When people ask me about my time at the Brigham Young University, my first inclination is to quote Charles Dickens in the tritest of ways, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the place where, in seven years, I learned to be comfortable being myself by being alone quite a lot because I was okay not fitting in with the vast majority of students. It was also the place where I met people who changed my life in profound ways and who made me want to be the best version of myself. These are people that I still call my friends and I am grateful every day that I met them and that they were part of my BYU experience.
When we flew to Arizona, we had a layover in Salt Lake City. Even though it has been over ten years since my last flight to Utah as a BYU student, every time I get on a plane destined for Salt Lake City, I can’t help but feel like I am just flying back to school again. Since David’s family lives in Utah, it still is a bizarre experience for me to fly to Utah and when leaving the airport, not head south on I-215, but rather head north. I haven’t been to Utah for quite some time, over two years, in fact. I had almost forgotten what it feels like. This trip, it was just an hour layover spent consuming Café Rio in the airport, so it wasn’t particularly deep or meaningful, but it did bring back some things that I thought I had long since gotten over.
On the four hour plane ride from RDU to SLC, I listened to my “BYU Forever” mix. In the two weeks since that time, I have been having a few thoughts, though, that lingering from my time at BYU, I still have some unresolved issues that pop up every now and then. Based on a specific recent experience that I won’t go into details about, I thought back to the times at BYU when I felt incredibly marginalized or like I was treated poorly on account of my sex. It is true that I did not really fit BYU Mormon norms of womanhood. I was incredibly opinionated, outspoken, singularly obsessed with justice and fairness, while at times could overstep into being incredibly judgmental, manipulative, and shamefully cruel. When I saw wrongs perpetuated, particularly against those I cared about, I didn’t have much self-control in speaking out and not caring about other people’s feelings in the process. I think because I didn’t have a “gentle” “soft” way of doing things (which absolutely was expected of even the smart girls at BYU), I probably faced more backlash than others when it came to my own brand of activism. I just didn’t know how to be something else, though. I didn’t know how to tone it down when so many things made me so angry.
BYU was also the place that I came to terms with feeling like that it was okay that I was never going to live up to the ideal Mormon woman that I heard lauded from the pulpit. I was very dogmatic in my views about pretty much everything. I cannot think of a single thing that I didn’t have a strong opinion about, and probably in retrospect, a lot of that was self-preservational on my part. I felt like I had to have incredibly well-thought out and thorough justifications for who I was, because I did feel a sense of rejection from most others.
In the time since I left BYU, I have mellowed tremendously. I like to think that I completely have shaken off the vestiges of caring about what other people would think about me. I think that even the BYU version of myself might have some judgmental comments to say about me in that regard. I am far more pragmatic, and somewhat less concerned about principle. Part of that is just growing up and realizing that the world is never going to present itself as the optimal set of circumstances that I would hope for. For example, ask me how I would have felt about breastfeeding after my International Political Economy of Women class versus ask me about how I feel about breastfeeding today. Gone are the principles, instead you would find pragmatism, because my attitude basically is like, if it works great, but I am not going to beat myself up over it if I have to give my kids some formula instead. My feeling about having a C-section are pretty much the same in being governed by what works the easiest and is the best (I would have been one of those crazy, intense natural birthers in my younger days).
It is unsettling though, how I start to let the opinions of others creep back in and somewhat affect me when it comes to my impending motherhood. For someone who doesn’t really care about what others who think of me in terms of my own life, I don’t know why I suddenly become more affected than I otherwise should be by the opinions of others when it comes to my babies. I realize, I am always going to be doing the wrong thing to some of the conservative types in the LDS church because I plan to keep working full time and cannot conceive of my life without having a career, even if technically David and I could get by on just his income. I also realize to others in the working world, I may seem not as committed to my job now that I am choosing to have kids at the age of 36. I have to just get over this and not worry about it, the same way I have to just let the uninvited opinions and advice of others just roll off my back without getting riled up about things. There are people whose advice and opinions matter to me, but for the mass of humanity, I have to come to the same conclusions that I did with the masses of BYU students who disagreed with me in regard to pretty much everything – that it really doesn’t have anything to do with me.
I leave you with a few selections from my BYU Forever Mix:
Forever Young – Alphaville (If you ever stumbled into a dance/party in the late 1990s at BYU, you better believe you would have heard this song; I have a feeling in the Post-Napoleon Dynamite era, you probably still would hear this song)
In Your Room – Depeche Mode (My senior year, I spent a lot of time between the hours of 1am-3am hanging out with a group of guys that inevitably would pop in their Depeche Mode videos DVD sometime in those early morning hours so they could complain about all the ways that girls were screwing them over.)
Sour Times – Portishead (Sunday afternoon drives in canyons with my most morose of friends)
Summertime – The Sundays (a rare, happy song that still made its’ way into my regular rotation)
In Between Days – The Cure (how many concerts of The Cure did you attend during your university years? I actually don’t think I can count them up).
Tommy the Cat – Primus (One of my close friends was a bass player, and I would get so excited whenever his band would cover this song. We once traveled to Denver so we could stand in the front row to watch Les Claypool play his bass up close).
Bolero – Ravel (I know, its Bolero, but I had a moment of self-actualization hearing the Utah Symphony play this one night at Abravanel Hall).
With or Without You – U2 (One common feature of BYU students who attended BYU at some point in the 90s is that nearly everyone had a significant relationship story that involved this song in some way. It defined a generation of BYU students, most of whom only had CDs in their collection that included U2 or Sting).
No Surprises – Radiohead (Easily the band I listened to the most at college and in law school; There wasn’t an occasion where Radiohead was not an appropriate soundtrack.)
Animations – Le General Defao et Les Big Stars (If only every 15 hour bus ride in East Africa is as happy and upbeat as this song would have you believe, as it is played on repeat over and over again).