School Years, Ages 6 to 18
When I went to school at age 6 (my parents didn't send me to kindergarten), school went smoothly the first 2 years. What I remember most was that it was my first rich social experiences with other children. These were very positive, but I still liked to spend a lot of time alone. As an adult now, I have tried to encourage my children to have richer social experiences starting around age 3 than I had, but I don't push them to be something they are not.
I had always thought that my loner mentality had to do with the environment with my mother. However, my first daughter, Angela (age 10 1/2 at the time of this writing), is a lot like me. I could see it in the way she plays alone. In her first years on the school playground, she was very popular with other children but she liked to go sit alone in a quiet place and ponder things. The in-laws sometimes complained about this. She would come home and avoid the kids outdoors, instead playing in her imaginary world with her toys. She often has wonderful questions.
Likewise, she won't physically fight with other kids. She's big and strong and could flatten any kid her age, but she will only talk, and will quickly walk away as soon as a seriously threatening emotion is expressed by another kid, even if it's a conflict between two other kids and not involving her. Angie is as sensitive to violence as I am. So many times I have seen my mother's personality in Angie, and sometimes call her Little Elizabeth.
My second daughter, Selene, is quite the opposite. She is very naughty, outgoing and a joker. We are not sure where she gets these traits from since it doesn't run in her mother's side, but my father is like this. Selene, at age 7 at the time of this writing, is relatively fearless, adventurous and has no qualms about asserting herself with other people. Selene's physical features are more like her mother in that she's tall, thin, dark skinned, and has the same shapes except that her eyes and forehead are different. One day, I was going thru old family photos which had some of my father when he was around 6 years old and bingo!, there are her eyes!
When I was a child, I learned the most valuable things from my parents, my sister and my brother, and not much from other kids. Selene and Angie seem similar to this.
When I was 8, we moved across the Arkansas River to Little Rock. My father had started up a private practice in Little Rock, and had also started teaching at a college for minorities as well as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He was doing a lot of work.
My father basically bought a small residential piece of land in what was a forested area at the time. My father had a house built for us, and we watched them cut down the trees and build the house. We were on the side of a little hill which was just forest, a tiny brook which occasionally trickled water, lots of rocks, and a lot of wildlife. There were wild dogs in packs (and afraid of humans), raccoons and other furry mammals, and the streams had a variety of fish. I loved our new home.
Most of my life over the next 4 years was spent with the rhythms of natural life, just myself hiking around in the environment. After those 4 years, I went parttime social.
Unfortunately, unlike the school in North Little Rock, the new school in Little Rock was a long distance away and I was the new kid. I clearly came in at the bottom of the established pack social order, and I don't think I moved up for years. Some kids near the bottom rungs sensed my aversion to violence and would frequently take advantage of me. Sometimes I would cry and then I was really the laughingstock. I hated school there at first. Practically none of the kids in the school lived near me, but they lived near each other. I was the one out, and hung around only with other a few other new kids as they arrived over the next few years, and most had the same fate as me with the established pecking order -- so the new kids hung out together. My brother fared much better, but he was always my opposite in a lot of ways, very socially skilled. For example, he was an artist with amazing drawing capabilities at a very young age, whereas my drawing and even my handwriting was very bad after growing up, never comparable. Likewise on social skills -- he had them, I didn't.
In national scores, my vocabulary and verbal tests were a little under the 50% level, whereas my math scores were always in the upper 90s, and I was fairly high in other areas, too. I had little interest in school, and was often an irritant to my teachers because I would daydream and get behind on lessons. If they called me by name, I was clueless about what was going on, and I resented the ways they would sometimes scold or try to embarrass me. I just retorted with a quiet, perfectly still don't-give-a-sh*t attitude. I zoned out, and preferred the library and my own pocket books to other kids. What I remember most about school is the feeling of returning from daydreams or from reading pocketbooks or the wrong lesson and not having a clue what the rest of the class had been doing ... I wasn't following, and needed to figure it out and catch up enough to get by. I didn't like the teachers and they didn't like me, but neither of us cared so we let everything slide. There were charades. I kept up with the lessons from skimming the books shortly before exams, which was wrong (and seeing other kids do this too much later in college was even more wrong). However, in view of my mediocre grades, people were amazed that I did exceptionally well on national tests in the areas of math and science. In English, I was down in the pits. (This explains my "unique" writing style, as some people put it.)
