Archive for UC Davis

Motorcycles, Music, and the Mediterranean

Posted in Background, Education, Family, Motorcycle, Rationale, Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by timtrue


Just imagine for a moment cruising around the Mediterranean Riviera on a motorcycle, by yourself or with friends, whatever your pleasure, with an itinerary based upon concerts.  Would you start in Rome and work your way north and then west through France and Spain?  Or are you more attracted to the east side of the Middle-earth Sea, to the Greek Isles maybe, or to Istanbul, or the so-called Promised Land?  Or, perhaps you have a thirst for the peoples of North Africa–for Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco?  Or maybe you’d do it all.  Anyway, sounds like a great vacation to me.  Now if only I could find a way to finance it!

But contrary to whatever ideas the title of this post may suggest about travel, what I really want to discuss here is another “m” word: manumission.  For each of these things–motorcycles, music, and the Mediterranean–represent a liberation for me from a burden that had become a sort of personal bondage.  Perhaps this manumission has something to do with why I continue to be so drawn to each today.  (Perhaps, too, that imagined vacation suggested above will become a personal reality someday.)

So: motorcycles.  How do these represent liberation for me?  To answer I must go back to my boyhood, to when I was twelve years old or so and I got my first motorcycle.  It was a Yamaha MX80, not sure of the year, maybe 1972.  An unreliable two-stroke motor powered the beast.  I remember that it fouled sparkplugs regularly, so I soon learned to carry a spare in my increasingly bulging portable tool kit.  It possessed all of 6 or 7 horsepower, and could reach a top speed of thirty-five, maybe–if I rode it down a really steep hill wide open and engaged the clutch!

But it provided me with a certain freedom I’d not known previously.  For my older brother, who had a much more reliable 1976 Honda XR75, and I now had the ability to explore far beyond where any of our previous pedestrian adventures had allowed us to go.  Many a time did we ride from our house to the bed of Callegas Creek, taking whatever footpaths and backroads we could to get there and to avoid the fuzz.  We fashioned ourselves as little rebels without a cause.  At least we did until another fouled plug threw a temporary glitch into the day.  But then we fashioned ourselves as expert mechanics.

On this note, I remember a day when we couldn’t for the life of us figure out how to get my steed back in working order.  We were three or four miles from home, stuck in a fairly boggy part of the creek bed, scratching our heads in adolescent befuddlement.  Long story short, one of us found a bedraggled piece of discarded rope; and, knowing how to tie numerous knots from Scouts, Older Brother towed me the distance.  To heck with non-street-legal status, we said; this was an emergency!  Fifteen minutes later we’d made it home in one piece, and we’d avoided the fuzz’s notice.

We didn’t always succeed, however, at avoiding the fuzz’s notice.  I can remember more than once riding my manumission-enabling motorcycle right past a cop driving in the other direction.  I can even remember seeing the cop’s frowning face and pointing finger, indicating his desire for me to pull over.

But I had some things going for me, and I knew it.  First off, the roads were narrow and windy.  It would be at least thirty seconds before the cop could turn around successfully.  By then I’d be a quarter-mile away.  Second, I knew these quasi-rural narrow windy streets as well if not better than he did.  There lay before me any combination of lefts, rights, and straight-aheads so that by the time said cop managed to turn his bulky Ford-Crown-Victoria self around he’d be left to guess his way forward like so many youths in the Minotaur’s labyrinth.  Ha!  And, third and finally, I could go off-road if necessary, as a last resort (which I actually did once).  What could the copper do then?  Pull his pistol on me?  Really?  Yeah, like that’d go over well in the Camarillo Daily News!  Cop Shoots Kid on 6-Horsepower Sparkplug-fouling Motorbike.

Anyway, I never did get pulled over, arrested, thrown in juvey, whatever.  Instead I always managed to defy the law (and my plug-fouling steed) successfully, high-tailing it home lickety-split, parking the bike in the garage, shutting it down, closing the garage door, and heading into the house to take a nonchalant seat on the couch as if I’d only been playing Space Invaders on the ATARI all morning long.

Manumission I tell you!


A second liberating experience happened in college, after deciding to change my major from mathematics to music.  It happened this way.

