My goal when I first began college, back in the fall of 1967 on Cape Cod, was to receive a liberal arts education. I forgot, over time, what that really meant – liberal arts – so I went to the internet for help. Here are three thoughts, the first from the Webster Dictionary:
college or university studies (as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills.
“A liberal arts education gives students an opportunity to explore a variety of academic disciplines rather than following a specific rubric of courses that train them for a career,” says Cindy Peterson, director of admissions at Piedmont College in Georgia. “Employers today are seeking qualified graduates who have a broad base of knowledge, whose undergraduate experience has granted them the critical thinking skills, and an understanding and appreciation of diversity, ethical issues and service to others.”
In its broadest of terms, it’s an education that provides an overview of the arts, humanities (the study of the human condition), social sciences, mathematics and natural sciences. “Artes liberals are rooted in classical antiquity and refer to the general skills (=artes) a free person (=liberals) needed to contribute meaningfully to society,” shared Concordia University associate professor, Dr. Michael Thomas. “Today, we intend for this to translate into life-long, self-motivated learners who can flourish in——even transform ——the world.”
Hmmm. “intellectual capacities”? “critical thinking skills”? “self-motivated learners”? Who knows. Those don’t feel like descriptions of my brain. But, that is not the point. In the spring of 2011 I sat with my wife Susan one night in a Portland coffee shop – armed only with blank paper, coffee, and a calculator – to see if I could reasonably quit my job, give up my career, try some other stuff, and survive as a contributing member of our family. The math (barely) and my wife’s kind heart (hugely) eventually said yes, and so it was I gave notice and left a nearly 40 year career in human services that May. What happened then – and this certainly falls within the category of what a long, strange trip it’s been – is that I put an ad on Craigslist which turned into a CD of original doo wop songs, I picked up some paint brushes and became an artist – with art shows and art sales and art cards – of at least minimal talent, and began, about nine months ago, writing a weekly blog, primarily stories of my misguided and subsequently reclaimed youth. More recently I have begun writing stories, pieces of fiction, ranging from hot sex in a coffee shop on a distant planet to fish creatures using people for bait in Astoria to a special young woman changing lives – and the planet – for the better with her magic greeting cards.
In the nearly three and a half years since I left work, taking a vow of poverty as part of the deal, I have found myself doing the things that strike me as being an outcome of a liberal arts education. Especially the art part – writing, painting, singing. I sang in a couple of choirs in high school, in a church choir, in a rock and roll band, but 40 years passed before the doo wop CD. I painted in art classes in grade school, but nearly 50 years went by before I found a brush in my hand again, wondering, well, how did I get here? But, when I think about it, I have always been writing.
First there was writing a music column for my high school newspaper. Then as a writer and editor for the Salem State College newspaper, The Log. My first paid position in the realm of human services was to develop a newsletter for The House of Seven Gables Settlement House. I spent three years in the early 1980s as a reporter and columnist covering high school sports – mostly girls sports – for newspapers in Newburyport, MA, greater Boston, and San Clemente, CA. More and more through my human service career I wrote lengthy treatment plans and employee evaluations and sections for grant proposals. And writing stories for various in-house newsletters in one youth program after another. So here, in 2014, I find myself today involved as my primary focus in an activity I have, in fact, never really stopped doing.
I’m a writer. I’m a student of writing at Portland State University. I write a weekly blog. I write stories, and send them off, to date with only rejections as replies. I have the makings of one novel and three novellas in the works, and I like them all. I absolutely love creating characters, writing about how they live and how they think and how they deal with the stuff in their lives, and what matters to them. How they treat each other. And creating strange new worlds and settings and situations. I love that.
I love singing and music, so much, and I love painting, it is filled with amazement. But mostly I love writing.