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When I came home to Arizona in 2010 after 5 years overseas, my wife and I had decided to switch roles. I was disillusioned with college and she seemed ready to pursue a degree in medicine, her newest life goal now involved becoming a medical doctor. I was going to get a blue collar job and earn money while she jumped into college. Maybe in the future, when I figured myself out, I would go back to school.
My family was determined, though, to convince me otherwise. In my spare time I was getting involved in the podcasting community online and I was having middling success in internet broadcasting. It was fun, I found a topic that I enjoyed talking about and I would spend my evenings doing research and producing a 2 hour weekly show which I published on iTunes. My father thought this was fantastic and thought that I could pursue a degree in New Media production, maybe even at ASU’s Walter Cronkite school. He convinced me to take a few credits at Glendale Community College while working, just to keep my transcript growing and moving in some direction.
But I was still winding down. I felt horrible. I was spending a lot of time online in game worlds. I was without passion. My marriage was falling apart.
When I was unpacking boxes from our last move, in a few that had sat in a closet for months ignored, I found something that would change all that for me. It was an old briefcase, maroon in color with a broken handle. The combination on the locks was 0-0-7 and it was beat up and scuffed from years of abuse I inflicted on it as a kid and years of moving from location to location as an adult. Inside this briefcase was a collection of all the paper spaceships, maps of terraformed Martian landscapes, model planetary rovers with deployable solar panels, random NASA themed LEGOs along with samples of all the unabashed dreaming and geekery I had saved for my future self in one poorly sorted mass. It made me think, when did I give up on all this stuff? What made me give up on my dreams? When does a child stop wanting to be an Astronaut and settles for a cubicle? This was why I was unhappy.
This time capsule saved through the years had served its purpose. It gave me back mine. My purpose was to study, train and step foot on the most beautiful landscape I have ever set eyes on…the surface of Mars. I made a connection to my dreams I had as a child and fused it with my adult ambition.
I walked onto campus last September with a bruised heart, but a burning conviction that what I was doing was right. I had a shine in my eyes when I walked my school halls despite the personal adversity that was assaulting me at home. I had become a single father and I lost a good deal of my friends during the divorce, but every day my support system and the number of new friends I gathered to me grew. They could see my passion, even if sometimes it was a bit overwhelming.
It is one year later. The passion is sustained, it a bit tempered by a high credit load. I passed some classes, I failed some, and some of those I came back in the spring and knocked out of the park. The important thing is that my successes are encouraging, but not essential to my drive. My failures teach me lessons but no longer discourage me from my goals.
Onward, upward, the future is unknown but exciting .
This was my second semester at ASU and I have been going to college on and off now for the last 9 years, a number that surprises even me. Now, I am not that movie frat guy who never graduates, just to keep the party going and the beer flowing. No, It’s just… me and college have had a complicated relationship.
I dropped out of high school sometime in 2003 and in the middle of my sophomore year. Partially due to poor grades, but I had not done well in public schools since about 6th grade. I even took 8th grade twice and jumped between charter and traditional institutions about as many times. I was the guy who read too much. I never turned in homework, but did decently on tests. I just preferred my fictional books to my studies back then, which had interesting results. As far as I know I still hold the honor of being the only student to get a flawless perfect score on the English final paper and fail the course, due to insufficient points in class.
The month after I dropped out of Peoria High, and still only 17, I signed up for the GED test, and without studying, aced it. The next semester I was enrolled at Glendale Community College. I loved fictional worlds, and at that time became fascinated with telling stories as well. The Matrix movies had come out and I had fallen in love with the Wachowski brother’s style. I was going to be a movie director. Scriptwriting, Contemporary Cinema, Photography, all these classes rounded out my first semester of college.
There were two things that killed that dream quickly. One, I couldn’t write dialog. I could describe the hell out of a scene, and I could design a narrative, but people, I didn’t understand. All that time with my head in a book had left me with a severely atrophied social understanding. When people talked in my stories, it was like reading ‘See Spot Run’. The second career killer was running out of money. I had borrowed $2,500 in a student loan, and my grandparents and saved a bit less than that on top for my college fund. That was it.
I was broke, and the same lack of social skills that had made it a difficult time in school made it difficult to keep a job as well. I was employed at the Arrowhead Best Buy, but I talked too much. I didn’t sell enough computers wearing those blue polo shirts and khaki pants. I had a GED, but I felt broken, incomplete. My parents had done all they could do to raise me, but I wasn’t yet self-sufficient.
So I enlisted. I have no idea where the thought came from, but I will always remember every detail about the moment I had it. Every time I think about that turning point in my life, I can’t help but feel as if the idea came from outside myself. I feel this so strongly that that moment is probably the hanging thread that keeps me an agnostic instead of dropping me into full on atheism. No one had ever suggested I join the military, I didn’t grow up in a military community, my father didn’t really share a lot of tales from his uneventful stint in the Air force. I just felt like it was right.
Anyways, I didn’t get a lot of traditional college done over the next four years. I got a few credits in Japanese, and my time as a Navy computer guy bequeathed me a transcript that guaranteed I’d never need to take a computer class. Four years went by like that. I lived in Sasebo, Japan and rode my ship all over the south pacific and the Far East. I read a lot more books, but my job and the ports I visited taught me more about how to work within a system or a bureaucracy than I ever needed. I learned how to survive, and if I went back stateside, I could have gotten a decent cubicle job and been just fine, if not bored, for the rest of my life.
After those four years, with all the shit I went through, but all the awesome experiences too; I couldn’t go home. I married a navy girl, became a military spouse and moved to Guam. (I could tell you that story but I’m trying to keep this within the context of education and I’ve deviated enough.) I had been out of formal education for about 5 years when I registered for classes at the University of Guam. I needed a new major. Biology had struck my fancy and I was just in luck, here was a Marine Biology hub right next door. I was interested in lichen myself, specifically the idea of playing around with its genes. I dreamed of working in a lab and designing microorganisms that could convert one substance into another, eat salt and poop out oxygen. I wanted to be on the cover of Scientific American one day.
That ended after about one semester. Biology was gooey, bloody, complex in unsatisfying ways. It wasn’t my field. I found my love for science, but I knew biology wasn’t my flavor. I was frustrated and looking for something to blame. So I blamed myself, my ADHD. I wanted to go back on Adderall, I wanted to learn about my mind and fix myself to become a better person. Now enters my third major onto the stage: Psychology.
Still on Guam, I spoke with an adviser about my goals. She gave me the best advice up to that point, and probably saved me a lot of time and money. She told me I shouldn’t invest myself in Psychology if my goals were to fix myself. Psychologists can’t fix themselves. Every therapist is in therapy. If you could fix yourself just through knowledge, and not experience, we would all just learn how to be better.
She was right, my motivation was not sustainable. It wouldn’t have gotten me though my degree let alone a career in the field. Once again I was without a focus, without direction. And so, it was about this time that I found out my son was on the way. It was time to go home.