Awake from slumber

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A dead tree fell over in our neighbor’s backyard, during a storm the night before Halloween, this past fall. I took this picture a few days later. It’s still there.

Good morning!

The title of this post is ridiculous on a personal level: if there is one thing I have been doing less of since my last post – 31 months ago! – sleeping is that thing. For the purposes of this blog and blogging in general, however, it is appropriate for the moment.

I want to begin blogging again, and perhaps this post is my new beginning in that sense. What I don’t know is whether I will continue to blog here at Dischordant Forms or elsewhere. I’m less fond of the name than I was several years ago when I started the blog, and I also feel separated – by time, circumstance, and perspective – from the writing I did then.

I am not entirely out of practice, mind you. I have had another blog for several years, and while that one is also currently neglected, I’ve continued to post there irregularly (and as recently as this past summer). Additionally, over the past several seasons I have pounded out more than a handful of unfinished drafts for this place. Dissatisfaction, for one reason or another, has consigned those posts to purgatory.

What do I want out of my blog?

I want to write. I want to have a modicum of discipline about it. I want to have the satisfaction that comes from building a body of thoughts and expressions that I can refer back to.

I’m a person who likes to put boundaries around certain things that I do. Consequently, when I begin a post, I generally do not consider it finished until it contains most of my thoughts on the subject, in an acceptable form and logic. (These posts can end up being 1500-2500 words.) If it doesn’t meet that standard, the entire post then goes into the purgatory file, never to be revisited again.

Add in job demands, time management issues, and laziness, and I’ve got no blog posts to speak of!

As I’ve gotten to this place today, I’ve come to appreciate, to some extent, my learning experience writing brief comments on Facebook this past year. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tend to be perfect for reacting to things, for better or otherwise. I’ve experienced that myself, particularly with respect to the 2016 Presidential election. Many times, I clicked the “What’s on your mind?” box on Facebook and created a reaction-based comment, considered it for a while, and then either scrapped it entirely, or came up with something more concise and thoughtful before clicking “Post.”

What I learned over time was that it’s okay to pre-edit or modify your post, and to not post your entire thought if it is not something that you feel you are expressing in a way that satisfies you. In other words, while I may still scrap many things, I can still post abbreviated versions of ideas that are begging to come out of me, without requiring that it be a treatise first.

So, are shorter posts the answer to my blogging issues? Possibly, partially.

Ultimately, I don’t know that the name of my blog really matters, or that what I wrote in the past matters either. This post is for Dischordant Forms, and we’ll see where it heads from there. Thanks for reading, and Happy New Year!

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“This thing between me and my notebook”

The notebook

For several days, the single-subject, college-ruled notebook that I bought back in September has been whispering my name. I bought it at Target before a trip to visit my parents, wrote in it a few times while I was there, and brought it back with me. Since then, it has been neglected; covered by an increasingly precarious stack of CDs.

For a while, I didn’t even know where it was, but at some point along the way it revealed itself to me, and started catching my eye. From time to time, I would return its stare for a moment, but I generally ignored its attempts at attention.

I don’t have anything against that notebook. However, it was buried under a bunch of CDs, and it was something that I would have to leave my chair to retrieve. I didn’t feel like getting up, or moving all of those the CDs.

After a while, I began to wonder why I didn’t just get up and get it. It began to be a “thing” between myself and this notebook. It wanted me to uncover it, open it, write in it. I resisted the urge for a while… but for what reason? The contents therein will never be published, nobody will see it. Nobody cares what I write in it. So why was this such a difficult thing for me?

I think the answers to this question are many, but the two main ones that come to mind are 1) some embarrassment about – and frustration with – my own penmanship and 2) my misplaced belief that most of what I write will be of no consequence.

These aren’t rational ideas to cling to, but they’re a part of my personality, and always have been.

Penmanship

My mom has beautiful penmanship. I’ve always admired her handwriting, which is easy to read and very consistent. None of my siblings can write as neatly as she does, but I’ve seen her sisters’ handwriting in greeting cards, and one or two of them have a similar quality and style. I’ve always wished that I could write like they do, but I simply can’t.

