Wist

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.

On Being Stallion Cornell

The name “Stallion Cornell” requires some explanation as I launch my own eponymous blog.

It’s not my real name. It’s also not my “porn star” name, a la George Costanza’s “Buck Naked.” It’s just a name that I thought sounded funny, but it’s taken on a life of its own.

It all began in the mid-eighties, when I was in a weird little show in LA the summer before my senior year in high school. I was the narrator for said show, and my written script was fairly fluid. I therefore introduced myself with a different stage name every evening, and “Stallion Cornell” was the one that got the biggest laugh.

After graduating from high school, I took a creative writing class during my freshman year at the University of Southern California. The conceit of the class was that each of us would fulfill a weekly assignment, and the teacher would “publish” the best entries in a packet she would distribute to all the students for discussion. One week, I wrote an assigned poem under my own name and then, on a whim, wrote a second poem and attributed it to “Stallion Cornell.” It was a love poem to a sheep. It got a much better response than my other poem did. Since then, Stallion has been my alter ego of choice.

I was a theatre major at USC, and, as such, it was my duty to dig up a string of monologues for class assignments, and, invariably, the same monologues kept being recycled, and I can only take so much Christopher Durang. So I started writing my own and, to be sure that I was being judged on my acting and not my writing, I attributed them to a fictional author, the good Mr. Cornell. (I sometimes changed the first name to “Sam,” just to be safe. But Stallion would not be denied. Sam’s day is done, and I mourn him not. )

These monologues got goofier and goofier, and they usually involved bizarre situations with really loud people. The first of these, which included all manner of shrieking punctuated by the phrase “I’d offer you a biscuit first, but I don’t like you very much,” still remains my favorite, although the one where a guy rips out his own heart and smothers it in mustard remains a close second.

Perhaps the highlight of my university education came when a classmate and I wrote and assembled several of these monologues for a one-night-only performance of “An Evening with Stallion Cornell” at USC’s Bing Theatre. Great actors performing truly stupid monologues is a joy forever. And this guy’s performance, which involved ripping out a heart/KFC chicken sandwich from his chest and proceeded to pour ketchup all over it and eat it, still makes me laugh every time I think about it. (He was supposed to use mustard, but I freely forgave the departure from the script.)

Stallion followed me through my checkered theatrical career, as I went on to manage a small theatre in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I always got Stallion’s name somewhere in to the program – once he was billed as “psychic nutritionist,” a title I stole from “Superman III.” But Stallion got his big break at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre in Southern Utah, where I was commissioned to rewrite the musical extravaganza “Utah!” to make sure that it didn’t offend anybody. The end result proved to be less than spectacular, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing thousands of playbills printed with the credit “Revised book by Stallion Cornell” printed on the cover.

Stallion is also my online presence at several Battlestar Galactica discussion boards, including my own, Stallion Cornell’s Moist Board, hosted at this very site. Again, many have asked what “Moist” means, and some have inferred a prurient sensibility thereto, but it’s just a word I think is funny. (And, deep in your heart of hearts, you think it’s funny, too.) Online Stallion also has an arch-enemy – Languatron, a lunatic who thinks all who disagree with him are being bought off by Universal Studios executives. It seems that the Internet is a silly place, indeed, but you already know that, seeing as how you’re still reading this dreck.

Stallion lives on. I’ve written an unproduced screenplay titled “Stallion Cornell,” an Oxford-was-Shakespeare historical play, and many other stories plays and ditties attributed to Mr. Cornell, including “The Ballad of Stallion Cornell,” which I seldom perform unaltered in public since it callously mocks fat people and has the word “slut” in it. I’ve written many songs since, but that was the first song I ever wrote on the guitar.

(I can soften the fat references and replace “slut” with “nut,” but it’s just not the same.)