Sparked by Words

A Certain Word

This article isn’t exactly X-rated but it’s a little blue in the face, if you know what I mean. A bit off-color, but just a bit. You might not want Grandma to read this, and definitely should turn on the TV for the kids. Let them watch some murder show or The Bachelor.

If I’d had a lot of friends in high school, if I’d been part of any group – the soches, the athletes, the brains, the goofusses, the ASBers, even the kids one hop short of a bunk bed at juvie – I probably would have known better.

But it was not belonging, not knowing, that makes this incident possible. I was a loner and belonged nowhere. Plenty of teenage angst loomed in my corner but an absence of other teens to inform me about secret adolescent passageways kept me in the dark. I didn’t know the references, the lingo, the flippant signs of kids slipping and sliding their way to adulthood. I lacked a map, a key, a password. My fault as much as anyone’s.

There are words you learn backstage, under the bleachers, at the street corner late at night. But only if you hang with someone who will teach you. Me – I hung out in my bedroom, pretending to do homework but mostly daydreaming about when I could get out of there. Out of the bedroom, out of my parents’ home, out of high school, out of Tulieville.

College was my operative escape route and though I planned little other than landing in those academic halls, I expected to blossom into something. Anything other than the painfully shy, unattractive nobody who looked back at me from the mirror, remarking, “You ain’t nobody, kid.”

First attempt to recast my fate: I declared my major in Theater.

The university was only one year out of the mint. The administration had begged for a few willing pioneers to defect from their first colleges to attend ours, the promise of the very first undergraduate diplomas ever to be given their carrot stick reward.

I entered as a raw freshman, raw being an operative word. I’d been a thespian at my high school where we’d mounted such theatrical productions as Little Women, Ben Hur, The Night of January 16th, and George Washington Slept Here. I’d only had character parts in a few of those plays, mostly doing backstage work. You could safely bring Grandma to our plays and she wouldn’t raise a chaste eyebrow. As I said, I had little social life, not even the usual backstage fun.

At the university I intended to try out for a part in the fall play, The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, written by Peter Weiss. Sure, I knew Marat/Sade, the leader of the French Revolution, the turbaned dead guy hanging out of the bathtub in Jacques-Louis David’s painting.

I didn’t know much about the play, nor about how much a brand new university would do to get itself on the academic map. Crap, I was barely 18 and hadn’t been to my first rock and roll concert, to my first anti-war protest. I’d never smoked a cigarette and hadn’t yet had s— maybe TMI here.

So I went to the tryouts. Hell, I could act, right?

This brand new university featured so few buildings that the history, science, math, and literature departments shared the two lecture halls. Barely room for French and calculus classes, but we had a theater, by gum, we had a theater, complete with backstage, ascending/descending audience tiers, a polished stage draped with velvet curtains, and an orchestra pit.

Try-out day. We pining, thirsting young actors sat in the rows. Across the stage strode our young director. He was not only a god, being the man who would select actors for the parts. He was a GOD. Young, handsome, confident, he looked as if he’d be at home on a warhorse or a surfboard, but there he stood on the stage where our fledgling Broadway careers would be launched.

Clutched in the crook of his arm was a clipboard. The uni must have handed out free clipboards to all the instructors as every professor on campus flouted their own. Mark of the chosen perhaps.

At center stage our director, clip board firmly grasped, stared into all our yellow eyes. (Yes, Mr. Sendak, mine were yellow with anticipation, at least that day.)  Then our director god made his announcement.

Were we fortunate enough to be selected for a part in this play, we would be expected to do something on stage. Something specific. Very specific.

The act is a word that begins with an M, ends with ate, and in between I’ll let you figure it out.

The actor wannabes remained quiet. At least that’s how I remember the moment. Something about that word…

I went home and looked up that three-syllable word in the dictionary and thank heaven it was an inclusive dictionary, not the elementary school tome. No, I did not yet know that word, (few friends, remember?) and yes, I had the intelligence at least to consult a dictionary rather than ask my mom.

