I have many, many t-shirts. I've always liked T-shirts--they're one of the most referential forms of clothing you can buy, and for an obsessive nerd like me, a t-shirt with a logo, a band, a phrase, or something else was a way of distinguishing myself. In some ways, it was kind of like a hyperlink--an object that points to an entirely separate series of information. The irony of distinguishing myself through a commodity is not lost on my faux-marxist brain....
But of course, like all artifacts, T-shirts (or any clothing for that matter) carry emotions, memories, and associations independent of their production. It's one of the great ironies of capitalist life--we're always subverting and reconfiguring the things we buy toward new ends, undreamed of by people who made them and sold them to us. For clothes, this is especially salient, I think, because clothes are so embodied--we carry them next to our skin, and they are with us in almost all of our daily interactions with other people.
Thus, I always have a hard time when I'm cleaning out my closet. I have T-shirts that I love, and would never want to part with, but simply can't wear, for any number of reasons. But, I hit upon a solution, and I figured that I would get started enacting that solution today.
I've taken pictures of T-shirts that I'm discarding, and using them as an excuse to write about the memories and feelings they inspire. It's maybe a little self-indulgent, but it's also a means for me to get rid of some old clothes, and exorcise/exercise the memories that I have attached to them. I've created a Flickr set of my t-shirts, which you can see here, and I'll do a post on each shirt in the series over the coming weeks.
When I was 14, my High School drama department held auditions for "Amadeus", and I tried out on a lark. I had always liked theater, and had done some smaller plays and other skit-type things when I was a little kid. Plus, I loved the movie, and F. Murray Abraham's searing portrait of Salieri, a man pulled in two by his own jealousy and his love for music, inspired me to want to play the same character. Of course, I had never acted before in my High School, and I totally expected to not get a part, or to get a background role.
I wandered into school the day after auditions to find the roles list posted on the door of the drama office. I scanned the list, starting at the bottom, and as I moved upward, I didn't see my name, and assumed that I simply hadn't been cast. It was only when I got to the top that I found my name, next to the part of Mozart. At first, I didn't believe it. There is a role in the play for a "Mozart Double" and I assumed that I had been given that role. But after a minute, I realized that I was playing the real deal. As Emperor Joseph II says: "Well. There it is"
I really threw myself into the part, working on my high-pitched giggle, learning to play the piano part that Mozart uses to show up Salieri in front of the Emperor by rote, and teaching myself to breathe slowly and slightly when Mozart died. Somehow, during the dress rehearsal in the dark of the back-stage, I managed to walk into an old water pipe, and cut my head open enough to get six stitches. Fortunately, we had wigs that covered our foreheads and my injury remained hidden through the performance.
It was a wonderful experience, and I'll never forget it. I kept up with Theater all through High School, playing Shakespeare, musicals, Greek comedies, farce, high drama, and more. In college, I was involved with a great group called "Theater for Engineers" and spent a few more fleeting moments onstage with some amazing people. Since I've come to grad school, time and interest for acting have faded from my life, but many of the skills I learned have come in handy in teaching--poise, clear speaking, and comfort at talking in front of a crowd among them.
So here's to acting, and to a time in my life when nothing seemed more natural than putting on a costume and talking with someone else's voice.