Why academic disciplines are like frats.

I wasn’t a frat guy in college. I was pretty much the opposite of a frat guy. But as I’ve slowly come to understand more about my own discipline, and the workings of academic life in general, I’ve come to believe that most of our professional communities operate pretty much the same way that frats do.

Bear with me here. As we all know, a credential alone is not enough to be accepted within and achieve professional success within an academic discipline. Access is tightly socially controlled. Just as the Greek organizations that some of our undergraduates participate in are defined largely by social gatekeeping mechanisms, so too are academic disciplines defined. A discipline is not only a grouping of a topic or subject of expertise, but also a social grouping, defined as much by who it excludes from its ranks as who it includes within them. Down to the individual level.  —more—

via Why academic disciplines are like frats..

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16 Outrageously Successful Introverts

While extroverts tend to gain their energy in social situations, introverts typically recharge through solitude and feel drained from too much stimulation. It might be easy to assume that those who gravitate toward the spotlight of fame are extroverts, but the truth is that many of our most prominent faces, past and present, have actually identified as introverts.

Introverts are hardly a bunch of shy wallflowers — they are proven leaders who can make great public speakers. Don’t believe us? Check out the list of 16 prominent introverts below. Keep in mind, too, that the famous faces listed below comprise just a drop in the bucket — the list of famous introverts also often includes Michael Jordan, Gwyneth Paltrow, Harrison Ford, Charles Darwin and David Letterman, among many others.

via 16 Outrageously Successful Introverts.

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Be thankful you aren’t in the humanities – PhD’s Blog

I have found that most prospective graduate students have given little thought to what will happen to them after they complete their doctorates. They assume that everyone finds a decent position somewhere, even if its “only” at a community college expressed with a shudder. Besides, the completion of graduate school seems impossibly far away, so their concerns are mostly focused on the present. Their motives are usually some combination of the following:

via Be thankful you arent in the humanities – PhDs Blog.

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Perseverance Quotes

He conquers who endures.  ~Persius

via Perseverance Quotes, Inspirational Sayings on Persistence and Determination.

So often, especially in these United States, we think about victory as winning: the next great job, the next game, the bigger house and soon it’s time for the playoffs and the championship game.  Americans are proud of our military might.  World War II remains our greatest feat in battle.  Yes, we endured, surely our soldiers and citizens back home endured.  In the end as Admiral Yamamoto said, it was our industrial might and our ability to focus it, sustain it, that won the day.  We did not do it without our allies.

But when I think of endurance, I think of Britain who persevered and sacrificed, holding the fort until we got up to speed.  Britain had a very close call.  Endurance implies the ability to keep on, keeping on out of seemingly endless oppression and  suffering.  I think of Jesus toting his cross up the slope of Golgotha.  Somehow, one can’t romanticize endurance like you can the “glory” of a cavalry charge.  Poland endured. Czechoslovakia endured.  Latvia endured.  There are thousands of Syrians enduring.  The Jews endure. Sodbusters endured.  Endurance is struggling with no sign of help and relief. For a time endurance was Valley Forge.  Endurance is the mind game Sisyphus must play to continue his unending rolling of the boulder up a hill, down and up, down and up. Endurance operates when hope remains the barest dream, if that.  Endurance has no vision of trophies and laurels.  It sees no golden retirement.

So what is it that endurance conquers?  I think it is despair.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

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Václav Havel – Living in Truth

“Yes, ‘anti-political politics’ is possible. Politics ‘from below’. Politics of man, not of the apparatus. Politics growing from the heart, not from a thesis. It is not an accident that this hopeful experience has to be lived just here, on this grim battlement. Under the ‘rule of everydayness’ we have to descend to the very bottom of a well before we can see the stars . . . ”

via Václav Havel – Living in Truth.

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Book Review: Harford’s Adapt

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Harford, Tim, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011.


Can flip flopping possibly be the sign of a sound mind at work in the body politic? As the quadrennial silly season grows more and more inane, Tim Harford in Adapt seems to say yes, absolutely; but I’m sure he would exclude excessive, spineless, wishy-washiness. Assuming the President made a mistake, what would happen if President Obama said, “Okay, I’ve learned something. I should have done jobs before I did health reform. My tack in these past four years was ill-chosen and now I’m going to change, come about and do what I should have done in the first place. I am declaring a national economic emergency. We are going to find short-term work designed to create long-term job growth.”

