On Complete Sentences and a Cultivated Self

“You are so stuck in your fucking head that you can’t even form a complete sentence!” It was a cold morning in late January and I was sitting across from my former supervisor in the corner of a local coffee shop...

“You are so stuck in your fucking head that you can’t even form a complete sentence!”

It was a cold morning in late January and I was sitting across from my former supervisor in the corner of a local coffee shop. I emailed him to meet up and chat about how things were going since I had dropped out of Virginia Tech’s MS/PhD program in Science and Technology Studies three months earlier. I was about eight months into my first, only, and last year of living in Blacksburg, Virginia; five months into an awful slurry of ongoing anxiety and depression; and half a month into Peter Berger’s early work on social construction in the 1960s.

I was reading Berger hoping that his 1967 magnum opus, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion, would help me make sense of and wrestle free from the evangelical social reality that I was a part of (it did, thank G-d) and salvage a sense of religiosity (TBD). I wanted to meet up with my former supervisor to talk through some of the thoughts I was having since he too recently went through a religious deconstruction process. I also wanted to talk to him about parlaying my involvement in a fledgling post-ex-gay Christian celibate sexual minority movement into a dissertation project—but that’s a blogpost for another time.

“I’ve been…”—er, “So Berger has this…”—. I was struggling for words. Well, that’s not entirely true. I had plenty of words—social construction, reality maintenance, subjective plausibility, objectivated facticity, socio-cultural dialectic, anomy and irreality, etc.—but was unable to put them together. Hence my former supervisor’s bubbly injunction, equal parts casual amusement and sincere concern, that I was so stuck in my fucking head that I couldn’t even form a complete sentence. He wasn’t wrong: I was spending most of my time alone in my room manually transcribing interviews for a sociologist (I needed to pay the bills somehow being programless and thus stipendless), reading mid to late 20th century social theory and philosophy by myself, and trying to get a grip on my experiences as a queer Asian American intellectual somehow caught in the orbit of a hopelessly white, unapologetically homonegative, intellectually alarmist, exceptionally American evangelicalism. In hindsight, it was definitely the panic attacks that helped me to reach escape velocity—again, a blogpost for another time.

It’s been a little over five months since my coffee date with my former supervisor and I still struggle with complete sentences, though thankfully to a lesser degree. I’m no longer surviving day-to-day doing sociological grunt work, reading alone in my room with minimal social interaction, trapped in a small white college town in the middle of Southwest Virginia. Having completed my undergrad at the University of Virginia, I moved back to Charlottesville (which, to be sure, has its own set of issues; but it was the best I could manage given my circumstances in Blacksburg) about two months ago hoping to make sense of and heal from all of my accumulated befuddlement and trauma over this past year. Given the anomic turbulency of entering into and leaving grad school in a field I ended up not caring about, earnestly attempting to live my life submerged in a social reality that was immiscible with my lived experience, and busting myself out of white evangelicalism’s celibate china cabinet, I am having trouble with the steady narrations of the self that make up the bulk of conversations. Hence the false starts and long pauses that prompted my former supervisor’s friendly indictment five months ago, and hence this inaugural blogpost.

The purpose of this blog is to cultivate a sense of self through the regular practice of writing. Justin Tse, another one of my interlocutors who blogs over at Patheos as Eastern Catholic Person and is more enthusiastic about theology and psychoanalysis than I am, recently described his blogging practice in the following way:

 

Culture, the theorist Raymond Williams points out, comes from the idea of cultivating, of turning the nature of a patch of land with plants growing every which way into a garden. Writing is the same way. I revisit my experience – my prayer, my studies, my everyday life – but instead of simply savoring them in my mind, I am giving a textual account of them: describing them, ordering them, substituting words where there perhaps were no words. This cultivation, moreover, happens in the full knowledge of the death drive, that what is not constantly cultivated falls into decay. And yet, I am writing, writing, writing. I write to save my soul from death.

 

I suppose I have something similar in mind for my own blogging practice. I’d like to do something about the really rocky soil of my past and all of the ideas scattered like seeds throughout my present. I’d like to cultivate a sense of self by giving complete sentences to my experiences and thoughts, and to do so through the phantom social interactions of blogging rather than getting stuck in my head all over again.

A lot of the writing you’ll encounter here will revolve around issues of race, religion, sexuality, and region, as those are the most salient categories in my life right now. You can also expect a good amount of personal reflections and half-baked, genre-confused, academic-ish musings, for which I sincerely apologize for in advance. It will be important to keep in mind as you read that I am less interested in the products of this blog and more interested in the practice of blogging, or as I have tried to gesture towards above, the practice of self cultivation. Hence, this blog should not be read as a collection of definitive declarations, but rather as a perpetually provisional representation of a self-in-process, cultivated by yours truly through the sentences herein displayed.

More soon~

4 Comments

  1. […] that you have for the past three months was starting to feel forced and thus counterproductive to the cultivation of self you initially sought when starting your blog. After reading your letter, I read some of your blog posts and agree that your highly […]

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