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A second anniversary

Topics/tags: writing/musing

No, it’s not Michelle’s and my second anniversary. We’ve been married slightly more than thirty years. And no, it’s not the second anniversary of my hiring at Grinnell. I’ve been here more than twenty years [1]. Rather, it’s the second anniversary of my first musing. There have been some gaps along the way [2], including the first summer and some time at the end of one of my worst semesters ever [6].

What kicked off the musings? That is, what made me decide to start writing every day? If I remember correctly, I had decided that there were a number of things that I was writing for other reasons that warranted public posting. Some were public rants. More were informative messages that served as a generic version of email messages that I was sending to a lot of people. In some sense, the daily musings were just a way to encourage myself to get everything written. Knowing that you’ll write one thing a day is much easier to manage than knowing that you have twenty or thirty moderate-sized pieces to write.

What was I writing that I thought was worth public posting? A variety of things. Here are a few.

  • Our President had just announced that Grinnell was terminating its agreement with the Posse Foundation. Like many Grinnellians, I was frustrated not only by that announcement, but also by the limited view of Posse that was embedded in the announcement. I wrote a long piece. I then learned more about the reasons behind the decision. I don’t agree with them, but I understood them. So you can’t read that original rant [7]. But you can read an updated version.
  • As chairman of the CS department, I was answering a lot of questions about CS at Grinnell and CS at liberal arts colleges in general. Those seemed to be important enough questions that I thought it useful to post my answers so that I could refer others to them.
  • I also wrote and posted a draft of a thank-you note to donors.

However, I’m surprised to see that with that list of planned pieces, my first was a commentary on contacting other faculty members on behalf of students. I will admit that I don’t recall what inspired the piece. Certainly, it had to do with a student who had asked me to write to faculty because they need accommodations or adjustments for something that happened in their life. I’m sure that the request was reasonable. But I wanted to reinforce the value of my colleagues in student affairs. And I wanted to think a bit about how my actions affected the situation [8]. But the others were in the queue from the start.

Some time along the way, I moved from exclusively writing pieces that I would write anyway to writing pieces that helped me learn or think or grow. It is not unsurprising that writing about a topic helps one consider the topic more deeply. I’ve found that daily musings help.

Given the original goals, I’m surprised to note that many fewer of my musings represent pieces that I was going to write in any case. What’s funny is that there are things that I write for which I say to myself A draft or retrospective on that topic should be a musing [9]. But then some topic jumps to the front of the list [10] and the stuff I was going to write anyway gets delayed.

When I started, I don’t think I envisioned that I would continue musing for two years. If I had, I would have made very different decisions. For example, I might have considered using real ’blogging software (or at least real site-design software) rather than a bunch of scripts. I certainly would have separated musings into topical folders. I might have started with a tagging system. But, well, I didn’t make those decisions. I thought about making some changes at the one-year mark, but ran out of time. So now I’m stuck with a flat file system [11] I guess that’s how a lot of software projects work. You make some assumptions. You build the software. You realize that some of those assumptions were wrong. You upgrade it. You learn new things. That’s the wonder of agile.

At the start, I didn’t really consider who my audience would be, or even if I’d have an audience. After all, most of my goal was just to get things written. I’d venture to guess that my plan was mostly to just link to those essays. Why won’t I write to your faculty members to ask for an extension? Copy. Paste. Why should you come to Grinnell? Copy. Paste. Change." But I’ve certainly developed an audience, of sorts, even if I don’t really know every individual who reads the musings. I do know a lot of groups read the musings. Some family and close friends read the musings. Some students read the musings. Some colleagues from Grinnell [12] read the musings [14]. Some colleagues from other institutions read the musings. Some Grinnell alums read the musings. It sounds like a lot. I’d venture to guess no more than a few dozen read any individual musing.

I write some musings to be read. Certainly, that’s one of the points of the occasional profiles of Grinnellians. A colleague says that some of my rants, such as the one on overloads, are clearly meant to prompt discussion on campus.