I entered college in 1986, three months after graduating high school.  But I had no idea what to do with my life, what to declare as a major, and so on.  Long about second semester of my senior year in high school, in fact, I’d looked around and thought, “Yeah, I guess I ought to go to college.  Don’t want to end up delivering flowers the rest of my life.”  So I applied to enroll like so many of my friends at a local community college.

But that blasted application asked me to choose a major!

So I wondered and reflected and contemplated and pondered and thought and over-analyzed, as I am wont to do.  What am I good at?  What do I like to do?

In the end I checked the box that said forestry.  How cool would that be, I reasoned, to backpack around Yosemite or Kings Canyon and check the lakes to see if they’re stocked with enough fish!

But in my first year of college I almost gave up.  Flower delivery, after all, was paying me pretty well.

It was the math, really.  I’d let calculus get the better of me.

The fall of 1987 came around and I determined to get back up on that horse–or, to use another metaphor, to fix that fouled plug and ride the motorbike home.  I poured every bit of mental effort I had into my second attempt at calculus.  And I found I actually understood it, even liked it!

At the same time I was taking music appreciation and music theory courses.  These I enjoyed too.  But they were almost effortless for me.  I wrote the first coherent paper of my life, comparing Beethoven to the Beatles–and earned an A.  I devoured every musical rule I learned; compositions flowed.  So, I reasoned, because of the effortlessness these courses must not be as academic as math, somehow.

Yet I enjoyed them so much so that I shared with my engineer-dad my struggle.  “Dad,” I said, “um, well, I’m still technically a forestry major.  But I’m thinking of changing my major to either music or math.  And, uh, since you’re paying the bills and all, well, what do you think?”

“What kind of job could you get with a music degree?” he asked.

So I officially changed my major to mathematics.

Three years later I was in Davis, California, the fall of 1990, beginning what I hoped would be my final year of college.  Math was a struggle, but the end was in sight–if only I could pass analysis and combinatorics.  Everything else came easily enough for me.  But these two courses were a struggle.

Then there was music.  I was still taking music courses on the side, for fun.  But it felt somehow wrong, like dating two girls at the same time.

“And besides,” I asked myself, “what would I do with a math degree?  Teach?

“I could always teach music. . . .

“And that whole silly dream of being a fighter pilot in the Air Force, well, really, Tim, that was kind of a passing fancy, wasn’t it?

“Aren’t you really feeling more of a tug to pursue ministry?”

And so I was.

Couple this with things taking a turn for the worse in my first significant relationship with a girl–another story for another day.

So then, it all exploded over Christmas break.  My girlfriend broke up with me (on Christmas Day no less!) and faithful Music and jealous Math found out what was going on.  The gig was up.

So I again sought sage Engineer-dad’s counsel.

“Do what you want, Tim,” he said.  “But keep in mind that the money will be used up by the end of this year.  So if you end up staying on, you’ll have to pay for it.”

So I did.  I changed my major to music and stayed on–another two years.  And I paid for it out of my own pocket.  Happily!  For I’d been manumitted.

On to the Mediterranean then!


Some years after graduating college I was indeed teaching.  Ironically it included math.  By now I was married with two daughters, ages 3 and 1.  And I was frankly disappointed in the educational prospects for my kids.  So I began to consider and contemplate and think about and ponder and over-analyze the idea of home-schooling my children if necessary, to offer them something better than the other options we were faced with–if necessary.  My question to myself, then, was where I lacked.

I began reading lots of books about education, turning first to the history of education and then to the seven liberal arts of the Middle Ages themselves.  Curiously, my education had included lots of stuff.  Serendipitously, I was already quite well-versed in the quadrivium–arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  But, aha!, the trivium revealed a gap.  Sure, I knew some things about grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric.  But these were not taught once upon a time as we teach subjects today.  They were seen more as stages, as Dorothy Sayers points out in a rather famous essay.  Anyway, to learn the languages of Greek and Latin would reasonably fill in my personal academic gaps, I concluded.

