the public library

Prospect Park on a Saturday afternoon in July is a quick jog from the coffee shop that gives you CBD oil in your coffee and catty-corner to the Brooklyn Public Library. It’s always that way, but my mental map will always include the wispy breezes and small group cacophonies of a Saturday afternoon in July.

What’s your relationship with the library? What do you make of the rows of books, untended corners, and each person clacking at a public-use computer?

My mom and I used to joke that no one outside our family could survive the marathon event of the Johnston-Leggs at a bookstore, or worse—a library. My mom is a children’s librarian, and our rhythm of together, apart, together, apart in any location with books seems ingrained in my DNA. “What’d you find, anything good?” “I’m going to go look at nonfiction…” “Want me to hold anything of yours?” (A classic of my mom’s, even when her arms are stacked higher than mine.)

I notice the too-shiny linoleum floors, the type of shine that only accentuates the scuff marks and cracks that I didn’t know linoleum could have. I notice the Astaire biography on the shelf across from a book about the Russian Orthodox Church, the stark contrast between the types of shows they’re both putting on.

I pass by a poster on how to read the Bible in the original Hebrew; the headline reads “In the beginning” and I start humming a song from Vacation Bible School:

“In the beginnnnnning
Godcreatedtheheavensandtheearth”

(That’s the pacing, I promise. Does anyone know this song?)

My mind tells me go out there, live a visible life, Instagram yourself and drink more alcohol than you already do and fill all the moments with activity. My soul wants to be right in here among millions of words and people who also value them.

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being left out and let in

Others don’t benefit from my tendency to act like I have better places to be—whether I do or don’t.

This is a truth that bears repeating: my fragile ego, not any other person, is the singular “thing” that is propped up, cared for, and tended to when I act like I have better places to be than where I am right now.

I remember the acute awareness I felt in high school when I knew everyone else was hanging out without me, and the somehow even-more-painful awareness that I was invited for part of something, but not the whole thing. Like my the double whammy of my personality and lack of social capital couldn’t bring it home for anyone.

“Oh yeah, we’ll text you if we’re doing anything later…” (no) Not enough fancy clothes, not enough money, no membership in the group.

I remember feeling that way in high school and making other people feel it in college.

“It’s just like… I have enough friends… you know?” I justify the callousness away. (no) Not enough social intelligence, not enough shared vocabulary, not one of us. (i think, but it’s arbitrary)

I moved to New York and I have friends and roommates and coworkers and coworkers and roommates who are friends but I also don’t yet have the interconnected web of 30+ lay-on-the-couch, Chick-Fil-A run, no-need-to-fill-the-silence, kitchen table debrief friends that I had because I lived in Nashville for 5 years.

I can’t compare the two but that’s all I can do. I compare how I didn’t give a shit about doing things alone in Nashville like seeing movies and going to work out because I knew I had cool fun friends
and they just didn’t want to come
or introverted Kendall didn’t want them to come
or something

and now here everything I do alone is an exercise in necessity (seriously, bc your girl needs bug spray) and prying my worth away from my huge, huge ego

Continue reading “being left out and let in”

my body can

I’m so thankful my body can move. My body was made to move around and my legs can literally take me places. I’m so glad there are so many different types of movement in the world and I get to pick whichever is right for me each day.

I’m so brokenhearted that I take my body’s ability to move around this world for granted every single day. My tendency is to let my thoughts circle around how my body looks instead of what it can do–and more importantly, that it just exists. I wish I cared less about that but I probably won’t soon. So let me know if you care about that too and we can talk about it.

My world of health includes images of all sizes of people. People who are size 2 and size 18 are both real–one size is not, by definition, more authentic than another, even though one size has, in recent history, spent more time in the spotlight as our culture’s desired build. I’m so thankful that my world of health includes people of all sizes, because if that weren’t true I probably wouldn’t have decided it was okay for my body to move in public, in front of other people.

Here’s the reality of my body: I’m a size 8 pretty consistently, but a 10 on some days and 6 on others and I’m tired of feeling like I’m the bigger size on “bad” days and the smaller size on “good” days. It’s really just fine any way it shakes out because my body is a living organism.

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your whole self

The night (or early morning) that I sat in one of our dining halls and wrote this, in April 2016, a student at Vanderbilt died by suicide. I learned of her death the next day, April 22nd, and in its wake, struggled to accept that I had written so specifically about the heartbeat of a university. I felt callous for romanticizing a place that houses people in pain.

Over four years at Vanderbilt, on Brillo pad dorm-room carpet and in dark passenger seats, I had countless conversations where either party offered up one variation of the following: “I’ve thought about transferring.” “I need to leave.” “I can’t do this—suicide seems like the best option.” From those conversations, I’m convinced that feeling like an imposter in your own community, at your own school, in your own body or mind, can become the ruling narrative of anyone’s life. It’s easiest for our minds to understand when someone who didn’t have a visible community dies by suicide, but the same exact experience can take hold of someone who seems like she “has it all.”

In those four years at school, from August 2013 to May 2017—I just checked my student email—I received eight emails with the subject line “Death of a Student,” both undergraduate and professional students, suicide and other causes. Since I graduated in May, one undergraduate student has died by suicide.