I loved being outdoors at home, and that's what I remember most. The forests were rich with many kinds of life, and the geology had diverse kinds of rocks. After exploring the region within walking distance, later days I would bicycle way out, hide my bicycle, and hike all day, sometimes jogging to places on the horizon, seeing how far I could go but still get back before dark, and mapping out the next region at night. I was in a hilly area, but there were small mountains just a few miles away, they were splendid on the ground when I got there, whereby the tops were magnificent. They usually got rocky at the top so I could get a good view, but sometimes I had to climb a tree on top, which was nice. Thank goodness I never fell out of a tree or injured myself, because there was probably nobody within miles and it was rugged.
Day after day, I felt very happy hiking for hours in the forests and nature, and in the summers enjoyed the streams. I wondered a lot about the universe and life, and was awed by the sheer size and complexity of life in the forest, the world and the universe. Every part of the mountains and forest was the result of a long time of geological transformation and ecosystem evolution, random in its origins and ordered by natural selection.
This is something I didn't share with any other kids at that time, as I felt very different. For other kids, hiking into new places was an adventure and exciting for awhile, but they sometimes killed or damaged things and did other irritating things, or else talked too much about people and other things back going on back in the neighborhood which I preferred to leave behind. There were just a few friends who I could share my hikes with. I preferred to be alone with the other life in nature, and keep others out unless they shared my respect for, and awe of, nature, including the little things. There is a "story" in the hi"story" of every little animal delivered, every tree stump, rock, and stack of dirt and decaying matter.
Most other kids just thought of some personified "God" which they had little idea about, except he was some holy "father", "who" had "created" all this that we were walking on, and then some guy named "Jesus Christ" who would be their personal savior if they followed some rules. I thought what typical idiots, still believe in Santa Claus, but they couldn't let go of their security beliefs and wishful thinking. For some people, nature was "God's country", but who, or what, was "God"? A holy spirit for Goodness and evolutionary progress is something I could identify with, but insensitivity to other life was not what I think a good "God" has in mind. Some even liked to take a BB gun and practice shooting squirrels and birds, killing just for sport.
Indeed, most of the other kids thought the Earth was created 6,000 years ago and everyone came from Adam and Eve. Disagreement was fine, but I was taken aback by the occasional emotional animosity of this sort of disagreement, and the ganging up against me of particular subcliques. I learned to be quiet and not raise issues with some kinds of people, and not state my own beliefs unless I knew it was safe to do so. On the other side were the reasoned who just got quiet and thought about it, but many were uncomfortable. There weren't many kids in Arkansas to talk straight with. It was part of The Bible Belt.
It created a yearning for me to someday head to a place of higher learning, though I didn't want to go to any institution according to my young outlook on institutions. I didn't like school. I just wanted to be in a better society. I had an ideal society which I imagined.
I was impressed with the no-nonsense people and diversity of New York City, where my grandmother lived and I had visited very briefly. They seemed reasonable and functional, and very tolerant and openminded. New York City was fascinating.
Church was important to many kids, both socially and to give them security beliefs to relieve them of fear of death. My parents had brought us to church (Calvary Baptist) for a short time as kids but had decided it wasn't for our family. For me, religion was fascinating and full of a lot of good morals and concepts, and a lot of good people. On the other hand, it was also full of hypocrit kids who attended but didn't practice the moral precepts in their private life, and maintained a simplistic dogmatic view of life and the universe. Go out and sin all week, then ask for forgiveness on Sunday, then do it again the next week.
(Ten years later, at the university, I was shocked to find that some of the top academic achievers in my classes thought the Earth was 6,000 years old, and people of other religions would go to Hell because Jesus Christ wasn't their savior. Church had many totally idiotic and spiritually clueless attendees, ironically. I felt sorry for people who were raised in that dogma from the very beginning of their lives.)
(In national exams, Arkansas was ranked 49th in some ways, while Mississippi was 50th. "Thank God for Mississippi!" I joked.)
If there were no promise of the one big benefit -- life after death and something called "heaven" -- then they would not be following their religion, and many would not be toeing the religious teachings of morality. It seemed that religion was a way of shepherding the masses. It was a code of sheep shepherds thousands of years ago who were mostly illiterate and ignorant. It kept people morally in line. If-thens. If you do good, you go to heaven. If you do bad, you go to hell. Same whether or not you accept your savior's dogma.
