Thursday, December 22, 2016

Norman Rockwell, pt. 2 – or, How an American Painter Who Died Seven Years Before I Was Born Helped Me Realize that I’m Not Entirely Crazy After All

Thanks largely to my friend Randy McCoach, I have a bit of an update on my last post. (Make sure to read it first before proceeding with this one!)

As mentioned previously, I did hours of research over the course of a few days, trying to find any proof of the existence of a musical I believed that I was in when I was much younger. The musical, I believed, was called Norman Rockwell’s America.

Randy read my post, left a kind comment, and set to work. And this is what he discovered:

This clipping was from the July 2, 1993 edition of the San Bernardino County Sun (the county which Yucaipa is in).

Then, just to be extra sure, he did a bit more digging on my behalf, and pulled up one other gem:

Same paper, March 6, 1993 edition.

It turns out that I was wrong about the year – I had guessed ’90 or ’91; the musical actually took place in ’93. Oops. Also, this would mean that I was seven years old at the time of the performance (despite the casting call saying the minimum age was eight – I would have turned eight just a few weeks after the performances, though).

I was half-correct about a few other items, though:
  1. I had the name exactly right – Norman Rockwell’s America – as well as the college venue – Crafton Hills College.
  2. Crossroads Christian Fellowships of Redlands was the church my family was attending at the time. So yes, my connection to this musical came via church.
  3. Though I’m still unsure of where this musical originated (who wrote it, etc.), my impression has strengthened that it was most likely a local affair (as opposed to an actual licensed musical).

Also, happily, it turns out there’s no need for me to scour YouTube in hopes that someone happened to have uploaded an amateur recording of the musical all these years later. In presenting all of this to my mom, she was able to present a VHS of the performance.

Now I just need a VCR (or, I suppose, I could find a company that will transfer it to a DVD for me).

I was happy to hear that I was also correct about the first two scenes that I modeled (The Runaway and Family Home From Vacation). No confirmation on the third scene yet – not until I find a way to watch the video, at least.

All this to say:

I’m glad my memory isn’t always out to lead me astray.

And I guess Alex Mandel is off the hook.

Despite these confirmations, I’m still holding out hopes that I might be a time-traveler, though. Seems like it could be fun.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Norman Rockwell - or, How an American Painter Who Died Seven Years Before I Was Born Is Making Me Doubt Everything I Think I Know About My Past

When I was much younger – 5 or 6 years old, I believe – I was in a musical. It was at a local college – Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, California – and, of course, I only had a few rather minor roles. The musical must have happened in 1990 or ’91.

I don’t remember now exactly how I came to be involved in the play. I think maybe my parents made some sort of connection through church friends and subsequently got me hooked up with it.

If memory serves, I believe the musical at Crafton was called Norman Rockwell’s America, or something very similar. Every scene started with a still reenactment of one of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. The models would then come to life and act out a full scene revolving around the painting. It was a clever idea, at least.

I was in three such scenes. I didn’t have any speaking roles; all I had to do was hold still for a few minutes before the painting came to life. I also did a small dance in one scene.

If you’re curious, here are the three images I portrayed:

(The Runaway, 1958)

I’m 100% sure that this is one of the three pictures I modelled. 

(Family Home from Vacation, 1930)

Again, I’m 100% sure this is the right image. I remember that I was “sleeping” on some sort of a bench, and that I had a white box with a toy frog seemingly about to escape. I especially remember the frog because the director let me keep it after the show was over. 

(Family Grace, 1938)

I have to say I’m only about 75% sure this is the right image. What I remember is that I was sitting with a family around a dinner table praying. I very clearly remember feeling like it was the most boring of the three. I’d have guessed the family was larger, though, and that there was a turkey involved.

That said, Norman Rockwell has another very famous painting, Freedom From Want, which has a larger family and a turkey. However, they aren’t praying in that image, and, perhaps more notably, there’s no little boy whom I could have portrayed – hence why I think Family Grace is more correct.

I also can remember a few random lines of lyrics from some of the songs:

The main theme must have been called Norman Rockwell’s America, which featured the line,

Norman Rockwell’s America 
– let’s give three cheers for this great nation

One song, I imagine, must be called Gossip, Gossip, or something similar.

Gossip, gossip, mean old thing
Most unhappiness it brings
If you can’t say something nice
Then “don’t talk at all” is my advice
Yes, “don’t talk at all” is my advice

There was also a song called At the Hop, which featured a lot of na’s or la’s or bah’s or something along those lines. This is the song I danced in (and, if I remember correctly, which broke off of the scene based on the painting The Runaway). I believe the main line was

Let’s go to the hop, oh baby, let’s go to the hop

And, of course, there was a song about the Saturday Evening Post (the magazine which debuted many of Norman Rockwell’s paintings), which featured the chorus:

Oh, I love the Saturday Evening Post
It’s the magazine I read the most
I think you will discover
If you look beneath the cover
It is more than any other magazine comes close

No clue why/how I still remember these random lines 25 years later. They just stuck, for some reason.


