If you’re not getting older, you’re dead. ~ Tom Petty
So I hope you’ll forgive me tonight, this is a somewhat indulgent bit of of writing, with no real attempt to connect it to happiness other than maybe the phrase, happy to birthday to me.
It’s my birthday, and I always get a little reflective around this time of year, I think that’s pretty common. I like my birthday, granted if I’m being honest, I have hadn’t had a lot of great birthdays. But your birthday is the only holiday, that is yours alone, unless you’re a twin. A few stick out, one I particularly enjoyed was my 21st birthday when I saw Power Station in concert, great night, good friends, good show. Of course 40 was a big one, I set up a full year of celebrations and celebrated my actual birthday in Reno and the whole next week at my first Burning Man.
I think most of us move through multiple lives, I’m not talking reincarnation here, maybe the more accurate phrasing would life phases, but I prefer to think of them as separate lives.
My first life is the one I least remember, it’s that way for everyone I’m sure. While I have incredibly early memories, I have memories as early as two years old, I don’t remember a whole lot of detail until kindergarten. My first life ended when I was seven years old. In 1971, I became one of the first kids in my elementary school to have divorced parents, in fact, the only other person that I was aware of that did, was my friend Aaron Harris. We would form a bond that has lasted deep into adulthood.
My second life lasted until I left home at 18. It was a roller coaster life, full of magic and mayhem. I had amazing and fun experiences as a child. But I grew up in a tough place, at a tough time and along with the fun I had as a child, there was also a lot of tragedy, trauma. and responsibility. There were some incredible highs, winning Babe Ruth League championships, my first girlfriend, and secret civil engineering work. The lows were deep, violence at home, violence in the street, friends committing suicide and the deepest point, my own suicide attempt. But that life ended the day I walked into my dorm room at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
An interesting side note, RIT is not located in Rochester, in fact it’s located in South Henrietta, so in fact the acronym should technically be SHIT. A fact not missed by students at the college who frequently print up t-shirts highlighting this fact, downside for the administration of being a college with a printing program. Nothing in any of my lives has ever proceeded in a straight line, so going to college was no exception. I had good grades and decided to become an electrical engineering major by participating in a deeply scientific career exploration process. I met with George Esposito, my high school counselor and former little league coach, who said to me, you’re good in math and science, your dad works for the power company, how about electrical engineering? Sure, why not, and just like that I had a college major.
I had an inkling that it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, and in the process of applying to college I found a bit of a loophole. You see RIT offered a 2+2 transfer program, the way this program worked, was that you spent your first two-years at Eisenhower College, just east of Rochester on the shores of Cayuga Lake. Eisenhower College was a small liberal arts school that had been acquired by RIT in 1979. This was a great plan, I could do my general education work at Eisenhower and then transfer to RIT. Then in the summer before school, the doorbell rang, I answered the door and a man said, “telegram for Michael Kane.” That’s right, an actual damn telegram like something out of a classic fifties movie. The telegram informed me that Eisenhower College had been closed and I would be transferred to RIT. This is one of those nexus points in my life, I often wonder what would have happened if I had gotten the chance to attend Eisenhower. I think I might have made the choice to move on from engineering to education, biology or social science, something I actually had an interest in studying. But it didn’t work out that way.
I have a full sensory memory of the first moment of my third life. It occurred after my parents and I dropped everything in my first dorm room and I shewed them away. My third life started as I walked back into that first floor dorm room, embedded in the Sigma Pi Fraternity dorm at RIT. I remember seeing the three beds, realizing I was in a triple, the campus was now overcrowded due to the Eisenhower’s closing. I had arrived first, so I took the single bed, foregoing the bunk beds. I set my boombox on the dresser by the bed and found a radio station. I can still smell that recently cleaned dorm room odor, I would be reminded of it many times as a resident assistant each fall as we re-entered the dorms. Joe Jackson’s Stepping Out was playing on the radio station. The first piano chords of that song always take me right back to that room, the smell, the sights, the absolute feeling of trepidation and excitement, that moment, the beginning of my third life was the very definition of freedom in every sense.
