Choices for the Future

College has ever been the one thing that I had trouble giving up. Though I do not condemn myself for those thoughts, because while failure happens, it should not stop someone from moving forward in life. So perhaps I should say that not going to college had held me back in a profound way. And knowing that, troubles me to this day. Not the fact that it did happen, but the fact that I allowed it to be so.

Four and a half years ago, I recovered from a surgery that helped me on the path to weight loss. That recovery allowed me to review my life, and I judged it wanting. At the time I was on disability for many health issues, and with that came a great deal of time. It was then when I made the decision that going back to college had finally become an option within my reach.

As I have said, college has long been far from my thoughts. When I first went to college I choose Engineering to be my major; and I also had given a great deal of thought in changing it to Architecture. It seemed to be the natural path for me, yet now I wonder if I was more pushed into that choice by high school counselors and advisors. I remember telling them that I wanted to do something that involved the environment and of course with my technical drawing classes, and my Math grades they assumed Civil Engineering a fine choice for me. At the time, I did not give much thought to what possible jobs were out there. So I took up their thoughts as they were my own. But with only a year or two removed from my first year of college I began to think of another field of study; leaving engineering behind me.

My next thoughts went towards computer science. I had long had a passion for computers, and a knack with them. It soon became known that knowledge of hardware, software, programming, networking, and all things involving computers could gain a person a good job; even without a degree. While I do not believe that condition lasts as well today as it did then, it was true enough for those years. So I learned as much as I could, strived for ever increasing gains, but progressed little to my misfortune.

There were other options that touched my mind as well. But I am a dreamer and idol thoughts come common to me. I had hopes to study Archeology, and travel the world seeking the mysteries of the past. Learning how to paint, draw, or take the perfect photograph found their ways into my head as well. I even considered business and management skills worthy enough for bring my fortunes high. Though none of these options touched my passions enough to make me deem them worthy to grace the halls of my hopes.

Beyond all others, or maybe entwined between them has always been one other. It came with my dream to be a writer one day and to achieve a degree that would further that cause. Maybe in English Literature major, Creative Writing, or maybe even in Journalism. I believed that those types of study would gain me the confidence I had lost, and would allow me to gain proper habits again. Gaining those things is still something I strive for today.

All of these past ambitions were still with me on the day I decided to start my education again. That day I have written about often over the past four years. I believe it gained me a scholarship, and was offered up to any that pursued it. They need only ask a simple question and it was one that many professors did; why did you choose your major? Such a simple question, but a profound one in many ways. I do not believe that many are able to answer this question so thoroughly at the young age when most college students grace those academic halls. Oh they might believe themselves wise enough to, but one must only look out at the majority of college graduates to see that many of them are not in the same fields as their degrees.

So what happened on that day? Actually I can break my decision down to the time it took to drive fifteen minutes from my home to a local community college. Before that drive I was completely confident on my choice to study creative writing; and finally work towards my dream. But foreign thoughts entered my mind during that trip. What would I become after gaining a degree in creative writing? With an English degree? An easy answer, I would become a writer… would it not be so? Actually, it would not be so. To become a writer, or perhaps to become a published writer would take time, effort, and dedication to the craft. One does not just get a degree and find themselves welcome to the club.

But if I could not become a writer right away, what possible paths would I find with that degree? I believe the few choices that came to me were a teacher, a journalist, an editor, and maybe a few more. But none of those options appealed to me. None were my dream! But without that what would I do? I considered a few things then. First that many authors do not have degrees in writing, for that matter some do not have degrees at all. Next was that while in college I would be writing a great deal; in papers, reports, essays, homework, and more. So would I need a degree in a writing field? I believed not.

So with all of this considered, what course of action did I have? I began to think about what I wanted out of a degree. What I would want is a career that I could thrive in. No, more then that I wanted a job that could bring me happiness, day in and day out. Over the years I had worked with many people that hated their jobs. When you consider that your working life takes up a great majority of your time over the years, would it not be important to find your way into a career that you have passion for? I believed so, and I set myself to the task of considering what could love. What type of employment would bring my passions to bare?

