WHO

So I took a little apartment in a brownstone on the corner of State and Congress, settled myself down, and prepared for law school.

I’m good at playing house. My mother’s family are antiques dealers. I was raised on Shaker furniture. It has an effect on one’s aesthetic. My furniture is oak and pine. My tchatchkes are the result of years of culling auction catalogs and yard sales and going at 6AM to shop the flea. I try to keep only the best pieces, but still I feel like I’ve nested a bit more than the average young bachelor. Somewhere between Myst and Riven there is an Age for me.

Centered in it all is my computer, which is a quad core (22nm) currently clocking 4.4ghz, 32gb ram times 9-9-9-27, a 3GB graphics card with 1728 upstream processors and a 1200khz core, 128GB flash drive for booting and 12TB platter storage, a 27” monitor that’s bigger than any TV I’ve ever owned, and a webcam that could shoot an IMAX movie. I also have headphones which make Marnie Stern sound like she’s doing pixie sticks off my eardrums. And an Asus Infinity tablet with keypad. And a Nokia Lumia 1020 that Jesus Christ.

In my bedroom is my new Beautyrest Black which actually causes me to get sleep. In the kitchen is a NeuroFuzzy surrounded by random yardsale pieces of Le Creuset. And hanging from the wall – from a repurposed $4 guitar-hook – is my bicycle.

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WHO

I had been trying for several years to get into graduate school. At least to have the option. First I applied to PhD programs in one subject. No luck. Then I tried in another subject. De nada. This didn’t upset me much. I didn’t want to return to academia. I liked being in business. If I could have worked 90 hours a week for a company in which I had an equity stake, I think I would have topped 100 hours every week.

So when things got rough – got quiet – got boring – I applied to programs in business. I slaved over my application. I had such a resume, such references, such a transcript! Such a transcript. I went 0 for 21. The Mets would be proud. I had nowhere to go.

I asked my friends- some of whom are just frighteningly successful entrepreneurs. Their voices were almost in harmony. MBAs are a dime a dozen. And what do they teach you? How to consult? You know how to do that! You’ve been doing it for years! But a law degree – aha. Those are rarer in business. A lawyer could protect himself and his company. And – oh, hey – by being your own attorney you could save so much money as a startup. That’s money you wouldn’t have to raise. Money you wouldn’t have to sell stock to get. Do your own filings, write your own contracts. That would be a skill. Better than an MBA. Beyond all: a skill worth having.

So I applied to law school.

Somehow I got in almost everywhere I applied. Every single school – except the schools in Boston. I could move to Seattle, to Madison, to Portland Oregon, to Brooklyn or the Bronx. But I’d be moving, one way or another.

I looked at a number of schools. And what I saw was that: each school was pretty much the same. The classes looked dry but interesting. It was the same subject matter, the same teaching styles. The primary difference was the geographic location (and I couldnt’ give a fig less where I practiced, especially since I was far from wedding to practicing, even for a day). The secondary difference was price.

In this latter category, one school stood out above all others. The University of Maine, a short walk from my high school in Portland. Between in-state tuition (?) and a hefty scholarship (???), I’d be paying about twelve grand a year to attend. Or about ONE SIXTH the cost of tuition at the other schools.

Also, living expenses in Portland would be from half to a quarter of what they’d be anywhere else.

The real question was: did I want to graduate with 30 grand in student loans, or 300?

Show of hands? Yeah. Anyone who didn’t vote for Maine can stay after class to write “I will not mortgage my future” 270 times on the blackboard.

WHO

Shortly thereafter I graduated. Term limits are a bitch.

Having little money in my purse and everything to interest me on land, I set about applying for work. I did it meticulously and thoroughly. Over the course of two years I applied for over one thousand jobs in something like twenty countries. I crafted dozens of resumes and hundreds of cover letters – and read as many books or blogs, or attended workshops, on their proper crafting. Life is short, I say, but that’s no excuse not to go for 100% completion.

While applying for work I decided to take a wanderjahr. I spent the better part of six months living out of my car. Well, really I drove from friends house to friends house and lived off their couches. Not quite roughing it, not quite romantic – but close enough, while allowing me to see a little bit of the world.

During that time I also wrote two novels, my fifth and sixth. But who’s counting. (Me!)

