By Heidie (Raine) Senseman
Everything in my life has felt so intense lately.
This winter, I vowed myself in marriage (a wonderful and sobering commitment); and I sent graduate
school applications to 11 universities (my future rests in these); and I completed an internship to see if
I’d enjoy being a professor (spoiler: yes); and I began the process of changing my name (very emotional,
if you were wondering); and I opened up a TD Ameritrade account (made me feel 45); and I’m realizing
that the first question people ask me after “what’s your name?” is “what are you doing after
graduation?” (answer: beats me).
With every life-altering decision and step toward graduation and beyond, I was feeling my shoulders
tighten. When did my classes begin to feel secondary? When did professional networking and managing
investments become my higher priorities?
Life’s intensity began to detract from my love of school. I wrote essays trying to distinguish between
wifely submission and oppression, and each English class reminded me that my professorial dreams
could die with a rejection letter. And it all left me frantic. Nothing was just a class anymore. It was
mentorship. It was preparing me for the future. It was critical to my personal, spiritual and professional
I began to feel like every project or paper I wrote had to carry the weight of my whole life as it unraveled
into the unknown. To pick a topic separate from my present concerns — marriage, grad school, creative
writing, growing into a new identity — was to turn down an opportunity to refine myself that much
more. And I couldn’t take the pressure.
So, when it came time to select the topic for my journalism capstone course, I picked something
“Lake Michigan!” I chirped when asked what I’d be reporting on.
For reference, my peers picked weighty topics: the ethics of environmental marketing, human trafficking
in Ohio, the journey of a first-time head coach. And I chose Lake Michigan.
I don’t know how I conjured up that idea, but I latched on to it. I loved how uncharged and different it
was from all the concerns floating around my mind. I loved the idea of studying something to discover
what it was, not how it could contribute to my ongoing mental puzzle of becoming the best Christian-
wife-essayist-student in the Western world.
My first story on Lake Michigan is about how the lake symbolized resilience to Chicago after the great
fire of 1871. My second story will be about zebra mussels — an invasive species that has ravaged the
lake’s natural wildlife. For my third story, I want to interview a vocational fisherman.
Some may say I’m wasting an opportunity to write about something big, something important, but I
heartily disagree. Here’s a few reasons why:
If we only ever study the things that seem significant, we’ll miss a whole lot of magic that’s only
uncovered with curiosity, a face in a book and quality questions.
Learning about the way Lake Michigan swallowed Chicago’s rubble and woe after the fire, the way that
Shedd aquarium educates the community about native species, the way that fishermen imagine the lake
is an ocean — these pieces of information are soaked in wonder whether or not I can directly apply
them to my life circumstance.
All the “big, important” topics that I’ve been writing about are choking me like mustard gas — not
because they’re bad, but because they’re so important that I’m preoccupied with and, I confess,
sometimes crippled by the moral, personal implications of the matter.
And so, hear this charge: not everything has to be of eternal significance. Read the book on Lake
Michigan or French botany or Ireland’s noteworthy stews. Maybe you’ll find some rest. Maybe you’ll
find some awe. Hopefully both.
Heidie (Raine) Senseman is a senior English major with a concentration in creative and journalistic
writing. When she isn’t doing lit theory homework, she likes drinking La Croix and reading Brian Doyle