Nailing Down Jello

Having dropped out of college in the Sixties (long story…) I have a recurring fascination with the idea of returning to school to finally get my B.A. Maybe even a Master’s. Why not?

The main reason why not: It would cost a whole lot of money. Tuition and living expenses for three or four years at UC would pretty much wipe out my retirement nest egg. A few years ago I tried going to Cal State EBay, but the drive is pretty awful, and the school itself isn’t much better.

Now, I can learn pretty much anything I care to learn, just by buying books and reading them. I’m an accomplished auto-didact. I don’t need to be a college student to learn about archaeology or calculus or the motets of Palestrina. On meditating about it, I’ve realized that I have two primary reasons for wanting to go to school: I’d love to be part of a community where intellectual accomplishments are valued, and I’d benefit from the structure.

Left to my own devices, I tend to wibble around like a mound of jello. I’m fascinated by this, that, and the other thing, but I tend not to stick with any of my fascinations for very long. If I try imposing a structure and goals of my own devising, I tend to change my mind and lose interest within a few days.

I like being creative and spontaneous, but I do much better when a structure is imposed from without. For 25 years I worked as an editor at a magazine. Every month, someone told me what to do and when to turn in the finished work. I had considerable freedom in how I did the work, and I could suggest my own assignments if I thought of something that fit within the parameters of the magazine. But those parameters were clearly defined.

For the past seven years I’ve been self-employed, but a big part of my work has been writing freelance magazine articles. I’ve also edited a few books on music technology. All of which has been well-defined, highly structured work with familiar parameters (not to mention a predictable reward — I get checks in the mail). As the music magazine business collapses like a tire driven over nails, I find myself needing a new structure, new goals.

I like to consider myself semi-retired, but semi-retirement has its down side. Oh, it’s nice to be able to wander into the barber shop at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, as I did today. Nobody in line for a haircut at that hour but us geezers! But even when I’m 90 (and that’s still a long way in the future), I don’t think I’m going to enjoy being in charge of setting my own goals and creating my own structure. I’m just not very good at it.

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