Life as an Extreme Sport


I’m sitting here poking a paper, rather literally. Actually, if I were to be literal, I would admit that I’m laying here, occasionally picking up and looking at, or otherwise nudging, prodding, or verifying that this paper still exists.

It’s not my paper. At least not in the wrote-it own-it sense. It is mine in that I’m the one supposedly making thoughtful, wise, and relevent comments on it.

It’s a smart paper. Probably smarter than me. It intimidates me, anyhow, and that’s a weird thing. It’s been a year since I’ve been so intimidated by someone in academia, and I worked in a partnership with her. This is not so much a partnership (although I think Phillip is very right, and it would work eversomuch better for both the author and me if it were one), and so there is weirdness. Who do I think I am, to be grading a paper of this quality and depth? (I asked Phillip this evening how he handled having a student smarter than him – he nearly killed me by telling me, right after I took a swig’o’beer, that it hasn’t happened yet.)

So I lay here, and I poke and lift and look, and I think. I think about my own writing, and how it’s changed over the last year. I think about getting frustrated and using shorthand, which in academia often involves long words. I think about wanting to cover so much ground and so many ideas in a small space. I think about trying to write abstracts that are 250 words or less, and I just think. I let my brain freewander to wherever it wants, whatever ideas feel like popping up.

It’s occured to me, after a little bit of this, that I can see a space that opens just a bit, and in that open space, I see the tactic to take with giving feedback on this paper. I see a little bit of how I used to write, dropping the large words and concepts left and right, and see a bit how it transforms papers from accessible and brilliant to inaccessible and muddled (which is not to say that’s where this paper is, more than it is a carry-through of thought). I think, more importantly, I see the jumps from A to F, without detailing out those middle steps.

It’s funny, in one of those universe-poking-you ways, because I think if you were to ask my ex-husband, or anyone who has known me a while, what my biggest flaw when thinking/writing about large concepts is, it would be that I make these large jumps from one point to another. I just intuitively seem to get what needs to be in the middle and how it fits in, and can jump to the conclusion and run. But ask me to back up and cover those middle steps carefully, and I’ll get a bit flustered and caught off-guard; it’s not something I can easily explain, it’s just something I know. Phillip called me out on this early last year, and it was the first time someone had done so in a way that made enough sense to me that I’ve worked hard, since then, to stop and step through each process.

Maybe if I approach this paper from that view, of where the steps should be and aren’t, I’ll find something constructive to say.


  1. Kells~
    You hit the nail right on the head with the way to make comments on that paper (from what I can tell). But you seem to bring up another point: Fear. Fear of someone doing better than you. And Phillip’s comments show a high level of self confidence, but I’m sure he dealt with this fear at one time or another. If my assessment has some truth to it, perhaps the best question to ask Phillip is, “How do overcome my fear of being bested in academia?”
    Just a thought~~

    much love,

  2. Fear has been such a large and scarily motivating factor in my life the last two-odd years that I can’t begin to say you’re wrong. I’m very attached (to use the Buddhist sense of the word) to doing well, and being seen as doing well, and I’ll cheerfully place a lot of the blame for that on my ex-husband, whose parting shot included telling me he thought I’d always be a failure. Those words haunt me, popping up at the worst possible times.

    I think I talked about this, actually, in 491 – procrastination as manifestation of fear of failure.

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