There Was a Boy
A personal narrative by Adam L. Brackin, Ph.D.
A very strange enchanted boy…
I grew up thinking that traveling around the world with my parents was normal. From the age of two, well from my earliest memories were Manila; San Juan, Costa Rica; Guatemala City. These were the backdrops of my daily life until I was fourteen. My parents were Southern Baptist missionaries, and the travels were various assignments, but “home” was unquestionably Orlando, Florida, despite how infrequently I found myself there. This was instilled in me much like apple pie and baseball was supposed to be to the average American kid, and I had images of white picket fences and backyard treehouses in my mind when I played in the all concrete “backyard” walled in cinderblock and topped with iron bars, spikes, and glass that was my normal. That’s only half the story, though. For just as often I found myself at the edge of a volcano peering in, or atop a Mayan ruin looking across the very same shot from the first Star Wars movie. Hong Kong, Baguio, San Andres Island, these were brief ports of call that I remember fondly. My life was actually pretty fantastic, and the world was my backyard, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
They say he traveled very far…
We returned to the United States full-time when I was fourteen, just in time to ease into a public high school from a private Christian eighth grade. To say I was naïve would be an oversimplification; rather I was deeply lacking in common American culture, Christian American culture, Southern Baptist American culture, and perhaps most noticeably, the mannerisms, habits, and quirks of an American high schooler of the 90s. It wasn’t an easy fit, but I managed, less by blending in than by fading into the background, but that was okay. I was home. Whatever that meant.
High school passed, or rather I did with a solid B+ GPA, and though there were some difficult times, not the least of which was another move to Arizona from Florida. It was time for college, and I’d decided I’d make a pretty good art teacher, so that was my plan. On a youth trip to New Mexico a strange thing happened; I felt called to the ministry. After high school the Lord seemed to be saying. Art teacher just isn’t going to cut it. I embraced college, and set the calling aside as something to circle back around to eventually. Community College was a perfect fit for me. Casual atmosphere, people who wanted to be there, the ability to pick and choose my schedule and my focus. I was in heaven, at least at first. I’d become restless, listless, uncomfortable. I’d spent twelve years of my life overseas, and I was now nineteen. Five years since I’d wandered into a rainforest, a decade or more since I’d been in a grass hut, wandered around in the open market at Palenque, or eaten strange unpronounceable food. I was bored of cactus, and I’d long since given up visions of treehouses and picket fences. So I started looking for private out of state colleges, it was better than nothing. That’s when Texas found me.
And while we spoke of many things, fools and kings…
Soon thereafter, I became an undergraduate at Hardin-Simmons University. Abilene was the smallest town I’d ever lived in, but it didn’t matter. I was on my own at last! It didn’t take long to find my place. I discovered that the art department was more forgiving about tests than the history department, so I changed majors, sighting in on their offering of art history tours in Europe for credit! I went twice, finding myself first in Italy, and eventually in England, France, and Spain. And a strange thing happened: As I stepped off of the plane, boat, bus, or train each time, in these new and foreign places, I was home.
It was during this time that I produced scholarship-winning sculptures for student shows, wrote things I didn’t know I was capable of, and got plugged in, as parts of me that had been dormant for a while turned on. I was the student worker for the art department in charge of organizing and hanging gallery shows, operating the photography lab, and other tasks. It was in this small town that I truly broadened my world view. It was as if the events of my childhood could finally be processed in context, and as I did so through my coursework and writing, there became instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the study of history through primary sources and world travel. I leveraged this interest into a double major in English and art with Texas state teacher certification, then with my diploma in hand, I faced a fork in the road. I was offered a chance to become a journeyman and go teach overseas – a missionary position and a calling to ministry, or immediately enrolling in the Masters of Education in Gifted and Talented Studies. I chose the latter. It was then that I began dating my best friend, Lisa. I knew the day we started dating that if I felt the same way about her a year later, I would ask her to marry me.
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love…
I'd actually known since seventh grade that I wanted to be a teacher. Aside from taking me toward the path of marriage with a teacher, continuing my education also meant I was able to accept a Graduate Assistant position at Hardin-Simmons University. In addition to the fellowship that afforded me, I worked two other jobs, both in education and testing, and by the end of the program I was even given the opportunity to co-teach an undergraduate course using a “revolutionary new method” now referred to as “blended learning” via an online class. This experience planted a seed that would grow into to my great love for university teaching and an affinity for using technology as an integral part of that process.
The day I graduated with my masters was the day that my new wife graduated with her Bachelor’s degree. We set out for Dallas and public teaching soon thereafter. It was time for new adventures again.
Close your eyes, have no fear…
The Independent School District where I taught for one semester is my personal definition of Hell. It was a plain white room with no windows, the kids didn’t want to be there, and because of the schedule, I arrived before daybreak and left after sunset. I was a creature of the night, and depression set in very quickly. It took a while to find myself, but I remained active in K-12 education in the public and private domains. Private schools helped, but we still felt beholden. My wife Lisa was my best anchor, but she too was experiencing the full range of dissatisfaction to despair. We decided to start our own school, our own business, our own philosophy of education in action.
