“Throughout history many of the INTPs who contributed substantially appear to have never fit in with established norms enforced by the institutes of scholarship. This makes sense if the institutions are fundamentally flawed and don’t consider that different people learn in different ways. School always seemed to shut my mind down rather than open it. Only by following my own interests when I wanted did I excel. I always considered grades and deadlines as hindrances to learning. Such things are more useful for teachers and administrators than for students. Whenever I wrote a paper in college I was compelled to solve some enormous problem faced by mankind. If I could not, I thought the exercise was pointless and became disinterested. Needless to say I did poorly in school only completing three years of college.” — Glen Andrew Hendler
My first memory of that horrible consuming fear that welled up from the pit of my stomach is from when I was four. I was supposed to go to swimming lessons and I really did not want to go. I remember laying in bed at nap time, fan in the window, trying to look totally asleep hoping that everyone would forget about me. I was forced to go and I survived somehow.
Things got off track about the time I was singled out. The “challenge” program was once a week, so I was cursed with having to keep up with the school I’d missed. Completely not my forte– too many lists of things I would never get around to working on. I remember sitting at different tables at challenge… with pretty boards tacked up with cool projects to work on. I remember certain ones would stick out to me as ones I would do, but most of them… there was that sinking feeling again. I don’t know what I needed, but being left there to pick, choose, and complete those things… that wasn’t it. It was a shame, though. Those teachers had worked so hard to make their pretty little boards.
In middle school I would be subjected to the ultimate humiliation: I had to carry a booklet around with me, write my assignments in it, have my teachers sign off on it, and then have my mom sign off. To have to be seen by the cool kids and the cute girls every single period… it crushed my spirit. I think that was when I lost what little tolerance I had for putting up with the bureaucratic suburbanite wasteland gulag of normalcy. I stopped trying to dress like other people and I stopped listening to the same music everyone else did. I created elaborate plans of running away with a friend– we’d picked Louisiana because there was a lot of water there and we figured we could live off fish or something. Never did it, but to the extent that someone could “drop out” but still show up every day, I did.
In high school I would exert myself on anything except the officially sanctioned curricula. I read Dune, Lord of the Rings, James Gleick’s Chaos and other books in class. I would spend enormous amounts of time tinkering with complicated wargame/rpg hybrids. I would work through Pandolfini chess exercises. I collaborated with similar folk to produce a relatively clean (but self-consciously subversive) underground newspaper– completely insane: published daily, pasted down computer printouts put together during homeroom. (Do you realize what they’re doing in those schools… all of those brilliant kids marched around and made to go to… homeroom?! What?) We lasted two weeks before we were caught and duly punished. My role was not the superstar, but more of the mastermind– I could inspire people to collaborate… and I’d somehow harness and sift everything and provide a framework from which more talented people could do their thing. Okay… not mastermind: co-mastermind. But I was an enabler… a key supporting role in the center of the action. There was definitely a controlled drama to it… but what we did had to be something that ignited a fire behind our eyes. I guess we shouldn’t have watched Dead Poets Society or anything like that….
About that time some silly girl became enamored with me. I’d thought it was something that I’d always wanted, but I completely did not know how to handle it. One minute there’s sonnets spontaneously bursting from my chest (as it were)… but I was going away for a special 5 week program. Of course I said, “I’ll write you every day.” How many letters do you think I wrote? None! Completely consumed by that mysterious paralyzing fear. What the heck is that thing!? She’d later forgive me for it, though I didn’t deserve it.
After compiling underground poetry magazines and recording completely improvised song tapes (awful, but very fun; we actually came up with a few good tunes) I was about ready for college. I hooked up with someone that taught Meisner method acting and did a couple of shows. That’s another thing I remember doing in school: memorizing my lines for the plays. The horrible sinking feeling returned after our last show. Oh yeah, there was one more show we need to do; it wasn’t on the schedule. Just a random thing the director agreed to. Mentally I was already done with it and ready to move on to the next project. I declined to do the show and left my drama pals to their own devices. I felt horrible about it, but lacking the… what, mental fortitude? Character? What? I just couldn’t make myself do it.
