Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966
Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977
Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989
Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993
Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997
Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)
Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008
Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010
Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-
Volume 7: Searching for a new life, Part Two 2002-2008
This period is about finally shaking the grip of Panic Thinking. All through the nineties I had to live in fear of the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and the ORS (Utah Office of Recovery Services) coming after me with financial seizures, and even handcuffs. It was like Vietnam, only it lasted a lot longer. This fear corroded my thinking for a decade, and, like the Panic Thinking I developed while I was in Vietnam, undoing it's effects has been a slow process.
Serendipity on Steroids!This is a spectacular example of a surprise picture. Marty and I were visiting Zion National Park in southern Utah, and for hours it had been overcast and snowing steadily. (See the next picture to see what most of the day had looked like.)
Marty said, "We should go see the end of the road."
I said, "In this weather, there will be nothing to see!"
We went, and as we drove up the road, the clouds broke. My jaw dropped with our good fortune!
This was what most of the day had looked like. I got some nice pictures,
but there was no way a spectacular panorama was going to appear on this
kind of day! No way!
I'm so happy that Marty was stubborn and insisted we go to the end of the road.
|This is the north entrance to Zion National Park, that same day, a little later in the day.|
|The Mirror Lake area, in the High Uintas, east of Salt Lake City, also produces spectacular winter shots, and sometimes those winter shots can be taken as early as October!|
In July 2002 my father died at age 91. I admired him, and I admired his life: he'd done a lot with it. He'd been getting old for a long time, so it was no surprise when he passed away. Like his sister Margaret, his brain giving out was the most tragic symptom of aging. His memory of recent events got poor, but right up to the end he could play a mean game of rummy.
I set up a web site for him. He had written an autobiography, and I posted it on the site. I also collected pictures and added those. I update the site now and again when I get access to more pictures of him.
His death was expected, so it caused no great ripples in my life, but it did uncover an unexpected scar from the Sue Catastrophe years: I found I was reluctant to deal with large sums of money.
I found this out because after I got my inheritance I parked it in a checking account for many months. For months I found that every time I started thinking about investing that money, I got anxious, and I stopped thinking about it. When I noticed that happening, I thought back and realized that even before the inheritance, I'd been parking large sums in highly liquid form: cash, traveler's checks and the like.
I thought more about it, and realized that this thinking pattern was a strongly reinforced habit I'd picked up in the 90's when all my money was vulnerable to IRS and ORS raiding. This is yet another example of the scarring I underwent because of our community's clumsy social policies on divorce and bankruptcy. In the nineties I had had to relearn all my thinking about money. Rather than practice investing, I had to practice hiding. Rather than think about, "What are the risks, returns and tax consequences of this proposal?" I had to think, "If I put money in this project, will it have a social security number attached to it? Can the IRS or ORS find it and take it away from me?"
These were not hypothetical problems, either. The IRS did raid my bank accounts, twice, and I have already mentioned the ORS judgment. The IRS got $300 for their troubles. When I think about how little these institutions got in confiscating raids from me over the years, I feel the warm glow of accomplishment... and then I cry inside because I realize how much my thinking was scarred by the effort. My God, this experience has been unnecessarily expensive!!
Finally, I steeled myself, and I opened a mutual fund account... almost.
A few weeks later I planned to do it again... and it wasn't done.
This time I'm really going to do it!...
I was simply amazed at how hard this was for me to do! I finally did get it opened. I now invest again, but I'm not nearly as comfortable doing so as I was in my twenties and thirties. It was a strange, strange feeling discovering this. The habits of 90's Panic Thinking will have to be broken down piece by piece.
When I finally did get the money invested, the act did something else, too. It brought me some inner peace, and confidence. Finally... FINALLY... my world was getting back to "normal." My self-image has always been one of being a saver and investor, so all these years without being able to do either were corroding my self-image. The act of investing was a big step in unlearning the terrible habits I'd had to pick up during The Catastrophe. As I started investing again, as my mind started thinking, "You do have a future." again. I started thinking about other things, as well, such as science fiction. My Panic was subsiding.
On the work front, I got a serendipitous break. Jeff Short, my old associate from CompUSA days, called. He was now working for an outfit called CBT Nuggets which made CBT (Computer Based Training) training videos. He wanted to know if I was available to write technical quiz questions. I'd done some quiz questions before while I was working at NTS, so I said, "Sure."
This turned out to be something I was good at. I'd watch the CBT training videos, and when I saw an interesting tidbit, I'd stop the video and write a question about the tidbit. My background in Microsoft products and Internet technology served me well: I understood the jargon, and what the trainer was trying to say.
First I did Microsoft product videos, and then I migrated into Cisco product videos, and... I learned a lot! I had heard about Cisco products for years, they were a common migration path for trainers who had mastered Microsoft training. Now I was making that same migration in a back door sort of way.
My first health shock came at a Toastmasters meeting in 1988-9. An attractive woman whispered in my ear, and I couldn't understand her! Now that was a disappointment, indeed! For the next few weeks I listened to many things carefully... and discovered I could no longer hear watches ticking (not the quartz kind, silly!). My hearing was declining.
In 1994 I found I could not read the embossed lettering on black plastic pieces anymore. My eye sight was going. I bought some reading glasses, and they helped a lot for a couple years. Then I noticed that at night streetlights were showing up as double images -- doubled in the up and down direction. I was developing astigmatism. Because I was wearing reading glasses a lot, my lower eyelids were dropping, and they were no longer supporting my eyeballs the way they had in the past. This made the astigmatism. I got prescription glasses.
Ever since the Army, I've put on a few pounds every year. By the nineties this was getting to be a lot of pounds. In retrospect I was loosing energy as early as 1997, and in 2000 my legs started swelling a lot during summer heat. In the late nineties I started putting health entries in my diary.
In spring 2003, I started developing spots in my macula (the reading part of the retina), and that made it "doctor time". I got a checkup, which lead to another checkup... A couple months and a couple thousand dollars later, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and moderate sleep apnea. I started pill-popping and sleeping with a CPAP machine. These have helped.
In sum, by 2003 I was no longer a young man of excellent health. I was now old and suffering some chronic health problems. This took some getting used to. It's something I'm still getting used to.
Yet Another System to Complain about: Healthcare
As I was diagnosed with high blood pressure, I became a regular participant in the healthcare community. This was a part of the world I had not visited regularly since elementary school.
Like visiting Korea or other strange places, my first reaction was: how strange. Unlike Korea, I still think that!
My experiences have been with just two healthcare systems: the IHC healthcare complex in Salt Lake, and the Saint Vincent hospital complex in Suwon, Korea.
My main feeling about the IHC environment is: Am I visiting a healthcare facility or a high priced lawyer's office? The first time I went I signed a half dozen legal forms. Each subsequent visit I sign at least two more. Much of the medicine seems defensive, and it's all expensive. Whew!
My main feeling about the Saint Vincent environment is that it's crowded but efficient at moving people through it. And visits are about one eighth the cost of visits to IHC: I see a Saint Vincent doctor for eight dollars a visit.
I attribute the root of these differences to two aspects of the American healthcare environment: first, American healthcare is completely dominated by this odd arrangement where patients are not the healthcare provider's customers: insurance companies are the customers. Patients are tickets that health care providers punch to get money from insurance companies. This is further complicated by the tight tie between being employed and being insured. The system is "loopy", so it's not surprising that the results are loopy. What is surprising is that I hear no large public outcry to let market forces straighten out what the healthcare industry offers patients.
