Career Daze

A few weeks ago, I took a Friday morning off and drove to San Lorenzo to visit the high school where a friend of mine teaches. He had organized a miniature Career Day for his Seniors, because the school had no such program to offer. You know, the kind of event where the gym is set up with a hundred booths from different organizations, businesses, and colleges, and recruiters make well-rehearsed pitches to a bunch of seventeen-year-olds who have no idea what they want to do in the future. I vaguely remember a career fair of this sort at my own high school, as well as several meetings with a college counselor who helped me figure out where I wanted to apply.

As for my friend’s students, they don’t really have access to resources like these, which I had taken for granted. They are mostly Black, Hispanic, and Southeast Asian, and not from wealthy families: the kinds of kids that society tends to worry the most about yet offers the least amount of help to. So my friend single-handedly organized this career event so that they could have an opportunity learn a little bit about what could be in store for them beyond high school.

I joined the other “young professionals” my friend had invited: managers at Yelp and Google, an entrepreneur, a start-up recruiter, a military recruiter, a barista, a UX designer, a data analyst, and a couple of other graduate students. (It was pretty representative of the kinds of professions you’d find in the Bay Area, I think, minus the doctors, lawyers, and teachers. And entertainers.) Most of us were people of color, too, which I thought was great. I could have counted every White person I saw that day on one hand.

Anyway, it was fun to share a little bit about what I do with the students, even though I doubt that more than half of them were thinking about going to a four-year college, let alone graduate school. But I tailored my pitch so that it was less about linguistics or PhDs and more about the joys of discovering in college fields of knowledge that you never knew existed, and about not knowing where they could lead you unless you took that risk to try something different. Honestly, if you had told the seventeen-year-old me that in ten years he would be doing research in speech science after having spent four years on the East Coast and two years abroad, he would have thought you were out of your mind. But unexpected things have happened, and I am all the better for it.

Of course, I also spent a good deal of the passing period in between each class checking my own educational and economic privilege, with respect to the teenagers I was talking to. I have had amazing opportunities to travel and whatnot mostly because of my parents’ support. Certainly, as a queer person of color, I have cards stacked against me in odd ways, but I had to remember that for the most part my life has been very blessed, and I can’t make the same assumption about others, even if they look like me demographically. Lessons re-learned: not every neighborhood in the East Bay has high ratios of affluent immigrants; model minority stereotypes harm all Asians; systemic colorism affects all brown-skinned people no matter what kind of brown; etc.

My friend also saved one panel question per class period for a sort of moral philosophizing: e.g., from the point of view of a person who is young, but already finished with high school and college, what does it mean to live a good life? What should one look for in a career, besides the salary, the perks, and the stock options? Is the American Dream real; and if so, is it worthwhile?

I sort of want to turn the lens back on me now, because the Career Day actually got me thinking about my own “career”. People ask me all the time what I plan to do with a PhD in Linguistics. When I tell them I want to become a professor, the responses are usually tempered excitement, sort of like, “Oh, well that’s cool but so predictable…” or prodding curiosity, as in, “Well, sure, teaching is great but what else can linguists contribute to society?” And that’s when I run through my laundry list of “ling jobs1” : consultant, analyst, interpreter, speech pathologist, editor, writer, blah blah blah. Linguists can do a lot. But linguists can also stick to doing linguistics!

I don’t care if I’ve picked the “boring” career — or even the less stable one — by choosing to stay in academia2. But I know that I love teaching and that I specifically want to teach college-level linguistics. I wish that this didn’t require any more explanation, but explanations are all you do when you choose my field…

In my professionalization seminar last week, we had an assignment that was literally to go to the popular jobs listing website for linguists (Linguist List) and search for open applications for positions that we would be eyeing if we were on the job market3. I actually had a lot of fun with the assignment, tinged with only a hint of anxiety. There aren’t a ton of jobs out there, to be sure, but I did find half a dozen that looked good (e.g., not just adjunct positions at the University of the Middle of Nowhere), including one or two that I really wish I could apply to right now, because they fit my interests perfectly! And now I’m worried that they will have been filled by the time I’m ready…

In class, I shared that I was particularly excited about a tenure-track position at a large state university in the area. (“Tenure-track” means better pay and more stable employment, compared to visiting or adjunct professorships.) The job listing said they were looking for a sociolinguist who could teach undergraduate and graduate level courses, advise students, and, importantly, address the needs of a very diverse student body.

It reminded me of how the young professionals at my friend’s Career Day were mostly people of color, talking with a class full of students of color, and made me consider how different it might have been if we had all been, say, wealthy straight White men. I realized right then that I would be perfectly happy taking a job at a university with no particular reputation in the field, if it meant that I could use my unique positionality to mentor and encourage students of color or LGBTQ students who are negatively biased in many ways against pursuing higher education and/or the sciences. And let’s be honest here: linguistics, like all the other sciences and social sciences, has a very White, Eurocentric, and colonialist past. And all the affirmative action in the world can’t magically undo the consequences of this history.

Being who I am, where I am, and with the passion that I have for helping others like me to succeed… well, I think all of it makes more sense now. I can imagine myself at this state university; I already know how it would help me grow and mature as a person to join an academic community where on some dimensions (such as race) I can fit right in, while on others (such as economic class) I will have to learn to harness my privilege for justice rather than judgment.

Especially encouraging was a brief comment that my professor made in class. He said, and I quote: “I think that you would be an excellent candidate for this job.” Cue butterflies!

All I need to do now is apply.

ω

Word of the Day: an avocation, from the Latin avocare meaning “to call away”, is a hobby, or a distraction from one’s regular work. It is essentially the opposite of vocation, signaled by the “negative” prefix a-. Unfortunately for grammarians, sometimes avocation is used to mean the same thing as vocation, in effect producing two words that appear to be antonyms but are in fact used (sometimes) as synonyms, like the ever-confusable flammable and inflammable, or regardless and irregardless (*shudder*). I know that one word that can have two opposing meanings is called a contronym… but does anyone know what to call two words that shouldn’t be synonymous but stubbornly are?

– – –

1 That link goes to a great series of posts and interviews at the All Things Linguistic blog on the myriad jobs that linguistics majors have taken.

2 It is not a requirement or an expectation that graduates of my program stay in academia by getting a teaching position at a university or a research position at an affiliated laboratory, but we often tend to try for the academia route before looking at jobs in “the industry”, or doing something related to linguistics for the government, a corporation, a non-profit, etc.

