The self-examined life.
“Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased,
Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,
Raze out the written troubles of the brain,
And with some sweet, oblivious antidote
Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of that perilious stuff
Which weighs upon the heart?”
“Therein the patient
Must minister to himself.”(‘Macbeth’, W. Shakespeare)
Who am I? I am a mixture of good genes and a dysfunctional childhood, a person who has overcome problems and disadvantages with sacrifice, hard work and a positive, can do, never give up attitude.
I started life as a somewhat sickly child (less than four lbs at birth (twin, asthma, others) , and my upbringing was also sub optimal because both of my parents were alcoholics, alternating in and out of drunkenness. Why do I say my parents were alcoholics? Among my vivid memories of them are (as an early teen) watching my father at 8am twist the top off of a bottle of vodka and drink it to stop violent DT’s, and seeing (when I was in college) my mother passed out drunk at an event she was supposed to chaperon. The primary baggage I carry from this – like many children of alcoholics – is an inherent low self esteem. (I don’t expect others to carry my baggage: only to know it is there. ) In addition, I am an identical twin, which created some additional opportunities, in particular, the roles we were expected to play in our family. As some have observed, I have a very high need for approval. I have been aware of this for nearly twenty years, but just this past year I determined the root cause: my mother saw me as one who needed to be protected, not as an achiever, which was my brother. (Mom, take note: “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree…” ) My life in a nutshell:
As a child of alcoholics, I grew up seeing things that were odd, but knowing no other standard, I didn’t know anything was unusual, or what was going on. Concerns about money created a (life long) foundation of financial insecurity, and the arguments about drinking were self-evident. Eventually, my mother reached her limit and had my father evicted from our home (for brandishing a loaded gun, and bothering my teen-aged sister). That was in March of 1957, and we never saw him again. In October of that year, Sputnik was launched, and that got me interested in science, then mathematics, and those interests gave my life a direction I never lost. That fall – realizing funding was required to realize my goals – I took a job as a custodial assistant, and worked from then almost continuously through high school and college and my professional career until December 31 of 2007, when I retired.
In May of 1958, I suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a ruptured aneurysm, from which I fully recovered. (Youth, and a positive attitude!) I had also decided in my teens – observing my old great aunt’s and uncle’s difficulties getting around – that I was going to maintain my quality of life through exercise, adequate sleep, and diet – a decision that has stood the test of time. (The collection of those of us, by the way, who have survived a burst blood vessel in our brains – particularly then – is small, and I have often had to argue with MD’s that it had, in fact, occurred. (Confirmed by an MRI). In 2002, one of my wife’s teaching colleagues at Bay High (a young lady – early 20’s), had a ruptured brain aneurysm, and recovered (with surgery). One of my colleagues at JonesDay had a daughter who was a student at Bay High, and – it was all the talk there – she asked me what I knew about it. I shared what I knew, and – as I was about to leave – allowed that when I was sixteen, a person in our class had had a brain hemorrhage. “How did they do”? She asked. Savoring one of life’s rare moments, I replied: “You are speaking with him” – and slipped out of her cubicle.)
My focus (near obsession) became getting a college degree, to strengthen my self esteem, escape the family situation, and enjoy life. As there were essentially no family resources, I saved all I earned in high school, and although I was popular, I did not participate in any social events that cost money– the first Senior Prom I attended was in 1980, as a chaperon (and my date was expecting our second child)! Sacrifice, savings, work, acceptance of differed gratification, and scholarships provided a college education for me, and after a long struggle of work, study, and providing for the family – there were times when I did not know where the next meal was coming from – I took my bachelors degree in Mathematics. Although I had entered college with the goal of becoming a professor, the monetary needs dictated otherwise, and in 1964, I decided the future was in computers, and began with IBM. (Very good foresight and analysis on my part, if I do say so myself!)
One difficulty I encountered as I began work – and had for the first time in my life some disposable income – was how to develop intimate relationships with women: my low self esteem and scars from my childhood were in the way. (The latter did not seem to affect my brother or sister, both of whom were married in 1967, but I had always done the heavy lifting – taking the lion’s share of the responsibility – and, as I had no intention of entering a family situation any time soon, I did not wish to deceive any young women: honest to a fault, then as now…) The combination of my family experience, putting career first, and having had to take on too much responsibility too soon left me, as above, with no early interest in getting married and starting a family. “Upon further review”, I realize now that the trees were filled with fruit ripe for me to pick, but in the end it worked out well as I married Sharon in Dec of 1973 (late in life at that time, as I was near 32 and she near 26), and we had Allen in 1977 and Valerie in 1980. They are outstanding offspring, and while I did not start this aspect of life as soon as most men my age, the end result has justified the effort. (I might add that I never expected raising children would be easy, and suffered no illusions.) My mother was an RN, and should have known better, but when she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, she never managed it well, and that, combined with excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption, made he last decades suboptimal: she spent the last 14 years if her life (age 65-79) in nursing homes, and die on Dec 15 1991, having lived 79 years. I had phone contact with my father in the early 1960’s, and when I came back from a race at Watkins Glen in early October of 1970, there was a note under my door from my Mother informing me that he had died in LA, at 59 years old.
