journal — lifetime identity, creativity, hs, college, early career

I’ve not been keeping to writing as planned. 40 pages/week went out window before ever hitting that goal. That said, when I *do* write I tend to produce good pages — if could do that every day would easily hit 40 pages/week.

I was just reflecting on how life changes so much. Over a lifespan. At least in my case, I can remember realms and realities so vastly different than the one I’m inhabiting nowadays that it boggles the mind. There’s that whole Buddhisty idea that we are simply *not* the person we once were — and I get that. But still, I *am* that person in the very real sense that I am the only person who contains those first hand memories. I was, in a very real sense, that person. And there has in fact been a continuous stream fed from the wellspring of my birth through those disparate chapters, leading to the present meandering river, with its stagnant outlets and shaded glens and all.

It’s disturbing at times. How I can wake up, suddenly, remembering alternate reality in which I was my parents’ son, my ex-wife’s husband, in which I had had a circle of friends loosely for a couple decades — post High School and therefore “real world” friends. My chosen found family in the world? Which I remained aloof from in some ways? Or was it that I was never accepted as One of Us by those who had grown up with more stable, fixed, taken for granted value schemes?

I do not know. But I know that life was once very different. I suppose it is common, if not normal, to experience shifting communities, feeling accepted over here and rejected over there, shunned, lost friendships, bad blood, broken families. I suppose these things are so common as to be, actually, normal. But what of the extreme cases?

I remember long road trips in the backseat, trying to entertain myself, counting white cars, reading Stephen King novels. I remember being taken to movies with Dad and his academia friends, driven around by Mom sometimes with Bob in his inexpicably laughable Dodge Pinto, driving Anne’s boat of a vehicle, the blue Caprice Classic. Athens, Needham, Narberth, Marion, Belmont, Cambridge. Ithaca? A continuous stream whose logic I would one day look back on and wonder, was there any logic at all? Any plan in which I was really a factor?

And then after UGA came Newton, and Somerville, and Medford. My own random choices. To have a good commute. To be closer to the heart of the universe: Harvard Sq. To be around other (much younger) young adults establishing their independent identities with live music, beer, hipster eats. These moves allowed me to explore my own life, and yet, I remained in some ways forever contained within some larger narrative I could not quite perceive. Constrained to an identity I could not break free of but also could not see. Voices in my head warned don’t do that! Don’t marry her! Don’t move there! but no voices paralleled this in the positive; no one seemed to advise me what path I *should* be on, what goals I should seek.

Wound up tied to who I met, my folks were overjoyed, I was unemployed. And the cradle! Will rock!…

Random wandering like the cows who laid out the streets of Boston a few hundred years back. Creating inroads and cul de sacs and not getting very far, really. Lost with nowhere to go.

IN my memories, life had a vague meaning. Unconscious perhaps but still, distinct when compared to nowadays. I had passions and pursuits, didn’t I? There was some drive making me skip classes, in high school to play guitar for hours, and in college to fill sketchbooks. I loved art, movies, TV, comics, music, paintings, illustration, children’s books… I believed, from a young age, that only artists — creators — had any relevance, as I believed, they are the ones who create the world we live in. Everything else, I felt, was people pushing paper, people running the cogs of a giant system that never fundamentally changed. Move energy and resources from here to there; oppress these marginalized people and exploit their resources; pump out kids, teach them to manipulate the levers and run the cogs, rinse and repeat forever. But artists gave us *meaning*. Artists led to cultural revolutions which sometimes gave rise to nation-state political and economic revolutions. (Can the warmongering bankster Illuminati elite truly be classified as artists? I feel not…)

That passion did lead to my career actually. I studied studio art and music and later architecture and design. Meanwhile I worked in carpentry, doing occasional design work on houses and cabinetry; I jammed and played in bands over the years; I did housepainting and landscaping and enjoyed seeing thousands of movies… Wait, I digress. I do that a lot. ADHD…

This passion did lead to my career, actually. I helped build the original BU web, including leading innovation into multimedia and pushing to teach faculty and staff (and occasional students) to produce multimedia and interactive web sites, animations. I built an impressive piece of software for linguists studying sign language, based on my copious knowledge of music synthesizers and just enough knowledge of computers and software to weasel myself into the job. I built interactive media and widgets for public radio stations, including some real innovations. I built casual games, bonus games in casino-style games, poker, blackjack, roulette… But my contributions were about building frameworks for translators and later artists, to make the *creators* drive our production, not the cog-spinning programmers. This led to my high demand in Boston. I built Virtual Guitar, the crowning achievement of my career in software and my passion for interactive media, for teaching, and creating. Music, art, play, creativity. All passions.