I did not find work. Eventually I decided to throw my hat over the wall & move to a city. I settled on Boston. I took a flat in a brownstone just north of the Cambridge Common. I set myself up as a business consultant. I’d been doing contract work, off and on, for years – mostly fundraising and bizplanning for plucky little 501(c)(3)s. Over the next two years I had half a dozen clients, from Mass General Hospital to the Boston Circus Guild, as well as enough pro bono work to have occupied the staff of a small NGO. I produced a 2200-person black tie fundraiser, I organized 600 volunteers to staff a 3500-person convention, I did work with artists and community art spaces and city-wide arts events. I even produced a play.

I began spending one day a week giving direct care to the severely developmentally disabled. Which led to me basically managing a group home. Which led to me getting free room and board in a mansion on Professor’s Row just north of Harvard Yard. Which turned out to be two blocks from the largest makerspace in America, where I began teaching woodturning and historical wood finishing. You know, just as soon as I’d learned how to do it.

The one fellow I worked with – my Gentleman, I called him – we’d go exploring. His car, his dime, and I was on the clock. I drew up a list of everything I wanted to see within a two-hour drive of Boston. Then we went there. From Newport to Newburyport, from Peterborough to Hartford, we went to dozens of museums and parks and promenades. We didn’t see it all – but damn near.

I was in the world. I was doing real things. I was getting things done. It felt wonderful. When it was up, it was UP. And when I had downtime I wrote – a collection of short stories, a novella here and there. I think my novella count is now at seventeen. A few of them don’t even suck.

It did not stop, really. It just lost momentum. I was having a harder and harder time finding new clients. The work I was finding was less and less interesting – less management, less creativity, more clerical work, more Office Space. I could not escape the feeling that I was regressing. And when I did find the better sort of work – advising a Board, or leading a team – it paid less and less. It got to the point where I was spending 90% of my time looking for clients to whom I could devote the other 10%.

So I went back to job applications. I tried to get my foot in the door at every consultancy, every thing-tank, every investment bank, every corporate headquarters in Boston. Then outside of Boston. Then, as before, all over the world. I just could not get my foot in the door. I was growing bored again.

I don’t handle boredom well. (Perhaps you’ve noticed?)

Another blessed horror occurred: the house I was managing was being shut down. I would be out on the street – much worse, forced to pay Cambridge rent again. It was either secretarial work at fifteen bucks an hour, or disappear. After having chosen so many times to do good work for free? I packed my bags, and said my goodbyes.

WHO

A story:

One of the student groups which I ran was the student academic advocacy organization – the largest group on campus. When the direction the college was taking – towards normalcy, towards classes, towards grades – began to truly worry me, I gathered my forces and led the largest signature drive in campus history. I outlined what I felt to be Hampshire’s core values and I said that they were being departed from.

Then I wondered – how to put force behind words? How to make an informal signature into something of weight? How to take a vote-with-the-hands and make it a legitimate threat to vote with the feet? How, in short, could I hit the college in the way that would do the most damage possible?

It came to me quickly: alumni donations. The document we passed around – the pledge – stated that we, the undersigned, would not support the college if it disregarded these core values. If this and this was done, we would wash out hands of the college. Transfer if we could, but give money: no. Not as student. And never as alumni.

We gained support from so many students – and faculty, and staff, and alumni, too – that the changes being discussed were immediately halted. Shortly thereafter the president of the college resigned. He’d been the one proposing the changes. We squared off. I won.

WHO

Outside of the life academic I was an active member of the student body. How I was. I edited the student handbook. I edited the student newspaper. I edited the student magazine – which, unlike the newspaper, students actually read. I wrote more for the student mag than anyone else, to the point where John Q Hampshire began to recognize me on the quad. (My signing my full name to my articles is the reason why this has become my moniker. That and its short form: Daxel. Which I gave up protesting some time ago, and now must fight not to embrace.)

Outside of that I was a member of some twelve student groups, having official authority over perhaps ten of them. Every time I try to count the total comes up different. I liked being treasurer, so I had financial responsibility for almost all of them. I had discretion over some twenty five thousand dollars during my time in college. More, I should say, than the sum total of tuition I paid during my entire tenure as an undergraduate. I ran the blacksmith’s guild. I pitched in with the circus from fundraising to production to trapeze lessons. I ran a group dedicated to DIY projects; I’d research a craft, like soapmaking or candlemaking, do it enough that I felt confident with it, and then run a workshop teaching it. About one a month for two years. Your tuition dollars at work.

