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Another month of musing

Before my recent unplanned sabbatical from musing, I made it a practice to end each month with a meta musing [1] on what I’d gained or learned from a month of writing each day. I didn’t write one at the end of the first post-sabbatical musing month, mostly because I’d only been musing for a week or so. But now it’s time to start again.

When I started writing the meta musings (and, more generally, the musings), I was learning a lot about myself as a writer and about the habits I was forming [2] about daily writing. But at some point, it became clear that my writing had hit a plateau. I seem to be able to write reasonably clear, reasonably well-structured text. It’s not brilliant, but it conveys ideas and I do have the occasional idea that seems worth conveying. So what should I muse about my musings?

If I had not just written about how outstanding topics seem to accumulate, I would have been able to make those topics the focus of the musing. But it appears that I do not plan well. Or perhaps I knew subconsciously that that would not be an appropriate end-of-month topic.

Let’s see, what have I mused about in the past thirty days? Since the past month involved class prep time, I mused a lot about putting together a schedule. The Dean’s office’s decision to require that we send our syllabi to our academic support assistants may also have had an impact on my thinking about writing syllabi and schedules [3]. I had a few other meta-musings (on continuing to muse, on the RSS feed [4], and on forgetting what I’ve written). There were a few of my traditional whine about my workload musings. I wonder if I’m already in a rut.

I did use the opportunity to muse to think through some issues, particularly some prospective changes to the College’s gift policy and to reflect on course design issues, such as the rhythm of a course. Those musings were particularly useful to me personally.

Hmmm … that seems more like a report than anything. Perhaps I should reflect on my audience. It’s somewhat strange writing without knowing how many people read what I write. I get about four likes per musing on Facebook, usually from my wife, one of my son’s friends [5], an alum [6], and one other person. But I assume that I’m more widely read. Of course, I had one contradictory day in which one colleague said something like Sam, lots of people read and discuss your meetings and another told me that they had no idea that I wrote daily. My favorite recent comment, which I’ve also heard in the past, was something like I don’t know how you have time to write something each day. I don’t even have time to read what you write each day.

So, where do I go from here? If I wanted to work on the quality of my writing, I’d probably choose some short topics and work on writing multiple drafts, rather than continuing the current model of inadequate revision. But careful revision takes time.

I did start the musing primarily to encourage myself to write things that I needed to write, such as comments on campus policies or information on the department. But I’ve written enough about the department, or at least as much as I’m currently willing to write for a general audience. While I like to rant, few things on campus rise to the level of the discontinuation of our agreement with the Posse Foundation. And, strangely enough, I’m starting to worry more about who my rants might affect. While I think it’s okay to rant about people who are on a similar or higher footing (colleagues, in the abstract; administrators; the unspecified they or The College), it seems increasingly inappropriate to rant about, say, things that staff members do [7].

I can see some value in writing about teaching practices. Doing so helps me reflect on why I teach in the way I do. And writing about my practices might inspire others to adopt or adapt some of those practices. Writing about the practices sometimes garners feedback that helps me refine the practices. And writing about teaching reminds me of the project that my mother and I never finished [8,9]. But good writing about my teaching also takes time.

While I am finally down to teaching a reasonable load after the insanity of last semester, I’m still finding it hard to keep up with all of my work [10]. So it may be that I’ll just focus on short topics on weeknights and longer ones on the weekend. We shall see.

In any case, I hope that whatever I end up writing is better [11] than this [12].

[1] meta musing is probably not the best term, but I’m going with it anyway.

[2] Or, as the sabbatical suggests, failing to form.

[3] The Faculty Handbook does require us to provide them to our department chair. It’s just that they have not traditionally been archived in any form. I don’t mind the archiving. In fact, I think it could be interesting for folks who want to look back on the syllabi in a decade or more.

[4] Or was that at the end of last month?

[5] Yes, it’s the same one every time.

[6] Yes, it’s the same one every time.

[7] Has musing made me nicer? Nah.

[8] And, truth be told, never got more than a bit started.

[9] I’ll muse about it some time.

[10] Losing a weekend of work time (as well as some sleep) to The Posse Plus Retreat didn’t help.

[11] More coherent, containing an actual point, useful to someone, pick your criteria.

[12] Otherwise, my next end-of-month musing will be On failing to muse coherently or usefully [14].

[14] Alternately, it could be On plowing through a rough spot in writing. There may be a real benefit [15] in continuing to muse when it isn’t as easy or obvious as it has been.

[15] To me, not to you.

Version 1.0 released 2018-01-31.

Version 1.0.2 of 2018-02-01.