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Self-Disclosure to the Fifth Degree

Dan Oestreich, one of my favorite bloggers and best friends, has offered the mixed blessing of an invitation to reveal 5 things about myself that you may not know about me. This is challenging, not only because self-disclosure is risky, but I don't know exactly who "you" are (but one of "you" may be my teenage daughter, who commented on my last post, adding another dimension of risk). In any event, I will focus on 5 things I haven't blogged about before (and that I don't believe are widely known).

  1. I was (am?) a picky eater: When I was young (actually, up until the time I went to college), I was extremely particular and regimented about the food I would eat. For the first 18 years of my life, I think the sum total of foods I ate consisted of Cheerios (with sugar, but not milk -- too soggy), bread and butter (not margarine), pancakes, bacon, tunafish sandwiches, hamburgers (catchup only), teriyaki steak (only with Mrs. Laporte's recipe), barbecue chicken (only with my Aunt Kay's recipe), spaghetti with meatballs (only Grandma D's recipe). I suppose there were a few other meats and some vegetables I would occasionally eat -- but no fruit (or nuts). My diet was rather narrow, and my mother (and extended family and friends) were very indulgent. The cafeteria at college was not so indulgent, which helped open me up to new foods ... and there was another development in my junior year that opened me up even more (a topic I'll return to shortly). While I continue to be somewhat predictable in my cooking and eating habits at home (especially breakfast), I have, in my adult years, enjoyed more variety, at least when dining out.
  2. I am a confirmed non-Catholic: I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church for many years, played guitar in the folk mass each week, and my favorite role in make-believe as a young child was a priest (I remember distributing sliced cucumbers during play church ceremonies). My parents were very active in the church (my mother was a lector and extraordinary minister, my father was a lector and an usher, and one or both were on the parish council), and I attended 12 years of Catholic schools. Despite the rather narrow and regimented perspective I had in the domain of food, I was rather inquisitive in other domains, especially with respect to religion and spirituality. As I approached the rite of passage into adulthood in the Catholic Church known as confirmation in 8th grade, I was having more and more questions about Catholicism, and told my mom I wasn't sure I wanted to be confirmed. One of the most memorable moments of my life occurred when she responded "Well, you don't have to get confirmed, but you don't have to live in this house, either." Mom does not remember saying this, and I may have read more into this than she intended. I decided to proceed through all the motions of the confirmation process, but [ironically] from that moment on, no longer considered myself a Catholic ... in fact, I was anti-Catholic for a long time afterward, but am softening a bit over time.
  3. My only "A" in high school was in Personal Typing: 8th grade marked a tipping point for me in a number of respects. Not only did I reject Catholicism, I rejected a number of other elements of my upbringing, including good study habits and a nearly overwhelming desire to please my parents and other authority figures (though, this people-pleasing tendency never really went away, I simply shifted the focus to other people I wanted to please). The solid educational foundation I'd built up during my early years enabled me to still get "B"s  with almost no effort ... except in Religion classes, where my increasingly questioning attitude was not welcomed by most of my teachers, and I even received a "D-" in Religion from Mr. Herzog my sophomore year. The only class I received an "A" in was Personal Typing, a 1-credit course my senior year in which I recorded the highest words-per-minute (WPM) typing speed in the class (and, I think, in any class that year).
  4. My only non-"A" in graduate school was Theory of Computation: I had become a student again by the time I started graduate school (more on that transition in the next item -- it's all related). In college I'd majored in Philosophy, which prepared me for everything and nothing. I took a couple of computer classes my senior year, and found that programming was a straightforward application of the logic and analytical problem solving approach I'd learned in Philosophy. So, I decided to go to graduate school and learn everything I could about computers (and get a credential that might be more instrumental in getting a [better] job). While getting my master's degree at the Hartford campus of RPI, I met and enjoyed a friendly competition with my good friend, Len, where we both ended up with straight "A"s. After spending four years as an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Hartford, I returned to school to get a Ph.D., getting "A"s in every class at the University of Massachusetts except one, a Theory of Computation class that I spent close to 40 hours a week working on -- using auxiliary texts, doing all the exercises (not just those assigned), trying to bend my thinking into a trajectory that seemed very foreign to me. In the end, I got an "A-" -- and more importantly, learned enough to get through the comprehensive exam in theory on my first try. I think I'm just not wired for theory -- in any field -- tending to favor practice and experimentation over abstractions.
  5. I met my wife over a [keg of] beer: Something happened in between the rebelliousness of my high school years and my renewed enthusiasm for scholarly pursuits during my graduate studies. The pattern of minimal effort and respectable grades continued through my first two years at Ripon College. Another pattern I haven't mentioned (in this post) is instigation and organization, which, at the beginning of my junior year, was applied to keg parties: I collected enough money and interest in the dorm to hold 5 quarter-barrel (keg) parties in 4 days. In between the 4th and 5th, I was walking across the quads with an empty quarter barrel, when Amy and her friend Sue walked by with Sue's dog Mocha. Amy called out "Every time I see you, you're carrying a quarter barrel!" [Aside: Amy doesn't remember me before this point, but I had admired her from various distances for two years, as our circles of friends had some intersections.]  I shouted back "This one's empty, but I'm going to get another one; why don't you come back and join us?". To my surprise (and delight), she did come back down that night, but soon grew bored with drinking beer and playing stupid bar dice games in a friend's dorm room, and wandered up the hall to look for something more interesting. She found an open room with a guitar, walked in and started playing "Wish You Were Here". I'd noticed she had left, and when she didn't come back for a while, went out to look for her ... and found her in my room, playing a Pink Floyd song on my guitar. She taught me that song and "Needle and the Damage Done" (by Neil Young), and then I played a few songs. She said she had a guitar, too, but the strings were broken. I told her I'd stop by the next day and go with her to get some new ones (she thought "yeah, right"), and she left soon afterward. True to my word, I showed up at her off-campus apartment the next day, and we went down to the local music store, bought some strings, and whipped (or strung) her guitar into shape again. For reasons I don't quite understand (but am forever grateful for), this follow-through somehow set me apart from other guys she'd known and dated, and formed the basis of a relationship that grew, in various ways, shapes and forms over the years. Amy was my first real girlfriend, and introduced me to many "firsts" ... including, for example, my first taste of Chinese food (there were many other dimensions of novelty, but I'll leave it at that for now). My whole perspective changed, and I found myself generally more willing and eager to engage (in activities other than keg parties). I was on the Dean's List for the remaining three semesters of my college career, but of course that's a minor result in the larger scope of things. We've been together now for 25 years, and she still regularly helps me adopt new perspectives (though, at times, I do so rather grudgingly).

