Wednesday, October 13, 2010

clearing out the deadwood

Way back when I started this blog in December of 2004, I had a few definite thoughts in mind for what I wanted to do. First and foremost, of course, I needed to convince and remind myself that I found the act of writing to be fun. This is one thing that this blog has done extremely well. In large part to its existence, I love writing again. Indeed, some of the writing of which I'm most proud in my life ("Issues and Six Strings" and "On Exits") is on this blog.

There were a few other guiding thoughts, though. I was facing a fairly dire situation: I was long out of money, did not have any work prospects, no longer felt like a scholar, was uncertain about teaching, was a failed musician, and generally felt like I had failed at life. These are things that, if you can get past the rough (and frankly embarrassing) prose and the macho bravado applied to mask the deep depression into which I was sinking, come through loud and clear in those earliest of entries.

Things are different now. I have lucked into a steady job which I can (and probably will) do until I either retire or die (I can see it now...a hoard of students asking the chair (while the EMTs drag off my bloated corpse from in front of the white board) if they still have to turn in their essays). In spite of being pretty sure I will never land the fabled tenure-track job, I am very confident in my scholarly production and think I have done good, note-worthy research (currently under review in major journals as we speak). I play in what I modestly think is a pretty awesome band. I am slowly, ever so slowly crawling out of debt. So I live, in the balance, in a universe drastically better than the one I inhabited upon entering the bloggosphere.

I have not (and, I suspect, I never will) run out of things to say, which I wish to share with the world. But a lot of what part of me thinks is important in "The Quest to Understand Mike" are topics which I'm pretty sure I should not speak. I've never, for example, wanted to write about the highs and lows of teaching, because I cannot really do so without violating the confidentiality of my students (which is something I will never do). Everyone who has ever glanced at this blog knows I've been frustrated with the state of academics and the job market, so to say anything else would be to rehash. I am also pretty sure that no one really wants to hear any mid-life crisis rants either.

What is left? It's a question with which I've been struggling lately. The short answer is: big things. Big changes. Big realizations about my past, present, future. Big understandings about what is important in the world. Some of these might be vague. Some of these might hinge on the "to be revealed at a later date." But I can assure you: most of what is to come will be pretty important, at the very least to staying tuned isn't an entirely bad idea.

Mainly, it all has to do with the state of where I am and how I'm feeling about the world in general and myself specifically. I will admit that I have always been a melancholy kind of guy, and things like self-deprecating humor have always come naturally to me. I always used to think about such attitudes as being endemic to the state of TheMikeDuBose-ness. Lately, though, I have wondered about whether such an attitude is in fact an intrinsic part of me, and I have started to contemplate the cost of such a mindset.

If I'm to be honest with myself, though, I believe I've been (on some level) contemplating such matters for a while.

Back when I was a recent MA, I was finishing up the summer in my grad department office before moving to Ohio, when I suddenly decided to cut off my heavy metal hair. I had been growing my metal hair since really getting into ACDC, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. I had gone from straight to Bon Jovi-ish perm back to straight, plowing through countless brushes and gallons of conditioner. By my last summer in Florida, my glorious hair had reached within a foot of my waist.

One day, though, I decided it needed to go. I joked about this with friends one night at a bar, and although most of them took it as drunk talk (sweet, sweet drunk talk), one of them suggested I make an appointment at the stylist where she worked. The next day, I did so, without telling anyone. I took a lunch break, drove to the stylist, got all my hair chopped off, and went back to work. The afternoon was filled with a whole bunch of "Hi, Mike...OH MY GOD!!!!"s. When I came home that afternoon, my own parents didn't recognize me at first. I went to the bar that night, and some of my own friends wondered who was this guy sitting at their table.

Most of the reactions were of shock and of the "oh, it looks good" type of surprise (with the exception of one professor with whom I was working who didn't even notice the change). There was one professor in particular, though, who demanded explanation, justification, and all that. He was strangely oblivious to my plea to lower shampoo bills.

I never was able to give him an explanation at the time. I can do so now. I was, at the time, wondering if my image made me me. Would I survive without the hair? Would I stand out? Would anyone notice me if there wasn't an intrinsic shock value? Chopping off all my hair, ultimately, was about trying to figure out who I was when all the trappings were removed.

This is, incidentally, what this blog will try to do from now on..and, if I'm honest with myself, I think that clearing out the deadwood in myself has been perhaps one of my main motivations from the start.

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