Expat from a country called the South

I’m a white man from Tennessee and I love the state. The people are friendly, the food is great, and the land is beautiful.

I’m a white man from Tennessee and I’m ashamed of the state. It birthed the KKK, people there wax nostalgic for a system of oppression that ended a century and a half ago, and the institution of the state is not welcoming to the LGBT community, to say the least.

I know that not everyone in Tennessee is racist. I know they’re not all homophobic. They don’t all belong to the same political party, and they’re not all white. Just as not everyone in New York City is some progressive paragon of inclusion. There’s plenty of racism here too. I don’t want to operate in generalizations any more than necessary, because generalizations helped get us here in the first place. But I do want to talk about the things I grew up around, and explain how they feel very different than the sorts of things I see outside the South.

I knew plenty of kids who had a Confederate flag in their bedroom. I saw it daily on pickup trucks, cars, hats, and shirts all over town. I spent time with a boy whose stepmother taught him and his friends how to make nooses (he also huffed gas, so make of that what you will). My friends down the street turned the drainage tunnel across from my house into a hangout where they’d smoke. They spraypainted something to the effect of “N*****s keep out” over the entrance. I trashed it when they weren’t there and stopped spending time with them. A kid in my biology class was arrested with his friends for terrorizing African Americans in the area with arson, theft, threatening letters and property destruction with guns. A fraternity at my college was banned from social activities for a year for showing up at the homecoming parade in blackface. Our freshman year two of my best friends lived across the hall from two white guys who would shout the n-word at random intervals. Someone on campus tied nooses to a tree in what they claimed was some sort of art, but in that environment how can you tell?

I spent six years in East Tennessee, a short drive from the Smokies. It’s my favorite part of the state. Most of my childhood vacations were to the mountains there, in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Several years ago I took my then-girlfriend/now-wife to Gatlinburg for the first time. Walking down the main drag, passing one of the many t-shirt stores, we saw a shirt front and center, for all the tourists to see, which had a Confederate flag over the text “Never apologize for being right.” We spent the rest of the day trying to figure out how the “heritage not hate” crowd would justify a shirt like that and came up empty. That shirt was made by someone who regretted the South’s failure to uphold a tradition of treating like property other humans of a distinct background. It was made by someone who believed in that cause, for other people who believed it. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park is the most-visted national park in the country, and Gatlinburg is one of its gateways. And there’s that shirt on the main drag, like a cigarette burn on Starry Night.

In 2008 I was so excited for Barack Obama’s election because I knew it meant kids across the country would grow up taking for granted the fact that a black man can be president. Black children would grow up seeing a face like theirs speaking from the Oval Office. White children would grow up knowing that it’s perfectly fine for someone who doesn’t look like them to lead their country. I felt one of the pillars supporting the racial tension in this country crumbling.

But if what I said is true for those children, then what things do children take for granted who grow up surrounded by the things I saw in Tennessee? What are the other pillars holding up the tension we have here? What does it mean for a child in South Carolina to know that the flag of an illegal nation that existed to defend its right to own humans as property flies over their current capitol? What sorts of things do they take for granted? I think the events in Charleston have answered that question.

And what in the world can I do about this? I’ve lived my life mostly right, I think, thanks to my parents. That doesn’t feel like enough now. I can do my best to raise someone else the same way, when the time comes. I can shut down anyone who thinks it’s OK to make light of things like this or spread their ignorance. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

Seeing the things I’ve described here collected in one place, I realize that I was taking them for granted as well. I have taken for granted that there will be people who act like the people I’ve seen, who say the things I’ve heard people say and display the sorts of things I’ve seen displayed. Taking something for granted can make you think that it will never change, so maybe that’s something I can work on. I don’t have to take it for granted. The world doesn’t have to be that way. It might feel like dismantling a beach one grain of sand at a time, but I guess if enough of us move the grains we can make something different.

