Wondering

One of the best uses for a journal is speculating on the meaning of what you are studying and thinking about. Speculating is essentially making attempts at answers that you are not yet sure of. Speculating on exams or papers is dangerous; doing it in journals is natural. In the following entry, one of my literature students speculates on the meaning of a well-known passage in Henry David Thoreau's Walden:

10/24 What really caught my attention was the specific description of the fight between the black and red ants. In this chapter is Thoreau trying to put his friends (the wild animals) on the same line as those people in the village?

Bill's question, which poses an answer, is a good one. The more he speculates on the meaning of the various passages in Walden, or any other book in any other subject, the more ideas he will have to discuss in class and the more material about which to write further papers or exams. The speculation in his journal could lead to further investigation into other places where Thoreau makes similar comparisons.

When Missy was working on a report for my composition class the semester before she was to graduate, she wrote this passage:

3/12 (after class) Look, we botanists don't ask "Does that plant exist?" and we don't ask about the aesthetic value of a flower. We ask "What is the economic value of this plant?" But that is not the primary interest of a true botanist.

We want to know why it grows there (ecologists), why a plant has the structure it does (evolutionist), how it does its stuff (physiologist), etc. The discipline of botany has excluded lots of other questions and that is why I'm having some problems with it. . . . Yikes! I think it's all coming together!

Missy doesn't explain for us exactly what she sees coming together, but then she isn't writing for us either. She is using the journal to think through some important issues that concern her now that she's about to become a professional botanist; in fact, she was using a lot of her composition journal to wrestle with matters closer to botany than English. This is exactly what a journal is for: talking with yourself about the issues that concern you most deeply. Sometimes it even seems to answer back.

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