Music for the Soul

Hello everyone and happy holiday season!

It turns out that when I was traveling for work and studying for the GMAT, everything else in my life fell by the wayside and I stopped pursuing potential interviews. But I’m hoping to line up some good ones before I travel again in January–wish me luck!

Since it is now December, it seems to everyone is bringing out the Christmas music. To me, the ultimate Christmas music is Handel’s Messiah, but that could be because I performed it as part of the orchestra for four years (and returned to play it for four years after that–my high school lets alums play/sing, and it was family tradition while my sister was in high school).

All this music swelling around me everywhere I go has led me to dwell on the power that music holds. Many people I have interviewed/spoken to outside the interview format have spoken of music and the strange way it can touch (for lack of a better word) the soul. I grew up in a household filled with music–my dad’s passion for classical music is both inspiring and at times grating. My favorite Christmas movie as a young child was Maurice Sendak’s production of the Nutcracker (which is insane and amazing, by the way). My favorite toy was an old electric keyboard at which I would pound away, making what sounded to me like beautiful music (but I’m sure was not).

The first time I consciously realized that music could bring me to tears (as far as I remember) was when I was in chorus in the fifth grade. We were practicing ‘Bist du bei Mir’, and I found myself overwhelmed by the sadness and longing in the song–which is in German. I didn’t need to understand the words. The intent is in the melody.

In middle school and high school, I was in the orchestra. Playing an instrument, as a part of a whole, can be a glorious and transcendent experience. I could forget whatever angsty problem I was having and stop thinking, stop existing within my limited experience and even within the parameters of my own body. I felt lifted, outside physical boundaries, truly and deeply moved.

I was lucky enough to go to Kenya in high school–and there I discovered that perhaps I did believe in a higher power. We attended what appeared to be a choir practice for the students of the boarding school at which we were staying–and I was awestruck. The Kenyan students seemed to be so deeply within the music that they could harmonize effortlessly. There were perhaps fifteen to twenty students, singing and dancing and somehow existing in a different state of being. And it wasn’t an isolated experience. I found it again when we went to church services with them, and once again when one sweet girl sang us a Natalie Furtado song the night before we were leaving. We sat in the dorm, on our beds, as she started to sing–and the other girls picked up the harmony instantly. The song itself is a decent song–but from these girls, it brought me to tears.

Most of my personal examples of music that has moved me or reached me in a particular way are tunes in a minor key, or with a certain sadness to them–a beauty tinged with pain. But there is music that can make one feel triumphant and joyous as well. One of my favorite pieces of music of all time is Saint-Saëns’s Symphony No. 3, “Organ”. You may recognize it:

Now, most of my examples are classical–but there are also some great modern musicians today. Take a listen to Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day”, Gregory Alan Isakov’s “This Empty Northern Hemisphere”, or Vienna Teng’s “The Hymn of Acxiom”. These are just a few of the songs that I have needed at particular times in my life. (Also, the Hymn of Acxiom is particularly interesting, given its subject matter.) And I will also add that at one time, I needed Avenged Sevenfold’s “So Far Away”: when my grandfather died, it was one of the only songs I listened to. (If that isn’t your thing and you have experienced a loss, Anoushka Shankar’s album “Traces of You” is a salute to her father, Ravi Shankar, and includes collaborations with her sister, Norah Jones.)

Music unites us in a way very few things can. I think Neiloy summed it up incredibly well in his interview:

“There’s no biological incentive or advantage given to us for wanting to, for example, dance along with music, to feel it in us and be moved and lifted by it. There’s no biological imperative for that but it’s still something that we all seem to experience….it is, to me, evidence that yes, there is something beyond the nuts and bolts of what we are.”

So this holiday season, I hope you listen to whatever music puts you into the spirit, or helps you feel your spirit, or takes you outside whatever pettiness comes along (come on, you know it can happen). I’ll leave you with my favorite part of Handel’s Messiah.

Interview 9: Emily

Once again, sorry for the gaps in posts. Traveling internationally takes a toll on the blogging! If you want to be updated when I post a new interview, you can subscribe via email (at the bottom of the page), via WordPress, or you’ll see it when I post it on Facebook (since I assume many of you are my Facebook friends). But let’s get to the point–my interview with Emily!