I don’t want to leave you thinking Clarksville is some sort of wasted battlefield on the front lines of a race war. It’s full of fine people. It made the people who are still my best friends. It made my mom and my grandmother (Dad’s from one county over, so). It made me, and I don’t think I’m part of the problem—but then, who does? It gave me a great childhood and I’m always happy to go back there. But like any other town, it is not without its faults.

I love the South and I hate it and I’m proud of it and I’m ashamed of it. F. Scott Fitzgerald said “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” I guess I’m a genius.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Photos from 28 Marchant Avenue

This week Broadway World put up production photos from 28 Marchant Avenue, the new show in which I play a young John F. Kennedy.  It’s a touching and challenging piece about the five summers leading up to Rosemary Kennedy’s lobotomy, and the conversations the family had (and didn’t have) about what to do with their oldest daughter.  I’m really proud of everyone’s work in this.  Check out the photos here.  Ich bin ein Kennedy!

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

The ball is rolling on Beautiful Soup’s May repertory festival

This week Beautiful Soup Theatre had a company-wide meeting to kick off the process for our May repertory festival, in which I’ll be reviving the role of Eddie Dowling in What Was Lost and originating the role of John F. Kennedy in 28 Marchant Avenue.

Can you originate the role of a real person?  Didn’t JFK kinda already handle that?  Anyway.

Broadway World also kicked off their coverage of the festival, with a great collection of photos we took at the meeting.  You can see me competing with Mr. Dowling’s ascot for the attention of the camera here.  I will now begin feverishly studying the bizarre dialect unique to the Kennedy family.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Movies I’ve Never Seen: The Object of Beauty

The Object of Beauty

In which I fully describe the plot of a movie I’ve never seen and know nothing about, based solely upon its Netflix picture.

object-of-beauty-movie-poster-1991-1020209508The Object of Beauty is a film from 1991, starring John Malkovich and Andie MacDowell. It began production as a romping romantic comedy against the backdrop of London, with the working title Oi Guv’na, Who’s That Brunette Bird? John Malkovich was to play a Cockney cab driver who falls in love with a passenger he keeps picking up by chance (MacDowell). Malkovich took the role, as he did all his roles from 1988-1997, without reading the script or seeing the work of his future costars. This would be the cause of a series of effects that resulted in the movie we have today, The Object of Beauty.

Malkovich had only seen pictures of Andie MacDowell before the first day of filming. Their meeting was cordial that morning, and they began filming a scene where Malkovich was to pick up MacDowell at Heathrow for the third time. Her wooden delivery and subtle, out-of-place accent immediately threw Malkovich into a fit that halted production for the day. He held a heated conversation with the director, writer, and one of the producers outside the cab while MacDowell remained in the backseat. She sat motionless, staring at nothing for the 45 minutes that the others hashed out their problems, her thoughts a mystery to everyone including herself.

Malkovich railed against the casting of MacDowell, saying he couldn’t possibly shoot a romantic comedy with her. However, a series of bad investments and late night poker games with Jim J. Bullock had resulted in a massive debt on Malkovich’s part, and he couldn’t back out of the film. They quickly scrambled to come up with a new plot that would allow Malkovich to work properly with what MacDowell was (or wasn’t) giving him. At one point Malkovich looked into the cab, where MacDowell was still sitting motionless, staring without blinking. He said “Look at her. That’s no actress. She’s just this beautiful…object.” They landed on a second-act twist that would have Malkovich murder MacDowell’s character the fourth time he picked her up in his cab, exhausted by her clumsy and tone-deaf efforts at flirting with him. This twist is foreshadowed in the poses for the poster above.  Upon closer examination, what appears to be a romantic embrace is actually Malkovich preparing to snap MacDowell’s neck. The rest of the film was an examination of the psychological spiral Malkovich’s cabbie followed, racked by guilt for taking a life but exalted at what he saw as a blow for “masculine creativity.”

While the final film hardly won over critics and went mostly unnoticed, once the true story of the production’s history became known The Object of Beauty found a second audience among hardcore film buffs and misogynists.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.  Previous Movies I’ve Never Seen are available here.