Just this week, I was thinking about this musical again. Though it was about 25 years ago, I wondered if it was perhaps one of those things that someone recorded at the time then uploaded onto Youtube many years later for nostalgia’s sake, or perhaps to make fun of someone else who was in the musical when they were younger – someone like me, hopefully.

After a bit of searching, I couldn’t find any such video on Youtube. That’s okay; I knew it was a long shot.

Now then. All of the background I just explained is merely a prelude. Here’s where my story gets much more tricky:

Not only could I not find any such video of the musical on Youtube, I actually can’t find any evidence of the play existing at all.

After many hours of searching online, I haven’t been able to find a single scrap suggesting that this musical is even a real thing. Here are all of the interesting/relevant items I have discovered, though:


There is, in fact, a musical based on the life and work of Norman Rockwell called ROCKWELL. This musical premiered in Vermont in 1992 – at least one year after my musical of memory.

The same musical was then “re-premiered,” so to speak, with the new name Perfect Picture. This re-premier debuted in 2013.

(Interestingly, the full name of the new version is Perfect Picture: …but was all of this real? What a peculiar name for the topic, especially given my current predicament over this memory I am trying to research.)

Also, in addition to the dates not adding up, the track listing shares nothing in common with my musical 25 years ago.

Definitely not related to my musical. 


Clearly, this approach wasn’t leading me anywhere on my quest to find this illusive musical I was in. I decided that my next step, then, was to work backwards from the music/lyrics that I remembered. And so…

It turns out that At the Hop was actually a famous pop song from 1957 by Danny and the Juniors, which my musical clearly just licensed for the play.

Similarly, Gossip, Gossip is actually entitled, Gossip, Gossip, Evil Thing (not “mean old thing,” as I thought I remembered), and was a calypso song from the 60’s or 70’s by Jester Hairston. It, too, must have simply been licensed for my musical.

Though I can’t find any song entitled Norman Rockwell’s America with the exact line I provided above, I discovered a song called Celebrate America with the line

Celebrate America 
– let’s give three cheers for this great nation

- the only change being “Celebrate” instead of “Norman Rockwell’s.”

This song was written by Mark A. Brymer, but not for the sake of a musical. If this is indeed the same song – and either the words were changed for my musical, or else I’m simply remembering it wrong – then, once again, it must have been licensed. (I can’t seem to find the year Brymer’s song was written/published; it seems to be the right age for the musical, though.)

And, finally, if there’s a song about the Saturday Evening Post magazine, I can’t find any evidence of it online.


Back to searching for the musical itself then, since the music was a dead end.


Ah, but what’s this?

It turns out there is, in fact, a musical called Norman Rockwell’s America, which was written by Alex Mandel!

At last! This must be it, right?

…there is just one small problem, though:

Alex Mandel’s Norman Rockwell’s America first premiered at the Theatreworks New Works Festival in California in 2014.

Yep: two years ago.

And yet I was in a musical called Norman Rockwell’s America about 25 years ago.

All this to say, here are the options I have come to:

  1. Alex Mandel is a plagiarizer, but somehow successfully erased all traces of the play he plagiarized. How very sneaky of him.
  2. The musical I was in was simply some locally-written affair. (Maybe a college student’s assignment? – it was performed at a community college, after all.)
  3. I’m really bad at researching things online and have misunderstood everything I’ve discovered and just don’t know the right places to look for the information I need.
  4. I’m a time traveler and just don’t realize it.
  5. My memory is simply playing tricks on me yet again.

Personally, I’m leaning towards some sort of mixture of #’s 2, 3, and 5.

I’m kind of hoping it’s # 4, though.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

a Prison of Glass

Often, when people ask me how I’m doing, I’m not really sure how to answer this.

That sentence probably sounds really heavy. Is Aaron depressed? you’re wondering. Is he facing some tragedy I don’t know about?

Not at all, actually. I’m feeling rather content about things these days, more or less.

But for some reason, I’ve noticed that sometimes I feel ashamed to admit that I’m in a good mood.

…yes, that sounds as weird for me to write as it probably sounds for you to read.

It's true, though. Sometimes when I’m at work texting Emily, she’ll ask how I’m doing. Sometimes I want to tell her that I’m happy or in a good mood or that my shift is going well, or any number of things along these lines.