My handwriting is not pure cursive, but a combination of cursive and single letters. I mix cursive letters with certain printed letters, such as ‘k’ and ‘b’ at the beginnings of words, and capital letters like ‘Q’ and ‘L’ and ‘I’ (among others). However, sometimes I use a cursive capital ‘I,’ although I tend to try to avoid doing so, because my upper-case ‘I’ ends up looking like a lower-case cursive ‘L.’ I’ve never been truly consistent; I think that what I use depends on my mood and the situation.

Regardless, if I sit down to write – a letter, for instance, or a journal entry – I can start out with decent penmanship, but that has a tendency to disintegrate into slurred words as my hand struggles with the task of keeping up with my brain. Of course, when I go back later to read what I wrote, I find myself faced with the prospect of figuring out which words and sentences I had intended to write, but which came out as mostly illegible waste. This has been discouraging for me, and in these instances I’ve generally tended to retreat back to the comfort of typing.

And the notebook has fallen by the wayside for an indefinite period of time, again and again.

Journal content

As for the issue of content… this may sound stupid, but I feel as if there is a significant portion of my brain that has no idea how to journal. I have all these hangups about whether I’m journaling properly, whether what I’m writing is boring or pathetic, how it looks when I correct a mistake, and how much more difficult it is to write clearly and fluidly by hand when you’re a) out of practice and b) used to the instant-edit lifestyle that is blogging (and typing in general).

Looking at that last paragraph, these ideas seem mostly irrational. Regardless, they’re real hangups that I’ve always struggled with. Fortunately, they haven’t managed to permanently kill my desire to journal: it lies in wait, in some part of my brain, waiting for me to feel that itch again.

Getting back into it

On Thursday night at 11:55pm, after several staredowns between this notebook and me, I relented. I stood up, extracted the notebook from beneath the stack of CDs and whatnot, and covered the front and back of a page with my increasingly erratic handwriting. I wrote about my struggles with journaling and penmanship, and made note of some things that I can do to improve my experience, such as making some writing space for myself. I have this slight hope that writing more frequently will result in better handwriting quality if I make that a priority.

I used to write a lot of letters. In the age of blogs and email and mobile phones and social media, the letter is a somewhat rare and ancient phenomenon, and I’m amazed when I think about how often I used to churn out pages upon pages worth of letters every month, and how long ago it was that I stopped doing that regularly. But the letter doesn’t have to die out, and neither does the journal. There are millions of people who still journal and/or write letters, and that includes my mother*, so I’m not revolutionizing anything by doing this, other than a part of my own lifestyle. I just know that, over the past several years, my habits have changed with technology, for better or for worse**.

*By the way, her handwriting is still consistently high-quality. I find her ability to journal and to write so well and so consistently to be inspirational, and am glad to have that inspiration in my life.

**Blogging has been a major “for better” part of this equation, of course.

Closing

This notebook is, as I said at the top, a single subject notebook. It has 70 pages, several of which are already used. But that’s okay. As I contemplated my inner desire to get more involved in hand-writing on a more regular basis, I made plans to buy a larger notebook. However, I’ve decided not to waste this one. If I can fill the remaining 60-odd pages in this notebook, I will buy myself another one, along with a better pen. Those will be my material rewards for doing something that is almost certain to have, more importantly, mental and spiritual benefits.

It’s a good time to start – or revive – a good habit or two. Hopefully, I can make this one of them.

* * *

Thanks for reading this post. In addition to the internal “urge to write” and the external “notebook staring me down” influences, this post was inspired in part by the following article:

Snapshots from the writing desk by Andrea Badgley at Butterfly Mind… a great post by a great blogger! Thanks Andrea.

* * *

Posted by Russ at Dischordant Forms. Follow me on Twitter at @DischordantRuss. Comments are welcome!


Reactivate

“And so our story begins…”

Fable II (2008)

“…again.”

– – –

After months of hesitation and indecision, I recently decided to reactivate Dischordant Forms. While I’ve chosen to go ahead with this, I don’t have a great idea as to how it will go. I didn’t even have a first post (except this reintroduction) ready to go, but then Lou Reed passed away, and I decided to share some thoughts on that last week. The two posts I wrote ended up preempting – and upstaging – this one, in a big way. 

All I can say is… wow. Many thanks to Cheri Lucas Rowlands, who liked those posts and Freshly Pressed the second one. The result has been that I got more views, reads, likes, follows, and comments from that post than from anything I’d ever previously posted here! I’ve been blogging at WordPress in one one shape or another for over four years, never once daring to hope I could have the privilege of being Freshly Pressed, and the feedback has been awesome! Thanks to everyone who read and commented and so on – I can’t begin to express how fun it has been seeing everyone.

