The View From the Middle…

This week I had two marvelous experiences; the first I call my ‘Roland Barthes Moment’ and the other is my ‘Marvin Moment.’   This year I am in the middle or the degree process, and rather than feeling like I am in the middle of a journey it is more like being in the middle of a lovely meadow with splendid views all around.  My ‘Marvelous Marvin Moment’ helped me make the most of the views.

Let me introduce you to my talented friend and neighbor, Marvin. He graduated from Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania School of Law and is retired from a long career in the entertainment industry. Today he is writing a book. Marvin and I ride the rain together on library days. He is an excellent conversationalist with a great sense of humor, and a wonderful commuting companion.  This week we talked about the writing process and blocks to success as a writer. In our conversation writing success was defined as getting something on paper from beginning to end.

Writing is a pleasure for both of us and we share the same challenges; we are also both rather courageous about the challenges in a fearless, pencil wielding kind of way. Despite his Ivy League education and career in law Marvin feels structure and fear of failure are his biggest challenges. He also thinks his issues with structure and fear of failure are related. It’s an interesting, insightful observation.  For us, it is not time management, volume of information, or organization that represents the biggest challenges, although cracking the whip over those issues does not hurt.

Fear of failure does hurt however because its twin is procrastination. Structure is particularly painful if you do not have it, especially in your writing. In my first University of London International Academy Study Skills Seminar on Essay Organization, almost every student identified structuring an argument as their biggest challenge. For me it is still a challenge; it takes thought about what I want to say and how I want to say it.

How a writer says something is just as important as what they say; in fact it just might be the same thing viewed from different places, which brings me to my ‘Roland Barthes Moment’. To me, Barthes suggests that every word, like study guide, is a metaphor. If every word is a metaphor then how a writer says something is more important than ever before.  Reading and writing is like sitting in a meadow where all the wild flowers are words and texts. Just like there are seasons in my meadow how I interpret and write about texts changes with my perspective.

My perspective is different now that I have walked from the edge of my meadow to the middle of this sea of flowers. I can now look over my shoulder and ask what I would do differently if I was beginning study for this degree today: pay more attention to close reading, spend more time analyzing study guide and exam questions, and give more effort to writing essay plans.  All three points are realed to structure; structure of the literature and of my own academic writing.

It was wonderful having my writing experience and issues abot structure validated by someone as accomplished as Marvin. It helped me form two important questions as a structure for this transition from new student to more engaged scholarship, as I study texts and write about them: What is being said, and how is the writer saying  it?  That is a great place to begin.

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