In Korea health insurance is a new feature. Healthcare has traditionally been pay-as-you-go, and it shows. The customer service is a lot better in Korean healthcare facilities.
The one aspect I think the American system may be better at is diagnosis. The Korean doctors seem quite ready to shoot-from-the-hip in their diagnosing. Moral: get the trouble diagnosed in America, and treated in Korea.
In summer of 2003 I had another chance to work with a startup company. Marty had started working with a couple old friends of his on a company that was developing a new system for selling real estate. They called this new system Teams and Technology, and one of the things the new group needed, Marty pointed out, was someone to write up their product documentation and manuals. He invited me on board.
The group was small, about seven people, mostly in their twenties and thirties. We had a couple meetings, and I started writing. The concept was exciting. In a nutshell... real estate is all about selling, and that selling process is split between among numerous groups: agents, brokers, mortgage people, and title people are the main ones. In recent years, thanks to the impact of better computers and communications, there had been a change in the balance of power between brokers and agents. Agents were able to do a lot more of the process. This was putting a squeeze on broker growth and profits -- agents were choosing to work with discount brokerages rather than full service brokerages. The Teams and Technology concept was an attempt to put more usable computer resource in brokerage hands so that they could continue to add value as they historically had.
As I learned, I wrote about the product. I met with the people who were developing the business and I liked them. When we met, we talked about the product specifically, and I came up with questions about, "Who is the target market?" and "How is this collection of stuff going to be packaged?" These were questions I needed answered to do my writing. Some they had answers for, and some they didn't. When they didn't, I offered some suggestions, and they liked them.
When Marty first offered me the work, I was not expecting much. I've worked with enough startups to know that most are pretty flaky affairs. But some make it big. That's why we all keep trying.
This one was not one destined to make it big. It became afflicted with The Creeping Feature Creature -- the founders kept changing was the product was. As they did, the product got fuzzy, and the people whom they were trying to sell it to got disinterested. And, as it got fuzzy, I could not write about it anymore.
In the end Marty bailed out, and I did too, but not before I had to spend a lot of time begging, pleading and threatening to get paid for what I'd already done for them.
It had promise, but in the end it was yet another domestic business experience gone sour.
While I was writing quiz questions and describing real estate selling systems, I was getting regular visits from Mr. Kim. He had shut down his school and gone into semi-retirement. He came to Salt Lake every so often because he liked golfing and gambling. He would golf in Salt Lake and gamble in Wendover. (He felt Wendover had "looser" slots than Las Vegas.)
I worried a bit about his gambling. He would tell me about his winnings, but I kept wondering if I was getting the full story. I would travel with him to Wendover some times, and he worked the slot machines there the way I played Asheron's Call at home. The difference was: win or lose, I paid only ten to thirty dollars a month.
Wendover is yet another interesting place. Wendover got it's start during World War II. It was a "secret city" built to service the Wendover Air Force base which used the Great Salt Lake Desert as a bombing practice range. It would have become a ghost town after World War Two except that US 20, and later I-80, crossed western Utah there, and some people who live in Utah like to gamble. Wendover sits right on the boundary between Utah and Nevada, and the State Line Casino has it's parking lot in Utah.
Historically, the Utah side was the bigger side, and the Nevada side was there just to hold the casinos that kept the town in existence after the Air Force shut down the base. But things were changing, and by the 2000's, the Utah side was a slum, and the Nevada side was doing all the growing. For years the people of Utah Wendover had been lobbying Utah state government to let them put up casinos, too, but to no avail.
Kim's favorite was the Rainbow Casino. When I went with him in 2003, I found all the slot machines there were computerized and controlled by a network system. About half looked traditional and spun mechanical wheels (Kim's favorite), and half used video screens instead of mechanical wheels (my favorites because you didn't have to sit upright to use them, and they offered more variety in displays.)
I would play a little, and get bored. I'd be thinking, "If I wanted to spend time in front of a video screen, I should be in front of a video screen playing Asheron's Call." and go up to our room to watch TV, then sleep. Kim would play through the night. I'd get a good night's sleep and we would breakfast in the morning, and I'd drive him back to the Salt Lake airport.
Kim visited several times, and one time he came over with his wife and announced, "I'm opening a school, again." And give me some details. I helped him pick out a name, and helped him recruit teachers and an academic director.
After a few months he told me that things weren't going as well as he hoped, and that his Academic Director wasn't working out. "Would you be interested in coming back to Korea as an Academic Director?"
Nothing in the US was looking strong at the time, so I said, "Sure. I'll be glad to help out." The last day of February 2004, I flew out to begin my fifth stay in Korea.
Like all the other trips to Korea, this one was different. This time I was headed over to help a startup company get on its feet. This time I was going to a different school in a different part of town. (Suwon, like many cities in the US, had an aging core, and Yeongtong, where I was headed, was a "new town" suburb of Suwon -- a place built about five years ago.) This time I would be teaching middle schoolers, not adults.
pictures from Michigan Language Academy
Mr. Kim had a new concept for this new school. Yeong tong, where the school was located, was populated with a lot of people who worked at the Samsung Electronics complex which was located nearby. Many of the workers there were relocated to overseas assignments part of the time. Others were ambitious and wanted their children to study in the US or Canada. Mr. Kim was targeting the middle school and older elementary school children of these families. He was offering them advanced English courses in reading, writing and conversation.
It was an interesting marketing concept, but it was floundering because he did not have teachers that could back his claims, so he was losing students. My first, and most important, project was to shake up the teacher team and get a teaching program going that would match our marketing.
Korea was snowy when I arrived. Shortly after I got there Seoul was blanketed with a freakish March blizzard. I got some photos, slipped and fell, but luckily hurt nothing.
I never met the man I was replacing. He stopped showing up at school a couple days before I arrived, and went to teach in Japan. I was to move into his apartment, but he delayed on moving out so I ended up staying with the Kim's for a couple weeks. He was leaving angry, so I wasn't surprised to get bills addressed to him for months after I moved in.
We had five American teachers when I came on board. Two good ones (one was me), two satisfactory ones and one unsatisfactory one. The good teachers were gaining students and building the school reputation, the satisfactory ones were keeping their students, and the unsatisfactory one was losing students.
The first month I did a lot of things at the same time:
Korea kept me busy this time, and it was "good busy." I was helping grow a company. I had originally planned to stay for six months, but the work was so satisfying that I extended and stayed a full year. Michigan Language Academy was losing money when I came, and making money when I left, and I had done my part to make that transition happen. It was a warm, fuzzy feeling.
My four part plan was coming back, too. Here I was working hard at a real job, and I was saving money. I also met some interesting women, too. I wasn't able to convince any of them to get interested in me, but it was a healthy start.
And I was steadily feeling better. The Panic was receding, and so was the post-panic despair. I was feeling optimistic. So optimistic, in fact, that I started looking for a future.
By summer I felt the next step in getting established back in the US was reconnecting with something in the US, and one way to do that would be to get back into college. The logical way to go back to college was to study for a PhD. I started researching that....
One of the key pieces I was going to need to apply for a PhD program was standardized test scores -- GMAT's and GRE's. It had been twenty years since I took those. What would I get now? Only one way to find out....
Actually, I did quite a bit of preparation for taking the test for six weeks prior to taking it. I bought a couple books of practice tests, and went through about four each of the GMAT's and the GRE's. I found them very similar, so they were synergizing as well.
Mr. Kim was impressed with my ambition to get a PhD, but not impressed with my preparation for the tests. "If you're going to take these tests, you should study for them very hard... take a course in test taking."