Was it lily livered of Senator Kerry to say “I voted yes before I voted no.” Or was it the other way around? What if Mitt Romney said, “I lied. I am proud of my Massachusetts health initiative and I take responsibility for it — especially since it is full of Republican ideas. It’s not perfect. It needs tweaking and perhaps even some major repair, but I’m sticking with the plan as a national model. Oh, and by the way, trial and error, tinkering here and tinkering there, is as American as Old Glory. Trial and error lies at the heart of American ingenuity. Oh, and one thing more. While I have been knocking my own brainchild just to appeal to primary voters, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to do it anymore. You, the American People deserve better of me.”

Americans’ collective partials and dentures would fall from their mouths. Next, another round of nit-picking would ensue — but maybe not. Maybe the public would hail a new reign of candor and realism. The problem, says Harford, isn’t electing the wrong leaders. The problem is our simplistic notions of what a leader can do. Expertise and experts come under heavy scrutiny in Adapt — including research that supports the limits of specialized insight. Honesty about the complexity of modern problems has gone begging in the public debate and policy making. The pathology under study here applies to the private sector and individuals as well.

A recurring illustration throughout the book is the Russian engineer Palchinsky. He was assigned to analyze two massive projects in Stalin’s first five-year plan, the monstrous Lenin Dam and Magnitogorsk. He had the temerity to inform Stalin that his big project would be a disaster. There had been no hydrological studies. He warned that the river would be too slow to generate hydro-electricity and flooding would cause severe damage to farms and farmers. Because of drought the plants would require backup coal fired operations. He was proven dead right after the megalo-maniacal dictator plunged ahead because he wanted an epic scale project. Much smaller scale plants would have served far better. Palchinsky wanted wanted a step-by-step approach. Stalin ordered the relocation of ten thousand farmers.

The steel mills at Magnitogorsk were supposed to outproduce the entire steel output of the UK. Again, Palchinsky recommended more analysis, more caution and a step-by-step approach. Over three thousand died during construction and the iron ore ran out in 1970. Palchinsky was a brilliant thinker who had three principles which Stalin ignored: 1) Seek out new ideas and try new things. 2) When trying new things, do them so that failure is survivable. And finally (3), seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along. Some three thousand of Russia’s ten thousand engineer were sent to Siberia for similar professional behavior and Palchinsky suffered a secret death.. In short Harford is no hare counting on speed and grandiose imagination. Tortoise-like trial and error still prevails.

Harford works his thesis through Rumsfeld’s disasters and many other examples, finally discussing the adaptive organization and the adaptive individual. Harford concludes that honest mistakes made honestly are far better than chasing losses and denials. Harford seems to be saying that the allure of meteoric success, the brilliant idea flaming overnight into success is only one way. The other requires uncelebrated, painstaking, trial and error, starting, stopping, perhaps turning about, but never quitting. But it also requires a communal tolerance for the late blooming in life like the poetry of Robert Frost. In our slap-dash, everything-on-the-fly culture of celebrity, I think of France which required eleven centuries or so to become a democratic republic. Afghanistan, if we’re lucky, has just begun. No wonder we’ve failed after a mere ten years there. Harford’s vision of adaptive evolutionary success would be revolutionary in America. Such a revolution would do wonders for the self-esteem of millions of Americans slogging it out in the unsung mundane. This is a book to own.

Steadfast and cautious,

D. “Tortoise” Taylor


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On Patience, Etc.

While I chose perseverance as the central theme of this blog, perseverance had a close rival. I suppose I chose the former because it rings more truly as action; and yet what is perseverance without the quality of patience. Both rank high in the Tortoise Philosophy. In thinking about the subject for a blog, I was tempted to make patience something that a person learns with age and experience, that somehow patience is not typical of youth Then I glanced at my muted television screen where the peloton in Le Tour de France lay a ribbon of color and rhythmic motion across the countryside of France. I thought of the years these cyclists, all twenty and thirty-somethings, had doggedly put into maintaining near-perfect physical condition. They have competed in scores of lesser tours and races all over the Western World. Patience? Near-infinite amounts of it — plus courage, perseverance, dedication, hope and faith; so, no, impatience is not specific to age.