Job Journal: Sales associate at Dillard’s department store

The United States workforce is represented by two separate, yet equally important groups: those who plan on keeping their job for the long haul, and those who are biding their time before becoming the Next Big Thing. These are stories from the second group.

dillards_3

Job: Sales associate in the home department of Dillard’s

Duration: 11 months

Year: 2003-4

Welcome back to the journal of my drudgery! Refresh yourself on the introduction to one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had here. You can see all my job journals here.

Ah, Dillard’s. My stomach still turns when I see your logo. I imagine this is a problem in most retail stores, but we had a constant challenge in the home department of how to display all the stock we had, and where to keep all the extras. That’s one thing in juniors clothing, but it’s an entirely different issue when you’re slinging toasters, cookware sets, and Waterford crystal.

We started getting Christmas stock not long after I began working there, and my manager had me coming in about an hour early, before the store opened, to try getting everything out on the floor. I actually sort of enjoyed this one tiny aspect of working there. I had the department to myself, the godforsaken adult lite contemporary radio hadn’t come on yet, and most importantly there were no customers wandering into my path like grazing cattle. So I spent my first hour making elaborate, sturdy pyramids of boxed canape dishes in the shape of snowmen or Santa’s face (after first learning what canape dishes are). I’d turn one of our display tables, roughly the size of a family’s dinner table, into a massive battleship of red and green boxes, stashing all the rest under the table, only to have a supervisor come in and say that it was too bulky a display. This raised a few points:

1) If this is too much merchandise, why did we order 500 Christmas canape plates? There will not be 500 canape plates bought in all of East Tennessee this year, let alone specifically Christmas plates bought from now until Dec. 26th.

2) Now that we have 500 canape plates and you don’t want them all on the floor, in which magical Narnia wardrobe would you like to store the remainder? Which basic laws of the universe would you like to warp in order that we may hide from the clientele the fact that we choose quantities by drunken dart tosses?

We had two closets in our department. One was pretty large, and dedicated almost entirely to the bedding half of the floor. They needed a lot of space. The other was a catchall closet where we kept our personal belongings (i.e. clear bags with our crap in them because remember, everyone who works in retail is a thief and should be treated as such) and pretty much everything else we didn’t know what to do with. This meant precarious towers of George Foreman grills, empty display boxes we could never track down when we needed them most, and so many Waterford crystal boxes.

The middle of our floor was dedicated to a massive Waterford display that required a great deal of attention to properly display and clean, with several pieces costing north of $500, that never, ever sold. There was almost no room on it for storage, so most of the crystal we had ended up in that closet. And god forbid someone actually wanted to buy something. We’d spend 20 minutes in the closet trying to find a boxed version, hot to add this $200 sale to our totals, only to come out with a banged-up blue box to find that the customer left five minutes ago.

So no, we could not keep the extra canape plates in a closet somewhere, Steve. God.

Christmas ornaments were a different story altogether. Once our stock had been depleted in the two waves of post-Christmas markdowns, it was finally time to take down all the trees. My manager took a beautifully common-sense approach to the leftover ornaments no one wanted for 75% off—toss them in the dumpster. I almost wept when I heard the news. He had me throw them all in giant garbage bags when no one was looking, and wheel them down to the dock to get rid of them. He made it very clear that no one should see what I was doing—anyone who worked in that store would jump at the chance to take something for free, no matter how stupid and pointless it was. Open that can of worms and you’ll have a hard time closing it back up. I was a mercenary with a mission. I nonchalantly rolled back there and when one of the maintenance workers offered to help me I turned him down. I didn’t want them to get suspicious, but I didn’t want to give anyone else the pleasure of discarding the crap that had given me so much grief for the last two months. With merciless glee I shoved the bags into the dumpster, cursing the day I’d ever laid eyes on those ornaments and Dillard’s in general. For about ten minutes I felt like I was alive.