Instead, though, I usually settle on telling her that I’m “fine” or “okay.” Or, worse yet, I try to think of a negative spin to put on it: “I’m okay. Tired, though.” “Meh. I’m alright. Work is pretty busy.”

It’s not that these things aren’t true. I’m tired a lot. And if I tell her that work is busy, this is because work is busy.

If my dominant mood is happy or content, though, why don’t I just say this? Why won’t I let myself simply tell her – or other people – that I’m in a good mood?

I freely admit: it’s a very curious thing. Why should I feel ashamed of saying something positive?

Thinking about this reminds me of something I wrote years ago. I’ll re-explain it here:

One night I had a terrible dream. When I woke up in the morning, I was in a rather foul mood. This happens to all of us, I think. I kept dwelling on the events and the negativity of the dream all morning, and it kept me in that funk.

Later that afternoon, I started feeling better/happier. As soon as I “caught” myself feeling better, though, I literally remember “reminding” myself that I was having a bad day.

For a minute there, I let myself sink again. I soon became conscious of this fact, too, and asked myself, Why am I preventing myself from being happy?

Why do I sometimes seek out different moods that I imagine I’m “supposed” to be in, rather than just let myself be in whatever mood I am actually, naturally in?

This makes sense if I’m in a bad mood, seeking out the good. It’s worth pursuing happiness in that circumstance. But why do I seek out the negative when I’m feeling positive?

These are great questions. Unfortunately, if there are great answers, I don’t know what they are.

Perhaps I am not so happy as I suppose. I have found that this is true of many people. For at least myself, though, what I hope is more likely is that perhaps I am not so unhappy as I portray.

For now, though, I will just try to work on letting myself feel what I feel, and on letting myself express positivity without justifying it or toning it down.
People grieve and bemoan themselves, but it is not half so bad with them as they say. There are moods in which we court suffering, in the hope that here, at least, we shall find reality, sharp peaks and edges of truth. But it turns out to be scene-painting and counterfeit. The only thing grief has taught me, is to know how shallow it is. That, like all the rest, plays about the surface, and never introduces me into the reality …
Temperament also enters fully into the system of illusions, and shuts us in a prison of glass which we cannot see. There is an optical illusion about every person we meet.
from Experience by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

the Right Time to Read

I recently finished reading the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. This is actually the second time I’ve read it; I first read it about five years ago.

That may not sound surprising to people, that I’m reading a book for a second time.

But actually, I didn’t really like it at all the first time I read it.

The writing is incredible. Stylistically, Kundera is a first-class writer, all the way. But I wasn’t wild about the plot – or the characters – at all.

And yet here I am, just having finished reading it again.

There is actually a very specific reason I pulled it out of the box it was buried in to give it another shot. That reason doesn’t really matter right now; I’d like to get at a different point for now.

This time around, I liked it quite a bit more than the first time. I’m still not too thrilled with some of the plot points and character quirks, but I found them much more forgivable this time. Originally, I’d have given it a 2/5. Now, it’s probably more of a 3.5/5 or so. It’s still not perfect, but there are a lot of things to admire about it.

This is actually the second time I’ve done this, though – re-read a book that I didn’t like the first time around.

I also did this with Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I first read it many years ago (probably about 10 years ago or so). It wasn’t bad, I guess…but it was terribly boring. Or so I thought.

When I had occasion to read it again (like Unbearable, there was a very specific reason I revisited Faces), I realized that Till We Have Faces is actually INCREDIBLE. Very possibly in my top 10 favorite books now.

Why would I dislike a book so much the first time around, and yet grow so fond of it the next time?

Considering these two little tidbits, I can imagine this means that perhaps there is a “right” time to read a book, so to speak. I wonder if, when I first approached Unbearable or Faces, I had simply come to them at the wrong time – too early, in these cases.
If this is true, I can’t help but wonder: What makes it the “right” time or the “wrong” time to read a book?

Obviously the books themselves don’t change. It can only be something in me that has changed in between readings. But what was the thing that changed in me?

Am I more mature now than I was then? (hopefully, yes)

Am I wiser? (again, I hope so)

Do I pay more attention to the words? (meh – it’s hard to say)

Am I looking for different things in books now from what I looked for then? …

…actually, there might be something to that last question.

The first time I read each book, it was just a book I had recently picked up that I thought sounded interesting. There was really nothing more to it than that. And I didn’t like them.

When I returned to each of the books some years later, I had a very specific reason to read them. And now I like them.

I wonder, then, if our motives for reading a certain book actually affect how we feel about the book as a whole.

This sounds like a reasonable assumption. In fact, I see no reason not to assume this is the case.

