I was 22 years old.
It was the last semester of my last year of college, a year that I tacked on after changing my major six months from when I should have been graduating.
As a newly un-uncommitted theatre major, I was halfway through directing my senior thesis, a play I had finished writing roughly a month earlier. We had fifteen days until opening night. I was tired, but at least I was energized, right?
But I wasn’t eating. And I wasn’t sleeping. But hey, I didn’t give a shit, because I was going to change theatre, man (or at least my college’s perception of what theatre could do).
I was also delusional. I couldn’t tell at the time, but I was trudging through an emotional-slash-philosophical mud, and the only way for me to approach explaining and/or understanding it was by working through my thoughts in a script that really could have used a second and then third draft. Maybe a little more guidance and a little less ego-stroking. Maybe a little less Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and a little more, oh, I don’t know...cohesiveness?
I’ve had the fortune -- or misfortune -- of revisiting the play a few times, re-reading it with some objective distance and thinking about what it meant then and what it means now, and what its purpose was in the context of that time in my life. And I had no fucking clue what I was doing.
The play, I’ve now realized, was and is a poor metaphor for what I thought my purpose was in the context of that time in my life. I was what I created, and what I created was incomplete, ideologically split, and just downright incoherent at times. It (and I) was obsessive and easily distracted, at times ridiculous, at times intelligent, at times convoluted, and, at times, actually clear-headed.
But enough about that liberal arts degree.
It’s been ten years since that play, and at the time, it was the greatest thing I had ever done in my life. I was proud to be pushing the buttons of the people in the audience, adhering to the idea that theatre is supposed to offend you! without really getting why it was even allowed to have that power. I was repeating what I had been told without truly understanding what it meant and without really contributing to the conversation.
Sure, I had some good ideas, but approximately 87 percent of them were either half-baked or at least undercooked. The other 13 percent were either in the process of being stirred or were ingredients scattered across my kitchen counter (for the sake of the metaphor, let’s pretend I wasn’t a college student splitting a dorm room with a basketball player I barely knew).
In the years since, I’ve been able to recognize that, hmm, maybe that play wasn’t that great. Which means that, hmm, maybe I wasn’t that great. And at 22, who really is?
If you had told me then that what I was doing was ultimately an exercise in existential narcissism, I would have politely told you to fuck off. But, now, today, in this moment, I barely recognize that kid. In fact, me now, today, in this moment, I’d be the person telling that kid that he was being foolish, and that he should realize that what he had created might not actually stand the test of time like he thought it would.
But then again, I’d also be the person telling me to fuck off.
Justin Johnson is a content editor and columnist at a mid-size newspaper in South Carolina. He is also a freelance graphic designer. He holds an M.A. in Media Studies from The New School. In his spare time he writes songs, plays video games, and builds Spotify playlists. He hopes to one day be able to write a bio in third person without sounding like a jackass. He is afraid of ghosts and snakes (but not aliens).
Justin’s blog and collected works can be found at www.phasetwomedia.com.
Justin encourages you to learn more about The Miracle League. The Miracle League (founded in 2000) is a baseball league where children and adults with mental and physical disabilities play on a rubberized turf field that accommodates wheelchairs and other assistive devices. Players are paired with able-bodied “buddies” who assist in the field and at the plate, and the league encourages a spirit of inclusion and sportsmanship. There are currently more than 240 Miracle League organizations across North America. Visit themiracleleague.net.