"Not needed." I said, "First, I'm good at tests, and second, these tests are designed not to be studied for."
I also read a couple books on the PhD application process. They confirmed that my basic strategy of picking a thesis topic first, then finding a school to support it, was a sound one. By July I was ready.
In the middle of a heat wave, I flew to Japan and took the GMAT's and GRE's. Gosh! It was hot! I was planning on doing a day of touring while I was in Japan, but the heat just flattened me. Fortunately, Japanese buildings are as air conditioned as any in the world, so I wasn't suffering as I took my tests....
Whoa! A 98 percentile on my GMAT verbal! As the instructions say, "You don't often see much higher than 98."
The rest of my scores were good, but that was the highlight. As I flew back from Japan, I knew what kind of school I could aim for with my applications: The Top Ten!
I applied to Top Ten schools because of the dramatically different experiences I had between my MIT Bachelor's degree and my University of Phoenix Master's degree. The MIT degree was a door-opener, even after I got the U of P master's degree. The U of P master's degree, on the other hand, was never more than a "check mark" degree -- it never opened a door, it just got me a check mark in the box on application forms that said, "Graduate Studies?" I badly needed a new, better, door opener now, so I half-dropped my hunt for a "sympatico professor" and I went for Top Ten schools instead.
The application process took a lot of time. I was surprised. But I found I had the time. Work was going well. Kim and I had worked through a lot of teachers and a lot of interviews, and we were finally getting a good teacher team shaped up. The web site had more than proved it's value when a good teacher from the JAFLI days called up and said, "Hey yeah! I saw your web site, and do you have an opening?"
So, all in all, 2004 was a very good year. Even better, by the end of it Asheron's Call had changed around so much, and so badly from my point of view, that I was spending very little time with it.
I had mixed feelings about the fact that I gave up Asheron's Call without finding a successor game. I liked the extra time I got for not playing it, but I abhorred what it meant about current game developing processess. It meant that computer game designers had gotten so far off-track in their game designing that they weren't designing games that appealed to me anymore. I had always loved playing computer games since I first played Space War on a DEC PDP-9 at MIT in 1973, now, for the first time in... what... thirty years, there was no computer game being offered that I wanted to play! That was deeply, deeply sad.
Each time I change locations it brings surprises, and my return to the US in March was no exception. What was surprising this time was realizing how little community I had in the US.
I chose to live in the upstairs in Marty's house and share that upstairs with another tenant. I chose to do this rather than find a place of my own because my future in the US was so uncertain. I could get accepted into one of the PhD programs I had applied to and have to move, or I could find work that wasn't in Salt Lake City and have to move. But... after I arrived in Salt Lake City I didn't get accepted at a PhD program and I didn't find work. Surprising things happened instead.
The first surprise was that Richard Block showed up to greet me at the airport. I hadn't heard from Richard for a long time. The second surprise was that he had a new MMRPG game to show me -- something to replace Asheron's Call. I didn't need a replacement for Asheron's Call, but that didn't stop me from trying it... and then spending hours on it. (Richard played it with Marty and me for about three weeks, then disappeared back into his own world again.) Like Early Asheron's Call, City of Heroes (COH) turned into a big "time sink" for me. Sadly, this was a time when I really didn't need a time sink. What I needed to be working on was a "Plan B" in case I did not get accepted to at least one of the schools I had applied to.
In between sessions of playing City of Heroes (COH), I thought hard about what I wanted to be doing in the US. I thought hard, and the answer kept coming back, "I can't think of anything I want to be doing here!" This was most disappointing, and sent me back to playing more COH.
While I was waiting for answers to my applications I researched working for a "think tank" -- this being another avenue for doing the pontificating I like to do. What I found was that think tank companies like their analysts to have big reputations in industry and government -- analysts don't have to be PhD's, if they have been CEO's or heads of important government organizations. Sadly, I have even less reputation than I have PhD candidate qualifications, so working at a think tank was not feasible.
Increasing my distress was an incompatibility with my new housemate. He was stereotypical in several ways. He was a classical music professor. As a professional he was stereotypically sensitive professional about his "space" in the house. As a classical musician he was stereotypically sensitive about his acoustic space: he didn't want me listening to him practice, and he complained of being a light sleeper. These traits meant he insisted that my door be shut whenever he put bow to bass, and that I wear earphones when I played my computer games. He was a stereotypical East/West Coaster -- watching what I ate and wore, and commenting on it. Within two weeks it was clear that this relationship would be very short-term. Sadly, this distress also gave me even less incentive to find something in the US. My 2005 return became yet another case of another relationship with a US community going sour, and I already had way too many of those.
By the third or fourth week of March (three or four weeks after I arrived), I was desperately ready to leave, so I took the first feasible "out", and that out was to take a course to get a CELTA certificate -- there was a course starting in June in Portland, OR. A CELTA certificate is a certificate that shows you have some basic competence in teaching English as a second language (TESL).
Taking this course was a case of turning lemons into very sour lemonade. Getting a CELTA certificate would get me out of Marty's place quickly, and let me apply for teaching positions in Europe and the Middle East (Europe/ME) after a month of course taking. Europe/ME are places where an ESL certificate is the basic requirement rather than a college degree. (in the Far East, such as Korea, a four year college degree is the basic requirement.) Getting a CELTA certificate would let me continue to use ESL teaching as a way to learn about new cultures, this time in Europe/ME.
The bad news was that it conceded that teaching ESL overseas was now the center of my career path, not an extended sabbatical from some yet-to-be-defined "something else" that was a career waiting for me in the US. It meant that my US community ties had failed me utterly -- I was a US citizen, I had a US passport, but I was a de facto stranger to the US employment scene, and to my Salt Lake community. My returns to the US would now become vacations, and finally to retire... and I started thinking hard about whether retiring in the US made sense.
The first week of June I headed for Portland, OR. I would stay there in a "homestay", and take the CELTA training course at International House (Portland) for one month. I figured that I would have to work hard on this course because I had learned my ESL in the school of hard knocks and this was a formal training program, but, given that I've been teaching ESL for five years now, I didn't think there was any way I could fail it.
Surprise!! (read the details here.)
As the failure at the CELTA course became more and more likely, I was getting a big dose of humiliation and a gaping hole in my future plans. The teaching in Europe/ME was now looking like a sour grapes plan -- only the Gulf States in the Middle East paid well, and the Saudi schools would not hire anyone older than 55 (some labor law issue). So the money was not as good as staying in Korea, and if the schools in this region really wanted me to teach using the techniques I learned in CELTA, the teaching would not be fun, and I wouldn't be able to learn about cultures in my classes.
The quick fix for both my wounded pride and shrinking pocketbook was to go back to Korea and teach. During the third week of the CELTA class I called Mr. Kim and asked if I could come back to Korea and do some more teaching. He said, "Fine, start the end of July."
Even though failure was looking fairly certain, I stayed on through the fourth week and finished the CELTA class the beginning of July. Once it was finished I once again found myself without community, and this time without even a place to stay. For three weeks in July I alternated between motel rooms and one or two day stays with relatives, and I did a lot of driving. Portland to Boise, ID to Salt Lake City, to Greeley CO, to Salt Lake City, to Greeley, to Park City, UT to Wendover, NV... It was summer time, and the driving was hot and the rooms were all expensive. It was ironic. I had a whole month of free time, but it was not fun, and yet again my stay in the US was a grim time.