I thought then of the patience of accountants, architects and cartographers going daily to work, most of them not managing Microsoft’s billions, designing the Pompidou Center or creating the breakthrough e-atlas. Millions of them manipulate details patiently and keep the books and prepare reports for small businesses, plan and design strip malls and revise fifty state highway maps every year. Life for most of us is a routine broken only by the birth of our children, the sports of our choice and the arts we favor. Occasionally one of us climbs Mt. Everest for the first time or wins the Tour de France or becomes a war hero. And these are our heroes whom we humbly admire and try not to envy.

Now, Mrs. Tortoise, extremely patient, is proud and loyal to her astrological sign. She doesn’t try to predict the future or plan her day with one eye on the daily horoscope, but the mythology amuses her. She’s pleased to be in the company of fellow Scorpions. Why not? Astrology bemused Carl Jung.  It bemuses Mrs. Tortoise. While she values the brains and pluck of Hillary Clinton, she also likes Hillary’s being a Scorpio. And I am bemused by my fellow Pisceans like Hamlet. I mean I have always been pre-occupied with being and not being — more than the average bloke I think. Hamlet was not noted for patience while Hillary Clinton remains a testimony to it. We have to give her kudos for tolerance and forgiveness as well. Mrs. Tortoise says the water signs are the oldest in the Zodiac, Scorpios being the most venerable, then comes Pisces and Cancers. Pisces strike her as deep thinkers while Cancers are shallow and lighter-brained. Well, all I know is that I have a great deal in common with fish, especially twins swimming first one way and then the other.

I certainly would not bet my last dollar on astrological predictions of specific outcomes in my daily life, however, often I cannot dismiss the general drift. But then, I have always believed that today’s science was yesterday’s myth. Being born of sea foam somehow seems as plausible as Immaculate Conception. I mean babies are born of “virgins” every day. But I’m getting away from the subject of patience — or am I. Hamlet had little of it. As I say, I drift.

Patience is the subject, not Hamlet, who had no patience; or Mrs. Tortoise who has lots of it. People are born with varying degrees of patience. My father and two brothers have far more than I. Dad had the engineer’s patience where respect for detail is paramount as it is for the lawyer.

Patience has grown on me with age. I made a decision the other day regarding a novel I am reading.

Belen Gopegui’s The Scale of Maps is an account of the love relationship between two geographers — speaking of detailed callings. At first I found Gopegui’s fiction baffling. I almost quit the effort, but no, I resolved to push on and at least reach a conclusion. Was I confused by the writer’s shifting point of view, the nature of contemporary Spanish fiction or just impatient? I have answers now to these questions and others. Pushing on rewarded me with discovery and pleasure in this fine work, but I had to push on. Books have often been like that for me. But I will return to this in a subsequent blog.

I have tried your patience enough today so I push off.

Steadfast, cautious et à bientôt,

The Tortoise


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Think Career: People, Data, Things

Thoughts from The Tortoise

In the early 1980’s my career drifted into the doldrums. My dream of becoming a professor had died in 1973 and then what had been a surprisingly good alternative career in the community college system ended. My position as a public information officer and community education coordinator fell victim to a downturn in post-secondary education in late 1979. The problem was national as the tail end of the Boomers finished college, I was “right-sized,” a sister term to ” let go.” (Both terms are the euphemisms for employers.  My jobs didn’t just pass away either.  They died. ) The college dropped from an enrollment of 7300 to around 4000.

I found some middle-class welfare under the infamous CETA program and became a youth employment trainer at a joint vocational school in the secondary public system. Of course, many in my Republican, white, upper-middle class background regarded CETA as a a boondoggle. In many ways it was and I was not supposed to need the benefits of CETA. But I had just missed by one getting a PR position in a hospital and personal funds were running low. So I took the job, vowing to make the best of it, and hey, maybe I could do some good for some kids who were not “college timber.” During this period, I began to understand that career,  such a seemingly rewarding passion for others as all the motivational gurus , might never be so for me. So, I started to pay more attention to life in the bigger picture. I cherished the hours I was then spending in the forest, with tractor and chain saw, cutting wood to feed my burner at home. I became involved in community affairs and even ran for office in that period. Serendipity happened and life seemed good, despite my fall in status.

