Earlier this week, I was sad to hear of the passing of someone I knew during my theatrical days in NYC. We never got to the point where we were especially close, but we traveled in the same circles, and if something fun was going on, there was a good chance we’d both be there. Once we did get past that “Oh, hey, I remember you and your face looks familiar” stage of things, I discovered he was the kind of person with whom it was remarkably easy to have fun.
Theatre people, and artists in general, are most certainly a strange breed. Our parties don’t start until 11:30, because that’s the earliest most working actors and techies can conceivably get out of the theatre. We’re known to start drinking on a Monday afternoon, when the rest of the world has returned to work, because Monday is the night all the theatres are dark. We gather on rooftops and fire escapes and sing show tunes and manage to have fun, even though nobody ever has any money.
Yet, for some reason, there are people who love the life and the camaraderie built into a world that is, by nature, full of struggle and self-doubt and rejection and an utter lack of stability. When you’re working on a show, your company becomes your family. You run out of time to see your real family, your old friends, and dating is difficult—much less marriage, children, or relationships. Yet, somehow, it’s usually worth it.
This friend who passed away was, as he called himself, “a quirky homo chorus boy”. He was only 30, but in the world of musical theatre, it’s the age at which you need to start stepping out of the chorus, or risking the possibility that you’re never going to. I think he’s one of the ones who would have done that. In addition to being a gifted dancer, he also had a beautiful tenor voice that could handle every type of music with a certain joie de vivre. He would sing at parties, in the dressing room, at piano bars. Just like everyone else, he was struggling, hopping from tour to regional theatre and back again, but he was one of the ones who wouldn’t trade that life for anything else.
Off-stage, everyone loved him. There are different types of actors, and this friend was the one who always wanted to entertain, even after the curtain was down. If there was mischief, he was somewhere in the centre of the scheme. People naturally gravitated toward him, because he didn’t give the appearance of ever taking life too seriously.He did, but he didn’t let worries over money or a broken heart ever ruin that particular day with whomever he was around. As someone who takes feelings to heart and dwells on them and can’t find whatever it takes to ignore them and move on with my day (great for channeling your energy into artistic pursuits, terrible for being good company.), I always really admired that. Some people have the gift of free-spiritedness. Others, like me, may find it sometimes overshadowed by a certain amount of intensity and propensity toward the dramatic. This friend was someone perfect for my world; someone less narcissistic and more inclined to brush off every rejection or heartache with a few laughs and the knowledge that tomorrow was a new day.
Many years ago, I did a production of a little-known musical called “The Baker’s Wife”. (If you know it, I played Denise.) Knowing this, this friend took me to see a concert honouring Stephen Schwartz (the composer), and we smuggled cheap champagne in those eco-friendly thermos things everyone loved for awhile before most people gave up on saving the planet. We took the subway down to the Lower East Side afterwards, traipsing through the streets singing Liz Callaway songs and, as I recall, skipping through traffic. We ended up at a bar where we didn’t pay for a single drink. It was one of my best dates ever. (seriously, gay men are awesome at planning cool dates. There should be a book about this for straight men and lesbians. *laughs*)
I was really saddened to hear about this friend’s passing, and it kind of forced me to spend the week remembering the world of “Once Upon A Time”, where I lived a different sort of life and may have been a different sort of person, for better or for worse. I reached out to some people I knew from the “old days”. I remembered that, because I started performing at such a young age, my world was always filled with people who were “unconventional”. If my own family was both conservative and dysfunctional and little approval was given for anything, ever, the people with whom I spent time outside of that were generally proud to be eccentric. I had a lot of really great role models for living life on your own terms, and feeling free to be yourself, however fucked up you happened to be. It was always a conundrum from me, because that wasn’t the lesson that I got at home, at school, from my non-artistic friends. There, the rule was all about having people like you, approve of you, achieving things and being rewarded. That was much more important than any kind of authentic self. I think I grew up as a very divided person, knowing I was somehow not like everyone else, but feeling pressure to pretend so that everyone would always like me.
My best memories in life are of those people who made me feel that just being me made me special enough, likeable enough. This friend who passed away was one of those types of people, and the loss of everything he had to offer to the world leaves a space that can’t really be filled. I still think of him, and admire him, and the way he touched everyone he met…even people he barely knew. Some people love life and live with such enthusiasm, you can’t help but feel the same way for them being in your life.