I got off campus. I made lists of things to do in the area and I went and did them, one by one. I spent sixteen straight hours in the Mount Holyoke Library with my feet up by the fireplace. I went to the basement of the Renaissance Center and held an incunabule in my hand. I helped other people with their research. Whatever it was they studied, whether they wanted a subject or supervisor, I’d do what I could. I got to know people. I got to know the world. I strive for humility, but not when it is false: IT WAS LIBERAL ARTS AS SHE IS PLAYED.

WHO

Hampshire was no shining city on a hill. At best it was a bunch of ugly buildings and spoiled kids in a cornfield in the middle of fucking nowhere. Which made less impact on me than that it seemed, on closer inspection, to be a rather normal school. Classes. Majors. Distribution requirements. I had been decieved.

I took a semester’s courseload and was extremely angry at the slowness, the shallowness, the inability to distinguish myself, the inability to *do*. But angry is at least an energetic response. Better than despair. Progress, progress – but I’d take what I could get.

Perhaps it helped that the first night of school – the first night of *orientation* – I’d lost my long-lamented flower to a beautiful Eastern European yoga instructor. We promptly moved into each other’s rooms. The fact that I was nineteen should not diminish the fact that she was nineteen. Such balms to which I am not immune!

The next semester I had talked myself into two independent studies. Those were all about scholarship, self-motivation, self-direction… and not having to go to fucking class. Over the next three years of school I would take a grand total of only five more classes – all on my own terms, all classes that I wanted to take. As a result I did incredibly well in them, graduating with a 4.0 GPA & a transcript full of excellent written evaluations.

I also took more independent studies. I’m told the college record prior to my matriculation was three independent studies, taken over a four-year Hampshire career. I took 17. May God smile and bless anyone who beats my record – and right after He does, I hope they’ll let me buy them a beer.

Life was much better. I studied so many things! I read, I wrote, I nerded the living hell out. But I forced myself to expand my horizons. Mainly because I had grown somewhat disenchanted, not with the humanities, but with the study of them. Too hard for me to challenge myself in literature – I did not know how. Too hard for me to challenge myself in writing – a second novel also didn’t get published. I took what classes I could that I hoped would help, and some did help, then or later on. But mostly I studied other things. Laboratory sciences. Economics and polisci. By the time I graduated the majority of my coursework fell into the common departmental headings economics and biology. More, really, in the space between – how well it is to have one’s interest in one thing inform one’s interest in another! So when I call myself an econ/bio major, I know the slash is as much as part of my studies as the words it separates (or connects). Still, do I feel like I could hold my own against a major in history, in english, in political science, in art history, in business management, in studio art? Yes. Indeed. I absolutely do. 

I would feign claim that I could hold my own against possessors of higher degrees in those subjects. But my experiment on secondary metabolites produced by varying strains of S. Cerevisiae has been downloaded from the Arxiv more times than I care to count; my thesis on Milton-as-historiographer took 18 months, included almost two hundred sources, and ran to some three hundred pages; and over in the blacksmith’s shop I logged over a thousand hours. This not counting the three accredited college courses which I planned, taught, and evaluated by myself.

Is my degree ‘equivalent’ to any other? Who knows. What’s a degree?

WHO

I spent the next six months back in Kennebunkport. But I was not there as a slave to school: I was free. I found a bicycle and rode it. Punished myself on it. I went from corpulent to merely big. I went for long walks in the woods, along the river, up and down the beach. I acquired classic cookbooks and cooked my way through them. I got great books from the library and read them. I got a great idea for a novel and, over the course of six months, I wrote it. Then edited it and edited it, and at length queried literary agents on its behalf.

A few little nibbles. No bites. Looking back at it, I cannot blame them. Mostly I will say this: if I am of the last generation to send out paper queries, each stamped with an SASE, I shall consider it a bit of pride. Rather like a forebear who had to grind his own wheat, or pull his own tooth.

I was convinced – much by means of the dillemma of the no alternative – that it was worth my time to try college again. This time I applied to one college: Hampshire, which boasted of independent study and self-driven scholarship. Also everyone got their own rooms, which was a bit of a necessity after the frat boys.

The last go-around I’d barely squeezed in to the most expensive school in America. The second time around I got immediately accepted to the second most expensive… with nearly a full ride. Things were looking up.