24 November 2012

the beginning of the end

I have spoken before about the questionableness of my motives in leaving linguistics for computing.  In particular, my letter to Gary North in 1980 put forward three reasons why I was restless staying where I was:
  1. Money.  We had been living in Yap rent-free.  The word was that this was going to change.  Indeed, the continuation of government expatriate employees was in question.  If we stayed in Yap, could we continue to make a living?
  2. The fading of my linguistic work.  I said that I was doing more and more strictly computer work, and administrative work using the computer - e.g. preparing funding applications.
  3. Ideological distaste for working for governments.  Should I be an independent entrepreneur?
I say quite frankly that Number 3. above was almost entirely an aping of Gary's own economic gospel.  He was, or wrote as though he was, opposed to government employment.  Almost, one imagined that he was opposed to employment tout court, as a kind of second-class way of living.  He thought - or I believed he thought - that a free man ought always and only to be a private contractor.  I was an avid reader of his books and thought that I agreed with him - or at least that I ought to.

Number 2. was quite true.  I think I made it sound as though this was something imposed on me.  In fact, it was, in considerable part, because computing was much more fun than linguistics.  But for whatever reason, I was making little or no progress with my dictionary work; indeed, it stands now about where I left it at the time.  I am trying, in spare time, to rectify this at present - putting some of the work onto the web, and working on preparing texts for the site.  Perhaps before I die, some of the production of the years 1976-84 will finally be available to linguistics.  Nevertheless, for now, I was more 'into' computing than linguistics.

Number 1. was probably true as well - but only a foolish man (you may draw your own conclusions) could have believed that a change was inevitably to be for the better.

We were due for our two-year home furlough.  We had another problem - a religious problem.  Eddie was not baptised.  The Yap Evangelical Church, though sponsored by the Liebenzellmission people, was itself, in practice, if not in creed, Baptist - that is, it would not baptise infants.

It never occurred to me, of course, to ask Father Horgan to baptise Eddie.  We worked up the following plan - based on the money for our home trip, plus some extra cash that we would have to put in:
  • We would all five fly to Guam, where there was a Reformed Church.  The pastor there would baptise Eddie (all this had been arranged by mail).
  • Susan, Johnny, Helen, and Eddie would return to Yap.
  • I would do a three-cornered trip:
    • Guam-Pa'auilo
    • Pa'auilo-Tyler
    • Tyler-Pukekohe
  • and then return home
The trip to Pa'auilo was for more than simply a visit to my family.  I seriously (honest!!) imagined that one option for me was to go to work on my father's farm, and, eventually, to make a living as a farmer.  To any who know me, such a thought must be jaw-dropping.  My father was, in fact, very polite about my pretensions - but he certainly knew how unlikely any such thing was.  He said, when I was there, that if I had any desire to move to the Big Island, I would be far better advised to try to get a computing job with one of the support companies associated with the Mauna Kea Observatories.

I enjoyed that part of the trip very much, nevertheless.  I was very glad that I had, indeed, visited them; I was not again to see my mother, father, and sister for twenty-two years.

Until this trip to Tyler, Texas, I had never been anywhere east of Reno, Nevada.  To fly to Tyler, I arrived in Dallas in the morning and had to spend the day at the airport there, waiting for the local flight to Tyler that evening.  My innocence of the way of life of much of the country in which I was born and where I had reached at least chronological adulthood is revealed by my astonishment at Texans.

Walking around the airport were quite a few men wearing what I think of as 'cowboy hats,' and wearing what were certainly designed as riding boots.  They were often accompanied by women with 'beehive hair-dos.'  'Obviously tourists,' I thought, 'who have seen too many movies about Texas.'

They were Texans.  That was obvious from their speech, and from references to their home places.  I am still amazed in retrospect.

Tyler was lovely.  It was a medium-sized town, with lovely streets - at least the area where my well-to-do friend Gary lived was lovely!  I felt in a way like a Catholic on his first visit to the Vatican, for Tyler was where all my recent theological growth had come from.  I met Jim Jordan (who was to become important in my becoming a Catholic).  I met Michael Gilstrap, a fellow Tylerite - and now a Catholic.  I met many others whose names shone in my theological firmament.

But I shied away from a commitment to work with Gary.  Gary took his free-men-should-be-entrepreneurs philosophy seriously.  He offered to contract with me for one year, at a salary that I feared I could not live on, to help him get computerised.

This was scary - but deeper down was a genuine feeling that I was somehow betraying a trust in leaving linguistics.

I left Tyler and flew to Pukekohe.  The shape of the rest of my and Susan's life was determined by this trip.

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