My eyes might have remained yellow but on reading the definition, I could feel my face turn shades of red. Crimson, scarlet, burgundy, ruby, beet – what other color best describes embarrassment than red? My cheeks burned hot enough to toast s’mores.

And no, I could not do that on stage. Could barely do it … TMI.

So I went back to the university next day and changed my major.

Never saw the play.

Gotta laugh.


Painting The Death of Marat by Jacques Louis David courtesy Wikipedia







Comments on: "A Certain Word" (34)

  1. I never quite know whether you are writing fiction or a memoir, Sharon. That wouldn’t really happen, would it? Art definitely seems a better choice. Not sure about the life drawing though. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I look forward to that, Sharon. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. More about you I didn’t know, even after a decade. I would change my major too!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You’re a comfort to read, Shari.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jenna Barwin said:

    Wow. What a story. And you made a wise decision. Since a photo would probably have survived, and later appear on the web when you become a famous author.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You quack me up, Jenna. A photo on the web – when I was in college, only black and white drawings were available. Hm, I might have to search to find the photos of that performance…


  6. The story about you growing up and overcoming your shyness is so sweet and
    shared by many of us.
    As to the role, I am glad you fled. What a choice for students of art.


    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t think I would ever be ready to play such a role but I’d love to see the production one day. Of course, the play was groundbreaking and brilliant and I’m all grown up now. (Don’t give me that look, Miriam – I am grown up, I really am.)

      The art student story will be next week’s post. Oh boy…


  7. This is hilarious and so beautifully told.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. … as one early bedroom-dweller to another: I’m not altogether sure that all the backstage passes of groups and cliques lead anywhere much at all; they lead to bravada-land, the misty, landscape land where saying-it-is seems to work if you can make others believe it, but then you’re stuck in what you’ve said – you’ve defined your identity through it – so that when your deeper thoughts and feelings try to emerge (“my turn, my turn; I’ve grown up now”) they can’t, or they do and give you a howler of a mid-life crisis; nope, I think we’re good, there’s everything wise and courageous in living life with naivete

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I suppose you could have performed in “Hair,” and ran around the stage stark naked (hmmm, maybe you did and that’s another story). At least with the m word you could fake it, lol! This memory is quite wonderful, Shari, in how you vividly describe your life at that time. The title of the play looked complicated, maybe that was the God Director’s hook!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did see Hair, (years and relationships later) and noticed that the single famous scene was shrouded in carefully placed lights and shadows. Marat/Sade was written by Peter Weiss, and I don’t think it was the title that attracted the uni’s young director but that the play was both a Tony Award winner as well as a depiction of the meaning of revolution and human suffering. Provocative and appropriate for college students to think about as they began the journey of discovering who they want to be. I was the one lacking – in so many areas.

      Thanks for your comment, Terri.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Although I wasn’t a loner in high school like you were, and my “group” was mild in comparison to the “popular” groups, the only reason I knew that word was that one of the required classes at school was sex education. Yes, it was discussed.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You are a master at capturing the horrendous awkwardness of being a teenager! So easily embarrassed, emotional, etc. So often, when I watch old tv shows, I marvel at how hormone driven I must’ve been to find those actors soooo attractive lol


    • You’re right, Daal. It wasn’t that my hormones weren’t active, only that I didn’t have the vocabulary. Though who I would have spoken to about my angst, I have no idea. I fell deeply in love with every boy who strummed a guitar and every boy galloping a horse. Had I been the only other person in the room, they would have seen only the wallpaper – the ache of being a teenager. Note to teenage self: It will get better. You will grow up. You’ll learn that word and a whole lot more.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh my! I would have changed the course as well, Shari! 😂 I’ve got quite a couple of embarrassing stories myself (don’t even ask, I’m not going to share them here or anywhere else, maybe with progressing age though when I’ve learned to laugh about it 😉).
    I know the painting of course but have to admit that I’m not familiar with said play – will have to check it out.


    • The play is brilliant though I don’t know if it’s in production near you. You could probably find a copy of the script in the library. I learned years later that it takes place in an insane asylum and concerns the nature of revolution, authority, and insanity.


  13. hahahaha well that was hilarious!! Love how you write these stories!


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