(originally written on March 11, 2010)
Sometimes (mostly when I’m on the London Tube) I find myself looking at people so deeply I can see how they might age. I imagine where wrinkles might decide to wander across their forehead or if their skin will either sag or concave beneath the cheekbones. It’s a rather interesting way to pass the time, I tell you, but it is also an activity that humbles me. Whenever I take part in this facial study, I am reminded that age affects everyone, period. No one (no matter how much nipping and tucking he/she decided to pay for) is immune to ageing. What is more important is that because we age, we inflict upon ourselves an invisible timeline. We set goals to achieve before our hair turns gray, or before we hit a certain numerical age. Do most of us get what we want, though? Realistically and unfortunately…not really. The amounts of dreams most people carry in their brains are infinitesimal, and we may achieve maybe 3 (maximum) before whatever personal deadline we set. But does limited success keep us from dreaming? That is up to the individual, I guess.
I wake up every day and I take the same 7-8 minute journey from my flat to the Tube at Stratford station. I cram myself into the musty, sardine-can of the train (where people look as grim and unhappy as the Addams Family), sweat myself through a half-hour journey into town (secretly hoping at each stop that 50 people will get off the train instead of the usual two that do), and zigzag my way through people with awful pedestrian etiquette so that I can eventually emerge from the underground and do the thing that brings me most pleasure these days: sell soap.
When did “the art of cleanliness” start rubbing my tub? When I realized that my number one dream (“To redefine the image of what it means to be a Black man in this world by utilizing artistic expression to create honest works, exposing youth to the theatre process, and by performing random acts of humanity”) was going to cause unwanted wrinkles before they were due. Now don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with selling soap. At least we all know I promote being hygienic and that I will ALWAYS smell good. But for those who think it, being a soap connoisseur is not my final stop on the Tommy C. train. It can’t be! (And I’m sure there are readers out there who agree with me.) Yet, sometimes, it feels that way.
But while I’m sittting and analyzing the lines on someone else’s forehead, I find that I need to spend some time in the mirror and look at mine. Line 1: I have completed school, including my Bachelors and Masters Degrees by the age of 24 (and I still owe hella loan payments). Line 2: I have lived in Virginia, Boston, Philadelphia, Scotland, and now London. Line 3: I have always had at least two sources of income (a job and help from my family and friends who love me) Line 4: I am actually talented though I don’t talk about myself and my skills often. Line 5: Everything I have, I have really worked hard to obtain. Line 6: I think too damn much and thinking will both push me and be the end of me. Line 7: I am not done yet…
I will stop the line analysis there (mostly because I don’t want people thinking I look like an old ass man). As is easy to see, the lines on the face tell the greatest stories about where we have been. None of them display any major detail about any particular life experience, but the fact that I have them is enough to make me remember.
A recent memory: the day after the earthquake in Chile, a man came into my shop to purchase some items. He got a phone call while in the store with the message that his mother may have been killed in that earthquake, but he had no clue that it happened. I thought to myself, sometimes when we think tragedies are isolated, they really do affect us all over the world. Wrinkle.
Another memory: after my show (I am in an Opera called La Bohéme for those who didn’t know), my cast mates and I do karaoke on Fridays. I have sung so often at these karaoke’s that I have gained a family of sorts. There is a group of people who sing the same songs ever single week, so to please them I sing “Hey Ya”. And then there are my cast and the pub-goers who just like a decent song every now and again. Most people know my name, give me hugs and know that I will give them a legit performance (my renditions of “And I am Telling You I’m Not Going”, “Human Nature” and “Ordinary People” are quite sincere and people actually listen). I don’t think it’s pathetic that I’d rather sing than go out and spend loads of money to dance and sweat through my good clothes just to hope someone will eventually look at me. I find pleasure in knowing that the people who are at the tavern as just as common and down to earth as anyone else. There is no pretense, and singing with and for them is just as rewarding as singing for the Barrack Obama. Wrinkle.
On Wednesday, I signed a contract with my agent. Like I have said before, I always knew it would be her, but it just took us time to make it official on paper. When I speak to her, I’m always candid, for the most part (though I do try to keep the vulgarity to a minimum) but I told her how I felt about my life right now. After she showed me the lines of my auditions (I had no clue that I’d been on 12 major auditions since the time I’ve been with her), I was able to sit back and reflect properly and with new knowledge. I told her the truth…my voice is quite mature and because of that, I might be thirty before I am taken seriously in this industry. I have often been told that it doesn’t match the way I look (which I always take as an insult). But I understand it now. When I look like a teenager, and have a “velvety baritone/bass” voice escaping my vocal chords, it tends to confuse people (or casting agents). But I haven’t been overlooked and for that I can be grateful. An opera wanted me! That was a wrinkle in my life I never expected to have, but I got it now and it’s a line that is beneficial to me because the show (which started in a space upstairs in a pub) is now transferring to a well known theatre and I get to put that on my resume!!! Wow to that.
And I am sure that it’s not over. So what, I am working overtimes when I can, and always searching for ways to make more money, but it will not always be this way. Yes, I don’t have time to take dance classes or get more singing lessons, but I will one day. And though soap is not my true calling and opera is not where I come from, I like them both. And they make me feel like a human being with purpose. Right now, that’s all I can ask for.
It makes me wonder, if I was sitting across from you on the train (or anywhere) would you be able to see how I might age? Would my face sag, or sink-in? Would additional weight be appreciated or frowned upon? Most importantly, would my face hold lines of contempt and gloom, or would I have the gracefully-aged lines of success?