My Life of Noisy Desperation: an Autobiography

My Story

French quarter kitchen shelf bedroom
Kitchen bedroom in the French Quarter
French Quarter Kitchen Bedroom

After I began art school in Boston at the age of 22 I took a Greyhound bus trip back to California to visit friends from a few of the various schools and towns I grew up in.

In Santa Cruz with one of my friends from middle school I started to bring up the three years we spent together in Albuquerque New Mexico.

We were sitting around her nice suburban home sunbathing in Santa Cruz and I said; “What do you think was wrong with our mothers? It was so crazy how your mom was on drugs all the time and my mom spent all her time holed up like a hermit.

“They were both so smart and well educated. Why the hell were we living on welfare in the slums of Albuquerque New Mexico?”

As I started to warm up to the fascinating subject of how people came to be the way they are, my friend Devon sat up suddenly, and vomited into the bushes. She had to go lie down and rest.

Pick a Side

Why write an autobiography anyway?

I kind of didn’t have a choice. I have always written a lot every day for many years because I can’t stop myself. It is just something I have to do. 

I started writing an autobiography of my life back in my late 20s and continued to record the millions of vivid memories of my childhood and early adulthood sporadically, collecting the writing all together in one place as computers came on line.

I have always been fascinated with the child’s viewpoint of the world and how we take everything to be perfectly normal as kids. We don’t know anything is odd or that there is strife or poverty really.

For instance I got to live in the French Quarter in New Orleans for a year just as I was turning 6. We had this funky little studio apartment that was built off the landing between two regular floors. It was more like a little porch that had been walled in. My bedroom was a little shelved area in the kitchen that was just wide enough for a kid’s sized mattress with a shelf for my toys right above my bed and a bunch of shelves for pots and pans all around, and I loved it! It was so unique, and I thought it was the coolest little space ever.

Things just are the way they are, when you are a kid and you accept them and enjoy them when you can. It is only when we look back from the adult perspective that we see how unusual and amazing we were as children, how flexible and tolerant of the strangeness and inconsistencies of our parents’ lives.

I wouldn’t say my life was idyllic as a child, but I have very good memories of my life as a kid. Life was filled with many rich details and adventures growing up with my bohemian play wright-puppeteer-composer- mom. My early 20 and 30s and even my 40s were also an amazing adventure though nothing matches the magic of the child’s viewpoint.

Portrait of mom done at age 4

As a teenager and young adult I was dealing with the realization that I had been ridiculously ill-prepared for life and knew nothing about how to survive, much less thrive, and this made for a lot of insane situations that are comical and fascinating to me when I look back on them from later perspectives.

The decisions we make about life are usually based on very little information. There is this desire to want to go back in time and do everything better now that you know more about life and how things turned out. But at the same time it makes for a good story and it is what it is.

The title of my memoir, My Life of Noisy Desperation comes from paraphrasing my mom who often quoted Henry David Thoreau’s passage:

“The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.” 

~David Thoreau

She always quoted this while looking down from her snooty vantage point of being an aaaartist.  She felt smug because she had escaped adulthood in a way. She didn’t work at anything as lowly as a job or waste time with mortgages, or anything stupid or frivolous like that.

Mom was getting on with her creative life while the rest of the world was whining and complaining that they had bills to pay or didn’t know what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Of course my mom was broke all the time and had money anxiety constantly while we lived off of welfare, grant money, and her puppetry gigs. But she carved out a life that made sense to her and she seems surprisingly happy to compose music and plays in relative obscurity.

The first section of the memoir, The Nest of Books is a retelling of all the stories my mom shared about her childhood growing up Jewish in Mississippi and Chicago and Los Angeles and how her stories shaped and warped my view of the world growing up.

Now that I am officially old, over 60, I finally see what people mean when they say they are a lot happier than they ever where as young people and how they would never want to go back to being 17 or 24 again and have to be that awkward and clueless.

I have grown into my life and can look back on all the idiotic and beautiful things I did with amusement and affection.

Bus Ride in Berkeley