School, in the traditional, public school setting, was not for me. As with so many decisions in my life, I chose to follow my own path.
I have struggled with the dilemma of what to tell my kids about how I spent my childhood and the years leading up to when they were born. By telling them the truth, am I giving implicit permission to follow my same path? Can I effectively tell them they need to “stay in school” and “don’t do drugs” when this was essential to my education? Am I not a hypocrite by expecting them to follow a path I could not stay on?
I was bitten by the wanderlust bug when I was 12 years old. It started out innocently enough: my friends and I took a road trip on our bikes. I recall the anticipation I felt on the eve of the big ride. Something about being on the road, going somewhere, had this incredible appeal to me. This feeling was irresistible as I grew older.
When I began to drive at 16, my fate was sealed. I was powerless to resist the siren’s song of the open road. What began as short day trips turned into overnight journeys. Soon, weekend excursions turned into weeklong forays. By the time I was 17, I was travelling more than I was home.
Growing up in the Bay Area, sleeping under the stars in the summertime was quite comfortable. I rather enjoyed communing with nature (and there is no better way to be connected to the world than to be exposed to the elements). In winter months, sleeping in my car or on a friend’s couch would do just fine.
Being on the road taught me valuable lessons about how to get on with my fellow man. Not having the security of my parents demanded planning and skilled negotiation. Improvising where and how I would get my next meal and where I would find shelter was a unique dilemma each day.
The discomfort and uncertainty was a sort of reward in and of itself. Each day was a new adventure with its own set of problems. Solving these problems revealed new possibilities to explore. I viewed each new person I met as someone from whom I could learn something.
During this time, I was exploring my mind as much as my surroundings. I read anything I could get my hands on. Great works ranging from Jack Kerouac to Ayn Rand, John Steinbeck to Tom Robbins, Kahlil Gibran to Stuart Wilde. My eyes were primed to consider any and every viewpoint. I would discuss and debate these themes with anyone who would lend an ear.
Music was all around me and my mates. From Classic rock to Classical music, from Rap to Grunge – we listened with eager ears as students learning the history of music. The melodies moved our bodies and the lyrics challenged our minds. When we were not listening, we were copying or making our own music. Some of the best connections I made along my journey were made through music.
The people I met in my travels spanned the spectrum from philosophers to idiots, artists to engineers, lovers to fighters. I made an effort to talk to anyone who would engage with me. No matter their age, social status or background, I made a daily effort to meet and talk to new people. Hearing their stories and getting their reactions to what I had to say was instructional.
In the warmth and comfort of my den from which I write this, my memory is clouded by a dash of romanticism. The pain of hunger that led me down the humble path of digging in garbage cans for food is too distant to recall. But my trust that the universe will provide for me if only I be patient and open to its generosity has not gone away.
By leaving the luxury of my parents’ bosom and imposing upon myself this life of struggle, I earned a more profound understanding of personal responsibility. The price for my freedom – to earn an education of my choosing – was giving up the comfort and safety of following the traditional path.
Indeed, the path I took is not for everyone. How and why I made my decisions were, and still are, deeply personal. Dropping out of school and adopting a vagabond lifestyle at 16-1/2 years old only made for my integration back into a more “normal” life more difficult. Certainly, under different circumstances, I would have loved to stay in school, make my parents proud and get a good job… but that was not the path for me.
Moreover, the telling of this part of my life’s story is not meant to disparage anyone that finished school and found a good job. It’s not about the path you choose, it’s about how you choose to go down it.