3 When I begin writing my dissertation next fall, I will be “on the job market”, although it’s obviously much better to have finished your diss first, so I’m looking at probably two years before I feel confident and experienced enough to apply for Assistant Professorships, maybe more if I do a post-doc year or two to expand my research experience.

Posted in school, what even is linguistics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Lines in the Sand

This post has nothing whatsoever to do with linguistics or graduate school, but it’s late and it’s been a long week so I’m oversharing on the Internet again.
sandgarden

When I entered college eight years ago, I was skinny, nerdy, shy, deeply religious, and deeply in the closet. Four years later, when I walked across the stage at commencement to receive my diploma, I was still mostly the same. All that had changed along those planes was that I was an out and proud gay Christian man, no longer ashamed of my sexual orientation or of the unique intersection of identities I now claimed.

Would it surprise you to know that the people who helped me come out safely when I was a sophomore were my fellow members of InterVarsity? Yes, IV, the same international Evangelical para-church organization that recently made headlines when it announced that it was going to ask all of its staff members, who work on hundreds of college campuses across the US, to reflect on their personal beliefs about Christianity and human sexuality and then voluntarily quit if they do not agree with its official position on the matter. The position, by the way, is a blanket ban on any sexual relationship outside of a heterosexual one-man one-woman marriage. LGBTQI individuals, they claim, are wonderfully and beautifully created by God, but for them to act on their non-normative desires would be unquestionably sinful. Also: pre-marital sex is a sin, masturbation is a sin, and divorce is a sin. Are we clear?

One has to wonder if the InterVarsity chapter that I served for four years belonged to the same organization. How could I have been chapter president my Senior year when I was, by that time, very openly gay?

There’s a lot to be unpacked here. First, I went to a small LAC in Pennsylvania. I chose this school partly because it was literally thousands of miles from home: a great way to start anew, away from a conservative upbringing and church community that I loved but feared at the same time. By harboring no more than 1600 students total, my college almost forced me into communities that did not at all resemble my neighborhoods growing up. Our student body was diverse racially, ethnically, economically, politically, and geographically, and though interpersonal relationships between students of historically conflicting backgrounds were never perfect, for me at least, my experiences there taught me so much about the value that is inherent in our differences.

This applied to the campus’ religious groups. There were not many options for us Christians, already a minority in a liberal environment: one group for the Catholics, one group that called themselves “Progressive Christians”, and InterVarsity. IV was unabashedly evangelical, with a little “E” (i.e., really concerned with reaching out to the unsaved with the Gospel), and also with a big “E” (affiliated with the strain of conservative Protestantism that is arguably the fastest-growing in the world). It was well-organized, had a clear purpose, and was full of smart, charismatic, loving people whom I trusted immediately. Also, because IV had the most support (in the form of financial backing, conferences and retreats, and staff members not employed by the school), it was considered the de facto “Christian club” and was the largest of the three, with perhaps sixty regular attendees at various weekly events, Bible studies, and dinners.

I threw myself into this community, expecting no great difference from my home church and its functions. But I soon found that this was not the case. Our little Christian club necessarily had to include people who believed radically different things from one another. The idea of “being a born-again Christian” is simple and straightforward enough, but beyond that, there are many different types of Christianities, even many different types of Evangelicals.

The church I grew up in was mostly Asian American and typical of middle class northern California suburbs. I know for sure that if I had stayed in my state to attend a large university, the college church I would have joined would have looked exactly the same. In high school, I had very few Catholic friends (and secretly thought their mariology to be heretical), had never met any Black Evangelicals, had never even heard of the term “Mennonite”. What it took for me to finally meet many amazing Christians who, crucially, did not look, act, or think exactly like me, was for all of us to be gathered together in a small classroom with the common goal of bringing spiritual light to a dark campus. Our IV chapter was not large enough for there to be separate satellite fellowships for Asians, Blacks, and athletes, as is the case in some universities. We were all in this together.

One recurring problem that arose as a consequence was difficulty in making everyone feel welcome at all events, because we tended to only encourage one type of worship (singing modern songs accompanied by a guy on the guitar), one type of prayer (sitting in a circle to share problems and then parroting them back to each other), and a limited set of ways to express our spiritual gifts. Members who came from more charismatic churches felt silenced; folks who grew up in more orthodox traditions felt out of their element. It was always a challenge to accommodate, incorporate, and change for the benefit of everyone who wanted to be a part of the community, but when we did things right, it was good.

In addition, our branch of InterVarsity was sometimes seen as the odd one out in the Mid-Atlantic region. Students at my school generally skew leftist and liberal, and our IV staffer had no problem with that. She was a petite Black woman who had some sort of fire in her spirit. She was radical, she loved every human being, and she knew that everyone had a seat at the table. And her motley group of IV student leaders ranged from those whose faith informed their strictly conservative perspective to those who firmly believed that Jesus would willingly perform an abortion if he were an itinerant healer in America today. I remember that she reached out to one of my classmates, an openly gay student who came from a more progressive Christian background, to find out what he was seeking and to see how he could be included in the community. This struck me because my naivete at that time was such that I couldn’t imagine that kind of intentional outreach without a caveat: you can sit with us, but you need to stop wearing pink on Wednesdays, that sort of thing. I also initially took offense at having to study the Bible with people who would joke that the early Christians were socialists… and years later, when I noticed that my own political views had shifted mightily leftward, I couldn’t help laughing at how I was now the lefty liberal leading manuscript study for fresh-off-the-train red-state freshmen who were shocked by some of my takes on the Bible. (“You mean you really think it’s okay not to believe that the Earth is six thousand years old?”)

The point is, our IV chapter had its fair share of radicals in it, but they (we?) happily served alongside die-hard Republicans and the like, and the net result was, I believe, that we sharpened each others’ beliefs and did a better job of reaching out to a diverse campus, because nearly everyone could be met where they were, rather than be coerced into becoming more like us before joining our ranks. The other consequence was that we appeared to be quite unruly when compared to the more mainstream chapters at other schools in our region. It was often remarked that although we were officially a branch of InterVarsity, we operated mostly independently, downplayed branding, and often flaunted the norms established at other schools. These norms included, I imagine, an official position on sexuality.

