.journal 2001.06.01
Going back to college.

Now listening to: Tori Amos, From the Choirgirl Hotel (Japanese)
Now reading: Poppy Z. Brite, Courtney Love: the Real Story
Now playing: Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast)

So in the wake of watching my house go up in flames and having to move into a hotel room for the next couple of months, why don't I just go ahead and make the biggest decision in my life in years?

Before I get into that, though, let me take you back to private school. In my final years there, I was finally achieving some actual degree of popularity, something which had eluded me throughout my academic career to that point. However, the way I was achieving that popularity was by becoming, for lack of a better phrase, a shit disturber, publishing my own zine containing my political thoughts, which included some none-too-flattering comments about the hierarchy at the school.

Many of my fellow students really went for that, but as far as the teachers and administrators went I made a whole lot of enemies real fast. Some of them even went so far as to state to each other that they believed that I may some day come onto campus with a weapon and attempt to injure or kill people. Things really reached a lagerhead in the summer of 1993, when I was barred from campus for a nearly three-month period for writing a joke in the margin of one of my exams.

In order to be allowed back onto campus, I had to agree to stop publishing my zine, and attend regular counseling sessions. Mind you, this is a private school which at the time was charging over eight thousand dollars a year, and my parents' business was really struggling because it got caught up in the backlash of the economic recession. And I knew several of the teachers there were openly holding grudges against me and would have me thrown in a juvenile detention centre for being such a deviant if given their druthers.

When faced with the stipulations of my being allowed back on campus, my mother's immediate reaction was to say I would not attend school there ever again, and that I would go to the University of Toledo to finish my high school education through one of their programmes. Not only would it cost half as much, but I wouldn't have to go through a hundredth of the grief I would have to endure that final year in private school. That was very logical. But silly little me wanted to settle an issue I had let linger for several years involving my childhood crush, and I acquiesced to the stipulations.

Of course, that last year ended up being absolute hell. First the school reneged on its promise to pay for the counseling they made me go through, sticking my parents with even more of a bill on top of their exorbitant tuition rates. I was forced to interact with several of the teachers who thought I would go postal before the year's end. And then, of all the things they could have done, they erased the community service requirement I had fulfilled two years prior from my academic record for no reason whatsoever, and I was forced to walk through graduation with an empty diploma case, only getting my diploma later that summer after redoing the community service at a local television station's consumer affairs program. And I never did settle that issue with my childhood crush, the only reason I stayed there in the first place.

But despite the best efforts of some people in that school to hold me down, I still managed quite a lot for myself. When I took the SATs my junior year, I managed to score a perfect 800 on the math section (before they raised the curve, mind you), and all of a sudden I had information from about a zillion different colleges stuffing the folks' mailbox. I can remember turning to Comedy Central and watching the midnight showings of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 while going through and cataloguing all the different offers being made to me, although in the end all that ever amounted to was a four-drawer file cabinet's worth of stuff currently sitting in the attic at my father's business.

Even before I took those SATs, I knew where I was headed. My sister never seriously considered going to college, but she did some research back in the day and told me about this little place down in Yellow Springs, Ohio called Antioch College. Antioch had been quite the hippie hotbed back in the day, and was still known as one of the most politically aware and active campuses in the nation. Every course was taken on a credit/no credit basis, everyone from the Deans to the professors to the students to the janitors were on a first-name basis, and the atmosphere there was obviously conducive to everything I believed in.

I applied for Antioch as soon as I could my senior year, and was accepted, the first student in my class to be accepted to college. Antioch was far more expensive than the place I was leaving behind, but it was worth every penny and then some. After nine years of repression and being made to believe I was fundamentally flawed as a person, Antioch allowed me to actually grow as a person. I was there when the Republicans had their big mid-term congressional victory in 1994, and we were just minutes away from the Columbus offices of Representative John Kasich, who became Chairperson of the House Budgetary Committee and endorsed slashing federal college loan programmes to the point where Antioch would surely have to close down. When several students protested peacefully in front of his offices, Columbus police used pepper spray and began beating protestors, eventually arresting seven. The incident galvanized every student on campus, and pretty much swore me off conservative ideology for the rest of my life.

More than that, though, I was welcome at Antioch. Heck, at Antioch I was positively "normal," as if that word means anything. It didn't matter that I was fat or had a lisp or was interested in x, y or z, because Antioch is the most eclectic place I have ever seen. Everyone there is just so open-minded (at least about most subjects) and so friendly, it's as close to paradise as I have ever known. And it was only there that I finally started coming out of the shell I had had to construct around myself so that I didn't go crazy at private school.