What passions did I still possess? Could I get a degree in role playing; would that be an acting degree? Maybe I could get a degree in computers; did I still care that much for them? Or maybe other past thoughts could again be considered? All of these did come to mind when I thought about them, but sometime tickled in the back of my head. I remembered with longing, all of my childhood activities in scouting or with family; camping, hiking, canoeing, the ocean, and my love of the outdoors. But being obese had kept me from those things, so I had grown past them.

Those activities were almost forgotten to me. Like dreams from the past, almost fairytales. But could I recapture some of what was lost to me? Surely by just losing more weight I would be given the opportunity to do those activities again. Though it seemed to me that I could have more if I desired. If I were to find a life, a career that allowed me access to work with the environment; then perhaps I could find happiness.

I found resolution in that comforting thought. Upon arriving at the community college, I found a rack that held pamphlets of all of the majors that were offered. Two of those peaked my interest and filled the requirements that I had sought. The first was a degree in Environmental Science. Though that degree had a few problems for me. Largest of those was the fact that it required a great deal of chemistry; a field of study that has ever been my enemy in schooling. The second degree that I found favorable was in Natural Resource Studies. In that major I found much less chemistry and a more hands on approach; much better for me then just laboratory work.

From that moment on I devoted my time and energy to my studies. I started that summer and began by taking two classes to ready myself for a full semester in the fall. A starting English Comprehension class, and a class in Computer Applications. The first was a great help to gauge how I had grown in my writing ability. And the next was little to no help at all; but later when I transferred to a four year school it took the place of an advanced math requirement… somehow. The end of the semester gave me my first A’s and helped to drive my confidence for the next few years.

The semesters flew past and I continued to keep a perfect grade point average. I quickly found that I could soak up the knowledge that was given to me fast. Soon enough I had spent a year and a half there, and had completed all my credit requirements. Greed for more learning overcame me and I looked toward a four year college. But the option now was before me, what path should I walk into a university following?

There were two things that appealed to me most, a major in wildlife conservation and one in forestry. Above all I had found a true passion in my classes in Zoology and Botany, though neither had been prominent in my mind. It was not an easy decision to make and it took me some time to choose. But in the end I believed that forestry was the right one for me and over in time at the university I found that it had been true.

At the university I found much of the same passions. I soaked in knowledge, studied like crazy, and bore good grades. Though I had relaxed some from my time at the community college and perfection was not now my goal. I gave way to interest and whim, and still ended up with a grade point average of 3.6. I was delighted at how many of the professors treated me more as an equal then as a student. Perhaps it was my age (32 then) compared to normal students, but I gained their respect none the less.

Again my time there went fast, and I completed a bachelor’s degree in just two more years. I grew to know my field as a student and a professional. But again greed overtook me, and I wanted more still. Over the years as a forestry student I found one other passion that allied closely to that field of study; and that was water resources.

It is now that I must admit that, while I have been so driven to accomplish my degrees. I have forced myself at a pace faster then I should had. I gained an associate’s degree in a year and a half; when it should had taken me two and a half years by the curriculum. Then I finished my bachelor’s degree in two years, when it should had taken me at least two and a half years. I was driven by my age and my desire to finish my degree quick enough to begin work again.

So when it came to my choice to continue on with my studies towards a master’s degree, I had mixed feelings. My drive and passion demanded more! But my practical side, knew I might not be able to afford more. Bills and credit have mounted during that time, and I needed to begin to work again. I worried that my age and weight might complicate entry into the work force. With those worries I have finally made my decision, I will continue on to gain my masters; and hopefully obtain position soon after.

I chose a compromise for these desires. The university I attended had newly offered a master’s program in Water Sustainability and Climate Change, and that degree was offered in an accelerated time frame. That type of program would only take one year to complete. I believe it would be no burden to one such as me, whom has only taken an extreme course load in the past. After a great deal of contemplation, I had decided that it was an opportunity that I could not deny myself. So I set my sights on this achievement, and hope that it will find me not wanting.

