Personal Note

My relationship with blogging, and with writing more generally, is a complicated one.

On one side, writing is as compelling a thing as I have in my life: it’s probably the only thing that I don’t know how not to do. But at the same time, its being so fundamental also means that my understanding is disproportional to its influence. I have little clear idea about why I love it the way I do, or really what my ultimate purpose is. For the latter, I sometimes think it’s better to think of writing as a means rather than an end; I write as a way to do other things. This doesn’t always work, though, since a lot of times I write simply to do it.

I still remember finding my first blog platform, a site called hatelife. It was created at some point in the (late?) 1990s by Steve Havelka, a software developer who was also the creator of Pokey the Penguin. I don’t know how long it had been around by the time I found it around 2001, nor do I remember how I originally came across it. I was a senior in high school, and can only say how lucky I was that social media was not really a thing until I was somewhat older. I tend towards over-sharing, which is ironically an offshoot of the difficulty I have making connections with the outside world—if you’re not emotionally invested in people as a concept, it’s hard to be embarrassed by much. At the time, it was actually an attempt to bootstrap some self-esteem: a sort of fake it ‘til I make it. After all, my thinking went, if I share something I can’t be embarrassed by it, right? And if I share a lot, that means that I’m generally comfortable with who I am. Of course, I wasn’t (that comfortable with myself, that is), so the result was actually disconnecting emotionally from what I wrote in a lot of cases. It wasn’t all bad, of course; I was fortunate in that my social circle at the time put a high value on emotional sensitivity, even if none of us really knew what we were doing. I also found in hatelife a way to people-watch in a much more controlled way, and I found reading people’s thoughts a lot more relatable and cathartic than sitting on a park bench somewhere and trying to figure people out. Humans generally were inscrutable for me, so it was nice to find a place where people generally stopped hiding what they thought.

I posted regularly to hatelife throughout college and the miserable year I had been undergrad and grad school. As the latter went on, I posted less and less. Much of my more important thoughts started to involve other people, and I wasn’t really comfortable sharing, say, details of the relationship that began with my now-wife with a group of people that knew me but with whom I was, with rare exceptions, no longer close. Hatelife in its original form also disappeared sometime around then, although it was brought back later on.

This tension between sharing and, well, not has remained. I’ve written under my real name and under pseudonyms. There are of course practical considerations: the Internet can be a hostile place, and just about everyone who’s made a name for themselves online has a story of being stalked, doxed, and the like. At the same time, it can be difficult to have any kind of actual relationship with an audience without some degree of honesty. This tension is at a key point of writing’s appeal to me: to have a relationship that is selective in terms of where the connections happen, and one over which I can maintain some degree of control. I like the idea of people responding to something I’ve done, but there are parts of who I am that I still want to keep secret. But the interesting thing as I’ve gotten older is that, as I begin to find actual peace with myself, I’ve come to fear exposure less and less. Still, the slow way is the safe way.

I originally created this particular blog to write solely about my spiritual life. It’s something that’s personal, but more in the sense of being related to me than something that I want to feel particularly private about. But I was also conscious of others’ sensitivity to this realm, and wanted it to be something that could be isolated appropriately. I also recognize that I have just enough knowledge and experience to potentially challenge someone in a way for which they may not have a ready response, but I fear the responsibility involved in actually influencing someone’s spiritual life. If I can be helpful, though, that would be gratifying. I think there was also a concern that mixing in “real life” with talk of spiritual things would somehow pollute or dilute the latter, which is of course missing the point of those “spiritual things” to begin with.

I’m not sure it’s a line I’ll be able to walk consistently. After all, I actually started this place thanks to an online pen pal of sorts. He had asked me a question about my relationship with Scripture, and when I explained it, he said something to the effect of “whenever you start a church, I’m in.” It took me about a year to let this thought in, and I was eventually able to hope that others would find a similar message. I also noticed that I definitely was feeling led to write about my relationship with God and the world; one of my prime signs of this was how I kept coming back to the idea while it made me wildly uncomfortable at the same time.

In this current Age, I think we’re all looking for a lot that has been lost. We’re straddling an inflection point, and I hope that I’m lucky enough to live long enough to see where it goes. I think we’re seeing a degree of social and spiritual chaos that is, if not unprecedented, then certainly rare. What makes things right now so different is that there’s no corresponding physical or material upheaval. We’re comfortable and, for the most part, safe to a degree that is unquestionably without peer in our history. Yet the chaos is still there. Our culture has a hard time recognizing it, though, as we’ve been trained to think rationally and scientifically, and so we lack any real vocabulary for talking about it. The idea of a spiritual problem, an illness of the soul, seems quaint. We’re somehow more comfortable with the fuzzy sciences of psychology and psychiatry; ironically, our knowledge of their blind spots and unknown areas actually gives us more confidence rather than less (which is as it should be).[^1]

So we cry out in our own wilderness. The only such place left, at least that any of us have access to, is online. I’m increasingly fascinated at the way something whose sole purpose is connection can come about at a time when everything else seems to be pushing us away from each other. Increasing over-organization, to use Huxley’s phrase, requires breaking down some bonds in order to form others, the way water can turn into ice of different “shapes” (i.e. different crystal lattices). But for some reason we seem to be having a hard time reforming into something new. To continue the chemistry analogy, we’re boiling: bouncing against each other looking for ways to group together. What group identities that are available are vague and ill-defined, such as being part of a social movement, or else obsolete (like nationalism). You may disagree with my description, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that what we have isn’t working. One of the ironies seems to be that when everyone can speak no one is listening, and I think that’s what so many of us are missing.

Which brings me back to the question that’s been in the back of my head for years, ever since I gave up the idea of having a purely journal-like blog: what am I trying to accomplish here? I think the idea of a community where I can step back from time to time is one, and it makes sense as a way to slowly dip my toe into the water after a long period of isolation (both physical and emotional). I also want to spend more time on my own spiritual life, and as I said before, I feel a compulsion to talk about this stuff. Beyond that, I simply want people to want to engage with me one way or the other. I don’t want fame or followers, or perhaps better said that I recognize that whatever desire I do have in that direction would not lead anywhere good. I’m also trying to get towards more personal writing, rather than acting like the hermit on the mountaintop.

Ultimately I have no clue whether I’m writing anything worth reading. This isn’t some false humility or affected self-deprecation; the question is a truly open one. How do we know when we’ve done something good? Did Dostoyevsky or Dickens know they were “great” writers, or did they just write because that’s what they wanted to do? Clearly they believed they had things to say, and I think their continued legacy shows that this wasn’t hubris. I’ve erred in my own past writings in that what I was trying to say was too academic, too disconnected from my emotional life. I think the largest gap in my own self-image is in learning to take my emotions seriously. I’m often frustrated with appeals to emotion in our public discourse, and I don’t think it’s hard to see why. But we can’t make something human if we remove part of our humanity to get there. I need to do some reshaping of my own sense of who I am, and listening to the heart as much of the brain is part of that.

So I think I’ll be writing some asides like this from time to time. The New Testament series will continue, and it may be hoped that those posts will happen more often now that I’m fighting with myself less. My goal then is to make you think, make you feel, and to simply be heard. Should you want me to listen back, just ask.

[1] To be clear, I’m not actually saying these practices, areas of medicine, whatever, are wrong or bad. I’ve been in therapy basically my whole adult life, and it’s at least even odds whether I’d be here writing this were it not for that and/or psychiatric medication.

#personalnote