[Last edited 15 Nov. 2015]
This ‘about’ will seem frustratingly ambiguous and unnecessarily obscure but it was always my hope to say as little about myself as possible. That’s a pointless goal, I know, but It must be said in order to explain why this blog exists at all.
It began as an exercise in disciplined writing, remedial grammar, syntax, and punctuation. I hoped it would help maintain something approaching a regular writing schedule, a writing habit as the experts like to call it, and that discipline is an essential part of the training and conditioning the aspiring academic.
And that’s what I am at present, an aspiring academic. The blog, and the habit it was supposed to generate, has failed, in a small way. It is not yet a habit and I still have trouble with the punctuation. I apply commas like one applies ground pepper but never knows when to say ‘when.’
For the readers who have gotten this far, here is some schematic biography to satisfy the need for details. I am a forty-something Canadian male, with a work history in retail, catalogue sales, customer service, and after some practical training, library science. I returned to school in 2007 and finished my first degree 2008 (a degree I started at a different university under inauspicious conditions back in 1993). While working in libraries, and during that return to higher education, I discovered an affinity – a talent (if I can allow myself the self-compliment) – for research and teaching. I still thought that libraries were the place to stay and thus added an MSc in Information and Library Management to the list but eventually I fell for the academic path (not for its rewards, of course) and completed an Honours BA in 2009 and an MA in History in 2011. In October 2012 I started a DPhil in History at Oxford at a college that I think will remain nameless in the blog, but I am sure is identifiable if you try. I have not actually checked to see if I name it, and I probably will not, since my own ignorance is more preferable.
Because this blog is written with the understanding that it has an entirely practical purpose and has no interest in self-promotion or even thematic unity, the topics will vary widely. I am unlikely to discuss current affairs, politics, pop-culture, the economy, or much else of a timely or popular nature. I do have some focused interests, largely related to my academic specialties; violence, martial culture, book history, book collecting, material culture, academic writing, teaching in higher education, fountain pens, aesthetics, sword-nerds, paleography, codicology, historical method, and learning disorders.
Right, learning disorders. That deserves some additional exposition.
It has cropped up on occasion in previous blog entries and since there is no shame in disclosure, I will, occasionally, discuss the experience of grad-school through the eyes of a mature student with a learning disability. Making this explicit is a benefit to me as well as the reader, as there aren’t many people in higher education with my particular type of problem. Academics are, on average, an eccentric lot, and one is tempted to joke that behavioral disorders are a prerequisite for the PhD but that’s a weak joke. You are better than that. What I have isn’t as severe as Autism or Dyslexia, instead I have an odd version of Dyscalculia and various problems with working memory, retention and recall that make some basic tasks more of a challenge for me, than for others. This disability is a permanent issue. I can only adapt to them, I can’t cure them.
The symptoms appeared around the second grade, but I did not get a formal diagnosis—and a useful perspective of things—until November 2009. This is probably because I fit the category of the ‘twice exceptional‘ which is a particularly frustrating combination of cognitive gifts and disorders that occasionally cancel each other out. Sometimes it produces a huge disparity between potential and performance. I have, I am told, a fantastic memory for details and events cued to visual information. I have a terrible memory for purely abstract information. I could draw for you, in great detail, the floor-plan of the school I attended from k-4, without having set foot in the building since 1984. I will fail utterly to recall any of my teachers names or that of fellow students, but I will remember their faces. I can’t remember more than two or three phone numbers at any one time and I have to pause and think hard about my actual chronological age. My memory for faces means that, if I have met you only once, I will probably never forget it. We may have met many times, but I will forget your name, unless I make great efforts to retain it. I never managed to remember even half of the names of my students when taught tutorials. I will always recognized former students if I see them.
Order, structure, and routine are essential for someone with this type of spotty short-term memory. If the basic activities all work the same, each day, I have more working memory to apply to other tasks. Writing a blog on a regular basis helps maintain that routine while re-enforcing conditioned learning where the regular process of storage and recall are less than perfect.
So, with that, I will leave the reader to take what they will from the slightly disordered writing in this corner of the internets and I will go about my business of shoehorning more information into this brain and we will get along nicely.