Then I had to go back upstairs and figure out where to put all those balsa wood parrots.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Quick Thoughts on Peter Pan LIVE

peter-pan-allison-williams-christopher-walken-2014-billboard-650Let me state upfront that I was in no way the target audience for this broadcast.  I tuned in for about ten minutes, because I’m interested in these sorts of things as television experiments in a rapidly changing time period.  It was TV-G, which is a rating I don’t remember seeing in recent history.  I think the Nickelodeon TMNT cartoon is TV-PG, and that’s probably the softest thing I ever flip over to (it’s really not bad).

My initial reaction was that of a difficult-to-nail-down disconnect with the sound, which I believe stems from an overarching problem with the broadcast–is it theatre?  Is it TV?  Is it a TV movie?  All of these things have different feels, and my brain was jumping around trying to figure out which slot this fit into.  I mostly wanted it to be theatre, but the sound was quite intimate.  I had no aural sense of the space they were filling, which seemed to be pretty large.  No slight echo of their voices filling the space, which you would get in theatre.  I’m guessing they were individually lav-mic’ed to avoid any boom issues, which was probably the only option due to technical restraints, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

I came in on a Captain Hook number, and saw the part when Tinkerbell encouraged one of the Lost Boys to shoot down Wendy and the ensuing song in the treehouse or whatever (again, not my show).  It felt pretty lifeless.  This could have been connected to the sound issue or the performances, I don’t know, but it was very flat.  Christopher Walken had to hit a high note, and his voice just disappeared?  I have no idea why he was cast.  Well, I have some idea, but this is pretty much the exact opposite of the type of situation in which Walken flourishes.  He’s not a go-to guy for live TV that has to run on rails.  I love him, but he’s going to do his own thing.  Martin McDonagh talked about having him in his show A Behanding in Spokane, which I saw.  He said something to the effect of “He delivered lines in ways I didn’t really intend to write them, but that’s what you get with Christopher Walken.”  I was fortunate enough to see the part where Walken apparently forgot a line and then started clearing his throat, and all the pirates joined in on the throat-clearing as someone offstage likely prompted Walken on his next line.  I found this thrilling, not as a rubbernecker to a highway disaster but as a fan of and participant in live theatre watching an ensemble make sure the job gets done as well as possible.  Kudos for that moment, gents.

I was also intrigued by the CGI Tinkerbell.  My assumption is that someone in the booth had control of her position on screen and matched it to the actors’ eye lines, which in the small segment I watched worked very well.  I fully expected the humans to wander all over the screen with their eyes chasing this thing they couldn’t see, but whatever system they’d settled on worked.

Back to that overarching problem of what exactly is this, I wonder if the lifelessness I was feeling would have been helped by some sort of audience.  I imagine given the difficulties of staging this thing, they probably settled on the best option, but perhaps a Saturday Night Live-type approach would have worked.  Stretch an audience out in front of the various stages being used, and give them monitors for the stuff happening far away.  For the love of pete don’t put in a laugh track, but my ears wanted some sort of audience reaction after the songs or jokes.  I imagine a live broadcast of an actual theatre production isn’t very effective; I’ve seen some decent recordings of Broadway shows but I think those are highly edited.  I could be wrong about that.

The main takeaway is that this is certainly going to happen several more times.  I haven’t seen any  numbers, but a safe prediction is that this will be one of the best-rated programs of the week and/or month, behind maybe The Walking Dead and football.  Broadcasters are crapping their pants trying to figure out how to make us watch Matthew McConaughey wax whatever about the new Lincoln and the nature of time, and/or find new ways to make us hate Wendy (this one, not this one), and live must-watch events like this and The Sound of Music are one of the few guaranteed ways to make that happen.  It’s a water cooler thing, wherein the water cooler=Twitter.  Hell, here I am talking about it and I never write about the stuff I watch.

But, you should really watch The Ultimate Fighter.  Can I overstate how little this broadcast was intended for me?