I met Emily over seven years ago, at nerd camp–the Governor’s Honor’s Program in Georgia. We were both selected as “Communicative Arts” majors, a fancy way of saying “bookworms”. The first time I saw her, I knew I was looking at a kindred spirit. I don’t really know why. But we’ve been friends ever since. We went to different high schools and different colleges, but in Atlanta, so we saw each other at least a few times a year and spoke frequently.

Emily once wrote on her blog (check it out, it’s witty and poignant and fantastic) that she feels about me “roughly the same as Leslie Knope feels about Anne Perkins,” which is probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me. And if I am Anne Perkins, she is definitely my Leslie Knope. She’s smarter and more focused, positively adorable, and overall a better person than I–and I would HAPPILY punch anyone for her or make her a last minute wedding dress. She’s also wickedly funny. And I know if I needed her, she would drop everything and be here for me in a second. She’s that kind of friend.

When transcribing interviews, I usually have to edit out a few shared jokey moments or make some things clearer because of my history with the interviewee. What I discovered during my interview with Emily is that not only do we have a habit of understanding where each other is going and interrupting–we also don’t finish sentences because we know the other knows what we are thinking. The result was an interview that made me laugh out loud while I transcribed it and also required a lot of editing for clarity. I’m still not so sure that some of my questions are clear–but Emily knew what I meant. There’s also a bit toward the end where we both started crying–I didn’t keep the actual crying in the transcribed interview, but you’ll probably be able to tell where. We managed to pack a LOT of interview into less than thirty minutes–so this one is a bit long, but it’s definitely worth the read.

Interview 9: Emily

“To be remembered, and remembered well by people you have helped, is a motivation for doing good works, and also for making as much of an impact as you can in your time on this planet.”

Me: If you would go through how you were raised, and how that brought you to where you are religion-wise today?

Emily: Sure! So…my mother was raised as a practicing Reform Jew, and kind of quit practicing herself when she was in high school, and didn’t really identify as a practicing Jew past that point. My dad was raised…my paternal grandfather was raised fairly strictly Baptist and my paternal grandmother is the daughter of a Methodist minister and went to a Methodist college on scholarship as a result. Both of them, I think, had fairly aggressively lost their faith by the time they went to grad school, and they were both in a PhD program, that’s how they met…they were super into the Beats, that was their whole deal, so they super didn’t believe in anything. They identified, I think, my grandfather in particular identifies as an atheist, and so raised my dad not as anything, and my dad pretty aggressively identifies as an atheist at this point, but an atheist descended of Christian stock, so I grew up celebrating Christmas and Easter as non-religious but family holidays. We’d go visit my grandparents.


We always did Thanksgiving with my mom’s side of the family so as a result—because on that side of the family, everyone else is still practicing Jews—we would do Hanukkah then, just called it good. Beyond that, my cousins on that side of the family were all named growing up, so we’d go to my grandmother’s synagogue for the naming; when my grandmother died we had an unveiling after a year–so that side of the family is actually Jewish, and my sister and my dad and I are kind of the anomaly there. So yeah, I was raised—that was kind of roundabout—was raised not really believing anything, didn’t have to go to church, didn’t have to go to synagogue, didn’t have to do any of those things, which was considered super weird by the standards of Tulsa, which is where I grew up. My sister and I used to joke that we’re Jewtheists, but like—there’s a difference, I think, between atheists who …walked away from the faith they were raised in versus people who just weren’t raised with any of that, and we fall into the latter camp. We were never rejecting anything, we just weren’t raised practicing as anything. So as a result, my sister and I both went to Emory, my dad works for Emory, my mom worked for Emory—which is…Methodist affiliated—and so, I don’t think we ever had any issues with that particularly, liberal Methodists being the Unitarians of the Protestant denominations, and so my sister was in the Glenn Methodist Youth Group growing up, and did that kind of stuff; I was involved in the Inter-Religious Council in college…we weren’t really ever like “Fuck religion, it’s the worst,” but we just didn’t—it wasn’t ours.

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Thoughts on Souls and a Great Loss

**Note: I apologize for erratic postings. I still have a fantastic interview I need to post, but my job has me traveling internationally quite a bit so I am without my personal computer…as soon as I get a second to breathe, it will get posted!**

Monday’s tragic news of Robin Williams’s death has cast a pall over the week–and possibly longer. I have noticed that we have all felt the loss to be more personal than in other celebrity deaths, because Williams was someone we couldn’t help but adore–a great man, with great talent, but plagued by his demons.

