Category Archives: School

Rough Air

People not Social Distancing in Paris Airport, after being asked multiple times
to sit down (where there were no available chairs!)

I was intrigued on this trip to see the euphemism “rough air” replace the long used “turbulence.” Probably some focus group somewhere preferred it, but anyway, I thought it was not a bad description of some of the chaos we’re going through these days —whether you see it as turbulent, or merely “rough”. So I promised earlier a description of other bits of chaos, so I’ll try to do that here, but with more pics. :-)

An almost completely empty Red Robin,
normally one of our favorite haunts in the US
Sign outside the address I was given for my COVID-19 test appointment

When I took this pic, I had no idea how iconic it would feel in retrospect. At the time I was just mad, having confirmed the testing center address the day before, to see a slapped up sign telling me to go somewhere else. It wasn’t far, but it just smelled of an “I don’t care to get things right” kind of attitude. But this attitude (even if I smelled that correctly) is, I think, a natural consequence of the chaos we’re in. If testing centers are opening and closing every couple weeks, why change your docs to reflect where you’re actually testing? And why pay for a more professionally printed and durable sign? Investing in things that change this quickly just doesn’t make sense.

I joked to a teacher friend that she should just make plans for the fall on a whiteboard, and wipe off and rewrite as necessary. That is something of a fatalistic attitude, but there is also realism as well. Things are changing, a lot. So we change (via re-thinking, or not) how we invest in our infrastructure and planning, to reflect the fact that it isn’t a particularly long term that we’re investing and planning for.

In my “surgical” mask, which I was required to wear,
despite the fact that it broke as I put it on
No hugging in church

I get why we can’t hug in church, but wow, we must also admit that it definitely changes the interpersonal dynamic. To have our main posture toward one another be a fear of contagion, or fear of offense (for not following rules, or risking someone else’s health) is just not normal in a healthy church. We are there for each other, crying on each other, and yes, hugging each other. Anyway, I’m not arguing against this policy, just acknowledging it as a big change, and hoping we can move back to more inter-personally intimate (and healthy!) church context.

In the midst of all the above, some things remain pleasant:

Hanging out on my couch with a Bible and cup of coffee
siblings fighting over Legos newly handed down from their brother
Beautiful newborn baby neighbor
First day of school pictures

So after all, there is lots of chaos, rough or turbulent, but there are also lots of things to enjoy, as well. A missionary colleague once told us her secret to contentment was finding something she enjoyed in each place she went to —like

yummy fresh avocados

Rain Forest International School (RFIS)

One of the great successes of the trip we took to Cameroon in March was the relationship with the school our children will be attending: Rain Forest International School. This is the compound wall and gate on approach:

And the sign just outside the gate:

This is a 360º panoramic from the parking lot, with the parking lot in the center, and the closest building on each edge:

There is a sign inside as wellː

And a bush signː

And a lovely soccer fieldː

On the right are classrooms and administration:

On the left are more classrooms and the library, shown here again:

The buildings have outside walkways:

and lockers:

But perhaps the most important features are peers for James and Joel:

and for Anna:

And, of course, a field for them all to play on:

And of course, where our kids have peers, those kids also have moms, which is good for Kim:

Anyway, there is certainly much more that could be said, and more things to show, but the bottom line is that RFIS has a great campus, lots of other missionary kids, and ours are all looking forward to studying there next year. So that is one of our major goals for this trip accomplished: getting our kids started on their transition to their new school. We were hoping they could be each excited about this move, and RFIS is making that happen!

Senior Year Abroad

It doesn’t make sense on paper to uproot a teenager for the final year of school. But we were questioned about taking him to France as an infant, or to Congo as a kid; much about our life looks like foolishness to some people.

But there are a number of reasons why it makes sense for us to go to Cameroon at the end of this school year, including the fact that Anna will be starting junior high, and Joel will be starting high school.

