Wrestling with Pudding

Wrestling with Pudding

Adjusting to actually having a schedule, one filled with tasks and deadlines, has been really difficult for me. I’m having endless streams of ideas that have to be dealt with quickly, and they leave few traces before they move on. There isn’t time to write them out, forcing them to coalesce into some sort of sense. I’ve had to write more on shorter deadlines than ever before. The primary problem is that I take writing too seriously, and simple tasks become inordinately complex.

That’s why my blog has turned into an essay collection lately; I have little time to read other blogs or even think about conversing. I miss just throwing out the idea of the moment, but when you’re forced to write in a directed manner towards some end it really does stifle your urge to wander. I realize that this is part of the process of graduate school, it’s just that I don’t like it much. The dictum of “be specific” is a necessary attribute of scholarship; a person has to pick a narrow spot to plow and stay on target. However, in most ways, this is the death of creativity—and I’m really bad at it.

Writing my Master’s thesis was a big challenge on that score. My advisor here called it “a heroic failure” and I can’t say that I disagree with him much. The problem that concerns me is too vast to cover in an essay, a book, or perhaps even in a lifelong series of books. To attempt to do it is, as he said, “wrestling with pudding.” Of course, having a dirty mind, I thought to myself—hey, that sounds fun.

However, writing it was an important thing for me. It gave me a better idea of what I could and could not do. Everything sort of disintegrates into larger levels of complexity when you look at it. There are only models and metaphors that skew your thinking into forcing everything to fit. Sometimes, when the model is unusual or ill-explored, it helps. But it’s always a simplification of a more complex thing; there is no one answer, only ranges of possibility. Writing coherently means limiting your possibilities to those that are manageable. I have a hard time figuring out just what “manageable” is.

The artist side of my personality wants to scream “don’t tell me I can’t do that—I can!” But the more practical side does realize that I can’t. I won’t live forever. It would be better to concentrate on something attainable and work towards it. Nonetheless, I’m a hopeless generalist who enjoys wrestling with pudding. It’s going to be hard to change. Until this point, scholar friends have told me that I might have my cake and eat it too—just wait until I finish the “apprenticeship” we’re all forced to do before returning to generality. Nonetheless, it seems that in order to create something of real value much of the pudding wrestling must cease.

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