On Not Knowing What I’m Doing

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy and the rest of the Scholars’ Lab staff helped us learn the basics of HTML, CSS, and Git. Then I promptly forgot them. Then, with wonderfully patient help from the staff, I remembered them, only to forget them again. After putting my limited HTML and CSS knowledge to good use working on my web page, I’m cautiously optimistic that I won’t take all semester to figure out what I’m doing.
Like many people, I spend most of my time doing things that I already know how to do. Doing things that I’m already good at doing makes me feel good about myself. The culture of graduate school only reinforces this habit. I’m sure that I’m not alone in admitting that, when a professor or colleague in one of my seminars mentions a scholar whose work I don’t know, I often mumble that I’ve “read a little bit of” their work or respond with a sage nod of affirmation, or a knowing grunt. There’s an overwhelming pressure to know everything about everything, or to fake it until you do.
All of this has made the past few touch-and-go weeks of basic HTML, CSS, and Git alternately terrifying and liberating. It’s been a very long time since I’ve learned a completely new skill and been totally unsure of what I’m doing. I can’t remember the last time I approached someone after a lesson, looked them in the eye, smiled sheepishly, and asked them to re-explain everything that they just covered, but more slowly, please. At the same time, being in an environment where I’m encouraged to ask questions, make mistakes, and play around with concepts makes me feel like a child in the best way possible.

I just hope that my completed web page looks like it was made by a grown person and not an eleven year old who audited a computer science class.

I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and earned a BA in Jazz Studies from Florida State University. I am currently in my second year of the PhD in the Musicology program at UVA. My research interests include late 20th century jazz neoclassicism, early jazz, and 19th century African-American secular music. I developed an interest in…

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