College

We all grow up with expectations. My parents made it clear that I was to go to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship, as they had no money to give me and, even if they had it, they wouldn’t give it to me, as I was on my own once I turned 18.

I took that literally and moved out during my senior year of high school. I still had no plan other than to go to college, but I wasn’t going to be the doctor they wanted me to be, and I wasn’t going to Harvard or Yale. I applied to exactly one school. I got accepted and the plan was set in motion.

Over that summer I discovered a whole world that I hadn’t known existed. Suddenly I had a life; a life I didn’t want to leave behind. My car was in no shape to drive 2000 miles to school, so I pulled the engine and replaced the clutch so it could make the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that until it was too late to drive out there before school started.

I booked a flight to LA, arriving without some of the bare necessities like sheets and blankets. I stole an airline pillow (back in the day when airlines provided pillows) and used towels for sheets until I could go shopping.

While I wasn’t stupid, being a student had not been my favorite pastime. It didn’t take long to realize that paying large sums of money to do something I didn’t enjoy was not a viable life plan.

It rained in late October. I went up to the roof of my building and looked out at the ocean. Two things struck me: 1) I could see the ocean, which I hadn’t seen from there for the previous two months, and 2) my eyes didn’t burn. I hadn’t realized my eyes had been burning for two months until they weren’t. That was the day I knew I was leaving Los Angeles as soon as the semester ended. The semester wasn’t a total loss – I gained two lifelong friends and knew what I wanted to do with the next part of my life.

I arrived back here and went back to work at the organization I left behind. I became Executive Director and stayed in that position until I shut down the organization and moved on. I started another organization with other folks and stayed there for the next ten years. It’s still alive and well nearly 40 years after I left it. My parents wondered when I would do it “for real”, which to them meant I had to be the sole proprietor of a business if I wasn’t going to be a college graduate and a doctor. Another ten years went by and I went to college when I finally had a reason to be there – a reason that was not “because you’re supposed to” or “because your parents want you to”. Did a college degree suddenly make me smart at 45? Nope. College is not for everyone and it is not the arbiter of intelligence. But you knew that, right?

In case you hadn’t noticed, his “deep thinking” is wrong, but he says it quickly and convincingly, which is usually good enough “back where I come from”.

Talking people down from bad trips was not something you learn in college classes (though I note that you can now get a professional certificate for guided psychedelic therapy for research – and soon to be therapeutic – purposes). Running a co-operative business required communication skills that were beyond what was needed in most schooling (and would an MBA have helped?). Being a plumber required a sort of three dimensional thinking that was different than that needed in school (and is taught via apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training). Working in the developing world required solving problems with the tools you had, not always the tools you wanted. Working in health care (okay, that was after college) required knowing how to use big words but also to know what those words meant so you could use small words when they were more appropriate (which is most of the time). Common sense and critical thinking are the major life skills needed in most endeavors. Are those taught, or learned? And what’s the difference? Discuss among yourselves.

So go to college if you want to and have a reason to. Do something else if it interests you more. Know that whatever you do, the odds of it sustaining you for the rest of your life are slim. Have a fallback position, or know how to think on your feet and change when the time comes.

Some of us are crocus and bloom early but not for long. Some are late bloomers like chrysanthemums. Some bloom repeatedly throughout the season, like some roses and lilies. Maybe your blooms aren’t showy. Like many trees, they come and go and many folks don’t really notice. Or do others just see you as a weed?

Bob Odenkirk (“Saul Goodman”) wrote the character of Matt Foley for Chris Farley while both were at Second City. I’m twice as old as Matt Foley, so I must know twice as much, right?
David Crosby 8/14/41-1/18/23

We don’t need no education…

One day at work, when a doctor had done something particularly stupid, I wrote on our white board “Education ≠ Intelligence”. It struck a chord and no one erased it for weeks; in fact, people would point to it to illustrate something they were saying.

I spent years in retail, maintenance, and plumbing before going to college at the age of 40. Did college suddenly make me smart? (“Who says you’re smart?” I hear someone in the back saying.)

The sooner we learn that intelligence, education, and common sense are not the same, the better. I would argue that common sense is the most important of the three. The 18th century swordmaster Chozen Shissai said “If I draw one corner and the student cannot complete the other three, I do not continue”.

| Another way to put that is to look at the line segment to the left. If I ask you to use that to draw a square, can you draw exactly the square I have in mind? People are often paralyzed by the fear of being wrong and stall by deciding that they need more data. In this case, no more data are necessary. We have all we need. The line segment is at the far left margin so the square has to go to the right. We know a square contains four 90 degree angles. We know it contains four line segments of equal length. There is only one square there. Sorry if that seemed obvious to you, but I posed this to a roomful of college-educated folks and was asked for more information. Yes, the problem requires some education, but we should have learned what a square is well before college.

Another doctor did something stupid (that primarily involved not talking to the nurse who actually knew the patient), ordering a bunch of unnecessary tests overnight. The next morning in a meeting, a different doctor said, “Just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you can’t be a fucking idiot.”

