A textbook life

July 16, 2020

Listen to “A Textbook Life” on Spreaker.

My first major in college was Psychology. I didn’t make it past the first year. When we reached the chapter on psychological disorders, and I identified with every one of them, I came to the realization that I had declared me as a major. I went to college, so I could become someone other than me, not to make me my own life’s study. So in my sophomore year I switched to Political Science, which is the study of what happens to people who don’t get treatment for all those psychological disorders.

People might ask “what can you do with a political science degree?” The short answer is write about it fifty years after I earned it. The long answer is more complicated. After fifty years of following the reality of politics, I can only conclude that politicians and the people who vote for them are very different from the books written about them.

“It was as if I had switched my major to European Literature the same year Nazis started burning books.”

Believe it or not, my idea as I recall, was that I would learn about politicians in order to become one. Those who know me would tell you that the only way they could imagine me knocking on doors, greeting factory workers at dawn, soliciting funds from fat cats and plutocrats, delivering rousing speeches and wearing suits every day, would be if I had a vest of explosives strapped to my torso.

At least if I had majored in Art History, I would at least be able to tell the difference between Goya and Caravaggio, as if knowing that would have helped me in my life choices. As it was, I changed majors to Political Science the same year that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were shot, there was a police riot at the Democratic National Convention and the Great Liberator Richard Nixon was elected president. It was as if I had switched my major to European Literature the same year Nazis started burning books.

The question I’ve been asking myself is what should I have majored in that would have helped me live better the life I have lived. Geography comes to mind if for no other reason than I would have known that the southbound train out of Dublin was not taking me west to Galway where I was supposed to be heading for my job on a fishing boat back in 1972. More recently, it would have prevented me from reserving a hotel in Milan, when in fact we were traveling south to the boot of Italy.

The other course of study that would have been most helpful, I think, would have been Economics, which would have confirmed that trying to travel the length of Africa with less than $600 between me and this other misguided Soldier of Fortune was the Mother of all Fools Errands.

On the other hand, had I stuck with Psychology, I would at least know how to treat whatever mental illness it is that has guided me through life.

Actually I did know how to treat it. Their names are Carolyn and Carol.


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