The result of all this dwelling and feeling and intense introspection is a rather pronounced dissatisfaction with my life these days. I don’t know if I’d go back in time a decade or so in order to be that person I once was—I think I was both self-absorbed and self-destructive, and a bit of a diva. I lived very recklessly, didn’t forgive easily, and didn’t always consider the consequences of anything. I thought the adventure and the experience was enough. And, even when I ended up in Atlanta, I think I brought that attitude with me. I got myself hurt a great deal, and I know I hurt other people more than they deserved.
Yet, there’s this realisation I have sometimes that my life is boring. I sometimes think my friends—at least the ones who live in Atlanta and I’m able to see on a regular basis—are boring. I sometimes think I don’t actually have any friends in Atlanta, because although there are people in my life, I miss having that core group of personalities who are largely obligation-free and rate highly on the “openness to new experiences” chart. There is a focus on family and religion and conventionality and corporate life and attaining wealth and material goods that isn’t necessarily compatible with what I’m about, and it’s hard to meet people who don’t fit into that paradigm. In fact, the more people I meet in Atlanta, the more I’m bored to tears with about 90% of them.
Most of the people I meet don’t create things, and they don’t care that I create things. They’re willing to pay $14 for a drink, but not $8 for a book, which has really kind of dissuaded me from putting any energy into creative projects. (“Why pour your heart and soul and time and money into something if nobody freaking cares?). Most of the people I meet have clearly defined boundaries that simply aren’t open-minded enough to interest me (“I’d come to this, but I can’t really get into the idea of wearing a costume in public when it’s not Halloween.”) or have reasons or obligations that say “Oh, it’s 9:30, time to go home now.”
On top of that, Atlanta’s transportation system makes it pretty impossible to have a crazy adventure. You can’t go out on the town and party and take the subway home. There always has to be a designated driver. You always have to pay for parking. When you get where you’re going, you’re not terribly likely to meet interesting strangers (it’s more of a once-in-a-while occasion.), so you have to convince a group of friends to be willing to go out with you. The older I get, the more difficult this becomes.
I’m well aware that Atlanta doesn’t like me much more than I like it.. Even though I run a social group where people become friends, people rarely reach out to *me* because they’d like to be friends. It’s rare that people contact me to say, “Hey, do you want to get together and do something?”, unless they’re already a good friend. I know there are a number of reasons for this: I’m not single, I’m not in my 20′s, I’m kind of a pain because I don’t have a car, and there are a lot of people with whom I just share few interests. (I hate hiking, I don’t get up before 12, I’m not into healthy eating and wellness, I don’t watch sci-fi, I don’t have children.) I prefer making deeper emotional and intellectual connections over meeting people for the sake of meeting people. I already have thousands of acquaintances. What I need are friends who like me enough to call me up and ask if I want to do something, preferably something new and different.
While I find my directness with people, my flirtatious banter, my snarky sense of humour, and my rather boisterous, extroverted style of communication to be endearing, it turns out that Atlanta does not agree. I’ve been called rude. I’ve been called a whore, a homewrecker, and just “that guy’s fat girlfriend”. I’ve heard people say they can’t stand my need to be the centre of attention, and that my personality is the type that just sucks the air of the room. I’ve offended people just by showing up. I’ve had strangers remark on my social drinking, my fashion choices, and even the timbre of my voice. So, it is quite possible my lack of a core group of friends with whom I find it easy to relate and bond and have adventures is due to this: In the South, most people just don’t like me.
It’s sad, but I know it’s not just all me. There are people all over the world who would love to live closer to me, or to have the opportunity to have adventures with me on a more frequent basis. I have really strong friendships with some really interesting people. Some are based in a shared love of life and adventure, some are based on a romantic connection that morphs into a true friendship, and some are based on an emotional or intellectual bond that just oddly exists. I know right away when I meet this kind of person—someone who genuinely interests me—and it’s a shame that I’m the sort for which this kind of connectivity happens with other human beings maybe twice a year, if I’m lucky. The result is that those who know me the best and whom I enjoy the most are rarely in the same place at the same time, and even if they live in Atlanta, circumstances are such that I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like.
I’ve been told by a number of my friends—who, on the whole, tend to be more introverted souls than myself, but people who can be inspired to have fun new experiences “outside the comfort zone”, under the right circumstances— that I have a way of making the world a more interesting place to be and bringing things to life. People have told me that when I am gone, the exact same place or experience simply isn’t the same, and I am greatly complimented by the fact that there are people in my life who genuinely feel that way about me.
Yet, the problem is that most people in Atlanta—even those I consider good friends—don’t feel that way about me. And, also, there are times when I need to meet someone who inspires *me* to feel that way about life. Those types of people show up maybe once every two years if I’m fortunate, and those connections don’t always work out in the long run.
