The exercise: Create a one-page autobiography.
Does it need to be a given that I was born? It’d be nice if it was a surprise. I was a surprise, coming into a family of five siblings, each of which, my mother had sworn, would be her last. After me she made certain of it, with an additional procedure she referred to as “having her tubes tied,” and the significance of which would not hit me for decades. So, I was born into a large family, as an only child. The sibling above me, a brother, was in high school when I was born. My oldest brother was a Junior in college. And by the time I was old enough to even be cognisant of having siblings, they were all gone—other states, other countries, other realities, entire.
Is it significant that I grew up, went to school? That part should be boring and trite, except for the part about my being part of a pilot program, built on the heels of the forced-bussing-into-Boston era. The METCO program allowed Springfield youth to be bussed out to the suburbs of Southwick, Indian Orchard, and in my case, East Longmeadow. So maybe that’s significant, in that I was an only child who, on top of that, did not socialize with any of the kids I went to school with. I grew up with kids around my neighborhood, friends, until they went off to local other schools, and I went off to my hour-long bus ride to a town where the only people of color were bussed in from out-of-town, on what the other kids called a “mental bus. Maybe it’s meaningful to note that my best friend and next door neighbor was lost to drugs before we were both out of high school, and how that makes me wonder to this day, who him and not me?” And maybe suspect that mental bus was at least part of the reason. Mental-ly, I recall that period as incredibly happy, because of a gift I was given that was also a curse—to be aware that I was at an age when anything was possible, and in fact, likely. Like the freedom of dreaming and knowing that you are in a dream. Nothing is frightening, and the only dark certainty is that the time is finite, and will certainly end.
Maybe it’s important to note that I went to college? Maybe not. After all, I wasn’t the first one in my family to go to college. My other siblings went to get degrees in chemistry, in education, in management, in law. But I was the first one to go to art school. That should be significant, and in retrospect seems impossible, given my family. How can someone spend that much money on an education whose stated end isn’t even guaranteed to end up in a successful, pre-ordained career? In school, I found plenty of examples of students whose families had tons of money to allow them to move majors, and even squander talent while Mom and Dad footed the bill. I spend weeks living on peanut butter and ramen noodles, or packets of hit cocoa and candied orange slices, when the budget allowed for variety. And learning art.
It’s important to try and sift through the stuff that I learned later, and that I didn’t know at the time, but it’s nearly impossible to sift it out. Like trying to distill water from kool-aid after it’s mixed. Everything is candy-colored and sugar sweetened. So at this point, I leave it mixed, and try to remember what the color of the water was, originally. Though I know I won’t capture it. And in the end, I realize I’m not really even trying to.
I should talk about the best job I ever had, and love and loss and marriage and kids and all that, but that’s so much about now that it lacks the clarity of distance the rest of my life has developed. And without that clarity, standing in the middle of the mix, I can’t even tell what is water and what is the air surrounding the pitcher. And I’m coming up to the end of the single page. And my life's not even over, yet.