Term Papers for Algernon

I have just finished writing my first paper for an online psychology class I’m taking, and I’ve had a couple of rather unsettling realizations. The assignment was to pick a topic from current events and then relate it back to some concept from psychology. I ended up writing my paper about the kerfuffle that happened after the Microsoft presentation at the E3 conference, relating it to concepts of mimicry and conformity. In the interest of staying on-topic, I’ll spare you the contents of my paper and get to why I found this assignment a little more daunting than a page-long paper for an online, non-credited, if-you-fail-this-it-totally-doesn’t-matter class really ought to be.

Current Events?
I am a bad American. I don’t watch the news regularly or read the paper. Granted, I have subscriptions to both The Atlantic and Psychology Today, but The Atlantic is largely geared toward shit-stirring issues like gender equality or neo-conservativism and Psychology Today consists mainly of puffy pop-psychology about how to spot a sociopath or toxic friend. Legitimate science : Vogue :: Psychology Today : Cosmo.

I used to listen to NPR’s hourly newscasts, but those quickly because incredibly depressing. It seems like everybody (NPR not included) is either sexing up the news to make it more entertaining or participating in not-so-subtle axe grinding. Thus, I walk away, figuring that the really big stories will show up in conversation or Facebook feeds. Hell, at least I found out about the tornadoes in Oklahoma. It’s not that I don’t read; it’s just that I prefer to spend my reading time reading books about psychology. That is, whenever I’m not being expected to read a textbook about C# or Oracle. Look, at least I’m not on the treadmill reading about Kardashians or looking through magazines for things I can want to buy. Right?

Combining Ideas?
I think working online is breaking my brain, and being a web developer isn’t helping too much, either. When this assignment asked me to take one idea (the current event) and apply other ideas to it (the psychology concepts), my brain locked up for a while. It felt like I was asking it to do something that I hadn’t done since 2000, and that may be true. Sure, I’ve been in school almost non-stop since I graduated with that business degree in 2000, but it’s been a different KIND of school. Art school rarely requires paper writing and, when it does, the bar is set pretty low. You’re not asked to come up with scholarly English, you’re asked to come up with something remotely coherent. The bar in web development school is even lower: the two papers I’ve been asked to write in the entire Associate Degree program have both been a page or less (double spaced!) and the expectation has been to simply say anything that makes any sort of sense and is at least spelled like English 90% of the time.

Fancy talky words?
In daily life, I write a lot. I type A LOT. But almost every bit of that writing consists of email, IMs or instructional training blogs. That is to say, almost everything that I ever write is presented in the plainest, basest form possible. Fancy words and metaphors wouldn’t suit me in most cases. In most cases, I’m sending someone a numbered list of steps on how to do something. Click here, right-click here. It puts forth an idea, but everything is stated as simply as possible. Complex ideas are presented WITH PICTURES. Have I resorted to the 21st century equivalent of cave painting?

I think this may be why I haven’t been writing as much lately, and this is probably exactly why I need to be writing more. I’m losing the ability to explain complex thoughts through English. The idea I’m trying to convey is right there in front of me, yet I can’t find the words to express it. It makes me feel like Charlie from Flowers for Algernon, witnessing a slow decline before attempting to return to my job as a janitor. There are parts of me that are scared of going to grad school because I have forgotten how to combine complex ideas into term papers. I fear that I would be there, surrounded by scholarly types, and all I would be able to muster would be bulleted lists and paragraphs that fell short of making any kind of sense or point. An oral exam would degenerate into arm waving and multiple uses of the phrase “ya know?” (Not that I’m going to grad school any time soon, but it’s still on the table somewhere underneath the more urgent tasks of bill paying, lawn mowing and showing up to work each day.)

So, here I am, telling you that I’m going to try and write more, if only for my own sake. I can’t go back to being a janitor.


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