I spend a lot of time thinking about this blog. And by “a lot of time,” I mean those short bits of time one has when they’re walking the two blocks between the office and Peet’s. Not long stretches of directed thinking time, but short bursts of free associated bits of thoughts and ideas. At any rate, in those moments, when I’m thinking about this blog, what I worry about most is you. My audience.
I worry about my audience because I really don’t know who out there is reading this. I know about the half dozen regular posters I get. I know that my wife and my closest friends read it. I suspect that my mom might be out there. And based on the demographics of my regular posters, I’m guessing there must be at least one or two similarly-minded people reading who, for whatever reason, don’t post. (Lord knows I read all kinds of things online and rarely post. I’m a lurker, I’ll admit, so I’m not opposed to lurkers here.)
Why do I worry about this? I think I’m worrying about it more lately because of The Dissertation. Writing the dissertation has consumed me of late, and it’s effecting the way I think about all sorts of seemingly unrelated things. For example, this blog. When I’m writing my dissertation, I know exactly who my audience is. It is, specifically, three people. Maybe a random grad student a year or two from now will stumble across it, but I’ve got pretty low expectations here. I’m pretty convinced that it’ll collect dust on the library shelves. (Of course, part of me doesn’t really believe that. I’ve been told, by some of my regular readers, that they’ve read my Master’s thesis which is god-awful. I should give myself (and them) more credit. Maybe they’ll wanna read The Dissertation. It’s not half-bad, if I do say so myself.)
But here the audience isn’t so clear. Sure, I know some of you. And I can conjecture who some of the lurkers may be. But it’s still just conjecture.
What difference does this make? What difference does it make who my audience is? Well, it feels like it might make a difference in some of the posts I’ve made recently about Buddhism. And lately I’ve been thinking about the direction this site is headed, and I’m thinking that it may be trending more in the Buddhist blog direction. I’ve got some ideas for some good, long-winded rants on the subject. If it does trend more in that direction, then I’m going to be more worried about my audience.
Why? Because who your audience is will always effect how your work is received, it’s important to know how to write for them. When I throw out things like the popular understanding of Buddhism was crafted in conversation with a representation of an idealized, romanticized, and rational representation of Buddhism born in the midst of Victorian intellectual history, I’m pretty sure that the three people reading my dissertation will know exactly what I’m talking about. Will the rest of my audience? Did that make sense to anyone reading this site?
Moreover, there’s the fact that I inhabit two worlds. In one world, I am a self-identified, practicing Buddhist. Buddhism informs my outlook on life, I participate in Buddhist rituals when I get the chance, and I have very strong opinions about what all of that means and how Buddhism can effectively change the world, even for non-Buddhists.
In another world, I am a secular scholar of Buddhism and religious studies. That means something. And in the academic circles I have to travel and work in, it means very often I have to leave my personal feelings about Buddhism at the door. To be clear, I’m not bothered by that. If I was bother by it, I would have to admit that I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to talk about their personal religious views in public education. Which I don’t. So, if I’m working (i.e., teaching), I will happily leave my Buddhism at the door because I expect my Christian contemporaries to do the same. (This is assuming we’re talking about public education, of course. Private and religious education is another story.)
But, of course, these two side of my personality inform one another. My personal opinions about Buddhism have been influenced by my academic research into Buddhist history and practice. And my passion for my academic work is fueled by my personal interest in the subject. So, even though I have to leave my Buddhism at the door, I know I can’t. Objectivity is a myth and anyone who tries to tell you different is full of shit.
So when I think about this site and what I want to write about, I find myself in a rather unique position. I want to do both. I want to write stuff that is both personal and academic. There aren’t, to my knowledge, too many scholars out there who blog. (Scholarly works don’t lend themselves to the blog format. Where would I put the footnotes? Who would read the equivalent of a forty-page paper in a blog?) And most Buddhist blogs are written from the perspective of practicing Buddhists. I think both are valuable. I’m staking my career on the notion that scholars need to spend more time actually talking to living breathing Buddhists than they do sitting around in libraries trying to figure out if the Tibetan version of some sutra no one’s read in a thousand years is somehow more historically reliable than the Chinese version. On the other hand, I think the answer to that question can tell us a helluva lot. Maybe burried in that text is some long-forgotten Buddhist teaching that could be deeply transformative and useful for practicing Buddhists and only someone trained in classical Chinese and Tibetan is going to be able to translate it. So, the two sides have a lot to offer one another.
I want this blog to be a reflection of both these sides. I want this blog to reflect my personal day-to-day musings along the path, the trials and tribulations of trying to be a good Buddhist, how this relates to politics and pop-culture, and how all of that can ultimately change the world. I want this blog to reflect my professional and academic training, good scholarship that can reveal new ideas and understanding about Buddhism. But, more importantly, I want to bring these two sides together.
So I’ll be trying to keep my audience firmly in mind when I’m writing. The academic in me is going to throw out big words. But I’ll do my best to write with some specificity. I’m not going to dumb anything down for you. I know y’all are too smart for that. But if I loose anyone on the way, let me know and I’ll back up.
And don’t worry. It’s not all going to long-winded, erudite postings of post-modernist Buddhist heuristics. I’ll throw in some good ol’ fashion savage chickens, music reviews, and pictures of my dog along the way.
Because even chickens can be philosophers.