A brief summary of my professional career (jargon alert!): with my BS in hand, I started at IBM, where the training was great, the money solid, the status high, and opportunities plentiful. I was a strong implementor, passionate about building my skills and career, and became very knowledgeable in both data bases and data communications. As the industry changed, I moved on from IBM to a consulting company in 1970 – we implemented on a big time sharing system – and then on to Xerox Data Systems in 1971, where I also implemented on time sharing systems. Xerox sold the business, and I took a staff job not too far from where we lived. After a few good years (’78), that grew stale, and I went back to the third party implementation business, on mini and then micro computers (fore runners of IBM PC’s). At one point, I was maneuvered into starting my own software business, which left me wiser if not richer, and from there I joined Tandem Computers, where I learned and implemented fault tolerant and relational data base systems. I used those skills to land a position as tech support manager on a large ATM switch, which was great for me until management changed. From there I worked for a consulting company for a year, moved on to another, did an end user gig for a year, and then would up my career at a large, stable law firm, where I supported UNIX systems, and from which – on December 31, 2007 – I retired.
My career summary in ‘soft’ terms: I maneuvered around the vicissitudes of corporate America to survive, prosper, and reach retirement. In addition, I was able not only to grow and change with the industry, but to predict the directions of change, and to develop and utilize my people skills, which I had not made a priority or trusted in my brash youth. (In my later working years, I realized that corporate America might not be a natural habitat for one with a top one or two percent IQ: things went well if one had the rare opportunity to work for a good manager, and not so well if one reported to a person who feared people who were smarter, and listened to sycophants.)
Retirement has been good to me, as I have time to learn and relax. Travel is not a big priority for me, although we have done some of that. My major post retirement achievements have been: restoring – and competing successfully with – our 1960 Mini; studying and learning Russian (Rosetta Stone and now in addition a personal tutor); and competing in ballroom dancing, and now doing yoga. . In addition, I continue to study mathematical physics and history, work in politics; and train at the gym (weights), and at home (bike). Recently, I have been doing yoga – with a super teacher. The only downside has been fewer friends and less social activity. I have developed a connection with Lawrence Krauss, and it is satisfying to have heard him speak well of me.
“Life is a Journey, and the less Baggage one has to carry, the easier the Trip. At the End, what matters is not where we Began or how Difficult it was, but rather where we Finished and what we Achieved along the way.” (“Time Travel”, cf pervo 2013)
For most of my life, I had thought my dysfunctional childhood had been an asset, as it provided me with a strong work ethic, clarity of what is truly important, and a never give up attitude. In 1989, when I worked with a recovering alcoholic (AA and ACA), I learned that it also brought baggage as well, especially the above mentioned low self esteem (LSE). I began to recognize that this LSE was the cause of what I saw as some of my self-imposed limitations. To overcome my LSE, my method has been three pronged: set ambitious goals – occasionally working outside of one’s ‘comfort zone’ – and achieve them, ; develop supportive relationships and environments; and avoid/minimize toxic relationships and environments. (The first time I choose this path was well within my ‘comfort zone’ – getting a college degree, and although I was not then aware of my LSE – I applied the above principles before I became consciously aware of them.) Through an accident of time and place, I became involved in sports car racing, and achieved some self esteem, social and emotional growth from this manual/cerebral/physical activity, which I did for 41 years. In 1981, I became involved in weight training at a local gym, and found I still liked it. (A friend of mine sent me an article from Psychology Today that said weight training had two consistent results with men: none of themselves saw themselves as ‘big’, and it improved their self esteem.) When I was 50 (’92), I was out of town on a six month consulting gig, and decided to use my spare time to learn ballroom dancing. (That helped my self-confidence – according to an person whom I had known for years: “not being a dancer” was one of the self-imposed limitations I had.) My wife Sharon has always liked original Mini’s, we bought one, and with help from others, restored it and have won a number of firsts at local and regional events. After I retired from sports car racing (2004) , I became very active in politics, from rallies to speaking, and from dialing phones to knocking on doors. In this activity I am well and widely respected, my enthusiasm, and my people, speaking, analytic, writing and organizational skills all contribute. (My politics? Shall I say that since 1960 I have been on the right side of history in issues including social and economic justice; women’s rights; sexual freedom; racial and gender equality; international affairs; and voting rights. Most of my life I have had more brains than money, and have voted that way). The people I met and the things I achieved in that area have been a big boost to my self esteem. The last area of self doubt was also resolved through several accidents of time and place. In the early 1980’s my wife was a member of a civic organization, from which a social group evolved, and from which I came to know several attractive, intelligent men and women who made me feel I belonged. Also, I have always enjoyed stopping at bars (!?), and happened on one in the early 2000’s where I found the atmosphere congenial, the cocktails substantial, the help delightful, and the patrons attractive and respectful. For the first time in my life, I thought of myself as an attractive man who had the respect of many whom he admired and respected, from college age youth to successful business people.