But to quote Kris Kristofferson, although most of you probably think Janis Joplin wrote Me and Bobby McGee, “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” And that really summed up my reality at that point and my third life was short lived. But damn it was fun. I’m not supposed to say this sort of thing, becoming an addict and a drunk, being drunk and stoned for two years is supposed to always be related as a cautionary tale about how terrible substance abuse is on your life. And while in fact, it did get to that place, the trip was fucking fantastic. I was free of home, of the psychological abuse I’d lived with, the rules, the bullshit, the inbred, ingrown mentality of the city I came from. I was loaded all of the time, having fun, breaking boundaries, expanding my mind. I did a lot of LSD during those two years and it was great. I learned the importance of confidence in being able to get close to and intimate with the so called fairer sex. I was living the perfect party boy life of a college student, the holy cliche of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Perhaps the highlight of the rock and roll was when my girlfriend Maryanne, left me with tickets for a show on campus. She was into new wave music so I didn’t plan on going, I hadn’t heard of the band. My friend Mark and I were getting loaded and nobody seemed to be around, I remembered the tickets and so we grabbed them and walked over to the ice arena. It wasn’t very crowded, most people were sitting down and we walked right up to the front of the stage. The lights dimmed, the fog machines kicked in full blast then the red spotlights turned the fog red as U2 kicked into Sunday Bloody Sunday. We became instant fans, that album was constantly playing in our fraternity house for the rest of the year.
My third life ended in March of 1984 in the office of Dean Kenyon. You see I’d failed out of RIT and was petitioning to be readmitted, they frowned on 0.24 GPAs. I had been trying to get re-admitted through the Phoenix Program but my math level was higher than the person who tested people, so that didn’t work. And Dean Kenyon ended my third life with one of the most caring and honest conversations I’ve ever had. After reviewing my files Dean Kenyon looked at me and said, “I see the issue, you’re a fuck up.” I was in absolute shock that he’d said this to me. He continued on by telling me that I was obviously quite intelligent and capable, but I just didn’t care enough about myself or school. He made me an offer, he’d readmit me immediately, but if I ever had a quarter below 2.00, I was out, permanently, no appeal. He reminded me that even the best engineering students had a bad semester from time to time and ended up below 2.00. He then told me that the other option was to go home, take some time and get my shit together and if I wanted to return, to call him an he’d readmit me with no conditions.
This was one of the most impactful conversations I’ve ever had. He was completely right and my life completely fell apart, I spun out, hit rock bottom and then proceeded as Dean Kenyon had suggested, to get my shit together, thus starting my fourth life.
My fourth life was, as the others had been, a rocky road and it was my longest life lasting over twenty years. The one consistency was that the trajectory continually pointed up. It started by getting back to college, getting into the right major. I did a lot of exploration and completed several degrees. I spent time in Brazil, worked in international development, found my way to California twice and met, fell for, got devoured and destroyed by and survived the love of my life. Throughout this period I suffered from depression and found ways to deal with it until the point that I rarely suffer from serious depression anymore.
My fifth life started in the fortieth year of my chronological life. I transitioned from being a student to a full-time professional. It was the year of my first burning man. It ignited the lifestyle I developed where I would quit my job and travel every few years. It has become the life that has been the least bumpy, where I’ve become the most comfortable with myself, meaning I’ve also told a lot of people to go to hell and let them leave my life. It also has become my most financially stable life. My fifth life is ending, there isn’t an exact date but soon my sixth life will be underway. It will take place on the east coast, and will hopefully be a centered around family, friends and nature with far more writing, painting and guitar playing.
Just a little reminiscing tonight, happy birthday to me.
Happy Birthday, Michael…and congratulations on a life well LIVED!!
Thank you so much Gloria.