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(226) REED COLLEGE:
Everybody has close calls, mysterious coincidences, fateful encounters. This is not what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is events which have been poised on a knife's edge, where things could go one way or another, and their going one way or another dramatically changed my life. The problem with identifying them is that my life isn't over yet. At the time, I may or may not have been aware of the significance of the event, or chain of events, that I now think altered my destiny. What has to qualify, at least for now, as turning points are things that jolted my life out of the path that my parents, culture, genetic makeup or some routine had set it on, which may or may not have suited me well.
Imagine this: you're the son of a farmer, who was himself the son of a farmer, and you're going to grow up to be a farmer and marry the most eligible daughter of the farmer closest to your father's economic standing in the community, and the two fathers are eventually going to die and their two farms are going to become one farm and you're going to have sons and they're going to inherit the farm after you die. This is the path you're on, and it has nothing to do with you personally. Then one day a traveling circus comes to town, and you join up with it. You go around with them for a while and see the world, and stay in a city and meet a man who takes you on as an apprentice metalworker, and you become a skilled craftsman. You become a journeyman, marry the master's daughter, and become a master yourself and inherit your master's shop, and die in the city of Mainz instead of on a farm. Your son becomes a metal worker, and his son becomes a member of the Honorable Fraternity of Goldsmiths, and his son becomes a goldsmith and goes on, in the mid-1400s, to invent printing by moveable type. Does all this boil down to the circus coming to town and jolting a farmer boy out of his rut? I don't know. I do think that it is a matter of getting off the pre-determined track that may or may not suit you and getting more on a path of your own devising. A path that owes less to nature than to nurture, as it were.
My father was an only child, born in the slums of Milwaukee. Through an accident at birth he was blinded in one eye. He was olive-skinned and black-haired and dark-eyed, and was in consequence often in scraps with the blonde-haired German immigrant children, who made fun of him and picked on him. For refuge, he fled into the library, where he found that he was safe from persecution. Once in the library he had to justify his existence, so he busied himself with science fiction and adventure pulps--"Doc Savage," "Buck Rogers," "Amazing Stories," "Science Wonder Stories"--and came eagerly to look forward to each next episode. He became a great reader, did OK in school, and won the affection of a few of his teachers who encouraged him to go to college. He attended the University of Wisconsin for five years studying pure mathematics, became a civil engineer, was rejected for military service because of his partial blindness, met and married my mother and had eight kids and twenty grandkids. Was being blinded in one eye good fortune or ill? Was being chased into the library a big turning point?
I applied for, and was accepted both to Reed College and to the University of California at Berkeley. Being the eldest of eight, I had of course no money for private school. So, Berkeley it was to be.
The next turning point was probably the closest one in terms of actual timing: on September 30, 1964, I set up a table under Sather Gate to sell the banned "SLATE Supplement to the General Catalogue," for which, at my summer roommate's behest, I had contributed the cover illustration. My friend Peter Paskin was to take a turn selling them, too, but he had to go to class and so I, and not he, was there when the deans came up and took names. I'll admit that I was making a lot of ruckus, and drawing attention to myself, which Peter might not have done, but in any event I was there at the critical time on the critical spot, and was expelled from Cal because of it. What this did was cut me completely loose from my past. I had now no job, no girlfriend, no place to live and I'd just been kicked out of school. For the first time in my life I was free to go wherever I could, would or should. I could enter into the events of the day with a whole heart, holding nothing back. This turning point led--not by any means inevitably--to where I am now. But definitely leading away from the false, or at least non-me track that I was otherwise on.
After the Free Speech Movement wound down, I needed a job, and quite fortuitously apprenticed as a printer. In time, that trade equipped me to manifest my modest artistic talents, which led to my becoming what you see before you.
Had I attended Reed, I would have fit in as a hand to a glove; my life would likely have taken a different path altogether, and what it might have been, I cannot even imagine. The influence of Reed College, however, was not at an end: in 1966 I made a pilgrimage to Reed to meet and seek the blessing of Lloyd J. Reynolds, who gave me encouragement and a copy of his book, "Italic Calligraphy and Handwriting," which set me firmly on my own blossoming path as a calligrapher.
What these events did was not so much make me into any one specific thing as divert me from becoming a farmer who'd been the son of a farmer whose forefathers were also farmers. I don't know if that's good or bad.