But James will be a senior next year, and the school in Cameroon has a policy of not admitting students for their senior year only. We believe this is a good and reasonable policy. However, we also think is a good and reasonable thing to ask for an exception to this policy for James. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons their policy makes sense, and why we think James will do OK.

The policy makes sense

Teenage years are tumultuous enough already, without adding a change of school (not to speak of country and language). I know; I moved high schools after my sophomore year. The transition to a new school wasn’t easy, with new classes, new class requirements and prerequisites. I made the best of it, but I wasn’t changing languages or countries (unless you count California to Oregon as an international move.… :-)).

Added to the above are the transitions particular to life in a cross-cultural context. The school is in Cameroon, which has its own cultures, languages and politics. Language might be the easiest to deal with, since French is a national language in Cameroon (in addition to English). But needing to use French to take a taxi, or to buy or sell in a marketplace, is a different kind of stress than having to take a language class.

Politics in Cameroon is its own thing, perhaps especially right now. I hear (from Cameroonians) the president has been in power for a long time, and many people hope for change. There is talk of succession from the provinces that use English, to the point that at least some expatriates are not living there now. When we were there in 2004 (just after Joel was born), I recall the particular irony of not seeing any campaigning for the presidential election until after the election took place.

Encountering other cultures is one of the mixed blessings of any cross-cultural context. We get to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters in Christ before we meet them at the throne of God (Rev 7:9̈-10). That said, other cultures have other foods, customs, and expectations of life, and these can take some getting used to. My personal top two “I hope I never have to eat that again” foods (tadpole soup, and fermented manioc) were first encountered in Cameroon, though we also saw fermented manioc in D.R. Congo. These adjustments are not insurmountable, but they do take time and work to deal with.

So when you add changes in language, culture and politics to changes of school and hormones, we get that this is not a small task, and we understand why many students would isolate themselves, come to hate themselves or their new context (or their parents, or God), and ultimately do very badly in a single senior year abroad.

James will do OK

That said, we believe that James will do OK, by God’s grace.

As I have talked to people who survived having missionaries as parents, and as I talk to people who work with missionary kid issues, it seems like one of the biggest indicators of how a missionary kid turns out is how much a part of the mission the child personally feels. Because of this, we have for some time talked our kids through transitions from the perspective that this is something our family is doing together for one purpose —not that dad has a job change and everyone else has to go along.

Another key element in weathering transition well, I find, is talking through transition, before, during, and afterward, to make sure everyone is processing it emotionally. This was a particular issue as we struggled with the more difficult years of Asperger’s, but we got used to talking each of our kids through what we would do when and why, so when we did it, there were fewer surprises for them. As soon as we would have an itinerary, we would talk about which planes we would take where (including which would have bathrooms, and which would have movies). I’m not saying this is something we have perfect, but we as a family have lots of experience weathering transition —enough to feel when things are going well, and when we need to take more time to work through things.

The above has two caveats. First, our kids have mostly been in Texas the last five years. So while James remembers Africa, I’m sure he will be surprised more than he thinks. Second, all of this (as in all things) has been done by God’s grace. When I say “experience” above, what I really mean is having some information in advance, but still screwing things up, and depending on God to make things right. Then spending time processing what happened and how to do better. Which means we have more information for the next time, but we still screw things up, and still need God to work all things to good (Romans 8:28). So ultimately what I mean by saying “James will be OK” is that God has given us a history both of weathering transition, and of depending on him, and we trust that he will show himself to be good in this case, as well.

What does this look like practically, right now? We are nine months out from a potential move to Cameroon at the end of this school year. We have already had a number of conversations, both as a family and individually, about the cost and the value of this transition. I have asked each of us to spend some time considering what the cost and value are for us personally, and we’ve had a number of very productive conversations since then. My goal is that each of us would have bought in to this transition without reservation —well in advance of any family move.

