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The First Two Years

January 12, 2011

Last night, J and I saw Incognito, a one-man show by Michael Sidney Fosberg. Michael’s the man we met fifteen months ago when he officiated our friends’ wedding in Nashville, and I’m so glad/relieved we finally had the chance to catch the show while it was here in NYC. It’s the first one-person show I’ve ever seen. How he characterized so many others … a glorious mystery. We were riveted. We forgot he was the only one on stage. We were struck.

I won’t reveal anything here that can’t be learned ahead of time, because the next time he’s in NYC, J&I intend to bring a crowd. (I save the bread bumpers for myself, thank you very much.) Instead, I’ll quote Michael’s site:

“Imagine discovering you are not the person you thought you were. That you have a family, a history, an ethnicity you never knew. How would this discovery impact your life, the lives of those around you; your vision of yourself and society? I have been facing these questions since 1992, when after having spent 32 years growing up in a middle-class white family, I discovered I am black.”

After 75 minutes (passing more like 75 seconds), he finished telling his memoir (how cool! how amazing, to say your memoir out loud, to act it out, to play the parts of the people who’ve guided or frustrated or foiled or surprised or inspired you!), and opened himself up for questions. Most asked about various people in his life/story, how they reacted to his journey and discovery and changes. I was curious, too, about all of them. I felt, after all, that I knew them now, thanks to his painting.

But I couldn’t resist asking him about memory, how his definition of memory had changed through this process. (I could feel J groaning, just a slight vibration through the connected plastic chairs, but he swears he did not even sniff.)

Michael answered with something I’ll never forget, something I’ll add to my little bag of It’s Okays when I search for my own memory. (That bag, incidentally, is getting quite full.) He discovered a first two years he’d never known about, couldn’t remember. But what did it matter? The first two years of his life were as memorable to his body, interests, mannerisms, and disposition as his next decades would be to his conscious mind. His definition of memory, it seems, has not changed so much as broadened. Nature v. nature could just be nature and nurture and everything else.

What does it matter if we can’t remember? At least, in the traditional way? What does it matter?

(It does matter, in some ways, of course. I’ve been out of control for too long, with this vast unremembering that seems to get worse each day.)

But what does it matter, really? When the first two years happened? What Michael got from those first two years, he’s got from them now. And what I got from my first two years, I’ve got from them now.

Thank you, again and again, Michael, for continuing to tell your story despite the Everything that it takes to do so.

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