Monday, October 6, 2008

Nerve damage

Or something like that. Perhaps its just a midterm anxiety attack. This semester, there is some type of strange mental blockage impeding my attempts to think clearly and engage with the material on any level below the surface without busting out a jack hammer, or at least hitting my head against a wall several times.

There were times, when I was a first year--heck, even just last semester--when I contributed to class discussion because I had things to say, and I had plenty of questions. Lately, I contribute because I am one of the many who would rather hear myself fumble than listen to the sudden whirr of crickets in the room; and I feel like despite having read the material multiple times, I don't have enough knowledge or understanding to even ask questions.

*Right now, I am inwardly shuddering at the ridiculous paraphrase I tried to make of a passage in Paradise Regained earlier this evening.*

Fuck. I'm doing the reading; I'm marking up my books; I'm trying to make connections-- sparks are firing but nothing is catching. Are these types of plateaus common in academia? I feel like an absolute dunce, especially when I consider several occasions of students with about five semesters less experience than me asking pertinent questions, and even actively sustaining discussions with professors! ACK! All the while, I scramble to keep up in my notes, which leads me to another topic that has been bugging me...

I became a notetaker this semester. Something new. I have been told that I "take good notes." I don't know what this means. Someone looking at my notes would have a pretty clear concept of what we covered in class on a given day, sure...but what exactly constitutes good note-taking?

The people at the notetaking headquarters had me fill out a check-list of good and bad note taking techniques (I don't have it handy, or I'd share it) and I was interested, although slightly miffed, that I did not have all of my check marks in the "good notetaker" column. Reflecting more self-consciously on my notes from class, I realize that I tend to take what I hear for granted, and write it down without considering it, without weighing its validity or hell--even my opinion of it. There is no filter, or any attempt at my own interpretation. Well, worse yet is when there is an attempt at interpretation, but somehow I never found a moment to ask for validation. I hate changing the direction of discussion in class; worse yet, the idea might just fall flat on its face. There are such things as stupid questions, after all.

A friend of mine from last year would have grandiose ideas transmitted to her through the lecture/discussion, which she would then record in a feverish haze and later turn into her final paper. I always wanted to trip her when she recounted her "lightbulb" moment. This has rarely, if ever, happened to me. My "great ideas" typically only occur in the process of writing the paper, which means that I have already taken the notes, read the material and its criticism, and yet formed none of my own thoughts until I was at least few pages into it. Herein lies my insecurity-where is the active and inquisitive, analytical mind that I was supposed to have acquired by now? The questions I am able to raise after several rereadings and a first draft--where are they when I first encounter the text (or at least by the second read through, or when the prof asks in class)? Shouldn't I be highly trained and sensitive to the material?

Enough. It's off to bed with me.


Dr. Virago said...

Please feel free to change direction in my class discussions. Even if it's one of those times I'm trying to lead students to seeing an argument taking shape, there's room for your digressions from that. And in more free-form discussion there's plenty of room.

Dedalus said...

Yeah, I plateaued a couple of years ago, and never got it back, really (not that I'm any kinda "academic.") There's no particular reason it should keep working, really, when you think about it. It's profoundly unnatural, taking the time to think about anything that isn't, you know, eating. At a certain point you run up against your own biology.

(Hey, let's eat something!)

That said--you, I don't worry about. Symptoms not alarming. Inability to paraphrase Milton = normal, unless you're Milton, or Rust Belt Milton at the very least. Give it a week or two. Courage!

I got an "A" in Crazy Beeyotch said...

Dr. V--I'm working on it, for sure. Sometimes its a matter of getting my foot in the door, other times its a matter of having something worth saying. I'm working on both.

Ded--thanks for the encouraging words. If you have trouble paraphrasing Milton then I don't feel so bad. I took your advice and ate some cookies. I did feel better, so thanks:)