Rat in a White Lab Coat & Wired to a Mouse

Prepared for Hawaii Department of Education's seminar for 100 teachers that work in the Gifted Student conference,
Windward Community College, Hawaii, January 27, 2005, coordinated by Sharon Kusunoki

by Dr. Rodney "Pygoya" Chang, AA, BA, BA, MA, MA, MA, MA, MSEd, DDS, PhD
composed November 12, 2004


"Fine art is about intellectual growth; fine art is about the extension of limits and 'all art' is about the dismantlement of antiquated walls to let the light of the new creative-mind's-eye shine through." "Never before in the history of fine art has advanced technology played as important a role in the growth of creative imagery and content as it does today." " Pioneer Dr. Rodney Chang (a.k.a Pygoya) of Honolulu is the foremost local authority on digital fine art imagery.  Pygoya has enlightened and enhanced the world's appreciation of contemporary fine art via his local and international digital art exhibitions and his cohesive global website." Dr. Arthur Ellsworth Nelander, M.F.A, Ph.D. (retired, Professor of Art, University of Hawaii, Department of Art)


      I finally left the college campus at 38-pushing-forty.  Like a gypsy without any allegiance to turf pinned to an alma mater, I harvested 10 "sheepskins" into my backpack before time itself warned me, tempus fugit, or "Enough is enough!"  I mean, no self delusion could warp the fact that I was then truly into the "middle age" of my life, and had spent, and yes, indulgently, my whole life to that juncture, in the classroom. Crazy or gifted?, people always want to know.  Just as frequently, like test questions bundled together, they incessantly quiz, "WHY?" and "Was it worth it?"  At 59-pushing-sixty, I still reply that I don't know for sure.  The ambiguous answer without clarity, sure to flunk me today in the SAT's essay format, disappoints. But it's easy to walk away without closure from he who remains an enigma even to himself. As for me I am left alone to continue to try to figure out just "what" I am.  But because of my mental constitution, precious is the time when there is introspective time to ponder the clinical nature of my affliction.  Life continues to be a constant bombardment of alternative scenarios to act upon or reject, chained to an elastic continuum between security and potentially self-destructive behavior. 

     Ah, for example, do I chameleon-blend in, not "make waves," muzzle my mind like the mask that I wear when delivering "dental work," or provide gentle-dental-care-with-a-flair by "acting out" my fantasy of a discotheque reception area, complete with hired disc jockey and complying dancing patients?  Do I keep the 3 girlfriends (in a devised rotational system, albeit "free love" wild 70's) - or "settle down" and marry "the right one" and have kids?  Do I take my chances in Vietnam, do my patriotic duty, or run off to dental school and thereby secure a granted deferment to ride out the war?  Do I continue, at 59, to now classical, disco dance and thereby resist being overwhelmed by the irritating Brownian Motion stirred up by the day's school of  juvenile fish, now hip-hopping in conformity to be the mainstream? In fact, will I even bother to put on my boogie shoes at 60, after "Saturday Night Fever's may have subsided?  Do I continue to throw away all my money on altruistic projects that lure me, again and again, close to the edge of financial doom (and now with a family to support - and put through Punahou)?  In the past, like a contemporary warehouse gallery (Soho Too, Gallery & Loft, 1985-1990) on a gang riddled back street in slummy Kalihi with no hope for commercial success, or borrowing a million dollars to build a museum for juried-rejected (Honolulu Academy of Arts, 9 times, "Artists of Hawaii" annual) "computer art" on residential zoned property (Na Pali Haweo ridge, Hawaii Kai, "The Pygoya House," 1994) - unfit, as it turned out, for a "normal" family environment?  Do I make art from the hypnotic trance or come straight and produce safe florals and landscapes that people buy?  Do I make "real" art or risk my art career by committing to virtual, digital art (still non-art to most "experts")?  More daring yet, do I defy the stodgy critics, bastardize conventional art work ethics by signing paintings designed but not executed by me? Will "they" crucify me for such blasphemy as an artist?  Will I through such an act cease to be considered an artist? Do I pursue my latest invention of a better way to wiped our butts (patent applied for; hint: wouldn't it be nice not to have to use your own hand?), at the risk of becoming the infamous "Do-Do doctor," or the dentist that inadvertently got renown - for his work at the other orifice?  Do I throw away my dental practice, call it a career, retire early when sentenced to retire later than most for the lost time in school (20 years in college) and art (turned "pro" in 1982 and to the present), in order to beat the system (not retire till the last one is out of college)?  Why pay $20,000 for out-of-state versus $4,000 (x 3 kids x 4-5 years each, not including graduate school) if I just moved there, a place also with a much lower cost-of-living?  Life can be tough and frustrating for a guy that's different and with a name like Rodney.

