The first time I really made note of the Grove Press imprint was the spring of 1998. I was most of the way through my freshman year of college, and it wasn’t exactly going well. Not that my grades weren’t good, but I was essentially lost and without direction. In high school in the suburbs of Portland, Ore., I fancied myself an intellectual and a writer. I owned a copy of Sonic Youth’s Jet Set, Trash and No Star, which I used to convince myself I was a cut above the other grunge/skater kids who dug alternative rock. I worked for the school lit mag, and we convinced ourselves we were being subversive by titling it the Grrrowl, because Riot Grrrl. Really, I’d read Camus’s The Stranger and Kurt Vonnegut, and was convinced I knew all about literature. I felt disaffected, so I affected being an existentialist, which was a philosophy I didn’t really understand but sure sounded cool. I assumed that since I had real family drama in my past, I was somehow more legitimate or authentic than others.
I thought I was a writer, but I didn’t know anything about literature. I thought I was an artsy intellectual, but I preferred the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream to Sonic Youth, who, truth be told, seemed just like noise to me. And I did theater, which I also considered myself quite intellectual about, but I didn’t know anything about theater. I sneered privately at doing a stage version of Fame, in which I was cast as the gay kid, which I thought was kind of cool, except that for a play about the hard-hitting issues facing a group of young people in the arts, homosexuality was too hard hitting so (I kid you not) my character’s personal issue was recast as him being a eunuch. Which is why he doesn’t try to sleep with the Barbara Streisand-loving female lead. Because he has no balls, so why would he be attracted to girls?
Actually, I’ll give myself some intellectual credit for finding that stupid and ridiculous. But only so much. I actually only started doing theater in the first place because I wanted to impress a girl. And as for my theatrical intellectualism, it mostly extended to having heard about Rent before most of my show-tunes-loving fellow theater people, and you know I just knew it was cooler than Rogers and Hammerstein.
The long and the short of it was that, like most angsty suburban kids, I was incredibly self-centered and narcissistic. While it may be true that I had a bit more serious drama in my background, by the time I had morphed into this person, who wore tattered jeans, too much flannel, and alternated an ironic Spam-branded baseball cap with a Rastafarian cap I bought at the downtown Saturday Market, I was a complete poseur.
So when it came time to go to college, it was something of a wake-up call. My family was not entirely supportive (unsurprisingly) of me pursuing an education in the arts, which was all I cared about. And despite my self-centeredness, there was a creeping realization that maybe I was kind of full of it. I half-heartedly applied to Sarah Lawrence and Bard, because I vaguely thought they seemed cool. But I wasn’t accepted. My grades weren’t there, and my accomplishments outside of class were pretty minimal. I had been involved with some accomplished extra-curricular political science stuff, and the head of the political science department at a private college in Portland actually strongly suggested he could help get me a scholarship, but I was too in love with the idea of myself as an artsy intellectual to give it much thought. Instead, I settled for the path of least resistance: Several of the theater kids I knew were planning on heading to Southern Oregon University in Ashland, a few miles north of the California border. Ashland was home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which produced very high quality regional theater during their months-long summer season. SOU had no official link to the festival, but proximity alone seemed promising, and as I found out later, SOU’s theater program was actually quite good for preparing you for a professional career. Their BA is about as good as most schools’ BFA, and their BFA program was as challenging to get into as any private school’s. Few people were accepted, and the year I finally went, one of the eight students accepted had transferred from Julliard. Continue reading