As of last Friday evening, at 8:42 p.m., my summer semester came to an end. At that moment I uploaded the second of two final exams and hit the ‘submit’ button. I gave a little war whoop, trotted out to the garage fridge to retrieve a celebratory bottle of Woodchuck, and let out a huge sigh of relief.
You might recall from a previous edition that I was facing the summer semester with a mixture of dread and resignation. But there was nothing to be done about it except to take a deep breath and dive in. So, dive I did.
And now, thankfully, it’s over. The pace was fast and furious, and I had almost no down time. But I did it.
And not only did I do it, it turns out I did it pretty well.
Semester grades were posted yesterday. And I’m the proud recipient of two A’s. It’s not my first-ever 4.0 semester, but I haven’t had one in a couple of years, so I’m pretty pleased. Plus, I have two whole weeks until the start of the fall semester, and other than this blog, I’m taking a much-needed break from writing. Because for the past few weeks, I feared my brain might run out of words.
I can’t remember any period in my life, not even as a full-time undergrad student, that I was tasked with so much writing. There have been three to five writing assignments every week, which meant that I’ve written, on average, 300+ words almost every day. It may not sound like much, and it’s great discipline, but it’s exhausting, even for someone who’s accustomed to writing on a regular basis.
Before I first started writing this blog, I looked online for some rules and guidelines for blogging, and discovered that there aren’t any. So I had to devise my own. The average edition of Will Work For Foos is around 1180 words. I have a rule for myself not to exceed 1200 words per episode, because by blog standards, that’s on the lengthy side. I don’t want to bore people, and I’ve determined that I can make my point on pretty much any topic without exceeding that limit.
I’ve read blogs that are much shorter than this one, and I’ve read others that went on much longer. If a blog is well-written, you don’t really notice the length. But just as there are no rules, there are also no editors. I will be kind and say that there are some folks who aren’t very skilled at editing, which is sad, as editing is really important. I’m lucky to have had a background in journalism, and I have a crack IT staff (my daughter) that also doubles as a second set of eyes for me.
All of this to say, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with writing consistently and editing judiciously.
That said, blogging is very different from academic writing. There are no rules in blogging, but academic writing makes up for that by having extremely precise rules. Font size, spacing, margins, references, you name it. There are rules for everything. And there is research. Copious amounts of it.
Last week alone, in preparation for my two finals, I had to spend hours in the library database looking for journal articles on topics like post-traumatic stress in children, disaster relief efforts, grief and bereavement, the Tuskegee Study, the AZT trials in Africa in the late 1990s, and the reliability of internet sites regarding health issues. And once I compiled all of that research, I had to write cogently and cohesively to answer questions that addressed those topics. Last week was a 20,000 word week. Most of those in a two day period.
So I sat down and I wrote. And as I often do when I finish writing, I looked back over my work, compared it to the stated guidelines to see if I had even come close to addressing each component listed, and when I was satisfied that I had done the best I could, I submitted my work.
No matter what I write, it is not uncommon for me to submit or upload a document and KNOW, without question, that it’s the worst thing I’ve ever produced. Maybe all writers feel that way at some point. Maybe I’m just my own worst critic. But regardless of how I feel about a piece after I finish it and give it the once-over (hmmmm, this isn’t so bad), once I send it out into the universe, I’m suddenly filled with doubt (omigod, this is absolute SHIT!)
Last week was no different, but I was tired, I had a bad case of semester fatigue, and that Woodchuck was calling to me. My FINAL final was off in the Ethernet somewhere. There was nothing more to be done. C’est la vie.
Yesterday, when I went online to look at my grades, I was not just thrilled by those two A’s. I was totally stunned. Comments from both professors on those two final papers were very positive, and in one case, downright laudatory.
From the first: “Great paper. It is evident that you invested time addressing the stated criteria for this assignment.” Brief, but to the point.
Then the other professor blew me away with this “I am not including any comments or a rubric because your answers were truly excellent! Better than some of the qualifying exams I have had to review! Well thought-out, well organized, and thorough. Great job!”
There’s a scene in the Foo Fighters documentary “Back and Forth” when Dave is discussing all the build-up to the band’s 2008 appearance at Wembley Stadium in London, and how tickets had been pre-selling for about six months before the show. Wembley is a huge venue, and they worried about filling it. Unnecessarily, as it turned out.
Cut to a moment just before the band starts their first encore set, and Dave is on stage, looking out at the massive crowd – at that time, a record 85,000 fans in attendance. And you see that he’s just overwhelmed by it. Pride, amazement, humility – all there on his face. It’s as if he can’t believe all those people are there to see his little band perform. I can’t see it without getting a lump in my throat. I call that his “Wembley moment.”
Yesterday, when I read my professors’ comments, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the praise. I got a lump in my throat. Sitting there, staring at my computer monitor and looking at those words, I knew how Dave must have felt.
Because for me, it was the first time since I began this journey that I was absolutely certain I was getting it right. So often, I’ve felt like I was just pretending to know what I was doing. Like I was just some poser, some hack, working toward an advanced degree, but not really deserving of the privilege to do so.
Maybe I should give myself a little more credit.