Thursday, February 4, 2016

Guest Blogger: Charlie Morrow

[From 1976-1983, I taught English and directed plays at Holland Hall Upper School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was twenty-four and had negligible experience. I didn't know up from down about teaching, but during those years, a handful of students changed me irrevocably. Over three decades, one way or the other, they've found me. I recently invited them to become guest bloggers, reflecting on something about their high school selves.

Charlie was a member of The Class of 1978, but he had no business being in high school. Not a pep rally/ student council dance kid, he was more like an elder statesman who wrote and spoke in perfectly executed sentences. He had a wicked sense of humor, a generous heart, and the wackiest hair I ever saw on a boy. I did everything I could to keep him engaged while in Kansas (Okay, Oklahoma) because Charlie was Dorothy's three doubting friends, Scarecrow,Tin Man, and Lion, in one, and I believed he belonged in Manhattan, the ultimate Emerald City. During the subsequent years, while he wandered, he held my hand, pulling me along, too. Look at him now. Just look at that gorgeous grey-tinged hair.]


A while back I read an essay about Facebook, addressed to the holdouts—such as myself—who had thus far avoided participation. It was the article’s provocative, amusing title (“You Have No Friends”) that caught my attention. The author, Farhad Manjoo, discussed the site’s social utility, offered a balanced view of its pros and cons, and acknowledged the misgivings of those who chose not to take part, but in the end argued persuasively that FB is, over all, a good thing. I found myself agreeing with him, and decided I would sign up soon. That was in 2009. I finally signed up this past December, at the behest of a dear friend who insisted I would love it.

Why did I wait so long? Well you see, I had a rather difficult adolescence. So did everyone, I suppose, but I had a difficult adolescence the way the Joad family had a bouncy road-trip. Somehow I got through it, and by the time I was, oh, 32 or so, I was able to look back on high school days without actually grimacing. Much later, when FB came along, the first thing everyone said about it was that when you sign on, you’ll hear from lots of people, going back to childhood. Which would include high school, naturally.

Hmm . . . well, I figured, that could be pleasant. Or not. I remained a holdout. Finally, when my birthday rolled around over the holidays, that aforementioned friend set up my page for me, then contacted me and said: All you have to do is create a password, and you’re in. Okay, easy enough. So I came up with a password, I’m in, and she’s right, I love it. Those high school friends who’ve contacted me, or responded to my messages, have, without exception, been happy to get in touch again, warm and supportive. No one has mentioned anything painful or unpleasant, and if such a thing occurs, I’ll deal with it.

What was I afraid of? I had some very good experiences at Holland Hall, my high school alma mater. I had good friends, bright, witty, quirky people. Working on the school paper, The Hallway, gave me experience in writing under a deadline, writing objectively—or at least trying to—about people and events I cared about. The copy editing sessions were both laborious and fun. Quips flew back and forth, but we also learned that, at a certain point, you have to cool it on the witticisms, buckle down and edit copy, compose headlines, measure photos, or finish whatever it is you’re doing so we can all get home at a reasonable hour. A good lesson for the grownup workplace too, way more than anything I ever heard in Algebra classes.

Acting in plays with the Holland Hall Players was exciting and gratifying. The first time I auditioned for something I landed the second largest part, alongside people who’d been in shows for years. This scared me, badly. When you’re 14, the 17 year-olds are grizzled veterans. I had a lot to prove. But I sure did learn my lines fast, and it all came off quite well. Three years later, when I was a grizzled veteran myself, and going through a rough patch, I acted in Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Our director Karen Henry had to nudge us along—no, she had to kick our butts regularly—but whatever it was she did, it worked. Not without snags, however. On opening night, during a high-speed verbal tennis match, Rosenkrantz and I went up in our lines. There was silence on stage for maybe 45 seconds while we tried to regroup. (Felt like nine years.) But we resumed, a little shakily at first, and then got up to speed again. At the end, people applauded warmly. So there’s another life lesson for you, no need to spell it out.

Those activities were meaningful to me in high school. And now, decades later, I write articles about the performing arts, usually under a deadline. Fortunately, I picked up some good habits in my teens. (Some bad ones too, most of which I’ve left behind.) If I could, I would tell my teenage self—well, first, do something about the hair—but next, and more importantly, stop agonizing. Yes, some of this stuff is painful, some of it will always hurt a little. But while you’re busy making yourself suffer, the happy memories, pleasurable experiences, and valuable lessons are also finding their way into your subconscious, and you will access them too, when it’s necessary. You won’t even be aware of this while it’s happening. And someday, trust me on this, a thing called “Facebook” will be invented, and you will find that your friends, the real ones that is, are still your friends.  

Charlie Morrow works at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, at Lincoln Center. He has contributed articles to This Land Press, Slapstick!, The Chiseler, and other publications. He contributed two essays to the book Spencer Tracy: Fox Film Actor, and several entries to Broadway: An Encyclopedia of Theater and American Culture. He's on Facebook.

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  1. I was Hamlet in the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern production Charlie references. Charlie was one of the uber-smart seniors freshman like me weren't supposed to talk to. But he, and his co-star Mark Eckenweiler sure wanted to talk to me when I forgot a line on opening night!

    1. I needed someone young and brave to get up there between those two, who took me to task periodically. I know full well how intimidating they could be.

  2. Charley--I don't know how I missed this. I came across it after reading Kelley Singer's post.

    I know we probably weren't at a school at the same time. You graduated in May and I headed toward Upper school in September. I missed your fun.

    Aren't you amazing? That last paragraph gutted me. You put into words emotions and thoughts that I sometimes put on a shelf and forget. Thank you for helping me to remember what the plot is all about.

    When I'm in NYC visiting your sister, I'll let you know. We'll have coffee talk!

    1. It's easy to forget those high school experiences, especially the low moments, have incredible value throughout life.