One of the great things about being viewed so many times is that I’ve been introduced to a bunch of great blogs in return. I’ve checked out many of the bloggers whose names have shown up in my Notifications tab, and that’s been fun as well. My reader is growing, and I couldn’t be happier about it!

At any rate, I started this post before Lou Reed passed, and so here it is, edited slightly in light of the fact that it’s now almost two weeks old…

– – –

Although I already have a (different) blog, I occasionally struggle with the topical constraints inherent in a topic-specific blog. From time to time, I feel the urge to write about a topic that doesn’t fit within the confines of that blog’s content. Usually, that potential post is never realized, sits rotting in the Draft folder, or is soon trashed. Additionally, there have been several instances recently where I’ve refrained from voicing opinions on that blog (or its corresponding Twitter account) out of a desire to “not rock the boat” within the community that that blog is a part of. This blog, being entirely separated from that one, represents an opportunity to speak my mind without reservation, outside that community.

While I’m technically reactivating an old blog after more than twenty months of dormancy, I plan on going about it differently – in essence, treating it in some ways as if it’s a new blog. And by that, I mean that, unlike my previous blogs, I’m not promising myself, or anyone else, anything.

Furthermore, I’m not chasing anything this time. In this incarnation of Dischordant Forms, I’m going to eschew certain methods I’ve usually used to promote my posts and “rack up page views.” With experience, I’ve learned that attempting to emulate certain aspects of others’ blogs, or otherwise trying to make this blog appear cooler than it really is – things I’ve done poorly in the past – ultimately leaves me feeling dissatisfied.

In the past, I’ve taken to Twitter and Facebook to spread the word, but I don’t think I’ll be doing this with Dischordant Forms, at least for the time being. I’m also not going to pretend I’m some decent photographer, since I’m not; this doesn’t mean there will be no photos, but I won’t be bludgeoning readers with expansive sets of recent photos. I’m going without Tag and Category clouds, extensive blog rolls, Recent Comment feeds, and other such widgets. I’ve changed the layout and look of the blog to be much more sparse and basic than it was before. The aesthetic will likely be a living work-in-progress, but I’d ultimately like to keep extraneous information from overwhelming the sidebar.

There are probably few, if any, outside my family who remember this blog from the old days, and I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, it’s actually a good thing in the context of reawakening the blog after so long and treating it as a new one. There are a couple of reasons for doing this / feeling this way:

  1. I really like the blog’s name. I’m also generally bad at naming things, so, with that in mind, this one seems to be a keeper. But…
  2. I would like a lot of what I wrote in the past to be forgotten.

In mid-2012, I set the entire blog to “private,” and left it so until July of this year. During that time, whenever I revisited it, I found myself dismayed by many of my posts. For a while, I accepted that as something akin to “not liking the sound of one’s own voice,” but more recently I’ve come to understand that many of my posts were simply filler, and/or just poorly written or otherwise flawed, which is why I found myself dissatisfied with them, and with the blog as a whole. As such, over the past several days I’ve re-revisited almost all of them, setting roughly half of them to “private” – which is why it now looks like it’s been two years since I posted last, prior to last week’s posts.

In the process of looking over those old posts, I discovered several “I’m in a rut” posts that detailed my struggles to blog consistently with quality and diversity of topic. Interspersed with these were several articles about sports – most of which I’ve hidden for either lack of substance or poor reasoning – and video game design (also something I’m not very qualified to comment on in many cases). I understand that cutting large swaths of previous work from the public record is probably unorthodox, but cutting superfluous drivel made me feel better, so it is what it is.

Anyway, what I realized through that process is that there are things that haven’t and likely won’t change about my writing: I will learn as I write, and write as I learn. The naivete displayed in several of my older posts is cringe-worthy at times, but I can’t promise that that will entirely disappear. The truth of the matter is that I am a person with many interests, but no mastery over any particular skill or subject. As such, it’s likely that this blog will continue to accurately reflect that amateurism; it is my hope that it will reflect growth as well.