I also discovered that my eyesight had picked up yet another dysfunction. I traveled to Mirror Lake one night, and when I looked up at the moonless night sky, I could see where my macula was (the small area of your eye which has the best daylight vision). I looked and the stars in the macula area where distinctly dimmer than those around it. Also, nothing was really dark, the rods in my vision system (the night vision part of the eye) were producing a lot of "noise", so the black of the night sky looked dark gray instead black. I'm getting old. <sigh>
July was also a Month of Repairs: The car shed tread on two tires, and the notebook computer smoked a RAM chip. Between the seeking of habitation and the seeking of getting stuff repaired, I was a busy boy, and my bank account as power diving. To cut expenses and repairs further, I sold my car when I left for Korea -- my slate would be quite clean when I came back.
Wi Fi comes alive
The most interesting part of these travels was that WI Fi spots were just starting to spring up. At each hotel I would unlimber my notebook computer and see if I could log into someone's WI Fi network. I would park in the parking lots of hospitals, colleges and hotel/motels -- close to the main buildings -- and turn on my notebook computer. I found many networks, but almost all required a username and password to finish the login procedure. I finally broke down and bought a Starbucks (T-Mobile) WI Fi account for $20 a month. Two days after I spent that $20, I discovered that the Salt Lake Public Library had free login.
It during this stay that I got my first cell phone that could shoot pictures, and it could e-mail those pictures after I took them.
And, this was the first time I saw someone with a Blackberry device hanging from their ear.
The "Four Bag" Era
Over the 90's and 00's I'd been learning to travel lighter and lighter. This time when I went to Korea I took only four bags of stuff: my briefcase; my notebook computer; my backpack with three changes of clothes, one pair of shoes, and medicines in it; and a big bag for carrying golf clubs on airplanes. I didn't carry golf clubs in this bag. Instead I filled it with my camera bag, my CPAP bag (the CPAP is a device to help me sleep better), and a canvas bag filled with miscellaneous stuff. That was all I was going to live with for many months-to-a-year while I stayed in Korea. The only other stuff I owned, mostly photo albums, I stored in a five-by-ten storage shed.
Much had changed at MLA in the four months I had been away. The people had changed, there had been some crisis as the people changes took place, and once again the school was losing money. Warren was now the Academic Director, while I was a teacher, and a Mr. Yeong was now assisting Mr. Kim. Mr. Kim suffered his own crisis. His mother had a stroke, and he was taking a lot of time and money to attend to her.
But these crisis ranged around me rather than through me, and for four months the stay was once again a placid one for me. After the drubbing I took at CELTA, this was a time in which I rebuilt my confidence that I was a good teacher.
While I was wound-healing, I also decided I had to give the US another try, and that my next campaign to return to the US would once again be based on education. But this time I would follow a tried-and-true tactic for me: follow the invitations. When my GMATs had been circulated in 2004, I got a lot of e-mails from various business schools about MBA programs. I ignored those because I had PhD on my mind, but now I went back and reviewed them. It looked like most of the "heat" in those e-mails concerned a field of study called Supply Chain and Logistics, so I researched that area on the Internet. I found it was compatible with my background, and had the potential to be an interesting challenge. I researched schools to find those most prestigious in this field, and I sent out a round of applications.
I also researched and started sending out my science fiction stories to SF magazines again, too. There had been changes in this area since my last effort to get science fiction published. The themes of TV shows and popular movies where now dominating the SF writing scene even more than they had in the eighties (when I had last been a regular submitter). Also, a lot of the publishing was now web-based. Both of these seemed to have reduced the market for "original" science fiction -- that not linked to a popular TV or movie universe such as Star Trek, Star Wars or Stargate SG-1 -- the kind I have been writing. With research I found four publishers of original science fiction, and found their submission procedures had not changed one whit: one submission at a time, printed double spaced on plain white paper, and so on. I fired up my "submission engine" again, and started sending out my stuff. (I found the rejection slips had not changed much, either.)
Then the crisis at MLA caught up with me: there weren't enough students for me to teach in November, and Kim asked me to leave until January. Ouch! I'd planned on leaving for the US in the summer of 2006, not fall of 2005. Since I had sold my car, coming back to the US to kick around for a couple months just made no sense at all. It would be hugely expensive -- either I would come back to the US to stay, or I shouldn't come back at all.
I researched what else I could do, and the answer stared me right back in the face, unblinking: take the CELTA course again. I found I could take the course in Bangkok, Thailand on short notice, and it would cost 25% less than it had in the US (US$1400 vs $2200) and Thailand would be a cheaper place to spend a month than the US. And, I would get a lot of personal closure if I passed that course. Failing the course had bugged me so much that I was doing some complaining to the main CELTA organization just so I would feel better.
I headed south, into jungle heat, and spent a month in Bangkok. (My stomach didn't mind the heat, or the strange food, but my knees did. I was hobbling the first couple weeks as a tendentious in them flared up in the humidity.) The first three weeks of the course I worried, but this time I did OK -- I got along well with both student teachers and teacher teachers, and I did a better job of merging my native teaching style with the CELTA format. Then, near the end of week three, I got something bigger to worry about: I got an e-mail from my brother saying my mother, Mike, was seriously sick and likely to die soon.
One Night... uh... Month! in Bangkok
Thailand was an interesting contrast to Korea. Both are East Asian countries that suffered a tremendous shock when Europeans with advanced technology showed up on their doorsteps in the 17- and 1800's. Both are now developing rapidly. They also have a lot of differences. Korea was colonized by Japan while Thailand was the only Southeast Asian nation that managed to stay uncolonized. Since World War II Korea has industrialized heavily to advance while Thailand has taken a more balanced approach. Both started with a Buddhist background in the 1700's, but Korea is now mostly Christian.
Bangkok has picked up most of it's English influence from the UK (think of The King and I story), while Korea has picked up most of its from the US (due to the Korean War and the US military presence that is still there). These days are lots of British tourists in Bangkok, and the CELTA English classes were I was training were based on UK text books and a UK style of teaching.
Bangkok is dense-pack urban. It has little green space and legendary traffic jams to prove it. The rest of Thailand I can't speak about. Seoul also has traffic jams, but the traffic is almost all cars and trucks. There are few motor scooters, and no tuk-tuks (three wheel "buses" that are between motor scooters and cars in size.)
In Korea traditional food is supplemented by Chinese and Japanese dishes, and fairly faithful reproductions of American fast food. In Thailand traditional Thai food is supplemented with Indian food, Chinese food and "fusion food". Fusion food is inspired by American and European foods, but it comes out quite differently.
Thailand has not developed as rapidly as Korea, and the Koreans have a reputation in Thailand of being dour and having no fun. The ESL teachers I met in Thailand were happy to be teaching there, even though they made little money compared to what I made in Korea. They hated the small money they made, but they stayed because they loved the Bangkok lifestyle.
Speaking of a night in Bangkok, I noticed something else interesting: No place I have visited or lived is proud of having its local women described as "loose women." Each place I've visited is proud of having lovely, loving and virtuous women, but each also has prostitutes who are "professionally loose." What is different from place-to-place is acceptable behavior for the loose and the virtuous women.
The virtuous women of the community support each other and form the backbone of the conventional community. The professionally loose women form their own smaller community and are supported by the males of the community, and by stranger males who are in the community for one reason or another. As a result the professionally loose community varies much more in its structure and size than the conventional community does.
