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Coloring Outside the Lines

When I was a kid–well, a smaller, relatively hairless kid–one of my more astute schoolteachers dared ask what the lot of us wanted to be when we grew up.

Standard answers abounded: a future firefighter here, an aspiring athlete there, a couple of doctors in the second row, a prospective President (sorry, kid, born in the wrong ZIP code). What can I say? We were young enough to get carded for candy cigarettes.

I remember answering, “Myself”…half-wish, half-quip.

Well, there’s a little truth in every joke, and the funny thing about half a wish is that sometimes it can come true in full. What almost no one understood–not even, at full measure, myself–is that I spoke from the core of my being.

A couple of decades later, I’m happy to report that this ideal has fully manifested itself in my adult life.

You see, the skillset for “myself” at the time included writing (by that age, I had distinguished myself as one of the students more predisposed to write more than 3 sentences in a row of my own free will), humor (developed as a defense mechanism against the verbal slings and arrows of the playground), enough social awareness to be allowed to sit with others at lunch, and all the artistic flair developed by any child occasionally allowed to color outside the lines.

A quick scan of my event calendar makes it pretty easy to see how those skills translated.

Sure, I started my independent years along a prescribed path, buttoning my yoke each day to make the world a little less like I wanted…but I was lucky enough to figure my way out of that trap before I wasted 40 years wondering, “What if?”

There was a moment last week, sitting on the floor of a bookstore dressed like an imaginary friend, carefully arranging crayons into an aesthetically pleasing motif for the upcoming re-release of my book, “64 to Infinity: Love Letters in Crayon,” that I was reminded once more that my ‘career’ incorporates pretty much all my earliest inclinations…I am, indeed, my truest vision of self.

For a living, Lil AJ would have probably put up a poster of Adult-Size AJ, and that is a point of deep pride. Kid, I’m as proud of you as you are of me.

This poetry reading at Mairel’s Bookshop, scheduled for March 30, is dedicated to you.

Recently, I even received a couple of new superpowers, like musical ability…well, I guess that was always latent since I was also an actual choirboy at the time, but hey…if the last few years of real-world education have taught us anything, it’s that nothing is guaranteed, and you better reach out for your dreams while you can.

There are some people you can just look at and see the child inside…playful, curious, engaged, subversive, perhaps even a bit indignant at being restrained…but enduring. Defiantly.

I like to think I am one of these wealthy few.

Unfortunately, it’s not the type of wealth that is legal tender for all debts, public and private…deadlines and guidelines provide all the resistance they can against my lifelong rejection of calcified structures, a crusade that started in Catholic school and will continue when I step on stage this Friday night at Gusto Lounge to give everyone a little more of my inner logic than they probably bargained for.

I mean, I named the band “The Pleasant Uprising.” Ain’t like I hid it well.

Of course, narratives only form in reverse, but looking back over these past 20 years or so, I find it intensely satisfying to have proven my teacher right…to his everlasting credit, Mr. Campbell did not join the bulk of my classmates in dismissing my seemingly flippant response as the meaningless quack of an insolent child.

Instead, with a keen and practiced eye for extracting the most from insolent children, he instead challenged me to make good on my youthful bravado.

Today, tomorrow, and for the foreseeable future, I will continue to do just that…hey, we’ll see what happens.”


  • AJ Freeman

    AJ Freeman is the hardest workin' man in tie-dye, writing weekly for the Mirror, hosting various vibrant activities, and bringing his vices to every event... in this sunny city by the sea, if you've come to have fun you'll probably see AJ around.


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