I remember my mom giving me her old record player. It was about the size of a small (1980’s) TV, and had speakers that unfolded to reveal the turntable. She took me to the Record Factory in Concord, CA, and asked the clerk to show us to a record that was “hip.” Yes, she said hip. We ended up with Foreigner 4.
I remember my mom taking me to see Fiddler on the Roof in San Francisco. Our car — which we called Charlie Brown — broke down on the way to the show. It’s the only memory I have of one of our cars breaking down. I wouldn’t know it at the time, but we were seeing Fiddler with Topol, the best Tevye.
I remember being assigned Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut, in my freshman year of high school. I read it cover to cover before bed that night. I mentioned my love of it to a theater friend who was a bit older. The next time I saw her, she gave me a plastic bag filled with books. All the Vonnegut. I was in heaven.
I remember being the only kid in the first grade who could remember the single line of the class play. It was the hare in the Tortoise and the Hare. I don’t remember what the line was now, but I knew it then, and it was enough to get me recast from fox on the sideline to the star of the show. Which led to playing the King of Hearts in another class play, and then having the theater bug from then on.
I remember my uncle showing me his comic collection. I loved all of it. Around that time, X-Factor was coming out. He got me issue number one, and I had the comic bug. Next thing I knew, I was a regular at the local comic shop. I don’t even know what my monthly budget for comics was. It had to be a ton.
I remember stumbling into An Evening at the Improv on the A&E station. I fell in love with stand-up comedy. Through friends I learned about people like Robin Williams, and George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and, of course, Eddie Murphy. I remember my aunt offering to take me to see Raw. She talked my mom into letting me go. She told me, “tell your mom you didn’t understand any of it.” Honestly, I don’t think I did.
I remember my Nana getting me a subscription to Mad Magazine. I don’t remember exactly how long I’d been reading it, but it had been a while. She died a year or so after she got me the subscription (as well as a subscription to a paper called Comic Relief where I fell in love with the writing of Dave Barry), and I got the magazine for years after. Not sure how that worked. But I looked forward to reading every square inch of Mad.
We’re all the culmination of our lives. From the moment we entered the world to the present moment, each of our experiences has shaped us in one way or another. The initial experiences are the ones that create the foundation on which the rest lie. They help shape a trajectory. They help cultivate what comes alive. Or, maybe, what is alive in us attracts the things that wake us up to what is true for us.
When I think back on my life, these are some of the things that I recognize as being important. They helped to create the me that looks out of these eyes and sees the world a particular way. They don’t explain that, but they are a part of it. There are many other things that can be shared, and this list comes from a very particular perspective — a perspective that I believe to be central for me. That is, the perspective that looks at the world peripherally through the creative arts. My love for this was awakened early. How? I don’t know. But it certainly was.
It would be all too easy to write a list of things “I remember” that are related to pain and trauma. Some of those things might actually be related to the ones above. And they would be just as true.
All too often, it’s this list that we look at when trying to understand our lives. And it makes sense. We need to unpack our pain in order to fully unfold ourselves. Lord only knows I’ve got plenty to unpack in myself. Yet, I think this kind of journey is critical as well. What is it that made us come alive? How is it connected to what is true today?
For myself, I can see it as clear as I’ve ever seen anything.