The program included actual jobs for young people. The best-laid Federal and Ohio plans anticipated that employers would be partners in acclimating young people to the world of work. Together business person and youth adviser would work on matters of punctuality, attitude, dress and work performance. In short we were to instill the work ethic. In the process we would increase the kids’ employ ability. Back in the vocational school they were taking general education courses plus special training in secretarial services, retail services, cosmetology, agricultural mechanics, small engine repair, electrical technology, masonry, carpentry, etc. Each year the school actually built a home for spring auction. Conceptually the program could not have been better, but then entered human nature, the economy and mis-perceptions. Turning employers into serious mentors was always a problem.They didn’t have or take the time required. Cynically speaking in the worst cases we needed miracles to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Looking back, I learned much and saw a side of society I had never known. I came to respect highly the dedication of the best vocational teachers. I saw some of them perform miracles with kids who badly needed a miracle.

In my work we used the Ohio Career Information Service. OCIS was a partnership of the bureau of employment services and the department of vocational education. We dialed up a number and then pushed the phone receiver into a plastic device that resembled a double cup holder. Rubber gaskets cut out interference from ambient noise. Once the electronic ears were in place we had contact with a main frame somewhere in Columbus. We could print out miles of job and career descriptions. Youth came to our lab to explore every whim and dream they had ever had. My associate and I shared our worldly wisdom with them.  He was an air force vet and former park ranger. We were advisers and had to avoid calling ourselves counselors. In some cases we tried to encourage a few whims and dreams.

We also had a nifty test that assessed student preferences for working with things, data and people. From my background I knew only that you completed the college track and went on to college where you majored in business and commerce, liberal arts, or science and math and then picked a major in some field — which either stuck through graduation or went through numerous metamorphoses. My partner and I took the test ourselves. He was a former park ranger.

I was thirty-eight, feeling totally unsuccessful, but thoroughly interested in the data generated. Various jobs, of course, entail differing percentages of time proportioned among work with data, things and information. My job as a YETP adviser rewarded the do-gooder in me. The data gave a measurable dimension to the guessing game of “What Do I Want to Be” and I enjoyed the role of teacher and adviser. I decided that common sense, trial and error had pretty much led me into appropriate career choices, although true success in PR required more social interaction than I liked. I also learned how privileged I had been.

And yet the kind of interaction a lawyer has with people would never have worked for me. The professor thing also was entirely appropriate with the possible exception of university and departmental politics. Late thinking about people, data and things truly made me feel that staying in the ordered universe of the Navy would have been good for me — alas.

I still bemuse myself pondering the perfect blend of involvement with people, things and data as if such fine tuning and modulation were possible. Large doses of small talk and hanging out have never been appealing to me. Chatting while sharing work or dining is pleasant; and I particularly like a good discussion over an issue, a book or a movie. Babbling at a bar over lite beer does not wear well past an hour or so. After that I’m ready for a book.

Writing a blog, posting it and then seeing it up there in front of the world and God? That’s cool. I spend hours now in a cellar cave with my computer and a little Internet business. And while this thing at which I stare and punch has its limits, I am mostly rewarded. My dog will show up when it gets muggy upstairs. I look forward always to a spinoff conversation with someone in Minnesota, Florida or Louisiana which happens sometimes by phone — but most folks want to plug data into me and hear it come out from me, input-output. I am an appendage of my Power-Spec PC. Along about six, there’s sometimes a bike ride and always, somewhere in the mix, pleasant times and chats with my better half. I know. I’m needing to get out amongst ’em, though.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise


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Knowing Yourself, Career and Life: Imagination Is All

Regret cannot be avoided. Dwelling upon it can be.  Regret brings lessons in life;  but along with these lessons, if one is not vigilant, regret can debilitate. Regret and lessons learned are part of knowing the self and therefore must be acknowledged freely and honestly.

In my own case and I have no other laboratory, part of my self-knowledge has meant recognizing that I am a late bloomer. The early bloomer, a better rationalist than I, looks logically at his world. He assesses the facts of his experience and then makes choices. He has a facility to sort wheat from chaff.  For example, I have a friend whom I deeply respect who tried college for a semester.  “Sitting in a philosophy lecture,” he said to me,  “I just decided that higher education was not for me.  I left that college, never returned and never looked back.”  Charley reads good books and has a tolerant spirit for views and ways not his own. He acts quickly on his choices.   His kids have all graduated from college.