What is "heaven"?
Luckily, there were people from modern cities out-of-state who were moving in, in droves, as a major golf course and an interstate bypass had been built near my scenic neighborhood, and modern homes and amenities were going up all around us. It became just half an hour from downtown Little Rock by expressway. The beautiful natural area was a magnet. Most of the people moving here were coming from bigger, more modern cities of other states, mainly the northeastern U.S. and midwestern cities like Chicago, and these kids had generally more enlightened ways of thinking, thank Goodness.
That the neighborhood was growing up all around us meant three things: destruction of the environment, lots of building materials, and refreshing new friends.
I became very aware of ecosystems. Downstream, far from the construction, the fish, mussels, and other water related wildlife died out. Mammals also disappeared. Some of my favorite places were cleared for construction. However, water life in the woods far downstream was decimated by invisible chemical pollutants, and a lot of mammals retreated far back into the forest. All of this had a profound effect on me and my conversion to environmentalism for awhile.
On the other hand, I enjoyed watching the houses be built, by going inside and seeing everything they were adding and doing. It was modern technology.
I stole construction materials and built tree houses, dragging the materials considerable distances. Some tree houses were multi-level. Some were just a little bit off the ground, and others were way up high in a tree where they were hidden, with a lot of time and effort attaching and pulling wood up on a rope every day and building. I had all the free time in the world as a kid, and looked forward to getting home from school every day in order to resume the next stage of the project. I spent a lot of time in school dreaming up designs, as well as at night.
I lived in my own world most of my childhood, though I had a few friends towards the end of my "childhood" before adolescence.
My social life didn't really take off until I hit adolescence and the hormones started flowing. My brother had started getting facial and body hair at an exceptionally young age, and mine wasn't far behind. Kids called me "Link" and "Dar-baby" in reference to Darwin's "missing link" and my ascribing to evolution. It kind've fit me. My newly blooming social life seemed to follow my newfound interest in the opposite gender.
At about the same time, I entered a big new school at age 12 and ventured into new social groups, entirely different from the ostracizing establishment from age 8 to 11, and that was a new beginning in my social life as a kid, a reinvention of myself. Part of this was due to "racial desegregation" whereby the government started mixing African-Americans and Caucasians in the schools by bussing us around to bigger schools.
Also, as the local neighborhood grew up, I had more "new kids" from other parts of the US to make friends with. We were bussed together since we were from the same neighborhood. The old "establishment" neighborhoods were just over a border nearby. The city bussed the new kids in the new neighborhoods to avoid resistance from the establishment. The bus drove thru the establishment areas on the way in, past several other schools.
This was the early 1970s, and my parents had always raised us to treat minorities of all races and types equally. My father taught at an all-black community college on the weekend, and would take me to mixed race social events and clubs. I was way ahead of other kids in my neighborhood when racial desegregation came to Arkansas' sociopolitical life.
When I entered this school desegregation program, I was shocked at all the racism, on both sides, because I was so accustomed to no racial friction between my father and his students and extracurricular activities. As a hispanic, he identified with them, something I came to realize.
I became one of the white leaders of the middle merge group, which was basically the blacks from good families and the whites with similar upbringing to mine, not the bigots on both sides. America had just passed thru the 1960s, the beginning of the Civil Rights era, but attitudes didn't change quickly in society, and this was the first time that many white kids had seen black people like that in person. Now, in 2004, it seems laughably barbaric, but these civilized changes happened within my (our) generation.
In another way, I had felt socially "excluded" during ages 8 thru 11, and I empathized with others who were similarly excluded for various reasons. As I established higher social rank, I still wanted to remain "inclusive", and felt that every person had their special talents. As long as someone wasn't hostile to others, then they were OK by me, and I would reach out to a lot of "excluded" kids of every race, height, and economic status. I hung out with various groups in diverse places.
However, during that period, I also did some regrettable little juvenile things, though not malicious, just a bit reckless.
I did have some clear limits. I never did drugs for fear of brain damage, though I smoked marijuana sometimes, and grew it my own in the forest, too. Many of my friends took drugs. I stood my own under peer pressure. I never dropped acid or any other drugs.
