Postcard from Paradise Island

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I have not been writing much since my father passed away. This confession would probably sadden him a bit. Once, when he and I were driving to Kansas City last summer, the day we went to watch the Royals play, he told me that he thought I had a book in me.  I laughed it off, saying that I didn’t feel like I could write a book.  What I did not tell him, something he already knew, is that I wanted to write a book but was afraid of failing.

A few months ago, while my dad was alive, my mom pulled out a box of photos and cards that had been tucked away in some closet.  Some pictures were familiar and others, new to me.  The cards and postcards were mostly tourist notes from family and friends’ visits to New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and San Francisco, placed I grew up dreaming about and except for Chicago, went on to live in for a while.  The notes on the back could all have been written by John Cheever or Evan S. Connell characters, simple observations from a new city.  “The wedding was beautiful!” “This church is the view from our hotel room.” “Tell everyone at Newberry’s I miss them.”

My Dad’s work trip to the Bahamas in the 70s looms large in my youthful memory.  It sounded so much more far away and foreign than Tan-Tar-A or Colorado. After a week, when he came home, he brought gifts for all of us. He brought my Mom a straw beach bag with the word Nassau embroidered into it.  (She still has it.) He brought giant coconuts that we had to crack open with a hammer.  And Bahamian coins and dollar bills for my brothers and me. (I still have mine.) He told us stories about his time there, not that I remember any of it.  I was a little kid, just happy to have him home.

Apparently, he sent my Mom at least one postcard from his travels because we found it a few months ago.  The image above is the front and the following image is the message he wrote to her.filename-1-1 copy

“Theresa, Boys,

This is where we eat at about every night, (sic) the water. We went downtown last night to see a show that they have on the street. Everything is high here. This is Sat and we just got back from golfing. We went out at 9:30 am and we got back at 4:30 pm. Everything they do here is slow. We are all having a good time. I wished you were all here to see everything with me. Will see you Wed.

Love, Ray”

And then at the top of the postcard, written in ink, he wrote, “This looks just like it.”

The postmark, I believe says July 14, 1975.  I would have just turned seven.

43 years later, I reread every sentence.  I try to imagine him sitting down to write the postcard in his room or maybe the lobby bar. Was he drinking Cutty Sark and water while he penned this? Maybe smoking a cigar?

Did he really wish his family was there with him or was he glad to just be unencumbered for a few days?  No negotiating with his wife over whether each decision was something the family of 5 could afford.  No disagreement among 3 very different boys as to how an afternoon should be spent. I don’t really know what thoughts passed his mind, but I can ponder.  A mystery.  I study his penmanship and admire its attention to detail, its politeness.  I compare it to the writing in the notebooks he kept to communicate in the last few weeks of his life, when most of us had a hard time understanding his words.  His pain medication made writing difficult for him too.  There are pages where he wrote most of a sentence and then he would scratch it out.  Fearful that he could not communicate the things he was trying to say.

So many times, I’ve thought about something I wanted to say, about my Dad, or my Mom or my family or this new place I’ve found myself in life. Something will cross my mind while I’m swimming or reading a book or driving home from work, but by the time I sit down with my notebook, I don’t know what it is I want to say.  I start a sentence then scratch it out.

I don’t think my Dad thought I was an especially great writer.  (Not that he thought I was a bad one, I hope.) But on that day, almost a year ago now, as we drove to Kansas City, I think he knew two things.  He knew he was dying and he knew how much I would need to write to get through the days once he was gone. Certainly, I need writing more than it needs me.

So, here I have shared a postcard from 1975.  A message from a midwestern husband and father to his family back home.  It can be taken at face value, or it can be studied like a mysterious code.  Unlock the mystery of your father and you’ll unlock the mystery of yourself. Maybe.