I have left some of the “better” legacy posts public, but I don’t intend to reference them much in the future. They’re generally harmless, but they don’t interest me much anymore, in and of themselves. However, they’re some of the better examples of my writing on this blog and its predecessor, for what that’s worth. The huge gap between posts in 2011 and 2013 sort of creates its own dividing line, and I’m fairly satisfied with that.

There is absolutely nothing concrete in the queue for the near future. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have any goals for this blog; on the contrary: there are, in fact, clear goals: 1) for this blog to be a canvas on which to continue to improve my writing; 2) for me to be myself in my writing, rather than trying to follow the leads of other bloggers.

When I made my first couple of blogs, I did so in the rough image of other bloggers that I admired. As a blogging novice, this had its merits, but it also became stifling and uncomfortable, “square peg/round hole”-like. While I certainly made efforts to express myself, and those were genuine efforts, they were also misguided to some degree. I’d like to correct that to whatever extent I can during this go-round.

There is the potential for positive growth as a writer about different subjects here at this blog. How much I take advantage of that depends on many things, with the primary factors being my own drive, ethic, and imagination.

I will probably write too much about music in general, and certain artists (*ahem*) in particular. I will probably write amateurishly about sports… and, occasionally, about video games. I tend to get into streaks with certain topics, but I’m feeling some self acceptance in that regard.

In closing, this blog has no format (other than that I tend to write long posts…). It is not comprised of the writings of an expert on anything, or of anyone particularly talented. It’s just a blog, and a blogger striving to better his writing.

– – –

Thanks for reading this post by Russ at Dischordant Forms. [2014 edit: I actually did make a Twitter account after all… you can follow me at @DischordantRuss.] Comments are welcome!


Thoughts on the death of an online acquaintance

I was privileged last week to hear from one of my old friends that I met playing WoW a couple of years ago.  He was, for a while, the leader of the guild that I joined in 2009, and we still keep in touch from time to time.

He and I are also Facebook friends, and I shot him a FB message a few nights ago.  He responded with a text message to say hello, and then proceeded to let me know that someone I had known in WoW, and someone who used to be a personal friend of his, had died.

This person had led a guild that most of my former guild (the guild I was in when Icecrown Citadel was current) had been a part of during The Burning Crusade.  There was a guild split due to several raid-team-based disagreements and personality conflicts, and after they split, I joined the splinter guild.

This is the guild I was a member of when I truly learned how to play WoW, got my first raiding and PvP experience with, and killed an expansion end-boss for the first time.  In all, we were pretty successful during Wrath of the Lich King, and as far as I know, the old guild has floundered and struggled ever since the split.

I said a few paragraphs up that I had known the guy, but I really didn’t.  While we had a few interactions, he was, to me, just the pally who led the old guild, the guy who caused the problems that caused the split, which occurred before I was in the picture.  He was an acquaintance.

On the other hand, my old guild leader had known the guy personally, living in the same town and working at the same company.  They had been friends up until around the time of the guild split, as far as I know, and then had lost touch for the most part.

He and his co-workers were shocked.  Hearing about the death of someone you know is a mind-blowing experience, and he was doing what he could to find out details of how the guy died, although as far as I know he has had no success.

I was shocked too.  Sometimes the idea that an in-game character is an actual person can make one think strange things, and one of the things I thought about in the hours after receiving the news was that this guy was dead, but his WoW characters still exist.  They will never log in again.  You can still look them up on the armory (for now, until six months of inactivity kicks in), but the progress has stopped for eternity.  He has disappeared from the game.

Yes, it’s a weird set of thoughts, but they happened.

I had a similar set of thoughts once about a blogger that I followed.  The guy was a young man just out of college who wrote a chess blog and was looking for a job.  I followed the blog for several months when, one day, I read what became his last post.  It said something to the effect that, “I’ve got a degree, but have been writing this blog without being able to find a a job for a year, and my parents are tired of me living here, and I don’t know what else to do. So this is goodbye.”  It was eerie – blunt and final – and then that was it.

And with that, he disappeared into the ether, for all intents and purposes.

I read his post weeks after he wrote it – this was at a time when I had several hundred unread posts in my reader – and it was haunting.  Where did the guy go?  Is he still alive?  Did he eventually find a job and a place to live?  The negative possibilities scared me, given what he said when he stopped blogging.  They bother me to this day.

Anyway… back to my friend’s former WoW-playing friend.