I did some bad things to other people, but not very serious, and I always felt guilty and empathised with what they must feel and think afterwards. My confession. The details are not important. Wish I could right some wrongs, but it ain't feasible, so best to learn from it and move on, not doing it again.
I always had my limits, and everybody knew that. I also had no problem resisting peer pressure. I could think for myself.
My new social life combined with poor school discipline resulted in my nearly failing grade 7. I daydreamed all day in class. I had D's and F's in everything by the end of the year, especially English, and they said I'd need to either need to repeat grade 7 or else go to summer school. As one old acquaintance said, he was shocked that the "walking encyclopedia" was actually failing a grade. (A lot of my education was extracurricular in the library.)
My mother didn't want me to go to summer school because it was full of "bad" kids, so she persuaded the school authorities to allow her to home school me over the summer and to enter 8th grade. English was really the only subject which I needed to cover.
That summer, as my mother taught me English at home, I went from hating English to enjoying the rules of grammar, the origins of words, the history of exceptions and slang, and so on. My mother is a wonderful teacher. I always loved some parts of history, albeit at my own pace. I also straightened out my worse juvenile attitudes. My mother was more effective than my father in persuading me about things. She was also a better teacher than my school teachers. I think she sensed that, and had a lot of self-confidence in her ways. She always had confidence in me and encouraged us in independent and divergent thinking. She wasn't naive about the real world when it came to teaching, though in other ways she was isolationist and quite naive. My mother didn't socialize much in the community, and held no pretenses.
English still remained my worst subject by far for the rest of my education. I simply had no interest in reading poetry and the classics, and didn't give a hoot for whom the bell tolled. Call me uncultured, but I just couldn't bear to read the old stuff and I was pretty good at sitting in the back of the class hiding other reading material inside my textbook, or just daydreaming or doing other stuff. Words and their roots were about the only things which fascinated me, the only nuggets I could extract from all that, but my vocabulary was still pretty poor. Grammar was easy, except for some of the grammatical exceptions of English.
It's worth mentioning because some people compliment me on my writing now, unlike my teachers back then. There are vastly better writers out there, and I know I'm a decent writer only in my own realms of interest. It comes down partly to motivation. Also, I didn't learn much about standard ways of writing, which may explain why some people call my style "unique" at times. Definitely not a copycat.
At ages 13 and 14, I was bussed all the way across town to a school in a black neighborhood, whereby the school was 37% white and 63% black. Horace Mann Junior High School, named after an American anti-slavery educator and politician of the mid-1800s, who also advocated secular education. The school and its books were in terrible condition, quite a shock at first at the inequality, but socially it was heaven for me because almost none of the kids from my childhood past went, so I could reinvent myself. Instead of the busses being full, they were nearly empty, except for the kids from parents willing to live the desegregation experience of that era. The wealthier local households had put their kids into private schools or pulled strings to get them into the closer public schools so they wouldn't be bussed. For me, it was an adventure, and I thoroughly enjoyed and explored the new environment.
Nearby neighborhoods were also sprouting up outside mine, with lots of kids new to Little Rock, coming in from all over the country (and a few from other countries), and my social life was all apples. More and more new kids were getting on the bus. The initial mostly empty bus routes were merged into one bus and that route covered a large area for picking up other kids, which expanded my scope.
I remember one girl who just cried and cried on the way back from school on her first day. She had gotten on the bus from a new home area on a scenic hilltop which I'd previously hiked on, but had been razed for houses. Nobody knew anything about her, so I went and talked to her, just pure compassion. Surprisingly, she could hardly speak English, and had a heavy accent. She had just arrived from France. I thought of how my father must have felt going to school, though he's a lot tougher. This was my first encounter with a "foreigner".
I was a very poorly self-disciplined kid and still wasn't doing well in school, but for the first time I can remember, I started to like my teachers and got along with them. I also enjoyed school for the first time. The teachers were a bit more advanced in intellect, and were very humble and earthy in the desegregation schools. I think the teachers were chosen very carefully for the desegregation schools. They surely were more enlightened than my earlier teachers.
I had also transformed into a socially self-confident and proud person, as well as very naughty. I was considered "cool" and quite popular. I was still quiet, but I made friends easily and seemed to get along with most everyone at the new school. I had never been judgemental of other people, but I really enjoyed other people for the first time, and I had diverse kinds of friends. The emotional and social transformation is something that's hard to convey in writing, but it was a major metamorphosis.
