So Whats Your Degree In

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I was asked this question the other day. It comes up now and then and I’m usually an oddity for the fact that I don’t have one. I have learned to be honest about my lack of one, and the fact that I regret it…with all my heart. I regret the lost opportunities and the other directions that might have been available in my life if I had gone down that road. Because of that I taught my children to say the word “College” when it first became apparent they were going to talk. This is an article sponsored by Gather App

If the nerds have a king it is Nathan Myhrvold, and I am merely his helpless sycophant. I find James Franco sexy. Not because of his looks or acting talent. Certainly not for his Oscar hosting skills. No, it’s the PhD he’ll have soon.  It’s true, I am an I.Q. groupie. I would have been an easy lay for Einstein, and if I once threw my panties at you because you went to MIT, my bad. But the secret truth of it remains, I covet in sinful ways those who hail from mysterious Ivy League worlds.

I didn’t finish high school. Don’t get me wrong, I was not the kind of child who resisted learning. From the first time I could understand what a book was I was sold on the idea and I have been reading ever since. Voraciously.  There is very little that I think I couldn’t learn from a book. I wore the spines out on our set of Encyclopedia Britannica, conducting endless searches on an endless number of topics as my restless mind led me on a journey across the Rubicon of ideas, one fact leading to another magical fact, and eventually leading to a whole new branch or topic of information.

If there has been anything that I have loved aside from my children, it has been the ideas. Simple thought and the wonder of the human mind have held me in awe for as long as I can remember. I am still entranced to hear about things I never knew existed. I worship things like TED and I am unreasonably excited by facts about ants or to know that bacteria can count themselves and that it determines their behavior when they reach a certain number.  I am a nerd. I always was, even when I didn’t realize it.

I remember sitting in the hallway of high school in my freshman year (what would be my only full year at that institution) and reading Eric Segal’s “Love Story” (that was clearly back in the days before romanticism had been crushed out of me).  What drew me most about the story, then and now, was the idea that there was this magical land called New England where places like Harvard and Radcliffe existed. It seemed as far away as the Sun.  I never once thought it was attainable, that was not the culture I grew up in, but I remember it made me hungry. I longed to be one of those people. It has been a feeling that has followed me when I finally made pilgrimages to places such as Harvard or Stanford.

But life back in high school for my family was too chaotic and higher education too little supported and generally speaking, kids don’t go to college by accident. It takes a plan, dedication and brain washing. It takes parents who consider an engineering degree to be The Holy Grail.  We were far too occupied with mere survival in my house. So instead, I read everything I could get my hands on, consumed whole encyclopedia and found that escape into that world of books saved my sanity. In the midst of the chaos and despair of my childhood, it was evidence that there was life out there, that hope might just be a possibility, that I might find meaning out of all the difficulty.  Books were my lifeline, and best of all? Biographies. These endless examples of how other people had confronted hardship and impossible odds on defeated them. They were roadmaps to life.

I’ve come to think of it as my “log cabin education.” It ties me in nicely with Abraham Lincoln, who once filled out the space on the congressional roll where it asked for Education with the single word – “Defective.” He’s been my favorite ever since for both his self-educated status and his lifelong co-existence with melancholy, as they used to call depression (why was it so much more socially acceptable back then to have either? Ah, the good ole days).

But I wish I had been raised to go to college. Walking the campus at Stanford is at once the most beautiful and most loss-inducing experience I’ve ever felt. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to go to one of the 7 Sisters colleges. I wanted to bathe in the waters of education and knowledge and research…I wanted to be among ideas and the people who cared about them. Instead, I worked and traveled and battled my demons, and read as much and as often as possible. And I was fortunate in my friends.

From the very beginning it was the intellectuals I was drawn to, those who embraced the love of an idea and debate. By letting me sneak into their world, these people brought me the whole universe. They brought me reason, and that quite literally saved my life. One of my nicely degreed friends said the other day that the only thing missing from my degree was the paperwork.

That meant a lot to me because I was in my mid 30’s before I began to suspect that I had game in the intellectual stakes.  There are many, many people brighter than I am, but often, the only thing separating their brains from mine are the books they got to read.  I can hold my own with many of them and I didn’t know that for a long, long time. I measured myself by the only thing I didn’t have, a degree.

In the end, I found my intellect on my own. I found it through people who dazzle me with the bright furnace of their thoughts, I found it through learning about poets and architects and the structure of the brain. I found it in books, and lately on the internet, which is preventing me from sleeping, ever, because of the amount of information you can expose yourself to. Amazing things are going to happen to education because of the internet.

So while I know that everyone says it’s never too late to go back and get your degree, the reality of 6 kids and the amount of money and time it would take don’t place it at the top of my list these days.  I’ll stay open to the idea, but for now I can at least report that yesterday, when I heard myself explaining to the 5 year old that if her 2 year old brother pees on her while they are having a bath together then she has to rinse off with clean water before getting out of the bath, for the first time ever I was glad I didn’t have a college degree – because it means that I didn’t have to waste enormous amounts of money to say that to another human.

What’s my degree in?  Most days, I want to answer “Lucky to be alive.” That’s what my degree is in…