I don’t want to get into an analysis of his suicide or what it means–the recent news of his Parkinson’s diagnosis might shed some light, but Williams was known to have fought a long battle with addiction, anxiety, and depression. As often happens with deeply thoughtful creative souls, the world might have been too much for him. But this post isn’t about that.

In 1998, Williams was in a film called “What Dreams May Come”. Some of you may have seen it. My parents are huge fans of his, so as soon as the film appeared at Blockbuster (on VHS, of course), we watched it. I was probably nine.

The film fundamentally altered my perception of souls.

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Interview 8: Knox

“Ultimately I see Christianity and my belief as a Christian as a doctrine of grace, and not of condemnation. “

I am so sorry it took me so long to post this one! Life can be a little crazy sometimes, but that’s what makes it fun. I’ve been so excited to share this interview with you for so long, so I’m glad I’m finally able to post it!

I have known Knox since 6th grade. We went to the same private Christian school in Atlanta, and we also went to the same church, so I saw him a lot at Youth Group (where I, in my angsty teenage way, would sit seething at being forced to go) and we both went on a mission trip to Kentucky (where I actually got to know him a little better). At school, we had similar circles of friends and were in the same Peer Leadership group in the ninth grade (long story).

When I first met Knox, I kind of hated him. He is incredibly smart and talented. He was our boys’ valedictorian and one of our fastest runners. He can sing and play the trumpet. His handwriting is impeccable. Everybody loves him. But he corrected my pronunciation of the word “spontaneity” in the hallway in 7th grade, and I WAS NOT PLEASED.

Once I started getting to know him better, through Peer Leadership and the mission trip, I finally got over it. I discovered that he is his own toughest critic. And I realized that Knox wasn’t some mystical creature who knew how to do EVERYTHING, he is a person, and a good person at that.

Interviewing Knox was delightful. I wish I had recorded our entire conversation, but it was about two hours long. (The block quote below is from our broader conversation.) He is thoughtful and careful with his words, and was incredibly open and honest. Afterward, we watched some dragonflies flitting about the pond in my backyard for about twenty minutes, trying to figure out what they were doing. It was a quiet, peaceful moment. That kind of curiosity and his desire to understand the world around him are why I am grateful to know Knox.

Interview 8: Knox

“God is in the asymptotes.”

Me: We went to Methodist church together, but back then I was already agnostic, so I was probably kind of closed off…I would like to know where you put yourself on the spectrum of religious identity these days.

Knox: I identify as a Christian, but—since you mention that we went to a Methodist church together—I don’t necessarily identify as a Methodist. Technically I am still on the books as a Methodist, but starting in college, most of the churches I’ve attended have been churches where I worked.  So those have included a very conservative Catholic church, a Cooperative Baptist church, an ELCA Lutheran church, a non-denominational university church, a non-denominational chapel, and two Episcopal churches.

Me: So all over the place!

Knox: So, pretty much all over the place. Participating in worship at so many different churches has been very informative for me, in terms of exposure to different traditions, and having a chance to consider the differences in theology among those denominations. I have found that I don’t necessarily identify with one denomination more strongly than another. I think the most important thing for my faith is identifying as a Christian, and I think Calvin was the one who talks about layers of doctrine—which is funny since I have not attended a Presbyterian church—but Calvin talks about layers of doctrine, and I’ve often thought about that myself. I think there are sort of core tenets that matter to me the most, and then the rest sort of gets less and less important. Obviously other people find some of those things very important, and those are why we have different denominations. Most recently I’ve had Episcopal leanings, partially from the churches where I’ve worked, and then some of my friends who are Episcopal seminarians, but while I was working at the Lutheran church I thought I might join the Lutheran church. [laughs] So I guess I’m a bit all over the map right now.

Me: That’s totally fair! I think it’s good to have shifting religious beliefs because that means you are constantly thinking about them. So what are the tenets that you mentioned? What, to you, is the most important part of your faith? What makes you define yourself as a Christian?

