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Saturday, September 03, 2005

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

I hope you've sent some money to one of the many charitable orgs (this is FEMA's list, but there are lots more out there - if you haven't already, take a minute to find one you trust) providing relief to the people of New Orleans and environs. It's about all you can do from half a continent away and still feel good about yourself.


All this looking at and reading about the devastation and its aftermath makes me realize how lucky I've been since moving to Seattle; despite a few relatively minor setbacks, things are pretty good all-in-all. I've got a decent job that I actually like, good, true and trusted friends, a comfortable - if not exactly large or upscale - place to live, food, water, working sewers, etc. Things could be a lot worse. A lot. And I'm glad they're not.

I don't think I could have imagined when on September 3rd, 1985 I maneuvered my humongous 1972 Chevy Impala four-door sedan up to the curb outside an old college friend's apartment building on lower Queen Anne, that I was beginning what's been a twenty year adventure. In fact, I'm almost certain I didn't. Fresh out of grad school, with two diplomas and a $15,000 student loan debt-load as my letter of introduction to "the real world", I'm pretty sure I was ready to take on the Metropolis of the Pacific Northwest, and once conquered, extend my ambitions to ever larger cities, rising higher, ever higher to the pinnacles of success.

Yep, I was going to be a superstar.

But of course, I wasn't going to become just any Hollywood A Lister. I fully intended to be of the "legit" variety, paying my dues in the theatrical realm, which would of course give me that frisson of authenticity lacking from most "flavor of the month" celebrities that grace the covers of the supermarket check-out stand tabloids. I had it all planned out: after a few years honing my craft on Seattle's major stages, I'd pick up stakes for New York, make my Broadway debut, get noticed by film studios, become bi-coastal, and by now have at least one or two Oscars lining the mantel of my tastefully appointed Central Park West apartment (making every effort to avoid such crass symbolism at the Montana ranch). I'd be famous, rich, admired, and respected, yet still maintain that small-town American "aw shucks!" demeanor, which like Jimmy Stewart or Tom Hanks, would become my stock-in-trade, and the essence of my popularity.

Well, yeah things didn't exactly turn out quite like that, did they? Twenty years later, I'm still in Seattle, by choice if not by circumstance, and having suddenly and inexplicably found myself smack-dab in what the older generation terms "middle age", I find myself at a crossroads where, while the world of the theatre itself is always going to fill a large part of my life, I'm not certain at this point whether performing ever will again to the same extent it once did.

It turns out my ambitions were slightly unrealistic, even for a naive, relatively unsophisticated 24 year-old who'd up until then had never lived in a town larger than Portland. It didn't take all that long to discover that whatever innate or cultivated talent I possessed was only going to carry me so far. In addition to talent, dauntless perveverence, unbridled sucking up, and plain good luck are just as essential in terms of who does or doesn't make the top. It's like having a high IQ: sure, scoring 145 puts you in the 98th percentile, but when you break it down into actual numbers that means there are roughly 130,000,000 people on the planet who are just as smart, if not smarter than you are. And most of them are a LOT smarter than you. It's the same with talent. You can be waaaaaaay up there on the Talent Quotient Index, but unless you're right at the very tippity-top, you need something more than that to give you that extra edge that marks the difference between minorly and the spectacularly successful. And after 20 years, I think I can say with a certain sense of humility that whatever those extra qualities may be, I don't have enough of them to turn that dream into reality.

And that's okay. In the meantime I've come to realize that success, or at least that particular kind of success isn't all that important or worthy of a goal. Sure, rich-and-famous people have the opportunity to do good, important things as a result of their success, things that most of the rest of us could never dream of achieving. I mean, only the richest man in the world could even consider single-handedly tackling the problems of eradicating childhood commmunicable diseases in Africa, or providing every school-aged kid in the United States with access to the Internet. And more power to him for trying.

But, then you see at what ordinary people are capable of achieving under the most daunting of circumstances, like what the citizens of New Orleans, and Gulfport, and Biloxi and any one of a hundred other smaller, but no less devastated towns strewn across the Mississippi delta are doing right now to ensure, by whatever means necessary, the health and safety of their families, their neighbors and their communities. And that's a quality that neither talent, money nor fame can ever guarantee.

Sometimes success is measured simply by the fact of sheer survival.

I wish them well.

Posted byCOMTE on 11:56 AM

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