I was kind of a big deal in high school. (There’s a point to this. Bear with me.) I was president of the student council and assistant editor of the school newspaper. A Governor’s School delegate, a Furman Scholar, a Boy’s State delegate, and on and on. Voted most intelligent and most likely to succeed. I headlined just about every other show at the local community theater and got so accustomed to seeing my name in print that I started out majoring in journalism when I went to college. (Majoring in theater didn’t seem a sufficiently practical option.) I dated a hot girl from the public high school, mine being the tiny “white flight” academy outside of town, and my parents thought I walked on water. So did I.
It’s the “most likely to succeed” part that slays me now. By any mainstream standard, my star began its descent on graduation day.
A lackluster college career, a meaningless degree, a year spent living with my parents afterward while pretending to be a manager trainee at the textile factory where my father worked. A move to Columbia where I slept on a friend’s futon while holding down a string of temp jobs. Little by little, finding work as an actor. Never at a very high level. With rare exception, always in the trenches. An outlier.
Then a few years writing and shooting for The State (those journalism aspirations coming to fruition after all), a few years writing copy at an ad agency, then freelancing, which I still do. 14 years and counting.
A 17-year relationship that ended in 2007. No kids (thank God). A move to Greenville. A four-year stint as marketing director at a semi-professional theater here. No institutional legacy. Nary a ripple when I left.
No direction or purpose, either, not ever, no long-term goals, no prospects, no even marginally significant accomplishments, not in the broad scheme of things. Nor much in the narrow. Very few friends, no connections, no network, no organizational affiliations, no awards or recognition.
I’m what, in most people’s eyes, would be considered a genuine nobody. A never was and not gonna be. I’m the guy at the coffee house who keeps to himself, who seems to wear the same shirt day after day (because he often does). You have to wonder about people like that. But I smell okay. I’ve asked.
I spend my time reading, walking, making love to my laptop, listening to alternative media podcasts and lately, experimenting with video equipment. It doesn’t add up to anything. There’s no pattern or plan. Low profile, low income, low expectations (no expectations, really), low key.
I’m 53 years old and I live with a cat.
I have a beard, my pants are baggy and I blog.
That’s how it looks from the outside.
From the inside, though, it looks like everything I’ve ever wanted my life to be. I like where I live, both the building and the city. I like my style of living, too, and my cat (who’s hiding from me at the moment), even my car. I like my 360-degree freedom, my 99.9% creativity-driven days, my non-calendar-oriented mode of doing things, my cooking, my kitchen, my “stuff.” I like the few friends that I do have and honestly, I like having just a few. My appetite for human companionship is comparatively small.
Do I wish that I had a live-in human companion? Sometimes, rarely, but on average, no. Do I wish I had more things or money? More security? Absolutely not. More recognition, influence, opportunities, activities … anything? No. Sometimes, in fact, my life feels overabundant. Less might be my version of more.
Oh sure, I have days. We all have days. But those days, for me, are like hours or minutes. I did say, didn’t I, that I have trouble keeping track of time?
All of which comes to mind just now as I’m pondering the voice mail message that I received yesterday asking me to reconsider an earlier decision not to attend my 35th class reunion.
Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, but why would I want to go? To revisit the mobile home outlet capitol of the Southeast? To drive 300 miles round-trip for the pleasure of being there? To see people with whom I had little enough in common as a teenager and with whom I’ve had no contact whatsoever in 35 years? To be reminded that beauty fades? That buildings get repainted? Remodeled? Torn down? To hear stories about children, husbands, wives, careers, vacations, divorces and hernia operations that interest me not at all? And then to be asked, “So Tim, what have you been doing with your life?” and to try to make sense of it for the benefit of an almost total stranger? Maybe, to cut to the chase, I could say to that person, “I didn’t turn out as planned.”
And then there’s this, excerpted here from a February 8 blog post because I’m too lazy to reword it …
In the several decades since we parted ways in Dalzell, my memories of that place and those people have crystallized into a kind of movie, complete with flattering light and lovely underscoring and bad takes left on the cutting room floor. I have no desire to update or sequel that movie. I prefer to remember us as we were. I’m curious, of course, but the cost of satisfying my curiosity would be … well … satisfying my curiosity.
Once a misanthrope, always a misanthrope, I guess.
My memorial service is going to be standing room only.