In Korea of this era, Internet was necessary, cheap and ubiquitous. In Thailand Internet was nice, expensive and available sometimes and some places. I could only get my notebook computer (and e-mail) connected every couple of days. This meant that news of my mother's condition was uncertain and usually a day or two behind current events. When I got the e-mails about how serious her condition was, I rush finished the CELTA course on Tuesday night (instead of Friday night), found out my mother had died as I was finishing it, and I jetted out Wednesday at 1AM on a Bangkok-to-New York flight. This was a wild experience because fate kept intervening so that I could not get a reservation. I just headed for the airport and hoped I could get a seat and a ticket. The plane heads due north out of Bangkok, goes within a couple hundred miles of the North Pole, takes sixteen hours to make the trip (that's eight in-flight movies), and arrives at 6AM Wednesday (sixteen hours of continual darkness). I was in Lansing, Michigan with my brother that evening.
The bad news surprises did not stop there.
First off, I found myself once again in the US kicking around for a month -- now I was waiting for the start of January classes in Korea. So I bit the bullet and rented a car. To justify doing that, I drove from Michigan to Indiana to visit Purdue University and see the Krannert Business School I had applied to there. Then I drove to Boston to visit the MLOG school at MIT that I had also applied to. I found both to be good schools, but as car unfriendly as I expected. When I went to MLOG, it took me over an hour to drive from a hotel in a nearby suburb just twelve miles away, and it cost me $11 an hour to park in the parking garage. This is something I can't understand: the people of MIT and the people of Boston have been living with this kind of self-abuse for over 30 years now. These are supposed to be some of the brightest people on the planet, but they can't figure out how to accommodate cars???????
The conclusions I drew from this tour were: a) both schools had adequate physical facilities, and the people I talked with had their heads in the right places. b) If I chose to go to either, I would put off buying a car until after I had finished. It would be a time and rescource-consuming albatross if I owned one while attending either of these schools.
The family came to Mike's funeral service. A small surprise there: Mike had converted to Catholicism a week before she had died, so she was buried with a Catholic service that my brother and his wife arranged. A big surprise there: I learned that Mike had considered me a prodigal son.
This left me with still a couple weeks of kicking around. I spent some time building a web site for Mom like I had for Dad. I decided to go back to Korea via Europe and investigate a couple ESL schools in Europe. I looked over the job openings and found two schools looking for people: Caledonian School in Prague, Czech Republic and Profi-Lingua in Poland. I applied, and arranged for visits. Doing this trip in a low-budget way took a half day's research between me and a travel agent in Lansing. We came up with my leaving from Chicago on Christmas Day for London, then traveling to Berlin by train. I would have three days to explore Poland and Czech, then I would jet out of Prague to Seoul via Frankfort, and arrive Dec 31st. I would much rather have been settled and teaching, but it wasn't a bad alternate plan.
The bad news surprises did not stop there.
As Mike's service was ending and the family was catching up, I found that Sue's mother, Dorothy, was also deathly ill, and in a couple days I heard she had died. I hastily folded up shop in Michigan, spent more money, and jetted to Salt Lake City to attend funeral services there. This time I met a lot of Sue's family whom I had not seen for ten to twenty years. It was a funny feeling as my brain updated mental images of these people. Updating mental images of people we know is something the brain does automatically, but when you present to your brain a crowd of people you haven't seen for ten or fifteen years, it's working in overdrive to do the catch-up, and you can feel it happening.
Christmas Eve came and my adventure with flying around on fully-packed planes kicked into high gear. Even the DEC 25th, Christmas Day, flight was fully packed. This was disappointing, I was trying for a flight all to myself. Then a bit of relief: I started the train leg of this adventure, and I trained from London to Brussels. The train was what I wanted my plane flights to be like: smooth, quiet, sparsely populated and easy to get on and off.
The bad news surprises did not stop there.
I had twelve hours to kill in Brussels before I got on the midnight overnighter to Berlin, and I was sleep deprived and jet-lagged, so I just hung around the train station, moving from shop to shop in the area. About hour nine, some pickpockets targeted me, distracted me, and made off with my briefcase. CRAP! If you live with only four bags, and someone takes one... CHRIST! THIS GETS OLD! (It was just February of this year that I got attacked by the pickpockets in Istanbul.) The most expensive item lost: my hearing aids. The most priceless: the pictures of both funeral services. The most inconvenient: my glasses for computer work. <Sigh> Once again: the damage to me was a thousand times the benefit to the thieves. It's amazing communities tolerate this.
Well, that pickpocket attack derailed plans to visit ESL schools, and it ended my plans to teach in Europe. The plan has been shakey before I left the US. While I was waiting around in Michigan, I had applied to and was accepted by, the Caledonian School people in Prague. After I was accepted I talked with the interviewer about how much they were paying. He said they paid roughly $10 a class, and I had to cover my own housing out of that. (By comparison, in Korea I got paid $25 a class and my housing was paid for.) I had been considering taking the Caledonian school offer as a way to learn about Europe in-depth, but what this second pickpocket attack taught me was that I now looked like a prime pickpocketing target in Europe. I could no longer expect to travel "budget solo" in Europe, and be safe from pickpockets. Given that constraint, it was going to be hard to enjoy traveling around, which meant it made no sense to be teaching there. In 2005 I had visited Istanbul, London, Brussels and Prague, and experienced at traveling as I am, I was "gulled" in all of them except London. Poorer and sadder, I flew into Seoul/Incheon once again, and 2005 ended on a deeply grim note.
Life in the USFamily get-together while I'm in the US in 2005. Here I'm clowning with Sue's pet snake.
|Adrienne and Jason, and my two grandchildren! Benjamin and Jaden.|
|More clowning around. This time with hair. This is Heather with her then boyfriend, Ward, now her husband.|
|More hair clowning with Altair and Alan.|
|And some cat clowning with Roger III. He's a student at the U of U in this picture.|
When none of my PhD applications were accepted in 2005, I thought about what to do next. What to do in the US remained a mystery, but I did come up with a hypothesis to solve the problem. The hypothesis was that I was having problems in the US because I no longer had any community in the US -- my family, the people I had worked, my friends whom I gamed with, they had scattered and adapted their lives to my not being around. Now it was difficult for me to fit in.
The solution, according to this hypothesis, was to engage in some community building activities in the US. I thought about this further, "Where are active community building places in the US?" The answer came back to me pretty quickly, "Colleges are active community building places in the US. Students from all over the world come to US colleges, and there they form new communities while they are at the college."
Aha... so... I need to go to college not just for a degree, but to build a community! And, if community building is the center of the activity, then the degree is less relevant. I dusted off those old e-mails about Supply Chain Management and Logistics and started researching applying for an MBA instead of a PhD.
In the fall I sent out four applications: to MIT MLOG program, U of Saragossa in Spain (which had a twin of the MIT MLOG program), Krannert School of Business at Purdue, and University of Texas at Arlington. These schools all have supply chain related programs. I also read through two text books on Supply Chain. Maybe I couldn't get into a PhD program, but I sure had enough background to get into one of the MBA programs. This would "freshen up" my U of Phoenix MBA, and let me build up a community among B-school students. It was a good match all the way around.
I sent out applications in fall 2005, and then kept busy waiting for acceptances in spring 2006. My problem of, "What to do in the US?" went on the back burner until I had to worry about which school to pick from.
In sum, 2005 was a year of rising spirits -- I was feeling more empowered -- but also of deep, dark surprises and unexpected expenses. My uncle died, my mother died, my ex-mother-in-law died, I found I had no community in the US, I flunked the CELTA course once, and the Teach-in-Europe project turned terribly sour in the face of a failed CELTA class, poor pay offered, pickpocket attacks and predatory taxi drivers.
