As life unfolds over what starts out as years and becomes decades and quarter centuries, there are decisions made that tend to challenge who you are at the time and stretch your boundaries beyond what you were capable of or even thought possible.
I used to use a series of trumpet studies called "Calisthenics for Brass" and one exercise required you to blow your horn louder and louder until it sounded completely spread out and ugly. The more you did the exercise, however, the stronger your loudest note got and the cleaner it became.
Many of our life choices can do that to our selves. At the time, these just seem like decisions one makes in the heat of the moment but upon reflection, reveal themselves to be those game changing pivots that make the narrative a ride worth hanging on for.
Letting the Theater Go
As recently as this week a former WNEP Member intimated that I had forged the license that got the building at Halsted and Belmont shut down in 2003. I didn't but who cares, right?
While the events that lead up to WNEP leaving that building were personally devastating (and likely had more to do with my divorce a few years later than initially thought) the actually moving away from that space, leaving behind the duties of theater landlord and eventually leaving the theatre company itself were all absolutely essential to getting me to a far, far better place in my life.
And while it wasn't a choice I made willingly at the time, if I could go back and advise myself back in 2003, I'd say to get the fuck out of that joint.
Losing the Weight
Sure, gaining 80 pounds was an exercise in indulgence and too much comfort, and I spent a lot of time both castigating anyone who worked out and stuffing whole pizzas in my gaping wound. The decision to refocus myself and lose the weight was a game changer. It improved my prospects at work, with women, onstage and at life in general.
It also set the tone for things I wanted to accomplish that seemed a bit too daunting. Instead of go on a crash diet, I ate less and worked out. And did it every day until I weighed what I weighed in high school. It was hard but doable and the experience taught me lessons in perseverance, focus and tenacity.
Teaching Public School
The years of 1990 to 1998 were my post-college formative years, so to speak. And I spent those years teaching seventh and eighth grade kids on the West Side of Chicago about music, history, politics, the Beatles, blues and having them teach me about humanity, diversity, and strength in adversity.
I came to college to get a trumpet performance degree. I did, in fact, play professionally for a bit. But Robert Bright (my college advisor) convinced me to get the Music Education degree because he knew how hard things would be without some sort of fallback plan and he was right.
I wouldn't be who I am today had I not taught public school and I am forever indebted to Mr. Bright for it.
A Decade of Public Radio
I had hit the point in my mid-life where the struggling artist life was starting to wear me down. I know so many in Chicago who hit that point. Approaching 40 and really simply wanting a job that pays a regular paycheck and some health benefits.
I took a random chance interviewing for a House Management gig for Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! for peanuts. Through my manic need to be doing things all the time and some sweat equity, that turned into a decade of working for a 75-year old genuine Chicago institution with some remarkable people. I took a resume of producing events from a theatrical production background to a whole new level by putting together well over 400 events for WBEZ and having a ball doing it.
I spent a decade getting paid throwing parties, live podcasts, socially important conversations, city-wide volunteering days, all for and with some smart motherfuckers.
Asking Her to Marry Me
By the time I ran into her, I had pretty much given up on the abstract idea of love and romance and ever finding a partner again. Even my mother noticed the resignation in my voice and demeanor. I was done. Between going through the motions of having a quantity of sexual encounters and really wanting them to be more than that and both an ex-girlfriend and attempted possibilities dating a co-worker in a pretty uncool series of affairs, the whole thing seemed pointless and overly dramatic.
And then I met Dana. And inside of two weeks from meeting for the first time, I asked her to marry me. The ensuing two and half years since that day have been game-changing in the most obvious sense of the term. I'm learning more about myself, about what love can be, about true intimacy. She's good. She proved to me that giving up simply is not an option. I anticipate it's just going to get better and better every single day because, so far, that's exactly how it's going.
I used to believe there as no such thing as a Soul Mate. Then I believed we all have multiple Soul Mates. Then I met her and all that changed.
Moving to Chicago
Who the fuck knows who I would be had I not made the random decision to first move away from Kansas and Arkansas and second land in the City of Big Shoulders? No Second City, no ComedySportz, no CPS, no WNEP Theater, no WBEZ, no MOTH. I wouldn't have met so many of the people who have shaped my life nor been through the many experiences that have shaped me. I've lived in Chicago longer than any other location in my life by a decade and a half and, unless my wife decides she wants to live somewhere else on the globe, I'll likely croak on the shores of Lake Michigan.
The funny thing about game-changers along your road is that you don't know they will be so until long after the trigger has been pulled. Life is filled with choices and, in my experience, the choices you make that require the most faith and courage are the ones that change the game. The decisions you make in the face of great obstacle or uncertainty or even fear tend to result in the most important moments in your life.
So move somewhere uncharted.
Take a chance on a job you want rather than one you need.
Ask her to marry you.
Lose some weight.
Walk away from something or someone toxic.
Who knows? It might be the choice you remember for the rest of your days.