So far, I’ve talked more about our family process than about James. There are also a number of reasons why I think James will handle this transition well —beyond the fact that we have experience processing these things as a family. Basically, James is doing well in school, better than we imagined he would five years go. He takes tests very well, and he has developed friendships with classmates that he wants to see outside of school (something I never did much of in high school ;–)). But despite learning to be social, he is excelling at honors and college prep classes in almost every subject, including AP English; he is taking calculus now, as a Junior. James is in his fourth year of French now, and seems eager to be able to use it. Despite wanting to study math in college, he is also working on an endorsement in engineering. And until recently he insisted on taking (and enjoying, and doing well in) art —something I never managed to do myself.

Outside of school, James has showed a commitment to piano, both in practice and lessons (currently working on Sonata in G Major), and in leading worship at church. He is a very emotive pianist, and has said that playing the piano helps him express feelings that don’t come out in words. His commitment can be seen in that he wakes up at 5:45am to practice before school each day.

I’ll let James himself speak to his own motivation to go to Africa for his senior year (post coming soon), but I am grateful for the growth, maturity and responsibility he’s had to date. I am more grateful to see the man God is making him – especially given where he’s been.

Presenting New Research


Yes, I was somewhat blinded by the projector, but on October 20 I got to present some new directions my research has been taking at the Metroplex Linguistics Conference, hosted this year by UTA.

In summary, the comparisons I was hoping to make to analyze what’s going on in languages today have not been as fruitful as I had hoped, while they are saying a lot about what has happened to these languages over time.  Which will likely make this work significantly more interesting to most linguists, though less immediately valuable for writing system development. I still hope to maintain value for the people who speak these languages, though it is not as immediately available as I had thought it would be.

Theoretical Musings

Throughout most of my career as a linguist, I have enjoyed doing descriptive work. Practically, that means I describe what is found in languages, rather than prescribing what should be in a given language (as a teacher might). But descriptive work can also find itself set against more theoretical work. That is, figuring out what makes up language more generally, as opposed to how things work out in a particular language. So far, I have been content to figure out what’s going on in a particular language, since that’s my concern: I want to see particular people groups able to read and write. While studying for my M.A., a teacher once described theories as tools in a toolbox. One may be useful for solving one problem, and another may be useful for solving another, so we use the tool that is useful, then set it down when we finish that problem.

Needless to say that for some linguists, this is a horrifying idea. For some, the whole purpose of doing linguistics is to understand the principles of language generally, not the details of a given language. The desire is to understand the language functions of the human mind, not how a particular subset of humans uses it. But there is another reason the concept of theory I picked up at Oregon horrifies some: for many, a linguistic theory is not just helpful (or not) in a particular instance, it is supposed to be True (note the capital ‘T’; this is not the ‘my truth’ v ‘your truth’ kind of truth). So if a theory is supposed to reflect what’s actually going on in the mind, then it shouldn’t be dropped in favor of another theory to deal with the next problem.

During my last several years at UT Arlington, I’ve had plenty of chances to interact across this divide; few people here are interested in descriptive linguistics. And I often get the question, after presenting a good (IMHO) description, “so what does this mean (i.e., about language in general)?” And “it means that this is how these people use language” is not a sufficient answer.

I’ve grown more competent in developing more theoretically interesting conclusions (i.e., interesting to those interested in theory development, not only theoretically interesting…:-)), but I have remained mostly uninterested in developing theory, nonetheless. So I continue to do my descriptive work, showing what’s in a particular (set of) language(s), and I throw in more theoretically interesting conclusions for those more interested in theory.

Until recently, when I got hit by something I hadn’t expected. What would happen if you were working on a complex job, and you realized you needed two different tools to make it work? What if those tools were not designed to work together? What if you could only figure out a couple ways of making them work together at all, and any one of those ways limited the operation of each of the two tools? This is something like what I’ve run up against.