For two months of the year I was taking involuntary vacations at full vacation costs: I was paying for rented cars and rooms by the night. For two months of the year I was taking a CELTA course which was marginally less costly than straight vacationing, and for three months of the year I was in my own apartment looking for work. This meant that only five months of the year I was doing fulfilling, productive work. This was a 2005 that was nothing close to the 2005 I had envisioned at the beginning of the year.
Thoreau was famous for admonishing, "Simplify, simplify, simplify." In the first part of 2006 I managed to do just that. My life centered around just three things: teaching at MLA, playing the computer game City of Heroes and writing down my "wisdom" as essays and science fiction stories. This was when I started my Brains and Genes book. Not only did I write, I continued submitting to those science fiction publications I had researched out in 2005.
Life was placid enough that I also was successful at controlling my diet and losing some weight. I found that I now had enough experience teaching children that doing so wasn't too stressful, either.
Other than that, life in the first half of 2006 was not the sort of living that one can tell stories about... so... time passes.
But, one extra special project does fall out of all this placidity.
Mixing Brains and Genes was a surprise. I went into the project thinking, "I've written several essays about humans and evolution over the last ten years. It's time to do some assembling, and make a book on this." I was expecting to do a mostly cut-and-paste book, based on my previous writings. But, when I actually put fingers to keyboard, what came out instead was a marvelous twice-told-tale. I found that I had done so much more thinking about mankind and evolution over the years that cut-and-paste was not going to express what I was feeling now.
So, wisdom reared its head, and what came out instead was a whole bunch of new concepts and interesting insights. Being able to assemble Mixing Brains and Genes was one of the best parts of the relaxing from the panics of 2005, and the high point of 2006.
Life in KoreaTeaching at Mikum Elementary School in eastern Kyonggi province. I was the first American these kids had had a chance to see up close. It was an hour's drive east of Suwon, and Tok-han Kim and I did that drive for four days.
|A couple of sweethearts from the 3rd/4th grade class. I taught a 1st/2nd grade class, a 3rd/4th grade class and a 5th/6th grade class.|
|This student from the 5th/6th grade class made me this special poster.|
Here it is, up close. It's a little misspelled but it says, "I love
These kids were all very sweet, and it was a fun four days I spent teaching there.
|More students hard at work writing down, "Eeny meeny, miney, moe..." the choosing rhyme I was using to pick who would answer questions.|
|More students just having fun for the camera.|
In April a dark cloud started to grow in my horizon, and by August it was big and rainy: none of the schools I had applied to in 2005 were sending me acceptance letters! Ouch! Without a school acceptance, my plan for using a school program to rebuild my US community was in the trashcan! In July I began researching "Plan B", but I came up with nothing I could pursue from Korea. I found I was simply waiting for my US return, and writing wisdom while I waited.
As summer rolled by, decisions from the schools came in: MIT MLOG and Saragossa ZLOG were first: and they responded with flat-out, "No thank you."'s. Krannert then replied with, "You have made it to the waiting list." By the end of summer, I'd heard nothing from my fallback school, University of Texas at Arlington.
Even through I didn't have an acceptance, I decided to return to the US anyway. But I was uneasy about the choice. I still hadn't resolved the issues that had driven me away last time, and I'd now been out of the US for a long, long time. I returned because I really wanted to fit in.
I was hoping for a miracle: I was hoping that I would get a warm reception when I came back, and a job opportunity would come out of the blue. Sadly, I got an average reception instead: I walked off the plane in Salt Lake and started another "vacation in the US."
I was worried before I left. So when I didn't see a miracle happen at the Salt Lake airport, I quickly panicked and my thinking focused down. First on the list: find work. Second on the list: stay light-footed -- don't commit to owning assets.
I stopped looking for furnished apartments to rent. I had started looking for a furnished apartment while I was still in Korea. But I found them very difficult to locate through Internet searching. When I got to Salt Lake and the reality of having no work lined up hit hard, I stopped looking, period. I also stopped looking for cars and cell phones to purchase.
The panic deepened, and in two days I was on the phone to Kim about coming back. He was surprised to hear from me so quickly, so his answer was, "I'll call you back."
In the meantime, I rented a room in a motel, and rented a four-by-four pickup truck. Yeah, I was back to "vacationing in the US"-mode. I was now trying to keep costs down while I waited for a way out to appear.
I looked for work in the US, but not very aggressively. I wasn't aggressive because after many years of trying, I still couldn't figure out what the Sam Hill I wanted to do in the US these days! What I did work at aggressively was searching the Dave's ESL web site for other Korean Job Listings. I looked aggressively for alternatives to going back to work for Mr. Kim -- in case he had to put me off again. I figured that with my experience teaching in Korea, coming up with an alternate position in Korea would be straightforward. It should have been... but no one in Korea gave me an offer! ...Ouch!
Once I made my call to Mr. Kim asking to come back, I was back into waiting mode -- now I was waiting to return to Korea. My life that fall in the US settled into a curious routine:
The curious part was that this routine felt just fine. I didn't feel like I was missing out on anything by not having more variety in my routine. But I did worry. The most worrisome part was simply that it was so expensive! I wasn't doing anything but writing stories and playing computer games, but I was still spending about $3,000 a month! The second worrisome part was I wasn't doing anything with my life. I was just cooling my heels waiting for a break. I was feeling OK, but I was still in a panic because of my lack of plan and that huge spending rate.
Six weeks after the first call to Kim, I returned to Korea to work with him again. Then I started to relax again. Once again, I had a fit, and a meaning in my community. I relaxed enough to finally call the University of Texas at Arlington to find out what had happened to my application there. That was my "fallback" application -- my sure thing -- and yet I had not been accepted.
When I called, I found that the application had slipped through the cracks between the Admissions Office and the Graduate Office, and lost its "worksheet." Without its worksheet, the processing on it had stopped, and the UTA procedure had no way for UTA, or me, to discover its in-limbo status. I was furious, but I got no apology from the UTA people. As the Admissions people and I discovered what had happened, the final word on the matter was provided by some lady in the Admissions Office, "We process thousands of applications through here. We can't be worried if yours didn't go through perfectly."
When I returned to Korea and the panic started to subside once again, it became time yet again for planning. Since the "Refresh the MBA with Logistics" plan had fallen through, it was time to make yet another a new plan. This time I swung back to the PhD side again, and the basis for this new PhD would be using Mixing Brains and Genes as a thesis. This would be the centerpiece for a new graduate study effort, and I would fill in courses and a degree around it. Once again I researched....
The first obstacle this time was finding the right pigeonhole -- what department at a university would care about the ideas I was expressing in Mixing Brains and Genes? Researching on the Internet lead me to Evolutionary Psychology, and I queried about two dozen Ev-Pysch professors at various schools asking them about whether or not they would consider working with the ideas in Brains and Genes as the basis for a thesis, and, if they weren't interested, did they know some who was? As expected, most responded with some equivalent of, "Huh?", and a few showed more interest. In the end, though, none showed enough of the right kind of interest for me to get interested in applying to their programs. Brains and Genes remains a strictly Whiteworld web publication, and I remain without a PhD program to apply to. The two most common longer responses to my inquries were, "This isn't my field, sorry." and "This isn't science as practiced at the PhD level, because the ideas are too broad, and the experiments you have proposed don't sound very scientific because they are not designed to exclude other hypothesis. Perhaps you should look at being some kind of science popularizer instead?"
I found no PhD program to apply to in 2006. I did, however, spend $30 to reapply to UTA and $60 to reapply to Krannert business school programs. I'd already done all the paperwork for both, so... what the heck.
