4. A WIDER WORLD (beginning university life)

Apart from music and art, and a particularly in-depth literature class, high school became a bore and the atmosphere seemed juvenile.   But despite that, I hadn't looked forward to going to college.  

I had no idea what I would do with my life...or how I would eventually support myself. 

At graduation, the senior class celebrated with the traditional all-night party.  We danced, reminisced, hugged, and said our goodbyes.  At daybreak a paralyzing fear came over me; there was not the joy of being free or of looking forward to the future.  My only feeling was that I was being cast adrift...unmoored...left floating in an empty vacuum.

But it was implicitly assumed I would attend college and, to everyone else but me, starting university seemed the natural course of events.   My folks saw further ahead than I.  

To U.C. Santa Barbara it was.


Arriving at U.C.S.B., I hadn’t thought about a major because I hadn't given college much thought.  But when I did think about having a major, it seemed obvious that it would be in the arts…but would it be in music or the visual arts?  

I had been given the highest achievement award in music when I graduated. Perhaps that honor should have given me direction, but it didn’t.  I realized that music would require study in theory as well as a level of performance that I wasn’t prepared to commit to. I loved to perform but academic studies in music would be altogether different.

By default, I settled on a major in the visual arts---painting.


Going to the university was my first time living away from home---with all its freedom...and anxiety.  I eased into it by living on campus in a residence hall and rooming with a high school buddy...


I grew up east of Los Angeles...inland...thirty miles from the ocean.  Modoc Hall---in Anacapa men's residence---was just steps away from cliffs overlooking the ocean.  And I had that experience every day!  This was a completely new way of living for me...absolute luxury.  This raised the bar for quality of life and I took advantage of it.

Nearby, just a short walk, was a beautiful inlet known as 'the lagoon.'   A rustic trail wound round with views of the ocean beyond.  There were parts that seemed empty and forlorn...walking alone, it sometimes seemed melancholic as well as beautiful to me.  The Japanese call this mono no aware...an appreciation of the bittersweet in life.

The trail went through groves of eucalyptus that clustered along its edge and that sheltered the path.  The campus has since grown beyond the imagination...and beyond recognition.  I haven't been back for years; I can't take it.  That rustic dirt trail that I loved to stroll became a gentrified bike freeway.


An aspect of university life that I hadn’t anticipated was the opportunity it provided for being introduced to so many fascinating areas outside of the field of art.  After I left U.C.S.B., I realized that it was this opportunity, both inside and outside the classroom, which was to have the most impact on my life.  That is the beauty of a university liberal arts education.  It made me a fuller person...and a better artist.

There were literature classes, philosophy classes, anthropology classes, religious studies classes…I could go on and on.  They all opened doors.   And beyond that, there were innumerable speakers that came to the campus in every field, guest lecturers and professors, politicians, artists, writers, etc.  Add to that a multitude of musicians and concerts, plays and art shows---all at my doorstep.

One of my favorite things to do was to go to the music department's intimate amphitheater at noontime for short 'brown bag' concerts.  A group that regularly performed was the Paganini Quartet.   I had never heard Bartok's percussive string pieces with a great deal of pizzicato playing...those pieces and so much more.  Unforgettable!


During m
y first year in the dorm I had no car.  Walking was my only mode of transportation.  The campus, the lagoon and nearby beach, and an occasional visit to the adjacent community of Isla Vista...with its shops and bookstores...was the extent of my world.  And I was happy with that.

I was getting into the swing of an academic life and living a hermetic existence.  I enjoyed most of my classes but I looked forward to coming back to my room to write. It liked to research and write papers in my cozy environment...at my desk overlooking a beautiful stretch of pastoral lawn out the big window from my room.  And on rainy days the dripping outside was like music to my ears.  I much preferred this to taking tests in a classroom.

And my hermetic life was complete with my Hermes 3000, that incredible manual typewriter I wrote all my papers on.  As a senior in high school, I scrimped and saved to buy it. It was the Rolls Royce of portable typewriters; and it was as beautiful as it was useful.
My university experience was how I had imagined 'academic' life...a spiritual one. 

I loved Hermann Hesse's writing and his mystical stories...legends.  I picked up his novel, 'The Glass Bead Game,' and it spoke to me.  It artfully described the ideal I had in mind: a network of monastic-like communities of individuals studying music, the liberal arts, and science. Technology and economic life were kept to the bare minimum.  Travel from one community to another was on foot, along quiet alpine footpaths.

I wanted to live 'The Glass Bead Game'...and came close.

Copyright (c) Donald Archer 2020  All rights reserved.


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