I am often envious of people like Charley whose clear reason guides them as  a helmet lamp guides the miner  searching for a rich vein of ore. And they pick away diligently exploiting the promise of reward. I knew several boys in high school who excelled in athletics, the classroom and socially. Both went to college, picked majors that led to conventional careers and financial success.  One chose the law, another the air force and the third became a businessman. As an observer it seems to me that their lives went seamlessly in the conventional way,  owning homes and raising families. One of them reached the pinnacle of corporate success as a multi-millionaire. I do not know if he is happy. If he doesn’t feel successful, he needs a shrink.

But not I.  I wanted the unconventional and I wanted to find, not just a career, but a destiny.  Where this need came from,  I cannot say.  Dad would have said, “From all those novels you read.”  I had to test my notions, all the while expecting a great eureka moment. I examined one possibility after the other. I can count seven distinct career choices.  The problem with this approach is the shortness of life itself and the required time it takes to get established in any field. Although I finally spent thirteen years in the chamber of commerce industry,  I discovered the field too late to advance very far.  Life absolutely demands a certain amount of dues paying.  This is a law of livelihood.

There was also in my class, a friend for a time, who wound up a drunken waste. He attempted a few things and never arrived at any success or any happiness. Kenny was affable enough, but his good spirits masked a troubled mind and soul — as it had his father.  Kenny died young. There was a juvenile delinquent — well at least in those days — in my class.

Chip caroused, laid the girls, drank beer and got thrown in jail. He never went to college, but wound up very wealthy in the real estate business.   The point is, the “successes” all chose and proceeded seemingly without ever questioning or looking back; or perhaps they did, but they gave it up in favor of just shucking setbacks and getting on.

For me career choice was like picking a flavor at Baskin-Robbins and when I finally chose, I tended to long for at least one of the flavors I had eliminated; and yet, had I better observed my actual preference pattern, I was decidedly a man of chocolate taste.  For me the consistent vein of chocolate has always been writing.  While I wrote a lot professionally as a PR person,  I felt the pleasures of writing only as means, not as an end.   Why?  I don’t think I wanted to starve — and that was sensible enough.  However, writng is the only ordeal I cannot leave off. The only pain I love most of the time. I used to read my articles over and over again. And the funny thing is, writing is not a common choice for an INTP.  We INTP’s lack the sensing and feeling normally assigned to artists. I did not when younger appreciate how diverse the writing profession is. I tended to put the novelists and poets on a pedestal.

I once asked a fellow officer aboard my ship, “Tom, why are you staying in the Navy?” I remember his looking over the rail and then back at the stern wake, then forward to the bow wake. He did not look me in the eye, but rather he stared into the water and said, “What else better to do for a history major?”

In contrast there was the gunnery officer, a finance major, a short fellow, prematurely balding who seemed the flibbertigibbet  He walked with mincing step in quick time and giggled a lot. Steve was funny, a stitch actually — a quite lovable little fellow. “You know,” he said, ” I chose the Navy because I couldn’t decide between becoming a stockbroker or a priest.”   Steve and I were good friends. When I left the service, he signed up for five more years of recruiting duty. The next I heard Steve was dead with a mystery surrounding his fate.  No one I looked up would talk to me.

But I’ve said I was a late bloomer, a pursuer of destiny, a destiny I would know when I discovered it. Life has been an odyssey for me. The causes for this elude my total understanding, but I did have a partial insight one day recently when I was reading my own set of those fateful autographs penned into our high school yearbooks.  I could not recall Amanda without her photo. Her message written in the late Fifties took me totally aback. “Good luck to you,” she wrote. “You always thought you were smarter than you are.”

I have pondered this like Poe pondered his raven. Reflection tells me that this sometime acquaintance may have been prescient; or maybe even a would-be friend whom I snubbed in some way. This has been a hard truth of self-knowledge to swallow. Indeed, the explanation  relates to the meaning of “smart.” Obviously this is an intimate matter. Why I share it, even for me, remains mysterious, but I must. It’s an emergent light from the shadows of what other sees in us that we do not.

I was a precocious lad. Ironically I was never among the elite, i.e. consistently an A student. Oh, frequently I rose to an A in physics or algebra — enough that with a lot of application I might have been an engineer.  By some miracle I got a B in trig. There were two or three rabid A getters in my class of forty. I was Beta Club and I held my own, but I never matched Robert, the all-round athlete, lady’s man and scholar. His nerdy brother, a fair jock, was also a genius. Robert always had a cheerleader pressing her cheek against his upper arm. His brother and I? Never.  I was simply afraid of engineering.

