My Road to Creativity, 6: Back to the Real World

Reality of the real world settled in. Cedar Rapids was a fairly large city. Housing was scarce and expensive and we had to settle for a ground floor apartment in an old house with two tiny bedrooms and a shabby kitchen in an industrial part of the city. Many mornings I had to sweep soot off of the car windshield so I could drive to work. I had a wife and two kids. We didn’t know anyone. I was making almost the same money as in the Navy. We had lost many of the benefits such as low the low priced commissary for groceries and other essentials. We were literally living pay check to pay check.

I started work almost immediately and discovered that my job as a land surveyor would necessitate a lot of travel throughout the state. I hated being away from my family. But I liked the survey work. There was considerable research required through old land records in county courthouses to find property markers and other necessary information.  I got to work outside which was great in the summer, but standing still behind a surveying instrument in an Iowa winter, sometimes for hours at a time, I froze my ass off. 

With my two years service, I had G.I. bill money for college if I chose to. I enrolled in the new Kirkwood Community College at the south edge of the city and started night school. The newly establshed campus was a loose knit complex of temporary buildings with a loose knit group of teachers, many from The University of Iowa which was thirty-five miles south. Many were PhD candidates, others, had their terminal degree and were, for whatever reason, teaching a motley mix of part time students, some fresh out of high school, but many, like me, were older with young families.

I opted for putting together a general education program for an Associate of Arts degree. I had done some drawing in my four years after high school before Iowa State. I was impressed by the drawings of hot rods and the crazy monster cartoons by “Big Daddy Ed Roth” who I copied and emulated for my own work to impress my many motor head buddies back then. 

I took my first life drawing class from a long haired bearded hippie. When I was presented with drawing the first nude model, I was completely embarrassed, but as it went on, I found out I could draw and began to understand the human form. I engrossed myself in drawing books, especially da Vinci’s work. 

Then there was my first literature class where I discovered the poet Robert Frost and Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. My head was exploding with new ideas on really how to read something and grasp the subtleties of what the author was saying. I loved Frost and was inspired to write my first poetry. But I struggled with “what was the right way” to write or to draw. All the rigidity of my early education kept getting in the way. This was something I would struggle with for many years.

The government paid me well for attending college. Tuition was cheap. So for my two to three nights or Saturday, per week, I was making nice money like I had a part time job. But, while my neighbors and friends would be hanging out enjoying a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, I was in studying. It was the price I paid.

While I liked my work and the engineering firm I was with, I missed construction work. We became friends with the realtor who helped us find our rental house. One night over dinner out which we could hardly afford, I talked about looking for a job back in construction. His uncle knew a local contractor who was looking for someone, so I applied and was hired. I switched jobs with a nice increase in salary to boot.

In the meantime, our realtor had found a house he thought we could afford, we made an offer and became homeowners. My wife found a job in the school system as an elementary school teacher which she had done before we were married. We could finally afford a few fun things, nothing crazy, but money for an occasional movie or dinner out. And having learned to live on the cheap, I grew a small garden and learned to brew my own beer.

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