     Life for me has been a blitz of insights into alternative solutions to conflicts as they arise in life.  I was never one to pick the shortest, easiest, approved, and guaranteed path between problem and resolution.  Instead, I seem genetically inclined to add complexity, through uncontrollable flexibility, to succeed with unnecessary difficulty. Why is that?  To see what happens? To learn from my mistakes?  To learn how life is art and art is life first hand?  To make art for creativity's, not art's sake? To continue the phenomenological experimentation of self as a lab rat of life? 

     What makes me tick?  That IS the enigma, the curse of my existence, the opportunity of a life time, the seed for this rewarding joy ride yet troubled life.   It is the reason I was identified, selected, to stand (sit?) in front of you today, as if a unique specimen (case study) to be scrutinized under the microscope, indeed a lab rat in a white lab coat.  

      If you find out something, let me know!

     Yes, this is a seminar for teachers that identify and work with the gifted. 

     No, you may not have the right guy.  

     When perceptive and resourceful Sharon Kusunoki  (Hawaii Department of Education, Human Resources, Gifted Student Program) cold-called me at the office to land me as your guest speaker, another "alternative" life situation presented itself.  Do I take off the mask (literally too, as when she called I already had a full day of scheduled patients in the books that needed to be cancelled to accommodate this fixed seminar date), reveal my eccentricities, in front of 100 experts tooled with tests that can separate the gifted from the less desirable insane or sociopath?  Do I choose to lose family income in order to momentarily donate my brain to science through this opportunity to learn more about myself, before escalating senior moments blur my effort in staying visionary?  

     Well, here I am!

     I hesitated over the phone, disclosing my insecurity in and revulsion for public speaking, not having advanced much over the decades in performance since that "D" in Public Speaking. I told Sharon "I don't know" if I'd come before you.  She skillfully countered with "Well, just think about it."  Unexpectedly, what most persuaded me to leave my comfort zone next to the dental chair was the unintentional impact that Sharon had through that short phone call.  Ah, the miracles created by good teachers!

     She accomplished, although unwittingly it seems  (but I cannot judge her competence in psychotherapy from a few minutes as a voice on the receiver), what two psychiatrists could not do for me in prior sessions (even if it was great lying on the couch and spilling my guts out with a tantrum; fun!).  In her con to get me, a total stranger to her (she spotted my art in a restaurant and thought it was innovative, did a little research and tracked me down), I became momentarily her student! How could this be, and without a registered enrollment via tuition or professional fee?  

      As I hesitated (incubating for a decision over this stress inducing situation that could be avoided) with the request to speak here today, I heard myself, almost like an abandoned, lost child, defiantly proclaim, "I know I'm gifted" (Nobody needs to tell me that).  God, I couldn't believe I said that; I didn't realize this was still an issue.

     In a soft and deliberate demeanor that successfully traversed the static phone lines and my growing tinnitus (which I blame on too many decades of high speed dental drills and blasting disco woofers), she replied with a mother's acknowledgement and acceptance I never got, "Yes, I know you are gifted."  Just to hear that verbalized, from an expert in the field that researched the literature, lifted the heavy burden of a lifetime in proving - I'm not crazy.  

     Or at least momentarily overriding early childhood painful appraisals of what I was, as I searched for who I am. Flash backs from the past -

Grandmother: nicknamed given to me, "Ngong-tin-sue" (Chinese Haka dialect for "idiot")

1st Grade teacher: placement into Reading Group 3 (I was smart enough to know who else were in the group, that we got hand-me-down booklets, featuring Tom, Mary, and Flip, from the other more articulate and gregarious groupings)

Mother: "You're the black sheep of the family.... you will be the cause for my heart attack."

Father: "Stop this childish stuff, get your grades up instead, you'll starve being an artist" (as he stepped on my drawings on the floor); "Act your age!"