But those may be more exceptions than rule. I muse mostly for the benefits it brings. At one point, I wrote that it would be more accurate to say I enjoy having written [17]. I still enjoy having written. But I also look forward to the time each day to sit down and write [16]. I learn from writing. I feel a sense of accomplishment in writing. And, in general, writing gives me the opportunity to think more deeply about topics.

This musing is clearly the latter kind. I’ve written it not so much for an audience as to think through my history of musing. I enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on why I started musing [18], on why I continue to muse, on ways I might update the site [19], and on broad themes to which I might return, such as things I was going to write in any case and Grinnellians you should know (or know about).

I look forward to seeing where musing takes me next. If you happen to be reading this, Happy anniversary! I look forward to the next one [20].

[1] Wow. Now I feel old.

[2] Okay, there have been a lot of gaps. In the two years, I missed approximately 125 musings [3]. Of course, most of those are accounted for by the first summer after I started musing. As far as i can tell, I stopped after forty musings on 2016-06-01 with a musing on software hammers [4] and I restarted on 2018-08-30 with a musing entitled On making, breaking, and remaking the habit of daily writing. That accounts for about ninety of the missed musings. That would suggest that I’ve missed about 35 days out of twenty months since I resumed musing. I’d like it to be fewer, but I don’t feel crushed by that number.

[3] It’s likely more since there was the occasional day on which I posted more than one musing. It all depends on what you consider missed.

[4] I called them essays back then [5].

[5] Nonetheless, I think the URL always included the word musing.

[6] That is, Fall 2017, when I taught something like 4.5 courses, most of which were over-enrolled. But I can’t call it my worst semester because semesters in which personal issues arose are certainly bad, just in a different way.

[7] That’s not quite true. People who are clever about certain aspects of the InterWeb can likely find the deleted musings. I’d prefer that you didn’t look for them.

[8] Perhaps I remember more than I thought. Reading through it reminded me a bit of some of the reasons.

[9] Dear Grammarly: I really do mean a musing and not amusing. The word musing is a real noun. Google tells me that it means a period of reflection or thought. These pieces represent a record of my periods of reflection or thought. My readers will tell you that they are rarely amusing, no matter how hard I try.

[10] More precisely, my muse places another topic at the front of the list.

[11] I’m stuck, in part, because of the way I set up canonical URLs. I can probably fix that, but it would be easier if I had a more sensible software platform.

[12] I count faculty, staff, and administrators under the category of colleagues from Grinnell.

[14] I’ve heard from a few staff members that reading my musings gives them some insight into faculty members at Grinnell. I hope that they realize that I should not be taken as representative in any way of the Grinnell faculty [15].

[15] I will admit that I am representative in that I care deeply about students and have comparatively more privilege than most staff members.

[16] That’s not the case every day. On some days, I’d rather just go to bed. When I’m lucky, I find a topic that I expect to write a short piece about and manage to keep the piece short.

[17] In musing #15, What makes you happy vs. what you do, I wrote the following.

To return to my original point that it’s good to do some things that don’t necessarily make you happy. I write these essays every day. Do I love writing? No really. Does it make me happy to write? Not usually. Sometimes the writing flows. But often I get stuck or feel like I have not expressed myself in the way that I wish I could. And even when the writing flows well, I find myself going back and editing or adjusting or removing or …. But I write every day. Why? Because having written makes me happy, or at least I think it does. I enjoy that I’m accumulating a collection of essays. I enjoy finding that I’ve thought through an issue more carefully. I enjoy the occasional feedback I get on my writing. And I hope that writing daily will make me a better writer, which would certainly make me happy.

[18] I may have inadvertently engaged in revisionist history. An early musing suggests a slightly different origin.

[19] I’m not sure that I’ll ever have time. But I like to think about changes to make.

[20] At one point, I wrote about my difficulty in ending essays. I’ve gotten better. But there are times I still struggle.

Version 1.0 of 2018-04-20.