Decades later, I watch groups of teenagers in shopping malls, trends and the media, and it reminds me of my years almost long forgotten, the feelings and social dynamics.
This is a photo of me at 15 hiking on a mountain west of Little Rock with a girlfriend, me with the long hair, she with the short, ha ha! (She tore the photo. I had a lot of girlfriends and switched often. We learn from experience that it's better to manage lovers' expectations of us, not too high...) I usually preferred to hike thru nature alone, but hiking with country girls was OK, much less so with city girls.
By the time I got into high school, ages 15 thru 17, I was making all A's, except for English. It was not by any strong effort, as I didn't do homework. I just enjoyed school and paid attention in class, and spent my study hour well.
I remember Reverand Howard, my black science teacher of the 8th grade who taught evolution during the week and was the preacher at a church on nights and weekends. Everyone sensitive who used their brain and their heart loved him. I cried when he died of a sudden heart attack, as did so many others of most different kinds, especially my favorite teachers. He was extremely overweight. One day, he just keeled over suddenly at school, a massive heart attack. I didn't see it, but it was a major ordeal and the teachers and some students who loved him were in shock.
I wasn't ambitious or competitive like some other kids, and I usually still sat towards the back, but I was engaged with classes. My grades surprised me. I couldn't understand why I was doing better than most of the kids at the front, who I felt sorry for because they took books home and tried too seriously. They were too rote and conformist, I figured, and had never learned to think much on their own.
Once, there was an annual statewide exam competition between high school achievers, held about 50 miles out of town at Arkansas State University, and teachers encouraged me to get on the bus and go. At the destination, after the examinations, we all got into an auditorium and they started to announce the names of the winner, second place, and a few honorable mentions in each field. I was bored and not paying much attention, but much to my surprise, I heard my name called. I got a couple of honorable mentions in math and science. I think it was based largely on prior reading of pocketbooks by Isaac Asimov, not the classroom books, and my love of science. People around me were just turning and looking at me and saying "congratulations!" and I was just stunned. My name called out in that auditorium of all those top students statewide... I just couldn't believe it. This included some good students from the rich kids school I'd hated in yesteryears (because they were too competitive and snooty, and tried to put down others) and who I'd seen there. Likewise, they probably just couldn't believe it was me, that name over the loudspeaker in the auditorium at the end.
My second desegregated school was also way across town to Little Rock Central High where I was still in a majority black, minority white school (54-46).
I thought how stupid of many rich families to put their kids into expensive private schools to earn the privilege of not participating in national racial desegregation. I was so lucky to have the parents I have. My parents also didn't push me too much academically nor create great expectations.
Watching the other kids from other towns, who were so friendly and well behaved (I've always liked small town, small tribe people), I wished it had been them to go back to their town proudly, instead of me. What are the teachers and library like in Bauxite, Arkansas? Any Asimov books in the book store? What's it like living there?
This was a new element to my identity that wasn't easy for me to accept. I was more comfortable being anonymous. I didn't want people to start to have expectations of me, or start watching me. I didn't want to conform nor did I want to disappoint anyone. I got very shy about my achievements. Fortunately, other classmates got more attention in other ways in academic recognition. I tended to do well in math and science, but not so much other areas. Some kids did the full court press.
I was clueless about my future. I didn't know about politics and society like some of the other kids such as the Ledbetters (who had leadership in their genes), who asserted themselves in school politics and journalism and had a politician father and mother. I couldn't engage in debates because I didn't know the issues well enough, and it was better to stay quiet than make a fool of myself by opening my mouth. Some people pushed me to get involved in politics, but I shied away from politics altogether.
(Jeffrey Ledbetter died while working in politics in Washington, D.C., in his late 20s, collapsing during physical activity in a deep snow, due to a previously unknown heart condition, an extremely sad event. Bill Clinton spoke at his funeral.)
In retrospect, I wish I'd followed others' encouragements to get more involved in the issues and with the political people of my age the time, at least socially, though mainly for better personal and intellectual development. Nevertheless, I still try not to get sucked into politics, and pick my battles carefully.
