Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Five: "Welcome to Adulthood" (Pt. 1)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 25th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

As I begin college the transition begins into adulthood as we have also recently moved into our new location. New friends, new professors, new campus, new house. Everything is new!


My new frontier began for me in the fall semester of 1969 as I started at Jackson Community College as a freshman liberal arts student. My plan was to load up on the social sciences which were by far my favorite and the natural sciences my second and see where it all took me. My counselor thought all of this was fine except he disagreed with my choice of chemistry classes.

“Mr. Painter,” he called me mister, and now that I was supposed to be an adult, I would just have to get used to it. “But Mr. Painter with the grades you got in high school, you could be a doctor, and to be a doctor you need to take this chemistry class.”

“But I don’t want to be a doctor,” I explained to him. If it’s one thing I knew for a certainty about myself, it was this. “I’m sorry, but I just can’t stand the sight of blood. I’d never make it through med school.”

“Oh.” End of discussion.

So with my class list set I began to commute back and forth from the lake to this shiny new campus out on the south side of Jackson County. All of the commuting proved a logistical nightmare for a few months because the new house on M-50 wasn’t ready to move into until just before the snow flew, and because of band we all wanted Sandi to start her new high school season and her sophomore year at Northwest, so Mom would take Dad to work in the morning, drive Sandi to school on the northwest side of town, I’d go off to college, and somehow we’d reverse this process while Dad still made time to finish off the house on M-50 which coincidentally was located just a mile around the corner from Northwest High where Sandi was now attending. That part was good.

The other great part which helped smooth her transition, because leaving her friends of long-standing behind at this age could not have been an easy thing, was the fact that Northwest High had the reputation for possessing the best high school band in the county. This fact did not hurt our family’s transition to the new area.

So each of us, my sister and I, began making new friends in our respective new venues. I did have a few holdovers from my high school, a few friendly faces I knew, but now there I would get to know other students from other high schools throughout the county. And eventually I saw myself reaching out a bit; I joined a couple of on-campus clubs, the JCC Folkloric Society and the JCC Young Republicans.

The Folkloric Society isn’t exactly what it may sound. We were a group of young folks who got together and sang folk songs. Of course, I loved singing . . . always! But for a long time, actually ever since I’d unceremoniously given up the trombone I’d yearned to play the guitar, and somewhere along the way this secret had come to light. After my grandma Bess had passed the prior November and I went into my deep funk afterwards, my parents did the most wonderful thing for me that they ever did, I suppose. In an effort to bring me out of that funk they got me the best Christmas gift ever, my first guitar. Oh, it wasn’t anything expensive to be sure, just a $20 flat-top, but it was everything to me, and at that time a $500 Gibson wouldn’t have been any better or meant any more to me. I went right out and bought a Mel Bay beginner’s basic guitar chord book, and I was off! Neil Diamond here I come! Johnny Cash move over!! I’d put their records on the player and played right along with them, and that’s how I taught myself basic rhythm and chording. While I never got great, over the years before this damned arthritis and neuropathy took over my hands, I got country good. And I could perform in public as a rhythm guitarist in front of a crowd with my singing, and back myself, but never play lead. That’s where I’d already progressed to during my freshman year at JCC, and I’d bring my Harmony 6-string to these folkloric events and my friend from high school, Dawn, brought her Sears Silvertone 12-string, and we’d play and sing and we’d have a great time! And it was then and there that I got the bug for the 12-string guitar.

And yes, I started out life as a Young Republican. Those who know me now have their mouths hanging wide open, and I was raised in a UAW family, to be sure, but in a moderate Republican county and state and era. Even the Democrats in office in those days were moderates. Politics in those days were not so polarized as they are now. Compromise was not a dirty word. And I owed my entry into the JCC Young Republicans to my Economics professor Mr. Thomson who was the advisor. But looking back, even Hillary Clinton was a Goldwater girl, and so we all grow-up. Being a Republican then and there in that time period was not a bad thing for me, and belonging to the Young Republicans I chalk up to another part of my learning experience. We talked a lot, but I don’t recall us doing anything of any significance. Sort of sounds like today.

