I have just posted two papers I wrote in college that are at the core of who I am today. I found the papers on an old hard drive I unearthed two years ago [confusion.cc], I’m just getting around to posting them. I think it worth while to explain why they are important, out of the hundreds of papers I wrote. These two papers which are titled, Zen at Walden and Do or do not, there is no try were very early in my college days, in 1997 I think. They aren’t very good as academic papers go, one of them is in fact downright embarrassing but you can’t have one without the other.
Both papers were written for the same class; Study in Eastern Philosophy. The embarrassing one, Zen at Walden, was written halfway through the semester as a midterm paper. My professor gave me an F on this paper. There were almost no marks on the paper itself, just the grade on the last page and a note; “see me.”
When I did visit the professor she told me, basically, that my paper was rubbish. I don’t remember the details of the assignment but the professor said that what I had done was to write a paper which I thought would get me a good grade, I had not tried to learn, or to understand the material, I had tried to understand and learn how to get a passing grade and that was not the assignment.
She gave me a chance to revise the paper, to show that I did understand. But, in the end, I didn’t understand. She gave me the same grade on the revised paper.
Do or Do Not, There is no Try was written in the final days of the same semester, it was my final exam. We were given complete freedom in or final exam, no rules. Some people did demonstrations —I remember one guy, who went by the name Thor, performed a series of Kendo forms and explained how the Eastern martial arts were inexorably linked with Eastern philosophies. I wrote another paper, because, yea that’s who I am.
This paper was a turning point in my education and in my life. Finding it now is a good chance to reevaluate what I learned.