The Mature Years

Back to: The Auriferous Gravels

Well, maybe “mature” is a little too self-congratulatory. Perhaps post-Youth would be appropriate?  In any event, the sub-title should read “There is life after the Ph.D, even when you don’t get it!”

Getting an advanced degree from a prestigious university is, of course, a life-changing experience, as it should be. That means not getting same is just another kind of life-changing experience. I have reflected on it many times, and like other major events in ones life, it looks different as I have moved down the time-line, seeing the affair in different frames of reference. Looking back now, 40-some years afterward I have lingering feelings of embarrassment at some of my actions coupled with a sense of appropriateness of the outcome. It was more surprising that I was in the program than that I didn’t complete it. My path to graduate school was frequently marked out by accident and coincidence, rather than planful diligence of effort. And you don’t get high level degrees without  planful diligence of effort. I did acquire a significant amount of academic arrogance along the way, which I have been pleased to have.

So instead of becoming Doctor … I became husband, father and community participant. In my life, these were my priorities, hence my satisfaction. I do not imply here that it must always be a choice, that you can’t have both. I believe the majority of my peers did just that. But that path has its own set of contingencies.

Professionally, I became a community college instructor instead of a university professor. It was like coming home. Or at least back to a place closer to home for me than a research oriented university. I was one of those non-traditional students, to use today’s jargon. First high school graduate in my family, first college degree, so forth. I know personally how moving up the ascending path of education takes you away from your home base bringing a sense of isolation and confusion.

Quoting from my blog of October 21, 2008:

“I started teaching in the Fall of 1963, the term wherein JFK got shot. The Free Speech Movement at Berkeley followed the next year, and we were off and running through the 60’s. The question hung over my head for many years: In the face of all that was going on, what was the relevance of teaching geology? Was there any significance beyond being a decent way to make a reasonable living for my family. The answer to that question emerged slowly over the decades.”

Relevance also came up relative to research and the Bucks Batholith. Husband, father and community participant were not things I could do casually. Driven by the needs of the times and the passions of the people, particularly the passions of one very extraordinary woman who had become my wife and mother of my children, the peculiarities of how a mass of rock with the name Bucks Batholith came to be the way that it is paled to triviality.

It was during this period of time while walking the dog at night and pondering the events of the day that I discovered “The Three Golden Rules”- my name for them-. The are not categorical imperatives that one must follow. More like pragmatically good ideas to contemplate.

Rule 1:  LOOK WHERE YOU ARE GOING!

Simple enough. But commonly we do the converse of that. That is we spend our effort trying to go where we are looking. (The field geologist on a hot hill side late in the afternoon sets his sights firmly on an outcrop higher up on the hill and begins to labor through the manzanita and poison oak and after a reasonable period of toil, looks up to find himself further around the side of the hill, but not much more upward toward his goal. )This leads to frustration because, by not paying attention to the actual path we are on, our efforts don’t lead us closer to our goals. Further, we get no satisfaction from what we are actually accomplishing because we are not paying attention to it.

Rule 2:  SUCCEED AT WHAT YOU ARE DOING!

Same logic. Rather than trying to find the thing you can be successful at, be successful at whatever thing you are doing, no matter how significant or trivial. Once you learn to be a successful person, you can succeed at almost anything!

Rule 3:  FIND IT WHERE YOU ARE LOOKING!

It is only through the thoughtful and creative sifting of the ashes of your daily experience that you will discover what it is that you are, in your heart of hearts, actually looking for.

Now, of course, I am beyond maturity,  perhaps meandering into senility. Widower, rather than husband, still father in whatever way one can do that for 40-50 year olds, receiver of community efforts more than giver, writer of blogs rather than classroom teacher. Sometimes melancholy, particularly when by peering into the abyss of geologic time I catch a reflected glimpse of an ominous future that my fellow humans not cursed with the geologic perspective blithely ignore.

But there is hope and optimism too, if for no other reason simply because having been on the down side for this last long while, I’m just bored with it!

I’ve been rummaging around in my old Bucks Batholith stuff and I think there are a couple things I know about that place that no one else in the world knows!  So the next episode in this series I will talk some geologese.

That will also take us backward in time another significant  step. At the end of Youth, we were ten thousand years into the past, but still within a historical time frame. With the Auriferous Gravels, we took the first step into geologic time,  a thousand times further back and jumping through archeological time entirely. With the Bucks Lake pluton, we will plunge deeper, to 140 million years ago.

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