What’s in a name/face?

What’s in a name? Long-time readers and friends may know this story, but for those just joining us, here’s an answer to the question “why djbuddha?”

This website actually grew out of a different website I created a long time ago, back when Bush, Jr. was president, and I was still in grad school. That website was a lot of different things over its short life — a playground for me to learn how code, a repository for academic resources, and, most importantly here, a place where I occasionally posted short essays and loose strands of thought. In other words, a blog before blogs were a thing. Once blogs became a thing, I collected those loose strands of thought into an actual MoveableType-powered (and, later a WordPress-powered) blog and moved it all over to a new website, this one, djbuddha.org.

Yes, you say, but still, why the name? At the time, there was an underground art collective that sold subversive stickers, t-shirts, and other paraphernalia, and one of them had the phrase “God is my DJ” on it with a little stick-figure of a dj with a halo. I got a kick out of it (I am, after all, a religious studies nerd), appropriated it, and turned it into “the Buddha is my dj” which was the original title of this blog. This was also during the rise of Web 2.0 when everyone and their mother was starting websites that had a social component — Friendster was still a thing, Twitter was just about to become a thing, Zuckerberg was still a student in good standing at Harvard, and everywhere I went online I happily snapped up “djbuddha” as a user name if it was available. As a result, it stuck.

Little did I know that there is, in fact, an actual dj who goes by the name “DJ Buddha.” This makes for some occasionally awkward Twitter moments when I’m wrongly given credit for producing a new album or showing up on some random radio station deep in the heart of Texas. Ah well.

For those who are interested, long ago I archived the original blog over here. There is a lot of material there, and to the extent that it represents a very specific time in my life, there is a lot of not very good stuff there. There are some posts that I still feel are particularly interesting or well-written (if not well-edited), and there’s a list on the archive. But as time goes by, most of those posts evoke in me the same feelings I have about my fashion choices in high school. At the time, boy did I think I was cool and transgressive. Sigh.

What’s in a face? Astute readers may have noticed the image I use for this website’s site icon, my Twitter avatar, even my Zotero avatar. Here’s the story.

This is actually a picture of my daughter. It was taken quite a while ago, back when she was still in preschool. She was home sick, that sort of pre-pandemic sick where kids got sent home with even a slight fever, and the slight fever had waned so she was well enough to be bored but not well enough to go to school and, being still quite young, requiring constant attention. So we were home together in the afternoon, hanging out in her room. It was unseasonably warm, I recall. And she was playing with a set of old Legos my wife had as kid. My daughter built a box, and then proceeded to take all the heads off of the mini-figs and filled the box with them. As if a head-filled box-rattle wasn’t horrifying enough, she then took the heads and stacked them together, made this face, and I was lucky enough to catch a picture of it. The happy smiling faces of 1980s-era Lego mini-figs didn’t quite match the tone of the photo, so I had a friend Photoshop their sad little expressions. Et voilà!

My daughter really looks like me in this picture — that is, how I looked when I was her age. She doesn’t often look like me in photos, so this eerie familiarity to my past-self is one thing that I really love about this picture. A few years after it was taken, the 2016 election happened, and that’s when I started changing a lot of my online avatars to this image. I imagined my daughter — this little girl who was going to grow up in a time of increasing environmental and social precarity — as a righteously crazed warrior and the heads she was collecting representing all that is wrong with the world, torn apart and discarded in the process of making something new, something filled with absurd joy and love.

If nothing else, to me, this is an image of hope. And I’ll take what hope I can get.

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