After that conversation, I wandered away from the campfire for a few minutes to get a better look at the stars. The moon had never looked so big. I could hear old-school hip-hop from our camp in the distance, but I was surrounded by absolutely nothing and no one, and I felt free in the universe. It was that moment that I realized I was truly free to do whatever I wanted in this world and it was completely up to me to make it happen. It was my life, and I had to stop caring what people thought about it. If I wanted to bake, I should. If I wanted to write, I should. If I wanted to start a company, I should. If I wanted to do nothing, I should. If I wanted to fuck up for once, I should. I was probably only out there for a few minutes before someone tapped my shoulder to go back to the fire (it was so cold that night your pee froze as soon as it hit the ground), but it felt like an eternity. Maybe I would have reached this conclusion had I stayed in San Francisco, but I really believe it was the magic of being nowhere that did it. Being nowhere forced me to stay silent long enough to hear what I hadn’t wanted to admit: I wasn’t living authentically. When I returned to work, I gave my notice immediately. My explanation of what I was leaving to do (explore some hobbies, work on a few projects, bake more) confused everyone, but they were all fully supportive. Ironically and quite magically, the day I returned (which was also the day I gave notice), an award was sitting on my desk that I had won while I was out: “Most Likely To Build A Start Up In The Next 5 Years.”
Someone reached my site with the search: “Should I Lie about My Failure in School?” Most likely Google found The Tortoise because of the posts on failure in Ph.D. School. I assume this is not about high school failure. Even if it is. lying will catch up to one — especially to one with a conscience which you obviously have.
I am not an ethicist or counselor, so all I can do is speak as an individual whose been through part it. First of all, failure in grad school is nothing to be ashamed of unless you spent too much time drinking and partying. Even in that case, what is done is done. If you gave your all to the effort, then no apology to anyone is necessary. There are just too many other factors involved in failure: level of experience and self-understanding at the time, the nature of the experience itself, quality of guidance you had and just the human ability to make bad choices — even self-delusion.
Grow with it. Grad school is an option and a choice. To wash out of Naval flight school, as another example, doesn’t define a person’s ultimate worth, nor does failure to pass the bar exam. To have sought what you believed was a star and not to have found it, is no sin and maybe not even a mistake. You made a choice, took some chances and something happened — end of story. In the end you were trying to get on, right? You tried what many others would not even have attempted.
You may be worried about the resume and interview stuff. Don’t ever use a fraudulent resume. As for the interview, be honest here too. You do not have to beat your breast confessing. Chances are the interviewer won’t understand any field other than her own. No, come to terms with yourself first and be honest. Explain the experience and what you learned from failure. That takes guts. Who knows? Maybe you still want that degree and can go back and try again. Some employer might see an unfulfilled passion there just waiting on more experience and wisdom. Maybe that employer will offer you the chance. Sometimes we try stuff before we are ready for full success. We pop the wine before its time. If you’re seeking an alternative career in which the failed credentialing does not apply, it will not matter.
Finally, you are probably drowning in regrets about what might have been and kicking yourself. Don’t give yourself another bludgeon for self-punishment — like guilt over lying.
Steadfast and cautious,
. . .” Lean toward risk. It’s trite, but apparently true. Many more seniors regret the risks they didn’t take than regret the ones they did. . . ”
I have not found many articles that precisely fit the the theme of this blog, but these do. Brooks reports of how experienced people regard life decisions, perseverance, rumination, “strategic self-delusion,” “relentless self-expansion,” rebellion, self-obsession, and having to make crucial decisions when we are twenty-somethings. It is all here. I cannot recommend any reading more enthusiastically than this series. Go to the link below. Good reading for young, middle-aged and senior Americans. The following link goes to both earlier and later responses.
Steadfast and cautious,
Yesterday on a blog, I found a father’s concerns about his daughter wanting to become an English professor. Memories of career dreams poured over me and my own idealization of the English profession. I once fancied myself Mr. Chips.
Immediately I pondered several questions. Does the young woman want to teach English as an end? Does she have a passion for writing and see the profession as the perfect solution, even a hide, for one who loves to read, write and expostulate on literature, its meaning, value, significance, et cetera? Is she open to other teaching opportunities: community college, trade/tech schools, secondary schools, overseas and especially teaching in the boondocks? Would she drop back and get the lowly secondary teaching certificate for high school — IF she could even find a slot there; or even in a prep school? Is English professing a means or an end?
More cynically I wondered if she might, all sexism aside, be attracted to a particular professor. (I could wonder the same about a male student under the influence of professorial charisma.) Good professors are actors and romancers.
The points are that the cushy university, tenured position, if it ever existed, has become incredibly difficult for the best of candidates. Professors are under much administrative pressure to publish and also to carry significant committee and university duties. Funding shrinks, especially in the Humanities. Universities still need indentured teaching assistants to teach English composition — so that the senior professors can pursue their career dreams and play the effete aesthete. Universities cannot or will not afford Master’s scale to teach these courses. Teaching the frosh is anathema to many Ph.D’s.
As far as a livelihood that will support a writer is concerned, they are whatever a person can find to survive and/or starve in pursuit of discovery. One could join a military service, for example, and manage to find time to write. I think of Fred MacMurray playing the novelist on the USS Caine (fictional) and Alex Haley in the Coast Guard (real). The passionate would-be novelist/poet can do as Hemingway and go into journalism (not an easy slog by any means). Melville went to sea as a seaman. He was a better writer for it. Nothing has changed in the artist’s world. One could go into PR, but that demands a huge compromise. I found being a public information officer rather pleasant, but low-paying. PR people are usually among the first eligible for cutting. Working at Starbuck’s will work for some.
My heart says, “You go, Girl! Live your dream. Stake your will, talents and skills against all odds. Do it now while you’re young and have lots of time and resilience to recuperate and re-invent yourself, two, three, four times over. I want to say that; really I do. Regretting a road not taken gnaws at the soul.
In youth we always think we will be the exception to the naysayers. That possibility exists, of course it does. So, go out, be a hammer rather than a nail. You surely would, if you only could as Simon and Garfunkel sang; but write yourself a note, young lady, a note that says, “I shall never become bitter if what I choose in full knowledge of the world doesn’t work out.” Laminate the note and tuck it into your purse. That’s a tough one, too. It’s T. S. Eliot’s “shadow that falls between the motion and the act” (The Hollow Men).
Finally, the universe of arts and letters far transcends and dwarfs the individual artist, professor, college, and university. In the chance that a youth will choose the mundane pragmatic over the romantic challenging, I say to that person, remember that the academic approach to literature, even teaching literature, is only one approach. Writers do not write for professors, scholars and critics. They write out of desire, passion and native wit. They direct their own study. Art was invented by more creators without degrees than with them. When there are no longer bookstores either on the corner or on the Internet, when there are no longer libraries, when there are no more writers and readers groups and publishers, then I will despair. Besides, academe can stultify a lot of passion and creativity — not always. The artists are the first heroes in this epic. You can even find them in your cellar hide.
God bless youth!
Steadfast and cautious,
P.S: For an interesting story of twenty somethings, literary types all, making their way in New York City, see this NYT article on Literary Cubs.
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,
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,
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