For some time, I’ve had this feeling that, somewhere along the lines, I missed something important. You see, many years ago, for various reasons, I decided to take a shortcut to a career. I was a horrible student in high school, and I was washing out of college, too, so I decided to attend a technical school (a really good one) to “fast track” my way into the wonderful world of high-tech and computers. It should be noted at this point, that I really didn’t want to go into computers. I really wanted to be in television production.
(There’s another whole story about not getting, and then really getting, higher math. And, while it’s a part of this story, it’s not really important right now. Maybe another time for that one. And, there are whole other stories about how I got interested in TV. Maybe another time for those, too.)
So, I enrolled in the Arundel Institute of Technology, a school that specialized in electronics technology and drafting. I opted for the electronics technology course, which at the time was a very clear pathway to working in the computer support field. This was before PCs and Macs. Most computers at the time were room-sized affairs with whopping 10MB (that’s ten megabyte) hard drives that were the size of washing machines.
I did really well at AIT, and after graduation, I landed a position at a company that installed and maintained radio communications systems in the Baltimore-Washington area, and from there moved on to one of the most prestigious computer companies of the day, working in their federal systems division, where I stayed for a few years, and then began a fifteen-year career, always chasing the “better” position at companies that were pushing the leading edge of technology.
And then one night in 1998, all that came to an end. I suffered a bit of a nervous breakdown (some discussion with more doctors many years later, it’s suspected that I actually suffered a small stroke). From that point on, I’ve found it nearly impossible to read a book, or to memorize music. That night, I couldn’t even remember how to drive to a place that I’d visited every week for at least two years.
I cast about for a while doing this (delivering auto parts), that (commercial electrical work), and the other (delivering office supplies). I got divorced. I then worked for several years at a small manufacturing company, first as a parts specialist and later a project manager. After that, I landed a job at a local government cable television station. I was primarily there to be the station engineer, but I was also free to do some production — videography, editing, directing, etc. When the station was closed in a budget cut, I moved over to the station at the local community college. I didn’t get to do as much production there, but I was still in television. Today, I’m working for a business that provides video production systems to a variety of customers.
So, what in hell does this have to do with my “missing” something back in 1983? As good a school as AIT was, they only taught electronics or drafting — in my case, it was essentially an electrical engineering degree, but without the things like English, philosophy, and other liberal arts that make up a proper college degree. Stuff that’s an important part of a well-rounded education.
I’ve been thinking about this recently, because of a lot of references on one of my favorite photography-related podcasts. I count myself a photographer, yet I’ve heard of so few of the important figures in photography. Sure, I know about Ansel Adams, Alfred Stieglitz, Irving Penn, William Mortensen (no direct relation), and Aubrey Bodine, but there are a host of other major contributors to photographic history.
Photography was not all that I missed — literature and music and history took a serious hit, too. But, dammit, I know a lot about how things work — the logical/technical part of my brain still functions.
The good thing is that it may not be too late for me to try fill in at least some of the gaps in my knowledge. One the way home from my parents’ house this past Monday, we decided to stop at The Unicorn Bookshop in Trappe, MD. I picked up a couple of Bodine books — one, a book of his pictures, and the other a biography. I even found a copy of a book that I had when I got my first 35mm SLR camera (I didn’t buy that one).
I only hope that I can overcome the frustration of not being able to follow a written page from the top to the bottom, that I can retrain my brain enough so that I can read about the things I want to.