Who I Am

If you don't know who I am, take a trip with me.

When I was in seventh grade, there were a couple of people that played flute, like I did, whom I considered to be my very close friends.  These were the few people in a school of about four hundred people that I felt comfortable around, and whom I felt like I could text without receiving some embarrassing rebuke to which I would have to respond that I "meant to text someone else, I'm sorry I bothered you!"

On October 31st in seventh grade, I was walking down the hallway when I saw one of these friends, Jenna, talking to a few others, and handing them orange pieces of paper.  As I got nearer, I heard them talking excitably about some sort of thing that was happening that night.  I approached them, and the group quickly dispersed, and Jenna hurriedly stuffed the orange papers into her backpack and said hi, turning to leave.  

"What's going on tonight?"  In my mind, I asked this in a purely unassuming way.  At the time, I don't think I was capable of having any sort of pretension to an invite to anything.  The look on Jenna's face was one of genuine conflict.  I remember being confused as to the source of the problem.  With great effort, she told me that she was thinking about having people over later for a sort-of Halloween party, but it was just a couple of her close friends.  She gave me a flyer, reminding me that she didn't think anyone I knew would be there.  I sleuthed.  She lied.  It was everyone in our grade that was invited.  I didn't go.

This was but a minor wave in the sea of disappointment and sadness that was middle school.  There were countless nights of pretending to my parents that everything was okay; that I have friends, and I'm happy, and I DID have a party to go to, and I didn't sit alone at the Teen Night Out that our school threw.  That those three years have made such an impact on me, more than a decade later, speaks to the tremendous effect that bullying based on my weight and my occasionally effeminate nature has had on me.  I will never claim that I have been through worse than anybody else, but there are stories from my past of emotional and physical abuse from my peers that would make your hair stand on end.

I transferred to a Catholic high school in order to get a better education.  This was the presented reason, but the effective reason was to remove me from a school system in which I had no friends and no real concept of how to build a reputation other than the one I had had forced upon me.  Here I was met with a gentler mass of people at first, but I soon found myself sliding into my old ways - reserved, afraid, different.

It was about a third of the way through my first year at DePaul that I discovered theater.  Like some sort of Lifetime movie, I literally stumbled into it accidentally - I thought I had signed the piece of paper that volunteered my service for stage crew, but in fact had agreed to be part of the show.  I got the role of Sgt. Devine in the play version of M*A*S*H.  This was the beginning of theater for me.

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I promise I'm not going out of my way to sound dramatic when I say that theater saved my life.  Every aspect of culture and society that oppressed me as a person evaporated as soon as I stepped into the shitty gymnasium in which we practiced our plays and musicals.  It's in this theater scene that I met two of my best friends, Ashley and Andrew.  I imagine it must have taken a great deal of patience and resilience to stick by me in the eight years since I met them - through all of the crying, the emotional outbursts, the meanness, the confusing fighting.  I'm lucky enough to consider them both close friends to this day, and I don't think I could ever express to either of them how much they mean to me.

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Outside of the FAPAD - the Fine and Performing Arts Department - high school was unilaterally a terrible experience.  The challenges were more severe than they were in middle school - the word "faggot" seemed a lot more popular, and the Christian atmosphere seemed to make everyone a whole lot less Christian.  I went through so many phases to please so many people - a pseudo-emo phase so I could be friends with Tara, a cute dork phase so i could get Maggie to like me, a pretend-I'm-a-cool-kid phase so Taylor and Jacquie would treat me like they treat the people they like - that I got lost.  And on the way out of high school, I burned a lot of bridges while trying to assert whatever my personality-du-jour was.

In college, I lost theater for a little while.  Although I was a theater major, I simply didn't perform in theatrical shows unless they fell into my lap.   Outside of those theater classes, I had a few good friends.  For the first two years of college, I gained well over one hundred pounds, sat alone in my dorm room, and tried to impress the cool kids with how much I could drink.  I searched for friends everywhere, and found many in many different placers.  I befriended stoners, jocks, artsy waifs, hipsters - and all of these friendships dissipated as I re-realized that I had no sense of self.

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The second half of my sophomore year, I went to work at Disney.  There isn't much to say about Disney other than that it brings back memories of both some of the best and the worst moments of my life.  The company, and the job, were absolutely incredible.  I was able to change peoples lives for the better every single day.  I was able to make life a little more magical while I worked there.  