Knox: So to me, the central element of Christianity is my belief that Jesus was the Son of God and died for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins, and was resurrected. That to me, in a nutshell, is the core of Christianity. Now, beyond that, I think that also entails, then, that there is a God—these are the underpinning things—that there is a God, that God created the world. Obviously for different people that means different things; to me there’s no conflict between science and religion. And then I think as you expand out from that, largely, I think, I believe the Apostle’s Creed, which we grew up reciting every Sunday at our Methodist Church. I think that’s supposed to be a summary of our faith, and for me, that remains the summary of my faith. So that of course entails believing in the Holy Spirit, which I do…I do think believing in the Trinity is an important part of Christianity as well. Which of course forms one of the most fascinating paradoxes of our belief, that is something that…try as theologians have to find some way to rationalize it and make a logical understanding out of it, I think most people agree that that’s one of those things that you just have to, at some point, say, “This is what I believe, and it is a paradox,” and to me, that’s an important part of faith. While I don’t believe that my faith conflicts with my beliefs as a rational human being, I do think that there are aspects of my faith that…as the word suggests, you just have to take without proof.  So then the question is, why do you believe those things? And I think I believe those things because of my experiences in the world. Paul talks, in Romans, the first chapter—and it’s also in other parts of the Bible as well—about what we call general revelation. And I think, as many people do, I’ve had numerous experiences in my life in which I feel that there’s something divine, something larger, active in my life. And then also, since I brought up science earlier, I think looking at the way our universe is structured and the marvels of everything from the beauty of nature to quantum physics, to me indicate some sort of intelligent presence. And for me that is God.


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Hello everyone!

So…the weeks have been a bit more busy than expected…and I haven’t transcribed my interview for today quite yet. BUT it is an awesome interview and y’all will love it…once I post it. Which will be soon. I promise.

Also, I have decided to post every OTHER Monday (…or slightly later…), as work has picked up quite a bit. That said, occasionally I might be able to get a bunch of interviews done, and will post as I am able. Every interview opens my eyes a little more to the vastness of the spectrum of beliefs, and yet, in the end, I find more similarities than differences. I deeply believe in the power of open discussion, and I hope that my interviews help to show how beneficial it can be.

Finally, I have added a widget so that you can subscribe via email, which will be at the bottom of each post. Some of you have already noticed, and thank you for subscribing! A friend pointed out it would be a useful option for those who want to be updated when I post something new (and since my record of posting on time has been spotty, might be easier than checking back on Mondays).

Thanks for reading and for all of your support, y’all rock.

Interview 7: Neiloy

My freshman year of college, I lived in the Honors Dorm and took several Honors classes. One such class was Honors Calc II, or, one of the worst mistakes I have ever made (okay, that’s a slight overstatement). While I was woefully unprepared for the class, I am still grateful that I took it, because it gave me some of the best friends that I had in college: my Breakfast Club. After class or recitation, a group of us of would head to the dining hall, grab some of the “food” that they served there and talk about whatever we wanted. It was more often than not an incredibly nerdy conversation, but come on, we were taking Honors Calc II at Georgia Tech, I don’t know what you expected. After that first semester, most of Breakfast Club disbanded, but Neiloy, our friend George, and I kept meeting for breakfast (along with various others) for the rest of college. Sometimes I would feel completely alone and down in the dumps, but with Breakfast Club I always managed to forget whatever was keeping me down and laugh until I cried. I knew I could always count on them.

Neiloy is one of the best people out there. He actually helped me move once–and you know you have a true friend if they help you move (seriously, I have no idea how we would have gotten my bed out of my apartment without him). He is probably one of the (if not the) smartest people I know, but he is not arrogant. He is kind and thoughtful and when he moved away for work, I missed him very much! A couple weeks ago I found out he was back in town temporarily for a project, so Breakfast Club reconvened–and I realized I had never known his religious beliefs, so I asked if I could interview him. Of course, being the kind of friend he is, Neiloy had been reading my blog, even though I didn’t know it–and he even had a bone to pick with something specific I had said, so he was reading closely (Neiloy disagrees with my assertion that Georgia Tech was intellectually un-stimulating, so now, public, you have another opinion). I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing him and found that, despite our differences in culture, I very much agree with much of his core belief system. I hope that y’all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening.

Interview 7: Neiloy

“We are all intertwined in a single divine nature.”

