This is the End

It occurred to me yesterday, as I walked across campus on my way to the evening’s classes, that I am soon going to have to shut this down. The thought rolled off my back and may as well have fallen on the sidewalk behind me for how much credence I gave it then, but tonight my retraced steps have brought me back to pick it up, dust it off, and appreciate what that means.

Right now, the blog I’m typing will be published on Up until six months ago, that was fine: this site represented the best of me, or at least the most of me. The words across the top — Writer. Reader. Gamer. Scholar. — were arranged in a way that made sense at the time. And for the most part there was nothing more to my self-presentation than that. Since I started The Forge back in December 2006, I have always had a “blog,” a site to vent my thoughts, whine about my life, reflect on things that had struck me, review the movie I saw over the weekend, etc. I’ve always been intentional about being straightforward and being honest, about wearing my heart on my sleeve. After all, the only people who were looking for me were people who, ostensibly, cared about me or knew me personally.

But much has changed in the last six months and even as I still take the notion of independence and honesty seriously, I recognize that this isn’t the best way to achieve it. Starting in June, I will be a teacher. I already have seven students enrolled in my course and the push for registration hasn’t even gotten into full swing. Those students have my name. And perhaps they are curious enough to find their way here. Heck, perhaps one of you is one of my students. That’s a crazy thought.

And it’s a realistic one. The kind that says for better or worse you can’t have a blog in which you post about your personal struggles and anxieties and experiences with peers and teachers and students — a blog anything remotely like what I’ve written over the past seven and a half years — attached to the official website with your name attached to it. Such a site may be permitted to exist (and indeed, I’ve not ruled it out), but it can’t be here, it can’t be this.

On the other side of the coin, it’s high time that I took advantage of having a website with my name attached to it and got used to the fact that going forward, people entering “Adam Bogert” into Google will be looking for a professor, a graduate student, a researcher, or a colleague — not an introspective dude bleeding melodrama into cyberspace.

I have forged some great relationships through this kind of blogging over the years. I’ve also lost some relationships because of it. I’ve grown in some ways and regressed in others. I have made some people laugh, and I know for a fact I’ve made some people cry. And it has been good. Not always enjoyable, but good.

But it’s ending. Disengaging from social media was the first step, but it was not enough. This all has to go, pocketed away in the annals of my childhood, boxed up and stored in a basement where I will look back at it fondly and with all the proper embarrassment of reading one’s adolescent diary.

This will be a process, for sure. I do not know for sure how long it will take, or when it will be finalized. But, as it were, this is the beginning of the end, and I want to thank anyone who has been along for any part of the ride. Keep in touch, if you can.

-Adam K. Bogert, February 26th, 2014

The Old Ghost

I’m confronted by the impossibility of beginning. I used to be good at this, I figure, or at least I used to be naïve enough to act like I was good at it so I could just dive into things. Now I’m so worried about a good start that the start sucks and so does the rest of it.

I’ve gotten sick of slamming futilely on the pump of the long-emptied hand-soap dispenser in the bathroom so with the fifth episode of True Detective still replaying in my head and the knowledge of a hefty tax exemption in my wallet I dig my keys out of my umbrella (no kidding, that’s where I found them) and head out into the un-customarily warm February air towards the nearest promise of perpetual low prices. My heart is surprisingly light, and I sing along to some Owl City with the front passenger window half rolled down (at least some of the windows in that piece of junk still work) and the fear that every pair of headlights in my rear-view mirror is a cop car keeping the drive interesting.

I find myself a spot and wander in through the exit, working my way back around past the registers to the entrance where a guy who doesn’t really have a solid handle on English can’t tell me why they don’t have hand-baskets and gives me a shopping cart. I tell him it’s okay and head for the “personal care” section where I grab the cheapest bulk bottle of soap I can find. I get ten feet away before realizing it says “antibacterial” exactly nowhere on that bottle. Trip two secures me something uglier but less bacteria-friendly. Trip three is me remembering the body wash at home is almost empty and being shocked that body wash costs so much more than soap. Trip four is a “sensitive skin” can of Barbasol and hoping for no trip five.

And then I wander. I don’t really know if I want anything in particular, but there’s something about the place that says if you’re here you may as well make the most of it. I take it as a challenge, though in retrospect I’m pretty sure I lost.

Passing through the kitchenware aisles I come extremely close to buying a Mr. Coffee so that I, too, can guzzle a pot a day instead of settling for the meager, watery output of successive K-cups. I note incredulously that a generic rival brand coffee maker is positioned beside the official Mr. Coffee. The joke isn’t so much the presence of a generic brand, but that the brand is literally Rival.

I come to the corner of the store and discover the clearance section, marked with a giant banner with the Aquafina logo on it (though for the life of me I can’t imagine what water and the overstocked inventory have in common, except perhaps both are largely tasteless). Near the entrance I discover shelves filled with discounted seasonal candles one season too late, which would normally fill me with glee except I made the mistake a couple years ago of purchasing a pumpkin candle from the store back home which ended up smelling exactly like stale urine (our family lovingly dubbed it “the piss candle”).

The thought crosses my mind that someone might wonder what I’m here for (I do not know why such a stupid thought crossed my mind) and the answer I’m pretty sure I would blurt out if asked is “morbid curiosity.” I guess that goes for the whole of Wal-Mart but doubly for back here, where the person for whom buying gaudy neon glow signs at full price is too lofty a proposition can find them for 50% off, and where the truly adventurous souls can find food and flavored water even less fit for human consumption than it was six months ago when they put it out originally.