When I was 8 this took the form of daydreaming about making a book of monsters — wanted to catalog and draw all the aliens, demons, spooks, and beings from beyond in the books I liked to read. At 10 I built a game that, years later, I realized was somehow a prototype video game, before Id ever used a personal computer (1982 being just before that revolution began to take hold). It was drawn on a posterboard, used little numbers with a non-random distribution pattern and dice to determine the movements of the cops, the robbers through a bank — you played as robbers having to sneak in, open the vault, then sneak out with the money bags. Trip the alarms and the cops switched to aggressive seek and kill mode, using the alternately colored numbers to move! I remember the game actually being fun 🙂

Also around 10 I built a solar-powered grilled cheese sandwich maker. It was a big umbrella covered in aluminum foil and with a casserole dish mounted at the handle, enclosed in glass. By placing the bread and cheese in the dish and then positioning the device to point at the sun, you could make a grilled cheese sandwich under the Athens July sun. I remember Ryan Nunez and I would collect bugs and stick them in the freezer with the popsicles and frozen meats and later could pin the stunned, comatoe, cryogenically preserved insects right through the thorax onto a cardboard display mounting. Later they would start squirming…

In college, I found it very hard to understand how to be. I literally made almost zero friends, in 7 years of college, with people in my actual classes. I remember chit-chatting with folks, and had some study group friends who shared notes in some classes. I dated one girl I met in my US History class (inexplicably spent more than half the quarter focused on the Titanic). Maybe dated that bird-loving girl who I met in a psych class too. But usually, the friends I hung around with were made randomly outside classes, or through a part-time job, or friend-of-a-friend friends. I think I was shy? But perhaps at some level I had long ago learned how to remain invisible as a survival tactic. In classes, you see, the problem with becoming visible was that you now were stuck in this context, could not opt later to slink away into the shadows. (Having said this, I also was a pretty vocal participant in classes that interested me, which were the majority of my classes. So perhaps I was more visible than I believed, but I still remained unknown socially to most of my classmates.)

When I hit the truly adult world, outside college (and not counting a year or so doing carpentry right after finishing UGA), I was definitely lost, and began suffering regular panic attacks and generalized anxiety. I remember freaking out over how to dress on a regular basis, which gave me flashbacks of being in middle school and taunted daily with insults and laughter and bullying. Suddenly I was junior to guys maybe 3-10 years older than me who seemed to have been in their careers a decade, who were married, sometimes with kids, and had huge homes in rich towns within the 128 beltway. Suddenly, unlike in college, I *had* to be known, and to make it worse, I was stuck in this context, not for a semester or UGA quarter, but for the rest of my life. And so I panicked inside.

My creativity was welcomed, as was my high intelligence. Despite the fact that I had to spend my entire first year wrestling with Richard, my boss, constantly (falsely) telling me that within a couple weeks he was going to petition to have me made a full-time BU staffer (I worked the requisite 35 hours but was technically a contractor), which entailed basically a 100% raise, or doubling my pay and making it a salary with paid leave and benefits — I was nevertheless integrating into my own group and the neighboring departments of Systems and … I don’t recall. I was seen as competent and over time my projects caught attention and pushed the group and the BU Web in new directions. (Flash, anyone?)

But I both felt I was outgrowing my pond, and I’m sure, at some unconscious level, could not wait to escape, to not have to feel this tiny group of “peers” was who I needed to concern myself with for the rest of my life! (One laughs, but it is worth noting that today, 19 years later, George G and Ron Y are both still employed within BU’s Office of Information Technology. I believe also David K and would guess Joe Z and Franco and others too.)

And so I made what would turn out to be a near-fatal error, and leapt at a chance to take a job, also at BU, so able to keep the same lunch-crew and be only a couple hundred yards away from the work friends I’d made — a job that afforded me a very big project where I would have to make many creative and technically challenging … this sentence is fucked.

So I went to work for Carol and her silent partner on grants, Stan. Both MIT PhDs, both arrogant, though Carol, my actual boss, was a megalomaniac who as it turned out had a reputation as such across the University. And I became not only the sole technical resource (well, Stan was a sogftware guy but also as it turned out basically uninvolved beyond the grant-writing stage) but also the only non-deaf person in the office most days. Carol was around but busy teaching classes in linguistics and coordinating signers making videos and who knows what.

I ended up profoundly isolated, and realizing only years after the fact that I had no means to progress my own career by learning from peers, as I had no working peers! I had the internet — newsgroups, forums, chatrooms — and I had access to books by O’Reilly and whatnot. But I was on my own in many ways, and also in over my head.

This story quickly devolves from one about a lifelong passion for creativity and learning, and into one of power dynamics, the cold impersonal world of working, and ultimately, the grim realization that I had no family backing me and was very much on my own in the world. I do not feel like going to such places this morning so am stopping here. 2036 words in about an hour — thats almost 7 pages. Good.