– – –

During my freshman year, I hid my gayness well, even as I invested lots of my time into my Christian family. I knew that even among my fellow IV members there were many who would not have a problem with me being gay, but I still didn’t really want to admit the reality to myself. Some friends and family back home were in the know; we were generally in agreement that I had been given a very unique burden to carry as a Christian, but I often felt like I was carrying it alone. For years already I had been praying regularly for God to take away the “thorn in my side”, for me to miraculously turn straight. I also really wanted to serve as a student leader with IV and give back to the community that had welcomed me, but I didn’t think I would be able to if I admitted my sinful nature. At this time, I considered the orientation itself to be innate, albeit a manifestation of humankind’s fallen state — “born this way yet born again”. But the constant lustful desire and its subsequent actions — for me, this meant watching a lot of pornography — were the grave iniquity for which I had to do penance.

Unsurprisingly, I was asked to be a co-leader for the freshman Bible study for the following school year. I remember the internal turmoil very well. I really loved God and wanted to serve, but I knew I couldn’t honestly do it without being open about my struggle with my sexuality. At our year-end retreat, the stress had built up so much that I needed to tell someone. I asked my friend Wes to take a walk with me, and we sat by the lake as I worked up the courage to finally spit it out: “I want to be a Bible study leader but I’m afraid that I won’t do a good job because I struggle with same-sex attraction and I don’t know how to tell anyone. Except now I’ve told you…”

I’ll never forget how Wes responded. He told me that although he didn’t have the answers or know what God ultimately had planned for human sexuality, at the end of it all, he trusted me. “I know for a fact that you will be an excellent leader,” he said, “and I’ll walk with you as we figure this thing out.”

Coming Out Day in October of sophomore year was when I decided to open up to my Bible study co-leader Cecelia, who was like a sister to me. I cried when I told her, guilty that I had already been serving with her for months but hadn’t had the guts to share something so personal and important. Cecelia cried when I told her, too, guilty that even though we had gotten so close in the past year, it hadn’t been enough for me to feel safe telling her or the other upperclassmen about my struggle.

Both Wes and Cecelia were my only confidantes for that entire semester. In December of 2009, I attended Urbana, InterVarsity’s huge missions conference held every three years in St. Louis. It was at Urbana that I learned that there was a larger conversation regarding faith and sexuality happening all around me. I was reading books and blog posts by Christians who identified as gay and straight, writers who supported “radical” ideas at the time like legalized same-sex marriage, pastors who were figuring out how to open their church doors to gays and lesbians while staying true to their core beliefs. The general theme was one of attempting to reconcile the LGBTQ community to a church that had clearly spurned it. I was trying to understand everything on my own, and it was difficult, but little by little, I was coming to accept myself. The seminars I attended at Urbana gave me some perspective; looking back, it’s actually amazing to me that some of the views expressed there were even allowed. But InterVarsity Press, a publishing company that has produced titles such as Love is an Orientation and Redeeming Sex (but also A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality), has made room for views that dissent from the traditional one.

There were well over fifteen thousand attendees at Urbana that year, and I was moved by the message reiterated so many times that week: we are so different, but we are here together because of God and God alone. Whatever it is that people may say divides us, we can actually celebrate, because we are all beloved children of God and we are otherwise united in Him. As the clock neared midnight on the last day of the year, I made two important decisions: 1) I would commit my life to the goal of repairing the broken relationship between the Church and the LGBTQ community, and to do so, 2) I would have to come out of the closet for good.

– – –

Fast-forward to the next spring: I announced at an IV meeting that I was gay — but still committed to the cause of Christ. Folks were largely surprised by my coming out, but nobody rejected me. Some friends came forward to apologize for past homophobic behavior or for simply not being very aware or sympathetic. Otherwise, life proceeded as normal, or at least according to what I expected. I took cautious steps into my school’s LGBTQ community, somewhat awkward because I still proudly identified as a Christian, and that understandably ruffled feathers. But there were other students who came from faith backgrounds that clashed with the gender and sexual identities they were exploring. I started a small Bible study group for LGBTQ or questioning students, and I really enjoyed that semester. It began lots of wonderful conversations on campus about the possibility of reconciling a Christian faith with a queer identity. We took the idea of “living in the tension” seriously, frankly acknowledging that we did not necessarily know what was right or wrong by God’s standards, but more importantly, striving to be in community with one another nevertheless.

At the same time, there were a few rounds of staff rotation. I felt a little bit of friction with our new staffers, especially as my personal and political views continued to change and become more liberal. Once upon a time, I had supported Prop 8 in California. But now, I didn’t see any problem with same-sex marriage on the national level (it’s a personal choice, and Christians certainly cannot dictate the legal policies of a secular nation), although I didn’t yet think I would ever pursue a relationship of my own. I was aware that the official position of InterVarsity was less tolerant, but I chose not to dwell on it. After all, my passion was for reaching out to my gay and lesbian friends with the Good News, and no verse that I knew of in the Gospels said that you had to be straight to believe in Jesus’ love and sacrifice. A few great courses in our school’s Religion department gave me fuller frameworks for understanding how the Bible is and has been interpreted, and how official church doctrines are established (and go out of fashion). By the time I was asked to be chapter president, just before Senior year, I still believed fully in the fundamental message of Christianity — believe in Christ for salvation — but I had to have a talk with our newest staffer so that he could make sure that I wasn’t “practicing homosexuality”. I accepted the position.

I graduated in 2012 with happy memories from my time with IV. But when my fellow alumni and I think about it today, we will joke that getting out when I did was “just in time”. The next year brought a veritable shitstorm to the steps of Parrish Hall; the student leaders who took up the mantle after us had to deal with, in addition to general social unrest brewing on campus, the souring of the relationship between our chapter and non-Christian students. Things went south especially when InterVarsity as an organization began to show its fundamentalist stripes and made a clear stance against same-sex marriage as well as against “actively” gay students who desired leadership roles. It is still not clear to me whether the change only came from within our chapter, as some students with conservative views took control while more liberal students left, or whether outside pressure from staffers and our intercollegiate network also influenced this. But students complained of discrimination by sexual orientation, and there was a large exodus: many of my friends, underclassmen when I had graduated, did not end up serving the organization as Seniors. They defected to the Progressive Christians group (which, for the record, I have no problem with), or left the church altogether.

I was living abroad while all this was happening and was mostly absent from the controversy. But when the news trickled in, I was deeply saddened. I had thought that the work I had put in while a member of IV would help bring the Christian and LGBTQ communities closer together, but it hadn’t been enough to prevent this enormous rift. Our campus fellowship’s reputation is no longer that of the quirky radical Christians who love and accept everyone, but instead the typical closed-minded Evangelicals who shun outsiders.