So... by December of 2006:
My obvious next change of employment was into retirement, and that would happen in one or two years. I started to plan for that.
The theme question of 2007 was, "How do I spread my good ideas?" I had now tried using them as a foundation for both a PhD and an MBA program. I had researched working for industry analysts. I had researched for other sorts of employment opportunities by keyword searching Monster.com and Career Builders. Nothing was bearing fruit.
Early in 2007 I researched publishing my ideas as popular science books instead of doctoral thesi. What I found was an environment very similar to what I found when searching for industry analyst work: for the analyst companies to be interested in me I needed a heavy-hitting resume, for publishers to be interested in me I needed a heavy-hitting promotion plan. Hmmm.... I was seeing a pattern here. What I was seeing was that a book would not be the primary distributor of an idea, it would be the follow-up explainer-in-depth of an idea that consumers heard about and got interested in through some other media channel. I had to get an idea spread around and popular, and then books would sell -- that was the mainstream publisher, and mainstream publisher agent, point of view.
In sum, everywhere I looked, the mainstream idea-spreading channels were closed to me until I become famous. Then, in any area where I did become famous, all the channels would open. This fact of life was a very logical thing to happen in environments where there are lots more ideas being presented than channels to present them, but it was disappointing again. I could see no way I was going to become famous while I worked in Korea, and I could find no work in the US that I could use as a start at becoming famous. It was just another form of the same problem I had faced for twenty years now. (Note that this was not the condition in the early personal computer industry of the 70's-80's. In that "golden age" there were not many people available with good ideas about PC's and PC networks, but a lot of people who wanted to spread ideas.)
But, I kept writing and thinking. I still enjoyed reading what I wrote, and I still found my new ideas very exciting. And, I got a new idea!
One day I was thinking to myself as I walked to dinner, "You know... you've got this neat theory about community Panic Thinking. Is there a way you can make money on it?" I thought more, and it took a while, but I developed my theory that serious blunders are the fallout of a community going into Panic Thinking mode. And, since I can see when a community is slipping into Panic Thinking, I should be able to indentify when a serious blunder is about to be committed. Umm... that's hot!
It's hot, but it's not common thinking, and there could be a lot of people who got upset over this theory if it proved to be a powerful predictor, so I chose to present it as the work of one of my City of Heroes characters, Cyreenik. This was the start of Cyreenik Says.
At first, I was very excited about this idea. I could predict when hundreds of millions-to-billions of dollars would be just frittered away... vanish into thin air with nothing good to show for them! This sounded terribly powerful! Now... how do I make money on this....
The problem, I soon discovered, was that money losing projects are hard to invest around. If Steve Jobs says, "Apple is going to make billions on iTune." and I think, "I believe him!" I can make money by investing in Apple stock -- the connection is straightforward. If George Bush says in 2003, "I'm going to invade Iraq." and I think, "BLUNDER! BLUNDER! WHOOP! WHOOP!" how do I invest in that? The connection is not straightforward. It's not like Bush said, "In four years I'm going to turn Iraq into an icky, sticky, quagmire." so I can run out and invest in quagmire stock. How do you invest in upcoming blunder? What stock do you buy?
As I did my blunder research, I found this was a consistent problem. I could point out historical blunders, I could point out who was hurt by the blunder, and I could point out the panic that made the blunder seem like a good idea at the time, but I couldn't point to organizations or companies and say, "This is a company that will benefit from this blunder." (In historical cases, I could point out who did benefit -- after the fact -- but not who would benefit -- before the fact.)
I was close. I was on to something that could become very valuable in a defensive sort of way, but I was not yet on to a good investment strategy. So... I kept thinking about it, but it was not a ticket to living in the USA: I was not going to build a community around it, or get famous with it... yet.
Some examples of Early Cyreenik Says observations:
In 2007 I spent a lot of time working around health issues, and this made me really feel old. The first half of the year my lower legs were very swollen and my knee joints gave me a lot of trouble. The problem centered around the return of blood from my legs to my body, and it turned out sitting in arm chairs -- with arms that press my legs together -- was the "straw that broke the camel's back." When I sit, my legs like to spread out to about 90 degrees. Korean arm chairs are comfy, I like sitting in them, but they are narrow enough that the arms hold my legs too close together, and the pressure is cutting down return circulation.
Once I figured this out (in late spring), and reluctantly gave up on sitting in armchairs when I taught classes, my legs started slowly healing.
The second big issue was heat. My body has been losing it's heat tolerance for many years, and each summer exactly how I suffer is a surprise. In 2007 I suffered more than usual. By the end of hot season, heat stress was spinning my hormone balance way out of whack. This was making me tired, and more oddly, made me loose many appetites. Appetites for frequency of eating, quantity of eating, entertainment and even nail-biting were all affected. The silver lining was I lost a lot of weight and my leg swelling went way down.
My vision also shifted to nearsighted, although the affect on what I saw was odd. I walk without glasses, and my "walking vision" was not affected, however my "glasses vision" was affected a lot -- my distance glasses became my best choice for computer work, and no glasses became my best choice for looking at people at the far end of a classroom.
I've been seeing a doctor regularly for about three years because of blood pressure spikes. When I told him about these new changes, he told me that these new symptoms were due to blood sugar spikes... "Oh, and your cholesterol and uric acid are spiking, too." he informed me after a blood test.
So, as the Korean summer heat faded, my pill count went up, my symptoms went down, and I was now talking pills for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and uric acid. Ah well... The good news is: I can take pills for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and uric acid!
Most of my life I have enjoyed movies and games. But for the last few years I've gotten increasingly frustrated with both movies and computer games. Both of these entertainment media have narrowed down on the kinds of fare they present, and neither is presenting enough "new stuff" -- stuff that is interesting for me to watch and participate in. More and more I have found what movie makers and computer game makers present to me is "ho-hum... been there, seen that." This year the ho-humness got so bad that my movie watching slipped from one-a-week down to three-a-year. Likewise, City of Heroes, my favorite on-line computer game, got old, and I didn't see a good replacement -- all the games I checked out looking for a City of Heroes replacement looked too much like City of Heroes... and too ho-hum.
This was not something I wanted to see happen. I enjoy being entertained. But it was happening, none-the-less.
To fill the time gap this loss of entertainment was creating, I started reading good entertaining stories... and the best of those were stories that I had written and put on White World! Man! I found them so much better than what commercial entertainment was now presenting me! Why weren't other people getting interested in those stories?
The question of why I couldn't get anyone to pay attention to my good stories lead me to research writing those stories in a new format: the screen play format. That way if someone did come up to me and say, "I like your stuff. I want to make a movie of it." I would be able to say, "Sounds like a good idea. I just happen to have... this!" and I would whip out a screen play.
I also looked at "novelizing" some of what I had written. Once again, research indicated that I had to do some things differently. The key difference was length: novels should be +80,000 words, and my long stories are 20,000 words. I reviewed my stuff and found I could gather my Baron Rostov stories and my HX alien stories into groups of 60,000 words each. So I worked on stories that would fill both out to novel length.
In 2007 I was finding I was having more fun with my classes. The fun was coming from two things: first, I was using more technology: instead of just text books in the class, I was now using Internet videos, newspaper articles from the Wall Street Journal, Science News and The Economist, a Loony Tunes cartoon DVD, and even my banjo. This variety made the classes more interesting for me, and my students.
