When we were in 5th grade, we had to do our first term paper. It was to be based upon possible career choices. Mine was about fashion designing. That would be the job for me, I thought. I would tell people what outfits would look “mod” and they would just make them. In researching for the paper, I found out you had to become great at sewing and learn how to structure a garment with human anatomy in mind. You would need to know how different fabrics would fall. You would have to decide where to place pleats and darts. That didn’t sound like anything I wanted to do. I thought I could just be a fashion genius who would direct my minions to cut, stitch, and fit. I would always have one of the outfits made in my size and my wardrobe would always be on the cutting edge of cool. Learning about what the career actually entailed was very helpful in steering me away from the whole thing.

As I was gathering information, I began to see that the paper was going to turn out to be very different from the final product I’d envisioned. My good number of reliable sources gave me information that was varied and unexpected. The project was an organized mess of books, magazines, and notes. No encyclopedias allowed; we had to do our own research.

Then came the time to do the outline and hand it in. Crap, I thought. Although a step to organize notes is definitely needed, I’m not so sure, even now, that an outline is the best interim step between notes and a final paper. If you have a I, you need a II. If you have an A, you need a B. I think it often causes people to come up with pretty lame II’s and B’s:

I. The Fall of Rome

A. Was the inevitable result of an unsustainable society.

B. Was very upsetting to the Romans.

II. Other civilizations have fallen without giving us numerals.

I didn’t do outlines for papers unless it was required. I would kind of sandwich and layer ideas and turn that into final copy.

47 years later, I find myself relating to my life as that kid with the sources and notes all over the table who’s resisting the outline. A lot of new information keeps coming in and proving my old structures wrong, and I’m starting to question structures themselves. A lot of my core beliefs are turning out to be wrong. I just want to absorb a lot of information from different places and not look for any order yet.

And maybe order and structure will look different than it did in the past. Maybe it will look more like a collage than an outline. Maybe a collage-always-in-progress that keeps changing as new information keeps coming in?

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