– – –

At the very least, this brought our IV chapter in line with the larger organization, which as of last week has officially drawn its line in the sand. The position paper they released is not actually a change in theology, but what they have made into official policy is the fact that any IV staffers who disagree with the position paper are encouraged to think very critically about what they personally believe and whether or not they want to continue partnering with the organization. Their PR stresses that nobody is technically being fired. If I were employed by IV, it would look like this: I’d read the position paper, decide that I did not agree with it, and notify my superior, who would immediately begin something called “involuntary termination”, giving me two weeks to wrap things up and then one month of aid in finding a new job.

I mean, how different is that from being fired, really? For legal purposes there are relevant distinctions — which to be sure will save them trouble when people try to take them to court — but the impact is the same. InterVarsity is saying, “We believe in X, Y, and Z, and if you don’t as well, then you don’t belong here.” The intention, I want to believe, is good. Last week, I had dinner with a Christian friend of mine, one who stands proudly on the conservative end of the spectrum and who actually first broke the news to me about what IV had done. He explained that from his perspective, InterVarsity was doing the right thing by making its positions on marriage and homosexuality public, whereas in the past it had been ambiguous at best about what it believed and how to enforce it. “They’re doing it so that there’s more internal cohesion, so that everyone is on the same page,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to work for an organization if you didn’t really know where they stood on the issue, right?”

And to an extent, I agree. InterVarsity is a religious organization with certain practices and a moral code derived from a canonical set of beliefs. I would not want to join a church or a para-church organization if I wasn’t sure that they shared the same core beliefs, such as the existence of one God. But to me, whether or not gay marriage is against God’s “original design” for marriage is not one of those core values. It’s a social issue that each church may question for itself and its own community. It should not become a theological litmus test for legitimate Christianity.

The pastor of the church I grew up in once preached a sermon that was not about the Bible at all, but about Biblical hermeneutics. He said that while he believed the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God, there were indeed some parts of the text that could be open to interpretation. (Which, in retrospect, is painfully obvious.) He stressed that some issues were trivial, or ideas that we could freely Debate. Should women have to cover their hair in church? Maybe, maybe not: if we disagree, it’s no big deal. Other issues were more important, ones that a church might Divide over. Is water baptism necessary as a part of one’s conversion? Maybe, maybe not: if we disagree, maybe we can join different churches or branch off and form a new one. That’s how denominations are created. But there are some ideas from the Bible that are so truly fundamental that they are worth Dying for. Is there one God? Does he love all people unconditionally and desire for us to know Him personally? Maybe, maybe not: if we disagree, and you have a gun pointed at my head, I will not back down. The “die-for” theological issues are worth every ounce of conviction we possess, should we identify as Christian. The “divide” and “debate” issues are not.

To me, the issue of homosexuality in the church is one to debate over. I currently attend a church in Berkeley where I am sure over 75% of my fellow congregants would disagree sharply with my views. That has not stopped me from going to services regularly for two years and forming close relationships with some of them. Were I to get married, I highly doubt my current pastor would ever agree to perform my wedding. So why do I go to this church? Because I still believe in the Gospel and I see that this church is trying earnestly to reach out to our local community with a message of hope and revival. I share those values, even if I disagree with so much else. The disagreements, in my eyes, are not worth dividing over.

The tragedy with InterVarsity’s new policy is not that they have chosen the conservative view. It’s that they have made it clear that there is no room for disagreement. I am not advocating that they never adopt any stance whatsoever. Actually, I respect the fact that they took a stand for what they believe in (“they” being, I guess, the powers that be within the organization who decided all of this), especially because I know that the organization spent years thinking, studying, and praying about it while (presumably) listening to people from all sides of the issue give their input. There’s integrity in that. But what IV is saying is that it is impossible for you and me to reach our common goal (bring knowledge of Jesus to college campuses) if we do not have the same views on sex. Therefore, you must leave. It’s textbook fundamentalism.

Particularly painful is that the onus is on individual staffers to make their disagreements heard. A staffer I know of who works with IV at a school in the Bay Area owned up to the conflict and has already been terminated. She fought the decision but lost: her livelihood and her mission now gone because she did not keep her silence. I personally support two IV staffers financially, one of whom is openly gay (though celibate). He has no intention of leaving the fruitful ministry he has been nurturing for years, but if he criticizes, say, on social media or even in private conversation, the organization’s policy without officially volunteering his own resignation, what will happen to him? What will happen to the hundreds of students he leads? Students who are perhaps, like me eight years ago, eager to demonstrate love for God, yet anxious about a love for others that doesn’t fit the traditional mold. Some of them will hide and deny their sexualities because they want to stay in the community; others will leave the church because they will not feel welcome — no matter what IV says about LGBTQI inclusion within their theological framework, pro-queer folks are still being excluded and there is no way to deny this.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I struggled with my sexual identity every day for years, but I survived and eventually came to terms with myself and accepted God’s unconditional love. I then went to a school where my Christian community also showed me the same kind of unconditional love. We used that as the starting point and laid our other disagreements aside for the sake of the Gospel. That’s the beauty of the Church, in my opinion. I don’t need you to conform to my views on sex if I want to work with you: Jesus is enough.

Speaking of whom, I can’t help but think about a wonderful story told in John chapter 8, which I will reproduce below in whole (ESV translation):

Early in the morning [Jesus] came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

I’m not bringing this up because I want to draw parallels between homosexuality and adultery. Rather, what intrigues me is Jesus’ behavior in response to a group of legalistic religious experts who wanted him to take a stance. These men were so eager to draw their line in the sand: our shared moral code says we should execute this woman; now I wonder what this pacifist Jesus guy will say to that? Will he be on our side or not?

Jesus did not take their bait. Instead, he started doodling in the dust. Or writing some secret message, we’ll probably never know. But I love that while the religious leaders wanted their lines to be drawn and their theology neatly proven, Jesus flipped the situation on its head by reminding the entire crowd that there was a human life at stake here, and that human life was the most important thing. Not theology. Not the Law. Not the downward trajectory of morality in a rapidly crumbling society.

So when I think of Jesus and then I compare his actions to InterVarsity’s decision to purge its ranks of those who do not fit a certain mold, I wonder: whence came the discrepancy? To those who hold fast to their us-versus them mentality and a black-and-white framework for gray area issues: does your commitment to dichotomy stem from an outpouring of your love for Christ and an imitation of the grace he showed the world, or from somewhere else? And if he were here today, in the flesh, and given the task of deciding whom to keep in InterVarsity and whom to spit out, well, pardon the cliche, but… what would Jesus do?

