So there I was, aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter EAGLE, America's Tall Ship. Up to 147 feet above my head, we had up a full array of beautiful white canvas, close-hauled to the gale-force wind. For the week, EAGLE was my ship and I was a member of her crew. At that time, I would have been watching her sleek bow proudly slice through the ten-foot swells. I would have been, had I not been watching her stern end more intensely while clipped into the lee rail for two straight days and subsisting on saltine crackers.
For those of you who haven't been seafaring, you clip into the rail so you don't take a one-way ticket to Neptune's realm while feeding the fish with all that remains in your stomach from your last three meals. You clip into the ilee' rail, instead of iwindward,' so you don't end up eating those same three meals again when hit by a particularly unkind gust.
Thus began my career as a commissioned officer in the Coast Guard of these United States of America.
How did it come to this? In order to answer that question, I need to take you back on a voyage of discovery, through the colorful tapestry of my homeschooled life.
Just kidding - nothing that far back matters by the time you graduate. I think a suitable place to start would be about eighth grade. If memory serves me, I was studying through Calvert School's grade-in-a-box method. The checks and balances made possible by this system allowed two singularly, and rightfully, suspicious parents to easily check my vastly inflated claims of progress before letting me return to my favorite goofing-off activities: computer gaming and sneaking out to explore the one patch of woods hidden at the back end of the suburbs. I also practiced comic book art and piano, totally on my own. (I would have hated art and music if I'd had lessons.)
Parents, don't underestimate the value of your leadership, because right about now was when my parents decided something just wasn't working out right and they needed to up the ante. First, the Do Something With Your Life Manifesto:
Son, you are going to get accepted to - and succeed at - college, or you are going to be out on your ear at the age of 18, and don't think we're joking. It's tough love, and you don't want to find out just how tough we love you.
Then, they changed around my high-school program to focus on some intensive math and science, because they reasoned, and rightly so, that these were in high demand and might give my otherwise mediocre performance a bit of an edge. I took several AP courses online from the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers, to prove to colleges in a standard sort of way that I could really learn. And I took chemistry through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which I finished by flashlight two or three hours before I reported in to Swab Summer, but that's another story. Got a good grade, though.
Then, they taught me graphic arts, computer skills, and writing the best way they could: by filling a vacancy that had providentially opened up for Magazine Editor and Author's Assistant during our five-year mission to complete all three volumes of the Big Book of Home Learning (now Mary Pride's Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling) Great resource, latest edition $29.99.
And we set aside a study space in the back of the office: A whole room of nothing fun. Just office supplies, a VCR, and Chalk Dust videos on geometry and trigonometry. It was like pulling teeth at first - I mean, it physically hurt to study math for more than 15 minutes at a time, but eventually I got in the habit and started to actually enjoy getting good grades. Part of it was, I didn't want to go job hunting just yet.
It takes years of getting your act together to make a difference, but I had a few of those. Ultimately, I was a National Merit Finalist. I did graduate at last and did well academically at the Academy.
If you want fun and adventure, you have to earn it with lots and lots of painful grunt work. But it's worth it in the end. And if you don't know what to do with your life, enlist. It beats flipping burgers.