I was, however, good in English and heard big or unusual words at home where my stepmother  played the crossword puzzle daily. We played Scrabble together, Judith, Dad and I. She read Time and The New Yorker, completely and regularly. She read the bestsellers on the NYT list. Our coffee table on the breezeway was piled high with eclectic interests: National Geographic, Arizona Highways, Reader’s Digest (for Dad), the journal of the Ohio Historical Society, The Ohio State University Monthly, The National Observer, American Heritage books, Smithsonian magazine plus the latest book of the month.   Oh, and also for Dad a pile of journals from the American Institute of Electrical Engineering.  Even after he became in his own words a “mud magnate” in the clay industry, Dad never forgot his favorite flavor — electrical engineering.  I cannot remember a time when I did not see my stepmother reading or hearing her expostulate from her reading.  Her expostulations always came with her social biases. And as I heard all the time, I was “second generation college.” Judith was also my best friend and two generations removed from me. I still have not fathomed her influence on me.

But I was also the son of the village’s co-manufacturer and I lived in a big house aloof  on a hill where a collie escorted me, morning and afternoons, to and from the school bus. I flaunted those big words on the day in the sixth grade when I asked the music teacher why she never played Moussorgsky in class. “Why do we sing “Polly Wolly Doodle?” I don’t remember how well I pronounced the Russian name. I don’t know how annoying my proclivity was, but analyzing my behavior as an adult, I now believe it was one cause of my isolation or my withdrawal from the circles of friendship.  In effect I was telling the world that I at home listened to symphonies. Because I could not carry a tune and because I was disinclined to join in athletics, I must have exaggerated my verbal skills to compensate. A boy had to have something of his own.

In Monroe Village intelligentsia included schoolteachers, the doctor and ministers who came to their profession by revelation and adult study. I remember two adults who fancied themselves as students of current affairs, a shoe salesman and the barber. I regularly dropped in on the shoe salesman for discussions. The barber and I discussed politics and events of the day. After that there was one English teacher, very reticent about putting her opinions forth, except in the most strict way related to reading, grammar and composition. She had a reputation for being tough and demanding. She read my poem aloud in class and praised my senior paper on the Irish potato famine.  I loved throwing around the term phytophthora infestans instead of “potato blight.”  As far as extra-mural activities of particular interest to me, there were none. There was no debate team and our school paper  cranked out in purple ink was produced by girls in the business courses. I did participate in grade school spelling bees and senior class play. There were 522 citizens in Monroe Village, mostly solid  working people, railroaders, farmers and merchants. For awhile there were a number of productive farms around, topped off by two fruit farms, a few larger dairies, a manufacturer of mining safety equipment and my family’s industry in clay drainage materials.  When the State of Ohio re-routed the highway, Monroe Village died.

Thus, in high school I was mostly bored and overly anxious to board the train for The Ohio State University. My stepmother supported me in a choice to shorten high school by one year. To do so I took tutoring in the summer in junior English, civics and American history. I joined in with the current seniors. Our effort caused two other students to do the same. They were the Yoders of Mennonite background. Susan appeared daily in braided hair and long, print dresses; her brother in bib overalls and flannel shirts. They were polite, laconic, scrubbed, proper students who humbly blew the tops off every test they took. They came to school, studied and went home to chores. Neither of them ever saw a prom. Thus, the three of us advanced, much to the disapproval of many in the community.  Some, I know, believed my early graduation was in terms of social maturity.  Another listless year would have done nothing for my maturity.

I will not say much here about my days at Ohio State, fraternity life and a social experience that both pleased and daunted me. Having been “second generation Buckeye,” gave me confidence to meet the challenges — after all I had two brothers, a stepbrother, a father, mother and stepmother who had preceded me. Besides, I had experienced several football weekends and felt I knew the ropes. And I did, I even dated a Jewish girl and while Ohio State was a veritable cornucopia of new experiences and intellectual awakening, I believe now that an alternative choice might have been better.  Dating the Jewish girl made me feel independent and rebellious.