Heath and Philip and Robin

Robin_Williams-EsquireWe were gathering our things to leave an Improv 101 class at Upright Citizens Brigade when someone got on their phone and told us Heath Ledger had just been found dead in a New York City apartment.

Amy texted me one morning that Philip Seymour Hoffman had been found dead, and that night I went to a rehearsal for Liliom and we all mourned this loss.

Last night at rehearsal for What Was Lost, with the same company, Somie showed us during a break that Robin Williams had been found dead.

These men were all great influences and inspirations for me, and I will forever link the deep loss of each of them with the creative endeavor I was pursuing at the time. It’s hard not to measure your work against that of others, especially those you admire, and it’s only useful to the degree that it pushes you to work harder. For Ledger and Hoffman, as immensely talented as they both were, I felt that with enough work and dedication to the craft I could perhaps follow the path they’d forged.

But Robin Williams? No way.

The idea of Genius originated as a spirit that grabs you and works through you; it’s not so much your accomplishment as it is the ability to let this spirit do what it came to do. There are few better examples of this than Robin Williams. He was a man possessed by many, and all he had to do was throw open the door and let them out and we were all entertained. For decades, we were entertained. For my entire life, I was entertained.

I watched Mork and Mindy in reruns as a child. I loved Popeye, glorious mess that it was. I watched Good Morning Vietnam over and over, listened to that soundtrack over and over with its Adrian Cronauer interstitials. I didn’t get half the jokes (“It’s hot! Damn hot! So hot I saw these little dudes in orange robes burst into flames!”) and I didn’t care because who was this madman? I ached as a preteen to go to Hook‘s Neverland. Dead Poet’s Society, Mrs. Doubtfire, of course. Then I saw Good Will Hunting, and I saw it again, and I saw it again in the theatre, and though I’d been a fan of movies since childhood I started to think of them differently. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was one of the bumpers I pinballed off of towards a career as a performer. I saw What Dreams May Come in college and it wrecked me. I was dazed; I drove to the Smokies by myself to think.

Robin Williams was always there, and then he wasn’t.

I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that an artist has to suffer to be great, but in light of these three talents and their struggles it’s hard to see otherwise. I have no personal experience with addiction and depression. They don’t run in my family. But I have read a great deal about them and listened to many stories about them and I feel I’ve come to have a basic understanding of how they can function. Just like Genius, it’s as if this thing grabs you and won’t let go. Unlike Genius, if you let it do its work through you, there will be no You any more. It’s apparently a struggle that never goes away. Philip Seymour Hoffman knew very early that he was an addict. He was clean for most of his adult life, then he wasn’t, and then he died. That is what is tragic about these losses for me. They fought a fight not of their choosing, valiantly, and lost. But what a fight. And what gifts they gave us along the way.

I cannot recommend enough that you listen to Marc Maron’s interview with Robin Williams on the WTF podcast. He’s reposted it after four years and it’s just great: http://www.wtfpod.com/podcast/episodes/remembering_robin_williams

Overqualified Extra

You want to know what it’s like to be an extra? Let’s start before you even get to set. All the bookings are done online. You get dozens and dozens of emails throughout the day, a small fraction of which will apply to you (despite the filters you’ve set up on the casting site). Why are you getting emails looking for middle-aged African American women with large dogs? Because no one at casting could be bothered to check the right boxes. You have to reply immediately to any of them that you want to work on. Assuming someone sees your submission in time and thinks you’re right for what they need, they’ll call or email you, and you have to then respond immediately to that to get confirmed for the gig. This means you can never be away from your phone or a computer, and you have to scramble every single time you hear your email ping. Every time the phone rings you hope it’s someone getting back to you (it’s probably not—and this is also a problem for real actors who’ve been auditioning). You are enslaved by this device. Miss a call? Miss an email? Try to get outside for some exercise? Take a shower out of earshot of your phone? No work for you.

