There’s Something About Mary (is My Homegirl)

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Editor’s Note: The creator of the popular tumblr ‘Mary is My Homegirl‘ (MIMHG) is probably the coolest graduate student in Catholic theology. Ever. To protect her against the jealousy of those bested for that title (including a few contributors to this very site…), she’s asked to remain anonymous in our interview.  All of the animated gifs below are presented courtesy of MIMHG.  We hope you enjoy the first half of TJP assistant editor Tim O’Brien‘s interview with MIMHG.

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Tim: Hey! We really like Mary is My Homegirl!

MIMHG: Oh, gosh.  Thank you!  I’m so glad you like it.

Tim: Have to confess, we were going for this…

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Tim: We just couldn’t resist.  Also, we’re sorry about this…

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MIMHG: Ha!  Well it wouldn’t be the first time that my affinity for the Jesuits has led to an awkward moment.

Tim: Yikes!  Well, I guess we ought to ask you how you came up with the idea for this tumblr.  How’d that happen, what kickstarted you to do it?

MIMHG: Well, whenever I was really down with finals or an intensive Greek class I was taking this summer, I would check a few other, more famous tumblrs – including this one from a Notre Dame undergraduate – and I’d have a laugh and feel better. Eventually it got to the point where I was sending far-flung friends emails with updates about my life as a PhD student with links to those posts and their gifs to illustrate. It was just a small step from there to actually coming up with my own posts.

Tim: So, wait, you’re basically saying that this really is the explanation for the famous Mary is My Homegirl?!

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MIMHG: Absolutely! Not that I count myself among the wisest people I know, but I find that I lose my passion and my work loses its drive when I start to take myself and what I do too seriously.  If I’m going to find joy and fulfillment in academia and theological study, I have to point out the more ridiculous aspects of it, or I would have burned out in my first semester.

Tim: We’re just glad that we’re not the only ones pointing out the sometimes-ridiculousness of academia… not that we don’t contribute to it too… better move on.  So, how long does it take to make any one of your posts?  And do you come up with all of these on your own?

MIMHG: I would say it takes no more than a couple minutes to make a post. I have two methods: either I come across a gif I like and I think of how it relates to my life as a Catholic grad student. Or I draw upon my surprisingly deep mental well of pop culture knowledge and relate something funny in my life to something from a movie or show. The first method involves copy-and-pasting gifs from other sites. As a scholar this makes me deeply uncomfortable, but it is common practice. I try to give citations to especially unique gifs or groupings, but such borrowing is just the nature of the genre.  The second method has been happening in my head since before I can remember.  There have been a few posts which were either partially or entirely provided by friends’ suggestions, but for the most part it’s just me.

Tim: Okay, in that case I need to say this: I’m amazed at your surprisingly deep mental well of pop cultural.  Another thing that we’ve found impressive that MIMHG tends to feel very balanced between piety and sarcasm, which made us wonder – do you ever feel like you’ve gone overboard one way or the other?  Like this balance, it’s good!

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MIMHG: Yeah, that’s a tough balance. I hope that my own piety can be picked up through the sarcasm.  I want it to be clear that I don’t want to make fun of anyone’s authentic religious beliefs and practices.  But I do think that we have to admit that some of what we do and believe can be really silly, especially when taken to extremes.  And this is what I try to poke fun at: when, due to religious zeal or human quirks, we take things too far.  But yes, there are a few posts that, for whatever reason, I think were too sarcastic or too pious. I can’t get them all right all of the time.

Tim: It is a tough balance – and we think you do a great job.  You know, we were wondering, do you ever just sit back and reflect on what you’re doing?  I mean, on how it feels to be the funniest theology graduate student since… oh, ever?

MIMHG: Oh that can’t be true. I’m sure we’ll find out in the future that Karl Rahner ghostwrote joke books.  Or that young Karol Wojtyła used to moonlight as a stand up comedian while in seminary.  But honestly, I have many friends who are studying or have studied theology and who I consider much funnier and more clever.

Tim: Funny and modest.  This interview is amazing.  But I still want to know how it feels to know that you’ve made thousands and thousands of geeky young Catholics laugh their asses off.

MIMHG: It feels far better than pissing off thousands and thousands of Catholics. I’m happy to provide them with a laugh, a distraction from the stress of graduate study, and maybe even a new way of looking at things. If it cheers anyone up or helps anyone, in any way, it will have been worthwhile.

Tim: Topic change: how does your doctoral research relate to what you do?  Or does it?

MIMHG: Well, to put it very plainly, I study and write about religious practice – the variety of ways in which we express our beliefs through worship and prayer.  I guess that after many semesters studying this and over two decades of practicing it, I’ve come across a fair amount of comedic fodder.

Tim: And a fairly huge comedic audience.  Your tumblr has over 200,000 hits!  Any idea who all those people are? And how does it feel to know you’ve already reached 199,900 people more than will likely understand the topic of your dissertation?  Actually you may have already addressed this…

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MIMHG: It’s insane, isn’t it?  The number kind of makes me anxious, so I just tell myself that it’s the same twenty people checking it over and over again.  I know that people in my department read it and I know that people in my old department from my master’s program read it, but when I heard that people at divinity schools and seminaries completely unconnected to me were talking about it, I couldn’t believe it.  But I’m glad people enjoy it, since I’m sure this buzz is about ten times more than my dissertation will garner when it’s (hopefully, eventually) published.

Tim: Yeah, what’s that buzz been like?  Has it been substantially positive or negative?  How have you responded?

MIMHG: Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Commenters, classmates, scholars, and even faculty members have been really supportive. I’ve had numerous offers of free drinks, best-friendship, and even marriage (anonymous, of course).  It’s very flattering and I don’t know how to respond beyond a bashful “aw, shucks” and a heartfelt thank you.  The most negative comment I’ve received was someone asking why I bothered trying so hard and that I should give up. I assume it was regarding my career, not my tumblr. I know it was just a mean, anonymous comment, but for some reason I found it endlessly funny. Like this person took the time to say this, thinking it would discourage me, and he or she has no idea that I’ve thought that myself countless times since I started college years ago. As far as criticizing me, I beat him to it and I actually find it helpful. It was a nice reminder during the stress of finals of my decision that if graduate school wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be worth doing; all of the hard work and self-criticism makes me into a better scholar, and so I stick with it.  Which is, actually, kind of how I feel about my faith; I struggle, I reflect, I grow into a better Christian.

Tim: That answer was basically like dropping the mic.  I mean you worked in free drinks, haters, marriage proposals, and sincere reflection on how we struggle to be better Christians.  I need a breather… a week long breather actually.  Next Thursday I’m pulling out the tough questions though, like stuff we think you stole from the Spiritual Exercises!

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Editor’s note: Part 2 of our interview with Mary Is My Homegirl can be read by clicking these very words.  The MIMHG gifs you saw in this article can be found by clicking on these: 1) We like your posts, 2) I heart Jesuits t-shirt, 3) Reason for MIMHG, 4) Easter celebration, and 5) Dissertation vs. MIMHG.