I wasn’t interested in drama until my senior year of high school. I hadn’t been exposed to it. It was the same with opera and other “long-hair music” (my father’s name for classical music) and shows how exposure or lack of it determines taste. We are to a large degree what we take in; we’re part of our family’s story, then of our culture. Perhaps my parents can’t be blamed for not liking opera. We lived, after all, in a blue-color, north-central Texas town; and our idea of a good time was fishing. (Living in Vienna and the availability of cheap tickets gave me the opportunity to appreciate opera; it was also after I had acquired a theater background. My wife exposed me to classical music, which I love now more than any other kind.) To discover and value any art form, from Shakespeare to Mozart, from Wagner to Picasso, we have to have our eyes and ears open; and to someone from my kind background that kind of receptiveness didn’t come naturally. I had to teach myself to listen to music, just as writing a sentence didn’t come automatically.
I grew up with “can’t” instead of “can.” I can’t spell, I can’t be a smart as Joe Farmer. I couldn’t catch a baseball, so naturally I couldn’t play first base. That kind of thinking affected me, whether I fit in or not; and my self-esteem was low: an outsider (I wrote my first snippets of dialogue to gain attention); an exaggerator, a showoff.
But my imagination, where I spent a good deal of my time, instead of studying, had no limits. If I had had someone who had taken the time to give me the individual attention that I needed and had exposed me earlier to what I now value (art, music, literature and theater), maybe it would’ve given me a more solid foundation than I have now. And maybe I wouldn’t feel as limited as I do. About my family, the parents I rejected to a large extent, I know they did their best and gave me all they could. What’s more they were intelligent, loving, and caring (something I took for granted). Out of such homes many of us have come. The environment (whatever it was) from which we came may have lacked some things we wished it didn’t, some important and some cosmetic (and in my case, some that I was ashamed of), but I would be willing to bet that for most of us the basics were there. As a boy, I lived easily without some of the things I now value most: the art of Shakespeare, Mozart, Wagner, Picasso to name a few. I envy, however, people who were exposed to what I missed at an early age.