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Posted by on Sep 24, 2012

Failure as ambition, success as momentum: what brought me here to London

Tower Bridge, London, UK

My evening walk.

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. -Carl Jung

This isn’t a post proclaiming from what modest beginnings I started, but it is. I can try and avoid cliche and strive for novelty here, but I can’t. I mean I am not capable. Millions have taken this journey and millions more will. So there is nothing original here. But this is my blog, so there.

I was asked by a fellow resident in this building in London, full of international student types much much younger than me, where I was from. I answered accurately (Ohio in the US), but philosophically/intellectually I stumbled a bit. I am from a whole mess of places and, more importantly, a series of intertwined, distinct experiences that have created this present context for me. Any one of these experiences could have landed me elsewhere; combined, they drew me here. At the seat of literature and history¬† for my language and culture. We are all, those of us working in the English language, progeny of this ‘place’. My past brought me here.

Where am I from?

I am from mediocrity and failure. I was defined by it. I pushed against it. I dug in its depths. But rather than speak in this cliched prose (too late), let me try some specifics. These embarrass me to some degree, but they define me. I can’t and won’t (at least any longer) run from my past.

I grew up in a happy family in a poor, depressed town (Youngstown, Ohio). I was an uninspired student in primary and secondary education. I took the middle tier courses, including English. I had a guidance counselor in secondary school that thought I should take up a trade. That isn’t a knock against trades; that is knock against me. I never achieved all that much. I participated in not one extra-curricular activity that I can remember. But here I am at the doorstep of a doctorate.

I went to university. I tried to be a teacher. I failed student teaching, as much from my own petulance as any pedagogical or professional shortcoming. I drifted. I mustered a graduation eventually. I worked odd jobs, some teaching. I answered an ad in a newspaper and went to Korea. I stayed eight years. I met my wife. We returned and I gained momentum. It carried me, six years and two Masters degrees later, to this moment. Failure provided me ambition, an ambition to never return to those dark times; success provided me momentum.

Where am I going?

Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating. -Karl Von Clausewitz

I am dedicating myself to pragmatic concerns certainly, to advancing a particular field for a particular group of people towards measurable impact. That is the pragmatic side of it. Personally and professionally, I am dedicating myself to the intellect, to questioning and reasoning, to a ‘calling’ of the mind. For years as I was working, mostly overseas, I was at times satisfied with making a living (think a hierarchy of needs here), of paying my way. I was at times satisfied with teaching. I liked aspects of management. I learned, slowly, how to get projects done. But something kept gnawing at me, deep in my mind. That I was supposed to be doing something else. And this is that ‘else’.

If you ask me where I am going, I won’t answer that I am pursuing another career or profession, although that is there. I am dedicating myself to a way of life, a life governed, ideally, by questioning and probing and fusing our innate sense of curiosity to our worldview. It is an almost spiritual calling, profound in that way. It is tons of hard, chaotic work. It is self-doubt, self-awakening. It is a path that I begin in a few days. And I am humbled by the opportunity to do it in London, at the best school I could have possible dreamed of being involved with, at this stage of my life. A little more mature, with a greater confidence in what I can and can’t do, with a vision of my future, and with a capacity for work.

So, let’s get started. Whatever may come my way.

To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect. -Oscar Wilde

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