February 11, 2010

Giving Birth to Myself

Posted in Academia, birthing, feminism, feminist journey, Patriarchy, school and academics, Self Image tagged , , , , , at 6:36 pm by Gina Messina

As a woman in graduate school I have had very little confidence in my abilities.  Every time I entered a classroom I immediately began to judge myself as the least intelligent person in the room.  I was certainly a victim of the “imposter” syndrome, believing that I just did not belong and that eventually someone would realize they made a mistake in admitting me to the program.  As time went on I noticed that in smaller classes that were largely female I was more open to feeling part of the class and willing to participate in discussions.  However in classes that had large male populations my feelings of inferiority would quickly take me over and it was painful for me to offer any comment whatsoever.  Unfortunately, I was half way through my first year of my doctoral program before I realized that I was allowing myself to be intimidated by men and feel inferior to them as a result of being raised in a patriarchal culture. 

Within my own family, as a girl, I was encouraged to just “pass” my classes and move on because my role in life was to be a wife and a mother.  My grades were not important and finishing high school seemed to be just a formality.  My mom often told me “I hope you find a nice man to marry to take care of you, smarts just isn’t your thing.”  I know, it sounds horrible, and it is, but she meant it in the nicest way possible, especially since she was given the same message her entire life.

That being said, my brother was always encouraged in his academic pursuits, he was a straight “A” student and the family was overjoyed when he was accepted to UCLA.  As a male his role was to achieve great things and his goals were valued.  He was the one that would have an important role in our society.  While there were great expectations for my brother, there was very little expected of me.

It astonishes me that I was in a doctoral program and in my 30’s by the time I made this connection.  It was so embedded in me that I was second rate that even as I was achieving great things in graduate school I could never recognize myself as being on par with my male as well as some of my female classmates.  Once I made this realization, I was able to pay attention to it and work on my overall confidence.

Early on in my graduate career I often thought I would never make a good scholar.  I felt overwhelmed and incapable of achieving anything that would be noteworthy in a world of brilliance.  However, now that I have realized where my confidence issues have come from and that it is not my work that is inferior I have been able to encourage myself if many ways and grow as a person, woman, and academic.  Instead of hiding in the background I have started stepping forward.  I am motivated to demonstrate my true abilities and so I am putting myself out there.  I will be presenting at my first conference in March, submitted an article for publication (which I am still waiting for an answer on), and I have created files of ideas I intend to pursue that I believe will impact the academic and greater community.  It is exciting to finally have confidence and know that I am capable of those things I thought were impossible for so long.

I have stopped allowing myself to feel inadequate and have started encouraging my creative and scholarly abilities.  Making the realization that my confidence issues were imposed and not warranted changed so much for me; I have grown into an entirely different person.  Through my own hard work and dedication to moving past the limits that have been forced upon me all my life, I have given birth to myself, and I love her.

February 7, 2010

My Sermon: Gifts of the Spirit

Posted in Christianity, faith and doubt, Mormonism tagged , , , at 6:18 am by Gaia

Last Sunday I gave a sermon in my Mormon congregation. One of the kind of nice things about Mormonism is that there is no clerical class. Lay people run everything, which means that we all — men and women — take turns giving the sermons. Most Mormons do this once every three years or so.

My topic was gifts of the spirit, and I saw it as a chance to talk progressively about Jesus, the divinity within us all, and diversity leading to unity. I gave this talk to about 350 Mormons, and it was very well received, despite my mentioning of my complex relationship with the Church.

Here are some excerpts:

…{Paul tells the Corinthians that} Just as the body needs various limbs and members, so the church needs people with different spiritual gifts, with each person making her own contribution to the welfare of the whole.

When I read these verses, I see Paul telling us that diversity contributes to unity. We all may have different gifts, some people may be strong and others may be weak, but when one of us suffers, no matter how unimportant that person may seem, the whole body of the Christ suffers. We are to care for one another, no matter our differences.

This idea of diversity contributing to unity is meaningful for me personally. I’m not someone who always feels like I fit easily into standard Mormon molds. I have a somewhat complicated relationship to the church, a relationship characterized by faith and doubt and hope and despair. But despite all my weaknesses and all my quirks, I love the idea that there’s a place for me within the body of Christ. That I have something special, something unique to offer. And that when I suffer, in some way, to some degree, my community suffers as well. Because I’m important. Every single one of us is important, Paul tells us. I find that touching.

And later on in my talk:

My own mother is a person who has a divine ability to care. When my father died when I was a baby, she wanted nothing more than to return back to her home town, so she could be near her parents and sister. But she stayed in Southern California because my brother and I were the only grandchildren on my father’s side. After losing their son, she couldn’t bear to move away and take me and my brother away from my father’s parents. So she stayed. For 25 years she stayed, looking after them in their old age until their death. I’ll never forget when Grandpa was in the hospital nearing the end of his life. The nurse came in and announced my mom, saying, Your daughter-in-law is here!. With tears in his eyes Grandpa said, No. My daughter.  This is my daughter,” as he took her hand. He and Grandma had come a long way. As a Presbyterian family, they had initially been a bit worried about their son marrying a Mormon woman. But by the end of their lives, they certainly could see my mom’s gift for loyalty, and loving and caring, and they adored her for it.

And the very end:

I’ve always loved that Hindu greeting Namaste, which means “The divine in me honors the divine in you.” It cuts to the chase. It goes to the heart of who we are – divine children of Heavenly Parents, working together in this constant process of becoming holy. 

February 4, 2010

Turning My Black Thumb Green

Posted in Art, diversions, Soul, waiting tagged , , , , at 5:19 am by Eostre

Flowers in water color pencils, done on a rainy day in winter

 My friend Becky once told me about this idea she had, where she thought of her life as a compass with the needle constantly spinning. She said that in her life her interests periodically shift. Sometimes she is intensely interested in poetry, sometimes art or fiction or music. Without knowing why, her internal compass will shift, sometimes pointing at one, sometimes at another.

This analogy has stuck with me, because I feel the same way. I have periods of intensely prolific artistic output, but what I am doing, and what I am interested in, is constantly shifting. The usual suspects are painting, writing, making jewelry, knitting, sewing, and crocheting. Over the past 10 years or so I have shifted between these things, spending a month or so painting canvas after canvas, or crocheting a whole menagerie of stuffed animals for my niece. Then just as quickly as I started I stop and pick up something else, and I am writing short stories or building up inventory for a craft fair. I

one of my necklaces

have no control over the shifts, they are subject to some higher authority, and they don’t consult me (this is the case in other aspects of my life as well). I think perhaps it is a combination of restless energy and boredom, most of the time.

I have been sewing a lot lately, but now that has shifted, and I have taken up gardening. This is a new thing for me, because every plant I have ever owned has died a sad, lingering death. I get them verdant and perky, and all too soon they droop and wither, and I never know why. But this time is going to be different, I tell you! I have the right soil and I am planting the seeds, I water carefully and according to the directions on the seed packet, I am determined to make something grow. I want to watch creation that I help along, but don’t control, unlike all of my other cycles. I think this is a step forward.

At least until I shift again.

The first growth in my new garden