Creative Non-fiction

July 20th, 2014, 3pm

As I move into Old Age, I think back on my life as being organized into compartments (about which more in a minute). My favorite compartment was in my forties, when I had a wonderful job writing textbooks for a Distance Education program at a new Australian university located just off the Great Ocean Road. I wrote something like 15 books over the period of a decade. The titles reflected the remarkable spread of topics covered by a range of interdisciplinary courses in the Social and Cultural Studies of Science: “Imagining Landscapes,” “Techno-cultures: Crashing into the Future,” “Is Seeing Believing?, “On the Social Analysis of Science,” “Rediscovering Indigenous America,” and “Red and Expert.” This compartment of my life was topped off by a brief stint at the UC San Diego Literature Department teaching a Creative Non Fiction Workshop.

Such a strange and jim-dandy array of subjects was right up my alley. I could never settle down to one subject for more than a year or so, although I did make an effort while getting my PhD at Harvard in the History and Philosophy of Science, which constituted another quaint and curious, compartment of my life. I loved this time (6 years) in the graduate program during which I completed a year at the Medical School; a year working as a Nat Sci lab ‘section man’ for Nobel Prize winner George Wald (who studied the Limulus eye); a year or so in Mexico City in the archives of the Mexico City School of Mines examining its 18th century general science curriculum; and several months attaching myself to the tutelage of Tatiana Proskouryakoff, a distinguished Mayanist at the Peabody Museum. (See my piece in the journal Isis, “Did the Maya Know the Metonic Cycle?”

An earlier compartment of my life started out in a Russian language class in a basement of the Music School at Baylor University in Texas, then continued as a member of the first official US-USSR exchange student program in 1959, coming to an abrupt end when I realized that the nice man from Tulsa, who wanted to see my ‘Russia slides’, was actually debriefing me for the CIA.

Other distinctive compartments of my life included seven years in centre-ville Montreal in a joint appointment at McGill and Concordia Universities; 5 months in China at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution while my wife (deemed a ‘friend of the Chinese People’) taught at the Beijing Language Institute; and 15 years teaching Indigenous Studies online at a Tribal College in the US. Finally, we might consider that my running a B&B on the Australian Surf Coast with my new spouse Paul is yet another of life’s compartments.

Perhaps the best thing about living a life of ‘many mansions’ is the opportunity afforded to transcend some of the boring constraints of specialization and discipline. Some minds roam; while others focus. If you, male or female, are a ramblin’ boy, then I urge you to venture forth. It will lengthen your life, perhaps not in the sense of living longer, but because each compartment in your memory banks is like a separate life lived.

I suppose my apology for becoming a jack or jill of all trades may sound like a lame excuse for an unfocussed life spent hopping from one harmless thing to another. Indeed, I sometimes think that myself. But, you know, I’ve loved it. And I recommend it to others who are presented with the opportunity.

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David Wade Chambers

Born in Oklahoma: 30 years in US. 6 years in Canada, 40 years in Australia. Academic field: history and philosophy of science. Currently, teach indigenous studies online at Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) and Brandon University (Manitoba). Come visit our B&B on Australia's Great Ocean Road. Mate's Rates for Hi community! (

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