Purity is hard, y’all. By design.

My dissertation dragon has awakened once again, if only to remind me that this time, it really must be slain. As it shakes the dust from its wings, I’m going to try and block out key concepts for the project that I hope will be useful later.

First up: how and why evangelical distinguish abstinence from purity.

Secular culture tends to conflate “abstinence” and “purity.” That is, popular media and scholars alike tend to use the two terms interchangeably to denote the evangelical emphasis on refraining from sex–ah, that narrow, all-encompassing term–until marriage. Evangelicals themselves, however, often treat the two terms as denoting separate concepts/arguments that are aimed at different audiences.

Abstinence, on the one hand, refers to avoiding sex until marriage, and is used almost exclusively when talking to a secular (read: not evangelical) audience; see discussions of “abstinence-only” sex education, for example. As this example might suggest, the practice of abstinence, from an evangelical perspective does not require faith. That is, abstinence-only cirricula do not presume an audience of all committed Christians; quite the opposite, in fact. Indeed, as an evangelical blogger once put it, “anybody can be abstinent,” regardless of faith; one does not have to accept Jesus as one’s personal savior in order to practice an abstinent lifestyle.

Notably, it’s the ubiquity of the abstinence message, its ability to resonate in secular government and education that’s encouraged the emergence of “purity” as a distinct concept: a practice whose very exigence is one’s personal relationship with Jesus. To practice purity is to eschew not only physical intimacy before marriage, but emotional and spiritual intimacy as well, to hold oneself apart from others so as to keep one’s focus on a relationship with God–and eventually, with one’s spouse. Purity is HARD, much more difficult than abstinence, and purity discourse proudly trumpets both this higher level of difficulty and its exclusivity: only Christians can do this, and then only with dedicated time, attention, and affection for their God.

All of this to say that the distinction between abstinence and purity is an important one in evangelical culture. As the concept (if not the practice) of abstinence has become more prominent in the secular realm, there’s been a concomitant push in the church to take it back, to create a version of sexual restraint that can’t spread in the mainstream, one that’s only accessible to those who’ve given their lives to Christ. As a concept, purity is designed to resist circulation outside of evangelical culture: purity, it’s not for us, we in the secular world, and in that lies much of its virtue and value within the evangelical realm.

Audience, Purpose, Angst

So the final, painful push of grad school is on and, to be honest, it kind of sucks.

On the one hand, there’s great promise: I’m almost done!

On the other, there’s great pain: Yeah, but, you’re not done yet and oh hey, how’s that job search going?

derek hale wth

Right.

Continue reading “Audience, Purpose, Angst”

…is that bad?

How you know you’re deep in PhD land:

1) You dream about both of your research subjects at the same time. Gotta say, the Overlord and anti-porn Christian women make an, uh, interesting pair.

2) You finally! give your diss director the intro to one of your data chapters and end up having this conversation:

Director: I can see why writing this is taking you so long.
Me: Oh god why
Director: Because what you’ve written is so clear. I can see exactly what you’re going to be arguing here.
Me: …is that bad?
Director: No, it’s really good. It’s just that most dissertation chapters aren’t this coherent. You’re usually trying to figure stuff out on the page, and you only get to a real point in the last few pages.
Me: Wait. I thought the point was for each chapter to be a coherent, self-contained argument, and then to tie all the chapters together as parts of one central argument.
Director: Well, yeah. In a perfect world. But that’s not what usually happens.
Me: WTF

3) You share your semi-magical job search spreadsheet with your departmental colleagues because hey, everyone’s already looking over your virtual shoulder anyway. So what the hell.

4) You start a post-it note countdown on your office door towards the next (the first!) job application deadline. Because again, the more information you offer people upfront, the less they’ll ask you about, right?

5) You actually almost make a career-ish decision based on how it will look on your CV. Luckily, you have enough sense to reach out to one of your committee members, who reminds you that, in this scenario, “what you WANT to do” should be your central concern.

6) You give serious, sustained thought about what music to play at your dissertation defense.

Hoooooo boy.

Academia fucks with your head

Sometimes I write to make sense of things. Sometimes I write for fun. Sometimes I write because if I don’t, my anxiety will eat me alive.

Today, I’m chasing the demons for reasons that, on paper, make ZERO sense. I’m freaking out this morning because it appears that I might, might, have three publications coming out this fall.

Three. Just in time for the job search.

And these are all pieces that I really, really like. Of which I might even be proud.

So this is a good thing, right? Like, duh. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

Then why do I need a drink?