On the matter of environments, those I found most supportive are my friends in politics, my ‘cocktail hour cousins’, some of my car friends, weight lifting in a gym, and a few work situations; and those I found least so were my in-laws (who treated me with absolutely no respect), and a few work situations. While my in-laws caused me much stress, they also provided me with lessons on what not to do. Some toxic situations one cannot avoid, such as family, or a bad employment situation. If one is not aware of their low self-esteem – and takes things “personally” – such situations can become very stressful and painful: observe that family is probably the number one cause of homicide.
The biggest impact of LSE for me was the self-imposed limitations I placed on myself, and some of my most cherished moments are the euphoria I felt when I overcame them: the most precious trophies I own are in my mind….
its triumphs and tragedies,
its agonies and ecstasies.
All of which suggests
we be cautious and modest,
when things are well, and
optimistic and persevering
when they aren’t.”
(“Reflections”, 1981 cf pervo)
Returning to my personal life, as a twin, I saw my brother as the older, and I usually chose not to pursue his goals – shall we say birth order 101? In the Fall of 1959, he went away to school, and I blossomed, getting by far the best grades I ever did. At class reunions, my classmates occasionally observe that my brother was the smarter: I keep to myself that we are different, and that I can succeed in many places with people and ideas where he could not. I had as a late teen the realization that I should follow my instincts rather than listen to my family, and that has proven the test of time. (In fact, it is just in the past year I have finally realized how strong my basic intelligence is – top half of top one percent on the Mensa qualfying test.)
One attribute which I am certain came from my genes is that intelligence, although my identical twin brother – with identical DNA, and a PhD from Harvard – does not seem to share many other attributes, which include (from my perspective): care and concern for/about others; strong work ethic; making physical fitness a priority; charm; and general people skills: as an academic he developed different skills. I might add I am no longer very close to my brother, as his arrogance has become unbearable!
Family is a complex issue with me, as my view of my parents is different from one who grew up in a stable, supportive, more nurturing environment. On extended family, there were few people on either side, and those on my Mother’s side tended to keep – shall we say – their distance.
My sister – two years younger – married a fraternity brother of mine, and he zipped her away to Northern CA right away – I expect to distance them from us (a noble plan).
As we are identical twins, my relationship with my brother was close – I admired him – until 2008, when (as above), his arrogance became too much for me to endure. I might add that from the early 1970’s friends of mine who met him (including my wife), were turned off big time.
My current hobbies include: weight training; aerobic training -riding my exercycle, and ballroom dancing; studying science; writing/blogging; learning Russian; reading history; doing yoga; literature, and philosophy;working on and showing my 1960 Mini; politics; and making others feel good.
Is ‘making others feel good’ an actual hobby? Yes – I have found that a kind word, glance, or deed can and does make others feel ‘good’, and I practice it throughout the day (it makes me feel good as well…).
“In the game of life, the score is kept within our psyche, and what we do for others means more than what we do for our selves.” (“Aphorism 1987”, cf pervo)
Someone who did not know me well would be most surprised to know: that I do the dishes at home, and most of the housework and cleaning; that I did sports car racing – as crew – for 40 years; that I restored – with help – a classic British car; that I can and have walked into meetings from the board room to the union hall and made friends with most there; that I do ballroom dancing; that I took up Russian at the age of 65; and that I do three heavy weight training sessions a week, and up to eight aerobic sessions per week, totaling 200-300 minutes. (The owner of our gym – a champion weight lifter – once said it made him tired to watch what I do!)
What do I think others see in me? Intelligence, good sense of humor, enthusiasm, perhaps stubborn or eccentric, usually charming, and sometimes, arrogant. What do I wish others to see in me? Caring, considerate, compassionate, concerned, always eager to help or contribute, charming, intelligent, informed, fit and in general a good friend to have, and a person to enjoy being around.
My assets, in addition to the above, are public speaking and writing. For an example of my writing, consider this piece, or
My current life goals? To stay as fit as I can, to enjoy Mini,to develop new friends, to become fluent in Russian, and to continue to make others feel good.
“I have perceiv’d that to be with those I like is enough, To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough, To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,..”
(Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric”)