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10 distinct pleasures (and pains) only an RA knows

I wrote this post last August but forgot to publish it for whatever reason.  It’s still appropriate, although this year I have fewer residents and I’d like to think I’m a bit more seasoned to the wise ways of the RA.  Here’s the post – may it serve as a snapshot of my mind approximately one year ago today.


my old floor. love each one of these guys.

It’s easily been one of the most stressful weeks of my life.

I haven’t gotten a lot of sleep lately, my skin is breaking out, I’m failing at being a good brother, my classes are moving forward and I’m still struggling to catch up.

I’m wondering how to balance being a resident advisor on top of all my commitments.  But I’m soothed by some things I’ve noticed on my floor lately, so I wanted to write about them here.

Here are ten distinct pleasures only an RA knows, ten reasons I know my residents and I are going to get along just fine:

  1. Brushing your teeth and one of your residents walks in to the bathroom and stops and starts looking at you.  You’re like “what’s up?” and he’s like “oh, I gotta take a huge dump but I don’t want you to have to smell it so I’ll wait for you to finish.”
  2. Walking down the hall and seeing residents who stop in their tracks to read your new bulletin boards.
  3. Seeing residents out and about on campus and having them give you not only the acknowledging up head nod but also the respectful down head bump.
  4. Knowing you have early classes tomorrow but hosting around 15 residents in my room to either play cards against humanity or fishbowl and having a blast anyway.
  5. Getting to practice the things I’m learning in my social work coursework with my floor: how are you feeling today?
  6. Small talk.  Hearing lifelong friendships begin to seal and cement in real time.
  7. Being a role model.
  8. Not having your door decs torn down or vandalized.
  9. Meeting so many international students – I have residents from Japan, Australia, Spain, China, and Korea.  There are so many languages going around, and we have even created stickers to label items on our floor for our Japanese student Kazuhiro.
  10. Seeing all the random objects – shoes, socks, trash bins, scotch tape, and shower caddies – that residents use to prop open their doors, as you proudly walk down the hallway.

As a fun addendum to this article, I’ll add 10 distinct pains and annoyances only an RA knows, which I wrote just now:

  1. When your residents try to sneakily keep (weird) pets – gerbils, frogs, ball pythons – in their rooms hidden under their beds.
  2. Hearing echo from the bathroom that persistent, annoying hrrrrrcgh clearing-of-the-throat sound.  Having it infect your dreams. (This may happen more on male floors)
  3. Paper.  Work.  They misbehave – and you have to write a detailed incident report about it.
  4. The sickly sweet sour smell of freshmen frequenting fraternities vomit.
  5. Knocks on your door at 3am for the most absolutely asinine reasons – my pet died! I’m locked out of my room in a towel!
  6. Finding unflushed toilets and piles of body hair in the showers.
  7. Getting severe written redirections from your supervisors for giving charitable interviews to your school paper (just me?).
  8. Planning an exquisite, creative floor event and marketing for it for weeks only to discover that no one shows up.
  9. Having to send your significant other six floors away to find an opposite gender bathroom.
  10. Learning to distrust more than anything else the smell of fresh Febreeze on a Friday evening.

the peculiar gnosticism of Andy Crouch

Last year, Andy Crouch (executive editor of Christianity Today) published an article called Sex Without Bodies (non-paywall), where he publicly mused on the “LGBTQIA coalition” and the “challenges [it presents] for the church.”  In his post, after clearly rhetorically demarcating “the church” as an entity entirely separate from its “LGBTQIA neighbors,” Crouch pointedly levels the charge of gnosticism against queer people and those of us who believe that same sex relationships can be blessed by God.  According to Crouch, members of this camp are not faithfully attempting to revisit scripture in light of new anthropological evidence, but instead simply embracing a very old heresy – ideological detachment from the physical world.

Before I address how valid his particular charge is, it’s worth noting that Crouch’s argument here isn’t at all surprising; by his own admission, LGBTQ individuals are gaining societal ground, an influence which certainly extends to the church.  The unspoken aim of his article, then, seems to be to galvanize his fellow nonaffirming Christians, urging them to resist and continue to stand strong against ever rethinking their theology and sexual ethics.  Crouch’s clarion call comes across loud and clear to conservative readers: even when the ground beneath their strongest biblical arguments falls away, “the church” must still disapprove of homosexuality because unlike those people, we believe that bodies matter.