Second, my "grandfather instincts" were kicking in: now that I had been teaching elementary and middle school students for a couple years, I found myself feeling pretty warm and fuzzy when they felt good about the classroom environment. I had come to a time in life when I was old and I was passing on my wisdom to the young, and it felt right to be doing so. Being a human with mostly neolithic culture-adapted genes, my brain was "hardwired" for this kind of change in social relation, so it was feeling pretty comfortable about it.
The fact that "the young" included really nice, really smart, really dedicated teenagers didn't hurt one bit. I had stumbled into some wonderful ergonomics here at Michigan Language Academy. I was spending a couple of hours each day talking to nice teenagers who hung on my every word. I was not world-famous, but I was sure classroom-famous, and that sure felt good.
|One of my students in 2007.|
I was always delighted at how much mileage I got out of my banjo when
I was in Korea. In the US it's something I play for personal entertainment.
In Korea my students are fascinated by it. I could only play three songs
well, but that was enough.
In 2007 I developed a slow, simple, two finger-style method of playing "Skip to my Lou", and to my surprise and delight, some of my elementary school students started learning the banjo!
Here I'm with George Santana who brought his "Turkish banjo" for a day. (Please pardon me, George, I forget its real name.)
Kansas City Star
In the mid-sixties, country singer Roger Miller wrote a song called Kansas City Star about a minor celebrety. Here are the words:
Kansas City Star
Here's what it sounds like (if this link doesn't work, try google video: Roger Miller Kansas City Star )
This song reflects well what had happened to me in Yeongtong. I walked around the community looking big, happy, chubby, with gray hair and a long white beard... and I was immediately nicknamed Santa Claus. That's fun. I did my job of teaching well, so I got respect from the people I talked to on a day-to-day basis, and that was heartwarming. So, all in all, the social environment for me in Yeoungtong was hard to beat. I knew that finding a US community that could offer as much social support as Yeongtong was going to be hard to do. It was very likely I was going to return to the US retired and alone, and it was very likely that my old, male misanthrope instincts would get their chance to fully flower when I did. I had to prepare for that.
Technology Surprise of 2007
The technology surprise of 2007 for me was discovering videos on the Internet, primarily on YouTube. What I found I could get there that delighted me was 60's songs, music videos and TV performances. Hot dog! I finally was freed from listening to some "nostalgic rock" play list that mindlessly played the Top Ten from each year, but completely missed the interesting music. I found things such as: Muleskinner Blues, Cathy's Clown, My Maria and many more that I knew existed, and I knew I liked, but I hadn't heard in twenty-to-forty years. This was entertainment technology that was adding a lot to my life!
Sadly, it was also entertainment technology that was twisted up in the intellectual property feuding of the 2000's, so the "fun" videos came and went constantly.
It's all OVER!... Isn't it?
Roger Bourke White Jr.
INT. ROGER'S CLASSROOM - DAY
This is Roger's classroom at Michigan Language Academy (MLA) in Korea.
The room is filled with a big table, surrounded by simple wooden chairs. At one end of the table is a glass-topped desk. There is a world map on one wall, and opposite the map is a wall of windows facing out onto downtown Yeongtong. A large Home Plus hypermarket across the street dominates the view.
At the desk sits ROGER. He is typing and touchpadding away furiously on his laptop. He is feverish... he seems close to completing something big...
One last tap on the touch pad and Roger says,
(in a feverish, happy way)
Yes! Yes! Yes! It's done!
He jumps up, cheering, rushes out of the classroom and down the hallway. He is headed for the lobby.
INT. MLA LOBBY - DAY
This is the lobby to the Michigan Language Academy. It is stylishly decorated with a nice reception counter on one side. On the other side is a large screen TV, and a sofa in front of it.
Sitting on the sofa, watching a golf match on TV are TOK HAN and GEORGE.
Roger comes in from the hallway, happy and half dancing,
It's done... It's done... It's done.
GEORGE and TOK HAN
(looking up from the TV)
My story-to-movie script project.
All my science fiction stories, all my fantasy stories and about half my science stories are now available as movie scripts, as well.
Whew! It's been a months-long project, but now it's all done!
GEORGE and TOK HAN
(standing up and cheering)
Yay for Roger!
FADE TO BLACK
The big new project of 2008 was to convert my stories into movie scripts.
In 2007 I could not find anyone interested in publishing my written stories, even when I "novelized" them. What I found as I searched was that book publishers are as conservative as all other entertainment media people: they want to put their money behind "proven" ideas, and if they can't put their money behind proven ideas, they want to put it behind famous people. My ideas are not proven, and I'm not famous. I ran into a brick wall.
"So," I think to myself, "as long as I am facing a brick wall, I might as well keep busy."
I thought about what other formats my stories could be told in, and movies came to mind. I did some initial research, and found that movie writing format is both very specific, and very different from book writing format.
I searched through the choices on Amazon.com, bought a book on writing movie scripts, and plunged in...
At first, it was tough. One hard part was changing the story point of view from the thinking going on inside a person's head into visual scenes and dialogs. I found that some of my stories converted easily to film format, and others were hopelessly introspective. But, I made a first pass on all of them.
The second hard part was the actual formatting of the print on the page. The movie script format was developed in the typewriter era, and it has not adapted to PC-based word processing. There is nothing like movie script format "native" on PC word processors, so getting the pages to look right was a major obstacle.
With the help of old friend Dave Deoring, I found a Word macro that produced movie script format. But... my apartment computer is of Korean ancestry (bought at the Yeongtong Home Plus hypermarket) and doesn't have Word. So, the process of movie scripting I finally worked out involved: converting Lotus Word Pro formatted stories into Rich Text Format so I could work on them at home and rewrite them as scenes and dialog, then converting the RTF formatted stories into Word format back at the office, and then doing the final conversion using the Word macro into movie script format.
I worked on the project continuously from September 2007 into April 2008. The result: 65 stories converted, creating 2,624 pages of script, which is about 44 hours of show time. In heaven, the Roger Channel will keep you in your seat for quite a while. (in movie script format, each page is a roughly a minute of show time. This is partly why the format endures.)
I learned a lot from this effort.
I learned a lot about visualizing scenes and how to produce movie-suitable conversations.
I also learned why I find so many movies and so much TV so ho-hum to watch... so ho-hum because I feel like I've seen it all before. The reason is: the writers are exhorted to produce only one kind of movie story -- the story with lots of action and lots of character confrontation. This was something the movie script book I read constantly emphasized, and something I now notice is true of many of the movies I watch.
Ah well... the project has been fun, but I it's going to be the same uphill battle to get any of these scripts I have made to see the light of a movie screen because I don't like telling action/confrontation stories. On the other hand, if my stories start seeing light anywhere... I'm now ready for both worlds -- page and screen.
On the 4th of July, 2008, I stepped off the big jet plane... back in the United States. My long stay in Korea was at an end, and an exciting new journey was to begin: living in America once again. But... that is a tale for another volume.
One... two... four lovely grandkids!Benjamin, Jaden, Dahlia and Jaina
Volume 1: The early years 1948-1966
Volume 2: College, Army, first jobs 1966-1977
Volume 3: PC Revolutionary: Computerland, Beehive, Novell 1977-1989
Volume 4: Beginning The Great Panic: Divorce, bankruptcy, mid-life crisis 1990-1993
Volume 5: Being a Sea Cucumber 1994-1997
Volume 6: Searching for a new life, 1997-2002 (and discovering how deep the Panic Scars are)
Volume 7: Recovering from Panic Thinking 2003-2008
Volume 8: Remaking a home in the USA 2008-2010
Volume 9: Searching for positive feedback 2011-