All the foregoing seems rather self-indulgent, but, well, Dan's invitation offers a convenient excuse. When I compare my stories to those shared by Dan's other invitees, feelings of inadequacy arise. However, I am willing to let those go, and simply enjoy the opportunity to reflect back on some events in my life that are sometimes in shadow ... and to take the opportunity to invite others to enjoy similar reflections and revelations on their blogs. I'm going to pass the baton to five blogger friends who have been very influential in my own blogging practice, modeling the kind of openness in sharing insights and experiences that I want to adopt in my own blog (and life):

All of these bloggers are far more prolific than me, and so may have to reach a bit further to reveal things they haven't already mentioned on their blogs ... and, of course, they all have plenty to write about without any prompting from me, but I'll extend the invitation anyway.

[Addendum, Christmas Eve morning]

I posted the original entry at SFO while waiting for my weekly flight back home. As soon as I shut the lid on my laptop, I was struck with an immediate and deep pang of remorse and guilt: how could I have possibly omitted Anne Galloway from the list of blogging friends who I most admire (and thus, invited to participate in the spreading of this revelation meme)?  Anne was one of the key people who (largely unbeknownst to her) helped give me the gumption to start Gumption, and is a prominent member of my personal blogging pantheon. There are, of course, other bloggers who inspire me, and one has to draw the line somewhere for a viral meme like this to spread without getting too bogged down at any host site, but I just couldn't let this post sit in its current state.

The original meme guidelines specify revealing 5 new things and inviting 5 new bloggers to participate. I'm going to stretch these a bit, inviting a sixth blogger (Anne), and adding a sixth thing that people may not know about me ... one that is particularly poignant at this moment.

  1. I hate Christmas. Given my aforementioned rejection of Catholicism (and with it, Christianity), the birth of Jesus has no more meaning to me than the birth of other great figures throughout history. The teachings attributed to Jesus -- especially his messages of love, acceptance and non-violence -- are inspiring, and I believe the world would be a better place if more of the people who profess devotion to Christ exercised these attributes more regularly, but I don't see Jesus as somehow standing out so much from a number of other great prophets, to warrant all the hoopla the celebration of his birth brings about in the Christian world every year. Of course, Christmas is about much more than this founding event, but many of its associated non-religious practices -- or perhaps I should say the practices of the religion of capitalism and consumption -- often leave me even colder. Why should we focus so much gift-giving energy during this one time of year? Why not simply get gifts for people if / when we are so moved? Gift-giving seems to be very much a game, and people seem compelled to give gifts (especially if / when they have received them, or expect to receive them). Add to all this the stress of decking the halls and preparing the feasts, and it just leaves me with a feeling of much ado about nothing. I try not to express my grinchly attitude at home (or at others' homes), lest it spoil the fun for those (like my wife and kids) who enjoy this season, but it leaves me feeling more alienated than usual. So, I'll express it here on the blog, in a post devoted to openness, honesty and revelation ... and hope it doesn't spoil the fun for anyone else. Merry Christmas (if you're so inclined)!
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