I am having something of a crisis of faith around here. I recently received some harsh but appropriate criticism of this pretty shabby looking blog in a private communique. That coupled with the increase in traffic to the site along with some other conversations I’ve had in comments and elsewhere have made me painfully aware of the fact that I can no longer blunder my way through this blog as if no one is watching. Because the fact of the matter is, people are.
This matters. It matters a lot in a lot of different ways. I am, as many of my long-time readers and friends know, at something of a cross-roads. Having been granted that doctorate just over a year ago now, I’m “on the job market.” That is to say, I’m at least passively looking for a job. Don’t get me wrong. Where I’m at right now is awesome. And I’d love to make a career out of the Institute of Buddhist Studies. But I don’t know if that will happen, and there very well may be greener pastures out there.
So, I’m on the market. I am looking at job listings at the AAR. And I am doing all of those things fresh, young scholars are expected to do. Respond with vigorous “yeses” when our peers and mentors ask, “Hey, you wanna write a review of this new book? You wanna compile an annotated bibliography on something you have a passing interest in and mentioned over coffee six months ago? You wanna give a lecture? You wanna contribute a short article to this news letter?” Yes. Yes. Yes. All in the name of making a name for oneself so that when you’re in that interview room, you can point proudly to your CV and say, “Yes, I’ve been doing research in the field and have been published. I’ve taught. I’ve lectured. A book chapter is forthcoming. I love doing outreach and fundraising! Oh, and I do windows, too!”
In some ways, all of this is all about the connections you have. The relationships you have with other folks in your academic community. And when one’s academic community is relatively small, and when everything you ever said is suddenly searchable and forever accessible via Google’s archives whew. You suddenly find yourself regretting saying things that were best left unsaid.
This in-between state I am in, standing here at the outset of my academic career, attempting to not only make a name for myself but make a good name for myself, while at the same time writing a blog that hopes to bridge the gap between the academy and “not-academy” this is sometimes dangerous territory.
This is not inconsequential. I’ve got bills to pay, like any of us. And it would be lovely to believe that I could write whatever the hell I want to write without any professional consequences. But the truth of it is that I write about what I know and love; and what I know and love also pays the bills.
It raises some important questions. On the one hand, I need to watch what I say. I need to make sure that when I am critical of other approaches to the study of Buddhism, that I am just that critical of the approaches, of the methodologies, of the findings, analyses or conclusions of that scholarship and not critical of the people behind that scholarship. It’s something obvious and as simple as watching what I say, being more mindful of my own language.
One could argue that this whole enterprise of keeping a blog, of trying to bridge that gap between scholars and practitioners, is impossible. That real scholars, that good scholars, are able to keep their professional decorum only through detachment and objectivity. Or, one could argue that my time is better spent in the library or in the field. That the energy I expend on this project is better served on my professional experience or training rather than talking to the masses, so to speak.
I grant that those may be valid arguments. I don’t know if I agree. On the face of it, frankly, I don’t think objectivity is possible. We are all coming to our scholarship full of predispositions, biases, life-experiences, etc., etc. The real trick, then, would be to find a way to balance those predispositions and biases with sound reasoning, with firmly rooted scholarship. Not a flat-out rejection of our extra-scholarly pursuits. Something like the middle path.
That second argument haunts me, though. Do I spend too much time arguing about racism on the Internet? Or privilege? Or silly rants about politics? This is not how I want to make my mark. I’m happy to lend my voice to The Cause, I’m happy to work toward undoing discrimination in my own real-world communities. But is this my only fight? Am I not better served, professionally and by extension personally, by cracking open a few more books, doing some more fieldwork, and then writing up an article or two for some journals? (And by “professionally and by extension personally,” I simply mean that becoming more successful professionally will have certain financial benefits which will certainly have a positive effect on my personal life.)
But the question of how best to use this blog to bridge the divide between the worlds of the scholar and the practitioner remains an open one. Sometimes it certainly seems like my life would be infinitely less complicated if I did the good Buddhist thing and wrote happy posts about my mindfulness practices, about some good karma I experienced, and steered clear of all these uncomfortable, ire-raising topics. (My god, even non-serious, sarcastic posts about the Kindle seem to infuriate people these days!)
So do I abandon the first-person reportage on the academy? (Gonzo scholarship?) Do I change my name, hide my identity, retreat to anonymity? Play it safe? Or do I remain comfortable in this luminous space between scholar and practitioner? Even when it’s uncomfortable?