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Pursuing the serious, settling for the frivolous

When I started these essays, my primary goal was to write relatively serious essays [1]. And, in some sense, it still is. I have a long backlog of essays on serious topics to write: everything from an extended note on why you should donate to Grinnell [2], to a reflection on my experience with Questbridge scholars, to additional notes for prospective students and prospective majors, to reflections on the legendary banned yearbook [3,4].

Why then, have these past few essays have been about personal issues, rather than issues of broader interest [5]? The reason, for better or for worse, is time. I’ve started each essay later at night than I’d like. Starting late leads to two problems: First, I want to choose something that I can write about relatively quickly. Second, I want to choose something that doesn’t require deep thought [6,7]. When I write about important topics, I want to give the essays the time that they deserve.

Of course, my estimate of what will be quick is often wrong. Even though I’d taken notes for the end-of-semester reflections, it took awhile to translate them from notes to sentences and, on occasion, full paragraphs. It also ended up being much longer than the typical essay [8]. When I wrote the essay on my tendencies to accumulate, I found that I had to go back through the essay a few times to get it right, and that even after going back through it a few times, it still wasn’t right [9].

However, there are a few other reasons not to write the more serious essays late at night. First, there’s some evidence that serious essays written at night go off track enough that at some point I have to write an essay on why I didn’t write the planned essay [10]. In addition, there are times that I make bad decisions and say things that I shouldn’t. The latter case is rare, but it’s happened, and it’s happened recently.

So, dear readers, I apologize for the frivolity (or at least personalness [11]) of the last few essays. The end of the semester is always busy, and it’s felt particularly busy this year. But don’t worry, I have serious essays planned, and I think I have some time over the next few days to write during the day, or at least earlier in the evening.

Postscript [14]: Yes, I realize that essays about myself can be serious. Yes, I realize that it can be helpful to others to reflect on the things that I reflect on, or to see how I reflect on them. I also realize that essays on serious topics are still personal as I rarely try to employ a completely objective voice. Nonetheless, the personal essays feel different. I enjoy writing them, but I enjoy writing them for different reasons than I enjoy writing the other essays [15].

[1] Well, more precisely, essays on serious topics. My personality is such that I’ll always put in a few silly comments even in essay son serious topics.

[2] Yes, even with our one-point-whatever-billion-dollar endowment, we can still use donations.

[3] Can you go from one place to multiple places? Sure, why not.

[4] I think the legendary banned yearbook is 1966, but I won’t swear. I’m surprised at how few people know about it.

[5] Okay, I know that for some of you, the personal essays are of interest. But I still think the essays about other things are of broader interest than the personal essays.

[6] Note that when I say I want to choose, I mean My muse understands that she needs to direct me to.

[7] Ok, that’s not quite true. The past three essays all required thought. But it was introspective thought. Writing on donation or questbridge or study habits or Posse or even the legendary banned yearbook require a different kind of thought.

[8] About three-thousand words, as compared to one-thousand-or-so words in the more typical essay and not-quite eight hundred in the original version of this essay and a bit over nine hundred in the version with the postscript.

[9] As I think I said in that essay, you can tell that I hadn’t mastered the subject because the essay had the same disjoint feeling that a student paper has when the student is still trying to figure out what they think about the subject and don’t have a firm thesis yet.

[10] I don’t think I’ve done that too much recently, but there was a week-long period or so in which it felt like I was writing essays on the essay you won’t see, rather than the primary essays.

[11] Yeah, I know that personalness isn’t really a word. But it’s late at night, and I can’t think of the appropriate word for an essay that is about myself, rather than something else [12].

[12] I couldn’t even figure out what part of speech I was trying for. The brain is clearly not-quite-functional right now. However, it is functional enough to realize that even though the adjective frivolous becomes the noun frivolity, the adjective personal should not become personality.

[14] No, not the programming language, even though it’s awesome.

[15] Okay, that’s not quite true. Both kinds of essays allow me to think through issues. Even this essay allowed me to think through some issues.

Version 1.1 of 2016-12-18.