Identity Crisis

Under a lavender moon, so many thoughts consume me:
Who dimmed the glowing light that once burned so bright in me?
Is this a radical phase, a problematical age that keeps me running from all that I used to be?
Is there a way to return? Is there a way to unlearn that carnal knowledge that’s chipping away at my soul?
Have I been gone too long?
Will I ever find my way home?
~ Michael W. Smith – Missing Person

The purpose of my life is _____.

I don’t know how to finish that sentence. Broadly, vaguely, universally, I can fathom some answers that might sound good on paper. But when it comes to me, when it comes to where I’m headed and where I want to be headed (and whether those are the same things), and to who I am and whether that person is fit for either of those destinations, I am at a loss.

A book I’m reading for a class instructs beginning writers to start their work by flatly stating that “the purpose of this [blog] is…” Knowing how to finish that sentence gives confidence and direction, to the reader sure, but more importantly to the writer as he embarks on the paragraphs and pages to come. A brief outline. A statement of purpose. And they’re off!

For a couple years I touted an epigram with great pride as the most brilliant summation of my output I’d ever conceived: “My life can be summed up in this: I write / With words (in ink) and photographs (in light).” For one, it’s probably the closest I’ve come to brevity.

For another, it no longer seems to be true. This is the first time I’ve touched this blog in almost four months, and as such I think it’s fair to say I don’t write. It’s been roughly the same length of time since I used my DSLR, so the medium in which I have not been writing is likewise irrelevant.

I hung up those hats for another, that of the scholar (though let’s be honest, if I actually wore a scholar cap I’d be playing the role of pretentious). I’ve done a tremendous amount of reading, and am about to be doing plenty more, all of which is in preparation for further reading. Somewhere along the way I have been and shall continue to be expected to produce a few words of my own, but by and large they are the kind of words no one wants to read (and, what’s more, the kind that are outrageously expensive to read… though I’ll leave my ranting on the cost of academic journals and the economic knowledge gap it perpetuates for some other night).

What precious personal writing I’ve done in the interim since my last blog is of the rather frivolous variety, which is not to say it has been juvenile (frankly, I wax pedantic in the most mundane of contexts) but rather that it has been largely inconsequential. I have suspected for quite some time, but am only now willing to vocalize the suspicion, that I am a terrible media critic in the layman’s sense of the word: I love some things with wanton abandon and am unimpressed by many things others love, but I’m dreadful at communicating why. That the bulk of my self-published “writing” for the latter quarter of 2013 consists of “reviews” of comics is tragic not merely in view of all the writing I should have been doing (but did not) but also because some people were actually subjected to the experience of reading it.

I find myself, then, a non-writer who spent the better part of the last decade looking forward to being a writer more than actually trying to be one, now in a field where writing is demanded but not Writing writing, as it were. And that terrifies me more than the prospect of simply not writing would: that I will be writing, but only after a certain fashion, and frequently, and with high stakes behind mastering that kind of writing. Without an outlet such as this — something informal, something personal, something potentially readable by people other than the inhabitants of the so-called Ivory Tower — whatever panache I once had (and please, indulge me by pretending I did indeed possess panache) will slowly ossify and flutter away in the wind.

I am this semester taking the only real course in my department that willfully acknowledges the existence of qualitative research without disparaging it, which is a much-needed breath of fresh air for this one-time autoethnographer whose heart is still very much nestled between the dusty pages of Shakespeare and a Bachelor’s degree in English. And there’s the rub: after this, it’s on me to either decide to convert over to the way almost everyone in (and certainly almost everyone running) the department views research and the pursuit of knowledge, or else remove the tongue from my cheek when calling myself an outcast and accept that I actually don’t fit here and actually will need to work extraordinarily hard to maintain my identity as a scholar and a person while producing the kind of work that keeps me funded and enrolled in a program that eschews both of the identities I walked in with.

When I reflect on the last several months of my life I notice a trend of insulation. That’s not to say I’ve become introverted — likely my social media presence is more present than ever before — but rather that the “real me,” or the person of whom I used to be sure, the person I claimed (and desired) to be, has nearly vanished. Those who’ve known me the longest can recall when I was “a nature person,” who owned Audubon field guides, spent long hours climbing trees or walking through the local forest trails, and talked about hunting down poachers in the Amazon rainforest (no, seriously). I went through a science phase, read books about outer space and dreamed of seeing Saturn (specifically Saturn…I’ve always envied the rings). I read mystery books and fantasy books, played platformer video games, eschewed violence and profanity in favor of the mystical and wonderful. I wrote a book about talking animals that criticized abuse and alcoholism.

And I was clearly a Christian. You couldn’t avoid that fact, and it wasn’t just because I contested your political views, but because I wore embarrassingly straightforward t-shirts, carried a Bible, couldn’t hang out because I was busy leading worship in my youth group and still needed to put together and pray about a set list. There was a time when people avoided cursing around me because they knew it bothered me. There was a time when I could say with actual honesty that I graduated high school having only ever cursed two times myself. There was a time when the way I spent my time and the way I held myself around people clearly conveyed not only that I was different but that I was at peace with being that way. People felt comfortable asking me questions because I wasn’t a longwinded verbal duel waiting to happen. Granted, I was never the most docile of folks, but there was still more of a drive of love than a drive of pride or “rightness” behind my interactions with people.

The fact of the matter is, I have no idea who I am anymore. I look in the mirror and I’m about ready to break into some Zac-Efron-in-every-High-School-Musical-movie montage of identity crisis and self discovery — and I like that, not only because I legitimately enjoy those songs and think they’re apt for this particular blog, but because Disney always used to make me happy and it didn’t embarrass me to admit that.

I didn’t set out to create some watershed moment in my life with this post. This isn’t a declaration of turning point or a late New Year’s Resolutions post. It’s just a first attempt to put down some thoughts that have been bubbling to the surface a lot over the last several weeks, prompted by a variety of catalysts and the realization that even if I can’t finish that opening sentence right now, I can at least start thinking about what needs to happen in order for me to be able to do so.

I’m pretty sure that means more writing here, more reflection. And to the extent that that’s personally utilitarian — not necessarily unfit for, but at least not tailored for, mass consumption — I’m going to disconnect this blog from social media. Feel free to unsubscribe (or subscribe, if you’re weird like that and want what may well prove to be navel-gazing).

I’m looking forward to this semester. I don’t know what my identity is going to look like at the end of it, but I do know I’ll have played an active role in reshaping it. Perhaps you will have as well. Most importantly, God willing, so will He.

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