1.) My sister Laurie. Laurie and I were born eleven months apart, so we're called Irish twins. As a result, we are, in a way, like yin and yang--she is aggressive where I am more passive, she is more to-the-point where I tend to beat around the bush, she is more action-oriented, whereas I'd rather curl up to a good book. She has also always shot down any claim I may have had to artistic self-worth. You name it, she hated it: my singing, my acting, and, most especially, my writing. The clearest example, which I wrote about recently, was the story that I shared with her about my days with Damon. But there were many many other examples that I could mention. It's a shame, too, because one of my favorite memories of her was when I was I was about five, and she was four, and we'd play my parents records, and dance around, singing Beatles songs at the top of our lungs. The act broke up shortly after that, however.
2.) Dr. Picozzi and Burr They were two professors in college, and I think, in some ways, these wounds affected me adversely for years. After graduating from college, there was a huge creative void--an absolute wasteland--that resulted in my decision not to pursue graduate school. In fact, this was actually a big part of the story that I let Laurie read. (And part of the reason I shared it with her, because she had always felt that Dad and Mom considered me the smart one, and I wanted to show her it just wasn't the case.
"Diamond, I always meant to ask you..." I clicked my left directional on and started to turn the car on to our street. "Why did you leave New York to move up here?"
"I still do go back to New York from time to time, you know," he said, struggling to maintain his bravado. "But it's okay, Matt. Something I say to myself practically every day, 'there are all kinds of ways to measure success.'"
"You're not a failure, Diamond."
Diamond flashed me a look. "Who ever said that I was?"
"Not me, that's for sure!" I started to pull into our driveway. I crunched down the short stretch of pavement and parked next to my lady's beat up blue pick up. I stopped the car. I thought of something I had never dreamed of sharing with him. "You know, I'm not sure if this is related at all, but it just came into my head. You know that I went to a local college here and majored in theater arts administration, right?"
He smiled. "I always forget the official title."
"It is a mouthful," I said sheepishly. "I started out my freshman year undecided. Then I decided upon Education, to copy my Dad. Then I chose Business Management. But I always wanted to write, you know? I was always writing plays, I even turned my freshman year of High School into a novel! And to tell you the truth, the Business Management stuff just weighed me down. It was so goddamn boring. I felt as if I were going to lose my mind if I stuck with it. So one day, I went to a professor I knew in the theater department and approached him with a few of what I thought were my better plays and I asked him, "Could you read these and tell me if I have any writing talent at all? Just give me an honest answer, yes or no. If the answer's no, I'll just stick with business.'"
Diamond chuckled and shook his head. "What a terrible position for someone to be in."
I wasn't certain if was referring to the professor, or me but I continued on. "Well, I'm not certain if the answer he gave was completely truthful, but it was nice enough to get me to change my major."
"I'm sure that took a lot of convincing." I didn't get mad. I knew he was just teasing me.
"Anyway, we had agreed that we would submit one of my plays to the theater faculty as a possible production during my senior year. Before that, Doc had always been urging me to go to more functions on campus, you know, get more involved, meet more people, schmooze. But you know me. I can't schmooze to save my life. I still can't. So I kind of ignored him, thinking my writing was the important thing, that if the material was good enough, that sort of thing didn't matter. And besides, the people there were too close knit and didn't exactly welcome me with open arms." I stopped and closed my eyes. "Or maybe I was just too scared to make much of an effort."
"You really should have."
I glanced over in Diamond's direction. I had been looking away. It was hard to talk and look at him. He was hunched over, rubbing his temple. But his tone. I'm not sure, I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was like--
"Anyway, so this Professor--Doc, I would call him. He always hated when I'd call him that. It was like Perry White--'Don't call me Chief,' that sort of thing. We picked out three plays to submit for consideration. He agreed he'd direct one of them, any one they chose. We were scheduled to go to a faculty meeting, where they were supposed to plan their season. There were two student representatives there who were part of the Playreading Committee."
"No," groaned Diamond. Why?
"Let me tell you something, Diamond, I started out that meeting sitting straight back in my chair with a stupid smile on my face, sure they'd have nothing but nice things to say. Why would I think anything different? No one had ever said bad things about my writing before. Not in High School, at least. But by the time I got out of there, I was slunk back lower in my chair than a man convicted of the death penalty. I just wanted to turn invisible and get the hell out."
"Jeezus," he whispered. "I know that--"
But I was on something of a roll, and wasn't about to let him interject that easily. "I heard one professor say that he lost patience with the first script halfway through the Second Act. One of the student reps said that a member of the Playreading Committee called one of the scripts the worst play they had ever read in their life. The costume head declined to work on any of them because she didn't find any of the plays theatrically interesting. Banished by the costume head!"
I glanced over again. Diamond appeared astounded, you know, that, my mouth's open, lift up my jaw before it hits my nuts look. I don't think he was acting, but you never knew. I hated telling the story. I didn't do it very often. Only Josie really knew within the theater. It wasn't exactly a high point on my resume.