Somehow you make it through that minefield and hey, you’re working tomorrow! What time? Who knows. Where? Down the street or an hour and a half away in the Bronx somewhere. When will you find out? 9 PM. 11 PM. 2 AM. 6:30 AM. They’ll get to you when they get to you. You are now a number. Check-in #19. Hopefully you’ll get an email with all the details you need, but you might have to call and listen to a pre-recorded message with all this stuff. What’s fun about those is that they have to assume at least one person listening has never done this before, and they will explain everything to an excruciating degree. You have to listen to the whole thing because at the end, there will be a beep and you have to leave your name and check-in number to let them know you’ve gotten the info.

You have to bring as much of your wardrobe as you feel like carrying to some church basement somewhere, hopefully at a time of day when the trains are running more often than every 30 minutes. If you’re union (and if you’re not, why in the world are you doing this?) you’ll get a little cash for those clothes, but that doesn’t make them any lighter. When you get there, there will be exactly two fewer seats than there are bodies. It doesn’t matter how big the space is and how few people are working, there’s some weird physics that happens in these instances and you will be touching a stranger. You’ll want to put all your clothes and your bags and whatnot on a chair, or the table, but there’s just no room. You rush to grab a bite, you rush to get approved by wardrobe, they hate all your clothes and give you something that barely lets you breathe, and then you sit around for five hours wondering if your phone’s going to last the day (it won’t).

You finally get taken to set! The big moment is here. But wait, now you have to stand outside for 45 minutes while they figure something else out. Ah, NOW you’re going to set! Nope. They only need half the extras, but holding is five blocks away so you should just stick around out here on the sidewalk where all the chairs aren’t.

OK, the camera is turning around to see the other half of the set, so it’s your turn to go sit at a bar and pretend to drink and pretend to talk while making absolutely no noise whatsoever. I personally prefer being an ND (nondescript) pedestrian. You’re far from camera, continuity doesn’t matter, you’re just walking around like you’ve got some place to be. Your heels can click all you want, the mic will not pick them up. No ninja walking for ND pedestrians, no. Lots of sun exposure, and hopefully you’re dressed for the actual season. I’ve done winter shoots in summer, but never summer shoots in winter. I think I might actually prefer the latter.

On set, you’re furniture. On a good set everyone does their best to pretend this isn’t true, but it really is. It’s fine. It’s a good way to earn a buck. It’s also a good way to watch people with the exact same qualifications as you do work you’d love to do for exponentially more money than you’re currently getting paid. Thirteen hours later you might get to go home.

To draw a parallel, let’s say you’re an accountant. That’s always my go-to counterpoint to acting. You went to college, you’re certified. You’re beyond qualified to balance a corporation’s books. But you don’t get to do it every day. Most days you don’t do it at all. But you have to jump on those emails with leads for one-day gigs, knowing hundreds of other accountants just like you are getting the same email and rushing to get in their submissions as well. You finally get through and get hired for the next day, and you show up, but do you open any spreadsheets? Do you get to talk to the client? No. You’re not even using Quickbooks. You’re just there to install the update to Quickbooks. That’s it. While you’re doing it, plenty of people around you, regular nine to fivers, are accounting their butts off and making unbelievable money doing it. They’ll come back and do it tomorrow. You’ll be lucky to come back to this place as soon as six weeks later, or whenever there’s a new update. If the client does somehow become familiar with you, you may never work there again, certainly not for the good money.

So why do I do this? As I mentioned, if I weren’t in the union I most certainly would not. I made pretty good money Tuesday. It took me 14.6 hours on set, two lunch penalties, a dinner penalty and a night premium in addition to my wardrobe bump, but I made it. Doing little to nothing, when it really comes down to it. It was a pretty good day, all things considered. It’s flexible, I work when I’m free (assuming they’ll have me, which, see above ugh). And I don’t do it often. Honestly a few days a month like Tuesday and I’m good. I couldn’t handle it more than that. Some of the gigs are pretty great. I will always work Saturday Night Live when they’ll have me, but little of what I’ve said here applies to that and I haven’t been watching any of the other shows I work on since 1988. A lot of the PAs are pretty cool. Some of them would rather not be there, and there are always one or two extras who are just too much, but what workplace does that not apply to?