For over a decade, I’ve been using a theory of what makes up tone that has been described in The Geometry and Features of Tone, by Keith Snider. It builds on earlier work in Feature Geometry (how the bits that change one meaningful sound into another interrelate) and Autosegmental theory (how things like consonants and vowels interact with things like tone and stress). Perhaps the most important contribution of GFT is that tone is made up of two features that distinguish sound, and each has its own contribution to how a word with tone is pronounced.

More recently, as I’ve interacted more with languages with Consonant-Tone Interaction (see this blog entry for more on these consonants), I’ve been using a theory ([L/voice], from Bradshaw 2000) that says that low tone is intrinsically bound to voicing (when your voice box vibrates, more or less). This theory has proved helpful as well, though perhaps in a smaller selection of languages. But in any case, those are the languages I’m working on now, so this tool is in my hand, as it were.

But as I was writing up some of my work based on these two theories, I realize that GTF says that low tone is really two features (low tone and lower register), while the [L/voice] theory says that low tone is intrinsically linked to your voice box. But neither theory explicitly addresses the other, despite the fact that I need to use them both at the same time. I originally thought that I would sit down one afternoon and sketch out a number of different ways to possibly make them work together, but I could only come up with two. The longer I beat my head against this problem, the more I found arguments against any other way of making the two theories fit together. That is, voicing must be bound to either low tone, or lower register. Period.

I had been assuming that I would be able to make both tone and register features bound to voicing, but that simply can’t work, at least not without making radical adjustments to either or both theory.

Anyway, I’ve been presenting this information to my committee, and for the first time in my career as a linguist, I’m seeing not only very practical implications of our theoretical assumptions, but I’m seeing things that need to be figured out on a theoretical level, and I might be the person best placed to do it. Which is to say that I entered this Ph.D. program to help develop a number of languages in eastern DRC in a more strategic way, but I may well end up with something of broader implications (with whatever theoretical claims I make informed by, and informing, the description).  But maybe that’s why they call this degree Doctor of Philosophy, and not Doctor of a couple things I wanted to write about.

Anyway, as I make this turn, I’m looking forward to see how these musings can benefit a larger set of people groups, which remains the point of what I’m doing at all. I remain committed to linguistic description, and trust that the languages I describe in my dissertation will have good tone work represented there, at least, and that the people who speak those languages will be better able to read and write as a result of it. And as a result of that, that they would have better access to information about this life, and the next.



The Function of Tone in Ndaka

In an earlier post I mentioned work I was doing to show the importance of tone in the Bantu D30 languages. Here I’d like to go through the conjugation of one verb in one language, to show how tone works, in relationship to consonants and vowels. To start with, here is one verb conjugated two ways:NDK Conjugation 1
If you have studied another language before, you might recognize this kind of listing of the forms of a verb for each of the people who do the action. In English, this kind of thing is boring:

  • I walk
  • you walk
  • he walks
  • we walk
  • you all walk
  • they walk

The only thing of any interest in the English is the final ‘s’ on ‘he walks‘; everything else is the same on the verb. But that’s not the case in many languages, including the languages I’m working with. For instance, there are lots of differences in forms, and you can correlate the differences in forms with differences in meaning. If you line up the verbs as below, you can separate the part that remains the same from the part that changes. You can also notice that in the meanings on the right, there is a part that remains the same, and a part that changes. This is the case for both conjugations:
NDK Conjugation 2

So with a conjugation paradigm like this, we can deduce that for each line in the paradigm, the part of the form that is different is related to the part of the meaning that is different (e.g., k- = “we” and ɓ- = “they”). Likewise, the part of the word forms that stays the same is related to the part of the meaning that stays the same (e.g., otoko = “will spit”).

But, you might ask, this logic gives us otoko = “(did/have) spit” in the first conjugation, but otoko = “will spit” in the second. Which is it? In fact, if you compare each line for each of the two conjugations, you will see that the consonants and vowels are the same for each first line, for each second line, all the way down to the sixth line. So whatever form indicates the difference between “will” and “did/have” is not found in the consonants or vowels. Where is that difference indicated? In the tone. If you compare the second column for each line of the two conjugations, you will see that the lines representing pitch for each word form is not the same between the two conjugations.