I thought about other things, too.  I thought about how my friend may be feeling, wondering if he wishes that he could have rebuilt that bridge.  I know from conversations that we’ve had that he was concerned for the guy – he had lost his job, was 40 years old, and was living with his parents.  He was into drugs, etc.  And now he’s gone, and there’s no going back from that, in so many ways.  No way to bring him back, no way to mend fences, no way to make a difference in the guy’s life.

I also thought about how the guy had spent the last few years of his life just playing the game every single day.  He didn’t have an occupation, wasn’t married, didn’t have much of a social life.  Working his way towards nothing.  Not bettering himself.

Sobering thoughts.

* * *

I’ve tried to let some of his former guild-mates know what happened – I have a couple of other friends who knew him, and I knew they would want to know.  It kind of freaked me out, and the responses I’ve gotten have been similar to my own.  I didn’t know the guy, but I’m still saddened by his death, sad for his family and friends, and for him.

I know this piece rambles a bit – hopefully it’s somewhat coherent.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have something to share.  If you have a blog and haven’t posted for a while, I’d like to encourage you to write a short post and let your readers/followers  know that you’re still around.  Sometimes people complain about “sorry I haven’t blogged, but I’ve been busy/bored/uninspired” posts, so don’t make it an apology post – just write in to say hello, tell us something that you’re working on or something funny that happened to you recently.  Chances are, there is someone out there that will be happy to know what you have to say.

Also, now is never a bad time to call or write to someone you haven’t communicated with in a while.

Thanks for reading.


Writing links: on redundant language; on handwriting and typing

While cleaning out my reader last week, I came across a post by Lisa Jackson (Live To Write – Write to Live) entitled Tighten your writing by removing redundancies.  Lisa discusses some common cases of redundancy that we often encounter in what we read and write, and really opened my eyes to mistakes that I have made while blogging and journaling.  Apologies to my readers who have suffered through my possible use of terms such as “completely destroyed” as well as other mistakes I may have made in my posts.  This now goes on my list of ways to improve my writing.

Blogging (and following bloggers) fascinates me, in part, because blogs/posts can be written at any skill level.  I know that for me, blogging has helped me to improve, and I continue to build on those skills whenever I write, publicly or privately.

I follow several writing blogs, which is a fun way to learn new things.  Sometimes I think that if I had known that I would be as interested in certain skills – such as writing – when I was in school, I would have been much more focused on them, and my life might be very different now.  Alas, we can never go back in time to correct these mistakes, but learning is a lifelong process, so I’m thankful for that.

Along those lines:  Katia Hetter, in a special report on CNN.com, caught my eye with her article entitled Nation of adults who will write like children?  Hetter’s general premise in the article is that, as we have become a more technology-based culture, handwriting skills in young people have rapidly declined.

One fact that took me by surprise was that 46 of the 50 states have adopted the Common Core Standards, which do not require that cursive writing be taught.  I remember back in the 1980s, when I was in the second and third grades, being a solid B handwriting student – in other words, while I was competent, I wasn’t great at it, and it was one of the more frustrating subjects for me at the time.  However, it was good enough that I now have what I consider to be, for a male, a better than average signature.

On the other side of the coin, there was typing.  I have absolutely no recollection of my guidance counselor ever recommending that I take a keyboarding course in school.  I know that they existed, because I know that other students took keyboarding, but for some reason it never crossed my mind that this was a necessary skill, and my counselor never suggested otherwise, and I never asked, and… well, as a result, I can’t type as fast as I would like.  I don’t search and peck, thankfully – I’ve become familiar enough that I can type much of what I want to say fairly quickly – but I am certainly not the master of my keyboard.

When I got to college, I began to wish that I had learned this skill, but the relatively small number of papers that I was required to write (I was a math major for much of my college life) wasn’t enough encouragement to push me to learn at that age.  Instead, I developed the method that I use now, which has allowed me to type at a sufficient pace – readers of this blog and my last know that I can write some very long posts, and those would never be possible using just my index fingers, eyes down – but it was about this time that I wondered why touch typing had not been a required part of my curriculum at some point.

The article mentions that some states are beginning to include keyboarding requirements, which I am glad for, since it is a skill that I wish had been required in my day.  However, handwriting has also served me well.  In addition to my signature, I’ve written many notes and letters, and writing in cursive allowed me to finish exams in school and college that would have been made more difficult had I not been able to use a handwriting method where letters flow together.

