doubt and the manifesto

*Note: spitting this out during a bout of writer’s block was rather cathartic. Hopefully it will be entertaining for others as well. 

Sometimes, you agree to write something because you’ve been invited, or cajoled, or downright ordered to, by someone (quite possibly a mentor or someone you owe very nearly everything to). You are invited, and maybe it’s a sunny day and you’re in high spirits and the deadline is far off and you say, yeah, that sounds fun. So you say yes. And then. And then. Time marches on. And the deadline looms. And what once seemed fun and gleaming and magical is now dreary and dreadful and dull.

To make matters worse, you’ve got an idea. An enormous idea. A potentially really good idea that you’re too afraid to mention to anyone because you want to live in the myth that it’s a field-(re)defining sort of idea that, when published, will immediately show up on Google Scholar as having been cited a billion times by everyone, including that mentor who cajoled you into writing this thing with the looming deadline. Oh right. The thing with the looming deadline. You try to refocus your attention. You try to just Get. It. Done. But the new idea is latched on to your brain and won’t budge. Later, you tell it. I’ll come back to you later. You won’t go away. You won’t become irrelevant. We’ve got time, and I’ve got a deadline.

Suddenly you find yourself inserting into the Looming Deadline ideas from the New Idea. Sometimes that makes sense. Isn’t scholarship a tapestry, a rich patchwork of interconnected ideas, you try and convince yourself. Well. Maybe. But New Idea is actually sort of irrelevant to the matter at hand, and the editors will probably think you’re off your rocker for bringing it up here. Doubt creeps in. Does this thing even make any sense? What the hell am I saying here? Why am I even talking about this? Do I need to do more research to back up this claim? Doubt’s shadow makes the dreary dreadfulness of this thing even drearier and dreadful-er.

A quick walk around the block only serves to distract more from the mater at hand rather than helping you focus. Maybe looking at some other piece of scholarship will help ignite that old academic creativity that’s been lost. Maybe, instead, you’ll get lost in a rabbit hole of previous stuff you’ve written and marvel at how much time has passed since you finished your dissertation and how long ago that mentor was your advisor and wonder why the hell you keep saying yes after all these years. No; that’s not fair. This isn’t his fault; you just need better self-control. But, really, this is beside the point. The point is the New Idea and that it might just be a manifesto and not the field-(re)defining masterwork you’ve been chasing since grad school.

Or maybe that’s just doubt talking. After all, who wouldn’t want to read a manifesto? Especially one expertly researched, written, and footnoted appropriately? This isn’t going to be some handwritten diatribe from a cabin in the woods. It’ll be the defining work of your career!

But then what?

I’m not that old, you think, and it occurs to you that if you throw everything you’ve got into one book, what’s left? What’s next? What would the next challenge be? Or would that be it? Would it be the last scholarly hurrah before coasting to retirement as that laughable frumpy faculty member who shows up at institutional conferences and symposia to ask the same, differently-worded question regardless of the day’s topic just to assure himself that he’s still relevant after publishing his manifesto two decades earlier.

Of course, all of this assumes that the President doesn’t end the world via nuclear war with Korea or turn the United States into a totalitarian dystopia where you’d be out of job anyway. No place in dystopias for idealistic academics, specialists of obscure subjects no one takes seriously.

Hm. That doubt has certainly turned into an all-consuming monster of anxiety and existential despair.

Sometimes, you agree to write something because you’ve been invited, or cajoled, or downright ordered to, by someone you love and respect. And you agree to do it, whether it thrills you to the bone or not. Setting aside the New Idea — and telling doubt to go fuck itself — you remember that your whole career is made up of these moments, moments when others presented you with opportunities, in addition to a few opportunities you seized or created on your own. There was never one big moment that defined your career, only small bits and pieces, endless deadlines, from the comps and the dissertation to the first conference papers and book reviews to full-blown, peer-reviewed journal articles and books, by god, and it is only the sum total of all of these things that will define you, even if you do get around to writing that field-(re)defining manifesto. Even that will be just another piece of the tapestry.

And it’ll have its own deadline.

The important things are to remember that your work is made possible by others (so thank them, often); and that even the dreary and dull pieces need to get done (so do them).

all/nothing

You are you who are. You are not a bombthrower. You value friendship over allyship, collaboration over partisanship, civility over cruelty, cocktails over asceticism, and you’ve used this space to argue repeatedly for those things. Not everyone will agree that you’ve made the right decisions, or that these approaches are the rights ones in our dystopian Trumpland, so you’ll need to acknowledge that the problems of the present are big enough to require all sorts of solutions. Not everyone who cares about these issues will agree with your approach, and – you know what? – that is just fine. You’ll also need to make sure that the affective approaches you care about aren’t understood as a more “reasonable alternative.”

Continue reading “all/nothing”

here we go

From 2003 to 2012, this site was host to a fairly regularly updated blog, by me, “the buddha is my dj.” By around 2010 I had stopped posting as regularly, and did a long slow fade out trying to figure out what I was up to, what the point of the whole project was. Then I gave up. Then I archived everything on WordPress.

The long slow fade out was the result of a lot of factors (too much of the wrong kind of attention, my decision to focus on my “career” rather than my “hobby,” having a kid, you name it). A couple of years ago, I decided to resurrect the blog. I thought it would be good to have a space where I could wrestle with some thoughts and ideas or research projects I was working on. I tried to post regularly, but nothing came of it beyond the random thought separated by months.

This past August, I was invited to give a “book talk” during which a very kind woman came up to me and said that she was a long-time reader of the old blog and wondered if I was going to write again. I said I’d been thinking about it but nothing had gelled. I’ve got a lot of things going on, work, family, whatever.

I’m done making excuses.

Continue reading “here we go”

the morning after

I am sitting at my desk in my office the morning after. I do not know what to say or do or feel. I know how I feel. Desperate. Sad. Angry. Uncertain.

That word isn’t strong enough, uncertain. Uncertain in the way that Edvard Munch’s subject in The Scream is uncertain. Uncertain because the world is changed, and I cannot even begin to comprehend what the next three months — let alone two to four years — will look like. I know there will be violence. There will be seemingly irreparable broken bonds between us. I cannot see the other side. I am uncertain.

Continue reading “the morning after”

The book

coverI sent off the final page proofs of my forthcoming book to the publisher earlier this month. I assume that means it’s all said and done, that’s all she wrote, whatever mistakes were made and not caught will just go to press, and I’ll have to live to this thing for the rest of my life (or, buddha willing, I get the chance to write a second edition). In honor of that, here are some reflections on the book. Continue reading “The book”

On tattoos and whiteness

Seeing my name in (digital) print, I can’t help but to comment a bit further on this piece published by Tricycle on Buddhist tattoos. I’m not going to comment too much on the meat of the issue, but I did want to comment a bit on what I was trying to do when I spoke with Mr. Hay a couple months back.

Fundamentally, I wanted to complicate the idea of “Western.” This has increasingly become the name of choice among people who practice or study Buddhism in Western cultural contexts, and I’m concerned about the lack of sustained critical reflection that has been given to this term. (If I’m wrong about that — I try, but can’t possibly, read everything — if someone has written a recent scholarly or popular article examining taxonomy, examining what to call this thing we’re all so invested in, please let me know in the comments. And I’ll get to RKP’s piece in a minute.) To my mind, the term “Western” is simply too broad to have much value. What are its limits? Where are its boundaries? Who is included in this category and who isn’t? On what criteria?

Continue reading “On tattoos and whiteness”