What this rhetorical shift here should signify is a trend that has long been operating in many evangelical circles – as careful biblical scholarship continues to erode at the traditional ways in which nuanced scriptural passages have been unilaterally weaponized against an entire class of people, nonaffirming Christians are forced to increasingly rely on extra-biblical arguments.  Okay, they concede, the Sodom and Gomorrah story isn’t actually about gay people.  And maybe the Levitical purity codes don’t apply to Christians in the slightest.  And sure, it’s also increasingly questionable how relevant Pauline New Testament condemnations of licentious, selfish same-sex behavior are to a conversation about consensual, committed, Christ-centered unions.

But, injects Crouch, even if we can no longer responsibly make the case that the Bible unambiguously denies queer sexual and gender identity (not to mention intersex people, who do not fit into neat male and female categories) the Man/Woman bond is obviously established in our bodies and is therefore universally demanded by God.

This move away from the Bible is disheartening, but not entirely surprising considering Crouch’s entire argument consists of vaguely appealing to hazy, inexact notions of “male–female complementarity” to cement his unique commitment to excluding LGBTQ bodies from the body of Christ.

Christianity Today

If asked what specific aspect it is about Christ-centered same sex relationships that violates any established biblical precept or command, Crouch’s answer would probably include the hallowed words “gender roles.”  And yet as Bible scholar James Brownson has pointed out, nonaffirming Christians often mean very different things when they roughly gesture at the Bible and slap the “gender roles” sticker on the queer Christians in their midst.  Rather than ending all dissent, this move often signals the beginning of a very confusing conversation.  (Update: I just discovered that Professor Brownson has actually written a post where he addresses Crouch in part here – and does so far more elegantly than I could ever hope to.)

For example, when Crouch affirms “embodied sexual differentiation” – invoking a form of the old Adam-and-Eve-not-Adam-and-Steve argument to condemn LGBT relationships and identity – is his reasoning truly physical anatomical complementarity?  Is homosexuality a sin because of what scholar Robert Gagnon callsthe glovelike physical fit of the penis and vagina“?

Or when he singularly promotes “normative sexuality” and calls an entire swath of the church disordered, is Andy Crouch talking about procreative potential?  That is, is he affirming the Catholic church’s commitment to “Natural Law” and subsequently labeling all non-procreative couples as “distorted“?  And when Crouch refuses to define imprecise phrases like “the significance of male-and-female creation,” is he writing off gay couples because of their inability to sexually reproduce(?), or because the union of their bodies somehow violates the hierarchical Husband/Wife corollary extrapolated from St. Paul’s Christ/Church metaphor in Ephesians 5?

I think you understand my point.  Simply, the position that Mr. Crouch is doubling down to defend is not nearly as united as he would presume.  The fact is, Christians have opposed same-sex (as well as non-procreative heterosexual) acts for many disparate reasons throughout the centuries – because of claims that same-sex acts are the result of not orientation but sexual excess, worries about the future reproductive success of the species, myths regarding sterility, concerns that any man could be “turned gay;” because of an aversion to violating culturally-established gender norms, a fear of disrupting “honorable” patriarchal commitments; because of supposed demonic possession, or beliefs LGBTQ people are purposefully choosing their attractions and to embrace a harmful “lifestyle.”

Crouch’s proof-texted thesis that the Church must Continue to Defend God’s Unchanging Truth™ on human sexuality – supposedly calcified throughout thousands of years of static ecclesiastical history – is really much less coherent than one might expect.

same love

my friends Phil and David stand together in prayer at a recent Gay Christian Network conference

Finally, Crouch’s invocation of the heresy of gnosticism is an interesting one given the author’s own stance on this particular issue.  Gnosticism, as we know, is the ancient philosophical school that proved itself heretical by rejecting the good gifts of our created, physical world in favor of embracing an ethereal, spiritual, ascetic, and supposedly more enlightened existence.  The gnostics were the ones telling the early Christians that sex and sexuality, marriage and the sacramentality of bodies, was unimportant and should be struggled against and transcended.  In short, they rejected life, beauty, joy, flesh, incarnation, and the sacred Christian teaching that “matter matters.”