Me: So, Neiloy, first off, I’d like for you to actually tell me what you believe because I realized that I have no idea, and I’ve been friends with you for quite some time, so I’m kind of shocked we haven’t talked about this! If you wouldn’t mind, give me a basic description of your beliefs as they stand today.

Neiloy: Okay, so first I’m going to comment that it’s not exactly surprising that we haven’t talked about it actually. There are two things that kind of inform a lot of discussions about my beliefs. One is that when you’re talking about religion here, most conversations that I’ve been in, in the US, that talk about religion, you’re talking about Christianity; and if you’re not talking about Christianity you’re talking about Judaism; and if you’re not talking about Judaism you’re asking me why I don’t wear a turban; and then you get to talking about, for example, Hinduism, which is the belief system that I most closely subscribe to. The other thing that informs discussions about my beliefs is the way I was raised. I was born to two immigrant parents from India, where it’s difficult to separate religion from culture, which means that religion is just something that permeates. So as a result of that, when they came to the US and I was born and they raised me, one of the things that wasn’t really consciously on their mind was religion, so I grew up in not quite an agnostic household, but in a household where those questions just didn’t arise often. And when you’re three and four years old you’re not necessarily asking those big questions unless someone is telling you to. But yes, I subscribe to Hinduism.


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Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

I already wrote an introduction to this post–and I once again apologize for the lateness. Sometimes life catches up with me. But I have finally transcribed my interview with Damon, and I am so excited to share it with you. It’s a long one, but worth reading, I promise you. So without further ado…

Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

“I just believe by faith that being in a relationship with something greater than me, God, is going to be better than what I’m doing now.”

Me: So basically, through my interview, I want to get an understanding of your beliefs and how you came to them. If you could use a sentence to describe your faith today, how would you describe it?

Damon: Oh gosh. A sentence to describe my faith?

Me: Well, okay, a paragraph. [laughs]

Damon: A paragraph. [pauses] So I believe in God, and I believe that the revelation of who God is, the character of God, God’s expectations, came through his son Jesus, who came to Earth approximately—the engineer in me won’t say two thousand years ago—approximately two thousand years ago, and that based upon the life that he lived, the way he lived his life, the sacrifice of his life, that he died for my salvation. So that would be the elevator speech of my faith.

Me: Good elevator speech. That’s exactly the terminology I should have used. [laughs] So how were you raised, and how did you come to those beliefs? Have you always believed that, or has there been a transition for you at any time?

Damon: That’s hilarious. No, I have not always believed that. I grew up in the most religiously nebulous household in the world. So, my mother, I would say is agnostic? She’s tried to come to an understanding of faith, most of her life, she’s tried to come to an understanding of God, just hasn’t been able to. When I was a kid growing up, she went to a Roman Catholic church. Every Christian and Judaic Christian denominational affiliation, she visited. Now she kind of goes to an interfaith center, so a place of spirituality and worship, but they would not claim any particular faith. My father grew up in an old-school Black Baptist church. His family went to that church. But during my childhood he was like a Sunday Christian. So Christianity wasn’t the core of his existence. He went to church on Sunday. He dressed up to the nines—excuse me, let me change my vernacular—he dressed as well as you possibly can—

Me: I understand what “dressed up to the nines” means. [laughs]

Damon: So you dressed to the nines and you went to church, and there was this old guy who had on this robe, and he got angry, and started yelling and screaming, who knew what he was yelling and screaming about, God was in there somewhere…. When I was a kid, to be perfectly honest, growing up, even through high school, I didn’t like going to the church. I loved the music, I didn’t like the length. Sunday, football season…I wanted to go home and watch the game. And the church wasn’t really about teaching. I didn’t learn very much. I didn’t learn about Jesus, I didn’t learn about this concept of faith. And then my mother—so the Catholic church—the music wasn’t hitting—this is going to sound totally racist, and it’s totally inappropriate, but I’m gonna say it anyway—black people are very—we’re rhythm-based people, and we’re into music, so these other churches that were singing like [breaks into falsetto Latin chant-singing], like you just can’t get with that. I couldn’t get with that. I needed something with a little more rhythm. So when I got to college, Georgia Tech, I went to church maybe twice? My entire collegiate career. Both times, it was because of a woman. [laughs] It had nothing to do with God at all.

