Bruce Carley shares the view of many that his story is inspirational, although he prefers not to see it overblown. Bruce has an absolute acceptance of himself, his talents and his interests. He is himself, a uniquely talented individual who frankly states his opposition to the notion that people should be labeled, compared or steered into any particular mode of behavior or lifestyle. He values accomplishment, individuality, and inspired endeavor. He is more interested in being given a hearing than he is in winning anyone’s approval or conforming to any particular expectation of society. Bruce makes no secret of his disdain for fashion, convention, disability labels, and narrow career paths. Bruce readily acceded to my request for an interview and chose the setting for our conversation, the Concord Public Library in the midst of its collection of 19th century portraits of the legendary transcendentalists of Concord. This setting, combined with Bruce’s sturdy, outdoors appearance and his long hair pulled back in a plait, bring Henry David Thoreau strongly to mind.
In spite of his oft-repeated reservations about being labeled or singled out as different, Bruce is eager to share his story. After getting some assurances about my mission and the purpose of the interview, Bruce began to tell his story. His early educational experiences he remembers as frustrating and stressful. He was a quick learner and recalls that teachers and other students were holding him back from pursuing the pace he sought for himself. He believes that their motives in doing so were jealousy of his superior learning gifts as well as the frustration of dealing with a student who “didn’t fit the mold.” In spite of the hurdles, Bruce did finish high school with a record sufficient to get him into Tufts University where he remembers being very unhappy, again feeling that he was constantly straining against the strictures of a community that is too stuck on conformity and does not recognize his unique qualities and his original thinking.
Transition from college to work was rocky and frustrating. Nothing emerged, even with the help of a career counselor who Bruce remembers as having let him down. Although lacking a career, Bruce vigorously pursued a number of interests and activities. While working, sometimes happily and sometimes unhappily, with a part time job in a local deli and food shop, Bruce connected with a volunteering opportunity in an elementary school working with a special needs teacher and giving individual help to a nine year old who has an Asperger’s Syndrome-like diagnosis. Their mentoring relationship continued for three years and Bruce continues to keep in touch with him more than ten years later. Bruce’s connection with this Special Education Teacher who interested in Asperger’s Syndrome led to his taking a passing interest in it. He once attended a relevant lecture by Temple Grandin.
Thinking about a possible career in education, Bruce enrolled in a masters program at Cambridge College. While not greatly enjoying Cambridge College, Bruce appreciated the lack of rigid structure and gained some value from a course or two dealing with philosophy and psychology. But his graduate school career culminated in a conflict with the Dean who delayed his graduation for reasons that Bruce calls arbitrary and egotistical. Bruce fought the ruling and won his degree but decided not to pursue a practicum and teacher certification.
Bruce has had an interest in nature since his early childhood. He made a contact that turned out to be a focus for his life at present. He was introduced to his town’s Conservation Director and earned a Certificate in the Native Plants Studies from the New England Wildflower Society. Bruce became a tour guide at Drumlin Farm, an Audubon educational program where he employed his educational qualifications and his interest in nature for about three years. At the same time, h purchased and began to raise a certain disease-resistant variety of American elm in quantity and to plant examples of it throughout the town under the supervision of the Conservation Director. All of this was done with no material help or guidance except that which Bruce sought out independently. Ever since that time he has been propagating and raising these elms in quantity and selling them to private residences and enthusiastic public organizations which have found him by means of the internet. His business, though not yet significantly profitable, has earned a reputation and Bruce has used a web site (www.elmpost.org) he created to disseminate information about native species and to cautiously promote his seedlings, cautiously, because he has no facility to keep up with any significant demand he perceives to be out there. A visit to the website will give further appreciation for Bruce’s talents and accomplishments. You can also learn there, more about his philosophy and values.
Clearly, Bruce is pleased with this accomplishment and it has allowed him to interact in the world is a way that does not require him to stand behind a cash register or interface with a supervisor. In spite of his initial reservations, Bruce offered me a compliment saying that I was a good listener and, therefore, probably a good teacher. By this he means, that good teachers interact by listening, not by offering platitudes, shallow discipline or by assuming an attitude of superiority over their students.