Let’s go to my inner Greek chorus of negativity, already in progress:

1) None of these pubs will appear in the “right” places, according to TPTB within my department. That is, these pieces will not be featured in any of the top journals in what is ostensibly my field: rhetoric. Instead of appearing in RSQ, Quarterly Journal of Speech, or College English, they’re scheduled to show up in this edited collection and in these two journals.

2) All of these pieces are about Supernatural, in some way, shape, or form. Ergo, I imagine, they’ll be perceived as “unserious” in the minds of some (including members of my dissertation committee).

3) One of the pubs will not only appear solely online, it’ll be presented in an unconventional electronic format (read: as a Storify). Thus, its very form will further undermine its seriousness for some readers.

4) NONE OF THESE PUBLICATIONS ARE DRAWN FROM MY DISSERTATION. This fact seems to really, really bother my dissertation chair. Perhaps understandably so.

5) These pieces mark my first attempts to bring rhetoric to play in the field of fan studies.  I fear alienating (or worse, being ignored by) both sides.

6) I have to revise two of these pieces in the next 15 days. Granted, we’re at the minor changes and copy editing stages of revision here, but still.

7) Time spent working on those revisions is time that I’m not spending on my dissertation. Again, my dissertation chair will be very unhappy about this, should I choose to tell them about it.

8) One of these pieces is about Wincest. Hence, it features lots of quotes about, and lengthy discussions of, gay incestuous sex. I can see this being a problem for some hiring committees.

Ok, whew. I feel a bit better spewing all that on the screen, though there is part of me going DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS because you might jinx yourself. Ugh. Yes, I am shaking as I type this (ugh). Yes, I realize that my anxiety is totally illogical, if not nonsensical. And yes, I’ve found myself utterly unable to BE HAPPY about this unexpected development this morning, even for a moment, because of all the people I can hear in my head telling me why it’s not as cool or good or helpful as I might think it is. And that’s pretty fucked up, I think.

Academia is aces at undermining what little self-confidence I might naturally possess.

Why am I trying to get into this business again? Blargh.

I think I’m gonna go run around the block. Or to the liquor store.

This Stuff Just Happens

So the funny thing about passing my comprehensive exams is that I now have no idea what to do with myself.

It’s reminded me, this feeling, of a moment in Fanspired’s story, “Conversations With Head People,” a Wincest tale in which a meta-version of Fanspired herself tries to explain to Sam Winchester how much agency he possesses as a fictional character within her writing:

I only try to write honestly and this stuff just happens […] I can’t help the way you react, or the issues that get raised in the process. That’s your doing. All I do is ask ‘what happens next?’ and you answer me.

Right.

I keep asking, sure, but there’s no one to answer.

Oh, I have shit I should be doing: a couple of conference proposals, revising my prospectus, catching up on the theory I’ll need to draw from as my project moves forward.

And my class steams ahead, too; I always have my students to think of, true.

But–

I feel as though I’m in limbo. Not in a bad way at all, but more like a liminal space.

When your official status can be described as “all but,” perhaps that’s not really surprising.

I don’t know.

I suppose the next concerted push will come in a year’s time (knock on wood), when according to the Powers That Be, I should be applying for jobs.

In the meantime, in essence: my purpose is to read and write, to study and create, to research and to make something new. Or new to me, at least.

It’s kind of bizarre.

My academic self, the one that tends to ride herd over any other facets of me, is stuck in the needle groove of the question: what happens next?

(Waits with baited breath; looks over shoulder.)

The Promise of the Imaginary

The beauty of my research project–of what will grow up big and strong one day to become my dissertation–is the rage that it forces me to convert into something productive.

Ok, “force” is too strong a word. I’ve designed the thing to put me in that position.

That is:

The locus of my research are contemporary evangelical rhetorics of female sexuality and desire. That’s a wank-tastic way of saying that I’m looking at how the evangelical church in the US talks to women about their sexuality and how women in the church talk amongst themselves about their own experiences with sex, gender roles, and desire.

Here’s the trick, though: as a casual glance at this blog (hell, at the previous freaking post!) might suggest, my notions of sexuality and desire don’t fall in neat alignment with those of the Christian church, despite (or perhaps because of?) 18 years in the Southern Baptist faith—an experience my brother neatly dissects here. So the easy move, from a personal and a scholarship perspective, is to spend 150 pages dismissing these rhetorics outright in favor of:

Chad Michael Murray cosplaying as Dean. Obviously.

Because, dude. Come on.

Take this example from a book called The Love Dare, featured in the recent Kirk Cameron direct-to-video flick, Fireproof: The MovieThe purpose of The Love Dare is to present couples with 40 “dares”–activities or conversation starters–to stage over 40 days as they seek a stronger connection. An entirely reasonable purpose (allusions to that pesky Ark aside).

Continue reading “The Promise of the Imaginary”