So at 32 years of age I dived into the ancient Mediterranean pool of classical languages.  And again I experienced a sort of manumission.  For I wasn’t the only person seeing educational deficiencies in our modern culture, I soon discovered.  Lots of schools in fact were restructuring their curricula to incorporate these same ancient models, or starting up as altogether new.  And I soon found a place teaching Latin, not to mention ancient Mediterranean cultures, to students.  I found schools to which I could send my kids with a clear conscience too.  Manumission!

So there it is, really: my manumission theme and three variations.  But, before I conclude, I’d like to add a coda.

That 3 year-old is now a sophomore in college.  She is studying this semester in Florence, Italy, smack-dab in the middle of all things Mediterranean.  And she is having the time of her life.

She’s been there only a few weeks.  But already she has traveled to Rome and Pompeii, and to Ravenna.  She will be taking a field trip to, among other places, Venice.  While in Florence, in addition to studying, she will enjoy an internship restoring Etruscan artifacts.  She recently wrote me to say,

“While doing my homework this evening, I glanced at a picture of Zeus that I’ve seen in several textbooks over the years.  I then realized that this sculpture resides exactly where I do.  I think it’s finally hit me that I live in the midst of, essentially with, all the history and art that I have studied in the past several years.  I’m currently in awe.”

There’s something very liberating in all of this.


Background: How We Met

Posted in Background with tags , , , on July 19, 2013 by timtrue
Adam et Eve

Adam et Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the byproducts of giving in and embracing my faith in the simplistic camp setting discussed last time is that I likewise gave in to my childhood temptation of seeing things too clearly.  Not that it’s all bad to see the world this way.  Yes or no, right or wrong, black or white, good or evil: it makes for robust principles and idealism.  The difficult part comes in the eventual impracticacabillity of trying to live out such robust principles and ideals.

On the one hand, then, it was really unfortunate that my wife met me during these years.  For I had everything worked out in my mind ahead of time, gleaned from the first of all marriages, Adam and Eve’s.  From the Scriptures, I told myself, it was all so clear.  Adam and Eve had been given specific roles by God himself.  Adam’s were to provide and protect.  He would provide for his family through his own toil, eking out whatever living he could for his multiplying family by the sweat of his own brow, not Eve’s.  Of course I wasn’t a gardener or shepherd but instead one who’d decided (rather foolishly according to some) to study music in college, to earn a degree in theory and composition.  My toil then would be less of sweat than of mental efforts of creativity, or so I told myself.  I had not yet experienced how difficult it would be to get a publisher’s attention, the means by which a composer makes money–a different kind of toil altogether.  Besides, I assured myself, I sense the call to the Gospel ministry anyway, meaning I will more than likely go to seminary after graduating from UC Davis, meaning too that I should just study whatever I like, since seminary requires only a bachelor’s degree and no specific field of study like engineering, physics, or math (“practical,” money-making degrees those fool-deemers would have preferred).  Somehow, I just knew, I’d find a way to keep my family’s finances afloat.

Holly, my dear bride-to-be, had a pre-determined role as well.  Clearly, I saw, Eve’s labor was to bear and raise children.  Holly would do the same, surely.  Bearing children was a difficult prospect.  But there was no way around this difficulty–other than not having kids, which made no sense.  Besides, the joys of spending days raising children would make it all worth it, right?

“How many kids do you want?” I asked one day over dinner.  We were both music students, meaning free concerts most nights of the week, meaning lots of good dates for low prices during our engagement.

Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Adam and Eve, detail.

Masaccio, Brancacci Chapel, Adam and Eve, detail. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Um, er,” Holly began, then quietly chewed her pizza and took a sip of her soda probably to think it through.  At last she said, “two maybe, or three?”

“Two or three?  I was thinking six.”

“Six!” she coughed and then took another sip.  Perhaps some pizza was lingering.  At any rate, a moment later, recovered more or less, she said, “I can’t imagine any more than four.”