A similar problem exists for the prefixes that refer to subjects. That is n- is used for both “I” and “you all”, and the absence of a prefix is used for both “you” and “he”. But looking at this last one first, we can see a difference in the tone:NDK Conjugation 3

So even though there is no difference in the consonants or vowels to indicate a difference in meaning, there is a difference in tone which does. The same is found for “I” versus “you all”, circled here:NDK Conjugation 4

So the bottom line is that for (almost) every difference in meaning, there is a difference in form that indicates that difference. Sometimes that difference is in the consonants or vowels, as we might expect in languages more closely related to English (and even in English, with the -s above), but sometimes that difference is only in the tone.

But the story is a bit more complex than that, since the tone doesn’t do just one thing. We saw above that tone indicates the difference between “will” and “did/have” in these conjugations. But tone also indicates the difference between c, as well as that between “I” and “you all”. That means “you will”, “you did”, “he will”, and “he did” all have the same consonants and vowels, and are only distinguished one from another by the tone. And there’s another quadruplet with “I” and “you all”, and these quadruplets exist for almost every verb in the language: this is a systematic thing.

So with two minimal quadruplets for each verb in the language, it makes sense to ask what is the contribution from each meaningful word part to the tone, and how they come together. For instance, what is the contribution of “you”, as opposed to “he”, on the one hand, and what is the contribution of “will”, as opposed to “did/have”, on the other? And how to these different bits of tonal information combine to form the tone patterns we hear on full words? (Hint: they are a lot harder to chop up than the consonant prefixes above).

Anyway, that’s the essence of what I do, in brief. By looking at the actual pronunciations of words in a system, we can deduce what the contribution of each meaningful word part is, then make hypotheses about how they come together, and test those hypotheses until we come up with a coherent system.




For those of you that have followed my analysis of sound systems in (so far) unwritten languages, I’m sure you’ve already heard enough about tone and vowels. So today, I thought I’d write about consonants!

Language sound systems generally store information in three places. We know consonants (with obstructed airflow) and vowels (with shaped, but not obstructed airflow) from English, but probably about half the world’s languages also use tone (and some estimate 80% of those in Africa). Other languages (which are more like English) use contrastive stress, meaning that the stress on a word changes not only the pronunciation, but the meaning. If I say emPHAsis instead of EMphasis, you get what I mean, though it sounds wrong. But CONvert and conVERT are two different words, the first being a noun, and the second being a verb. We don’t do this kind of thing much, but this is just one of the several ways languages communicate the difference between one word and another.

So you know that tone is like stress (though more complicated, and used a lot in Africa, but not really in English). And you know about ATR, which gives some African languages interesting vowel harmony patterns (and more vowels than Spanish, but less than English). But what about consonants? You might think that I don’t work with consonants much, since I’m studying tone, but that’s just not so. First of all, almost every word has consonants, so they can’t be avoided.

Secondly, and slightly more importantly, there are slight and meaningless (i.e., not changing word meaning) but potentially distracting changes to pitch made by consonants, as in the spikes circled in the following picture:

calculated pitch spikes surrounding voiceless consonants

It would be easy to look that those quick jumps and drops in pitch, and say “wow, something’s going on there”. But there isn’t. These are just a result of the vocal folds starting and stopping vibrating as they go between vowels (with vocal fold vibration) and voiceless consonants (where the vocal folds are relaxed). So as I look at pitch traces with these effects, its important to understand what they are, and to abstract them away, rather than pay much attention to them.

There is a third reason, which is more important to my research. Not only do I work with tone, but the languages I’m working on now have what we call Consonant-Tone Interaction. That is, the tone of these languages is actually impacted by the consonants around them. So it’s important to understand what consonants are in each word.