ω

Word of the Day: A pericope [pəˈɹɪ.kə.pi] (Greek: περικοπή) is a short excerpt from a (usually sacred) text that is used for teaching purposes. The passage in John 8:1-11 is also called the Pericope Adulterae.

Posted in life, musings | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

What’s in a Name?

“Could I have your last name?”

“Cheng. C-H-E-N-G.”

“C-H-A-N-G?”

“C-H-EEEEE-N-G.”

I’m one of those people who have been conditioned to spell their name every single time it is asked for. And I consider myself lucky that it’s only my last name that gets misspelled, not my first or both.

The confusion stems from the pronunciations of Cheng and Chang in American English. I would transcribe them both as [tʃʰeɪŋ] (or [tʃʰaɪŋ] if you don’t have pre-velar raising like I do) — rhymes with sang.

But the silly thing is that neither name actually sounds like this in its original language. My last name is written in Mandarin as  and pronounced [ʈʂəŋ] with a falling tone contour — rhymes with sung, and actually sounds closest to the jung in jungle, but with the jaw less lowered. The other name, Chang, usually comes from 常 or 張, which in Mandarin are [ʈ͡ʂʰaŋ] and [ʈ͡ʂaŋ], respectively — rhymes with song — and the Korean versions of the same name use the same vowel.

When my parents and thousands of other East Asian immigrants arrived in the United States, they had to decide how to officially write their names using the Latin alphabet instead of characters. My dad told me that he and his friends just looked up their names in the standard Chinese-English dictionary at the time, which used the Wade-Giles romanization system1. According to Mr. Wade, the best English approximation for the voiced unaspirated retroflex affricate was the digraph “ch” — never mind that this is almost always aspirated in English (see: Church’s Chicken) — and the vowel portion, which is almost a perfect schwa, should be written with an “e”.

One hundred years after his dictionary was published, Americans saw the surname Cheng and thought, “But of course, it rhymes with sang.”

To be fair to Wade-Giles, it’s hard to devise a written form of a language using a system that neither evolved with it nor was developed for it. But the consequence of this is that people have been calling my father “Dr. Ch-ay-ng” for his entire career and he doesn’t even care. I don’t think it ever crossed his mind to correct anyone… but was this out of instinctive capitulation or indifference?

“Why wouldn’t you have corrected them?” I protested over lunch yesterday. “It’s not like jung is that much harder for Americans2 to pronounce.”

“So you think I should have written it with a ‘J’?” my dad responded, “or with ‘Zh’?”

“Well, it’s not like English spelling makes any sense anyway.” Even English names mess around with their “ch” clusters, thanks to long histories and convoluted etymologies: Christopher, Charles, Charlotte, Channah. At this point, we may as well tell folks that they just have to remember pronunciations by sight, because the rhyme and reason behind them are a beast to comprehend. And I say this as a former ESL teacher.

I had a proposal. “Dad, I want to change my name. Not the spelling of the name; whatever’s on my birth certificate is fine. But I can tell people how ‘Cheng’ should actually be pronounced and teach them something. So I’ll introduce myself as ‘Andrew Cheng’, but pronounce it jung [ʈʂəŋ]3.” And, I thought, if some smartass asks me why I don’t just spell it with a ‘J’, the way it’s pronounced, I’ll more than likely be able to point to their own name and ask the very same thing.

This is an interesting issue I have been mulling over for a while now. I know lots of Asians and Asian Americans whose names reflect a heritage that is not Western European, and yes, the spellings of these names in English are rarely transparent as to their true pronunciation. But they’ll settle for an “Americanized” version of the name, with American English’s twangy diphthongs and loud aspirated plosives and stress as a substitute for tone.

My new language partner has the charming Korean name Taehyun [tʰɛ.hʲʌn], which I used to greet him when we first met. But he had sent me a text saying, <Hi, this is Ted!> so I asked him which name I should actually call him. He asked, “Oh, well, which one is easier for you?”

“Eh, screw that!” I replied. “Don’t ask me which one is easier for me. What do you want to be called?”

The answer, unsurprisingly, was Taehyun.

Why settle? Why not just teach folks what to say and how to say it right? Then, one’s name becomes an opportunity to practice patience while they learn (win-win!), rather than another facet in which foreignness is forced to conform; rather than another way in which languages with different phonologies from English are devalued.

Assimilationist tendencies in the United States have resulted in a long history of erasing immigrants’ linguistic identities by forcing name changes, whether literally by declaring an Eastern European refugee’s name as too “un-American” to be used or more subliminally by giving constant negative attention to presumed foreignness. Though Anglicizing name changes are no longer the norm, I would still argue that names that are not clearly English or at least Western European attract a certain kind of valence that can serve to diminish the owner’s claim to American identity. And we who hold these names and are aware of this fact are surely not to be blamed for wanting to avoid this.

Yet the onus should be on the outmoded monolingual and monocultural majority to expand its horizons. They should accept that the Kims and the Kwans are every bit as American as the Kardashians (who are of Armenian descent, by the way), and that their names — our names — are worth the effort to pronounce accurately, even if it is difficult. Doing so will improve everyone’s linguistic knowledge and, more importantly, everyone’s self-esteem.

– – –
1 If you’re curious to learn a bit more about the way romanization has jumbled up Chinese last names over the past few centuries, you can watch this cool video.
2 Yes, we do that immigrant family thing where “American” refers to White English-speaking USAmericans, even though we are citizens so we technically share that label.
3 And as long as the consonants and vowels are somewhere-in-the-ballpark correct, I won’t care about tone, or lack thereof!

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Word of the Day: onomastics (from the Greek ὄνομα ‘name’ via French onomastique)  is the study of proper names. The Wikipedia page on onomastics is a bit of a stub but to my great delight had a link to a treasure trove of words that end in -onym.

Posted in life, musings, what even is linguistics | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Just Mercy

Every year, my university runs an extracurricular program for its incoming freshmen called On the Same Page that aims to give the entire class (all 5,500 matriculants) a common theme for their academic year, or at least something to talk about during passing period. I know about this program because several years ago, the On the Same Page project was run through Linguistics, and all the incoming freshmen recorded a sample of their voices for a neat little Berkeley corpus. (I then used this corpus for my own research!)

This year, all participants were given a copy of Bryan Stevenson’s bestseller book Just Mercy, in which he recounts many stories from his long career as a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson’s passion is defending people on death row, in particular those who are innocent and/or did not receive a fair trial for various reasons (usually racism).