My idealism was based on Adam and Eve before the fall–you know, that time in the Garden when they walked around naked, which certainly must have meant a tropical climate, meaning too that there were lush and abundant fruits for their picking and eating, warm waters for delightful swims whenever the fancy struck, sleeping out under the stars, frolicking with beasts, and so on, and there was no shame.  But of course this pre-fall bliss, this honeymoon if you will, was before they had actually had any kids, before the Cain and Abel incident in other words.  Talk about sibling rivalry!  No matter, I told myself, our marriage would be based on Edenic principles.  We’d be different.  Our kids–if God blesses us thusly–won’t argue or fight.  You’ll see.  Just watch!  Incidentally, in my experience since, most people whom I have encoutered with similar ideals aren’t basing them on post-fall humanity.  But this is the period of humanity in which we live.  Just an observation.

But on the other hand, Iwas a superhero.  How could she resist?

For video-archive detail, watch  BTW, I don’t show up for the first 8 minutes.

Captain Uriah was the brainchild of a certain few of us on the College Life Leadership Team in the fall of 1990.  College Life was a ministry of First Baptist Church, Davis.  Its stated purpose was to offer spiritual direction to the student body.  In actual practice, we met weekly in a classroom on Sunday evenings for songs, a talk, and fellowship.  Once a month the meeting took on a different feel, a skit-oriented talk show modeled after Late Nite with David Letterman.  We called it outreach, but I think it was more an opportunity for those so inclined to exercise some creativity.  It was fun.  It was an outlet.  And people called it ministry.  Certainly, I thought, I could do this kind of work for the rest of my life.

Captain Uriah began as a skit.  I wore a blue turtleneck with a “U” duct-taped across my chest, a safety-pinned Mexican serape as a cape, blue running tights, and a pair of boxers with panda bears on the outside.  Goofy, I know.  But the first appearance was an absolute hit.  He became a regular guest, whose deeds of do-gooding and soul-saving quickly became the stuff of legend.

Then the videos began.  This was the early 90s, remember; there was no digital recording available, or at least there wasn’t for poor college students.  We did everything with a camcorder, sometimes shooting a particular scene seven or eight times before we had compiled enough material to splice it all together into something presentable.  There was always a story to tell, for sure, but I think the chief goal (unsaid of course) was humor.  The cameraman would sit in the passenger seat of a pickup truck, for instance, filming and interviewing the driver in some formulaic fashion.  Suddenly I’d appear outside the driver window as if flying, hands outstretched, and thereby learn some crucial point necessary in saving some soul.  And off I’d be to do some good.  Of course, someone was in the bed of the truck holding my legs down so I wouldn’t fall out.  But we were going thirty, fast enough to give the effect of speed, but also fast enough to really hurt if I did fall out.

Fortunately I never did hurt myself in my Captain Uriah escapades.  But this was because I was doing right, not wrong; doing good, not evil.  Right?  It was all so clear to me.

Meanwhile I’d made the shift in my academics from math to music.  I was singing in choirs, practicing lots of piano, and absorbing every fact of music history and theory.  What between this and my alter-ego, life was good!

That’s when I first noticed Holly.  I’d see her almost daily in choir, a petite soprano walking across the front of the rehearsal hall to her place, and it occurred to me that I’d seen her before, elsewhere, no small coincidence in a school of 30,000.  Was it church?  Was it College Life?  Yeah, that was it.  In any event, I figured we had similar interests and I determined to introduce myself to her as soon as I got the chance.

The chance came a week or so later.  I was leaving the listening lab at an off time, meaning a time when most students were tucked away behind classroom doors.  The halls were relatively empty.  Then, there, ahead, the double-glass doors of the music building opened and in she walked.  And it seemed to me as if the Rachmaninov I’d just been listening to was still playing in my ears, the third movement of his second symphony, a quintessential romantic movement.  A gentle breeze caught her hair.  Warm sunlight highlighted her defined cheekbones.  Scents of spring blossoms caught my olfactories, wafting on the zephyr.  Our eyes met.  She smiled at me.

Now is the time, I told myself.  I suppressed whatever nerves sought to rise up against my purpose and set my face like flint.  I had to introduce myself.  When would I have a better opportunity?  I just had to say hi.

Approaching now, nearing, I began to move my right arm determined to offer a handshake.  Hey, at least it was something.  But, anyway, before my arm had noticeably moved, she–yes, she–said, “You’re Captain Uriah, aren’t you?”

I was speechless.