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I miss your musings (#1216)

Topics/tags: Meta-musings

The other day, a colleague told me that they missed reading my musings. The comment got me thinking and wondering. Why did I stop writing and posting? More importantly, do I miss musing (and ranting)? I’m not sure that they are straightforward questions.

Certainly, there’s a part of me that enjoys writing. While I lack great skill at carefully sculpting sentences and other structures [1], I find joy in the effort of arranging thoughts into words. And, as I’ve noted many times, I learn when I write. What do I learn? Many things. Writing forces me to consider the topic at hand more deeply. When I’m a responsible writer, writing can encourage me to look for other sources, other approaches. At times, writing tells me a bit about myself. Introspection is good, or so my therapist suggests. And, as with most skills, exercising the skills of writing improves those same skills [2].

When I first started musing, I felt I had to write certain things. It was necessary, or at least helpful, to produce more thorough answers to common questions. What kind of computer should I buy? Why should I study CS at a liberal arts college? Why should I come to Grinnell? I was also so frustrated at so much that the administration was doing [3] that I needed to put my frustrations in words; for some reason, I thought others would appreciate seeing what I thought.

At some point, musing also started to serve my ego. Many people told me that they appreciated reading what I’d written. Some even said that they learned important things, such as how the old cut-close-balance system worked. It’s nice to feel useful. And, while some colleagues in the literary disciplines made fun of my writing style [4], others noted that my style seemed to fit what I was doing; not everything need be great literature.

I also liked the habit of writing. It’s nice to set aside an hour or two each day to work on something primarily for yourself.

So why did I stop?

Many things contributed. I got busy at work, which left me with less time. Since my heart attack, I’ve needed more sleep each night, which left me with even less time. The musings were an easy target.

But I have more time right now. And I had time last summer. So why didn’t I restart? That’s a more complex issue. Or, more precisely, those are more complex issues, plural.

Some of it is, perhaps, the opposite of the ego thing. It feels arrogant to expect that people would want to read musings like this one, musings that are just about myself. Perhaps it doesn’t just feel arrogant, it is arrogant. Why must I feel as if others care about what I write, what I think?

There are also issues of privacy. Although I’m bad at boundaries, my family is fairly private. And, at times, I feel the need to protect my private self.

I had also exhausted many of the most natural topics. I’d answered the questions I regularly get. I’d complained enough about, say, understaffing in CS or Studio Art, that writing or saying anything more about it seemed pointless.

Other reasons not to rant also presented themselves.

I don’t want to rant about too many things at Grinnell because it’s clear that some prospective faculty stumble upon my musings, and I should not discourage folks from coming to Grinnell. Yes, lots of things suck at Grinnell [5]. But Grinnell has much to recommend it; I feel fortunate to be here. I still believe faculty are better off here than at most other institutions. So my musings (perhaps, even my rants) should encourage great faculty to be here. Great students, too.

Ranting is also not particularly good for my health. I realize that a good rant releases emotional pressure. But thinking about an issue deeply enough to rant about it also increases my blood pressure. It seems better to care less than to rant more. And, as I suggested above, I’ve ranted enough about some issues that the rants have no impact. I need to remember that there are some things I lack power over, things I can’t change [6].

It is also a time that is increasingly hazardous for a large, cisgender, white-presenting male to stray from some kinds of academic orthodoxy. It doesn’t help that there are some particularly vindictive folks out there. I realize that I come from a place of privilege; still, it no longer feels so safe.

The same holds true for political rants. That is, it is increasingly hazardous for me as a liberal, Jewish, academic male to express my opinions on, say, the evils of encouraging children to work in meat-packing plants or, in an odd pairing, forbidding the use of SNAP funds for meat. As I said, there are some particularly vindictive folks out there.

So, although these are SamR’s Assorted Musings and Rants, I need to focus more on musing rather than ranting. However, I must admit that I have more fun ranting, perhaps even finding it easier and more enjoyable. I’d rather reflect on issues I care deeply about, and many of those deep concerns reveal themselves when the underlying principles are broken or damaged. Still, as I said, it may be best for my health to care less.

Can I just muse? I am not sure. In some ways, it feels like there’s less point to musing. And, as I found in my last two musings, I lack the skill and energy to address important subjects fully and appropriately. One paragraph for Doug Caulkins? He deserves pages and pages. Katherine McClelland and George Drake deserve chapters. Jeremy’s art warrants a book. What I wrote, what I could write, are but fleeting glimpses.

Perhaps SamR’s Inadequate Fleeting Glimpses. Let’s try the acronym. SIFG. Nope.

But what is a musing but a fleeting glimpse? What is any piece of writing, no matter how long? Perhaps I can also rant, if only once in a while.

There are other worries, too. Do I have anything new to write? I suppose that’s the other fear. I’ve reported that some of my rants have reportedly become rather repetitive. I’ll even go so far as to say that much of this musing mimics meanderings from moments past [7]. I’d prefer to find new directions, not just old. Even awesomely annoying alliterations, while an enjoyable distraction, add little.

Can I write daily? Can I write something to post daily? Will it be new? Or new enough? I’m not sure. I suppose it won’t hurt to try.

[1] And I’m too lazy to spend much time improving them.

[2] However, not in that sentence. Did I really use skills three times?

[3] E.g., canceling our collaboration with the Posse foundation.

[4] Sam, did you know that there are more than two or three sentence structures?

[5] Even more suck in the state of Iowa. What happened to our beautiful purple state?

[6] Insert your favorite version of the serenity prayer.

[7] passed?

Version 1.0 of 2023-02-26.