In addition to being given the book and opportunities to discuss it in seminars and workshops, students were also treated to a lecture from Stevenson himself, which was held last Wednesday at Zellerbach Hall. The event was free to the rest of the campus community and the public, as well, so I made sure to go. I had heard of Stevenson’s book from my friend Sharon and put it on my long summer reading list, but never got around to it. Eventually, I had decided that I would forego reading the book and just attend the lecture.

But after the lecture, I realized that I needed to get my hands on a copy and read it cover to cover.

How did the author catapult his book from the bottom of a dog pile of recommendations to the top in just sixty minutes? It was a very, very good message. Stevenson wasted no time trying to convince his audience of the sobering reality: America is a carceral state. Along with the stunning statistics showing that there are millions more people in prison today than there were a few decades ago — an increase that does not square with a rise in population or criminal activity — there is a severe imparity in the way people are treated in courts and prisons, especially if they are people of color, disabled persons, or women.

So with that as a given, what can we — as university freshmen, kids who plan to major in biology or linguistics, ordinary people who won’t or can’t devote careers to fighting for the rights of the oppressed — contribute and do to help these fellow citizens in need?

Stevenson impressed me with his concise and well-defended talking points — unsurprising, as he is a lawyer — and really moved the audience with heartbreaking stories. First of all, he encouraged us all to “be proximal”: to get close to where the pain is rather than choosing the “flight” response or avoiding the humans we really need to be helping. It’s true; most people I know, myself included, try to avert their eyes when they walk by a panhandler on the street. We obediently stay away from the “ghetto” parts of Oakland and are glad that our prisons are located far away from the residential neighborhoods. But Stevenson argues that we need to humanize our civil issues by going face-to-face with actual people. It’s easy to dismiss a hardened criminal who’s getting his just deserts when he’s just an idea, but hard to disengage from compassion if you visit him in prison and listen to him talk about his life outside of the cell.

Another point Stevenson made was to “change the narrative”. This one is so important. We have a discourse at the national level that casts people of color, especially Black and Latino males, as dangerous, criminal, lazy, unpatriotic drains on our welfare system. Our candidates for the highest elected office have referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists and Black youth as “superpredators”, and these narratives can too easily become entrenched in the common consciousness. Especially since they come from White people in power. And no matter how much they may recant or apologize, the damage has been done. Generations of Americans have grown up (indeed, are growing up) with one-sided portrayals of entire races from cultural memes and mass media; this has led directly to racist policing and extreme manifestations of White privilege within the judicial system. The only way to reverse this is to counter the racist narratives with accurate, positive ones: #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackGirlMagic, things of that sort, but hopefully more substantial than a hashtag.

And the last takeaway that I recall was for us to “stay hopeful”. Without critiquing the system, nothing will change; but it’s too easy for your average woke person to drown in the recognition of the sheer amount of moral failure that has resulted in said system. And if they give up, or resort to only voicing frustrations and stop actually fighting for reform, then they are no longer a part of the solution. Even the most racist American can change their tune — and Stevenson told quite a good anecdote to illustrate this — so the point is never to lose hope. Be an activist who always seeks to liberate, never to punish or condemn.

You know, I’d like to think that I don’t need to convince anybody about the existence and persistence of racial inequality in our country, but I’ve encountered lots of people, even here in liberal Berkeley, who have never thought to challenge the narratives that are handed down to them: e.g. Black communities have drug problems; Native Americans’ abysmal social welfare is their own doing and not the consequence of historical genocide; crime is better addressed through punishment than preventative measures; drugs are a crime issue and not a public health issue. I don’t really know what to tell these people, and as I was remarking to my friend Eun Sun before church this morning, it’s very difficult for me not to simply throw my hands up and say, “Why can’t you just see things the way I do?!” It’s not like I, too, was not socialized to accept the false narratives; it’s just that somewhere along the way I was given a different lens, a clearer one in my opinion, and now can’t fathom going back to use the old one.

But Eun Sun reminded me that one of the most compelling things about living in community — in particular a religious community like the church we both belong to — is that no matter the issue or what disagreements there are about it, we walk through it together. She shares some of my sentiments about wanting to see a change of heart in this country’s people of faith, especially professing evangelicals who talk all the talk about Biblical models of restorative justice but rarely walk that Christ-centered walk. But Eun Sun is more patient than I, and she is also in charge of leading our fellowship toward a vision of appropriate local outreach, so she stressed to me not just the urgency of putting our faith into action but also the necessity of investing in our community, of teaching and learning together about why it should matter to us in the first place… and to take all the time that is needed to do so.

Yes, if the American church does not pursue justice within our own borders, we will at best be missing out on vast opportunities to see God in action, and at worst be ignoring a direct commandment: “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8) and sullying a celestial reputation: “the Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed” (Psalm 103:6).

And that said, I think the model of teaching and learning together before running off to a protest or “getting our hands dirty” in other productive ways has quite a lot of merit, no matter one’s religious affiliation or lack thereof. I could stand to be less frustrated at the American church (or at least, voice my frustrations less), in favor of leading teach-ins and collecting resources for my sleeping brothers and sisters to help them awaken. We profess to have faith, like a fire kindled within. We need to learn to use that flame to see where to go, not just warm our hands as we sit in the dirt, inert.

I remember that Bryan Stevenson was given an immediate and long-lasting standing ovation as soon as he concluded his lecture. Everyone in the audience, no matter their race or creed, leapt to their feet. Now where do we go from here? My hope is that my Bay Area community and my fellow people of faith will keep standing… then start walking, and make it as far down this straight and narrow road as we can.

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Word of the Day: manumission, from Latin manu mittere (“release from the hand/power of a master”) via Old French, is a synonym for liberation, the freeing of a slave. See also disenthralment, emancipation, affranchisement (all such lovely words!). Today, on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, we hear the choruses of freedom for America, freedom from terror and oppression. We’ll always remember what happened to us on this day, but we cannot at the same time forget that we are not all liberated. Not yet. We are not one of us free until all of us are.

Posted in books, musings, school | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tick Tick Boom

My roommate sent me a Snapchat this morning: a somewhat grim selfie with soft natural lighting, captioned with a deadpan “My 20th first day of class.”

Same.

My first day of class was Monday, actually, because I am enrolled in an ASL course at a local community college whose semester began earlier. But today, on the first day of instruction at my home institution, I find myself in my pajamas in my kitchen, sipping tea and reading blogs, because I have nothing scheduled this morning.