But if there is one memory of Antioch, of my entire life, that I can hold above all others, it is what happened one fall afternoon after chorus practice. The chorus practiced in Kelly Hall, the auditorium on the second floor of the main building, and after chorus there was never anything scheduled there. So I liked to use the piano there, the best piano on campus, to practice on. (I was majoring in music composition there, and my music teacher, Dr. John Rinehart, is the only music teacher I've ever had that has ever taught me anything worth knowing about music.) That particular day I pulled out my Sarah McLachlan songbook and began practicing "Possession." One member of the chorus walked up to me with a look on her face of supreme happiness and astonishment.

That person is the one who you all have come to know as L., and what began that day was, and is, the greatest relationship I have ever had in my life. L. is the most remarkable person I have ever met, and is a woman of such abilities that I would not dare sully them by attempting to describe them with mere words. Over the course of just a few weeks, L. and I began a friendship that blossomed into something much deeper, the kind of relationship that just seemed like destiny incarnate, two kindred spirits joining their harmonious wavelengths and radiating with the glow of a million suns, creating something that could truly change the whole world for the better.

Unfortunately Antioch has mandatory co-op, and so on 1995.03.17 we both left campus to begin those co-ops. While she went out west and worked at horse ranches and parks, I came back to Toledo and worked at a local recording studio. My father's business still wasn't doing quite that well, and being able to live at home helped save money on the co-op. Only without my involvement at his business, father's financial shape wasn't improving that much, despite the worst of the recession being over. I knew I could still get back to Antioch in the fall if I really wanted to, but that it would take a good effort on my part to find the money from other family members to pay for my tuition. And I wasn't quite sure how long my father's business could go on in its present condition.

So four days before I was to return to Antioch, I made the single biggest decision of my life, and opted to stay home and help with the business, putting my academic career on indefinite hold. I realize that you're not supposed to live your life holding regrets, but in retrospect I realize that I made the wrong decision. All that I learned about being comfortable with myself, about what it was like to feel accepted, eroded away just as quickly as I'd learned it, and I went right back to all my old habits from my private school days.

And not only that, but I was now out of L.'s reach, and over the summer we had made these grand plans with each other that would never come to fruition. We could still e-mail each other, but that's not the same thing. I told her I would come back to Antioch when I could, but that for now I had to make sure all my bases were covered back at the homestead, and that my father's business was still successful and that I'd have a home to return to when I came back from college.

That never happened. While things did get better at my father's office, they never really got to the point where I could seriously contemplate returning to college. Finally L. graduated from Antioch in 1998, packing up her car and driving out to the West Coast to pursue her dreams. We were out of contact with each other for over two years, and I spiraled into the longest period of depression in my life. It was only last year, on the 10th of June, when we were finally able to get back in touch with each other, and I got out of my depression. L. being back in my life, combined with her tuning me on to The Artist's Way, finally got me back to that happy place I found at Antioch, and got the lessons about self-worth and respect and happiness to stick.

Over the past few years my father's business has picked up nicely, thanks in no small part to my becoming a Website designer. I got into Website design in its infancy, and through the years have managed to teach myself quite a lot. I managed to snag a local costume shop as a client, and through the years developed the site from a boring static catalogue into the most dynamic site of its kind, writing the code for all the e-commerce functionality by myself.

I had a number of personal Website projects as well, and in 1999 was given the opportunity to work on one particularly lucrative offer that I felt I could develop into a real money-maker. So I took that opportunity, and in needing to handle the finances for the opportunity started my own small business, just like my father and his father before him. I still worked for my father, but I was hoping to snag some of my own clients, start generating business of my own and keep the profits for myself, and hopefully begin earning enough money that I could get my own place and move out of my parents' home.

What ended up happening was anything but. I just couldn't find work anywhere, no matter how hard I tried and how many places I tried to get my foot in the door. The opportunity I talked about was still making money, but the big dot-com crash of 2000 really cut into our revenues, and I slowly began becoming more and more disenchanted about the situation. And doing this work on my own began to strain things with my father and his business because of the various conflicts that arose.

For some reason, it was around this time that I started looking back at the University of Toledo. I'd considered going back to college for a while, but I realized that Antioch just wouldn't be the same to me without L. and all the wonderful people I'd met there before. But things were stable enough with the business that I could give thought to returning to school. I applied to UT in the summer of 2000 and was accepted, but decided not to attend, given how I was still involved in the site that prompted me to start my own business, and needed to make sure I had enough time to work on the costume site for my father.