An advice columnist was talking about college today. When I was contemplating college in my late 30s, a neighbor told me to take one class at night while I continued to work full time. It should be a class that was inherently interesting to me and also applicable to whatever degree I was considering. It was the best advice I ever got about education. For possibly the first time in my life, I liked going to school. I found myself doing more than was expected of me. For a speech on the Black Budget (the Pentagon’s secret budget, concealed in hundreds of separate line items scattered throughout the federal budget in an attempt to prevent scrutiny) I went to a pay phone and called the Pentagon for a response. They didn’t answer my questions, but did ask for my full name, address, and telephone number. Relating that story was probably the most well-received part of my speech. All the data may have been hard to process, but recognizing that the Pentagon wouldn’t talk to me but was trying to keep tabs on me resonated with my fellow students.

On some level, education seems to matter only if you know what you want to learn. As an empty vessel waiting to be filled, or as a student because it was expected of me, I gained little. As a committed learner, school was fun. As a parent, I realized my job was to provide exposure to the things that interested my kids and support them when they found the ones they wanted to pursue. Sometimes we don’t know what interests us until we see it, so a little random exposure helps.

While I teach for a living (much of my work with patients is teaching, plus I teach a workshop to other therapists when there isn’t a pandemic going on) I’d say there’s no such thing as teaching. There is learning and there is the facilitation of learning; but for a teacher to think s/he is pouring knowledge into empty vessels seems like the ultimate in self-importance. If you don’t know what you don’t know, you have to start somewhere. Chew on that paradox for a while. I could write a few more paragraphs to clarify or, as Mike Myers as Linda Richman would say, “Talk amongst yourselves.”

https://www.youtubetrimmer.com/view/?v=oiJkANps0Qw&start=146&end=158

As far as learning is concerned, I never learned anything I already knew. Duh. What I mean is that to truly learn, one must come from a place of Not Knowing. If we are busy showing off our knowledge or trying not to look dumb, there is no room to learn. Only after we admit to not knowing are we able to learn.

Forty five years ago, while contemplating a bike trip across the US, I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The book chronicles a trans-continental journey as well as a journey to mental health. It looks at our relationship to machinery and to the world around us. Caring for a motorcycle is, in part, a metaphor for caring for ourselves. I thought of the book while working on a bike this afternoon. The bike is more than 30 years old and I realized that maintaining it is balancing acceptance and acquiescence. No matter what I do today, the bike will not be new. I have to accept its aging while not acquiescing to letting it fall apart. I have to know what I can fix and what I need to replace, and when. Failing to keep it in shape can be an actual life-threatening situation. Since I am the engine, maintaining the engine is more than a metaphor for taking care of myself.

Years ago, a friend wanted me to go bungee-jumping. I chose not to. The reason is tied to the paragraph above. I may ride my bike down a hill at 50 mph. At that speed, crashing would likely result in death. If I survived, I may not want to, or I may not ever recover from the injuries. Why do I do it? I am responsible for many of the circumstances. I maintain the bike. A mechanical problem is my responsibility. I am operating the bike. An operator error is my responsibility. Sure, there are things I cannot foresee. An animal may dart into my path. I can be watching for that and prepared for it. A car may pull out of a driveway or cross the centerline. Again, I have some ability to respond to those situations. My awareness and my skill at bike handling (or lack of either) will influence the outcome. I don’t go that fast over unfamiliar roads. (Nor do I go that fast very often.)

Bungee jumping requires that I give up all control to someone else. Once I jump, everything is out of my hands. They maintain the cord. What is the lifespan of a bungee cord when used in this way? Hs anyone studied it? How do they fail? Do they snap, sending one plummeting to the earth? Do they lose elasticity, elongating so that there just might not be enough recoil to pull me back up before I hit the ground? Is the platform the same height and the cord the same length as the last time they did this? None of this is in my hands. It is all in the hands of a stranger. Am I willing to turn my life over to this stranger? Nope. Maybe you are. Maybe bungee jumping is a lot of fun. You tell me. I’ll ride my bike up and down mountains.

You may notice I haven’t answered my own question – why? The answer is probably somewhere in the last three years of this blog. It’s also not one of my favorite questions. What is the favorite question of 3 year olds? Can you ever give them a satisfactory answer, one that does not lead to the next “why?”

Why do I ride a bike? Why do I ride down hills? Why do I ride fast? Because I can. Reasons? We ain’t got no reasons. We don’t need no reasons. I don’t have to show you any stinking reasons.

Rather than “for what reason?” I prefer to see the question as “for what purpose?”

Why are these photos relevant? Because I took them this week. One is from my Wednesday Night Bike Ride. We rode from Salmo Pond, which was the turnaround point for many a ride in my youth. We would stuff our jersey pockets with food and ride to the pond, where we would swim and eat before riding back home. (Small pond image from Channel3000.com)

For this ride, we met at the pond and rode the ridges south of the valley drained by Black Earth Creek. At the end of the ride, a large maskless group was gathered in the parking lot chatting. I still am not ready for that. Soon after, the CDC came out with new guidelines that say we can do just that. A few days later I came across a gathering of 35 maskless people in my neighborhood park. I’m inching towards acceptance. Why did I get vaccinated if I can’t begin to change my behaviors? I have been walking the dog without a mask this week. Maybe I’ll even ride with vaccinated friends this week.

I kinda like that this path appears in the photo to go nowhere. It seems to start and end just for the purpose of crossing the little bridge over the creek.

The other photo is a motivational postcard from a workplace which shall remain nameless.