I grinned innocently. "What?"
"I just can't believe that...I mean, did they know you were in the room?"
"Doc did bring the fact up at one point. I think someone said they didn't know who Matt Edwards was, and he said, "Well, he's right here, would you like to talk to him?" And I kind of tried to unslink myself and spit out a hello, but it was transformed into a rhetorical question, and well...you know. Anyway, I guess I got the answer to that question about my writing that I had thrown on Doc the year before. Only by that time I was in my senior year and it was a little too late to start over in Business."
"You would have hated business."
"You're right, I would have. But what the hell use is what I've got? I think that Doc was a bit embarrassed about the whole thing. We started to keep our distance. I do believe he really meant to help me out, even now. I just wish, I...I had been..."
"Jesus," repeated Diamond.
"But you go on, you know? I mean, I tried not to let it get me down. What am I going to do? Hey, maybe all I'll ever have will be the fact that I'm President of this little community theater and I got to play Pippin in your production of this show. Shit, is that a bad thing?"
"It's not a bad thing." Diamond spoke really softly. A few houses down, someone started up their engine. And cars honked on the highway in the distance. And I stood still, listening to him talk softly, and thinking about what I had just shared with him. "Not a bad thing at all, Matt."
I shivered. It was a cold night. I had turned off the car about five minutes ago. We sat there in the dark, both of us looking out into the night, peering through the mist that had started to form on the glass windows. Weeks ago, Anna had written "I Love Mom" on Diamond's side and the writing could still be seen, faded, smudged, but still visible. It warmed me up.
"I had a similar experience," whispered Diamond. "My senior year of college. We all were required to take an Acting final in order to complete our courses. I chose a monologue from King Lear and practiced for weeks to get it just right. I mean weeks. I swear, my roommate knew it by heart, and he had trouble remembering the Pledge of Allegiance... And I had this instructor---ah, I know he never liked me. Anyway, I performed the piece. Did pretty well, I think. The comments from the class were pretty positive. But after the class, just before I was about to leave that goddamn room forever, the Professor called me over and looked me in the eye...and he said, "Aaron"--because that's my real name, you know, when I was but a Diamond in the rough. He said, "Aaron, I'm going to give you a passing grade because your parents spent a lot of money for you to come to this college. And I do think that you try very hard. But let me give you some free advice. You can take it, if you want, but knowing you, you'll probably leave it."
"And then he looked me in the eye and said, 'Go back to Tulsa, Diamond, find a nice girl, and settle down. Don't make this your life's work. You just haven't got it, my boy.' He actually said my boy, as if he were my daddy or something. 'You haven't got it, my boy.' Damn." Diamond hunted around for his packet of cigarettes. I was surprised it had taken him that long. "I'd have given anything to prove that bastard wrong."
I smiled at him. "Me too."
"Still would." Diamond winked at me. "Well then, my boy, we've still got a bit more work left to do, don't we?" He patted me on the knee and lit up his cigarette. "You'd better go upstairs. Josie's going to start wondering what happened to us pretty soon and call the police."
"Yeah." I opened up my side of the car. Diamond just sat there. "You coming up?"
He rolled down his window. "In a few minutes. I just want to finish this cigarette." I hung back a bit, unsure if I really wanted to leave the comfort of our shared mutual failures.
3. It's easy to blame your parents, but there you go. When this book discusses the "Shadow Artist," I know that feeling. After high school, after winning an award in playwriting from The Boston Globe and first place in a theater competition for a local play that I wrote, I wanted, more than anything to attend Emerson. But what I was told was that pursuing a career in the arts was not a sensible, profitable path. I was strongly urged by my father to pursue another career--ANY other career, and, fool that I was, I went along with that, and let go of my dream, like a child letting his balloon fly off into the sky. This whole thing's really just a minor variation on what I also did with my sexuality (Laurie came out 20 years before me). But keep in mind, I was always the firstborn, the dutiful one, the good boy. (It was a great surprise for me to learn, at the funeral, that Mom considered Laurie more of a firstborn. I didn't see that one coming.) But as the book says--"the children are urged into thinking of the arts as hobbies, creative fluff around the edges of real life...if the child is encouraged to consider art in job terms at all, he or she must consider it sensibly." So: a job as a writer in Public Relations, an outside life spent directing and acting in community theater. Well, at least I get paid for that, now. But if I had a dollar for every person who said "What are you doing here..."
It's funny. Perhaps it's the hour, but looking back on these three examples, it's hard for me to really feel any bitterness or sadness about these situations. They are what they are, and it's really too late to do anything about them now except acknowledge them and move on. I no longer have any desire to dwell in the past. And I don't want to waste the time or energy. Besides, I'm really happy with where I am finally, after many years of frustration. All the circumstances of my life led me to where I am today, to who I am today, and I wouldn't change anything at all.
However, I am hungry for bigger things in the future.