Autobiography of Alan Nicoll

My father was of Norwegian descent; my mother was born in Kiel, Germany, but her family moved to Chicago, IL, when she was three. I was born there on 3/27/47. My only sibling is a brother, 3-1/2 years older than me; he has always been more a competitor than a friend. My family moved to South Gate, CA, when I was five.

My childhood was marred by the death of my father when I was ten. This led me to question the existence of God. I remember my childhood as "being raised by women," as my grandmother was also living with us. She was a major influence during my maturation, perhaps mostly through her wit. During these years I was occasionally in trouble with the law, mostly for shoplifting, and I was generally less than sane. I developed a love for classical music and opera; also the science fiction of A. E. van Vogt, who helped me aspire to competence and intelligence. My mother married again after a few years. Some time later my grandmother left our house, and died.

I had one best friend most of the time from grammar school through the middle of high school. We shared interests in mathematics, nature (especially birds), and literature, the latter two of which I have retained. In high school he developed a brain disease which doomed our relationship.

At the close of high school, I went into an aeronautical engineering program at Northrop Institute of Technology, now Northrop University. I first read Walden at this time. After about two years I lost interest in my classes and pursued chess-playing and gambling, which eventually led me to drop out of college. Shortly thereafter I was drafted into the U. S. Army, where I served for two years (1967-69) in the Signal Corps, including one year in Viet Nam. While there I read Japanese literature for the first time, notably Kawabata and Tanizaki.

After leaving the Army, I returned to Northrop, where I found that I had forgotten all the mathematics I had never been very interested in to begin with; after a couple of quarters I again dropped out. I was employed for only six months out of the next four years. In this period I was greatly moved by Tolstoy's religious writings and was led to a modest love of philosophy by Bertrand Russell's essays.

My social life (that is, with women) up to and during this time was nil, largely due to my crippling shyness, and because I was living with my parents. I spent much of my time writing fiction and a diary (I am most introspective), and reading, though my writing never amounted to anything important. I also formed new friendships with two intellectually capable men who were about as unsuccessful in growing up as I was.

In 1973 I began my most significant employment to that time, as a Group Underwriter for an insurance company. I moved out of my parents' house for the first time (not counting my Army years) at age 27, taking up residence with a woman who remained a very good friend. With her encouragement, I left my job after about eighteen months to take classes at U. C. Irvine, majoring in English and Philosophy (I was very impressed with Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic). My real interest was fiction writing, but they didn't have that major, and I didn't give serious consideration to another school, since my lover was also attending there. Not long thereafter the woman and I went separate ways. I did well in my classes, but I had to leave Irvine for lack of money (1977), returning to my job at the insurance company. Since then I have ever been more a "would be" than an actual writer, and have often agonized over my lack of progress.

About this time I entered upon a disastrous love affair that left me something of an emotional wreck, and carrying a torch for about ten years, though I was involved with other women during that time.

Shortly after leaving school I moved to a "clothing optional" (nudist) apartment building, primarily because I hoped that the social environment would be congenial and that I would be able to meet women more easily. This in fact happened, and I had a couple of affairs which didn't amount to much, but at the time I looked and felt my best. I acquired the nickname "nature boy" because I was generally to be found by the swimming pool, sans clothes. Subsequently I bought a personal computer and became a computer "hermit" for about two years, studying programming and getting involved with CompuServe's communications link. The social life had also turned sour at the apartment building. I first joined Mensa around this time, and was greatly influenced by Walter Kaufmann's books, notably The Faith of a Heretic. I attempted to establish a computer software business, but never devoted enough time to the programming to even produce a single salable product.

At this time I had been a cigarette smoker for 19 years and was smoking three packs a day. I was able to quit (1984), but only at the enormous cost of putting on 35 pounds and losing my job of seven years. I think back on this as the time that "everything changed." I moved into a new residence, as a cost-cutting measure, and began looking for work in computer programming, which I had learned on my own. I also attempted to write programs to sell. Eventually I tried to get work doing word processing, which I had taught myself. I wanted this because I hoped it would be a low stress job; I was feeling burned out after the dreadful final months at the insurance company. Nothing panned out, however, and I ended up moving back in with my parents. This was a big disappointment for all concerned.