Halfway through an article full of uncharitable mischaracterizations of LGBTQ relationships and individuals, Crouch levels against LGBTQ people and their allies our apparent commitment to “the irrelevance of bodies.”  He blatantly asserts that our camp callously dismisses incarnated realities in favor of embracing nonphysical ideals, remarking that we have a “gnostic distaste for embodiment in general.”

But to suggest that LGBTQ people (including queer Christians and queer theologians!) do not care about the importance of corporeality is perhaps the most ignorant accusation one could ever make of the LGBT community.  The hypocrisy of Crouch’s own position is striking.

Really, let’s think about this: one side in this debate is affirming the good spiritual fruits found in the embodied, other-centered romantic relationships that numerous believers are seeking to sanctify under God.  The other side is openly denying the validity of real human experiences, ignoring or dismissing as unimportant or illusory an entire group of peoples’ deep spiritual longings to sacramentalize their carnality and bodily desires through flesh-and-blood covenantal bonds.

One side says bodies and loving incarnated relationships are essentially good.  The other says they are inherently shameful if abstract conditions of undefined epistemological “complementarity” are not met.

Tell me, which of these sounds more like gnosticism to you?

a group of gay Christians in prayer

a group of gay and lesbian Christians and their friends join hands in prayer before a meal.  Bodies, fingernails, friendship, worship, taco shells, bread, and wine…it is all sacred to us “gnostics.”

the insidious harm of genderblind thinking

The thing about having your own blog is that when your letter to the editor doesn’t get printed in your school’s paper (when the paper’s Opinions Editor unfollows you on Twitter the day you send your piece in) you can just brush away the shards of your ego and post your Letter to the Editor to your very own blog!

I hope you enjoy it.  Here’s the letter:

A freshman engineering student recently wrote an opinions piece sparked by his incredulity at seeing a sign advertising a well-known campus organization for female engineering students.  “It sparked a thought in my mind,” writes the author, “The student organization itself shows the stereotype in our society that engineering is for men, and that seeing women in such a field is out of the ordinary.”  Why can’t we just move beyond these labels that divide and separate, he wonders, and “abolish stereotypes” by getting rid of these pesky women-centered fellowships?  Why can’t we have #OneCampus for all of us, regardless of gender!


On some level, his point makes intuitive sense – men and women at our school are technically free to major in whatever field they want.  It doesn’t seem right to go about singling out one particular gender.  However, the author’s vision is ultimately myopic in that it utterly fails to transcend individual anecdotes and take into account greater societal systems of oppression against women.  The presented philosophy foolishly mimics the erasing, unhelpful, “I don’t see color” rhetoric that so frequently crops up in public discourse about race.

I’m not an engineer, but I think I can tease out the logic here: if we really believe that women are naturally intellectually equal to men, we necessarily have to acknowledge that there must be another reason for the relatively few women (and especially women of color) we see in many engineering fields.  The author blames this gap on the very existence of groups like the Society of Women Engineers.  Others of us wonder if, in a world where women are taught from the moment of birth that they are demure, harmless, simple, more suited for less technically-minded professions, this might lead to the massive “gender line” we currently see in STEM fields.

Here’s a challenge to the author: follow around a couple of my female engineering friends for a few days – experience the smallest taste of the marginalization, misogyny, and male condescension they face from their colleagues on a regular basis, and then let’s hear you talk about the intrinsic harm created by minority engineering groups.

her blood

My grandma was always proud of me.

Even as I grew old enough to be mildly embarrassed by her fawning affections, every little thing I did seemed to please her immeasurably, lighting her eyes with an otherworldly spark.  My sisters’ and my report cards from middle school onwards all hung proudly on the chalky wall above her bed.  She similarly preserved and displayed our yellowing elementary school finger paintings and crayon drawings (ugly things, really) with great care, shouting our adolescent accomplishments to her whole world.  I always felt at home in her smile, among her quaint Nikkei phrases and mannerisms; I could always nestle safely amidst her soft hugs and warm, croaky voice.