I read many comments* on the article that generally laughed off the endangered state of cursive writing and reading, including one person who joked that he doesn’t “know how to hand-crank a car, but (he) seem(s) to be fine.”  While most of the comments were derogatory of the article, I found it to be relevant – with thirteen years of a child’s life dedicated to grades K-12, it seems like there should be plenty of time to require both skills.  To my knowledge, they wouldn’t require more than a semester or two of teaching – as with cursive, keyboarding is a skill that can be further developed and refined through usage.

I don’t use cursive nearly as much as I used to, but in an age where typing has largely surpassed it in importance, I still find it to be valuable.

*Several commenters to Hetter’s article noted that poor content and usage are bigger problems than handwriting skills, and that is a valid point.  While cursive writing may not be as important in our world today, communication skills are as important as ever.  I’m not going to comment any more on that right now – complaining about how poorly someone else writes is not the crux of this post.  The cursive/keyboarding topic interests me because it’s something that I’ve thought about many times in my life, so I thought I’d comment about it here.


Reading aloud as part of the editing process

I read an interesting post last week entitled The Art of Storytelling, by Leila at Write Am I. In it, she talks about the idea that you can tell great storytelling if the story is captivating both in written form and when read aloud. She goes on to describe how reading our own writing aloud forces us to see mistakes that we would have missed by simply reading, where we often skip words or sentences.

The post caught my interest because this is something that I do, albeit only some of the time. When I am editing blog posts, I only read a small percentage of them aloud – usually the longer ones, where I am particularly concerned about the flow – and I find that it helps me root out awkward sentence/paragraph structures and word choices, accidental plurals, capitalization issues, incorrect punctuation, repeated words, overuse of adjectives, and *aborted thought processes.

*Perhaps this isn’t a technical term – I’m not sure. Here’s a made-up example of what I mean by an aborted thought process:

“I the way I see it, Oakland shouldn’t have wasted a time-out there.”

Notice the “I” at the beginning of the sentence. This could be a result of the following: the writer was originally intending to say “I thought Oakland shouldn’t have…” but lost his train of thought momentarily, or was distracted and came back to his writing task with a different way of expressing that thought. It also could be that he typed out “I thought Oakland shouldn’t have…” and then changed his mind, but forgot to completely delete what he originally wrote. These are both things that I’ve done countless times, but have fortunately caught and fixed, for the most part.

When I write letters or emails, I usually do read them aloud before I send them. I don’t know how I started doing that. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always viewed correspondence as a truly personal communication, and, as such, I’ve always thought to myself, “how is this going to be read and digested by the recipient?” or “What if I were the recipient? Would I want to read this?” I have to take into consideration the circumstances, the person I’m writing to, the content that I’m writing about, and so on.

In the course of reading Leila’s post and writing this one, I’ve decided that I want to discipline myself to read each of my blog posts aloud before I hit “Publish.” People who have read my posts on a regular basis have probably found mistakes in them, including almost all of the examples that I gave above. As my own editor, I’m all the more responsible for making my posts the best they can be, since my edit is what makes it to your screen. I’ve had success using it for some of my posts, so why not use it for all of them?

After all, the principles are generally the same. Who might read my posts? Would I want to read what I wrote? Etc.

Hopefully, the quality of my posts will improve a bit. I tend to edit pretty heavily anyway – perhaps reading aloud can help me improve the productivity of the time that I spend editing my posts, too!

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Did my critical thinking skills improve in college?

CBS News (and several other sources) reported this week that “45 percent of students show no significant improvement in the key measures of critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing by the end of their sophomore years.” Additionally, the article cited statistics showing that colleges don’t require enough writing and reading in their coursework. This information comes from a new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, by sociologists Richard Arum (NYU) and Josipa Roksa (University of Virginia). There’s more info in the article; check it out.

The article got me thinking: did my critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills improve in college? It’s a difficult question for me to answer, because I feel that, when I left college, I was just as confused about a lot of things as I was when I enrolled. I know that I learned a lot, and I also know that I’ve forgotten a lot of it.

A synopsis of my personal academic experience:

I sort of breezed through high school as an A student, and enrolled in a private college.