My Voice

Freshman English class was so damned tough for me I didn’t think I’d survive. It wasn’t the readings we did. No. I loved Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbitt among the many new worlds that our professor, Ms. Fausell, opened up for me. But the creative writing part? Ugh! In private meetings in her office she and I would judiciously lock horns like judge and a junior assistant district attorney. The only problem was, I had no idea what I was doing, and I was not really getting her message.

And her message was that she couldn’t hear my voice in what I was writing. Where was my voice?

My voice? What the hell was she talking about?

And she would explain this to me time and again, and I’d go back to the classroom time and again for another rewrite. A little improvement, but minor. Great sentence structure. Diagramming all those sentences in 8th grade English had produced a perfect automaton, but I apparently could not think outside the box.

I managed a C. But not for her lack of effort. I just wasn’t getting it.

I went into Mrs. Stolorow’s Creative Writing English class 2nd semester. She had the reputation for not being as tough, and her personality was nicer. But true to form, mine that is, I still wasn’t getting it. Voice. Where was my voice.


My sentence structure was still great, but I had no real voice of my own. Where was my own voice. My own point of view.

No one had ever pointed this out to me before. Did I even have my own voice? Did I even have my own point of view? And how did I feel about that?

Welcome to the Family

The strange thing is what I could never write in essay or short story form in those days with my voice, as it turns out I was doing a bit better of a job of it in poetry form. Unfortunately, nobody ever took a look at any of these. I had written my first poem in my high school sophomore English class, and I got an A for it. I recall Mrs. Shirk my teacher liking it a lot even posting it on the board, and I wish I still had a copy of it. It was entitled Butterball about a fat high school kid who got bullied in school. Sound familiar? The funny thing was, I didn’t get bullied, but even then I could empathize, and I did have a point of view, but for some damn reason at that time I could only express it in meter and rhyme. And so it would be for years. And I didn’t even have the understanding at the time to express this to my professors.

In college though, I was playing the guitar and singing, so music was added to these song poems, and during the very first Earth Day in April of 1970 in my freshmen year, I wrote my first song, Wildflowers, Etc. It wasn’t anything extraordinary, but it was a monumental breakthrough for me, and I performed it a few times with the folkloric Society. And I continued to write these little poems in my spare time both at school and at home. Some would get music to them and some not.

It was in early October of my sophomore year while sitting at a large table in the student lounge between classes that I happened to be penning another one of these ditties, Gray October Day, because it happened to be one. Suddenly one of my friends, Mike walked by. Mike and I had known each other since our senior year in high school having worked as co-op students at Consumers Power together, but we both graduated from different high schools, me from Michigan Center, and he from Jackson Northwest where my sister now attended. And we’d always been friendly acquaintances attending some of the same events and often talking, but never really hanging out by ourselves together. Well, he saw me writing at the table and asked if he could sit down, and I said sure, of course. And he asked what I was writing, and I told him. And he asked if he could read it, and I said sure.

He like it. Mike liked it. And looking back on it now, it turned out to be by far one of my least efforts, but evidently something in it said something to him. And it certainly was a gray October day! As it turned out he lived only three miles farther down M-50 from me having completed our move into the new house halfway through my freshman year, and I eventually became quite attached to him. What bolstered all of this was when he took me home to meet his family, his wonderful family for they were (and are) a family, his mom, dad, one of his two brothers (John was still in Viet Nam) and four sisters all welcomed me. As time would pass, I felt as if I had become adopted, as if I belonged, home.

And all of this helped me to grow and learn many things about myself in different ways.

(In the next installment, as an experiment I move out of my parents' house for awhile to experience some freedom and the best birthday bash ever.)

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memories From My Young Days, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Serial, Series, True Experience, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar Retired
14th Apr 2015 (#)

Geez, you gave up the opportunity to be a doctor? Not a lot of folks have that ability to understand and learn.

We are folks of the same generation as I, too, can remember Earth Day, May 1, a few years earlier while I was in college. All that ado about saving an earth that is capable of saving itself for the last 4.6 billion years.

BTW, I got a "D" on my first college essay, majored in chemistry, and went on to make my living by writing (mostly technical stuff, but now, in my own style). Well, it's good to meet you here on Wikinut, where most writers are of left persuasions except for a few us who are always Right all of the time, write well, and write what is right.

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author avatar Ken Painter
25th Apr 2015 (#)

Yup.No doctor for me, but I've never regretted that decision. I'm just not cut out for it.

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