(This entry is primarily for old friends that have recently found me on social media. But I hope the rest of you get something out of this mini-biography too.)
In the past year or two, I’ve met a lot of you again — after years of no contact. While I have enjoyed our online interactions, those moments often overlook the huge gap in time between then and now. You can deduct a few things about my present life from my profile and recent posts, but if you were wondering about the missing years, this entry is for you.
For some of you, my high school graduation in 1990 was when we last spoke; for others, it was just after that, or early 1990s college days. Today, I had a brilliant and important interaction with a late-1990s friend. (And some of my regular readers have never met me in person.)
So each of you will ease into this story at a different spot.
I don’t know what you remember of me, or what you thought of me at the time — and I am incredibly curious to know, even if it’s not complimentary — so I will of necessity write this from my own point of view. Brevity isn’t my strong suit, but rest assured that I made an attempt at it.
• The College Years
If you knew me in high school, you might have known my future plans included going to the Air Force Academy, with hopes to be a pilot or possibly an engineer or architect. As it turned out, I passed a battery of tests including physical fitness and medical requirements, and met all the academic and other requirements. However, entry into the U.S.’s premiere military academies is strictly limited; I did not make the cut. Disappointed, and with little money saved after high school, I took a year off to work, save money, and reevaluate my plans.
You might also remember I was a little on the ultra-religious side, at least part of the time. That part of me fully took hold during my “gap year”. By the time Spring 1991 rolled around, I was convinced that I should be a preacher — more specifically, a missionary. How and where that would unfold, I wasn’t sure. I visited a handful of Bible colleges. When I visited Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri, something clicked and I made my decision. By late August, I was enrolled as a student and showed up with bells on. It wasn’t bells though; it was acne and a handful of Bibles.
I spent most of the next four years on that small-yet-expensive campus, filling my free time with long shifts at McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Albertson’s, and even stints as a clown and a church janitor in vain hopes to pay my bills, but also generally being a jerk about how religious I was. Take this journal quote from 1992:
Despite a growing sense of coldness on the faith front, I began preaching regularly — at missions, churches, youth functions, and even before my peers at my college’s chapel. At the same time, privately, I was writing things like: “I don’t understand God’s direction in my life” and “…the flame of passion within me… has died”, and growing disillusioned with the idea of ministry in general.
In the middle of all that, I fell in love — and found a way to ruin that too.
In the end, it was a lack of money that coerced my next major decision.
Sitting in a minivan with the woman I adored at the time — one of the best all-around people I’ve ever met. Neither of us was emotionally mature enough for the relationship we tried to have. Twenty-something years later, we are friends on Facebook.
• The Arkansas Years
Intending to return for a final year of college once my bills were paid off, I moved to Arkansas in 1995 and took up work in the grocery industry. It took months of full-time work to pay off my remaining college bill. By the time it zeroed out, I had decided not to return.
Despite negative stereotypes, I found many folks in Arkansas to be tolerant, erudite, and open-minded. I found valuable companionship and explored what I’d always been told was the darker side of life. It was enjoyable, illuminating, and without much regret, but ultimately I did not better myself during those five years.
The shortest accurate version of my Arkansas story is: “I survived.”
I lived a hard enough life there that I can never again cast aspersion against the dregs of society — who counted me among their number for some time.
Having lost the naive hope of youth as well as the faith that set me on this road, I was often personally confused and directionless. Eventually a consensus arose amongst my friends and I — I must leave this place and become a different person yet again.
• The Oklahoma Years
With little to show for my previous striving, I slunk to Oklahoma and hid in an out-of-the-way town, subduing my pride and relying for a while on the charity of family. It turned out to be just the change I needed. Very quickly, I found a factory job, bought a reliable car, and found an apartment. Nothing was glamorous or exciting about this, but at least I was above rock bottom again.
At Home In The Wilderness
Five months after moving to Oklahoma, most of my cares were gone. Old wounds healed and I found better ways to protect against new ones. I continued the stream of poetry writing that had begun in 1999, including this one.
(Copyright © 2001 by Norma Gillespie.)
Within a year, I found a job doing what I thought I would love: writing. The local daily newspaper, family-owned, was looking for a newswriter and I was ready to sit behind a desk. As it turned out, the majority of my stories were “Local Man Jailed For DUI” or “Two Die In Wreck” or “Area Unemployment Rate Still High”, but it was the niche I needed at that time. I was handed a camera and sent to cover explosions, wrecks, wildfires and structure fires, storm damage, human interest stories, local festivals, and more.
As it turned out, I enjoyed the photography as much as the writing, so I saved bits of my meager salary and bought my own camera, eventually upgrading to a fully-manual DSLR. After four years, I took over the sports department, and stayed there for about four years.
During all that time, I was finally finding myself — something I should have done years earlier. I changed every opinion I had at least once, and finally became an adult.
But the biggest thing that happened to me during my Oklahoma years was meeting my wife. Short version: she was a fan of a comedian who was dating my cousin in New York; my cousin had linked to one of my blog entries and my eventual wife followed that link and began commenting. That quickly escalated to emails and then to phone calls. Within three weeks, she had flown from New York to Oklahoma to meet me. Less than a year later, we married in Key West, Florida, on the second day of our honeymoon cruise. (The more complete story, which overlaps a bit with this one, is online here.)
As soon as I taught her to drive, she began working full-time, changing my fortunes drastically. Within three years, we moved to Killeen to pursue her career, and we’ve been here ever since.
• The Killeen Years
Unfolding a plan we’d been working on for three years, my wife and I timed her first pregnancy with the building of our first house, and we moved in two months before she gave birth. As planned, I stay home to raise the children while my wife bears the brunt of the breadwinning — her earning capacity is far beyond mine. (I rarely mention her name online, due to the nature of her government job.)
Today, I remain a stay-at-home father and homemaker, which is as fulfilling as it is exasperating. I still try to be a photographer in my spare time, while also blogging, maintaining my website, and occasionally writing poetry.
That’s my story in a nutshell.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned the religion angle in a while. During the Arkansas years, I decided I was a deist. While in Oklahoma, I didn’t give much thought to it. Then in 2014, I realized I no longer believed in any god, and declared myself an atheist in early 2015 (at the age of 42), much to the chagrin of many who had known me. My wife, a lifelong Roman Catholic, is fully supportive of my lack of belief. Our children have participated in Catholic baptism, to which I had agreed before marrying my wife, but neither are yet old enough to fully consider such epistemological claims.
I also haven’t mentioned politics. I was raised in a Republican/conservative household, and entered adulthood as a conservative-leaning independent with libertarian tendencies. I never joined, or identified with, any political party, and never considered myself politically aware until about the time I began blogging (about 2005). Over time, almost every issue I dug into swayed me leftward. Today, I am still registered as an independent voter, but my views are almost entirely liberal and progressive.
I hope this has filled in the gaps, for those of you who were curious about what I’ve been up to. If not, tell me what you want to know, either here in the comments or via private message or email. I am generally an open book.