I WAS SOCIAL DISTANCING BEFORE IT WAS THE NORM

     I’ve lived half a lifetime trying to get out of social distancing, and now I’m back at it again. “I tried to get out,” Michael Corleone says, “but they pull me back in!” Throughout my teens and twenties, I had few friends and no romantic interests. I could get along with and work with co-workers and classmates, and I could even manage a few phone friends, but for the most part, I’ve spent a lot of time feeling alone and with no one to talk to.  Like Kate Moss was the definitive model of Calvin Kline when Calvins were cool, I was the definitive model for social distancing when ‘cool’ and ‘social distancing’ weren’t even in the same sentence. 

     In middle school, I thought high school would be like the Saturday morning TV show, Saved by the Bell. I thought that I’d have a cool group of friends, and we’d get into adventures. Any American sit-com was my oracle on countless aspects of life, but this particular high school fantasy wrapped itself around my mind like nothing else. Every year, I thought I’d finally be cool, I’d finally reach Zack Morris level of infamy and coolness. I would try to make friends and sometimes we’d hang out. I even tried to get a girlfriend by giving her flowers, but by senior year I was sitting at the lunch table by myself, reading books and writing screenplays by hand. If they weren’t going to love me in high school, they were going to see my movies in a few years. 

     Not much changed after high school. I met people at community college and got along with everyone at the 4-year college that I attended, but I never got into a clique. I was never really comfortable with that. I thought that only through a group of friends could life have purpose. I dropped out of college by the second year. If they weren’t going to love me in college, they were going to love me somewhere else. Somehow.     

     For the next decade, I built myself up. I went to karaoke at least twice a week, I wrote poetry just to perform it at open mic, and I found a friend or two that I got close to. By my 30s, I started to talk to therapists and soon I started a real dating life with real relationships, not just a patchwork of dates and phone conversations. Over those years, I kept writing and experimenting with writing. I began practicing meditation. By my late 30s, I felt just as confident about myself as a person as I felt as a writer. “I am not weird and never have been,” I could finally tell myself. And it felt good. 

     I think about why it was like that all those years ago. Was I really just an introvert that was afflicted with shyness? Was it just the cliquey nature of Lehigh Valley Pennsylvanians? Was I just too nice in a world where that’s looked down upon? It’s probably a mixture of everything, but I’m grateful for it. I have inner emotional resources that many do not have. 

     I told myself that I could handle this, that I could be isolated as long as this goes on, that I could dip my toes inside my old self while maintaining my newer, happier self. After a few days of this shut it, things got funny. I needed to talk to someone, even if it was just small talk. I’m not alone in my home. I have people to talk to. I even have people that I can call and talk to here and there. But it’s not the same. It’s not the same as my job, working with kids that say ‘hello’ to me in the halls.  It’s not the same as attending my writer’s group and sharing ideas. It’s not the same as going to an open mic and reading what I’ve put my heart into. I tried to get out, but they pulled me back in. 

     I feel that things will get interesting these next few weeks. There’s so much more that I want to say about my predictions and deeper thoughts that I have. I’ll save that for later. I just want to say that I hope this makes us appreciate each other more. We need to start valuing human life more than “likes”. Relationships are and always have been the only real currency that matters.

     Good luck, World. Rich or poor, many of us are now in the same boat. And it’s that thought that reminds me that I’m not alone as I was all those years ago.  

My 7th Grade

In seventh grade, the school put me in the lowest section. I had little in common with those kids. They talked about who was making out with who and who’d been placed in juvenile detention for the summer. They also knew song lyrics. Many of the boys rapped to themselves throughout the day.

They’d ask me why I was there.

I would say, “I don’t know”.

They would say, “Are you smart?”

I would say, “No,” or “I don’t know.”

Then they would say, “Yes, you are.” Then try to get me to help them on a test or with seatwork. When I didn’t know the answers to their questions, they would say, “But I thought you were supposed to be smart.”

I was always a quiet person in school. This was the quietest I ever felt.

The next semester, I was transferred to another section. This was the best time I ever had in school. We were considered a section that was fully capable of achievement, but as our social studies teacher would say, “You’re all ignorant. Not stupid. Ignorant. You know what ignorant means? It means that you have the ability to know, but you don’t want to.”

These statements were a joke to us. Everything was a joke. At the cafeteria, we did this thing where we’d say “Schism-scasm-schism” then follow it with a random word. Then we’d insult our classmate with a statement that rhymed with that last word.

My parents sat me down to talk about my grades. They said that I was taking advantage of their marital problems by not doing my school work. I probably was taking advantage of them. I don’t know. I was having too much fun.

Smart, but lonely. Happy, but ignorant. Seventh grade.

Screenwriting as Teenage Therapy

At 15, I wrote a screenplay intended for Paul Newman and Robert Redford. The title, Word to Perfection, was the tagline for Paul Newman’s most recent film, Nobody’s Fool. It was about two aging bank robbers getting together for one last job.

I realize now that it was actually about the absence of grandparents in my life. Not that I didn’t have grandparents, but there wasn’t a relationship from either the maternal or paternal side. I needed someone else to go to with my problems, and I subconsciously thought that they could help.

Many of my high school and community college era screenplays were about needing help and hoping that someone could give me an outlet other than writing. Writing just wasn’t enough to deal with feelings of alienation at that time.

Fortunately, I discovered the likes of Bob Dylan and The Beatles. They gave me another world to step into. I got a message from that music: You’re just fine being you. Marc the writer is just the tip of the iceberg.

It would still take me years to find the courage to dive into the ocean and explore that iceberg. But inch by inch (with school, meditation and social events) I did. Now, I’m at a time where I can see what function each screenplay was trying to perform. It makes me wonder what my present day writings are trying to say.