Saturday, December 06, 2008

Meaning

Three hundred and sixty five days ago, I wrote a piece entitled “45.” It was a reflection piece. I was about to receive my BA from California State University, Sacramento and I wrote about not just looking forward, not only looking back, but also something about what it all meant. Meaning. On my 45th birthday last year, I was looking for meaning; I wrote about meaning. I asked the question, in the context of the world and my place in it, “What can I do?” and concluded the answer is, in part, write about it.

And so I have, but not in terms I could have imagined even a year ago. Today, on the 46th anniversary of my birth, I am writing, but not just here and not anymore for a newspaper. Graduate school is stretching the limits of my quest to know not what, but why. And although writing is a huge part of that quest, it is not all there is to it. In less than a week I will have completed the first of two 25 to 35-page research papers; one week later, the other is due. Although both are fascinating in their own way, they both represent so much more than just writing.

I wrote about knowing how to do some things well. Writing and being a good student were counted among them. I know how to write and I know what’s it takes to succeed as a student - an undergraduate student, anyway. In my egocentric view, however, I had not allowed for the possibility that there were dynamics that had to be experienced before they can be known - not just in terms of being a grad student - all experiences can only truly be known by experience. It is not as though I felt it would be a cakewalk, but there was no way I could have anticipated the intensity of the experience until now - and it is intense.

Though similar in many respects, the human experience is uniquely individual. Included in my 16,802 days, there were many good days and many that were less so - some much less. It is a wonder that I have survived, never mind that I have achieved the success I have over the past five or so years. Plans have a funny way of changing, however, and although completing my BA at 45 appeared to be a culmination of sorts, it was really just the beginning of a journey I could not foresee. For a student who has historically found school less than rewarding, my path is now taking me straight into academia.

There is a need. The perennial question remains, “How can I change the world?” The answer, for me, is one person at a time - one student at a time. My studies will ultimately lead me to a teaching position at a local community college, maybe even at the university level. After nearly one full semester as a graduate assistant working under a professor, I have experienced in a small way what it is like to be a teacher. It is an experience that has parallels to many other life experiences - we are all teachers (and students) in some way - but academia is unique in its setting and structure. My students, most of them, are on a quest similar to my own. Theirs is an experience I am very familiar with.

My first journalism professor, who is also a working journalist, used his blog to “warm up” prior to writing his “real” stories (the ones he got paid for). I am quite sure, however, that his blog posts often serve far more meaning to than just that. Like most everything else, the purpose for writing, the why, is much more complicated and much deeper than some discrete exercise to warm up, despite the fact that this post serves that purpose as well. Just minutes from now, the “real” writing will begin. But it, too, has much greater meaning than just the fulfillment of a requirement. It has meaning beyond the classroom and that is, abstractly anyway, why I do it.

8 comments:

David said...

i (think) i know what you mean.
net chick sent me

Awareness said...

Immersion....the first word that came to mind while reading your post. Grad school, the honing in on a specialization is intense, overwhelming at times, taxing, stretching.....it is an immersion of body and mind as you live and breathe it.
Writing, like higher learning is paradoxical in that both take us on an inward journey both soulfully and cognitively as well as an outward one......of sharing, connecting and seeking the words, thoughts, new ideas etc.

Happy Birthday, Mike. You're still younger than me. When do you catch up?

Carmi said...

Happy birthday! I can always count on you to write with conviction and perspective. I often wonder about what it all means, and although I don't have the answer, I love knowing that my pen is such an integral part of the process.

It's a joy being part of a larger community that gets it, and is always searching for more.

Bob-kat said...

Post graduate study is definitely one of the most taxing, intense and yet rewarding things I have ever undertaken. It is all about the 'why' whereas undergrad study is very much more about the 'what' as you have found.

It's been awhile since I have visited. It's becuase I have been veryu much preoccupied with my own person 'whys'lately. And busy too. I have popped by just in time I see, to wish you Many Happy Returns. I hope you have a great Birthday :)

Monica Hamburg said...

Netchick sent me too. Happy Birthday and congratulations on all your achievements.

Adam said...

Hey Mr. Althouse,
Very interesting and thoughtful article you have written there.
I's always a good thing to have a goal in life, I like your goal to help change the world, and even one student at a time is a major commitment, because there is more than just you helping that student that has gone into that whole process.
The years you've spent learning yourself, writing yourself and the passion you most obviously have for your subject. It is a great thing you are doing.

...NetChick sent me dude,
Adam, from ManZine - How so is it commercial?
Did I miss link or something? :S

Adam.

Adam said...

Great music btw...

Snaggle Tooth said...

Congratulations on another year of wonderful self-discovery!