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Me at Twenty 

me @ 20 aph celebrates personal history monthLooking Back at Me at Twenty - A Special Personal History Awareness Post

By Tom Gilbert - writer, teacher and personal historian (and member of the Association of Personal Historians)
Copyright © May 20, 2015

39 years ago I was twenty; young, idealistic and exploring my new world of personal independence. I was a college student in 1976, attending the University of Oklahoma, mostly because I really liked it when I visited with my Dad my junior year in High School. The campus was lively. There were pretty girls, good music and it was a major University. Not Ivy League by any stretch, but it was far away from home and that was important to me at the time.
A twenty year old young man has a few things on his mind, but reminiscing and personal history were not on the list. If I thought back about anything it Tom Gilbert twenty-somethingwas usually old girlfriends or rock songs I liked (the picture posted here shows me as a 20-something strumming one of those tunes). I was busy looking forward, trying to see the future for me. What was I going to do with my one wild and precious life?

I didn’t know who Mary Oliver was or much about great poetry at that age, but I did fancy being a writer. I mostly enjoyed reading science fiction and I would try my hand at short stories, most of them typed, unfinished and stuffed in a desk drawer. I was finding everything I could get my hands on by Philip K. Dick and the wonderful speculative realities he wove with words of pathos and humor captivated my imagination. Years later the world has discovered much of his work, but back then he was a writer barely scraping out a living. Isn’t that the story of many an artist?

Looking back now I can see I was overly sensitive and a little naïve. More than a bit romantic. I wanted to do something special with my life, but I wasn’t quite up to the discipline that required. It seemed to interfere with my social life (i.e. college parties). Nevertheless, the year of 1976, America’s bicentennial and my twentieth, introduced me to something that would change my course and carve out a good chunk of my personal history story. In that year I discovered the intoxicating sensation of radio broadcasting.

Like a lot of students I was working part-time jobs to pay for my tuition and scratch out a few bucks. A fellow cook at the pancake house I sweated at had a show on the college FM station. KGOU was freeform and in the Seventies that meant cool rock and jazz. I pestered him to let me hang out during one of his broadcasts. Then I annoyed him as to what records to spin (yes, we were using turntables and vinyl back then). “You know, you can get your own show”, he remarked, not too kindly. Turned out that was true. The station was staffed by volunteer students. I got a couple of shifts, including a Saturday morning and a late night jazz show. I got bit by the radio bug – hard – and when I graduated I spent the next thirty plus years working at various FM rock stations in New Mexico, California, Florida and Michigan. I got a lot of free records and CDs. I saw a bunch of great concerts. I met, and interviewed, several rock stars. And I made a lot of friends, equally impassioned broadcasting troubadours. It was way cool.

In addition to my passion for Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Steely Dan and Leon Russell, I also liked hanging out and talking about life. Philosophy, politics, culture, religion – where are we going, what are we doing and what’s it all about stuff.

I suspect that laid the foundation for a second half of life career as a personal historian, writer and teacher. You know, I am still motivated by those questions about life. And I’ve discovered that I really like helping other people with those life questions and the stories of their journeys.

This May is Personal History Awareness Month and the Association of Personal Historians has been the cheerleaders for preserving life stories for twenty years. The APH even calls itself The Life Story People. I am one of them, a member since 2003, and I believe there are very few things more important than preserving the stories of our lives. May 20th is a special day to highlight this as members of the APH are posting Me@20 recollections. I hope you’ve enjoyed mine. I encourage you to check out others who are posting on their blogs and social media outlets. Here are a couple of suggestions from fellow APH life story people (#APH20):

Michelle Beckman - Sunday Dinner Stories, I Have a Confession

Audrey Robinson Favorito – Wild Carrot Productions,

About Me@20 Day: Me@20 Day celebrates personal history and the 20th anniversary of the Association of Personal Historians on May 20th 2015. APH supports its members in recording, preserving and sharing life stories of people, families, communities and organizations around the world.


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