But every once in a while, just, shit, man. I get fed up with it all. And I gotta write a blog about it.

My Name is Colin, and I’m an Only Child

onlychildWhen people find out I’m an only child, their reaction is often surprise, which I believe I’m supposed to take as a compliment. Though, as an only child, I tend to take everything as a compliment. I guess only children are expected to behave in patterns I don’t follow. Like if a waiter brings an only child their order but they forgot something, it is expected that the only child will start shrieking and throw something across the room. So, when I don’t do this, people are like “oh, he must have a brother or something.” I guess people with siblings are so used to compromise that if things go exactly as planned they assume something is wrong.

My wife would step in here and tell you that I get upset when things don’t go the way I want, to which my reaction is always “who DOESN’T get upset at that?” Anyway.

Once people get over the shock of learning that I’ve somehow managed to control my impulses and self-centeredness without the tempering effect of a sibling, they often ask if I wish I did have a brother or sister. It’s an interesting thing to think about, but odd. It’s like wishing you were taller, or were born in a different country. It’s such a fundamental thing, and while you imagine certain advantages to a different situation, those new conditions would be so woven through you that you couldn’t possibly predict how changed everything would be. But of course I do think about it.

I’m soft. I worry and fret over things that probably don’t need that sort of attention. It’s way too easy for me to stay at home and too easy for me to be alone. My natural state seems to be one of slight withdrawal. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy getting out and doing things, nor to say that I don’t like spending time with my friends. It’s just so easy not to. I feel like if I had an older brother kicking my ass around the house a little when I was a kid I would have grown up more, and sooner, and I might not be so hesitant to just stand up and be myself.

But, I can’t actually complain. I always had my own room. I didn’t have to share my Nintendo or split TV time or anything like that. People also seem to be surprised to find out that an only child would go on to be an actor. “It’s not like you were starved for attention or anything.” No, no I was not. I got all the attention. And I loved it, and I want it more, all the time. Just, can I get it all at home while I watch TV?

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

Stories We Tell Ourselves

In the spring of 1994 I had to determine the schedule for my freshman year in high school, without actually understanding any of the consequences of my choices. Some were obvious; naturally, I’d be taking English, some sort of math. Gym was a requirement. Some things were more ambiguous though. I was told to put off Latin until my sophomore year, which robbed me of one year of what would become the defining activity of all of high school for me and put me a year behind all my friends who got started as freshmen. Strategically it worked out well, since I wouldn’t be competing with Melissa Mahoney in JCL and eventually I got second place in Roman life at the national convention in 1998.

Years later, I would trick a beautiful woman into marrying me.

Anyway, another choice left up to me was how to fulfill my art requirement. I had to do one year of something like drama, chorus, or actual art. Drama terrified me. I didn’t think I was a good singer, though it wouldn’t be until grad school that I would learn just how tone deaf I actually am. I’d enjoyed art in junior high and all it required of me was sitting quietly at a desk, so I signed up.

Art was in the lower hall of our school that surrounded the auditorium. I can’t remember my first day in class, but I have to assume I sat in the back, terrified at the prospect of spending the next nine months with the motley group of students who’d gathered here. I was a “gifted” student, though my chief gift was simply being a student. As such I was segregated for most of my schooling from, what, the “ungifted” students? I have so many issues with how we teach our children. Nonetheless, it was a soft existence that shielded me from the general student body like a white collar criminal from genpop. Art class shattered that shield.

Our teacher, Mr. Rice, was a small, quiet, sensitive man. He was in fact an actual artist. He was close to the family of one of my best friends and they had a few of his abstract bird sculptures. He had almost no control over the class. In retrospect the mismatch is comical. I appreciate my school making a real effort to teach us art, but they needed a drill sergeant who was handy with some watercolors or something in that position. Mr. Rice did his best. I remember him losing his patience a few times throughout the year, but I have to impress upon you how saintly that actually is.

