My Brain Is Tired

So, yesterday I clicked “Submit” to send in my final exam. It felt GOOD. Because, you know, my brain is kind of tired by now. Hello, Christmas vacation!

I just finished the first of four online courses in a “professional sequence in editing” offered by the University of California at Berkeley. I have earned my first college credits since, er, some time ago, let’s just leave it at that.

“Grammar, Mechanics and Usage for Editors” was probably be the most difficult course in the sequence for me because, frankly, I suck at grammar and always have. Diagramming sentences? Hated it in seventh grade, and still hate it now. But sometimes, you gotta do what you gotta do. Fortunately, it wasn’t all about objects, subjects and prepositions. Most of it was actually useful!

Some of the material was easy for me, just because I’ve been speaking and writing English for so long. I’ve pretty much got the their/there and its/it’s things down by now. But who/whom? That/which? I’ve been winging those for quite a while. It’s good to finally understand the underlying logic for these choices. Not to mention where to put those dang semicolons. And dashes? Lord, don’t get me started on those. I just might pull out my spankin’ new 8-page Chicago Manual of Style reference chart on the proper use of the dash and smack you upside the head with it.

Why, you might ask, would I subject myself to this mental anguish? When we finally got settled at post, I thought I might look for an additional part-time job here to complement the telecommuting content management job that I already have. But, the application process for the first job that interested me at post turned out to be a Kafkaesque reminder of all the reasons that I spent years deliberately not working for embassies overseas. Yeesh.

Instead, I decided to take advantage of the semi-hiatus in employment to polish up my own writing and editing skills. The writing part is easy: aside from blogging, I actually do a fair amount of writing in my day job. I’m not a bad editor. But I’d like to be a better one! Realistically speaking, there are far more professional opportunities available in editing, organizing, and publishing other people’s writing than there are in producing my own content. With our future in the Foreign Service being quite uncertain at the moment, I need to keep that in mind.

In short, it’s a good time to invest in my own skills. But, there turned out to be a surprising personal angle to this project as well.

I needed a reminder that school can be really hard. I was a good student, but that was a long time ago. Over two decades of raising my own kids, I’d forgotten how difficult it can be to just really buckle down and learn something that you are not that crazy about. It takes maturity to see the long view, to understand that you need to learn A in order to be able to do B afterwards.

Assuming you actually want to do B! It’s even harder when you have no interest in B whatsoever. I’m thinking about the teachers back in the day who earnestly tried to explain to me that I needed to learn algebra in order to do trigonometry. Uh, right, and I would want to do that in order to….? I did it anyway, just because I was that kind of kid. But it’s not hard to see why some kids would need a better reason than “just because.”

I also think it’s been good for my teenage son to see me doing homework. I’ve made a point of mentioning here and there how I have an assignment due, or that my brain is fried from grammar exercises. A couple of weeks ago, his midterm report card came out and, for the first time in years, no parent conferences were requested. We couldn’t believe it. No, I mean, really, we did not believe it. So, we contacted some teachers asking if they wanted to schedule conferences. Maybe they had forgotten? Nope, everything is basically fine, they replied. Wow.

I still get the occasional email from a teacher asking me to remind my son to turn something in or telling me he has skipped a class. And his grades are not spectacular. But, the trend is positive, especially this last couple of months. We have even had a couple of conversations about what kind of college he might like to attend. (No, really, this actually happened, I wasn’t daydreaming.)

Coincidence? Probably. But if my going back to school has any small influence whatsoever on this kid’s motivation, then that is totally worth diagramming a few sentences right there, as far as I am concerned. Totally.


  1. Kudos for getting it done. I’ll never forget a copyediting class I took in Berkeley (not at the University but in the city of while I was living near by and after I’d already graduated). It kicked my bootie. I too like to write but don’t fancy myself a copyeditor. I’m sure I could use a refresher, but after reading your post, I’m reminded how painful those classes are. Think I’ll put mine off for a while. . .


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