 

 

 

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The Darkness of Our Souls

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One of the mostly darkly comic moments of my high school career was the day of officer elections for Fellowship of Christian Athletes. It was my junior year and I had been very involved in Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) since my freshman year. I went to every meeting, every weekend retreat, every Tuesday night bible study. I wasn’t really an athlete, but I sure was a Christian and I had every Amy Grant cassette tape to prove it.

If you are a person that remembers high school, you might remember how some clubs were a little nerdier than others. FCA was not a nerd club. I’ll never forget my freshman year, going to meetings, spellbound by the devotions given by junior and senior club leaders, popular boys and girls, who talked about how their relationship with Jesus really helped them get through the day. And also, to win games.

By my junior year, FCA was the one club I was most involved in. Many of the people I considered my best friends were also in that club.

When officer elections came up that year, I knew that I really wanted to hold some kind of office during my senior year. I aspired to be that upperclassman giving devotions, inspiring freshman about how Jesus really makes your day better. So I signed up to run for every office: president, vice president, secretary, treasurer. I think there was even something called stu-co rep that I threw my name into the hat for. I was sure that with all that putting myself out there, something would pay off. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The day of elections, my first clue of the tragicomedy to come was that every FCA member in the school showed up to vote. While FCA boasted a large membership, meeting attendance was never mandatory and often not heavily attended. That day was the exception, every lumbering football player, towering basketball player and Aqua-Netted varsity cheerleader showed up to vote for officers that day.

The first office that we voted for was president. I don’t remember how many candidates there were, I don’t remember who won. I just remember it wasn’t me.

I won’t drag this out for you the way that afternoon dragged on for me, but each election bore the same result. Each time my fellow FCA members had an opportunity to vote, they voted for the other candidate. By the time we got down to stu-co rep, there were snickers that travelled through the auditorium when my name was announced as one of the candidates. Like Carrie at the prom, in the moments after that pigs’ blood fell on her head, I realized that whatever it was that I wanted from these people, boys and girls I considered my peers, I was not going to get it. By a show of hands, the vote took place. Someone other than me won.

That afternoon, after the calamitous election, I went home and took to my waterbed. I don’t remember crying specifically, but I probably did. What I most remember is laying there, heartbroken and embarrassed. In all my years of living in Independence, I don’t think I ever felt so alone.

My only consolation was that someday I would leave Independence and leave Kansas and show them all. I would have a wildly successful adult life and when I came back to Independence to visit, everyone would clamor around me, wanting to get close enough that my stardust might rub off on them.

And while I have left Independence and left Kansas, my life is just kind of a life. Not too glamorous, barely any stardust at all.

Did I have any idea, on that lonely spring afternoon, as I pouted in my bedroom, how many times I would think of that day in the 30 years to come? I don’t think I did.

On that afternoon, I decided I was not going to be a member of FCA my senior year. I would not be sharing my athleticism or my Christianity with people who did not appreciate it. And I held to that resolution. Instead, my senior year was filled with rehearsals and performances for four different plays.

It’s no wonder I loved being on stage, acting in these plays. The thought of becoming someone else is what I’d spent 17 years dreaming about.

One of the plays I did in that busy senior year was written by William Inge.  The play, A Loss of Roses, was Inge’s first big Broadway failure, the first of more than a few.

Inge wrote quite a bit about his hometown, my hometown. In his adulthood, he did not spend a lot of time in Independence. From what I’ve read, I don’t think he liked visiting. An overly sensitive man, a success who never stopped feeling like a failure, I think his visits home dredged up too much pain.

It’s always a little embarrassing to write about one’s pains, one’s sensitivities. Inge did it beautifully, but now, now that we know how much sadness he bore his entire life, it’s heartbreaking. Lola, always ready to play the victim, but stronger than she realizes. Rosemary, on her knees begging a man she may not even love to marry her because the loneliness is killing her. Millie, overshadowed by her beautiful sister, defiant that one day she would leave Independence and live a successful, decorated life.

