Reflections on Life
under the Influence of Ayn Rand by Roger E. Bissell

Part 6: The Journals of Roger Bissell – Not!


rev. 7/26/06

I have never kept a journal per se, though letter-writing and essaying have been very important to me once I got to and beyond college. By contrast, my wife, Becky, began to keep journals and diaries of her thoughts when she was 13, and I am amazed at the depth of thought they contain.

Until I was 19, thoughts were just will-o-the-wisps to me, fleeting insights that came and went, not anything that I grabbed hold of and developed to any extent. Except for mathematics. I discovered at about age 16 that I had a deep love/fascination for number theory, and I could work without tiring for hours on the ramifications of a seemingly simple idea.

But moral or philosophical issues? Forget it! It took a good 2 years for the intellectual and emotional upheaval caused by Atlas Shrugged, etc. (which I read just before turning 18) to crystallize into certain distinct puzzles that I wanted to solve—e.g., the mind-body problem, the nature of free will, the nature of beauty and esthetic value, the nature of musical response and musical value, the abortion issue, the government/anarchy controversy, to name a few! And I didn't even start my serious writing on these matters until I was the ripe old age of nearly 23.

However, I'd like to point out a broader way in which Becky and I "came on-line" intellectually, despite how differently we appear to have done so. And that is that, at about puberty, some of us who are destined for the more intellectual side of life began keeping journals, exploring issues of morality and psychological motivation, while others of us got very intrigued with exploration of a more scientific kind (including mathematics in this).

Becky and I both have deep curiosity about the areas that intrigue us most. (It is not for nothing that her motto in high school was “curioser and curioser” and that her email screen name is “NTPandora.”) Her curiosity is expressed mainly through her strong literary bent, while mine shows up more often in technical writing. We seem to have intersected most strongly in the area of personality type theory.

It was not even until my sophomore year in college that I got very good at writing letters and essays. After that, it was "gang-busters"! But something like "intellectual diary-keeping" has played a very important part in my intellectual development and my sense of self and my ability to sustain long-term personal relationships despite months or years of separation. And that is letter-writing. (This is ironic, in that letter-writing is a more extraverted activity for someone introverted like me – while journaling is a more introverted activity for my extraverted wife.)

To some extent after I finished my bachelor's degree at Ames, Iowa in 1969, but even more so after I finished graduate school at Iowa City in 1971 and moved from Iowa to Tennessee, the camaraderie and synergy of my college Objectivist friendships were lost to the wind, and it took a sustained effort on my part to keep up those ties, by continuing to work out ideas and problems with friends who lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. (Not that I didn't find new friends, but none of them came close to the quality of those I had in college. I'm married to one of them, even!)

And the key to this was letter-writing, which was valuable not only for continued intellectual development, but also ranting and raving.  (Now, it's email—and cyber seminars, of course, thanks to visionary folks like David Kelley and Chris Sciabarra.)

I have saved virtually every letter I've ever written or received on both personal and intellectual matters, and I'm amazed at both the utter goofiness of some of my early ideas and the continuing relevance and astuteness of others. I've grown, but there's a lot of the old me that is still there and just won't go away! Good old Iowa stubbornness, I guess.