So I didn’t actually come to faith, interestingly, until I was 24, actually, your age. I was a PhD student at the University of Michigan, I had just gotten my Master’s, and my roommate was going to this church, another typical Baptist church. The difference was the pastor was a teaching pastor, so he taught a lot. I used to not like people of faith, and Christians, I thought they just—the engineer in me, the scientist, I thought they just wanted to explain everything away with faith. He was very very very good at teaching. I was going because I liked the music, and I appreciated the teaching, and right at the age of 24 I went through this very traumatic experience—well it was traumatic for me at the time, looking back on it it’s not traumatic—where my advisor left the University of Michigan and went to Cornell, and he couldn’t take me with him. So I was stuck at Michigan with no advisor, not knowing if I was going to finish my PhD. Now I look back on it, not that big a deal, at the time it was like the world was ending, if I didn’t know what I was going to do with my doctorate. So that was how I came to faith.

Damon's official photo

Damon’s official photo

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Interview 6: An Introduction

Hi everyone! I am currently in the process of transcribing the interview I am supposed to post tomorrow, but due to a week full of mishaps and insanity (at this point, all I can do is laugh) I have not completed my blogging duties. I am helping a friend move to Denver from the Twin Cities tomorrow so I will HOPEFULLY have everything transcribed and post when we arrive. I’m very excited about this interview (to be fair, I’m excited about all of them) and I can’t wait to share it with you. To pique your interest, I have written an introduction to explain my relationship with the interviewee. So get excited.


Interview 6: Damon

An Introduction

To properly introduce my next interviewee, I must explain the circumstances under which I met him.

Those who know me know that I attended Georgia Tech, a school known for the quality of engineers it turns out. Part of creating these engineers entails destroying their psyches through sleep deprivation, an unyielding workload, and belittlement through grade deflation. But I digress.

Georgia Tech is a challenging school, but an intellectually un-stimulating one. Open discussion is a rarity for some majors, and non-existent for others. Professors are not there to teach, but instead are there to do research—teaching is an unfortunate side-job.

When I stepped into Damon’s class, I was a fourth year Industrial Engineering student. I was burned out on math class after math class, at the tail end of a three-year emotionally abusive relationship, and tired of classmates who seemed to only care about schoolwork, complaining about schoolwork, and drinking.

Damon’s first day of class was clearly intended to be an eye-opener, and it certainly was. He is an imposing presence on first encounter: tall, broad-shouldered, and—an unfortunate rarity in the engineering world—Black. He speaks clearly and precisely, his sentences are measured and calm, and you can’t help but be drawn in to what he is saying. Especially when, on the first day of class, he tells you there will be a quiz next class on the concepts he teaches that day. He wanted us to learn, and to learn well—and to be disciplined in our learning.

I was intrigued and terrified.

When I sat down the next night to study for this impending quiz, I got a phone call from my mother, telling me that my grandfather had collapsed at a routine dentist’s appointment and they didn’t think he would make it through the night.

While waiting for my parents to pick me up on the way to the hospital in Macon, I shot some emails to my professors, explaining I would be missing class. The email I spent the most time crafting was the one to Damon—I was terrified at the prospect of missing his quiz. I knew I couldn’t get in trouble for it—but it wasn’t the first impression I wanted to leave on such an imposing professor.

The next several days were a whirr. I stayed up all night in the hospital, as we waited for the news we already knew—my grandfather was brain-dead. We took him off life support and stayed with him until he took his last breath. I alternated between being overwhelmed with despair and being completely void of emotion.

I came home, went to class, went back to Macon for the funeral, came home again, and rescheduled my quiz with Damon.

I tried to study. Or rather, I tried to try to study. Instead I filled the emptiness with Netflix and Hulu. I didn’t care anymore.

When I walked into Damon’s office to take the quiz, I was surprised by his warmth and kindness. He had demonstrated his healthy sense of humor in class but the formidable professor was all of a sudden also a caring mentor. I didn’t know the solution to the quiz. I shrugged and tried to laugh it off, wanting to escape back to my cave of candy and dumb movies.

But Damon cared. He wanted me to understand the concept. He didn’t accept my failed quiz—he told me to come back and take it again when I was ready.

In my entire college career, I had never experienced such a feeling.

Once I realized how much Damon wanted us to learn in his class, I wanted to learn from him. He seemed to have as much stake in our success as we did—and it just made me want to impress him.

