interview by Douglas Eby
Bronwen Aker is a web developer and instructor to others who are starting in the web design business. She also has experience as a Planetarium Lecturer at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, hosting live, multi-media planetarium shows. She is a member of groups including the HTML Writers Guild, Internet Developers Association, Spiderwoman On the Web and L.A. Webgrrls.
"I have rather a checkered educational history. For about the last ten or twelve years I've been trying to chip away at the education and get what my husband refers to as 'the plumber's license', alias a Bachelor's degree. Real life keeps interfering with my grandiose schemes. But I'm a compulsive readaholic, and come by it honestly, from my family. I've been avoiding this whole bit of 'Yes I am gifted' for quite a long time, and a lot of my family issues came into play. And as I get older, I have fewer inhibitions about blowing my own horn, and the more it's a matter of I say to myself 'I can do this' and the only one who is suffering if I don't say this is me.
I've been a space fiend for just about forever. It was about eleven years ago that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up, and that wound up being kind of a pivotal point for me. I'd stayed home from work because basically I was too depressed to go in to a job that I hated. What kept coming back to me was these people died for something they believed in, and given the opportunity, I would have traded places with any one of them in a heartbeat. I looked around at my life and said 'I can't stand this; what am I doing here?' and from that point, started making all kinds of life changes.
In college (initially at L.A. Valley Community College) I wound up in an astronomy class and an introductory computer science class, and I discovered I took to astronomy like the proverbial duck to water. I don't know if it was from watching so many years of "Star Trek" or whatever, I seemed to have almost an intuitive grasp of the concepts involved, and the physics related to it. I got involved with the Astronomy Club, became the president, and planetarium show creator and presenter, and from there started networking with all kinds of other people in the amateur astronomy circle in the Los Angeles area.
After a while, friends kept saying I should go work at Griffith, and five years I was between jobs, so I went up and applied; I had nothing to lose. I started off working on the book counters, selling tchotchkes to the natives, and worked up to museum guide. Then about two years ago, they needed a planetarium lecturer for the school shows, and I went in and applied, and apparently had the right stuff, and I've been giving the multimedia star shows ever since.
It's been a long, hard road to acknowledge my talents, to be willing to recognize myself as a gifted woman. My family goes back to Revolutionary times, and my background is pioneers, preachers and immigrants. I'm a half-breed Armenian, from my father, and the other half is German, Scotch, Celt, so I'm 'Genuine Heinz 57'. I didn't grow up with my biological father; I met him when I was in my teens, and doing a lot of seeking out my own identity. I discovered I had a lot of similar personality characteristics; I think I get some of my stubbornness from my father.
My mother, unfortunately, in my early years had her own share of emotional problems. I wound up from kindergarten through sixth grade going to something like eight different elementary schools. It was just that her personal life was chaotic, and I had to go with her while she was having marriages and divorces and so on. I was actually certified as highly gifted when I was in second grade, by some flavor of Binet test. In the middle of the third or fourth grade, I got transferred into a magnet school that had a gifted program, and later was in the Individualized Honors Program at Walter Reed Junior High.
The IHP program was wonderful, but what was happening in my home situation, which soured me quite a bit over my own ability, was the fact that my mother was living vicariously through my abilities, and my 'job' was to perform; the script was 'See my daughter, how wonderful she is, how talented she is, aren't I a good mother?' So I had nothing of value on my own; everything reflected back on her, and if I did not perform to whatever level was deemed appropriate, then love was withheld.
Being able to actualize my talents has been a hard road, and a lot of it has possible because, particularly in the last six years, I've gotten a lot of support, a lot of confirmation and a lot of validation from other members of my family, most especially from my maternal grandmother, and maternal aunt. At this point my mom is genuinely diagnosed with, depending on who you ask, any of three varieties of schizophrenia or depression, and what has been very helpful and empowering has been the fact that my family have been willing and able to turn around and say 'Yes, Bronwen, it really was as bad as you remember. You're not crazy. I don't know how you've come through without becoming a complete basket case.'
The first time I really reached out to my grandmother, I was truly amazed at the fact she loved me just for myself, that I didn't have to jump through any hoops in order to earn her love, and that she was able validate that my perceptions and opinions about what had happened earlier in my life really had merit, and that I wasn't crazy or bad for having these thoughts or feeling these feelings, that it really was the way it was.
I haven't had people saying that I was crazy as I tried to express my creativity, but the biggest reason why I didn't have that problem was because until the last couple of years, I did anything possible to squelch any creativity, so much of what I was told and being given as valuable had nothing to do with being creative or artistic, it was all intellectual prowess. And I did my best to be a good girl. And to try to be this wonderful, brilliant intellectual. Then of course, as soon as I hit my teen years, the hormones kick in, an my mother and I had more and more difficulties, and finally by the time I was eighteen I was out living on my own, supporting myself. So then it became more a matter of 'Creativity is wonderful, but I have to pay the bills.'
So it's only been in the last several years that I've even started thinking of myself as creative. I look at what I do with the web pages, and I still have trouble seeing my own work as creative. Because I'm seeing things that I take and bring together, I don't necessarily perceive it as being original, I simply perceive it as being recycled.
And this pattern goes back a long way: a classic example is when I was in elementary school, in one of the gifted classes, we had a class project where we were going to be making kites, using plastic trash bags, and wooden dowels and so forth. Well, I forgot to bring my garbage bag, so what I wound up using remnants from the other kids, and patchworked my kite together, and people saw this calico kite and they loved it, and started adding on trim so their kite would look like mine. But my perception then and now has changed very little. I could only see that I had failed, because I didn't bring my own garbage bag, and that I had to make do, just in order to get by.
One of my projects is an online business, with a virtual office; we call ourselves The Fourth Fate, a Woman Web Weavers Consortium, and it's a combined effort with myself and four other women. I got involved with these women through an email listserve, and also now a web chat, called Spiderwoman On the Web (http://www.amazoncity.com/SOW/). The purpose is to be supportive and encouraging of women in the internet community in web development. It's not exclusive to women, but inclusive to all people. Through this group, I became acquainted with a whole slew of people, and I've found this particular is much more sharing and caring than some of the other organizations for internet development.
Through Spiderwoman and Webgrrls and a couple of others, one of the things that has happened is that I don't feel isolated anymore. I enjoy computers, always have, but in years past I felt very much excluded and very much the outsider, because when I wear a shirt that would have a pocket protector in it, the bulges all go the wrong way. If someone would bother to take thirty seconds to explain something to me, I could pick it up very quickly, but by and large no one was even willing to bother.
So what I've found through networking with other women on the web and the internet is that it's very validating and supportive, and I don't feel isolated anymore. It's been very empowering. It has allowed me to continue to learn and grow.
Looking at all the materials and sites and support groups for gifted children, and families of gifted children on the internet, I found I was literally moved to tears, because I was asking myself 'Where was all this stuff when I was a kid?' It wasn't there, and I think my life would have been a lot different. Looking at all the Mensa sites, and your site and all the links, I'm thinking maybe there's support here, and maybe there's fellowship here that I need, that I've been depriving myself of."
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company site: StarPixie Productions http://www.starpixie.com/
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interview by Douglas Eby [1997, updated 1999]
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related Talent Development
Resources pages :
Adults blog gifted/talented/high ability
intensity / sensitivity resources : articles sites books
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