Indiana University’s bicentennial is on the horizon, set to run in 2020. I don’t know if this idea is connected to it, but something I saw on the IU website was the tag #IUishome. I decided to submit my idea for a story. Fingers crossed.
Here’s the prompt I sent in, having to limit my pitch to 250 characters.
“Professor’s son. Half-Belgian. Actor. High-functioning autistic.
Eric met all of these criteria during his time at IU. He found support from the Office of Orientation and a student group called Students on the Spectrum, before graduating in 2011.”
This is why I’ve never been good at getting to the point. The whole story, the best version of this story, can’t be summed up in 250 characters.
Even if my pitch doesn’t get accepted, there’s always been a sense of pride in going to IU. On the one hand, I was going to be a Hoosier anyway, because it’s not only a hometown thing, but a financial thing. I got very lucky to be a professor’s son. Sometimes I wonder if I rewarded my dad’s efforts in me.
For a semester during my childhood, I lived in a suburb of Antwerp, Belgium called Wilrijk. This was in 1994, and there was a nearby park. For once, the role was reversed. If you think it’s hard come to America and learn English, it can be just as hard, if not harder, to do the same thing abroad. Especially when you’re doing it before your seventh birthday. Any Dutch/Flemish I learned was quickly forgotten, much to my chagrin later in life. If there’s one thing that I wish my dad had done, it’s to have us grow up in a bilingual household. But we always grew up speaking English. I never questioned it. Maybe I should have, in hindsight. Granted, I’ve been told I pick up languages well, but Dutch is harder to learn than French, because of so many compound words and the verb structure. As good as I am in the latter, it’s the product of seventeen years of practicing, some years more than others. I still make mistakes. And try doing it when you don’t have a classroom to do it. That’s where the annoying part of the process comes for me – students may be forced to take a language in high school and college, but they don’t realize how much of a gift they’re being given. And so few care enough to take it.
Although I was never quite good enough to make it onto the main stage at IU, I got close several times, and did two independent productions (known as IPs in theatrical vernacular). Even if I’ve cut back in recent years, for work and personal reasons, the medium of theatre allows an otherwise aloof, heavyset left-handed half-Belgian autistic to gain a measure of confidence. Every actor has been there – the failed auditions, the tears, the late nights. It can be draining, and perhaps that’s another reason why I’m cutting back for the time being. I hope it’s not a permanent thing. At the same time, it’s the rush of it, both on stage or in front of a camera, that kept me going. And it’s actually good that I’ve done what I’ve done as an autistic man – not only is it easy to memorize lines, but it also forces me to be empathetic, when I would struggle badly to do so in the real world. It forces me to step into somebody else’s perspective.
Admittedly, I didn’t do myself that many favors in college. I was a part of IUSTV’s program Hoosier Sports Night during my final semester, but that was only for one semester. I never did a reporting story, and never learned how to edit, and never even had a story published (one almost was, but an editing glitch meant the copy they got was past deadline; they acknowledged I got it in on time, but couldn’t run it because of the delay). I was also out for a while with plays, so even then, it only felt like half a semester. But I met a lot of amazing people, got to see a side of campus and myself I never thought I would. Another group that helped was Students on the Spectrum. It’s not quite a correct name, because you don’t have to be a student to go, but given how picky we are about labels, we just couldn’t think of anything better. The alliteration just sounds better, I guess. But the one I’ll always remember, and it was ten years this year, was the summer I worked in Orientation. It’s now called First Year Experience, but the summer of 2007 not only caused me to live by myself for the first time, but it was also my first ever paying job. It was a late start, but I hit the ground running. I was pretty open about my condition, and most were accepting of us. We had to work together, after all. And it was quite a job – we got to be adult camp counselors. How cool was that? All the early mornings, during training and the program, was worth it. One thing that we had to do every program day was go to morning meeting, which would start at 7:00. For every one person that was late, we started five minutes earlier until everybody was on time. In other words, if we had six people that were late, then we would start at 6:30 in the morning the following day. And I’m pretty sure that we started at 6:20 one time – and keep in mind that some of us were never technically off the clock until midnight (the shifts rotated every day, so we never had the same routine twice). In terms of IU, it’s perhaps the best thing I ever did. Maybe the problem is that I peaked too early.
Looking back on it now, I’m a little ashamed of myself that I wasn’t better to IU. It was certainly very good to me. Or maybe I wasn’t good to myself while I was there. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. I’ve never left town, although this year will be seven since I’ve graduated. Will I ever leave Bloomington? Hard to say.
This is the story I remember. I gave it my best shot. If it doesn’t get accepted, at least I submitted it. It may sound hokey, but hey, a guy’s allowed to have pride in his alma mater. Once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier.
Photo below courtesy of Indiana University.