In one way the decision to matriculate Ohio State early was an alternative to an earlier, briefly considered plan to send me to Western Reserve Academy. In short there was fitful awareness  by myself and in a wiser way by my stepmother that I simply was not getting the particular schooling I needed. My talents lay in English and the liberal arts and they reflected, undervalued,  strong interests — perhaps even inherited persuasions from my real mother, the English major, teacher and ceramic artist of the family. Her father had also been a teacher.  He founded a newspaper.  However, the paternal side dominated as my father was the  engineer, industrialist and model for all things professional. The scientific genius made it clear, almost proudly, that he had flunked French dismally. The notion of intellectual broadening in the arts and humanities was lost on him. I also believe there was a conscious decision not to send me to prep school because I was always to be my stepmother’s “second little boy,” the raising of whom would compensate for her loneliness and sacrifice in leaving the city and taking up her mission in a small, rural, Appalachian village. She was miserable there. In the end there was no prep school. I don’t  know why I didn’t speak up — naivety I suppose,

Regarding the choice of say a Kenyon or Wittenberg for me, Dad said, “Oh, son, I think Ohio State is good enough for you.” And, of course, it certainly was and the problem was resolved — except for the unpopular snobbish behavior of baling out of Monroe Village a little early. Looking back at my own evolution, I do not regret the experience of a large university; however, I often wonder what might have happened for the better if I had experienced the closer attention of a smaller school — especially one which might have channeled me into the humanities earlier. In those days you could still find employment with a humanities major. Unknown to me at the time, I needed a tighter, more disciplined instruction and far fewer choices and interferences. God bless the University, she broadened me.  I came out too liberal for my parent’s liking.

The problem with hindsight is its utter uselessness beyond a mere, momentary comment on a person’s odyssey. The real problem is that the gods, Prometheus in particular, gave us hope instead of foresight.

This conundrum lies at the heart of man’s existential dilemma. In short, there is no reason to believe that my having been an English major and graduate of Kenyon or Wittenberg instead of an international studies major at Ohio State, would have made me one whit more successful or happier than the fate I received — not without a lot of fear, optimism and panic invested — which I ultimately experienced anyway. I might have been more disciplined in humanities study and been successful as a PhD candidate, might have met people who could have shown me how to play the academic game better, might have gained admission to a top graduate school with excellent pedagogy and guidance in the humanities — or not. An exclusive college might have imbued me with the egoistic, vanity it takes to succeed in the arts.

Instead and down the road, I encountered the game of board-executive relations in chamber work.  I just encountered another series of challenges  on a different sea. Once you’ve steamed more than one ocean, the random turbulence and calm is remarkably the same.

I might, for another alternative, have still gone into the Navy and either stayed there or left the service (as I did in life course A). I might have wound up on the USS Iowa and been killed by that magazine that exploded. I might have chosen the infantry instead and wound up dead  during the Tet Offensive. I might have had a long career in the community college system. I might even have been elected county commissioner — then what? I might have … I might have … How absurd!

Instead humans are given hope, not foresight. I happen to believe the poet Shelley in the final stanza of Prometheus Unbound has given us a way to look at all this, perhaps even to sin more boldly: “To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates/From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.” We must love, and bear through the illusions and delusions of our hopes and dreams and we must do it like Sisyphus did, over and over again — creating a new “thing” to contemplate for each ascent up the hill in a hilly, even mountainous  existence. We must apply Hope with the big H, i.e. what Shelley would call Imagination, over and over again. We must live in the full knowledge that Imagination in work, career, living and loving — life itself  — requires a special kind of Hope, formulated from our own best notions, modified as best we can by experience, knowledge and art, but still hopes which are as likely to wreck us on shoals as blithely sail us to happiness.

Born alone, not quite as lonely as the tortoise, we die alone hopefully with luck and again, not quite as lonely as the tortoise dies, but we do die by how we choose to hope, see it dashed and then create another hope, then play out our destiny, even in the smallest of ways. That we are captains of our souls and masters of our fate is pure bunk. Perhaps we control our fate for a day, a college term, for four years in college, but then it ends. Give me a day of control  and I am happy and thankful.

So, very well, ye gods, you have given us hope with all its folly, futility, deception, disappointment, and yes, its promise. Let us hope, then, even in defiance if need be, but give our hope Imagination in all we do. Make it Hope, that’s all. May we examine life. criticize life, but bring something of our own to life.

Steadfast and cautious,


D. Taylor Tortoise






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