[In Part 1 I didn’t mention any specific songs from the 1980s, so let me first say that the song which probably brings that time surging back more than any other is Steve Winwood’s “While You See a Chance.” I hear it and immediately flash back to driving around midwestern cornfields under a huge moon in spring time.]
So in what would become a stomping life-pattern, I left college to … go back to college. Initially, I embarked on a 5-year, fully paid Ph.D. program in English Literature (my college theater mentor had declared me “too smart to just be an actor” which I later interpreted as her warning me I wasn’t good enough on stage to make my way); however, the Theater department across the large mid-western state university campus kept beckoning me and, eventually, I auditioned for their MFA program in acting. I eventually got in, too, though I was initially 1st runner-up: what this translated to in practice is that I was painfully aware I was last chosen of the five people in my class.
I made nowhere near the splash there that I’d made in undergraduate school, of course — one professor told me in my yearly review1 that I “had very little stage presence” … and he actually liked me!
While most of the faculty gave me a relatively cold shoulder, I filled in the gaps between onstage experiences by volunteering to do scene work for students who were taking directing classes and such. Even so, a woman who was eventually a friend told me that when I’d shown up for my first ever audition, a lot of the students assumed I was someone “who had wandered over from the math department.”
So, yeah. I guess that in grad school, in the 1980s, I discovered I wasn’t all that. It was pretty depressing, and I beat myself up even further because a lot of my early enthusiasm was due to naivete: naivete about the size of the ponds I’d inhabited, naivete about how difficult it was to become anything like a “success” in theater … and so on.
Worse, I think the sense of failure started to leach into my personal life. It was in my 20s that I started experiencing a lot of frustrating … difficulties sexually. Women still drove me to distraction, but this seemed to get trapped in my head and failed to adequately percolate downward into the parts of my body that … well, mattered. I discovered, too, that this is a thing that very quickly becomes the proverbial, unstoppable snowball, particularly for someone like me who spent the majority of his time in early life hating his own body. So there I was, still young and struggling with problems I hadn’t expected to encounter before middle age.
And now you know, too. But I don’t care.
1 In this program, one was ‘assigned’, more or less — auditions mattered, too — one role per year in which to be reviewed by faculty as to whether or not one was going to be permitted to continue. The 3rd year capper was a “thesis role.”