I wouldn’t say that’s true, necessarily, though he might have been right had I gone into the humanities instead of social science. I consider my writing and musical chops “on hold” for now, but I know I can steel wool the rust off both because the joy in those avenues has never dissipated for me.
What is more important right now is the kind of frozen terror I have about writing the dissertation. I know what I want to say. I know what I’m going to do. But what graduate school does to you (or to me, at least) is provide a panic inducing fear of lacking precision and careful thought. It comes from doing the extensive literature reviews, carefully filling out the IRB forms, carrying out these exhaustive and exhausting practices to ensure amorphous concepts like “validity.”
It’s kind of terrible sometimes.
Megan was at the college/research library conference this week and one of their keynote speakers was Henry Rollins. If you know me well, you know that I loathed high school for a number of different reasons. Let’s say I wasn’t the happiest young person in the world, but one thing that brought me exceptional joy was music. The more political, the better. The louder, the better. Yes, yes, my music collection was eclectic, but I listened to certain albums on my discman (OLD!) so frequently that I know the order the songs are supposed to be in. Anything on AmRep was fair game, and anything riot grrrl. And, oh, how I adore Fugazi.
As with any kid, though, I dug into the past and gained some beloved bands who were tearing things up when I was in kindergarten. Black Flag was one of those bands. Henry Rollins had a pretty profound effect on my life in high school with a book of poems that gave me something to annotate and obsess over and I was reminded of this when Megan said he was keynoting the conference.
Megan brought back a book he released that’s full of pictures from his time traveling all over the world. In his introduction, he talks about the potential for his amateur photography to be seen as a vanity project. Instead of flipping through the photographs and reading the context in which they were taken (that’s in the back), he wrote in that very stream of consciousness way that he writes in–a practice I adopted in some of my journaling practices, though I have a very different end product than he does.
As I was flipping through the book, especially after reading the introduction, I felt inspired by his acceptance of his movement between knowledge and ignorance. In academia, especially in social justice circles, we are often so careful in reflection. The question is, of course, how do you even get past reflection and into something revelatory if you’re careful?
What I know is that I come to ideas through a kind of manic rage, a sometimes pretentious anger. My reflection is loud, careless, and the more intense I get about something, the more important I think it probably is to how I understand the world (or don’t).
I am very lucky to have guides in my academic life, and they know who they are, who don’t expect me to have any other process. Who don’t ask for the kind of cultural performance of calmness or thoughtfulness that would lead me to only say the things that others have said. Messy and broken and riding roughshod and general assholery are things that erupt from me on a (let’s admit it) daily basis.
Let’s be real about this, though. If I couldn’t give a rat’s ass about something, you’ll never see me mad about it. It’s generally a sign of disinterest, not reflection.
Revisiting Henry Rollins made me remember that in some of us there is a passion so large that it is filled with obscenity and anger. It isn’t hate, it isn’t toxic. It is a driving force without which there is no thirst for knowledge and no motivation.
What I’m feeling now with these sleepless nights is the bottling of the fury in favor of what intellect is supposed to look like. It’s bad for the work. I need some of that self-righteous pretension. I need to remember that what I’m writing is for everyone who’s been kept from adding their voices, for everyone who’s felt the stranglehold of impenetrable academic theory, for everyone whose childhood is filled by gaping voids of representations of themselves, and for everyone who is transformed by releasing their demons and being heard.
I don’t care if it’s pretentious. I don’t care if I waver between knowledge and ignorance. I will add some Rollins back into my process and I will claim Whitman as a motto.
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)