On that last, not really. I voted for him and made a small contribution to his campaign and I did one or two others things. But I didn’t spend 10, 20 or more hours a week volunteering for the campaign nor did I bundle big bucks for his campaign war chest. Still...
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What is home? That’s a tricky one. I think of Johnstown, Pa. as my hometown. I was born in Pittsburgh, but that’s only where the hospital was located. I spent the first three or four years of my life in Ellsworth, Pa., but I don’t remember those years at all. Johnstown is the place I remember. Actually, a suburb in Richland, Twp. just outside Johnstown proper.
That’s where I went to primary and secondary school and that’s where I returned during summers when I was at college in Baltimore (Johns Hopkins). When I graduated with my BA I remained in Baltimore, summers too, getting a master’s degree and working out my alternative service (those were the Vietnam years) in the Chaplain’s Office at Hopkins. At the same time my father’s job moved the family to Allentown, Pa. No more returning to Johnstown. My hometown could no longer serve as my home.
From Baltimore I moved to Buffalo to pursue a Ph.D. I was as comfortable living there as I’d been since living in Johnstown, and it’s only recently that I’ve felt that kind of comfort here in Jersey City.
Why? There’s an easy and obvious explanation for my comfort in Buffalo. Though I was studying in the English Department at SUNY (the State University of New York), and liked the department, my real intellectual home was in a running seminar hosted by Prof. David G. Hays, in linguistics. Hays and I clicked as I’ve never clicked with any other thinker.
When I’d finished my Ph.D. I left Buffalo to take a job at the Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, starting in the Fall of 1978. It was, and is, a good school, with good students. But I was never comfortable there nor, do I believe, was RPI comfortable with itself, though that may have changed in the last 25 years.
I lost a bloody tenure battle at RPI, but elected to stay in Troy, free-lancing on this and that, and working at MapInfo, a high-tech startup, for a while. I also played trumpet in The Out of Control Rhythm and Blues Band and in the New African Music Collective. Still, Troy never really felt like home to me. I was there, but my heart wasn’t.
My heart was in my intellectual life. Though I was no longer in the academic world, I continued to think and to publish, both scholarly articles and a coffee table book on computer graphics and image processing (Visualization: The Second Computer Revolution). That, if you will, was my home. It was a virtual one, but not a physical one.
I hadn’t married, nor had children. I was thus not rooted in Troy in the way that having a family and raising children requires one to put down roots.
In the late 1990s I left Troy to live in Jersey City. A friend had started a company that was headquartered in nearby Hoboken. Jersey City rents were cheaper, so that’s where I moved. When the company bit the dust in the dot-com bust I decided to stay in Jersey City.
By that time the worldwide web had become firmly established and afforded me an intellectual life I hadn’t had before, especially as I wasn’t connected to a university. I could follow the scholarly literature online and could contact anyone whose work interested me. That made it possible for me to write my next book, Beethoven’s Anvil: Music in Mind in Culture, and to continue publishing in the academic literature. In particular, I published a series of four long articles in a new online journal, PSYART: An Online Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts.
But Jersey City didn’t feel like home. I lived there, but I wasn’t rooted there. I hadn’t yet figured out how to do that.
Rooting came about almost by chance. In the summer of 2004 I went to Chicago to deliver a paper at the Thirty-first LACUS Forum on “Music, the Social Mind, and Language”. I bought a point-and-shoot camera so I could photograph Millennium Park, which was opening that summer. That’s how I ended up with a camera I otherwise had no use for.
But it was to be two years before I decided to photograph graffiti. That, in turn, is what gave me the means to make Jersey City my home. It was in that process that I met Steve Fulop, a young reform-minded Councilman.
I’ll tell that story in Part 2 of this essay.