In college, I was a Mathematics major for my first five semesters, but I struggled with it, and eventually ran into a wall when I scheduled a class called Differential Equations in my sixth semester. My departmental advisor had encouraged me to defer DiffEq until later, and to instead take certain theory-ish classes, which were only taught once every four semesters, as they became available – Point Set Topology, etc. Having no foresight myself, I followed that advice. As I was also working through my GenEd curriculum and a Business Administration minor, DiffEq was continually put on the back burner until three semesters had passed since I had finished Calculus 2.

My advisor was my DiffEq professor. On the first day of class, he started writing equations on the board and asking us to solve problems that were vaguely familiar. After a few minutes, he noted that there would be no review of Calculus 2, since we should have already learned it.

I felt like the guy was laughing at me. Or punching me in the heart. It had literally been 20 months since I had done any significant calculus. Had I taken the course the semester after Calculus 2, I likely would have retained much of that knowledge, but a year and a half later I found myself clueless.

There were 45 minutes of class left. I closed my book. I was in a class of 40 or more people, and this was the first lecture, so I withdrew into my own thoughts.

I was stunned. I felt like I had been betrayed by my advisor. For a long time I wanted to be a math teacher, but I had already had doubts about my abilities before this, and this was basically the nail in the coffin. I had struggled through Probability & Statistics the semester before, barely grinding out a C+, my lowest grade yet. The leaders of the math program were, like the rest of the school, firmly of the mindset that we should work in groups, and I had felt like a marginal contributor to many of those group accomplishments. The door seemed to have been closing on me for a while, and now it was shut.

My DiffEq classmates were sophomores, fresh off of their Calc 2 semesters, and I watched them busily scratch away in their notebooks.

I got out my notebook and started writing a letter to my parents, telling them what was happening and apologizing for failing, for spending their money to get this far toward… nothing. I never sent the letter, but I communicated much to them over the phone later that week.

Eventually, I went to my Accounting professor and asked him if he thought I could swap my major and minor and still graduate on time. He referred me to the departmental head, who assigned me an advisor; we worked on a plan, I dropped and picked up some classes, and, with a fairly heavy schedule over the final three semesters, I did graduate on time with a degree in Business Administration and 3/4 of a Math major as my minor.

And no idea of what I wanted to do with my life.

End background story.

Did I learn anything? Of course I did. I actually felt that I got more out of my business courses, and several of my GenEd classes, than from my original major.

However, I’m not sure if my “critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing” skills improved much while I was in college. I have a feeling that, when I received my degree, they were at a similar level as they were when I graduated from high school.

If anything, I have learned, improved, and retained much more in the decade or so since I graduated. Sure, I learned a lot in college, and I matured in many ways. However, I feel like my focus gradually shifted along the way, from “grow and learn” to “survive and graduate.” I wasn’t often considering my thinking and reasoning skills; there were times when I thought about them, but they fell off my radar when I had a mountain of work that I just wanted to get done and get a good grade on. Whether that’s my fault, the college’s fault, or a combination of the two is difficult to determine. I’m willing to take the blame.

Anyway, back to what I was starting to say: I feel that I have used and developed my thinking and reasoning skills more post-college, through my hobbies and my work experience, than I did in college. In particular, I probably written over the past fifteen months as a blogger than I’ve done over the rest of my life combined. It may or may not be noticeable to readers, but I’ve observed that my writing and editing processes have evolved, and I’ve become more conscious of readability and structure, among other things. I’m consistently more confident in the posts that I publish, and I’m more productive when I write. I’m still an amateur, but I’m also still developing. In contrast, the essays that I wrote in college were total hack-jobs compared to what I’m writing now; I’m amazed that I didn’t get lower grades than I did in courses that required papers and written exams. With a couple of exceptions where I was proud of my written work, I’m glad that those papers will never be read by anyone, ever again.

At any rate, it’s a difficult question for me to answer. There are a lot of things to think about, with respect to both the question and my life choices. Perhaps I was on the wrong track all along – if I had to do college over right now, I don’t know that I would choose mathematics or business as my course of study – and, if had I started on the “right” track, I might have had the interest, in addition to the desire to get good grades, to drive me to betterment in those areas. I do know that I spent too much of my time in college feeling unfocused, disillusioned with my prospects, and out of my league. Perhaps those are some of the reasons that the results of this study are what they are.