I am in the third year of my graduate program (Boom! You’re passé // What can you do?), which means I can generally ease off on the coursework and focus more on my own research. Fewer than eight hours a week of class currently in my planner, and no teaching obligations… so what will I do with all of my free time? It’ll be nice to have so much of it, but I’m also a bit worried, since I know myself well: my productivity is at its highest when I have a full schedule. Give me five hours of unstructured time and I’m likely to end up watching TV for four of them, know what I mean? In fact, even though I’ve already begun classes, my mind is still on summer break mode and is letting me sleep in with impunity. I need to make up some excuse to be on campus at eight in the morning in order to actually get up at seven, as I was doing last spring.

Well, I’ll start with the academic goals. Goal #1: wrap up my summer research, start and finish the second half of the project, and write a qualifying paper on it by December. Goal #2: submit to a few conferences here and there. Goal #3: bring up my proficiency in American Sign Language. Goal #4: write more regularly, including academic writing, blog writing, creative writing, and letter writing.

Seems simple enough. I’ll check in again in December to see what I’ve accomplished, although between now and then, there will hopefully be quite a few more posts, per goal #4. I have had plenty of ideas of things to write about, but never the time, not until now.

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Word of the day: zumbooruk (or zamburak) is a type of gun or cannon mounted on the back of a camel that was used by Persian, Afghan, and Indian militaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. This word has nothing whatsoever to do with the theme of the post, I just heard it used in a hilarious podcast called The Incomparable Game Show while driving up from SoCal last week.

Oh, wait, maybe I can make a connection: today, the first day of the school semester, is a Wednesday… otherwise known as Hump Day, because it is the most difficult day of the week to get through and/or it’s a downhill coast from here (Thursday is basically Friday, and Friday is basically the weekend). Camels have humps. There we go! So, dear readers, where are you aiming your zumbooruk today? Keep your eye on that target and blast it to pieces!

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A Quick Life Update

This post will consist of brief bulleted answers to the questions everyone has been asking me lately, and in addition to that, I will ask one question per answer to my dear readers. Leave a comment below!

A1: I’ve moved! Earlier this week, as I was driving home from Bible study, I think my mind must have been on autopilot. I drove to my old place in West Berkeley and almost turned into the driveway before remembering, “Oh shoot, I don’t live here anymore!” I literally said that out loud, that’s how surprised I was. Now, I live in North Berkeley. The move made me realize just how much stuff I own; that’s not a humblebrag, though, because I know I definitely could stand to downsize. It was astounding how many bags I filled just with kitchen things.

Q1: How long do you have to live in a place before you begin to consider it “home”? What other factors play into this cognitive reframing? How many homes do you have?

A2: This past spring, I got my Master’s in Linguistics (or what counts as the equivalent of such), after spending many, many hours fine-tuning a paper on Californian English. And I will continue on this fall in the PhD program, which will take me three to four more years of study and research. The semester will begin again in the last week of August. I will not teach in the coming academic year, unfortunately. But that will leave me with plenty of time to devote to work.

Q2: Have you ever committed to anything for six years? Was it entirely your decision to do so?

A3: My summer has been both active and relaxing — I’ve taken several trips (Crater Lake, East Coast), gone camping (Yosemite), run a Spartan Race (see previous post), and more. But I still go into the office regularly to work: I am doing my own research on a topic in Korean sociophonetics. What does that look like? I spend large chunks of my day trying to debug some code that will help me analyze my data faster. It’s been 50% adventure in learning the programming language Python, and 50% headache.

Q3: How many ways to ask the cliched question, ‘How was your summer?’ *in a way that is actually interesting and mentally stimulating* can you think of?

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Caught this lil’ feller at the gym the other day

A4: Why yes, yes, indeed I am. Team Mystic all the way.

Q4: Are you playing Pokémon Go?

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Word of the Day: A canard is a rumor or fabricated story, a hoax. I found this interesting word in an article in reference to some celebrity gossip, but I was initially confused, because I didn’t read anything that had to do with ducks. Not even duck lips. The usage comes from an old French proverb, “to half-sell ducks” (vendre des canards à moitié), which meant to cheat or to fool a customer. Can you “hack” your Eevee to evolve it into the Eeveelution of your choice? Yes, go get that Vaporeon, Trainer! But did obsession with Pokémon Go cause a highway accident when a man stopped his car to catch a Pikachu? Nope, that’s a canard! And there are many more: enjoy!

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Slow and steady gets 151st place

All I could really think about as I trudged uphill for the seventh mile, skidded down a dusty slope for the eighth, slipped into a muddy ditch for the dozenth time, was, “Just don’t stop moving. One step at a time.”

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My “what did I get myself into” face.

Of course, I had been told earlier by my friends and fitness instructor that for my first obstacle course race ever, especially one as infamously difficult as the Spartan Race, I should not be worrying about my speed, time, or rank. “Take it easy and focus on finishing,” Shola said. I was ready to take the advice to heart, especially since I was about to take on approximately nine miles and twenty-six obstacles in ninety-degree weather with zero training. (By this I mean that I didn’t add anything to my regular gym routine to specially prepare myself for the race, which in retrospect was unwise.)

But as soon as I hopped the first of many walls, at 10:15 on a beautiful, blazing hot morning in Diablo Grande, I couldn’t resist my competitive spirit. I finished the first two obstacles with everyone else on my team and rounded out the first mile with my team buddy. But afterward, with my buddy’s permission, I took off and tackled the rest of the course on my own. By mile three, most of the people I passed were simply walking from obstacle station to station; I kept jogging along and thinking, “Isn’t this a Spartan Run, not a Spartan Walk?” (Of course, I was wrong, because the event is called a Spartan Race, with no reference to any particular mode of movement.)

The following is a recap of my thought catalog over the course of the next three hours:

Mile 1. Obstacles: hurdles, walls, big A-frame net thing. “This is pretty fun. Doesn’t seem very dangerous, though. Just hot. I’m glad there are water stations.”

Mile 2. Obstacles: monkey bars, walls, moat. “What was the point of that moat? Now I get to run in wet shoes for seven miles. Great.”

Mile 3. Obstacles: 6′ wall, mud crawl, 7′ wall. “Oh god, this mud is probably 50% cow manure. It’s good to be small; I can actually squat-trudge through this maze instead of military crawling, which means that I’ll only be covered in mud from neck to toe instead of head to toe. This is like the worst kind of slip ‘n slide. [Later…] Damn, these walls just keep getting higher and higher. If they go past 8’ I won’t be able to clear them by myself…”

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Strugglebussing my way out of a muddy pond.

