First World Problems

Nostalgia is a funny thing. It glosses over the sorrier aspects of our past and leaves only what’s positive. I still find myself thinking back on the summer of 2007, easily one of the most miserable stretches in my life, a time during which I had no job, little contact with my friends, and basically nothing to do except wait around for college to begin. The only two experiences that I really want to remember from that period are going to see the fifth Harry Potter movie at a midnight screening with a group of fanatics and hearing Harry Chapin’s “Circle” for the first time. For those who haven’t heard the song, here’s the chorus:

All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown,

The moon rolls through the nighttime ‘til the daybreak comes around.

All my life’s a circle, but I can’t tell you why,

The seasons spinning round again, the years keep rolling by.

Beautiful, huh? Strangely enough, that’s not the song that triggers the strongest nostalgic feelings in me. That, I discovered last night, is R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming”, the most achingly evocative song I’ve ever heard.

I was typing up an essay of mine when this one came up on the playlist. I stopped typing just to sing along for a minute, and in that time, experienced a flood of memories so intense I almost couldn’t go on. My years in my high school’s performing arts department flashed through my mind in a rush. I remembered  anxiously pacing my room instead of doing my homework because I was so excited for the next show, going to cast parties and reminiscing with the other actors about how wonderful this show was and what our favorite parts were, and of course, I wondered where some of them are today. It’s been said that the best casts and crews develop a sense of family, and while I made plenty of friends during my years in high school, I haven’t kept in touch with anyone as closely as my theater friends. Some have decided to pursue a career in the theater. Others left it behind ages ago. But none of them have forgotten. Our drama department had more than its share of, well, drama, although I think most people’s memories of that time are happy ones. Community theater was like that as well. If you’ve never done it, let me let you in on a little secret: it doesn’t exist for the audience, but for the performers. Some people just need theater in their lives. Contrary to appearances, I’m not one of those people.

When I tell people that I’m semi-retiring from acting, the usual response is, “But you’re so good at it.” Yes, of course I am. I’m good at virtually everything. That’s not enough. Acting is too easy. The last couple shows I’ve been in have been wonderful, I’ve had wonderful roles, and the other people involved have been wonderful. Is anything more boring than that? I miss the days when I was banging my head against the wall because the director still didn’t believe that I could play more than just lovable wiseasses. I remember tech week, when everyone’s nerves were so on edge that we essentially had the show playing in our heads on an endless loop. I’m leaving out the stage itself, the strongest and most intimidating memory of it all. The thought that a person can be having a friendly chat with one’s significant other backstage, then walk twenty feet and become a completely different person has never ceased to amaze me. After a while, you get pretty casual about it, trading quips with your costars about how this night’s audience compares with last night’s. It’s fun, and for some people, it’s a place where they can spend a lifetime. I’m not one of them.

I used to be an athlete. As a child, I tried football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. At best, I was decent. At worst, I was lousy. I think it’s time for me to rediscover what made me turn on the TV, watch any sporting event, and fly into a rage when the team I’d arbitrarily chosen to favor failed to win. Maybe I’ll take up surfing. That doesn’t sound like my cup of tea, does it? That’s exactly what draws me. A stoner once told me that to him, a wave was like a force of pure logic. I think I understand that, although it’s hard to tell because I’m sober. Maybe the sport is like that. I’m still not smoking pot, however.

There is a tendency for older people to see their younger days as happy and carefree. I am determined not to fall into that trap. It may seem ridiculous to someone with a mortgage and a family to feed that I could get so worked up over a physics problem, but it wasn’t really about physics. It was about my ability to find a solution on my own. If high school was the best four years of your life, then you lead a sad, sad little life. Children do not, or at least should not live in bubbles. They can get cancer too, you know. High school, for me, was not a pleasant time, but then again, there aren’t too many of those in my life. I seem to stir up conflict almost everywhere I go. Don’t blame me; blame the world. I just live here. And I am determined not to let anyone else forget that. It’s quite easy to wonder how people can live without modern conveniences when one has never had anything but. But life, as I’ve said before, is life, no matter how it’s lived. And rather than close with some sweeping statement that would look good next to my picture in a yearbook, I’ll talk about something else: music. Some bands take a while to grow on me. Others, I take to immediately. Some seem amazing at first, but upon closer examination are nothing special. What I like about my favorites isn’t that they never change, but that as I get older, they age right along with me.

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