Of course, he knew my name from the first week of class, which meant he called me out whenever I wasn’t paying attention. I intentionally always sat in the front of a class to force myself to keep my eyes on the board, but even then had had trouble maintaining concentration. Damon called my attention back. He asked me to answer questions. I was so used to going off in a daze I no longer knew how to answer when a professor called on me. He helped me walk through the problem until I found the solution. It could be embarrassing and awkward, but it truly helped me learn.

The difference between Damon and most of my other professors was that Damon didn’t just care. He held me to a higher standard. Which, in turn, forced me to hold myself to that standard.

I got a B in his class. I’m still mortified to this day. I was less upset about the grade than I was about disappointing him.

But Damon did not just positively affect one class of one semester. Through him, I scored an internship in which I discovered I could be passionate about my major and what it allows me to do. I was so burnt out and broken down I hadn’t considered I might actually like being an industrial engineer—and all of a sudden, I was discovering a passion I thought I would never find. Without that internship, without Damon, I would not be where I am today.


When I heard that Damon had become a pastor, I was not surprised.

He is everything a pastor should be: passionate, thoughtful, observant, and open-minded. He speaks with intention and listens patiently. I am certain he will have great impact on this world, because I know he has already positively impacted me.  



Hey y’all. Like I said in my last post, I’d like to know if you would be interested in having some of the long interviews posted with the actual interview as well (though it will be infinitely more embarrassing for me, it might be easier to listen to a thirty minute interview than to read it).

Please let me know what you think! If there’s enough support, I will make the change. And as usual, any feedback is encouraged. Even if you came here because I use my Tinder as advertising. (I do what I can, people. Trying to share open dialogue is surprisingly difficult. Also I am learning so much about the areas I travel to for work–Ann Arbor, way to be the best at actually reading my bio/going to the blog. South Carolina, no I’m not looking to hook up. Peoria–jury is still out.)

Thanks for your help! I love you guys.

Interview 5: …Me.

I had not realized how many verbal tics I have until I listened to my interview. Taylor was a wonderful interviewer, asking poignant questions and finding new questions from my answers. Perhaps I should hand my job over to her!

Introducing my own interview–and putting block quotes from myself–seems a little odd, so I’m going  ahead and writing it. Please let me know what you think! Also I think I’m going to post a poll as to whether or not people want the sound recordings of the interviews. Transcribing allows for editing and deleting my colloquialisms (some, I did try to keep it honest), but for long interviews such as my own, perhaps a sound version would be more appropriate? As an accompaniment, exclusively. So when I figure out how to post a poll, please do let me know your thoughts.

Interview 5: Me

“Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.” –Carl Sagan

Taylor: Well, thanks for allowing for allowing me to interview you, Lillie.

Me: Thanks for interviewing me! I really appreciate it.

Taylor: I’m excited about it, because when you were interviewing me, I wanted to ask you questions. Now here we are!

Me: Now you can!

Taylor: First, if you’d explain your religious background, history, exposure, etcetera.

Me: Yeah! So…when I was little, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and all the same stuff that everybody goes to when you’re Christian. It was at my preschool, which was a Methodist church. When you’re little you kinda just accept everything that’s told to you, so I was just like, “God is a person. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This is fact, and this is what they have told me.” And then I got a little bit older and my mom told me that my dad didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t tell anyone.

Taylor: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) At first I was kinda like, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in God?” I thought that God was just like, a thing. I mean I pictured him as this cleanly shaven old man who hung out in the clouds and just looked at us. Everyone always said he had a beard and I was like, “In my mind he’s very cleanly shaven.” He looked kind of like Mr. Rogers, in my head. Just so you know. (laughs) So that was my first exposure to understanding that people could believe different things. I just assumed that everybody was taught the same stuff. And then…I don’t really know at what point I understood that there were different religions, but there came a point in elementary school when I was like, “I don’t believe in God either.”  I think I was nine or ten. And I had been reading Time magazine and listening to NPR for quite some time, at this point in my life. So I thought I knew everything. I stopped saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was like, “There needs to be separation of church and state. This is important.” Of course nobody notices the ten year old who just stops saying the Pledge of Allegiance halfway through and then just resumes it!

Lillie  Continue reading