally earned a 5).

So yeah, I wholeheartedly recommend Lyft.  Safe, clean car.  Awesome driver.  Totally convenient.  And given how G-dawful Tampa’s mass transit it, this service will be a blessing for both professionals in the city and people traveling for vacations.  Good choice, Tampa.  And thanks, Lyft.  I will definitely be using your service again.

“Grandma’s House”

When you’re a military brat (and I’m sure in many other kinds of childhoods, too), home is an ephemeral concept.  I could say to you “I’m so excited to be going home this weekend!” and unless there have been other context clues in the conversation, that could mean any number of cities (or states!).   But for me, my true home is Grandma’s house.

I’ve written other posts from the house in Brooklyn (MD) but never a post about the house in Brooklyn.  For me, this house will always be Grandma’s house, even though my aunt has lived here now for at least seven years.

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there's my brother's car!

Thanks, Google Maps! Oh hey, there’s my brother’s car!

It’s honestly nothing that special to the trained eye.  A rancher in Brooklyn Park, MD.  Full basement.  Sizable yard, good porch, driveway but no garage.  But for me, it’s home more than any other place.

It hasn’t always been “Grandma’s house.”  My (great-great-great?)-uncle Charlie (pronounced Chah-lie if you’re from Balmer – R’s usually belong only at the end of words) built it in (according to Zillow) 1964.  When his wife died, he asked my great-grandparents to move in with him (he was really old.  Like 90s) and help him keep up the house.  When he died, the house became theirs.

So I guess, for my aunt, uncle, and father, this house, too, for a time, was “Grandma’s house.”

When my great-grandmother died, my great-grandfather asked my grandparents to move in with him.  When he died, the house became theirs.  Noticing a theme?

I enter this house’s life a few years before my great-grandfather (Pop-Pop) died.  Some of my earliest memories involve eating strawberries at the kitchen table (the table that is now in my own apartment) and sneaking him 5th Avenue bars out of the fridge (if I could nab two without getting caught, I got to eat the second one.  What a good Pop-Pop).

After my great-grandfather died, my grandparents remained in the house.  The house became known in my head as “Gramma and Grampa’s house.”  It was the house where everyone came for holidays and birthdays.  I have vivid memories of spreading out newspaper on the kitchen table and 15 people cramming around a table that normally sat 6 to eat blue crabs.  Christmases were in the living room with every chair in the house dragged in so we could open presents.

It’s the house where my name is pronounced “Hally” (O’s don’t exist in Balmerese.  If you want a good laugh, get me to pronounce “Orange”).  Where “Oh my gaaaaaaad” can mean anything from surprise to empathy.  Where if something amazing happened, someone would yell out “Hot dog!”

I slept in the bed in “Grandma’s room” the night before my flight out to California last thursday  It hasn’t been Grandma’s room in nearly eight years, and the bed in there now certainly isn’t the one I jumped up and down on as a kid when the adults weren’t looking.  The bed promptly broke… and I had to frantically help my cousins put it back together (and by help, I mean play lookout).

My aunt moved back in sometime after my grandfather died (again… common theme) in 2001, and around 2007, my grandmother had to move into a home.  It’s really my aunt’s house now, but it’s almost impossible for me to think of it that way.  And I think that’s the case for my cousins too.  Cousin E. asked my aunt if I was staying with her that night or in “Grandma’s room.”  That’s what got me thinking about writing this post.

Another early memory is sleeping in my pop-up playpen in my grandmother’s room.  It was a special treat instead of sleeping in the “middle bedroom” with my parents.  And then later, sneaking episodes of Sliders and Boy Meets World with my older cousins when my parents had deemed me “too young” to watch such things.  I better not mention all the Ren and Stimpy…  My dad reads these posts.

I’m heading back to Baltimore today from Orange County.  Landing at 1:05 a.m. EDT, so I’m sure I’ll want to do nothing but sleep once I get back.  And as with many other trips and stays, my aunt is picking me up at BWI and taking me home.  Home to Grandma’s house.

Please, Stop Calling My Friends Lazy

Disclaimer: These ideas are half-baked.  That’s how (in my mind) blogging works.  I look forward to a healthy discussion, and I am completely sure that I will rewrite on this topic in the future having learned from y’all and amended some of my points.  Flamers gotta flame, and I know that.  But try going into this assuming that if something I said sounds off that maybe I just didn’t state it well and give me the opportunity to try again before you decide I’m a horrible human being.  I also fully admit that I am writing this from an incredibly privileged I-actually-got-to-go-college white-cisgendered-straight-female East-Coast-American point of view.  My peer group, my friends, and the “we” I refer to throughout this article are not many people’s “we.”  Writing from experience got me yelled at in philosophy classes and probably will get me yelled at on the internet, too.  Just try not to stray into Godwin’s territory.

It has been ten years since I matriculated at Converse College, full of dreams of a career and a love for learning that often got me in too deep with extracurriculars and 18 hour semesters.  I went to a fancy private school, and I have the student loans to prove it.  I have a top-notch liberal arts degree and graduated an honors student.  I went on to get a MA from the University of Georgia and am now working on a PhD at Virginia Tech.   I wanted (and still do) to be a college professor.  I still don’t think it was a bad goal.

My parents helped when they could, but I have had a job in some capacity since I started college (and even before) in 2003:  federal work-study, cashier at Target, adjunct at far too many colleges to name.  I have always had a job not because I wanted to – being a full-time student is already a full-time job – but because I have had to.  TA stipends are all publicly accessible, so I know I’m not spilling any secrets, but my stipend at UGA for my MA was $10,000 a year, plus full tuition remission, for a 2/1 teaching load.  Pros:  in theory, one should not have to take out any student loans (and if you add out-of-state tuition to 10 grand, it’s not bad) and would end up with a valuable degree.  Cons:  the 10 grand was only a 9 month stipend (summers didn’t count) and you didn’t qualify for food stamps.  Roommates were a necessity.  Second jobs were discouraged by the department but were absolutely necessary.

