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One Month of Musings

This essay is the thirty first in the series. Hence, it seems like an opportune time to step back and muse on the musings.

When I started, my plan was to encourage myself to write some of the things that I was already planning to write, but rarely got around to - notes about the things that I like about Grinnell, rants about a few things on campus that need to be fixed, perhaps even some promotional text. And I’ve certainly written some of those things.

However, it was clearly the wrong time of the year to begin that kind of a series of essay. The end of the semester is a time for me to wrap up grading, to prepare for the summer, to catch up on unexpected paperwork, to attend a slew of my children’s performances, and more. Inserting a bunch of essay writing in there meant that I didn’t always have the mental energy to think through complex issues or arguments at the level I wanted. There was more than one instance in which I started an essay, worked on it for five minutes, and said Wow! This is awful. I know I have good things to say about this, but I’m clearly unable to do so at this moment. (You’ve seen some of the things I’ve posted. If I was willing to post those, you can tell that the ones I discarded must have been really bad.)

What did I do instead? On many nights, I asked myself What is something that I can write about relatively quickly and without too much concentration that might still be useful for me to write? I ended up with a few essays that are reasonable, but clearly not exceptional.

I hope that as the semester winds down, I’ll start to have time to write the longer and more complex essays. I feel a real need to write a strong defense of posting administrative information publicly. I plan to follow that piece with an open letter to President Kington about those issues. Next week, I’m giving a talk on diversity issues in hiring, and I should probably write up that talk in advance. I should summarize what I’ve learned from the exit interviews. After that, there a bunch of outstanding essays related to my discipline and my department. I look forward to thinking carefully about those issues and sharing my thoughts. (I’m also writing a few recommendation letters over the next week, but I don’t think I should post those as part of my essay series.)

I will admit that I’m a bit worried about what I’ll do after I finish all of the primary planned essays. My list of essays to write include some different genres, but I’m not sure that my audience, such as it is, will really want to read those genres. (For example, does anyone really care why I like Goldenberg Peanut Chews or Jonathan Richman? And does anyone want to read the ramblings of an essayist who is a novice reviewer?) I may just stick to the primary themes of higher education and CS education.

I’m writing to learn and to grow. What have I learned in this month? I’ve learned that if I commit to a daily task, I can probably get it done. I’ve had two off days in the past month; once while traveling (I started the essay in my head, but wrote it up the next day) and once when I was too tired (the very short essay on sleep). That’s not too bad. I’ve also learned that if I commit to a task, I can sometimes be willing to compromise a bit. Not all of these essays are gems. I realize that. Most need more editing. But at least I got something written.

Last night, a colleague asked me how I found the time to write these. I told him that I just write them at the end of the day; I told myself that it is important enough that I should write them before going to bed. And so I do. That bodes well for other daily tasks I should undertake. (Daily exercise starts Tuesday. Daily coding for fun may start some time thereafter.)

I’ve learned that I am not always able to write at a level that I like, but that I’m still willing to put myself out there. I think that’s good. I’ve had some useful conversations recently about giving up on perfectionist tendencies, and these quick and dirty essays are helping move me in that direction.

I think I’ve made myself a bit happier, particularly as I strive to write essays that focus on positive things. (And, hey, even when I write long negative essays, I actually feel a bit happier to share my concerns with others.) Having people talk to me about the essays has also made me happier. (Note: That previous sentence is not a hint that people should talk to me about the essays; it is just an observation.)

As people talk to me, I’ve also learned that a wide variety of people will read what I write. I’ve heard from students, old friends, alums, colleagues, and even two famous authors. At least one of my students shares the essays with their mother. I’ve heard from people who say that it’s been useful to read my perspective on some issues and even from someone that noted that a few of my positive essays were helpful.

But I’ll admit that I’m worried. I know that it takes about 10,000 hours to become really good at something. I spend about an hour on each essay (less on some, more on a few). That means that not only will I need to find 10,000 topics to write about, I’ll need to spend about 27 years before I can write these very well. But you know what? It will be really cool to have written 10,000 essays.

Only nine thousand, nine hundred, and sixty eight to go!

Version 1.0 of 2016-05-19.