My grandmother loved us first and then it spilled over to everybody else.  She spoiled us the way that only a grandmother can: Pogo Sticks, tubs of popcorn, motor-controlled Stegosaurus toys – quarters and dollar bills stuffed inside walnuts, fuzzy pajamas, gift cards and Power Wheels.  Superfluous hoodies, fleeces, and all varieties of snacks also made an appearance: packets of jerky and cheese, wonderfully home-cooked fried rice and spam musubi.

During the summer, my grandpa and her would take out my siblings and I every single day, to Brookfield and Lincoln Park zoo, to the Shedd aquarium, the Field Museum, and then the Museum of Science and Industry.  We visited these sites every day of the week on repeat, dozens and dozens of times, and we never once got tired of it, this maternal quest to imbue us with the oceans of latent knowledge that surrounded us.

My grandma, a veteran schoolteacher for the Chicago Public School system, set me up a unique reward system that carried me all the way through elementary school.  Every time I raised my hand in class I earned a nickel and every time I answered a teacher’s question my grandmother promised to press a quarter in my palm.  (This made me quite literally care about paying attention.)  I painstakingly kept track with notes, sheets, and chickenscratch journals chock-full of little marks that only made sense to the two of us.  She taught me the value of finance, and to save every penny I was given.  Eager to impress her and earn these rewards, I worked diligently and quickly gained the reputation as the smartest student in many of my classes.  (This was of course before my eventual slide into clinical procrastination and academic sloth.)

Yes, my grandma was always proud of me.  Except for once, I think.  This is the first time I’ve told anyone that story.


cute baby me and my lovely grandma

I had a really hard time getting out of bed in high school.  Like, really hard.  Though I still manage to miss the occasional morning commitment because I’ve slept in, my affinity for sleep is no longer motivated by death – that is, by a desire to stop living.  But back then, long-term depression and anxiety had riddled my brain with such diseased thinking that I truly believed nothingness was better than being alive.  The ghoulish thought of actually instigating my own death was generally too scary a prospect for me to fathom, but I clung to a half-decent alternative instead: every night, I was able to disappear for a few hours, able to find refuge from my mind’s constant lows by slipping off to sleep.

I can remember this clearly: for years, the worst part of my day was waking up, remembering that I was alive, that I had to get out of bed and exert undying energy to make the day happen.  The day, I knew, would not please or soothe me at all.  The task before me was to go through motions until the sun receded and everything would climax into lovely, vanishing night, when I could cut out and fade away once more.  Yet sometimes the thought of even going through the motions paralyzed me in place.

This is why I was often physically unable to get up in the mornings.  My bed, I wrote one night, is my home.  Sleep is my original narcotic.  It was like a drug to me, like morphine.  I could skip the stigma and shame associated with drink or needles or pills (and other more conventional methods of self-medication) and just shut my eyes and slip away.

Needless to say, I missed a lot of classes and a lot of early morning band practices.  School deans and counselors made gentle threats and continually chastised me for my failing grades and rising absences.  (At one point, I had a 1.6 GPA and 30+ unexcused absences).  What I needed was help.  What I got was shame.  I can think of one time in particular when two of my otherwise well-meaning band teachers followed me from my second period class one day to the counselor’s office, where they waited in the hallway for my meeting to conclude, then publicly pulling me aside, telling me how disappointed they were in me, how ashamed I should be for letting everybody down.

Teachers didn’t understand and neither did my parents.  They didn’t know what to do with me, how to coax a mentally sick child out of bed when he miserably refused at all costs.  Threats were made.  Tears and stories and screams came from all sides.  When words failed, I was at times physically dragged from my home.

Here is the part of the story that’s about my grandmother: one night, I closed my eyes and slipped into bliss.  A second later, I opened them and the morning light was upon me.  I decided to try and crawl back into oblivion, squeezing my eyes shut and hoping to slip hard into sleep once more.  I couldn’t.  I’m sure my father came to the door and pleaded with me to wake up, to get ready for school.  He might have tried to dress me.  Maybe I was crying.  Desperate pronouncements were made and I probably didn’t care because I just wanted to not be awake anymore.

