Closer to leaving, and I’m starting to really feel the intensity of letting go, instead of just thinking about it.  Pretty soon, I’ll start having an onslaught of  “lasts”: my last tofu shift, my last Planner meeting, my last childcare shift with Willow, my last date with Paxus, my last women’s group meeting.  Tomorrow marks the first day of my last week of assigned labor — after this week, I’ll be on “transition” for two weeks, where I don’t owe any labor credits for the week and I just get to pack and hang out with friends.  Some people use transition time to get a short-term job and earn some extra money for leaving, but I’m going to travel using  the money I got when I sold my car three years ago, when I was still a new member here.  Since it was based on a prior asset, it wasn’t legit to use any of that money while I was a member, so I saved it in an account here for just this moment, not knowing when it would come.  And now here I am…

I’m crying a lot these days.  My life is going to change dramatically in the next 3 weeks, and the magnitude of the change is overwhelming.  I’m also excited.  I’m smiling a lot these days, too.

I turned in my application to UVA a few days ago, after working diligently on my personal statement  and having it edited by at least 5 people here.  A former college professor, an indexer who loves to edit, a friend with a passion for writing, a guest here for New Year’s who is actually a Sociology grad student right now…  and I’m pleased with the final version.  I’ll post it here for your enjoyment!

The instruction  was to “discuss some of the issues and questions that occupy your mind” (or something like that).  Here it is, my grad school entrance essay:

Over the past several years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the connections between social change, deviance and taboo, and the social construction of the concept of “self.”  While living at Twin Oaks Community and being involved in the broader movement for social justice, I’ve found myself yearning for a forum to explore my ideas and questions about self, society, and change.  It is with this yearning that I return to academics to pursue graduate studies.My interest in social change began as a sociology undergraduate, where I focused on the development and impact of social stratification.  The understanding I gained in these classes grew into dismay at injustice and corruption that seemed to be passively accepted as “just the way things are.”  My distress was fueled, I believe, by a component missing from my academic study of stratification: an analysis of the possibilities for change.  In none of my classes did I learn about efforts towards creating a different, healthier model.  I sought out the political system as an avenue for creating change, and became disillusioned after a semester as an intern with Common Cause in Washington DC.  Experience with grassroots activism eventually provided hope for me, and I started to notice how I could create real change by changing my own life and through subtle and not-so-subtle conversations with people around me.  As part of my explorations, I visited Twin Oaks Community, an income-sharing community of about 100 people in Louisa, VA, where I have now lived for over three years.

In my own investigation of social change and from a desire to “live my values,” I unintentionally became a deviant.  I abandoned some of the social values and norms that I had previously accepted, in favor of new ideas that made more sense to me.  I stopped shaving my legs.  I moved to a commune.  I gave up monogamy, grew my own food, and started telling people what I really thought.  From this new perspective, I’m fascinated by the difference in my experience of the world, compared with when I simply followed social norms.  I’m curious about how a culture can encourage and discourage deviance, and the impact this has on society. I want to research how taboos are communicated and culturally enforced.  I want to analyze different types of taboos (those based on tradition vs. contemporary social necessity, for example) and explore the social process of defusing and dismantling taboos.  What enables some people to step outside of social norms, shrugging off socialization to intentionally try to create a different culture?  I want to study groups of “intentional deviants”: innovators, activists, and radicals such as the CrimeThInc collective, the Zapatistas, the Black Block, people in the Communities Movement, and others actively working for social change.  I want to explore their experience of socialization and their process of dissolving it and claiming something new (if that’s indeed what happens). I’m interested in looking at how one’s perception of “self” shifts as someone opens to identifying as deviant, especially in relation to theories on the social construction of the self. I recently revisited an old Social Theory reader (Lemert’s “Multicultural and Classic Readings”), and I found myself especially inspired by Cooley’s description of “Looking Glass Self,” and the works of Erving Goffman and George Herbert Mead.

I’m also interested in specific movements for change and the process of how something deviant becomes more integrated into a culture.  Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point has been particularly interesting to me as a look at how an idea spreads or a trend emerges.  Contemporary movements that are particularly interesting for me are urban community gardens, car sharing cooperatives, alternative currencies, radical intimate relationship models, and intentional communities.  Beyond current movements, I want to explore social change in a broader sense, theoretically and historically. How does culture change?  Who changes it?  Why?  What are different methods people use to intentionally change culture?  What things do people do that change culture unintentionally?

With a strong foundation of researching and understanding stratification, I ask the question, “what can be done to change this?”  To be clear, the question is not “what should be done?”; the “should” is up to philosophers, ethicists, and religion.  I certainly have my own personal ideas about the “should,” but as a sociologist I want to ask questions of possibility.  How can societies change?  What methods have worked?  What methods haven’t?  How does legislative change reflect or inspire cultural change?  In what ways does a society invite or impede social change? Additionally, based on sociological theories of how culture works, I want to extrapolate new theories of how people could try to create effective social change.

At the University of Virginia, I’m especially interested in studying these topics with Krishan Kumar, Sarah Corse, and Steve Nock.  Kumar’s focus on revolution and utopian ideals aligns well with my interests in social change, as does Corse’s examination of engineering culture and organizational change.  Nock’s studies of relationships and intimacy are particularly interesting to me because of my recent experience and study of alternative relationship models.  Overall, I’m attracted to the UVA Sociology Department’s small size and friendly culture, which I experienced during my visit in mid-November.  I had the opportunity to meet with Steve Nock and Paul Kingston, as well as several graduate students.  My conversations with them were encouraging and inspiring, and I look forward to meeting others in the department, as well.

My ultimate goal in graduate study, beyond the immediate experience of wrapping my mind around these questions, is to teach.  I want to facilitate the examination of social stories, helping people identify and evaluate the forces that have shaped their perception and understanding of the world around them.  During my time at Twin Oaks, I’ve traveled to colleges around the country and given numerous presentations in sociology and political science classes about my experience of living in an intentional community.  At conferences and festivals, I’ve taught workshops about open relationships, intimacy, communication, activism, and resource-sharing. In the course of this work, I’ve discovered that I love teaching.  I’m excited by the process of developing ideas and figuring out how to present them in an accessible way.  My objective in pursuing graduate study is to eventually become a professor of sociology and help students cultivate a deeper awareness of the complexities of the social world.

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