I’ve written a lot of negatives about my childhood – the constant running around, money woes, Mom’s paranoia and delusions. But it was also an age of wonder, at least for me. Someone told me once that everything casts a shadow –  the bigger the thing is, the longer the shadow it has. I think now that the good that happened must have been significant indeed. My tendency has been to focus on all those negatives (the shadows, if you will) because many of them are manifested in the issues I now struggle with daily. But today I feel as if I’ve gained a fresh perspective – It wasn’t all bad, but it wasn’t all good. Maybe that’s life. Actually, scratch the maybe. It is life.

Let me explain what I mean about it being an age of wonder for me. Everything was electric. Possibilities abounded in such a way as if they were almost tangible. Every possible future lay before me, in a series of alternate universes – and they were all exceedingly wonderful. In a very real way, magic existed for me. I had amazing, wonderful mentors who thought the world of me. And if knowledge was truly power, these men were princes and kings. I was doing things with my life that most adults only dreamed of, or struggled for years to achieve and yet still couldn’t make happen. It was almost (at least to my young mind) as if I waved my hand and willed this life into being. Maybe I did. I was seconds away from writing the next top 10 hit song (none of my songs ever charted or anything, but that point I’m driving at is the feeling). I was seconds away from a big break in film or TV, or booking a huge commercial and feeding the family for months on end with a couple hours work (this latter did occur, and the thrill – the feeling – was tremendous). Moreover, I was a Wunderkind – Mom said so, Uncle Richard knew so, and everyone I met seemed to think some glorious future was unfolding before me. I’m sure a lot of kids get this, but Uncle Richard once told me – quite seriously – that I could be President. We sat down one day and charted out what my campaign platform might be.

Me: I want to do that, maybe. But the music and the acting…that comes first for now. I’ll get to that later.

Uncle Richard laughed.

Even the delusions themselves had a sort of upside to them. Mom’s fear that I would be assassinated or was being stopped by shadowy figures who feared my success was the shadow. The thing that cast the shadow? I was incredibly important – possibly monumentally so. Destined for greatness. Yes, it gave me a big head. But it’s a hell of a nice thing to think every once in a while. I wish I could believe it with the same fervor I did as a youth.

If I wasn’t in the act of conquering, I was planning my next conquest. I was doing. I was being. I was on fire. Even if some part of it – say, 50% – was an illusion, it wasn’t a bad one. I miss it.

I got a call to work on Home Alone 2 – not as an on camera actor, but as someone who sang for the soundtrack. I sang My Christmas Tree (which, if you’ve seen the film, you no doubt know). I got to meet Alan Menkin – the guy who would go on to score Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast and all that. My path actually crossed with him several times over the years, but I’ll get to that. It’s not a story that belongs here. The song itself was actually a proper song – much longer than it was portrayed in the film. Menkin was pissed that the Powers That Be insisted he whittle his song down to a nub. They also ran into some problems because Macaulay Culkin couldn’t sing – and in the movie, he’s supposed to do some sort of solo. Well, they auditioned a bunch of us from the recording to be his voice. I didn’t get the part, but I was pretty damn proud to be in the project. The composers even autographed my sheet music for me – it hangs in my studio to this day.

Mom excitedly pulled me aside as we left. She pointed to Jack Feldman, the other composer from the song, and whispered in sheer delight.

Mom: It’s a Russ!

Russes were popping up everywhere it seemed. That was also magic, I suppose.

And what is magic, really, but the ability to change the world in which we live and make it something more? A bush that speaks and burns but does not consume itself, for instance, or a statue springing to life? What I’m driving at is that it’s a change in perception. Perhaps that statue didn’t spring to life at all – perhaps it was a trick of an overactive imagination.  Perhaps that bush will eventually burn up, and we are hearing voices because we’ve skipped our daily medications. We take this to be magic, and it becomes such because of our belief – regardless of how mistaken that belief may be. Looking back at this with the practiced eye of a skeptic – and believe me, I have learned the hard way that it’s safer to be skeptical – much is missed. The skeptic is safer in his cozy armchair, with his books and his charts and his diagrams than the mad prophet out in the desert searching for magic. You can get burned out on magic – I certainly did – and I traded a world where I was a king pursued by shadowy hordes for one of logic and reason. I thought, then, that this was the only way to stay sane – after all, Peter Pan’s companions couldn’t stay in Never Never Land forever. They had to at least touch base with the real world and put their feet on the earth. But in doing so, they forgot how to fly. So my point, if I have one, is this: Time has made me a skeptic. I have put away foolish beliefs. I have tossed out once treasured truths that, when held up to the cold light of fact were little more than fantasy. But I’m learning – slowly, because I can be rather thick – that there is more to life than logic and reason and things visible only to the naked eye. I am a skeptic that wants to believe.

  1. Everytime I read your posts I think of a fiction called Gem Squash, Tokoloshe, it describes a girl living with her single mother who has mental illness. The girl Faith believed fairies exist bcause her mother kept telling her haunting stories with fairies, her mum even drew illustrations of those fairies and put them in different corners of their house, as a child Faith believed every story without a doubt, fairies seem so real and vivid to her, from here i kinda understand how hard that is to distinguish the real and the imaginary…..

    i think every skeptics want to believe, as they once believed that as well, even people born skeptical like me,even that is only a fantancy, that’s better than none. After all, it’s the faiths that we hold on tightly when reality showing us the opposites hold us from falling apart. 😛

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