In September, 1985, I wrote an essay which described how I thought I lived. Reconsideration revealed important errors in my self-awareness; and thus began a quest into philosophy, ethics, religion, and my own mind.

I obtained work in word processing as a "temporary" for a law firm where I remained for eighteen months. While there I designed a game (unpublished) of which I am inordinately proud, which I call Glom. Subsequently I began word processing for the University of Southern California, in a medical research group called the Childrens Cancer Study Group, located in Pasadena. I was content with this work, because it was for a good cause, though it used but a fraction of my capabilities. I also moved to Pasadena, again leaving the house of my parents.

Important influences from my reading not mentioned above were Fritz Perls, Lin Yutang (The Importance of Living), and General Semantics. My philosophical quest resulted in my writing "A Secular Humanist Creed," which outlined my true ideals, and "Beyond Belief," which attempted to move beyond debate about beliefs to action (1990). I sought the intellectual companionship which has been lacking in Mensa; this led me to Intertel, the Triple Nine Society, and I.S.P.E., but I allowed my memberships to lapse in all these organizations because I was dissatisfied with the level of interaction and discourse. I have periodically renewed my membership in Mensa, though not recently.

In 1991 I became interested in volunteer work, largely as a result of reading books by Jonathan Kozol and on seeing a small child with a bruised and unhappy-looking face. In pursuit of this interest I became a docent naturalist at a county nature center and have taken up clowning as a hobby, as well as starting a Mensa Clowning SIG. Unfortunately, the Clowning SIG never attracted any members, and the docenting continued only for one year because my boss objected to the disruption of my work schedule.

I was always actively seeking women. To get something going, and to pursue my own interests, I started a local Mensa nature SIG which sponsored about half a dozen events. I eventually dropped this because so few people showed up to most of the events. I also joined a number of computer "bulletin boards," local commercial organizations that allowed people to communicate by computer. Discouraged by lack of results I was about to quit my memberships, when one of the women I had written to, Susan McKowen, wrote back to me.

We talked on the phone, and arranged a date. On the way home from that first date, I had the thought, almost a conviction, that "this is the woman I'm going to marry."

Sue moved into my apartment shortly thereafter, and after a three-month delay I proposed marriage. We were married on 6/19/93, in the back yard of Debby Young, one of Sue's sisters. The ceremony was performed by Lisa Jo Singletary, whom we had met through the Humanist Association of Los Angeles.

We moved to Arcadia to a larger apartment. I got involved in various book reading groups at Vroman's bookstore in Pasadena. Eventually this led to the formation of the Mighty Handful book reading group which lasted for about a year. About this time I also attempted to start another Mensa SIG, Literary Snobs, but eventually abandoned the effort after losing interest.

Our son, Oliver Nathaniel Nicoll, was born in Arcadia on 8/4/95. In January of 1996 we moved to Frazier Park.

Due to excessive absences and, I'd say, employer foolishness, I was fired from my job at NCCF after almost eleven years. This led to my being unemployed for seven months, finally obtaining a job at Kern Medical Center at a substantially reduced salary. This was a financial disaster, leading to the sacrificing of retirement accounts to keep us afloat, and, in 2001, bankruptcy.

My intellectual life continued primarily through reading. Daniel Dennett's books were the most exciting and stimulating, though I also rediscovered Kai Nielsen's books on atheism and ethics on my bookshelves. I also reread Russell's History of Western Philosophy and a number of other Russell works, of which his early Problems of Philosophy was most impressive. Much of my reading related to education, and led to my seeking a teaching job, but practical difficulties and lack of offers prevented fruition. At Frazier Park I got involved with Local Talk, a local e-mail discussion group which led to lengthy, productive conversations, mostly about ethics, with Bill Tomlinson, a philosophy instructor at Cal State Northridge. Lately I have become very enthusiastic about Stephen Pinker's How the Mind Works.

Oliver progressed nicely under the care of Julia Jens and later Robin Barrington, operators of day care centers. At age five he participated in a soccer "day camp" and AYSO soccer. He is presently attending Hilltop School, a private school, where he is taught by Mrs. Thundberg. These choices reflect compromises between financial and practical necessities and the Summerhill-like situation we would prefer for Oliver's education and upbringing.

In August, 2000, we purchased a mobile home at Lake of the Woods Mobile Village, where we presently reside.