I brought my last-minute nature up to my therapist today. You see, there was this term project I was working on, and I completed the entire writing part of the task in a 24-hour period starting last night at 2130. But I’ve been thinking …
… and she says to me, “This is just how you’re wired, and there are a lot of people like you. Most people fall into one of two groups: hallways or clouds. A hallway will compartmentalize things, moving down through a project piece-by-piece until they get to the end—and then they’re done. A cloud processes pieces over time, building up steam before dropping a bunch of rain.”
That’s how it goes. The best research paper I wrote in college the first time around was one on Richard III. It was due at 1300 on a Tuesday, and I started at 1900 on Sunday. By “start”, I mean “walk over to the library and find some sources for citations”. I already had a pretty good idea of what I was going to write, and I needed the scholarly resources to back up my thinking. This paper ended up being so good that I was encouraged to be an English major. ((I know, I’ve told this story before. I’ve told a lot of stories before. If you want new material, pay me.))
With this paper, I had done plenty of research and a ton of thinking. I had really done a good job with the passive soak.
The soak is when you plant the seed of a thought in your brain and let it bump around in a rich stew of ideas, facts, and whatever other random crap that seems to relate. The soak is a protected activity that will rarely occur during your busy day because you’re busy reacting to the familiar never-ending flood of things to do. The goal of the soak is simple: an original thought. Whatever the problem is your stewing on, you want to find an glimmer of inspiration which transforms your response from a predictable emotional flame-o-gram into a strategic considered thought.
I may not have actively written the paper until the last 24 hours, but I have been passively writing it for the better part of the last month. ((“Term paper’s coming. Can’t sleep. Clowns might eat me.”)) I’ve spent time thinking about it in the car, in the shower, lying in bed, etc. It’s the way that I work. I can’t really get it any other way.
You see, here’s the thing. If a term paper doesn’t really involve knowledge gained along the way, then you could make the term paper due the second week of class and you’d get the same quality of paper as if you’d let it go until the end of the semester. I had the idea for this paper about five minutes after she’d told us what it would be. I learned a lot in this course, but my paper would have been just as good if due by mid-September as it is tonight.
Academia seems to relish treating every student as a hallway. I got a B on my research paper in my Western Civ I course because I didn’t do note cards. Note. Cards. I tried to explain that I was 23 years old and a fifth-year senior in college and didn’t need to write any friggin’ note cards. You can see who won that argument. The frustrating bit about it is that he loved the paper and told me after the semester that it was the best one submitted to him and that I’d been his best student. But that friggin’ B on the research paper brought me down to a B+. Yep, I’m still kinda cheesed at that, and it’s simple: if I can write a great paper without going through all the wickets, then leave me be and let me drop the bomb on you. If it sucks, then that’s on me.
I just hope Dr. Mc is in a good mood when she reads my paper. I like it, but I’m not grading it…
Hopefully and cloudily,
P.S. Mom, this was as much written for you as anyone. 😉