I was a technology enthusiast who thought that the solutions to the world's problems were in technology, and arrogantly thought that some people who were weak in technology while strong in political skills did not have the best solutions, just the only solutions they could think of. I thought that technological progress would transcend many sociopolitical arguments. That is a view which I no longer harbor, as indeed most of our problems are human problems, not technology problems. Nonetheless, looking back 40 years later, in hindsight we can see that indeed technologies such as internet have clearly transcended traditional diplomacy and big government in many ways, by going directly to the grassroots. Nevertheless, it's the same old human issues, for which we need sociopolitical solutions, not just technological solutions.
When people started to ask me what my future plans were, like the career counselors at school, I was completely blank, and embarrassed. I felt stupid. I didn't even know about universities around the state, much less the country.
I doubt if I was ever on any short list of the 10 most likely to succeed from my class. However, when the year book was being developed, they asked me to pose helping another student with their school work for a big picture in the school year book. Actually, I would have made an excellent professor, no question about it, because my gift at the time was explaining things to others.
I believe that the biggest "secret" to doing well in school is enjoying learning for its intrinsic reasons -- the love of knowledge and learning, not its extrinsic reasons -- to satisfy parents or impress other people. The latter is a recipe for stress, burn out, and occasional failure. I always felt sorry for the kids at the front of the class taking notes too abundantly ... Also, if you don't enjoy learning, then you forget more of it all after passing the exams. So what's the purpose of making good grades?
Research has shown that there actually isn't a very strong correlation between grades and "success" 10 years later, and that other factors weigh heavier than many people realize.
It was during my teenage years that I started to become known as somebody who got along exceptionally well with a wide variety of people. In retrospect, my social development was just as important as my academic development, though I still think my social development was one of my weak points because I stayed shy and unassertive.
I had never been very competitive in any way up thru that point (though I did experiment with adding quite an edge later in my life, on and off).
I did enjoy sports and played baseball and one season of football in a light non-school league. I didn't like contact sports or aggression, so I played them sparingly. But in my senior year, I actually got into a school sport, at the encouragement of a close friend of mine, Bruce Jeffrey, a track star. It was called "Cross Country", an autumn season sport, whereby teams race over a grass course, such as a golf course, over a few miles. My school had won the state championship the year before, so I didn't expect to even make the team, but just to run with them socially. However, I improved quickly, made the team, and came in fifth in the state, second on the team, in the championship run. (Our school won the state championship again.) Bruce was the only person before me, by 2 seconds, and he was lucky I didn't know the course from the previous year because I thought we were still far from the finish line. I finished with too much left in me. Everybody else was very surprised because I'd barely even made the team of 7, but I was the most surprised person of all.
A young guy on the team, Martin Fulk, had gotten me interested in recreational/social running. Little Rock had recreational running clubs, "road races" and "fun runs" which attracted hundreds of people per event, and were normally run over scenic areas. There was also the Little Rock Hash House Harriers which ran every Sunday over rougher terrain, often out of town on nature trails, which was my favorite.
In track, the spring season running sport, the longest race was the 2 mile event, and that what I specialized in, together with Bruce, and we consistently came in 1-2 on our team, knocking out the previous year's state champion, Robert Addington. On the championship night, I had a stupid idea that eating several spoonfuls of honey 30 minutes before the run would give me an energy boost and advantage, and didn't listen to a friend, Robert Addington, who warned me against doing such a thing. I thought I'd win this one, the only one that counted. Instead, in the championship run, I got a terrible cramp and dropped out. My science was bad. It was also a hot night, and a competitor from another school, Phil Sudman, walked up to the starting line with a soaked head, soaked shirt and shorts. His science was smart -- artificial sweat to keep him cool on this unusually hot night. Phil won the race. I was disgraced, though it wasn't anything intense. I was happy to have made the team and lettered, though I wasn't so happy to wear my jacket any more. (My college age girlfriend at the time had a dog who chewed it up a bit, so it became a moot issue.)
I had also somewhat disengaged by late in my senior year. I had a new girlfriend in a local university who was a master classical pianist, whose music I was impressed with, and we kind've did our own thing outside of social circles because we didn't fit in together to either group. Her friends were artists, mine jocks and kids. That was the last half of my high school year, so it wasn't long.
Back in school, practically all of the other people of high academic achievement had been applying to Ivy League schools, special private universities, and out of state universities based on their chosen career. I had done nothing. People kept asking me where I was applying, and I had no answer.