High School counselor: "You're not college material, you should go to technical school."

Dental school instructor: "You better watch yourself or you'll find yourself on the shit list and  in Chiropractic school"

Art professor: "Stop asking so much questions (about the nature of art) and paint more... if you want to graduate on time."

Certified Public Accountant: "Stop being so creative; you're 6 months from bankruptcy as a dentist."

Office manager (later, lst Lady of Hawaii, Governor's wife): "Either the disco or I go!" (I kept the disco interior)

Fellow Dentist: "I thought you said you would quit art if you didn't make it by 40 and here you are at 50."

     An assortment of past relationships: "You're schizo," "I cannot stand being around you, you make me so nervous, why can't you just do nothing," "You're eccentric,"  "I will not be second fiddle to your art,"  "Goodbye, you have no time for me," "I hate you, I hope you die," "Wouldn't it be a joke if after all these degrees you end up being nothing special,"  "You're so in love with yourself you're never find anybody to love you,"  "I thought all doctors were rich, - Goodbye,"  "You're just like my father and I hate him," "You're weird,"  "I gotta get away from you, you're energy level makes me jittery,"  "Sorry, I found somebody else who has time for me," "Just thought I'd call and see if you're still alive yet," "You're too complicated," "You make me feel like a nothing," "Sorry, you're not my type," and most hurting, "You're crazy and don't even know it."

    So, through this maze of mixed messages by "normal" people it's consoling to receive a pat on the back for wellness by an expert. Thanks, Sharon!

     But then again, you could be wrong.  The doubts always resurface. They always do when the next unavoidable life situation presents itself.  They even come through as nightmares. My gift or problem is, when a problem or opportunity arises, it seems my mind leaps to conjure up creative alternative solutions, leading me to accept the challenge instead of forgoing and staying on the current course of life.  No not me, impulsively switch horses, dive into untested waters, do it with deviant methodology, survive to be rewarded.  For example, the sleepless nights full of angst, questioning the fate of my budding dental career due to the transformation of my normal clinic into a discotheque (1979-1996), all for thrill seeking and a shot at artistic international recognition (which did happen) for pulling off a dare devil stunt like that. An artist needs exposure and publicity. This was a way to get it creativity and on-the-job as a health provider, confident his clinical skills could weather any storm of criticism.

     But through all the trepidation, the highs of living on the edge of normality, even jumping off the cliffs of reality through becoming the "director of a virtual online  museum" (play house, make believe?), there is that pay off that continues to feed the fire within to remain rebelliously different/abnormal/deviant/uniquely alone: the victory of novel accomplishment through innovation, conquering conformity with projects of the imagination materialized, by having done it "my way." 

      More convincing to continue to pay the price of living in a chaotic and risking inner world than Sharon's "You're OK verdict, and in fact, are gifted" and a previous perfect test score on the Rap's Test for Creativity (1980), at age 59, is the documented trail of accomplishments of this life, post-graduations.  I remember upon achieving the Ph.D., the final 10th degree, reflecting within that if I died that day (age 38), I had reached the summit of my metaphorical Mt. Everest, that I would go peacefully and contented with life.

     Being the rebellious, anti-team player has been rewarding, I believe, also for society.  I have done good, I have lived a worthy life.  I have contributed to my world, I have impacted culture as a cultural change catalyst that I strived to become after college.  I have taken thousands out of oral pain, and done most of it painlessly through compassion.  I am leading an attack on last century's old fortress of an art establishment that continues to exile digital artists worldwide, like myself.  In spite of my personality idiosyncrasy, I continue to try to be a conventional parent for my three children, by making the conscientious attempt to behave as a responsible adult, even as a part of me refuses to ever grow up..

     My life has been enriched with the gift to dare, survive, and succeed by remaining different.  I have in the past been diagnosed and placed on both sides of the continuum of normality. This has contributed to personal conflict and confusion as to in what capacity do I function in society. But I believe the  life strategy of not listening to others, following my instincts knowing that innovation for the common good and the extension of progress are worthy goals, documenting of accumulating novel achievements to dull ever lurking self doubts of abnormality, reflecting on the past and realizing the enrichment such behavior has rewarded this life, makes me feel blessed for being born the way I am.  If I had to do it over, well then, I'd spend my life the same way again.  What a joy ride it's been! And I remain humble enough to realize I am nothing but God's will.