Normal consonants (in these languages) have a slight negative pressure (sucking) before release, and these consonants don’t impact tone. But those where the airstream is more like typical English pronunciation are less common, but they impact the tone. So how do we tell the difference? There are many ways, but one I’d like to show you can be seen in the following picture:Find the egressive, implosive, and voiceless consonants

I originally developed this image as an exercise, so rather than just go and give you the answer, I’ll pose the question, and you can submit answers in the comments. 😉

I’ll help you out with a few points:

  • The three categories are named and described in the key on the right
  • The vowels are the dark vertical bands; the consonants are between those. 🙂
  • Most of the vertical space for consonants is blank/white, but there is a small dark band at the bottom for some, which indicates voicing.
  • If you look at pitch, recall that tone is relative pitch, so compare the drop over a consonant to the pitches over the vowels on each side, which may not be the same.

So, which consonant types can you find? How many of each, and in what order?



The Importance of Tone

I presented a poster earlier this term at the Metroplex Linguistics Conference, a conference for linguists throughout the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This year it was sponsored by the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (G.I.A.L.), where a lot of our colleagues either teach or get training before heading to the field. My poster was on the functional load of tone:


While much of that detail may not make much sense to you, the main point is that tone is important for conveying meaning in tonal languages, but not necessarily to the same extent, or in the same ways, from one language to another. So this poster took four of the (tonal) languages that I’m working on, and compared them to each other, alongside Swahili, a non-tonal language used to communicate between people groups where these languages are spoken.

One thing that I found out that was interesting was that the importance of tone in a given language can’t be determined by the number of consonants or vowels in the languages. Each of these languages have about the same consonants (27-33) and vowels (7-9),  but they use tone in very different ways.  This can be seen in the conjugation of verbs, where subjects, for example, are indicated by consonants, vowels, and tone in each of these languages (this is like the ‘s’ in ‘He walks‘, which is not there in ‘I walk’) . But in some of these languages, the consonants and vowels are enough to tell who is doing the action, so at least that part of the writing system could work without writing the tone. In one of those languages (Bɨra), there are letters for each kind of subject. For the other (Bʉdʉ), one of the subjects has no consonant or vowels (like the agreement on ‘I walk_’), but it is still clear who is doing the action, since there is only one such subject. But in the other two languages, there are two subject pronouns that have no consonants or vowels, so you can only tell them apart with tones. And in one of those languages (Ndaka), there is another pair of pronouns, which are both ‘n-‘ , so they are also distinguished only by tone.

So each language puts progressively more importance on tone; it becomes harder and harder to convey all the language’s meaning without indicating tone. In addition to the above, Ndaka also has verb root minimal pairs. For instance, the difference between ‘cook’ and ‘become tired’ is only in the tone; they have the same consonants and vowels. That leads to the following set of eight words, at least six of which are distinguished by tone:

  1. ɔjana. [˨˨˨˨ ˨˧˦ ˧˨˩] You were tired.
  2. ɔjana. [˦˦˦˦ ˦˦˦˦ ˨˨˨˨] He/she/it was tired.
  3. ɔjana. [˨˨˨˨ ˦˦˦˦ ˦˦˦˦] You will be tired.
  4. ɔjana. [˦˦˦˦ ˦˦˦˦ ˦˦˦˦] He/she/it will be tired.
  5. ɔjana. [˨˨˨˨ ˨˧˦ ˧˨˩] You prepared food.
  6. ɔjana. [˦˦˦˦ ˦˦˦˦ ˨˨˨˨] He/she/it prepared food.
  7. ɔjana. [˨˨˨˨ ˨˨˨˨ ˦˦˦˦] You will prepare food.
  8. ɔjana. [˥˥˥˥ ˨˨˨˨ ˦˦˦˦] He/she/it will prepare food.