A few years after leaving the public schools and swearing never to return, I made a wrong turn. Not a metaphorical wrong turn, though I’m sure those were plenty enough, but rather a very real wrong turn down a Richardson street I didn’t know. I ended up in front of the side entrance of the University of Texas at Dallas. Its very existence surprised and intrigued me. I decided on the spot that if there was a graduate level art program I would sign up, so I began study on a PhD in Humanities: Aesthetic Studies. It was in many ways nothing less than the culmination of my passion and experience in Arts & Humanities throughout the years, and once again I was a student.
The monster’s gone, he’s on the run…
After graduating, I served my second alma-mater, the University of Texas at Dallas for six years teaching in the Arts and Technology program. I happily served first as an Adjunct, and eventually worked up the role of Research Assistant Professor. I was teaching video games, interactive narrative, and transmedia theory. It was a lot of fun, but it felt hollow somehow. It wasn’t because the position was non-tenure track, but something else I couldn’t place. It turned out that my continual work with K-12 students was a great asset to the program, and I also found myself directing the Arts and Technology "Video Game Camp" which we later re-imagined as the Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math "S.T.E.A.M. Camp". It all seemed to be fitting together, and ironically, I had become an art teacher after all. But there was that elusive piece still missing from the puzzle.
I went over it like a checklist, a mock interview in my mind: “My experience in Transmedia is diverse. My recent university course offerings have focused greatly on game design, game studies, and interactive story telling in the areas of Arts and Technology and Emerging Media and Communications. I have developed courses along with Numerous Independent Studies and Capstone Projects each semester. My industry experience includes time with two companies, Fundi Technologies and Freelance Jax Productions, for which I wrote and produced a number of high level transmedia Alternate Reality Games.” Deus City, the subject of my dissertation had been considered one of the top 10 ARGs. Life was good.
Then why didn’t I feel it? I was missing something obvious.
Every day in every way, it’s getting better and better…
All the while, I was leading a double life. For seven years during my studies and as a professor I had the unique opportunity to act as executive director and co-owner of that family business, a small K-12 private school and academic service in the North Dallas area named Bridge Builder Academy. The business was not without its ups and downs, but eventually we sold it in 2013, a humbling experience. I realized as I walked away that I now had the experience to successfully manage financial assets, employees and payroll, and had learned to build professional networks. The sale of the family business freed me to pursue higher positions within the university setting, which was precisely my goal.
Out on the ocean, sailing away…
I hit the next school year with everything I had. I enjoyed opportunities to collaborate with fellow artists across various media, so I branched out both locally and internationally. One big hit was Inter-disciplinary.net, and within a few months I was invited to participate in their conference at Oxford, England. Soon, I was traveling the world again! I fell in love in Oxford. In love with the conference scene and the people who attended it, in love with academic writing required to be a part of it, and in love with the city itself. Over the next year I wrote, presented, published, and even edited volumes in the areas of video games, media Cultures, transhumanism, and transmedia Storytelling. I found myself returning to Oxford and then to the distant shores of Sydney, Australia.
I also worked with my colleagues on a grant for a virtual high school, where I led the design team and took point on contacting the research partners, all educators and whose language I spoke. I wrote and published weird essays like one for Dungeons and Dragons and Philosophy, and various others about Minecraft, Games and Autism, and even went the extra mile to edit whole volumes internationally. My annual report for the dean that year was a thing of pride.
Ironically, I’m fairly certain that he never read it.
Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…
I don’t envy the dean his job that day. Lisa and I had decided to have a baby after thirteen years of marriage, and I came armed with the first ultrasound, a fat annual report, and a big smile on my face. I still remember his words to me: “I don’t think this meeting is going to go the way you think it might.”
When I sat down with my pregnant wife that evening to figure out what not having a contract for the next year was going to mean, I never dreamed that it would lead to where I am today. You see, it was then that God’s calling I had pushed aside for so long reemerged. Art teacher just isn’t going to cut it. Ministry? What did that mean? Had I wasted all of this time and focus, not to mention tuition dollars? He assured me that I hadn’t, and I began to look towards something that had been a hobby of sorts in recent months: Christian Apologetics. Funny thing about God, if you get out of the way and let him lead when he calls, he does. Even if it’s not always the most direct route.
Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful…
I am a full-time dad of a little boy who is brilliant, strong, and cute as a button. I balance this job with my schoolwork, for “the Doc” has now gone back for his second masters, distance learning through the Houston Baptist University’s Masters’ of Apologetics program. The most amazing thing is it’s a CULTURAL apologetics program, the perfect fit for that Ph.D. in Humanities: Aesthetic Studies. It didn’t exist when I graduated. It’s one of a kind.
Click. There’s that missing piece of the puzzle.
So yes, my long term goals do include eventually going back into a professor position somewhere, but there is no rush. I see myself securing funding for my own research in interactive narrative, gamification, and education reform through technology, all within the context of Christian Apologetics and practical applications of Transmedia. As a life-long educator I intend to continue teaching and improving my own professional development, according to my calling from God. Right now, my focus is on writing a series of apologetics fiction adventure novels in the style of Dan Brown. So far so good. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll even have the opportunity to start a cultural apologetics program at an interested University somewhere? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve started a school.
It turns out that finishing the puzzle is just the beginning.