How did I get to be here?
Stephen Sondheim’s 1981 musical, “Merrily We Roll Along,” opens with a friendship dissolved. The story is told backwards. We see, in reverse, how things fell apart among three friends — Frank, Charley, and Mary. Frank and Charley started off as a duo writing music and lyrics for Broadway, their friend Mary a writer. They are bright-eyed and ambitious (“worlds to change and worlds to win”), dedicated to each other (“Me and you, pal, me and you”). But Frank ends up selling out, producing movies in Hollywood; Charley feels abandoned; and Mary, who’s taken to drinking, just wants it to be ‘like it was.’
A sober refrain, sung by the company throughout the first act, asks, “How did we get to be here?” Things used to be so different, so much better. How did this happen? How did such a good thing get lost?
What’s especially striking about the show is that there is no definitive moment, no singular event, where things take a turn for the worst. There is no deliberate choice on Frank’s part to abandon his friends for the sake of fame and money. Rather, it’s a series of gradual changes — a turn here, a turn there. And next thing you know, things aren’t how they were expected to turn out.
It’s a familiar phenomenon for some of us. And, over the course of the last year or so, I’ve come to identify with this sentiment quite a bit. ‘How did I get so far off the track?’ ‘Where did I let things slip out of gear?’ I can think back to what my life was like, say, at fifteen years old and tell you that my life today bears almost no resemblance to that. Of course, there are certain respects in which this is a very good thing. But to my mind, there remain elements of anxiety and confusion about the trajectory my life has taken up until now.
Which is why I am writing. Consider this the first of what I hope will be many posts. I want to tell my story, even if for no one but myself. I have always struggled to keep a journal, and so part of my reason for doing this to feel a bit more compelled to put down some of my thoughts — for fear of losing them, and because writing can often be a therapeutic endeavor. In doing so, I want to explore themes and questions that are important to me. And I hope that this will start a conversation with others.
I suppose a bit about me is in order.
I’m a white male in my mid-20s. I’m gay. I grew up on the West Coast in a somewhat affluent, reasonably conservative, and very Christian household. When I was eighteen years old, I moved across the country for university. These days, I’m living up in Canada, where I’m working on a graduate degree in philosophy. My annual income is solidly below poverty level — (I’m a grad student, after all.) — and I lean pretty far to the left on most issues. When it comes to faith, things are a bit more tricky; I anticipate devoting more than a few posts to this topic. For now, I’ll just say that, while I am by no means an atheist, I struggle most days to understand what it means to believe in God.
This series won’t be chronological; I don’t plan on going back to a certain point in my life to tell my story in a linear fashion. Most likely, it will proceed in a more topical fashion. Neither will it be entirely dismal, though I can’t blame you if what I’ve said thus far gave you that impression. That said, I won’t be straying away from things that are of both a serious and personal nature.
Until next time, where I’ll explain my thinking behind the title I’ve given this blog — ‘elucidating freedom.’