In a months’ time, I will begin…

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My Geek Cred: (Part 2) Years Into the World(s)

So I spoke of my years up through high school. But I am almost thirty five years old, and I have lived a bit since those days.  Although I have truly had many years past then, I have existed in a haze of depression and fantasy indulgence for a good amount of that time. I have moved past some of the worst of those obsessions and hope for changes that will be more constructive to my life.  But I will leave those explanations for another day and continue my geek cred post with those remaining years past those of my youth.

When high school ended, I like many other kids when away to college.  For the next year I found my new home to be Morgantown, West Virginia and more specifically West Virginia University.  It was over five hundred miles away from my New England hometown, had a football team I loved, and so much natural beauty touch my soul.  I majored in girls, parties, drinking, and oh yes we must not forget Engineering.  It seems odd to this day that I chose that major.  Though perhaps not with the way I excelled in math and my technical drawing classes.

My year at WVU was fun, exciting, and took me out of a shell I had lived in.  Though I cannot say that I was as studious as I should had been; not in the least.  I quickly became the computer expert in my dorm and gained many friends through those first requests for help.  Without the quiet demeanor I had in high school or the nerdy edge that comes with some computer people (especially in those days); I caught many dates and late night… adventures through some of those connections.  But I guess I did not write this blog to talk about my college exploits, so I will leave that for you to fill in.

While I have told you that I have always been a natural with computers, I should explain a few things that make me laugh at that point.  Especially after what I have just said about becoming the computer expert within my dorm.  Yes! I did own a Tandy 1000 EX, but that was the first and only computer that I owned until I moved into college.  Computers were excessively expensive back then, and some would argue they remain still today (not I though).  My parents were both blue collar workers (and one eventually on disability), and did not have the ability to buy me all those luxuries.  So for the years after that Tandy, I used computers mainly through friends and school.  My next computer did not come until I was leaving for college, my uncle and aunt decided that they would co-sign a credit card from an electronics store for me.  With that they paid for most of the computer and let me put some on the card as well.  I only had it out of the box one day before leaving for college, but I loved it and spent many late nights wasting hours on it for years to come.

That computer was a Compaq Presario 4704.  It had a 133 MHz Pentium processor, 1.6 Gig Hard drive, 8 MB of Ram, and Windows 95. I cannot say it was the best or brightest computer for that year; but it would had been top of the line for a production computer then.  Through that computer, I started learning how to work on hardware.  It began with the need of an Ethernet card, to be able to access the college network.  I quickly bought that and installed it without much issue.  I later helped the installation of many more that year, making a few bucks (from the guys) and other things as well.  Since that computer, I have never gone without one and eventually never gone without several at hand.

With that new beautiful piece of equipment, I journeyed into a new world of computer games.  Diablo was my first adventure into online gaming, and one I quickly came to enjoy.  I must now admit that I eventually became an asshole on that game, I would PK (player kill; griefing) anyone and anything.  I had entire guilds hunting me mainly because I was one of those cheating bastards that could get around a few of the mods that kept players from being PKed.  I do not know why I enjoyed it so, but in years to come my PKing become somewhat more honorable on other games.

I started MUDing (Multi-User Dungeon; text based gaming) that year as well.  A friend from high school led me to his MUD, and I took it up with a passion as well.  Eventually I started building areas for that game.  I took it upon myself to make the biggest area I had seen, and to my horror that area was junked by the implementers of the game out of spite for leaving their game for another.  Building was a kin to writing for me, allowing me to build adventures for others to experience and enjoy.  I believe text based games are still underrated, and offer so much for people to experience. If you have yet to experience one, go try one out and see what they are like.  I support one such game today, though I am sure others are just as great: http://www.kotl.org  (Telnet to kotl.org:2222)

The biggest gaming change for me in Morgantown was the lack of Dungeons and Dragons games.  The majority of people I spoke to played GURPS, and while I had played the system in the past… I did not like it.  But to my surprise the other thing that was popular was live action role playing.  They played Mind’s Eye Theatre based off of White Wolf’s World of Darkness universe, which if you’ve been reading, I had loved.  So I delved into live action to fill my need for role playing, and can still say it was one of the best experiences I had with gaming.  We played on the streets of Morgantown, and caught many odd looks to be sure.  The experience is not one I had captured past that year, but will be one I still admire.