Sometimes I worry that I am in a downward spiral, that the trip to the Menninger Clinic that William Inge and Deanie Loomis took might be in my future too. There are days that I am overwhelmed by my sensitivities. There are moments when I wonder, am I the only person bothered that no one stops at stop signs in Los Angeles?

I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning with the fear that everyone in my entire home town hates me now. Over something I wrote about in a blog yesterday. And then I fretted over that fear because who really thinks that way except for the delirious and the paranoid?  And then to try to make sense of it, I sat on my couch and typed all this out into my little phone. And then, later, I’ll go back to reread what I’ve written and judge it and decide whether I’m willing to share it, the ramblings of my overtired, oversensitive, quite possibly delusional brain.

Of course, you know I published it. You know I took that risk. It’s what we writers do, we risk revealing the darkness of our souls. Even us failures, especially us failures.  And vultures that we are, we all take solace in being reminded of others’ failures, because they are not our own.

Happiness

draft_lens9869081module88838141photo_1268076723Charlie_Brown_SnoopyIt’s a movie star interview staple. He or she is asked by the interviewer when they knew they wanted to be an actor. He or she mines his or her personal history and shares a memory of being in a school play or talent show, how they made the whole school laugh or cry or both and from that moment on, “I KNEW that’s what I wanted to do with my life!”. 

 Of course, it is not only the successful actors that have that memory. This town is full of lost souls trying to chase that high, relive that moment, at 8 or 9 or 10, when they stood on a stage and felt the entire world loved them. 

 The irony that my first great success at anything was my title role in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is not lost on me. Playing a hapless failure came naturally for me. Still does. It was 5th grade and I’m sure not more than 500 people saw my star turn, but even today, that high that came at the end, where the entire cast closed the show with Happiness, well, is probably the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.  

I’ve written about my many failed auditions in the last two years or so. It’s been nearly three years since the last time I booked a job. I’ve been lucky enough to have an agent sending me out more regularly than I deserve and yet, nothing.  In every audition, I second guess every choice I make because it feels like every choice I’ve made in the last three years is the wrong one. 

Last week, my friend Michael, because he cares, asked me what I was doing creatively. I told him that I had all but stopped writing and storytelling. It’s been years since I’ve been cast in a play. He asked me how I might be able to think outside the box a little, create my own platform.

I cut him off. “I don’t really want to discuss this. I can’t. I am stuck and I wish I knew what to do to unstick myself, but I don’t. That’s what I’d hoped to do with the blog. But the blog has just ended up being a failure just like everything else I have attempted.”

“We can change the subject,” Michael offered. And we did. We talked about what we were going to have for dinner and then the play we looked forward to attending. 

A couple of days ago, I deactivated my Facebook account. Maybe you are more evolved or just more successful than me, but of late, Facebook has become nothing more than another reminder of all my failures, too. I’d post a picture or a blog post and only get a couple likes. Does one exist if no one clicks like on their FB status update? It should be noted that the only person who noticed my disappearance was my Mother.

I’ve tried acting and sketch comedy and improv and standup and storytelling and writing and blog writing and most depressing of all, social media, to get the world to notice me, validate me. And for the most part, none of it has worked.  

So, the good news is, this is the last time I will bemoan my life on this aptly named platform I created almost two years ago. I am hanging up my keyboard, so to speak.

I came and I tried and I failed. 

I’m going to step away from the social media. Read some books, catch up on Empire. I’m going to feel sorry for myself for awhile and then we’ll see. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m done with this blog, but I’m not done. After all, I am Charlie Brown and the eternally comforting thing about Charlie Brown is that no matter how many times he’s down, he is never truly out. 

Thank you to all who read my story!

10 Goals for 2014

I am sitting at the American Airlines terminal at LAX waiting to board my flight to New York. If you’ve read even one of my blog posts, you probably know how much I love New York.

A few months ago, on January 2, I wrote a note to myself on my iPhone titled, 10 Goals for 2014. It’s somewhat revealing that I only managed to write down six goals before I lost interest or got distracted.

