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My Evolving Story
"Face in the gutter, eyes on the floor...Walk on down you know the score"
The last decade of the twentieth century found me in a new school, in a new town, learning to start over again. One of the first people I met in Bowman was James Miller. We were very good friends for a long time. Though we've lost contact over the years, I still wonder how he is doing.
School quickly started again, as it always seems to do when you're of school age. Once again I found myself striving to be the one that answers the question, trying hard to excel academically and intellectually. Because of this and a sudden onset of social aversion, my life as a sixth grader quickly found itself entrenched outside the niche groups of kids, mocked by the "popular kids." I don't ever recall another time previous in my life where I was labeled and felt like such an outcast. Early on, although kids would have the people they hung out with most, we still had a sense of belonging to that group. Of course, time brings change and with it people move away, move on, and find themselves either adapting and conquering or being conquered in the proverbial struggle of youth. Bowman found me being conquered in a social sense. I still attended Boy Scouts, my church's youth group, and participated in sports (flag football, wrestling, track and field, swimming, and Tae Kwon Do) but the social standing that I had so skillfully attained and maintained throughout my previous years had now slipped away from me.
This clip depicts a North Dakota town very much like the ones in which I lived during this period of my life.
Since my satisfaction was not coming from the social scene, I reverted back to what I knew: Learning. Becoming a student aide in the library allowed me more access to the books and other materials there. I started reading encyclopedias, then macropedias. Non-fiction by Isaac Asimov became a friend of mine. Just as important, though, was something new that I encountered in that library. All of the other computers I had seen to this day were of the Apple IIe sort. This computer had a color monitor and didn't run the operating system that you needed to program-as-you-go. However, it did have a bit of a cryptic interface which required you to type commands into the line following a "C:\ >" . It also had a modem which could dial into bulletin board systems, or BBSs. At the time I was starting at this new school North Dakota put up a BBS that could be used for email and to access the little-known The Internet using the lynx text-based browser.
By the seventh grade I had become immersed in science and the arts: Artistically I had been taken under the wing of a great art teacher by the name of Marie Snavely (it just so happened that her husband, Les, was the librarian--also a very, very intelligent educator) Scientifically, I had started studying Relativity and had even borrowed a copy of the high school physics text book to start learning the fundamentals high energy and quantum physics. One way I recall starting this endeavor was learning names of particles from various television shows: Quantum Leap, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and others. I would then take the names I had learned there and look them up in a dictionary, cross-referencing other names that they gave me. Eventually I began to flesh out the cataloguing of the various particles, their families, and the fundamental forces that interacted with them.
After some time with the successor to VTech's PreComputer 1000 (which I programmed to be able to do my algebra and some geometry homework), my parents invested in an AST 486 computer complete with a 33 MHz processor. It came with the first real useful version of the Windows operating system (Windows 3.1) alongside DOS 6.22. I would go on to do my first "real" programming on this computer by coding a program to track cattle for my father on the family ranch.
If the previous years in my life were spent enjoying the fruits of childhood and acceptance, this period in my life was in stark contrast with that first part. Being on the outside of the popular crowd and only being accepted by the fringe left a scar of jadedness with me: I filled a five-subject notebook with my trials and tribulations of the period. This is where my affinity for reflection through journaling my personal thoughts and struggles in a thoughtful manner began. While it wasn't until well over 10 years after I started the practice that I started blogging, I have had plenty of practice prior to this phenomenon in acclimating to it.
It is often said that everyone, in the expanse of teenage years, goes through the same hardships in trying to become themselves. I'm still trying to reconcile this; however, as I always felt myself on the outside looking in on what I coined the bright "shiny happy people" after the R.E.M. song of the period. Regardless of that reconciliation, though, I still think that some lyrics in a song by John Mayer hold true:
1995 was a good year for me. I had solidified a group of friends who were also associates in a non-profit organization focusing on scientific research, development, engineering, and education. I was nominated and awarded recognition in Who's Who Among American High School Students and I was nominated and awarded at the Greater North Dakota Association's "Business Challenge." Business Challenge offered me a tremendous opportunity to pursue what was soon to become my second love amongst several of the best in the region. Second only to my passion for science (especially physics), business is, chronologically, my second passion. I began immediately applying my talents to two entrepreneurial ventures which I had formed a couple years earlier: A small lawn-mowing empire and a research, development, engineering & education organization.
By 1996 my father was working as a Combination Technician with US West. When a rural telecommunications cooperative, Consolidated Telcom, purchased several community telephone exchanges from them, it was decided that his position would move to Hettinger, ND. We would need to move to co-locate with the position. I had just finished grade 11 and would find myself finishing high school somewhere else: While it had good and bad aspects in hindsight, it was still accompanied with bittersweet fanfare.
"The weak will fall: The strong remain"
Hettinger was a decent enough place. Though I didn't quite fit in as much as I would have liked, I still found my place in the scheme of things. Being a student representative on the Student Council, a member of Future Business Leaders of America, an alternate for a Junior Olympiad competition, working in the library, volunteering as a tutor, and taking part in other activities that I could find. Not being able to stay out of work for too long, I quickly found myself employed at the local SuperValu store in the classic "bag boy-stock clerk" role. Although I eventually worked my way up to cashier and helped to manage multiple departments, I feel this first role was a pivotal one in the development of my customer service skills.
By the end of 1996 I found myself immersed in academic pursuits and having a firm foundation of a few friends. While 1996 would leave like a lamb, my 18th year would bring with it some very life-changing events.
All content Copyright © 2007, Matthew A. Hetland, unless otherwise stated or implied