Reminiscences in the Age of Digital Memories

I don’t remember turning 20, but I’m sure I thought it was momentous. When I turn 40, I probably won’t remember turning 30 . . . but then I’ll just call up this blog and read what I wrote in my final hours as a twenty-something-year-old.

Time and memory have become something different than they were. When I was 18, the garage band I was in (yes, we really did practice out of a garage) performed at our senior assembly: Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.” The administration didn’t approve of the lyrics, so we rewrote them but sang the real ones anyway with no one the wiser. I still remember the fear of walking out to the middle of the basketball court, sitting down to play in front of our entire school. I remember the slow start: Do they like it? Do they hate it? No one made a sound. Our high school was comprised mostly of black students, and Weezer wasn’t widely known; not even all the white kids recognized the song. But when I hit the high-hat snare, high-hat snare, high-hat snare, it didn’t matter. There’s something about live percussion—the thump thump thump and the tik tik tak—that hits you in the lungs and exhilarates the soul. They were on their feet. They were cheering. They loved it. As we were loading up the van later, an underclassman came up to us and said, “Man, when you went out there, I thought you were gonna be like the Backstreet Boys. But you were great, you were like the Red Chili Hot Peppers.”

A year later I recounted this to my freshman-year roommate, who was also my sophomore-year roommate, with whom I likely spent my 20th birthday (and whom I’m seeing this weekend at his wedding). I recounted it (reenacted it, really, jumping up on a desk chair) because it was a time before you shared things. I had an AIM name, but not even a friendster or a myspace account. We uploaded “If I had a Million Dollars” and the character themes from Mortal Kombat on Napster. If I had been born just a few years later, my band’s four minutes of glory would likely be on youtube (with at least 20 hits from me reliving it). We heard that one guy did videotape it, but he’d lost the VHS.

Nothing will ever be lost again. I enter my high school’s name into youtube, and videos of the marching band’s drumline pop up. Soon everything will exist in a “cloud”—which means it won’t really exist at all, and yet it will be accessible, like having pitch-perfect memory.

When I was 20 I had no intention of making theater a career. I didn’t even consider it could be a career. It was an extracurricular. It was something you could major in and then go do something real. Some friends thought they could make it as actors, but none of them considered being a professional producer or a casting director or an artistic associate.

When I turned 20, I was no longer an art history major (I had no memory for trivia), but I don’t think I was yet an English major. I think I was toying with psychology. Had I taken playwriting yet? I don’t know how to bring up my transcripts to check. I could look up old emails, but they closed our accounts upon graduation. My current email memory begins during my last year of grad school. How far back does facebook go? I open my page and scroll: my 29th birthday, my wedding, getting engaged, “my first San Francisco earthquake, and I didn’t feel a damn thing,” getting the job at A.C.T., arriving in the Bay Area, “packing and packing and packing some more” my Chicago apartment, (still scrolling and scrolling), working with Horton Foote, photos with my fellow interns at the Goodman, my first freelance dramaturgy gig, back in St. Louis working at the bar, teaching (“my students have infiltrated this site, beware”), and, finally, the beginning: “welcome to the fb, danny!!!! (May 25, 2006 at 2:43pm)” and then, ominously: “There are no more posts to show.”

It’s like looking at the reverse of death. When our time comes, will our lives flash before our eyes, or will they simply scroll?

When I was 20, I’d never even heard of dramaturgy, and now it’s my career. I won’t lie, it’s nerve-racking turning 30 with a career in theater. There is a small voice inside your head saying, “Isn’t it time to grow up now and find a good, secure teaching job.” But, there is also something exhilarating about it. And there it is: midnight: I am officially an adult, and I choose this path.

I hope it worked out for you, 40-year-old future me. And if it didn’t, here’s a little something to cheer you up:


2 thoughts on “Reminiscences in the Age of Digital Memories

  1. happy birthday, you wonderful you!!

    this more than anything proves we are the same-ish age: in high school my best friends were all guys with a garage band. and i’d watch them practice all the time, sometimes join in. and they played say it ain’t so. over and over and over again. ❤

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