In any case, I’ve been lucky.  I have generally been able to find work when I’ve needed it, and I have been able to teach (and not work retail) since I completed my MA.   My one not-academia job between my MA and my PhD was actually (sort of) in my field.

But I do refer to myself as lucky intentionally.  I have worked hard.  I haven’t done my very best every single day (who does?) but my overall trajectory has been upward.  Yet many of my peers have worked just as hard, if not harder, and find themselves so incredibly lost.  People with MAs still only able to find part-time work.  Incredibly brilliant women from Converse who still only make $10/hr (on at least their 6th job) after seven years on the job market.  Friends who have managed to make it, but only by leaving behind what they have studied and finding a job completely outside their field (You studied accounting? How about being a photographer.  Journalism?  Yeah, why not work at the Apple store.  ROTC?  Oh, well, you actually got a job in the Army.  Good for you).  Some are happy.  Many are not.

We graduated at the peak of the last bubble.  Some of us got lucky and managed to get jobs just prior to the burst.  Others are still drowning years later.  And yet, we are called entitled.  We took out student debt we couldn’t afford.  Because we banked on getting jobs we were told our entire lives we would get.  So we worked hard and believed what we were told (teachers and parents aren’t supposed to lie, right?).  And now, I don’t know of one friend right now that isn’t on loan deferment or income-based-repayment for their loans.  Not because they don’t want to pay their loans, but because they can’t.

I was talking with my best friend from undergrad tonight, and so I will admit some of these ideas are hers.  But overall they got me thinking.  We are told we are the entitled generation.  But most of us have caved, crumbled, given up on dreams.  We’ve not necessarily accepted our fate of being less secure than our parents’ generation, but we are trying our best to work within the “new normal.”

I now have multiple friends who have resigned themselves to not having children.  When I was a kid, we were told (by often… well-meaning(?) adults) that people who chose not to have kids were “yuppies” that “chose not to have children” so they could “travel” or “buy things” or “have a life.”  How heteronormatively classist.  I’ve come a long way in understanding, I hope.

Now, I have friends who would be brilliant parents electing to stay childless.  Not all of them, but many, are making this decision not because they don’t want children, but because they know they aren’t financially stable enough to responsibly bring them into the world.  My parents have always told me “you’re never truly ready to have kids.”  I’m sure on some level, that’s true.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be really ready to be responsible for a thing that can’t even support its own head for months (is it months? Or weeks?  I have no idea.  Maybe this is why they have parenting classes), but if that time comes, I’ll hunker down and figure it out as best I can, as every parent should.

The difference is that these friends who are now electing childlessness aren’t being paranoid.  They truly understand that they can’t afford to have children and raise them responsibly.  Hell, many of them cannot even afford retirement plans for themselves, let alone rent without roommates (as married/partnered thirtysomethings).  So where are college funds for 2.5 kids, when college is more expensive than ever and you really need a masters for any job of “value” (massive sarcasms/scare quotes here.  And let’s not bring up the fact that graduate students cannot get subsidized loans any longer), supposed to come from?  These very real issues don’t just “work themselves out on their own.”

I’m not an economist.  I have tons of friends (or, at least two) that can claim that title.  But I do know that I had friends slightly better off than we were (Enlisted Navy Brat here, y’all) whose parents had way nicer and newer stuff than we did. And bigger, nicer houses, that their parents owned.  And looking back, I’m sure most of it was on credit that places like Wells Fargo gave them with limits they could not truly afford.  But everything was good, right?  The economy was booming, and everyone could have new, shiny things.

My generation is now dealing with the aftermath.  The good news is that medicine is getting such that we can have kids later and later.  The bad news is even with that, many of my friends who want to still may not be able to.

So what is this rambling rant really all about?  I’m not trying to advocate having kids, or buying things you don’t need, or a return to “the way things were.”  I’m just sick of daily hearing at least one of my friends lamenting a situation that in many ways is not their fault, which they are made to feel guilty about by some of the very people that got us here.  And I’m also not trying to say that our parents and grandparents are terrible people.  Most of them had no idea of the big economic picture (and if they did, I would hope would have made different choices).

Here is (finally) my thesis:  My friends are not lazy (yeah, there are exceptions, but generally speaking, my generation is not plagued with a do-nothing disease).  And we are quickly losing our pie-in-the-sky ideals (high-paying jobs, houses, cars).  We are definitely far more pragmatic than we are often given credit.  I still drive the 1997 Subaru that I inherited from my parents.  I currently have three jobs to make sure I’m not going into (much) consumer debt to survive.  I help proof job letters and resumes for my friends whenever I can.  I watch my friends list jobs on Facebook from their companies to see if they can help others find a job.

If anything, it is our parents that are still living with certain assumptions.  That everyone ends up with a house, and a car (or three), and 2.5 kids.  That we make more than $18,000 a year in professional jobs (I’m talking teachers, y’all) ten years out of high school.  Why not? They did.  And that was in the 80s/90s, when $18,000 went quite a bit farther.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn, and I’m certainly not saying that we Millenials are perfect.  But please, stop calling my friends lazy.  Stop firing my friends or reducing their hours so you don’t have to give them health insurance.  Stop telling them they have to work harder if they really want to do better financially only to nag them about why they haven’t had kids yet.  Stop expecting us to own homes when our student loans are $600 a month for loans you co-signed on while telling us we would have no problems paying them off.  I know you’re trying to give us advice, but you’re only adding to the emotional burden.  Most of us really are doing our best.  Please, just stop.  You’re only making us feel worse.