My friends mixed as I spent elementary and part of middle school in Westminster then moved to Arvada for middle school and high school. Even my high school years had a hard time figuring themselves out, which was symbolic of my internal search.
I spent three weeks at Ranum High School being uncomfortable and separate from my elementary classmates who ended up there. This was especially at my grandma and mother’s dismay since I spent about two weeks prepping documents to transfer school districts and prove my residency at my grandma’s, just so I could attend. On the fourth week of my freshmen year I transferred to Arvada West.
This scattered schooling for 12-odd years brought me to many awkward social situations. In these circumstances I found pieces of myself but nothing solidified. I know this is common. I needed to adapt to any group or person I met, changing myself or my beliefs to accommodate. I made scores of friends but mostly I didn’t want to stick out. It mattered little though, since my guess at popular boy’s clothing was about as good as my grandmother or mother’s, which if you hadn’t already put it together by now, weren’t young boys trying to fit into school groups. It’s as if each school year that passed, I wanted to disappear from view, so I could observe and be respected among my peers.
I feared the bus, for this exact reason. I had to take it at three separate points for school: once to attend kindergarten at Weber Elementary (Arvada), another in Kansas (even though I could have had my driver’s license that year), and then for college at The University of Colorado at Boulder–but the last one doesn’t really count, because that was a convenient choice.
In kindergarten, there were groups of kids who picked on me no matter where I sat. Doing things like smacking me in the back of the head as I endured the 20 or 30 minutes it took to get home. As I got older, even more discomfort in who I was set in. My mother dragged me out to Kansas and I both physically and mentally rejected existing there. I went, for one year, to Goddard High School in Wichita, and for one year of my life, I turned myself off.
Rolling up into the third week of San Francisco life, I had this early recollection of my school days, Kansas, and how out-of-place I felt. The city was booming from juggernaut tech businesses like Facebook, Google and PayPal. In fact, Andrew (the guy we were renting with for the month) worked at Google and Nintendo doing design and marketing. He was doing well, but being car-less cost him taxi rides, plus eating out, and with high-rent put him at the break-even point financially. At the time he was dating a woman named Natalie Stone. She immediately took to Liz, sharing in similar music and a love for Red Rocks (the place and the music venue).
Our one month at Andrew’s was coming to an end and nothing much had grabbed us. I met the owner ofCity Model Management, shot one test, Liz got signed and she booked one advertisement which had her face on SF local buses; I booked one wedding, went to Al Pacino’s Wild Salome premiere at the Castro Theater, took a 30-minute survey to an acting course, and found my business interest in SF suddenly waning.
The owner at City really loved my work and actually referred me to one of his close friends, and City model, to shoot her wedding. This was my first wedding client meeting outside of Colorado, but come to find out the groom went to my college and my high-school. He even played baseball with Roy Hallady who graduated from Arvada West in 1996, right after my freshman year. I was at ease with this news, realizing I wasn’t too far from home, no matter how it had felt.
Right before we moved to San Francisco, I had to leave two pursuits: Paykoc Imports, where I was a product photographer and e-commerce manager, andMad Cap Improv Theater. I started doing improv classes around the same time I dove into photography. 2 years later, I was only doing well in one of them. For the first year and a half at Madcap I was an improv student, where I learned Whose Line is it Anyway? style comedy. I started in the sound booth, announcing the actors, doing stage lighting and closing the show. I also bar-tended and went to a weekly actor’s rehearsal before I had several stage shows in front of a live audience. I had a blast. As a kid, most likely inspired by Harrison Ford, I wanted to be an actor. This feeling has yet to subside.
Acting upon all that I knew from the place I left, I decided to look into classes in SF. I found a teacher named Shelley Mitchell, who for the brief time I was around her, was someone I immediately respected. Her class was tucked away, near 24th & Mission, behind an old theater. I went upstairs and sat in the back, with little expectation of anything. I already felt out of my element being in the city.
There were three rows of chairs facing a small but well-lit stage against a black curtain. Shelley entered, a gracefully aged woman with a direct teaching style and sharp wit. A few students from the class went and looked like they were taking the course to break free of stage fright. Watching people struggle with this used to make me cringe, for my earlier fear of speaking in front of my judging classmates, but now, after having done improv, it felt like much-needed character material.
I introduced myself and gave her some of my business cards.
“Nice work. But are you here to sell photography or to take the class?” She asked.
I was definitely there for the class though I could see her confusion.
Shelley artfully and critically analyzed her students performances as they went, one-by-one, to center stage. This class was one of many where students worked on pieces they wanted to get better at. Since I showed up to test the environment, I had nothing to present, but she offered me a chance to read from a book she selected.
She handed me a yellow, hardback copy of The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
“It’s really strange to have this in my hands right now,” I said with a light chuckle.
“My Grandmother (mom’s mother) gave me this book a long time ago and told me to read it. I really thought nothing of it since I was so young and recently, before I left on this trip, donated this book with a lot of my other belongings.”
“Well you better go and get it back,” Shelley said.
My mother’s mom had passed away a few years prior to my trip, but she was extremely goofy, had a small drinking problem, among other health conflicts (smoking with asthma while on oxygen?), and a woman I gave a tribute speech to during her funeral.
Shelley told me to open the book and read one of the passages.
With all I had learned from the small amount of acting and voice-acting classes I took in Denver, I read two pages of text, in a deep, calculated and confident voice.
“That was great,” she said. ”Nicely done”
Did I do well, or was she just trying to sell me the class?
This thought brought to you by Charles’ Self-Worth alarm system.
I wanted to offer to take her portrait. I decided against asking.
I let out a small sigh leaving the class, because it was $400+ dollars I couldn’t afford. I probably looked like a desperate photo head-shot salesman to a woman I respected. So I slipped into a small movie theater down the street. It only sat about 20. Coriolanus was playing and it was one of the few Shakespeare plays I had not read. I sat through the credits, as was customary with this theater’s crowd and then I went home.
Most of the proper nouns in this blog post are links to what I’m referring about, if you’re curious.
Listened to James Vincent McMurrow - Early in the Morning as I wrote this.