The Life Of A Boy
Last weekend I spoke at the Stratford Festival and told a story that had been kept secret for over fifty years.
It’s about a boy. He’s failing to live up to the community expectation that he’s becoming a man. In reality, he is no more than a jumble of pubescent hormones, facial pimples and an adult voice masking teenage immaturity.
Does this sound at all familiar to you?
His reading interests leave no possibility for imagining any kind of productive future. If it isn’t the sports pages, or stories about athletes, it is of no interest to him. He’s read the odd Hardy Boys mystery. His class is studying the play, Julius Caesar. Difficult to read--inaccessible even--except for the inevitable murder scene. Caesar will not survive the first act. Will the boy survive his boredom? Or the inevitable exam?
A box arrives in the mail. A gift to celebrate his thirteenth birthday, from a distant relative. He tears it open with excitement and discovers it is filled with four small leather-bound volumes. The leather is the color of blood. His name is embossed on the cover. “THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.” He opens one of the volumes. The font is small, the pages too dense with rhyming couplets to make any sense.
He smiles at his parents, scrawls out a thank you note to meet adult expectations, and places the books on his shelf. He has one recurring thought every time he sees those books. “Worst-gift-ever.”
Until he turns sixteen and discovers the world of women and their interest in Shakespeare. He goes on a summer trip to Stratford in Ontario to see his first live performance. He opens one of the books to read and re-reads the play. He would return to Stratford four times with an assortment of friends before his twenty first birthday.
The multiple women in his life reduce to one life partner, one symbolic gold ring and a busy career in law that sees the red volumes return to the shelf where they will, once again, gather dust.
Over the next half century the boy rewires umpteen times. He keeps a picture on his night table of him as a teenager with a long beard, longer hair, and the girlfriend who will become the final, and lasting life partner. The world may see him as retired, but when he looks in the mirror, he still sees that youthful teenager staring back.
Except the teenager now has short grey hair, which has begun to thin, crow’s feet eyes, and multiple forehead wrinkles. He is convinced that these speak to his character rather than to his aging. He is considering his life pivot but, like so many others, has no more idea of his life trajectory than the thirteen year old. That is, until the day his life partner asks the question that will send him on a whole new trajectory.
“Norm, have you ever thought about making Shakespeare more accessible?” He hasn’t up to that point. After stubbornly resisting on the basis that he not a creative bone in his body, he concedes enough to consider the proposal. He reaches to the shelf, dusts off the red leather volume labelled Tragedies on its spine, and sets off on a journey.
Seven years later, when he finally has the time to give it some thought, it occurs to him that the only remaining gifts of his first twenty-five years of life are the golden ring and the red leather books. One of the volumes lies beside his computer. It is well worn. Two of the plays are particularly weathered as source material for the novels he has written. A pair of murder mysteries with a third to be born to complete a trilogy of modernized Shakespeare mysteries.
The man-boy writes a short story in the hopes of motivating others to reconsider their own gifts and how they can share them with the world. He continues on his own quest of writing mysteries that will open the world of Shakespeare to others.