I’m sure dad left for work at some point.  Yet as much as I tried to shut off my mind, I was unable to disappear.  My grandparents were living with us at the time.  They must have heard the fuss.  Eventually, I heard the floor creaking, plodding in an unfamiliar pattern – my grandmother was still able to walk on her own then.  This must have been was the first time in years and the last time in her life that she managed to make the trek across our home to visit my bedroom.

She coaxed and tried to encourage me.  “Ryannn, wake up, Ryaaaaan.”  I cried deeply, silently, hiding my face under the sheets.  She became frustrated, and spoke cutting words that were sharply out of character for her.  I was shaming the family, she said, being an embarrassment to myself and us all.  Once again, what I needed was help.  Treatment.  Hope.  What I got was shame.  While her words hurt me then, I can’t blame her for saying those things.  I don’t hold it against her at all.  I think maybe she reacted so viscerally that day because she glimpsed some darkness inside me that she also recognized in herself.


paper cranes hanging on a gravesite in Manzanar, a former concentration camp for Japanese Americans

I’ve written about my grandma’s life (and death) before.  Today is actually the one year anniversary of her passing.  I’ve written as well about her struggle with depression.  But I’ve never quite connected the strands of her story and mine.  Tsuyoko Nakamura and Ryan Kenji Keone Kuramitsu – we certainly don’t appear to have too much in common.  Born on different landmasses, speakers of different languages, raised in different homes.  Her family survived backbreaking poverty and incarceration, mine merely weathered a divorce.

But this morning, my mind callously made the startling, obvious connection between the two of us: our depression.  I can’t believe I’ve never seen the similarities so clearly before.

See, particularly as her depression worsened, holidays often became very painful traditions for our family.  Sometimes, we’d get a phone call from grandpa that my grandmother wouldn’t be attending the party.  We’d drive over to her place and try to convince her otherwise.  My sisters and I would file into my grandmother’s room and beg and plead with her, trying to coax her out of bed at all costs.  Please, grandma, we’d ask, sometimes crying ourselves, grandpa silent nearby and my dad out in the hall or there with us breathing slowly.  Please get up.  “I can’t,” she’d moan miserably, sobbing.  “I’m in pain.  I just can’t.  Please just go.  Leave me alone.”  We all understood that her pain was not primarily physical.  “It’s all in her head,” my dad would say.  “she’s lost hope.”

Sometimes we would be successful in rousing her, but more frequently than not we’d arrive at the family party with a sad and simple sorry, grandma couldn’t come, she’s not feeling well.

* * * * *

Two weeks ago, I had an article published in a local Japanese American newsletter.  My grandfather’s neighbor got the article in the mail and showed my grandpa, who was happily surprised.  When I heard this I couldn’t help but thinking how happy my grandmother would have been if she could have seen it.  I stood alone outside of Panera Bread awkwardly holding the door open for other customers as I called my dad, bawling.

“She would have been so proud of me,” I told him through sniffles.  Our Japanese American identity was always so important to her.

My dad didn’t hesitate for more than a second.  He said to me: “heyshe is still proud of you.  She is looking down on you.  She’s not gone, you know that right?  Her blood runs in your veins.

I think I needed to hear that.  He was right, of course. In a spiritual and biological sense, she lives through me.  Her blood pumps thick and heavy through veins, as it did through hers, her parents’ before her.  I claim the blood of the islands, of language, of culture and education and hospitality. Her story informs my life, encourages me to walk in the path of her hurting, kind, and human footsteps.

This gift, too, carries the histories of our shared pain.  I can see that now.  I have been imbued with her illness, given this genetic predisposition towards emptying, impossible shame and sadness.  The pictures in my mind of my grandmother sobbing and refusing to get out of bed, they are my own story.  It is all a part of my legacy, my inheritance.

One of my biggest fears is that one day, months or years from now, I’ll start to swirl down the emotional drain that is depression.  I hope that if I do ever find myself in this trap again, this time I will receive greater support from people who understand that this is an illness, that it is treatable.  I hope not to be dissuaded from medicine and therapy and slip into the sickness that took my grandmother, the way to dusty death.

Grandma, wherever you are, if you’re anywhere, I hope that you are still proud of me.  I hope that I get to see you again someday. I miss you.  I remember you in every inch of me, deep down in the seat of my soul. I carry you in my skin, in my marrow, in my blood.

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