I overhear one guy, maybe twenty years old, telling his friend (who is sporting bleach-tipped spiked hair straight out of a 90’s music video) rather urgently “but her birthday’s only a month away” and I hope for both his sake and hers that the impending celebration and his presence in this godforsaken wing of Wally-world aren’t related.

But then, somewhere between the inception and execution of whatever smug laugh at my own joke is about to surface, it occurs to me yeah well either way at least he has someone. And suddenly here I am, humbled between a Brutus Buckeye lawn gnome and a can of Pringles tortilla chips, wishing I were in his shoes, with a girl whose birthday I’m expected to do something special for.

The new money in my checking account suddenly takes on new import. Sure, I could blow it on luxuries for the next year or so and still probably be fine. Or I could make a point of holding onto it. I could put it away, out of sight, because maybe one day there will be a birthday I’m trying to make special, a smile I’m trying to conjure via rose or rosé. Hasn’t happened even once in all these years but then they say there’s a first time for everything, right?

I choke down that egregious use of cliché and head towards the exit, no longer even morbidly interested in shopping here. Along the way, remembering an impending lack of printer paper, I turn down the arts and crafts aisle, and an array of sketchbooks and rubber stamps causes my memory to ripple like water under skipping stones. I see a young me faintly, and then the sensation is gone.

The next aisle brings me my paper, but it also brings me chills. Surrounded by pads of paper, a myriad of expensive pens, and index cards, my past floods back. Nine years old, and I’m going to be an author. I adore stationery. I’m reading a Hardy Boys book. I’m taking important notes on some bird I saw while sitting in a tree. Draft after draft. An old laptop. Dreams. Say What? “We’ll solve any crime by d—”

I blink at the steno pads in front of me, and I want to fill their pages, all of them, with the stories I never bothered to tell, with the ones I thought I’d live instead of the one I actually did. I lift one of them and examine the cover, which tells me the pages within are Gregg-Ruled. I wonder who Gregg is and (as I flip open the cover) why he had to write so large. At twenty-seven cents I decide to indulge the writerly impulse and toss a small pad into the cart beside the pack of printer paper. As I once more aim for the exit, this time for real, I can’t shake the feeling that if I just turned around, right now, I’d see him, looking wide-eyed at all those overpriced designer pens, too caught up in his dreams of all the important things he’d write with them to notice the lonely, cynical man staring wistfully in his direction.

The optimism and naïveté that had sent me into the night are gone as I shuffle out to my car trying to remember who I used to be. Paramore sings of burying idealistic dreams, which stirs something, but it’s the next song that really gets to me:

Well I can see behind the curtain: the wheels are cranking, turning; it’s all wrong the way we’re working towards a goal that’s nonexistent. It’s nonexistent but we just keep believing. And the worst part is before it gets any better we’re headed for a cliff. And in the free-fall I will realize I’m better off when I hit the bottom.

My mind turns to everything I’ve seen and heard in the last few weeks regarding this world I’ve chosen to find myself in, the nigh-crippling cynicism giving way to a kind of reserved something to make it all work. Yesterday I told someone that when I set out to be a professor I had no way of knowing what that meant to the people along the path to getting there. It truly has been like visiting Oz in more ways than I care to articulate here.

A week ago someone called me idealistic and it angered me. Tonight, I’ll take it as a compliment. Because so long as I can hold out hope that this life is anything like what I once believed it to be, that little boy is still alive. The mysteries I read have grown darker. The hands reaching out for mine have grown farther. The words have gotten longer. But I’m still in there somewhere.

And, wouldn’t you know it, I’m as obstinate as ever.

Sometimes all it takes is a dirty bathroom

Both hands were moving vigorously: the right hand violently sawing my toothbrush across my gums, the left hand trying to unstick the globs of toothpaste which had managed to affix themselves to the bowl of my sink over the last couple days. As I brushed, I looked past the sink to the counter, and then to the lid of the toilet, and my disgust led to spitting with noticeably more gusto than usual.

Okay, that’s it. After this week, I’m going to take care of this mess. I just don’t have time right now.

That’s probably the fifth time I’ve said that this semester. You can tell if you look at the bathroom. Luke and I have mastered the system of mutual indifference, where saying nothing means not having to claim responsibility. It does wonders for avoiding cleaning duties, but leaves something to be desired where cleanliness is concerned. Naturally.

But as I watched the saliva, liquified paste, and blood swirl around the drain, I had the sort of epiphany which only ever comes at 1 a.m. and leads to me writing things like this: I will probably never have as much time as I have right now, again.

Seriously, though. My fellowship liberated me from the time-sink that is teaching, and my newness to academia freed me from the typical weight of research productivity a more ideal me might have been generating (after all, it’s hard to do what you are actively being taught the basics of how to do). So if I can’t find the time to do things I want, or need, to do now, the outlook’s fairly bleak for my future.

A professor recently responded to an inquiry about the workload of professors, and balancing it with “life,” that you don’t have time. You make time. His point was that it’s incredibly easy to always be too busy, but that if you decide that you’re going to do something, and are committed to that, then it works out that you do that thing. We find the time to do what matters, and everything else does indeed get pushed to the fringe.

I’ve been pushing a lot of things to the fringe lately, and blaming it on a lack of time; and I’m not just talking about the overambitious dust bunnies on my bathroom floor. I don’t much like that. I think it’s time that I start making time for all the things I don’t have time for. Because let’s face it: if I don’t have time for who I want to be, what do I have time for?

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.