My parents picked up my ten-year-old daughter this morning on the way to the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. My family has been going to the festival for as long as I can remember, although my wife and I haven’t been there in about three years or so. But last year, my parents decided to take my oldest daughter with them, and the experience proved to be the highlight of her year. She’s now old enough to understand and appreciate something I’ve loved ever since my own childhood. Such events make me wistful, or, as my wife puts it, “filled with wist.” She’s far less nostalgic and far more practical than I am. In short, she’s not a big “wist” fan. She’d rather I spent lest time wisting and more time doing the dishes.
Still, wist has been ever present with me since my 39th birthday last week. (No, I really am 39. You can get on my case next year when I’m 39 for a second time.) My practical wife is much, much, MUCH older than me – she turns 40 in October. We have five children in total, and much of our time is devoted to keeping the bills paid and the household running. My advancing years bring with them added portions of wist, and I start wondering what kind of legacy I’m going to end up leaving behind. I’m reminded of the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt, who sang that “life gets mighty precious when there’s less of it to waste.”
I sometimes imagine meeting my 16-year-old self and listening to him berate me for how boring I’ve become. Back then, I was going to be a rock-star/movie-star/mad-tortured-genius guy. Old boring dudes like me were the bane of my adolescent existence. 16-year-old me would have hated 39-year-old me. My only solace is that when I was 16, I was an idiot.
Still, it’s not like I didn’t give my 16-year-old dreams a shot. I spent 10 years in the world of the theatre as a manager, a director, and a performer. I thought that was what I always wanted, but I was never quite suited for it. And actors really started to bug me. The offstage drama became increasingly tedious, and I eventually lost patience with an actor’s need for constant reassurance and approval, especially when I saw that need in myself. I discovered that anyone who has to depend on the applause of the crowd to validate their very existence ends up lonely and desperate, and that’s not the person I wanted to be. And, ultimately, with my five kids and my grown-up life, that’s not the person I am. I’m very grateful for that.
I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Charles Macaualay, one of my professors at USC. He was a wise old sage of the theatre who was a little perturbed when I recognized him as a the guy who played Landru in the original Star Trek episode “Return of the Archons.”
“I’ve appeared in every play in the Shakespeare canon,” he once said ruefully, “but they’re still going to write ‘Landru’ on my tombstone.” (That made me laugh then, but it’s bittersweet to recall now, since he passed away just a few years ago.)
Anyway, he told me I could have a career in the arts if that’s what I really wanted, but I had to make it my top priority. I had to sacrifice everything else in my life on the altar of the theatre, and if I didn’t, I would never succeed. I spent over a decade trying to prove Landru wrong. And, ultimately, I came to the conclusion that he was absolutely right. It’s just that I wanted a family and a home more than I wanted to be a mad tortured genius. I’m pretty sure I got the better end of the deal.
Yet here I am, sending my daughter to Cedar City, and she is growing to love Shakespeare as much as I do. My daughter also loves the Beatles like I do, and she can now tell which Beatle is singing lead on any given song without me telling her. She even recognized Ringo Starr singing “It Don’t Come Easy” over the radio at a crowded restaurant. How fun is that?
My other children are also starting to love the things I love, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that they’re the legacy I’m going to be leaving behind, or at least the only legacy that really matters.
Still, with my daughter on the road to Cedar City, I get that old familiar itch that says, “Why aren’t you the one on that stage? You could have been, you know. Who knows? Maybe someday, you can be again.”
And maybe I can. Maybe if I wanted it more, I’d be there now. But in the meantime, I’m here, watching my daughter walk out the door, leaving me alone with my wist.
I should probably go do the dishes.