I am an engineer. I have an engineering education that is as far from what we used to call Liberal Arts as Eminem is from Frank Sinatra. My classes were filled with equations and arcane terminology that meant nothing to my Liberal Arts friends. My freshman year at Stevens Institute of Technology, the only non-engineering class I took was Humanities, and odd mix of literature and composition meant to make us well-rounded. When I transferred to the University of Connecticut, engineering required a few more electives. I took sociology, psychology and something called the Philosophy of Mathematics, what I considered bullshit courses. Oh, yeah. I took Theater. Funny thing, that. My drawings for a set design were chosen by the professor for the spring production. While we were building the set, he asked from across the room, Where did you go to school your freshman year, Bud? It was a moment I hadn’t been looking forward to … our beloved instructor had a reputation for disliking engineers and grading them harshly. I went to Stevens Institute of Technology, I said quietly. There was a long pause, then sarcastically, That’s a fine institute of liberal education. I did, however, ace the course. In graduate school, where I majored in statistical communication theory, it reached the point where my friends didn’t even comprehend the meaning of the course titles. How does Linear Optimal Control grab you? My committee chairman required that I take a certain number of classes in the math department where I discovered I didn’t understand things I already understood.
I’ve always loved music and art. I played a rudimentary guitar and was taught by my Mom to oil paint and draw with charcoals. I loved to read and loved the written word. My best class in high school was senior composition. My junior year at UConn, a fraternity brother nicknamed me Francis the Talking Engineer because among all the engineers in the fraternity, I was the only one with an interest in what he called Liberal Arts. Still, over 12 years of engineering education left little time for studying anything other than technology. When I found myself among people talking about subjects like classical music or fine art, I had little to contribute other than, This is what I like. As a result, I avoided such conversations or stood quietly on the sidelines. I bought books like The Essential Library of Classical Music, determined to educate myself as my mother and father had before me, but I’ve never been good at wading through non-fiction outside the classroom. Besides, what with a career and a family, I chose to spend my reading time on fiction.
Now, I’m sixty-nine and semi-retired. I still have trouble wading through non-fiction but I have a blog. This blog. And posting on Older Eyes – Bud’s Blog has become my classroom. When I post on a favorite artist, I take the time to research some history on the artist and read what others say about the works I love. And in writing about the art, I articulate what it is I like about it. The same goes for music … or nearly anything I write about. Muri once asked me if I think anyone actually clicks on all the links I put in my posts. Probably not, I said, but since I spent the time researching the subject, I like to include them. References, you might say, that’s the engineer in you. But it’s also the footprints of my continuing education. The other day, I was talking with several friends about journaling and I commented about the benefits of stream of consciousness writing, of writing longer than you want to, writing until something surprising appears. One friend complimented me on what I’d said. I was honest, honest. It’s something I’ve been writing about on my blog recently, in a post I called Write Now. These days, I’m conversant in subjects I’d have avoided in the past. Bud’s Blog is not only my classroom, but my Liberal Arts classroom. Hopefully, my readers learn something here, too.
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