I was at a table with Jerrod, Chris, and sometimes Moe. They couldn’t have been more different from one another. Jerrod was a good-natured country boy who found no end of pleasure in giving me a hard time. He saw how deeply embedded in my shell I was and he was determined to poke at it until I responded, but not in a bullying or aggressive way. Every day after lunch he’d come in and ask me if he had anything in his nose, giving me a good look at it. He talked freely of bodily functions. Things like that. Chris was, upon first glance, a typical burnout. Longish blonde hair and, am I remembering correctly that he had a goatee? Twenty years later I can’t grow a goatee but I’m fairly certain this 17-year-old had me beat. Chris was about to graduate and I think he was concerned for his future, but that didn’t stop him from walking on his hands through the middle of the class or giving Mr. Rice attitude when he tried to calm everyone down. At the talent show at the end of the year he played guitar with a band who covered Nirvana’s “Breed,” in a performance that I didn’t think anyone in my town was capable of. I complimented him the next day and he told me he was tripping balls on stage and didn’t remember much of it. Moe was black, a basketball player who lived in Clarksville’s projects. He had several friends in class who were the rowdiest of them all, but Moe never really contributed to that. He did, however, make the news for pulling a shotgun on his father. Needless to say he missed a few days of school. When he returned I asked him if what I’d heard was true, and if so what exactly led to something like that. He didn’t seem to mind my questioning but kept his answer pretty simple, something like “he was pissing me off and I didn’t want to put up with it any more.” Fair enough.

These guys all became friends, more or less, at least in that room. I wouldn’t see any of them outside of school, though I remember Moe talking to me once in gym class where he was the coach’s aid. I was secretly thrilled at being acknowledged by someone like that when they weren’t forced to by physical proximity.

As I remember myself at 14, I have no idea how I engaged these people on a daily basis without humiliating myself, but I did. I had conversations with them, I laughed at their jokes and maybe at some point they laughed at mine. In my mind I was sweaty, awkward, and I never knew what to say or how people wanted me to react. But they all talked to me like I was a person, so clearly I had done something right. I don’t remember what I liked back then. I don’t know what I did when I went home, what my preferences were, how I chose to spend my time when I had a choice. I branched out to a few other people in class, moving up with Jerrod while we worked on our Christmas ornaments to sit with a girl in the front. She tried to sell me a portable TV for $20 because she was going to run away. I didn’t buy it, and I don’t know if she ever carried out her plan. My mom still has the papier mache reindeer I made at that table.

The year went on and I started to figure out how things were going to work at this school. A circle of friends, most old and some new, began to coalesce out of my “advanced” classes. I got my learner’s permit, though both our cars were sticks and I was too scared to take them out of parking lots for the next few months. Dad spent countless hours with me in the driveway while I figured out how to make the damn thing move. Mr. Rice invited me and one other student from our class on a trip to the museum in Nashville with the art club, of which we were not members, basically because we listened to him and did our work. I let everyone tell me which hole I was supposed to go in for the rest of my time there, and I sat in it without complaint.

We tell stories to ourselves about ourselves and believe them as if they were gospel from on high. I had somehow constructed an image of myself in which I had little to offer anyone who differed from me in any way and accepted that image wholeheartedly, not knowing that I was the one who made it. These things we believe about ourselves set like concrete and we carry them around for years, maybe lifetimes. It took me 20 years to look back and realize that this strange, awkward, sweaty kid who didn’t know how to dress was fine, really. I managed, I adapted. I connected to some very different people. I made a reindeer. The kid who was too scared to take drama is ostensibly an actor in Manhattan.

I wonder what sort of concrete I’m carrying around today.

Colin Fisher is many things to many people, but mostly he’s an actor and writer.

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