Number 3 on my list, just under “book and shoot a commercial” I wrote “visit New York twice.” Eric and I try to visit New York every winter/spring. This year we joined our friends Michael and Kim there in February. And now, here I sit, next stop JFK. If all goes well, I’ll be in New York in just a few hours.

I don’t say all this to brag. In a way it’s comical, 2 visits to New York in a year has been my resolution for about 10 years now, so it’s not like I’m, like, unstoppable, when I put my mind to something. I’m stoppable all right, plenty stoppable.

But this time, it looks like my goal will come to fruition. Not completely unrelated side note: I’m also on track to complete my goal of swimming 365 miles this year.

And this really isn’t me bragging. I’m so much more comfortable talking about my failures. There are just so many of them. I always feel like it’s more accommodating to be self-deprecating.

So I am a guy who seldom achieves his goals, but today, I hope to achieve one of those 10, I mean 6, goals for 2014. And I have to let it give me hope that before 2014 is over, I might also lose those 25 pounds and book that commercial. And if I can do it, by all means there is so much more hope for you!

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Patron of the Arts

1798866_10152304887902755_1072442248_nAs my one year blog anniversary draws nigh, I will confess to you, today, why I started this thing.  I used to take an acting class. I’ve talked about the teacher at times on stage.  He figures into a story I often share about my struggles working on Uncle Vanya.  My feelings for this teacher, whom I’ll call Professor, are complicated.  At times, he could be overwhelmingly nurturing and other times he could be mercilessly cruel.

I left his class several years ago, then after a two year absence, I returned.  I think he was disappointed and hurt that I left class initially and when I returned, I never felt like he liked me.  I hope that you are different than me, but I am one of those insecure types that likes for people to like him.  When I returned to class, our every conversation was adversarial or dismissive or academic.  In my early days of class, he had told me how unique and special my instrument was, but after my flight and return, he never said things like that to me.

After I left class the second time, he told a story to his New York class about a student in the LA class who was nothing more than a patron of the arts.  “This student is in his 40s, he calls himself an actor, but he is nothing more than a patron of the arts.  He goes to plays and read books and goes to museums.  He can talk at length about what he reads or sees, but he, himself, is not an artist.  He does not dig deep the way an artist digs.”  And of course, I was that LA student he was talking about.  When I first heard about it, obviously, it hurt my feelings.  Professor often talks about his students, usually derisivlely, in class, often in the victim’s presence, but more often, behind their back.  As perceptive as he is about humanity, he chooses to build his class around his own antagonistic pathology.

But, back to me, this is my story, after all.  What I did love about Professor is that when he said something about me, usually something negative, I was able to look at it and ask myself, if there was truth there.  And of course, always, there was something true, maybe not 100% true, but somehow, as ugly as it was, there was at least a part of it that resonated.  

I am a patron of the arts.  I read books, but don’t write them.  I see plays, but don’t act in them.  I go to art museums, but I don’t paint.  But I am an artist, and that’s not to say that I am a good artist.  This blog is my art, over which I toil.  And I am not attempting histrionics by saying that it’s been mostly failure.  Not one of my posts has “gone viral.”  Most of my posts receive startling few hits.  Many friends have openly told me that they don’t understand why I am doing this.  And, Amy Grant has not retweeted even ONE of my beautiful, complimentary, open-hearted posts that I’ve written about her and repeatedly tweeted to her.   But still, I keep going.

There have been some successes.  I’ve received nice compliments.  I’ve made a couple people laugh, a couple people cry and of course, my holy grail, a couple people laugh through tears. My favorite emotion!  What’s more, I feel I’ve gained something as an artist.  It’s helped my onstage ventures. I am better at writing than when I started.  I think I understand story a little better.   

So, I am glad a low moment inspired me to create Easily Crestfallen.  It’s kind of thrilling to think that hearing something unfavorable about yourself, can open you up to the possibilities.