What’s your story?

We drove from Pittsburgh to Mazatlan for Spring Break. Four college sophomores in a Jeepster. 7,800 miles in 10 days. Adventure, danger, romance, comedy, la tequila, las drogas, una pistola. No arrests, no fatalities.

You want a story? Oh, we’ve got a story. But not yet.

What’s your major?

I started Carnegie Mellon intending to major in Computer Science. I aced the intro course, but then dropped the weed-out course twice in a row. I was weeded out. (So much weed.)

Sophomore year, I took a Shakespeare class taught by a young graduate student, Craig Dionne. He brought the latest literary theory into the classroom – Edward Said, Jonathan Culler. Boom, I wanted to major in English.

The English department had three concentrations: Creative Writing, Professional Writing, and Dionne’s field of Literary and Cultural Studies. I had no interest in Professional Writing (oh, the irony). As for Creative Writing, I figured that if I ever wanted to write creatively, why not start by learning theory? To write without theory would be like using databases without knowing how to build a compiler from scratch; or trying to play the guitar without a thorough understanding the physics of musical sound; or trying to walk without knowing kinesthetics. Inconceivable! First, I’d get my degree in Literary and Cultural Studies, and only then would I write in earnest.

The plan fell apart the next semester. Victorian Literature was taught by the Distinguished Professor who usually taught Shakespeare, and who always taught the old-fashioned way. No newfangled theories. Droning lectures on “Fra Lippo Lippi” and freres. Quote identification quizzes. Stick to the text. Here we see the influence of I.A. Richards and the New Criticism, a formalist movement of “close reading.” I ripped a poem out of the Norton and brought it to Mexico. The pale, crumpled page never once held my attention. I made it back for my presentation but didn’t have much to say. Nothing I wanted to say.

My fallback was Information Systems. I had been working with databases all through high school, so this would be easy for me. It wasn’t. I had learned the database trade as a cowboy, a just-make-it-work wrangler. The junior-year curriculum felt like a machine built to mold information workers for the military-industry complex. We wrote extensive documents detailing every planned design element before being permitted to write a single line of code. I did the absolute minimum.

I spent the last year of college taking guitar lessons and several other classes in the Music department. This was refuge, not sanctuary. My presence was tolerated, not welcomed. In the world of the conservatory, it was already too late to become a musician.

What do you do?

I got my first job working in the city for a company that needed a wrangler.

Then I went back to school a few times and became a writer.

Here I am, now a blogger.

What’s the plan for the blog?

The initial concept for “My Yale Years” was to write something about each of 33 classes in the Open Yale Courses curriculum in the precise order that I experienced them. About one week and 10 posts later, I still like the idea.

Before the end of 2022 2023, I want to make at least one loop around the curriculum.

Do I flit around randomly from one topic to the next? No, that’s too jarring.

Do I follow a terza rima structure {aba bcb cdc…} that alternates between topics? Great idea for the book, but not for now.

Here’s the plan: I’ll go in order, with at least one post per class.

I can’t guarantee balance. With some topics, like Don Quixote, I can go on and on. Other topics, not so much.

I may move ahead before covering an entire topic, and I may return to a topic I’ve already introduced. But I’ll avoid jumping ahead out of sequence.

You’ll see, it’ll make sense.

(left-to-right) Ivan and Scotty at Ivan’s 20-year reunion