So begins a song by Brandi Carlisle, the upshot of which is that the stories of one’s life mean nothing if no one hears them.
It’s the start of 2011, the year in which I will turn 50. I’m sitting in my brand new recliner, an item I probably shouldn’t have purchased considering I will probably be laid-off from my job soon. But there’s nothing like turning 50 and losing your job to bring about some introspection, perhaps some reassessment. What am I reassessing exactly? Probably everything–my life, my goals over the years, my views–in other words, I’ll be using this blog to address the following: who am I and how the hell did I get here?
About thirty years ago I was pursuing a theatre degree at Kent State University. I was in an acting class with an instructor whose name I seem to have blocked out of my memory. I was doing a monologue from Death of a Salesman, the one where Linda Loman, wife of Willy, is kneeling over his grave at the very end of the play. I barely remember the text of this monologue. But I remember very clearly the old-fashioned humiliation the instructor was putting me through as she made me do the scene over and over and over again repeatedly declaring that I was flat, that I was not conveying anything.
She was right, of course. I had never related to the play, much less the character of Linda Loman, wife to the do-nothing washed-up salesman Willy. But I remember very clearly doing the scene over and over and over until, by about the fourth time, I was so pissed off at the instructor that I was positively seething. I was delivering the lines through clenched teeth and tensed shoulders, fighting back tears of humiliation, when at the close of the monologue, the instructor practically yelled as she jumped up and said “Yes! That’s it! Much better. Do you see the difference?”
I did not. I was completely perplexed. I had no further understanding of the text, no intimate connection with the character. How could I possibly relate to the feelings of a middle-aged woman whose husband, the man she’d invested everything in, had just committed suicide? I was 20 years old. I’d never been in love. The only loss I’d experienced thus far was the loss of two high school friends who tragically lost their lives when the driver of their car drove into a large tree trunk.
Anyway, the whole experience made me reconsider my major and my life’s trejectory. I’d been doing theatre since I was 4 years old, mostly musicals and comedies, nothing real heavy. I had a decent singing voice and a genuine lack of inhibition that made it easy for me to get on stage and make a fool of myself. But the idea of suffering this kind of humiliation on a constant basis, enduring constant rejection, subjecting myself to the starvation that comes with living in New York, Chicago or L.A. to pursue such a crazy career objective, and the real likelihood of success, which was virtually zero, made me think it was probably time to switch majors.
So I thought about it for the remainder of the semester and then switched my major to the only other thing I really enjoyed doing in high school—reading and writing. Yes, you guessed it, I became an English major. You may be thinking, why switch from one useless undergraduate degree to another? I received two awards at my senior graduation awards ceremony—one was for theatre and the other was for advanced composition. Truth be told, I was proudest of the advanced comp award. My senior year English teacher was a wise-ass Brit who loved the existentialists and who tried his best to get me to understand that there were jobs for good writers in the world.
So over the years, I have worked mostly in the communications field, writing for corporations, government entities, non-profits, and eventually writing content for secondary level textbooks.
However, back when I was still in my twenties, I also wrote for myself. I wrote short stories that never got published, began a novel that was never finished, did lots and lots of letter writing for which I received many accolades, mostly from people who received my letters, of course. By about age 30, I had to switch my focus to making a living and writing for myself kind of faded away.
Having decided to treat my fiftieth year with a certain amount of reflection and mindfulness, what better means than to engage in the craft of writing for myself, an activity that felt so much a part of me during my twenties, the time in our lives when we are so full of hope and promise, wound up with energy, and performing at the top of our game (at least that’s how I remember it). So I’ve committed to writing 50 blog entries in 50 weeks in my 50th year. I will blog about who I am and how I got to be who I am. It won’t be a tell-all, so those of my friends who are out there fearing that I might be finally ready to kiss and tell, worry not. I will try to show respect for the people I’ve had the privilege to know and learn from, and gratitude for the life I’ve had in an effort to take a deeper look at myself and think about what lies ahead for me. All the while, I hope to rekindle the craft of writing for myself, something I set aside so many years ago.
Thanks for taking the time . . .