Before my year at that college was over, I had finally gathered a group of D&D gamers.  It took what I consider an excessive amount of work on my part.  I from the second month of college there began to put up gaming flyers all over college and in parts of the town.  Each flyer eventually had the tags removed or went missing themselves, but I would get no calls or emails.  It was not until the last months of school within the spring semester when interest was shown and by then school was almost to an end.

After that first year, I was unable to go back to WVU.  I began to work full time, and tried community college for a time.  I eventually landed a job with a major telecom company that was expanding itself.  Specifically I landed a job in their new internet department, working as a technical support agent supporting dialup and DSL customers.  The best part to that job, was that I ended up on third shift working with a small overnight crew.

I assume you must be wondering why I would think that would be a benefit?  After all third shift is a life sucking hole which causing most people to have issues eventually.  It was the team of people that I ended up with, I believe there were eight of us on that shift when I started and since the work days overlapped we always had at least six at a time in house.  Out of those people, at least four were self-proclaimed hackers who loved UNIX and Linux with a passion, would code all night long, and spend hours doing things in external shell accounts and making printouts of nonsensical data (for those not in the know). The other four members of the team, including myself with gamers, all computer gamers (well the hackers too), at least three role players, and all around online/computer junkies.  I learned a lot from those people, am still in touch with a few, and still hold one as one of my best friends to this day.

The job required a medium amount of computer knowledge to start.  But with such influences around me I began to feed on knowledge with a frenzy.  While there I acquired an A + certification, and a Networking + certification.  I learned a lot about UNIX and Linux, and began my studies for a CCNA certification (Cisco Certified Network Associate).  The design of websites also became in my view, and I learned HTML and a little more coding (I had learned some C and C++ in high school and college). Let us just say that I became quite proficient in many aspects of computers.  But as time went on after leaving that job behind, much of that knowledge as faded like distant memories.

I bought my first domain in those years, and it is currently pointed at this blog; for I have not used it in years (http://www.darkreality.com).  That site was my first big step past a fortunecity or anglefire website that I had used in the past for fun things.  Darkreality.com started as a place for people to post stories, poetry, music, art, or anything creatively inclined with a darker (gothic, metal, edgy) foundation.  That was my goal at least, to bring people together and have a place for sharing that material.  The site was a hit!  To my great surprise and delight, I had thousands of hits and hundreds of people giving material.  I had at least two music labels asking for me to write reviews and post songs from their bands; after which they sent me free cd’s to do so.  And one book publisher wanting the same for a soon to be released book.  Let us just say that I was overwhelmed with the amount of material and response; I did not have the resources or skill to bring that site to the level at which it was climbing.  If I had only sought out help in that endeavor.  That is still one of the biggest disappointments of my past, especially now knowing I could had made a living off of that site.

My work friends and I founded our main gaming group during those years.  That group has been gaming (not with the same people other than us two) for about twelve years now, we rotate game masters every year or two to give others a chance to play.  While I do have other groups and have played in many other games; that one brings me the most joy out of all of them.  Perhaps it is because I helped found the game and am the one who actively searching for players when others leave.

The other passion that I quickly picked up; once my college pursuits were over, was reading again.  For the first time ever, I read with delight and enjoyment! I just could not get enough and I still cannot to this day.  Soon I found two of my favorite authors, Robert Jordan and George R. R. Martin.  I found that I liked long epic stories and searched out more, and found a weakness within myself; I could not stop reading a series that I liked, and had to have each book that followed.  Since those years, I have read hundreds if not more books.  I have found that I mainly enjoy fantasy, but am willing to try science fiction titles as well.  On occasion I have ventured out into historical fiction titles or other fiction that seems almost historical like that of Bernard Cornwell and Patrick O’Brian.  So I became addicted to a new form of fiction, and one I will never give up completely.