Madison Holleran was a freshman in college the same year as I was, moving in during the fall of 2013. She went to Penn, in Philadelphia, and ran for the track team. I let a book about her life, What Made Maddy Run by Kate Fagan, sit on my shelf for two months before reading it.

I saw a lot of myself and those I know in Fagan’s account of Madison’s story, but the following is the most painful for me:

In that moment, the word “Vanderbilt” no longer represented a group of distinguished buildings in Nashville, boys in penny loafers and sorority girls drifting from class to class. The school represented something much more elusive: hope.

Continue reading “your whole self”

is

the world is not mine to conquer
the world is not mine to conquer
the world is not mine to conquer

who–you–little, white thing–
create your world and own each piece

lay the bricks and spread the mortar of a ten-mile radius of relevance,
this is the whole world–
an outpost at your childhood home to steady your bones

no
the world is big and wild and
you know close to nothing

Continue reading “is”

hi there

I graduated college a little over two months ago, and started my job just about a month ago.

I wasn’t expecting to miss so deeply the feeling of belonging to a place so much bigger than myself — this is who I am, I go to Vanderbilt, you probably know it, I count on its size and reputation to swallow me whole so I don’t have to stand upon my own merit — but I have, a lot, since I’ve left Vanderbilt.

The feeling of being “just” a college student provided me comfort I didn’t acknowledge until I didn’t have it any longer. I liked being just a college student because I wasn’t yet measured by any standard other than the ranking of my university and its perceived grandeur in the minds of others. I still introduce myself as “Kendall, I just graduated from Vandy this past May!” and feel parallel strains of the desire to be worthy by my lonesome and the comfort of the soft cushion of my education. I haven’t yet decided to embrace the role of Kendall, adult, employed.

In the past little while that I’ve refrained from writing here, I’ve been learning how much relational power I exert over my circumstances and the people around me, sometimes without knowing. One of the dark parts of my personality is that I can be pretty manipulative, and understand how to use my position in social situations for my benefit.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my roommates and I went to a spin class on a rainy Thursday morning and it was hard. The instructor was sweet and spirited and I wanted so much to be good enough at it to not hate her encouraging chant-yells throughout the class. At one point I looked her,  a bright spotlight on her furiously pedaling body in the middle of the room, and thought, “She’s literally really good at moving her legs in a circle really fast. That’s not a transferrable skill.”

I finished the class, splashing water on my face in the bathroom with an air of superiority in my head – “I’ve decided what’s important and it’s not being good at spin classes.”

Returning my shoes:

“So I’m fine.”

Smiling at the instructor knowingly:

“Thanks.”

What the hell does that say about who I think I am?

“I’ve figured out what matters and it’s not this.”

Since that day the Lord has shown me that my bravado – my tendency toward know-it-all-ness, my knee-jerk reaction to put myself first in my list of important egos to tend to today – shows a deeper need for him than I have ever known and this is so, so beautiful.

In 1 Timothy, Paul says this:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Immense patience. This is not only an immense sin and immense grace game we’re playing here with God, this is also a game of the most frustrating child you’ve ever babysat for, the most heartbreaking addiction you’ve ever watched ruin a friend’s life, the most hated sin that continues to worm its way back into sacred relationships.

How many times do I have to tell the Lord I know myself and have fairly evaluated my ego and self-importance before I’m dead and in the ground? Countless more times, if I know myself. I hope this first year post-grad finds me stumbling into my sinful nature a lot more, enough to start learning the insufficiency of myself and the sufficiency of my Savior.

be a home

A few months ago, one of my roommates came and stood in the doorway of my room–her usual perch. She was externally processing about comparison, something along the lines of “I’ve just had to accept that I’ll never look like her.”

She left my room before I could formulate what I was feeling into words. I knew that I could tell her, “You are beautiful! I see it!”–though I knew that wouldn’t be helpful. Instead, the thought that lingered a little longer, the one that choked me up:

“You are more than someone who I look at and judge based on beauty.
You are home to me.”

Sometime sandwiched between the frenzy of freshman year and the nervous energy of this one, I must have stopped seeing my friends as any stranger might see them and started seeing all our memories wrapped up in one face. When my friends get home at night, I don’t think, “You would be much prettier if…”. I think, “It’s you. You! You mean so much to me.”

Now that I can articulate that I see people this way, all I’m pretty sure we can ever ask of ourselves is to keep looking toward the Lord and bringing the other one along for the ride, learning as we go–nothing else needs to change, as much as our insecurities might tell us otherwise.

When I duck into a friend’s dorm room, or get into the shotgun seat of another one’s car, or sit down at our standard-issue common room table to share a meal, I am home. I am home when I can be honest, when I can cry, when I am both challenged to listen more and still shown that I matter. A home is created when we make traditions out of camping trips and when we perch on our couch looking out the window, filling the time just to be together. A home is created when my roommate and I talk from our beds with the lights out, belly laughs punctuating the otherwise-quiet of drifting into sleep.

Places get a lot of credit for covering us in the tight bear-hug of home, but I think people are more deserving of the honor.

We graduated yesterday, and I’ll never stop being surprised at how the Lord shows up when we decide to jump into community without knowing all the answers. Thank you–for not being satisfied when I cling to shallow conversation, for being a home to me and teaching me how to be one as well. I can only pray to keep learning to be a home to others.