If you want to pronounce these, in the International Phonetic Alphabet j is pronounced like ‘y’ in ‘you’, so these might be pronounced something like “oh-yawn-ah”, though with different pitches, [˥˥˥˥] being higher and [˨˨˨˨] being lower.

One of the things I’m doing now is developing this material into a presentation for the Annual Conference of African Linguistics (ACAL) next spring. And that will further develop my analysis of the tone in these languages, which will form the majority of my dissertation.


Visa_IMG_7456At long last (after 70 days, 10 weeks, or 51 work days, as you like) we have our passports back!  And they contain valid visas!

So now that we have official permission to enter Congo, we need to rebook tickets to Uganda, as well as organize logistics to get into Congo, as well as on to Nia-nia. Please pray for us as we figure out our options at this point, and make final decisions about our new schedule hopefully in the next few days.

One major issue is the fact that the cost of tickets is much higher now than in a month or so (as would be expected of getting tickets at short notice). But in a month, Joel would not be able to come without missing school. So we’ll need to figure out what kind of balance we can achieve between a raised ticket cost, and the other goals for this trip, including when other people are available to help. Please pray that we’d get this figured out today, or at least in the next couple days.

Mid July Update — Learning to Live with Plan B

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written, so I thought I should post something about how things are going. Not because I have something new to say; things are still pretty much where we last left them, with our passports in Washington, D.C.,  and us unable to do anything until they come back, and us not sure when they will come back, or whether they will have visas in them when they do.

We have heard from a number of sources that the whole system is slowed down due to changes in how Congolese visas are approved, and that this isn’t political or personal. So it may be that we do get visas in advance of the constitutionally required elections in DRC this November –regarding which some have expressed doubts that they will happen on time.

So in the mean time, I’m following advice from our support team, and moving forward as I can with my doctoral work. I had hoped to make two more trips to DRC before I finish, but that may not be ultimately possible. These last couple weeks, I’ve been organizing material that I’ve written over the last couple years, but had not compiled in one place, as well as catching up on comments on some of that material that I had not yet incorporated.

I’ve also organized some of the data that I haven’t finished analyzing, and I will continue to get what I can out of that. It may well be that I can make tolerable doctoral work out of it, though that was definitely not plan A. But it seems like this is maybe something God is working on in me; making me willing to accept a lower standard of excellence than I know I’m capable of.  As one of the founders of the modern Bible Translation movement said, “There are some things that are worth doing, that are not worth doing well.” (or something like that).

For a perfectionist with anxiety issues, this is a hard pill to swallow.  But perhaps that’s why it seems to be next on God’s list. Anyway, I’ve seen a number of times in this program, where I have been forced to simply submit what I consider B level work, and move on. Not that I’ve ever actually gotten a B (there is grade inflation, after all), but I have had to continually face my own lack of satisfaction with my work. And I think it is true, that some things just need to be done, and spending a lot of time and energy doing them really well is a waste. For instance, today I cleared the back yard of dog poo. I think there’s a basic level of time and energy that it’s reasonable to spend on that, and it’s not more than an hour (unless maybe you’ve really let it go…).

Likewise, a paper that is necessary to pass a class, but which will never be published, is not one that merits getting it just right. Even some papers, I can tell before finishing them, that I’m going to need to move stuff around (and add it to other work, for instance) before it would make sense to a broader audience. Time and energy spend word-smithing those papers is a waste.  Once the overall structure is in place, and the analysis finished, then finer touches make sense.

In any case, I feel the need to plan for the possibility that I may not be able to enter the DRC in the next couple years, which would mean either waiting to finish the doctorate, or finishing it with the data that I have already. No one has advised the first, and several people have advised what amounts to the second (“Get this done; don’t delay”). While I’m working on that, if Congo opens up for me, I’ll make a trip, and see what happens. But in the mean time, I’ll execute the plan that I don’t desire, but which seems to be the one God is offering me.