Ultimately, this will be a blog that is largely about teaching and learning. The website is called “mindkindle” in reference to the Plutarch quote, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.
I hope to provide those who teach with a bit of kindling. Before I get to that, though, it might be nice for you to know a little bit about the blogger. After all this edifice needs some kind of foundation.
About ten years ago, maybe more, one of my older sisters suggested I start a blog. Look, sis. Finally.
Not quite forty-four years ago, in the fall of 1975, I was a sophomore at the University of Colorado. My freshman year I had been an engineering major, even though I realized about a month into my first semester that I would never be an engineer. I was completely unsuitable for that profession. So, in the fall of ’75, I changed majors. I became an English major, with a creative writing emphasis. That was a big change, but I’d written a couple of short stories, I had a superb instructor for the Great Books course I had taken in the fall of ’74 (I salute you, Joanne Karpinski, wherever you are) and at the beginning of the 75-76 school year, under the influence of a ridiculous, and potentially lethal, number of tequila hookers, I decided to change majors. Thereby hangs a tale I will tell you another time.
Ever since then, for almost 43 years, I have tried fitfully and periodically to become a writer, without success. I remain unpublished, and my output prior to late 2017 was pathetically small. Another tale rests in that “late 2017” reference, but again that is for another time.
For now I want to try to describe my perception of and perspective on my failure to launch as a writer, and of the ways and means I’ve chosen to avoid mundane reality. the desire to do so started when I was growing up. I had a father who was very psychologically abusive, and of the three younger children, he chose me for the target of his wrath. As a WWII vet whose company had been the first group of Americans through the gates of Dachau, he had a lot of wrath. He just didn’t know how to deal with it, other than by drinking, taking Valium, and yelling at and belittling people, primarily me.
My response was to lose myself in books, and later in board wargames as well. My reading engendered a love of science fiction and fantasy, and the first wargame I played started me on a path that would eventually lead to my teaching high school history. Even so, I spent as much time as possible between the ages of 6 and 14, when my dad died, reading and playing games. I was able to lose myself in the books and games. I still got yelled at and belittled, but I didn’t live in dread of the next episode because I was in a different reality.
After dad died, in late June 1971, I had no idea how to deal with my feelings, and I had no one I could talk to about them. I felt both relieved and happy about his death, because he wouldn’t be able to torment me any more. I felt extremely guilty about feeling relieved. I knew I wasn’t feeling the way you’re “supposed” to feel when your father dies.
The guilt and the turning inward of the anger led me into the first depressive episode. Back then depression was hardly even recognized, and when I became profoundly depressed after my dad died, the conclusion was it was a phase, and I’d get over it. I eventually did recover, but I spent my entire sophomore year depressed. I felt like a robot. I went through the motions, well enough to disguise my depression, but inside I was dying. I was locked in this hell of negative emotions. I didn’t understand why other people couldn’t see it. In retrospect I know it was because I hid it so well. Very first try. I would continue to be a functioning depressed person throughout most of my future spells of depression, but functioning got harder and harder every time. Then the depression would lift, and I would feel happy and creative and confident. .
What no one, including me, knew back then was that I was developing Type II bipolar disorder. It would be decades before I was finally correctly diagnosed and treated for the condition. During those many, many years my life was a roller coaster. When you’re hypomanic you definitely aren’t living in the mundane world. You are an amazing human being, with creative power beyond that of mere mortals. You are incredibly charismatic, and women find you irresistibly attractive. Those things are all actually true, to a degree. The cost for this is a complete loss of impulse control, and an out-of-this-world optimism that makes it seem alright to spend money like it’s going out of style and quit jobs at the drop of a hat. I call this unreasonable optimism because these behaviors were based on an absolute conviction that a better job, paying more money, would inevitably fall into my lap. I was also convinced during these episodes that women would fall into my lap, and a surprisingly large number did, albeit online. Another future tale.
The episodes of hypomania, however, only slowly became as severe as I’ve described above. Moreover, I never realized they were an aspect of my mental illness. I came out of depression, and so of course I felt good. The good became stronger and stronger, until at last it destroyed a lot of things.The depression was brutal from the start, and it became markedly worse and worse. It, too destroyed some important things.
Like my dad, I turned to alcohol to try to cope. Alcohol, fantasy, re-creating historical battles… these things constituted my escape mechanisms throughout the rest of college, and through the first five years after I failed to graduate from CU, in 1978. I also started smoking pot in the fall of 1976, and my last two years of college were spent in a cannabis haze. Playing D&D, getting high, and having sex became my reality.
The pot-smoking came to an end in the fall of ’78, due to a lack of supply. The drinking and board gaming continued. My reading tapered off, except for Tolkien’s trilogy, which I re-read again and again. D&D largely dropped out of the picture due to a lack of players. So I drank, and re-fought historical battles on a map covered with hexagons, employing small cardboard squares for the military units. These games were intricated and complicated, all the better to lose oneself in.
Then in the summer of 1982 my wife brought an Apple II home from school. She had gotten a grant to get three of them for her classroom, and she brought one home that summer to learn how to use it better.
I quickly learned how to use it to play computer games, first a Star Trek game that came with the computer and soon a number of purchased games, all of which were of the fantasy role-playing variety. I’m sure you’re totally surprised by that.
In the almost 37 years since that summer, I have spent countless hours lost in my computer screen, killing monsters and taking their stuff, solving riddles and mysteries, and completing heroic quests. It sounds juvenile, and I suppose it is. But it is the alternate reality I’ve happily inhabited for all those decades.
I hope, and believe, that this life experience, because of its strangeness, will bring a perspective on what I have to say in future that is both entertaining and thought-provoking. I have a lot to say about the “real world” as well as about my life experience. I hope you find it worth reading, and I will always welcome your comments. Dialog is far superior to one-sided communication.