Sometimes you just have to start

Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω

I was given an assignment already this semester that I didn’t understand.

This is rare for me. Usually I know as soon as the assignment description hits my desk (or more often nowadays, my Moodle account) exactly what the finished product will look like, how long it will likely take me to bring it to fruition and even estimate pretty closely what mark it will receive when it’s returned to me.

This time I had no idea.

I was torn — but in a way that, in retrospect, was surprisingly productive.

Because I didn’t know what the final piece would look like, I couldn’t possibly know how it would end and worse — I had no idea where to begin.

So I just started.

It was a piece of writing about memory. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know what voice it would have — or rather what voice I should give it — or the structure I should be employing for it, the tone, reading level or audience it should be aimed at. I knew it should be between 700 and 1000 words and involve something about memory.

I didn’t know if it should be an academic examination, a summary of psychology studies, a personal essay, an internal exploration of my own psyche or some kind of strange hybrid combination of these things.

So I just started.

I sat in front of my keyboard and started typing a conversation I recently had with my mother about a particularly vivid memory I had of an event during a road trip we had taken when I was a child.

We’d taken lots of road trips when I was young (we lived in Saskatchewan, so doing anything fun as a family basically involved driving for a few hours) and it’s not that this one was to a remarkable event or gathering or anything. Well, maybe it was, but I don’t remember why we were on the trip — I just remember one thing that happened at a rest stop.

While I was transcribing that conversation with my mom, I found myself wondering about how memories work — in particular, why some memories are far more vivid than others and the same event can be so clear in one person’s memory yet hazy or even non-existent in another’s.

You see, my mother couldn’t remember me getting my finger caught in the car door at that rest stop.

I could see in my mind the colour of the dirt on the surrounding hills, exactly how far we were parked from the gas pumps and the smell of spilled juice on the seat of the car.

So I started looking into why that might be.

Why would I remember something so vividly that happened before I was old enough to form full sentences, while my mother couldn’t recollect the event whatsoever?

The question led me to all sorts of interesting studies and academic journal entries that in a normal circumstance, I’ll be honest, would have me wishing for a kick in the face with a golf shoe if it meant I didn’t have to read them.

But I was enthralled. I incorporated some of what I was finding into my assignment and left a whole lot more out, because it was interesting but irrelevant.

I can’t say that what I turned in was what my professor was looking for and that it turned out that I aced the assignment, but I can tell you it was a welcome experience to just start something having no idea how it would end.

Maybe try it the next time you don’t know how to approach an assignment or project.

Just start and see where it takes you.