Mile 4. Obstacles: code memorization, giant hill, Z-wall. “Holy crap this is a huge hill. Wonder what’s at the top? Oh, nothing? We just turn left and go straight back down another side? Okay then.”

Mile 5. Obstacles: 8′ wall, Tyrolean (inverted rope climb), Herculean hoist (115 lbs), rope climb, spear throwing, plate drag. All in that order. My thoughts: “Holy crap what is this madness?!” (Answer: here.) I can’t believe they put pretty much all of the upper body strength obstacles in one place, and one right after the other, to boot. The first rope climb was easy, but I had never even seen anything like the Herc Hoist before, and it killed me. I raised that stupid sandbag halfway and then stepped on my rope to keep it there while I tried to regain the feeling in my arms. I swear, if the rope slipped and the bag fell to the ground, I probably would have cried while doing the thirty burpee punishment. But with a lot of grunting, I got it to the top, at which point my arms and grip gave way and the thing came crashing down thirty feet to the ground. Then I trotted over to discover that the next obstacle was a freaking rope climb. My  hands were already forming blisters. This is where I began to think, “Okay, so this race is Serious Business. I can understand why everybody else is walking, but it’s not my legs that are in pain right now.” I missed the spear throw by a long shot (thirty burpees!), and the next obstacle was a real drag (pun intended) since my plate kept getting stuck in the dirt, to say nothing of my own depleted lats and traps.

Mile 6. Obstacles: inverted wall, stairway, small mountain. The inverted wall had been painted black and placed in direct sunlight; gripping it felt like putting my hands on a cast-iron pan. There was a nutrition station here where I ate more energy gummies than I probably should have. I finally acquiesced to walking uphill, but kept jogging whenever it was level. The next mile was uphill.

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I thoroughly enjoyed hiking uphill with a 40lb sandbag.

Mile 7. Obstacle: sandbag carry. “Well, this feels kind of like backpacking. Ooh, a photographer! Hi! Ooh, what a view! What a nice breeze! Am I starting to enjoy this, or am I going nuts? Hm, what was my code again?”

Mile 8. Obstacle: bucket brigade. It was so nice to jog downhill for a mile, excepting the storm of dust I kept kicking up because the descents were so steep. But at the bottom of the hill, we were greeted with the task of filling a bucket with at least eighty pounds of gravel and carrying it around a tree for no reason; I was so annoyed that I kicked the gravel into my bucket rather than scoop it as everyone else as doing.

Mile 9. Obstacles: underwater wall, more mud, Atlas Carry, multi-rig, slip wall. Last stretch! The mud felt amazing, and I scrambled through it like an excited dog, even as I saw a guy cramp up beside me and get stuck. I smiled at the photographer as I emerged from the filthiest water I’ve ever been in. The Multi-Rig was awful, though, like monkey bars but from hell’s jungle gym. Some of the grips were baseballs. I had no grip strength to support my body weight from a freaking baseball, so on my first try, I grabbed the straps they were attached to. Suddenly, my entire side cramped up and I had to let go. “Okay, Andrew, you’re not going to do thirty more burpees right here, and look, there’s all these people watching because you’re so close to the finish line. You can do this.” I tried the Multi-Rig again, slower this time, and using my momentum to swing me from one grip to the other. The last few grips were ropes (let it be known that I hate ropes), and I screamed as I swung the last few distances to hit the bell. When I landed, I saw that my blisters had ripped open.

Still grunting in pain, I flew through the last obstacle and practically glared at the guy who gave me my medal at the finish line, glared at the nice folks who offered me drinks, food, and swag, glared at everyone I saw before I reached the medic tent and had my hands treated.

But after getting water, electrolytes, and calories back in me, I felt a lot better, then went back out to look for my teammates and cheer them on as they crossed. It was so hot, and the temperature just kept rising as the afternoon wore on. Hours later, we all finally reunited, took photos, rinsed off the worst of the mud and cow shit, and got dinner together. I didn’t actually expect the race to be an entire day’s ordeal, but I had left home at 6:30am and got back at 9:30pm.

Two hours, forty-three minutes, and forty-five seconds was my time. Since I raced in the Open category, this put me in 151st place (I’m Mew!) for males, and 32nd in my age group. Over 4,700 people ran this race last week, and I feel proud simply to be among them. We humans do some crazy shit sometimes.

There are three lengths of Spartan Races: I did a Super (8-10 miles), but there’s also the Sprint, which is shorter, and the Beast, which is half-marathon length. At the moment, I’m down to try this again; I want my second and third Trifecta medals for a sense of completion (also, that’s good marketing). But I should remember a few things for next time: arm and leg sleeves to prevent random scratches, gloves to protect my palms from evil ropes, and weeks of upper body strength training prior to the race, because I am a weak little hand puppet when it comes to lifting sandbags into the air.

Have I caught the racing bug? First the Hot Chocolate Run in January, now this obstacle race and another on the radar? I don’t know. But I take a certain amount of pleasure in coaxing my body to accomplish things I didn’t think it could do. I’m thankful for the privilege of able-bodiedness and for having good health. It offers me lots of memorable experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise, and it also allows me to encourage others in my community who may doubt themselves and their abilities. It’s like, “Look, you do have to be able-bodied to run a race like this, but you can start off as a short and scrawny dude and work at it for a few years; before you know it, you’ll be doing your first Spartan Sprint / 5k / Ultimate Frisbee tournament / muscle-up and you’ll realize you had it in you all along!”

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My team with our finishers medals! Look at how dirty and happy we are.

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Word of the Day: bonk, as in “to hit the bonk” or “to bonk after a few miles”, is a slang term used in endurance sports such as long-distance running or cycling. The phenomenon occurs when your body, in particular the liver, runs out of its stores of glycogen, which is converted into energy by your muscles during physical activity. No glycogen means no energy, which means near-instant fatigue. Sometimes the onset is so sudden it’s like running into a wall, hence its other common moniker: “to hit the wall”. Today, I went for an afternoon jog and only came back after I’d hit eleven miles, a personal record. My friend Josh asked me, “Why do you live like this?!” and I just shrugged. When I ran a 15k (9.3 miles) a few months ago, I almost bonked toward the end of the race. I think I’m sort of in personal competition with myself to see how far I can go before I physically can’t anymore.

Posted in life, summer | Tagged , , | 2 Comments