About to enter the university, I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life. I wasn't going to waste my father's hard earned money on no clear ambition, so I just decided that I would enroll in my state university, which was cheap for residents of the state. It had a good library, and the laws of physics are the same in Arkansas as they are at MIT. (My grandmother lived in Boston and once suggested MIT.) I decided that I would leave home and go to the main campus 200 miles away in Fayetteville, Ark.
Very quickly, high school was over. As usual, I didn't attend any graduation ceremony, as I get very bored with ritual customs like that.
I enrolled at the University of Arkansas, the main campus 200 miles away in the northwest corner of the state. It was in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It looked like heaven to me. Untouched nature and mountains were clearly within sight and a short drive away. Indeed, I read lots of books while on hikes there and away from distractions over the years. (Ah, the time before mobile phones ... I do miss some things about that time -- getting away!)
My university years opened a new chapter in my life, when I first started to get serious about my future.
Here's a photo of my father in our back yard in Little Rock. He provided a wonderful environment and financial support in so many ways while I lived at home before I left for the university.
This has become one of my favorite songs of the 1970s decade, Take a Pebble, speaking of memories and people:
That was one of my favorite bands, "Emerson, Lake, and Palmer", especially their Brain Salad Surgery album. Another favorite band was Yes. Both dropped off the edge after 1973. As I listened to their disappointing albums of 1974+, after their great creations of 1970-73, the fall of both groups when their musicians turned around 30 years old made me wonder as a teenager whether our most creative times end when the brain turns around 30. Einstein and many other physicists had their most revolutionary work end by the time they were about 30, after which it was incremental gains.
Yes, "Yours is No Disgrace", 1971:
40 years ago, this was groundbreaking new kinds of music. This was before any personal computers existed. What Emerson, Lake and Palmer did without computers is amazing, especially their Toccata studio version in 1973, from 5:05 into the song until about 6:30. Then, my Little Rock home TV station used a clip of their Karn Evil 9, Third Impression as the opening music for their nightly news, also from Brain Salad Surgery -- a continuation of the earlier song, Karn Evil 9 First Impression, about a savior warrior fighting for justice and the poor (populism) turning into an egotistical maniac who in Third Impression creates a supercomputer which takes over out of his control, and then ends on a Moore's Law like musical acceleration of processing:
Of course, there were many other favorite bands of the time, but these guys stand out for this period.
Pink Floyd's album Dark Side of the Moon, especially Time, are worth notable mention. So much for music as a teenager ... Often, I liked the music but not the lyrics, and sometimes sang my own lyrics to some music instead of the originals.
Funny, my favorite bands were British (which I didn't know until I already liked them), some of which I first heard on Little Rock's late night experimental radio station Beaker Street which broadcast the longer songs of these groups. Beaker Street was well known because it brashly transmitted its late night signal strongly enough to reach people as far away as Cuba and Canada (and was on AM radio, as this was the time before the advent of FM radio in the world). From Wikipedia:
Beaker Street was a late night station, which I stayed awake a little longer to listen to.
Well, that's the 1970s, in a nutshell for me, but it seems to me to have been a particularly creative period in western culture, and it was good to experience the 1960s and 1970s as a kid in his formative years.
This chapter in my life ends in mid-1977. Notably, NASA's Voyager 1 probe launched in 1977, which will be the first man made object to leave the solar system around 2013 to 2015, is still alive and transmitting interesting data on the outer solar system (particularly the end of where our sun significantly affects interstellar space, e.g., the heliopause where the solar wind is stopped by the surrounding interstellar environment), and will probably continue to work for us until around 2020, maybe even later. While its primary mission was Jupiter and Saturn and their moons, it was given an extended mission after 1980 if it could stay alive and collect interesting data, which it has to date, still staffed. The 1970s technology equipped it with just 68 kilobytes of memory chip capacity, and an 8 track tape for data storage for another 62k, amazingly tiny by today's technology standards, but that was high tech back then. Voyager also travels with a 1970s style disc record so that if any aliens find the probe in the distant future, they can play the disc to hear sounds of the Earth such as waves on a shore, voices, and ... music, 27 songs! The approximately 100 photos chosen for aliens to see are particularly interesting if you try to put yourself into the shoes of an alien to find out about life from Earth.
Wish I had more photos, but I have a lot of stuff in storage in the Washington, D.C., region since 1994, on old film, as that was before digital cameras. Someday I will retrieve that.
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