What ended up happening, of course, was that everything I had learned about self-worth and happiness from The Artist's Way finally got to me when I realized that things had deteriorated with the site I was working on to the point where the only way I could continue working on it would be to suppress my passion, and that wasn't something I could do. So I left the site in November, and owing to my failure to attract any clients of my own I shut my business down, leaving myself with only the costume shop to work on.

But thinking about what I could have done had my business succeeded got me to thinking, and realizing that maybe I needed something more than what I was getting from working for my father. I had a huge fork in the road, the biggest decision of my life since leaving Antioch. If I went one way, I would try to get hired directly by the costume shop, pocketing the money my father had been getting for essentially being a middleperson between myself and the shop, and perhaps through that make enough money to afford my own place and achieve some independence. If I went the other way, I would return to the University of Toledo, finally get a college degree and then stand a much better chance of getting hired by someone else, and thus make the money I would need for that independence.

I'd been struggling with the decision for the past several months. Going to UT seemed to be the sensible way to go, since a college degree would help ensure that I could get hired somewhere, anywhere, in case things did not work out with the costume shop. I also couldn't deny that I felt like I would be betraying my father by trying to get him out of the picture with the shop. But the gratification of achieving independence sooner had my heart snared on working for the costume shop directly, since I wouldn't have to go through however many years of college to get my own place.

And more issues kept coming up, like the increased social interaction going to college would provide me with versus the ability to actually bring people to my residence if I got my own place sooner. And the relative value of a college degree if I went to school versus the value of computer industry certifications I would pursue if I snagged the work opportunity. I kept getting torn between the two possibilities, asking friends for advice and trying to figure out what it is I really wanted to do. I would decide on one path when I was going to bed at night, only to wake up the next morning with a revelation that made the decision far more tentative. And when my house caught fire last month and the whole family had to move to this hotel room, all my mental processes were thrown into chaos.

But chaos has a way of shining light on a situation, and earlier this week I decided to go back to college.

I guess if the experience of the fire has taught me anything, it is the importance of my family to me. I know I've railed against my father in here before, and certainly he and I have some serious issues that I honestly don't think we will be able to resolve in our lifetimes. And I wouldn't say as I have a perfect relationship with Mother or Heather (then again, what relationship is perfect). But there is still a great deal of love there, and while it may be the perfunctory parent-child love that seems to be more of a function of evolution than conscious decision, it still exists. And as we regroup here at the hotel room while our home is being rebuilt, I realize that right now we need each other more than ever. After all this has happened, how could I go and leave home a few months later? That wouldn't sit right with me, even if I desperately want independence.

More than that, though, I don't think going to work without a college degree would do myself justice and ensure that I could keep that independence. I think the costume shop's Website is a thing of beauty, a testament to just how much I have learned these past few years about Website design, but it is still just a Website. What if the owner of the shop were to die in a car crash tomorrow? Would I still have a reliable job there? And what makes me think that I could get another Website development job, given how I was unsuccessful in landing jobs with my own business? I may know a lot about Website design, but I just don't know how to sell myself. And hopefully I can learn how to do just that in college, and have better luck finding work after I graduate in however many years.

Owing to the fact that a full-time college schedule would leave me with insufficient time to give the costume shop the attention they deserve, they will now be having their Website designed by another company. I'm still going to work for my father, although we may decide to get out of Website design altogether and I may work on the business's main function, architectural delineation. We have some time to get things sorted out, though, and owing to this period of uncertainty in my life I'm going to be taking the month of June completely off for myself, so I can get some things straightened out.

Actually, I may need that time, because I may actually go back to school in July and not when UT's fall semester starts in late August. It has been six years since I last attended a class, after all, and while I've been learning various software and programming things, that's not quite the same as classroom education. So I may or may not take a summer class at UT, to help get me "warmed up" to the idea of attending classes again. If I do that, though, I'll need to get a car here soon, and while I'd saved up a good bit of money for a car of my own recently, I have been spending my own money to help get things recovered in the wake of the fire.

So the most turbulent time in my life has suddenly become much more so. But yet, there is a calm I feel from finally having made this great decision, the knowledge that I am finally getting more of my life sorted out. Maybe I'll still have to live at home for awhile longer here, but right now that's probably for the best, all things being equal. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel here, and I'm going to pursue it with everything I have. I know there are still some bumps in the road ahead, and I will likely stumble and fall at various points, but I will persevere.

I'll see you all again soon. Take care and be well.

- Sean