I realise my friends are not boring. If anything, I am the one who is boring, because I have long since ceased to find a genuine sense of adventure or romance or elation in most things. Life feels generally repetitive, and I suppose it’s a side effect of having crossed many things off of my bucket list at somewhat of an early age. I don’t always know how to feel inspired to have an adventurous next 30 years of my life. When I do find those experiences, or meet people who seem to naturally evoke them, they are surprising—I am shocked by the ability of another person to make me feel like a younger, lighter, more enthusiastic version of myself. A very few people in this world are able to make me open my eyes in the morning and feel excited about the day to come, so when I find that, I tend to place more value on it than perhaps I should.
I sometimes think Atlanta is simply too small and too conservative to provide whatever it is I am looking for, and that’s sad, because I have a great guy who’d be devastated if I left—-but I’m not sure it would be inspiration enough for him to leave with me. Other times, I think I just am not meeting the right people, and the inaccessibility of living in a city where one needs to drive to experience the city will always be a hindrance for me. Most of the time, I think that the prevailing attitudes and social viewpoints, and the things on which most people in this area are focused, is simply not compatible with who I am as a person. I don’t consider myself odd and eccentric, or overbearingly extroverted or even rude. I just want to live in a world where people embrace diversity, variety, taking down emotional walls, and stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. I’m annoyed when people don’t want to do things because there are costumes involved, or you have to drive two miles to another place, or because the event is in the wrong part of town.
People in Atlanta seem to have a lot of “rules” for how they should live, how *you* should live, and what’s considered “fun”. It makes it really hard for me to meet anyone with whom I really bond, and when I do, that interest in “I’d like to get to know you better” isn’t always reciprocated. (I know one person who has seemed to call up every girl he knows to hang out as platonic friends, but has never once so much as contacted me outside of an event. I actually think he’s a fun person, but I find it off-putting that he would not like me in a one-on-one setting.)
Maybe I don’t really know what I’m looking for in terms of “fun” and adventure and meeting new people…but I know it when I find it. Most of the time, I know instantaneously that there’s the potential for me to “connect” with someone. Somehow, an overwhelming number of those people I’d consider “people with whom I connect” live in NYC, Philadelphia, D.C., or California. Sometimes, I miss those people greatly, and wonder what it is about me that makes people in Atlanta unresponsive to friendship with me. Maybe it’s not just me. Maybe people here just generally don’t “connect”, and although it’s a city, there’s truly not that much to do that hasn’t been done before.
Maybe I’ve simply been here too long. I remember feeling excited about this place when I first moved here. Yet, for me, some places may be more suited to me than others—but enjoying life is all about the people with whom you choose to share it.
I need more people, and more sharing….and I miss the days when that came so easily. I miss living somewhere that a majority of people actually like me, relate to me, and invite me out for drinks or coffee or want me at their parties. That has not been Atlanta for me, despite the few wonderful friends I’ve made over the years, and I somehow don’t think it ever will be.
I sometimes just wonder why this is the only place I’ve ever been that I’ve failed to charm people or to make a group of friends who actually want to get out and do things. Perhaps, over the past decade, I’ve lost whatever it was that made me endearing to people to begin with. Or maybe I’m just at that age where life is supposed to be about marriage and kids and stability and owning your house—and cities where there is less focus on those things are going to be a better fit for me.
I think it’s no accident that the people with whom I bond the most quickly are either well-traveled, extremely accomplished and/or creative, and/or open to new and different experiences. I just wish it weren’t so hard to find those people, and have them be around my age group, and have some type of commonality with me.
I wish that, every so often, someone would pick up the phone and express a desire to hang out. Because, really and truly, I’m a nice person. I may even be fun. Some people go as far as to use words like “vivacious” and “inspiring”. Those people exaggerate, but the point is, I like to keep life interesting. But it’s hard for me to do that without partners-in-crime. I’ve never been the “neverending circle of acquaintances” type of girl.
Usually, when I feel this way, someone or something positive shows up in my world, and totally starts it spinning on its axis for awhile. I don’t particularly mind that. It keeps life interesting. It’s almost an unexpected answer from the Universe, pointing out, “Maybe this is what you’ve been looking for?”
Yet, that hasn’t happened over the past few months, and I’ve felt a little melancholy. Instead, I’ve been suffering loss and estrangement and a general sense of “There has to be more to life than what I’m letting in right now.” I wish I were the sort of person who could be happy with the simple things—-a solid relationship with one person, a small group of friends I see on occasion, the TV shows I love—and sometimes, I can be content with that. But after about 3 or 4 weeks, the restlessness returns, and I need to feel there is so much more out there in the world.
Whatever it is, I want it.