“School is a place where they take sixteen years to wear down your brain.”
–Haruki Murakami, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World
WHY I DROPPED OUT: Personal & Familial Motivations
At the time of this writing it has been thirteen years since I dropped out of Antioch College. In my year and a half as I student there I spent most of the time hiking in Glen Helen Nature Preserve, getting stoned, writing poetry, making music, and having my first experiences on the radio at Anti-Watt, the campus’ pirate station. I also worked at the Olive Kettering Library where I cut my teeth as a shelver and book geek, reading as much as I could. At the time the subjects I was most deeply interested in were poetry, ritual magic, the psychology of Wilhelm Reich, music, anarchism and permaculture.
I was going to get a liberal arts degree with a focus in psychology, but when I realized the head of the department was a rabid behaviorist, with a picture of B.F. Skinner hanging above his desk, I chose a different tact, steering towards the religion and philosophy department. He didn’t approve of my interests in Reich or Jung, didn’t consider them part of psychology. Then I changed my mind altogether and quit. I hadn’t done too well in my official studies. After all what I really wanted to be when I grew up was an Artist Magician. But there weren’t very many job descriptions around for such a thing, and besides no one I knew of was hiring Artist Magicians. Still, I knew I’d be better off if I went back to Cincinnati, got a job, and started making stuff.
There were a few other reasons as well: I hated living in the dorms for one. I’m a pretty sociable person, but if I don’t get some alone time on a regular basis I can start getting irritable with the people around me. Add some awkward romantic situations and other interpersonal snafu’s into the mix, alongside seeing your close friends who came to school with you from back home go down a bad path with hard drugs, and a broader picture starts to develop.
It took me a year to get hired on at the library. And another year to reach my tendrils out into the local experimental music and noise scene, which in turn got me involved with the Art Damage radio program on WAIF (I’d been a fan since High School). I met some other occult enthusiasts and forged some deep friendships. Through one of those friends I met the woman who became my wife and on life has gone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my roots lately as I’ve been engaged in Work relating to the UnderWorld, and it was one night, when smoking cigars with friends, that I realized how much I’d been influenced by family patterns in my feelings about school.
My grandparents on my father’s side hadn’t gone to college. Both lived through the Great Depression. My Grandma had grown up on a German family farm in Ohio canal country where she learned the ways of running a household. My Grandpa had gone to work in his teens selling newspapers, which he did for the rest of his life, eventually turning it into a successful magazine and paper stand business in the heart of downtown Cincinnati. This business served my father’s family well. They were money-wise and thrifty. They put away and saved. They brought up five kids, were able to take them on vacations to National Parks around the country, and instilled in all of them a fine work ethic. When they left the planet they still had enough to leave behind an estate, and more importantly a legacy.
None of their children went on to college, but they’ve all done fine. My Dad went to trade school. My late uncle Jerome operated a successful industrial cleaning business. The one thing they all had in common was their willingness to work –the one trait absolutely necessary to achieve whatever dreams you may hold.
Things were a little more mixed on my maternal side. My grandparents hadn’t gone to college, my Grandpa Cannon, like my Grandpa Moore, didn’t even make it to high school. He grew up in various parts of Kentucky, deep in the hills. He has spent much of his life devoted to music. My Great Grandparents, through the matrilineal line, came from Italian peasant stock who had moved to Frankfurt, Kentucky where they had farms. I was lucky enough to remember my Great Grandpa Pardi. He was a chemist who had a love for classical music, poetry and astronomy. On this side of my family only my Mom and an Aunt, of the seven children, ever went to college, but they did so as adults. It is from this side of my family that I feel my poetic and musical nature extends.
For awhile I thought dropping out of college was my own choice, but the insight had in contemplative smoking, showed me again how much we are shaped by our families. I have always felt that if I continue to work hard at pursuing my own goals, outside the standard paths, I will make headway. I feel I have in my own roundabout way. What is important to me is that I do something to push forward every day.
There have been a few times when I wished I’d stuck it out at Antioch. I’m more prepared now to do the work required at such a radical school then I was at age nineteen and twenty. I have more discipline. On the other hand I’ve never been sorry that I was able to get out before I went deep into debt, and I’ve never been sorry that I paid off my student loans. Meanwhile many of my friends have undergraduate or Masters degrees and work in positions no more prestigious than the one I have, while those who are just finishing school compete for waitress and bartending jobs with last years graduates. A number of them are also artists and creative spirits and the proverbial day job has allowed them to pursue these activities without being a mooch or a couch surfer.
I did take away a number of things from my time at Antioch that I still hold as core-values. Chief among these is the school motto, from former Antioch president Arthur Morgan, who said “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” I have taken these words to heart.
Right now would I be ashamed? I have had some small personal victories, but I feel it is only in the past few years that I’ve really buckled down and gotten to work on those things I find important. These include the creation of a resilient home, my ongoing dreamplay, deepening my practice of magic, furthering my skills in the craft of writing and in radio. All of my past experiences have prepared me for the next stage in my continuing self education, for another turn up the spiral on the path that is my life.
I will be exploring my current path of self education in the posts in “The Seven Liberal Arts” category, but first there will be a follow up post exploring why I think college isn’t the best idea for folks in the current economy and in our declining industrial culture.