     In a way I have been my own test tube baby for the sake of unabridged creativity unleashed for better or for worse.  I remember when people were in awe just to touch me because I was there, in the flesh, in a Waikiki dance club, as the Disco Doc that they recognized from national television.  It's a rare person that can experience how it feels to be an object of attraction, a mysterious enigma, more than a  walking, talking celebrity but a dancing piece of living sculpture. Realization of this phenomenon as an emerging experimental artist was invaluable.  Such personalized learning enabled me to finally depart from formal education.  It led to the realization that life and it's problems and opportunities was a lifelong schooling in itself.  The grade was not a letter, not even the financial bottom line, but satisfaction or disappointment on how one's time had been spent on that final day of judgment.  I believe I have and continue to contribute for a better world.

     In closing, I want to caution teachers that evaluate students not to inadvertently place latent gifted students on the wrong track.  In my case, I was delegated to the below average group, criticized for too much day dreaming and not enough hand raising participation in  class. I was never popular, in fact self-conscious of being alone, different. In fact, even to this day, I prefer solitude over the mundane topics of everyday life that pre occupy adult conversation. I fantasize someday to retreat to the rain forest on at Volcano, a parcel waits for me on the Big Island, or the pastures and pines of Oregon.

     From my personal experience, I wonder if a new type of giftedness might not be identified, not one specific to talent or IQ, but distinguished apart from the dysfunctional student labeled with personality disorders.  Could there be some hidden link between the identified gifted and others in the "Special Ed" category?  Being different can be a handicap and problem students may be concealed "diamonds in the rough" that could be lost forever by erroneous social manipulation that leads to affirmation of low self worth and a sentence of permanent maladjustment for life.  I have met many brilliant middle age men that are losers in life. What went wrong? Who's to blame? Maybe it was their teachers' fault? 

     I say look through the discarded "rotten apples" and possibly, with the proper guidance and nurturance, unpeel and reveal the hidden genius within that can avert a life of disappointment and failure. Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.  Might we not make the 99 percent effort to find that hidden 1 percent in our students?

    As tangible results of my case study in lifelong phenomenology, I present to you some evidence of my labor of love.  As the conductor in the movie, "The Polar Express," states in regards to trains, "It doesn't matter where it is going.  What does matter is that you get on."  If the things shared,  manifestations of my imaginary virtual world, whether "art" or not, awaken your spirit through fresh new vision, then my life's quest to give life to the nonexistent has not have been in vain.  In fact, it may signal that the option to "get off" approaches.  A protracted devotion of time to higher learning to strengthened self confidence in choice and aesthetic awareness did postpone marriage, raising a family and amassing financial security. I have been willing to pay the price. 

     But at 60, I finally may be back on track for that projected retirement to leisure. Or hmm, should I go after Ripley's existing record of 17 degrees? Nah, I would have to go back to work to pay tuition, way more expensive today (I checked, $224 per credit for out-of-state enrollment at Lane Community College, OR!). Besides, it may be more enlightening to just watch the grass grow by putting myself out to pasture. Then be stilled to contemplate and meditate, amongst a Northwest palette of crisp autumn leaves, the coming of full circle with the blank canvas of wintry white.

-Biographical information on Dr. Chang, portraits over time
www.lastplace.com/page49.htm - artist/psychologist/dentist online journal
www.lastplace.com/Journal/phdissertation.htm - doctoral dissertation abstract
www.artingrid.de International artists website, of which Dr. Chang, or "Pygoya" the Webist, is the recognized founder of this global online art movement; try keyword "Webism" in search at www.google.com
www.lastplace.com/PAI/bio99.htm - Online introduction of the artist
www.lastplace.com/ArtPortrait/pygoya.htm- my life time capsule (or life in a nutshell)
www.realville.com/discopower.htm- Disco Doc archives; dance lessons by the Disco Doc-  www.lastplace.com/Journal/beyond_disco_dancing.htm
www.lastplace.com/CorporateArtPortfolio/oils.htm-  paintings that jolted art history (created by a computer with me as its art teacher, oil on canvas painted by surrogates of me, myself as patron and hoarding collector),  priceless, yet apparently not until after I'm dead!