Caught in a mental fog
This morning I woke up in a state of mumbleheadedness. I was unable to speak clearly. My thoughts were caught in a mental fog, and I was stumbling around getting ready for the day. The inability means that I slur my words a bit and have trouble spitting out full sentences. No, there’s nothing deeply wrong. I didn’t have a stroke or anything terrible like that. I just woke up with a less than perfect brain. It happens to all of us sometimes. It’s like waking up sick. A cup of coffee was all it took to get on track and really wake up.
My Linguistics professor called this kind of morning issue the difference between capability and performance. He explained how we speak differently when we have a cold because our nasal passages are blocked up. Our ability to pronounce words is changed while we have a stuffy nose. That means “m” becomes “b” and “n” just disappears. If I have a cold and say: “I’m sick and can’t talk,” it comes out “I’b sick and ca’t talk.” Of course, I am capable of pronouncing every word correctly, but my performance is off when I’m sick.
Imagine, though, if I spoke as many people write. My wife, for example, has actually been sick. In one of her recent Facebook posts she misused a word, which is not like her at all. It’s not as though every letter she types is correct, but normally she catches her errors. Her writings are almost always perfect–even in texts and social media sites. Being sick has made her brain work a little less hard. It misses errors she normally would catch and correct. Luckily she is feeling better now. She was amazed to see the error she made–a simple one that all of us could make on a good day, but an error that was uncharacteristic of her.
What would happen to her professionally, though, if she allowed her one error to cause her to say that she is not really a good writer? Would she give up on practicing good form and drop her performance level down to match her lowered expectations? What would happen to me if I caught a cold and continued to speak like that long after I am healthy again?
I suggest that some of us do just that when we write. I see it my online students’ posts when they are writing in less formal situations. Assignments are written better than participation posts. When we care more we write at a higher quality. Many of us will look at the situation we are writing for and take the easy path, writing at a level of performance much lower than our true capability.
We would never continue mumbling throughout the rest of the day once the clouds and cobwebs cleared from our minds. Instead, we begin to speak more clearly as soon as we can, as if we can’t wait to shrug off the glop that inhabits the early morning mind. Why not apply the same attitude toward our writing? I don’t mean that we have to treat everything we write as a formal essay. But we should catch as many basic errors as we can before posting our writing anywhere, whether it is in a class, in a text to a friend, an email to a co-worker, or a tweet on Twitter. We need to practice near the peak of our current skill and push that envelope of skill ever higher by adding new learning to the current skill peak.
We will always have poor performance days, but we should avoid, at all costs, having them become poor performance habits.