In my junior and senior years of college (leaking back into sophomore year), I met a couple of people who ended up being really important to me.  Marshall Jones III, the director of the Crossroads Theatre Company, hired me as an intern at the theater, where I PA'ed and ASM'ed shows, as well as occasionally helping out with graphic design.  He was instrumental in convincing me to work for Disney for a semester, and he introduced me to a number of people in theater world I consider friends, like Stephen Agosto.  Stephen, though we aren't terribly close and don't see each other often, is one of my favorite people in the entire world.  There are few people who light up the lives of people around them the way he does, and it's hard not to just adore someone like that.

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Another one of these hugely influential people was a professor at Rutgers who taught me in Creative Dramatic for Children (1 & 2) and Improvisational theater.  Sari Ruskin is a powerhouse of a woman, at once as fierce as she is caring, and supporting of me and my endeavors on a level I hadn't enjoyed before I met her.  When i found out I was going to Tisch, Sari is the very first person I called, my throat tight and my face still wet with happy tears.  

Chris Luminello is pretty much the only friend I had in college for more than a year, and I still talk to him whenever I have the time.  Chris was the second person I called when I found out about my NYU acceptance.  He is a powerfully intelligent person, with emotional capacity that is at times shocking, despite his professions to the contrary.  Chris has proven to me over the two and a half year I've known him to be fiercely loyal, and I can't thank him enough for that.

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At my last college job as a waiter at Houlihan's, I made a number of friends, most of whom I haven't been able to stay in contact with.  But Alex, Sunti, Ameer, and Ben, specifically, have been stellar friends in the year and a half I've known them.

Halfway through my senior year, I applied to NYU Game Center, part of Tisch School of the Arts.  Being a theater person, Tisch has been in many a discussion with my friends about what grad school they would dream of getting into for an MFA in acting.  I completed a portfolio and submitted my application with very little hope of getting in.  I didn't know, really, what I was going to do once I got out of school.  I was leaving Rutgers with a BA in theater, which is effectively the least employable degree imaginable.

On March 22nd of last year, I received an email from Tisch informing me that I had been accepted.  I couldn't read through the entire first paragraph without bursting into tears.  Never in my whole life have I been overcome with such a warm, comfortable feeling as the one I felt that day.  I called Sari, Chris, and my parents, and drove to Houlihan's to tell everyone the news.  For literally hours, I couldn't stop crying.  All of the fears I had about my future, all of the uncertainty about whether or not I had an iota of talent, all of the self-consciousness about loving the things I love - it all evaporated in one magnificent affirmation of who I am as a person.  I can be an artist.  I can be special and meaningful.  Even typing this paragraph, my eyes are misting up remembering the incredible gut-punch of happiness I felt that day.

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All of this is to reiterate something I said the other day on Facebook, and something that I've wanted to say and express for some time: I have spent much of my life being unhappy.  Not knowing if who I am at my core is good enough for anyone, and hiding from that person.  Not knowing if the things I do will amount do anything; if my passions are a waste of my time.  Wondering why I had to be so different than the people I was surrounded by for most of my life; why I am I who I am.  How to stop being who I am.  

I spent years hiding from the world, pretending to be something I'm not, self-medicating and self-loathing.  I've coped with my insecurities and the torturous parts of my life in physically and emotionally scarring and harmful ways.   Thinking of the person I have at times been, and the holes in which I have found myself, makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

My life is still not perfect.  I still occasionally look around my empty apartment and feel the crippling sting of loneliness, lamenting this or that person who is no longer in my life.  But to look at where my life was a year ago, and each preceding year before that, it's difficult not to feel positively giddy at where I am.  Each day, I go to school and I'm surrounded by unbelievably creative, brilliant people.  My classmates are people who impress, surprise, and inspire me each day to be a better artist.  My professors and the faculty that works with them are at once encouraging and critical, never letting me get away with bullshit, and keeping me from wanting to.  My father, who found out he had cancer about half a year ago, got a clean bill of health two weeks ago.  The friends that have stuck with me and who I have gotten to know in the past seven months are more wonderful than any who have come before them.  I feel more creatively fulfilled than I imagined possible.

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To anyone who has been a part of what I've become, thank you.