That said, though, here are the next questions:

What other books could get the same treatment as Unbearable and Faces?

How many books have I read (just once) and liked, that maybe I would not like now?

How many books have I read (just once) for a reason and liked, which I may not have liked in a different circumstance?

And, most importantly of all:

What specific reasons for reading a particular book would make me like that book more? And what specific reasons for reading a particular book would make me like that book less?

There’s really no way to know the answer to these questions, of course. But they’re fun to think about.

Monday, September 12, 2016


No matter who you are, what you look like, what you believe, or how you behave, someone out there will judge you. There will always be someone who doesn’t agree with you, doesn’t like you, wants to prove you wrong or shut you down, who finds you offensive or stupid or ugly or worthless.

Don’t listen to those people.

The fact is that their judgment of you says more about their character than it says about yours.

But why do people judge each other anyway? Why do people insult each other, feel the need to prove each other wrong? Why do people actually want to hurt each other?

When I was younger, I dealt with my share of bullies. And my mom would tell me the same thing that I’m sure you’ve heard: It’s because they’re jealous of you.

I’m not so sure this is correct.

Rather, I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered on the matter, of why people actually want to hurt each other. First, a small anecdote:

My friend B has some people whom she is close to. Lately, these people have all been making drastically different life choices than they used to. For better or worse, these choices have had an impact on their personality and on their level of happiness. B, on the other hand, has stayed more or less consistent with the types of choices she’s been making.

This fact alone doesn’t make any of them right or wrong, per se. B’s consistency might mean that she’s staying true to herself and to her character. It also could mean that she’s stubborn or stuck in the past.

These other peoples’ changes might mean that they’re evolving, that they have learned better ideas about how to handle life. It also might mean that they’re screwing up their lives.

Change itself is neither inherently good nor bad. It depends on the results of the change that help us figure out whether it is ideal or unideal.

Here’s the sad fact: B’s friends are all obviously, clearly, any way you look at it, less happy than they were before these changes and choices.

What we might assume from this fact, then, is that these changes and choices may not be ideal for them, right?

You’ve changed. You’re less happy. Therefore, the change is probably not good.

Okay then.

One day, B was at dinner with some of these people. And at this dinner, they were trying to give her advice. “You know, it’s really not so bad if you…” or “You should try this thing that I’ve been trying…”

This is ironic though, isn’t it?

Here is B who has, more or less, stayed grounded in her choices, in her attitudes, in how she handles herself. And, all throughout, she has remained at a basically-consistent level of happiness – if not getting happier.

Here are these friends of hers who have been making different choices. Those choices have made these people less happy.

And yet, they are the ones trying to give her advice? They are trying to suggest to her that she makes the same choices they are making? How on earth does that make sense?

But that’s a trick question. Of course it doesn’t make sense.

Now then.

I mentioned already that something you’ve always been told is wrong: He doesn’t like you because he’s jealous of you.

Now I’m going to dispel another myth for you. Hopefully the pieces I’m setting up here will start connecting:

There’s this idea out there of people “self-destructing.” People are going downhill; they’re backsliding; they’re hurting themselves; whatever. They’re “self-destructing,” we say. We might say that B’s friends I’ve been describing are “self-destructing.”

But that’s not entirely accurate.

People don’t self-destruct. In fact, there is no such thing as self-destructing. There is only kamikaze.

“Kamikaze,” you’ll recall, is what the Japanese called their suicide pilots in World War II. Kamikaze pilots were people who tried to destroy themselves and everyone around them.

The fact is that people do not self-destruct. They kamikaze.

People do not simply go downhill quietly, in a vacuum, in isolation. No. People go down, and they want to bring you with them.

They say that Misery loves company. (I actually agree with this phrase!) When people start to become unhappy, they want you to become unhappy with them.

When that person tried to hurt you on the school yard – or when they try to hurt you now at work or at home or in church or anywhere else you go –it’s because they are sinking. And they want you to sink with them.

Because people do not self-destruct. They kamikaze.

And when people are kamikaze-ing in your sphere, that says more about their character than it says about yours.

People will judge you and insult you and try to make you feel ugly or worthless. It’s all just a form of kamikaze.

People will try to hurt you – verbally, physically, sexually, emotionally. Kamikaze.

So please: get out of that sphere. Get away from the people that are trying to bring you down. Decide for yourself that you are beautiful and worthwhile. Decide for yourself that you are compassionate and worth the world’s time – and, for that matter, worth your own time.

Because you are. You are worth every second of yourself. If anything, it’s the world that should be in awe of you.

Yes, you. Whoever you are.

You are worth every second of yourself.

Please, please, start thinking so. 


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