In college I’d settle down for a moment. I’d dabbled in so many things, but never gotten good at anything. I was completely slack with music lessons up until then. What would happen if I went all out? I had to know. I loaded up on Music Theory classes and practiced for hours every day, blowing off other tasks I needed to do. I’d play all twelve scales for over an hour at a time. I switched instruments over the summer just so we could make a band– the other guy was better than me anyway. I went nuts– but come hell or high-water we were going to have a jazz group on my campus. For two years I pursued my dream… and Wynton Marsalis actually showed up along with a dozen of the state’s best jazz musicians. It was a summer camp thing and I’d become sort of a cult hero to some of the classically trained kids there– teaching them blues scales and trying to get them to improvise something with me. (I was working a summer job in the kitchen, not attending the camp.) So it’s a late night jam session and they start playing “When the Saints Go Marching In”. I check the fingering, realized I could fake this one, and went up with the band. The crowd went nuts. It was some sort of crazy cult hero thing… they all wanted me to blow the roof off and I was soaking it all in. I played two choruses and the applause was deafening to me… and I totally got out of there because I knew that was all I had considering who else was there playing.
At the end of the night Wynton took a moment to exhort the kids. His point was to a) not hog the spotlight too much… and b) when you play something… *play* it. And to illustrate his point, right? He singles *me* out. “Where’s my man that was up here,” he says, right? Except… I was the man! Good grief. I was completely floored. (The guy that disappointed so many teachers and “broke so many hearts”… he’s the one that was called out on that night. Sheesh.)
It was not to last. I was instrumental in breaking new ground by creating some kind of jazz happening out of thin air on a campus that maybe wasn’t the most conducive environment for such activity, but… what to do after that? The wall for me was conducting and Music Theory IV– the 20th century stuff. And sight singing and ear training exercises decimated me as well. Collectively all those things… I just wasn’t as into them. Not good at them; couldn’t make myself go through the months of small daily practice in them necessary to master them– but somehow not able to see how to go about it.
So with music, I’d made my first concerted effort to become disciplined in the practice of something. I was very promising and went relatively far in a short time, but conquering one set of obstacles only revealed the next set– and I wasn’t up for them. The sinking feeling won and I wouldn’t even have a lousy major in music to show for it. Part of it was that the two years was up, the fire had gone out, and a new passion was taking its place.
I knew something was wrong. Wrong with school… wrong with the world. I read dozens of books on a cross section of topics that connected together in a randomly oblique way that made sense to me. I published an essay in the college paper that would later be lampooned as being the same style as the Unabomber. I was non-violent of course, but they were dead on about my lame polemics. I could not keep my mind off of it, though. I’d constantly be connecting the dots… everything from Lewis Mumford and Neal Postman to Noam Chomsky and Wendell Berry. I really thought I was seeing something. I put together this strange project… not really an essay… more of a collection of extended quotes from books connected by my mediocre ramblings. I heard from people years later that copies of it were passed around for a long time after. Crazy. I tried to pass it off for a project for an English class, but maybe got a C or a D for it– I was totally unorthodox in my subject matter and execution. It’s a wonder I graduated.
As far as writing goes… I never could do it. Those awful five paragraph essays they made us write in high school? I just couldn’t do it. And the drafts we were supposed to do? You’ve got to be kidding me! These things ate me up. I drifted into math practically by default. The one English class I did okay in was a summer class. I didn’t take anything else at the time and all we had to do was read some stuff and then write a short little ditty about it. Instead of agonizing essays… we just had to have something reasonably coherent that was more or less on topic. I could totally get into that. (Hey… that teacher had inadvertently invented blogging! If only he knew….) I’d also done pretty good in Philosophy 101, but my teacher was more interested in clear structure to arguments than to particular styles or premises– and he was pretty unorthodox himself. In other English classes I’d get consumed with getting ahold of the deepest truest meaning of the works involved… but the cogency was beyond my grasp. English majors would laugh at me for obsessing over the authors when they could write entire papers without having even read the books. Me? I’d read entire books looking for a way to build on a single point that would probably get thrown out of the final paper by any sane editor.
Ah well…. There’s more of this, but it’s all the same: some crazy guy with a fire behind his eyes chasing something regardless of the cost… and regardless of what the “official” specifications were. I’d thought he’d grown up and moved on… but he’s still here. He’s somehow stayed with programming for more than two years, but stylistically he couldn’t avoid being unorthodox to save his life. He makes his way somehow through the cubicals and the constantly shifting requirements, but he’s always up to something. There’s always some sort of damn fool idealistic crusade brewing in the back of his mind….