I’m not a normal American. I know that. I always have. Ever since I was in the first grade, and I stated my strong preference that it was a big bang that created the universe, not a steady state universe. Maybe I thought explosions were cooler, but that’s what I thought. In first grade!
I thought I could be a great athlete as a kid, but didn’t have the fast-twitch muscles needed to be good at any sport. No, I found plays and musical theatre as an outlet for my energy. That, and choral singing. The latter I still do at age 66, which is one way in which the pandemic has robbed me of a creative outlet.
I fancied myself as a potential novelist, but when I tried it, my dialogue came out like stilted lettuce. I found my real skill early on, when I competed in Informative Public Address in high school forensics. One time, when visiting my high school, I realized that a trophy in a trophy case was partially due to my efforts. It made me realize that I hadn’t wasted my time back then.
I really diverged from being normal when I went to college. Majoring in Chemical Engineering, I toured all of the hard sciences and math courses. I had to add in one choral group each year in order to maintain my own sanity by sustaining a creative outlet. Looking back, it was amazing that I didn’t end up in legal trouble in those days, due to a certain prohibited substance that is only now gaining legitimacy in many states.
When I got a job after college, I moved away from Nebraska and moved to Memphis. A bit of a cultural shock, I found a niche and not only grew at work, but also continued with musical theatre. The one show I was in at the premiere theatre in Memphis where I did a month with 7 shows a week (matinee on Sunday) and still maintained my work showed me I did not want to do this sort of thing for a living. Not that I had the talent for it, but there are plenty of opportunities for us abnormal people to find creative outlets if you let yourself open to those opportunities.
The opportunity came for me to transfer to a sister plant in West Virginia. Despite all of the stereotypes about hillbilly culture, the capitol city of Charleston offered very good cultural fare. I continued to seek out opportunities for musical theatre, and was rewarded with a leading role (for a male) in what is really a tour de force for the female lead (Sweet Charity). I met my wife during those days at a cast party. She was in the orchestra, and at that time I played as a table in Evita (along with many other chorus roles). After we got married, I had one last opportunity with the local theatre group, and can say that I was in a show with Jennifer Garner when she was in high school.
Children came along, and the time to take to rehearse and perform theatre went away. But it was replaced by singing in church choirs, and in a select choral group. It was through doing these abnormal things that I had opportunities to sing in churches in Scotland and Yorkshire, and perform multiple times at Piccolo Spoleto festivals in Charleston, SC. Later as our children grew and performed in vocal ensembles, we accompanied them to Europe and Hawaii. All of these opportunities came about because we were not normal, and never could accept being merely passive consumers of mass culture.
So, since we are both a bit iconoclastic, we’ve been a good match. We both are liberals in this most conservative state in the nation. Fortunately we’ve found an Episcopal church that believes in social programs, and we lend our support to those.
But we’ve become aware of just how out of the mainstream we’ve become. We don’t do Amazon. We don’t shop at WalMart. We don’t watch reality TV. We don’t stream. New forms of social media are created, flower, and die before we even become aware of them.
We try to keep our cars for 15 years. We’ve never owned a SUV. Commercialism is lost on us, though we’ve plenty of disposable income. If the economy had to depend upon consumers like us, there are entire industries that would become a tiny fragment of their current size.
What’s really important, is that we believe it is of utmost importance to use creative talents to entertain others, rather than always have the cultural exchange be solely one way. We find it difficult to live in a society where so much of your “worth” depends upon how much of your net worth you are willing to flaunt. And we especially find it difficult to live in a world where the definitions of Christianity are perverted into displays like the prayers offered by the QAnon shaman on the floor of the halls of Congress.
We know that we will never be pacesetters in the world. But by being consistent to ourselves, and continuing to create through instrumental music, choral music, quilting, and writing, we may serve as examples for those who also wish to tread a path less traveled. A secret here – often the path that is used less has softer grass growing underfoot. It makes it a more pleasant journey as compared to the thoroughfare trodden by the masses.