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They say the minutia matters

When first living in the realm of higher education, I found the culture alienating because here is this debate (ok, discourse) happening that I want to get in on, but I don’t understand the language. What’s worse is that I know the person speaking (or writing) is perfectly capable of expressing what they mean in an easier to digest format, so why don’t they? Totally arrogant, right? That I would expect someone to modify their language so I can understand it. (Thank you, America and our nearly zero tolerance for other cultures and languages.) But I knew that if I wanted to join the conversation I would have to learn it some of it someday.

Thankfully, I find myself looking up terms like hegemony, ontology, and emic far less often than I did before. But I still can’t say epistemological without having to sound it out by syllable. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with this language. This struggle is not without precedent; after all, I did flunk high school French which required two stints in summer school.

I like simple, clear language and don’t like to spend a lot of time untangling complicated things. (Again, thank you America; this time, for breeding an impatient society.) I loved diagramming sentences in English class, but hated doing the character and story analysis when reading Gilgamesh.

There have been moments when I’ve had an a-ha moment looking up a word I didn’t understand and realized that it was exactly the right word to explain what the research was trying to say. Yes, I totally see how the preciseness is needed to explain exactly what the researcher has observed or found, or expects to find, or why they chose the theory they did. But I can’t even write/think/say “discourse” (see above) without feeling like a dweeb. It just doesn’t come naturally. I don’t know if it ever will.

As we start to wrap up our coursework, and look ahead at dissertation writing this fall, I worry about two things:

  • is my topic relevant or interesting to anyone besides me?
  • can I fill enough pages with fancy words to satisfy my dissertation committee or any other egghead critic?

I know many fellow graduate students struggle with the first question, and know of one that feels the same way I do about the second. She’s been supportive and equally snarky when it comes to reading some of our classmates’ more verbose prose. We high-five each other for hitting page number and word count requirements for papers and discussion forums; we collectively groan when assigned a peer review partner who exceeds either or both. We are both going into dissertation phase ready to explain every single stinking point we want to make. It won’t kill us; it won’t make us stronger. It won’t make us experts. It will get us to to the end of this task we have given ourselves.

I wish I could get it. I wish it came easier. Sometimes my late night reading reminds me of long ago late nights at the kitchen table with my mom, going over French vocabulary flashcards again and again. She was great at mnemonics. I remember the French word for “hot” because she came up with “It’s chaud hot out today!”.  That might have been the only word I got right on the vocab test that week.

What led me to write this blog post?

I keep refining the drafts of chapters 1, 2 and 3 and find myself begrudgingly adding more and more detail to boil everything down to the most specific of specifics. Today? I had to explain the difference between LMS vendor, provider and service provider. I have to use the exact most perfect word to explain what I mean. And I can’t just pick a word if there are more than one option. I have to explain what the options are and explain why I am using the selected term in my paper. Every thing translated and defined again and again until it’s just a jumble of words. I wonder how my committee would feel if I have my paper printed and die-cut into a one of a kind Magnetic Poetry kit.