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Sunday, July 16, 2017

On Writing - Part IX

On Writing

Words got you the wound, and they will get you again.

- Jim Morrison

Part IX

Given my ambition, given my desire to be a writer and a thinker, and to be received by the world as such. Given these dreams, which I have had since before I was a teenager, the dumbest thing I ever did was to drop out of school.

I was a model student in grade school, but then after failing the seventh and ninth grades, I quit going to school altogether, just a few months before my sixteenth birthday.

I did not like high school.

I was busy being a punk rocker and a political activist. I was deeply anti-establishment.

I hung around with college kids and college age people. I felt that I was both smarter and more-well read than most of them, and so it was easy to see myself in their place.

My heroes from T.V. land were also anti-establishment types like; Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek), who was always figuring out ways around the system, and breaking the rules; or Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days), who never graduated from high school, but who ended-up being a high school teacher; or Charles Engles (Little House on the Prairie) who never went past the sixth grade, but who could do just about anything, and was a leader in his community.

As funny as it may sound, those TV narratives actually influenced my decision to quit school.

Perhaps more significantly, I was bored.

I never doubted that I would go to college, and I turned out to be correct in that, but the road to higher education, and through it, was more challenging and circuitous than I imagined it would be. 

I was shortsighted, uninformed, and full of hubris.

I had no idea about how the world really worked.

With the simplicity of a child, I merely believed that everything would be okay. I believed that I would achieve my ambitions, regardless of how I undermined the ground beneath my feet.

At that time in my life I also believed that I might discover the deepest secrets of the universe and find with me the power to be a Jedi Knight.

I was fifteen years old, and I still possessed the child’s mind; wonderful and imaginative, and prone to magical distortions.

What I came to discover was this…

My future success, the success of anyone, is not determined by individual talent, or intelligence, but by the relationships they develop with teachers and mentors.
By dropping out of high school I cut myself off from access to that support.

Learning to trust in the support of teachers and mentors becomes the ability to find and trust the support of agents, and editors and publishers. Access to one, becomes access to the other, over time.

Without that rust and support, I was on my own, and there is no doubt that it delayed me on the path toward my goals.

I did go to college. I was not wrong about that.

I went to graduate school, and then more graduate school, earning two Master’s degrees, which is good, but my childhood ambition was not just to go to college, but to go to a college like Oxford, or the University of Chicago.

I thought I would earn more than a couple of Master’s degrees, I wanted a couple of Doctorates. I wanted to teach in those places, and publish books from those places, which is still not out of the question, but looks increasingly unlikely.

The risks I took were great. The road I walked, was long and winding, more difficult than I imagined it would be, and not conducive to my goals.

The sojourn was not unlike a poem I wrote in that time:


A ray of light
Narrowly escapes
A closing door
Enlightens an object
Casts a shadow
Creates a question


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