I was born in 1955, a regressive time, but in the very progressive university town of Ann Arbor Michigan to parents who were very unorthodox in their own lives and very progressive and even egalitarian in their parenting style. This is my telling, in 26 chapters, of my childhood and youth, up to September of 1973, when at age 18 I headed off to backpack through Europe.
PART 1: SO I WAS TOLD – My parents’ sagas that led them to meet each other and to journey far from home to Ann Arbor Michigan to pursue their university education, to marry, and to start a family. I was born on April 2, 1955 in the maternity ward of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan. My mother, Jane Roberts Zale, was 32 years old, older than many first time mothers in those days. My father, Eric Michael Zale, was six years older than Jane. Theirs, I would later learn, would be a very unorthodox style of parenting, much more egalitarian than conventional practice, giving me a greater amount of freedom than most kids were blessed with. But given particularly my mom’s childhood story (I know little about my dad’s) that gift of an independent childhood had been passed through the generations.
PART 2: PLAY, PLAY SCHOOL & OTHER EXPLORATIONS – The key events I can remember from my youngest years – including extensive imagination play, the girl next door, singing at bedtime with my dad – before I went off to elementary school. A time when, despite fundamental issues with their own relationship, my parents came together and were like minded in their approach to raising me, combining to most progressive parenting wisdom of the day with their own natural inclination to let me chart my own course.
PART 3: IN SCHOOL & OUT – At age five mandatory public school became an uncomfortable part of my life, a kid who was used to living his life without ever-present adults monitoring and even trying to direct my actions. But it was the richness of my life outside of school that helped me compartmentalize schooling as best I could.
PART 4: BOYS, BUSHES, BASEBALL & BEYOND – A traumatic experience at school becomes psychological shrapnel that becomes part of who I am and challenges my precocious exploration of my world. I learn to be a “trained seal” at school while I continue to explore in my world in our basement with my male peers in the park and on my bicycle.
PART 5: BURNS PARK & DIVORCE – My mom has a panic attack because her life is not turning out as imagined. So things change and we move across town and things improve til my mom finds out my dad has had an affair and she initiates a divorce.
PART 6: CHIDHOOD’S END – The summer of 1966. I’m finished with elementary school and our now smaller nuclear family is recovering from mom and dad’s divorce. It is a very developmental summer where I make the transition from childhood to youth, for better and for worse, about to plunge into the maelstrom of junior high.
PART 7 – PUBERTY PRESSURE COOKER – After two long developmental weeks vacationing in Cape Cod, my mom, brother and I returned home all in a better place from the psychological trauma of the divorce. But as it always did, a new school year was starting, which never felt good to me, and in this case doubly so because I was about to transition from the relatively manageable single elementary classroom interacting all day with 30 other kids my age I am thrown into a big institutional school with 7 classes a day and some 1000 kids in the school, a very negative environment for me that took its toll on my self-esteem and my developmental arch.
PART 8: SUMMER OF LOVE & RESPITE – 1967 was the “Summer of Love” for the hippies. But for me, trying to recover my sense of myself after my first very difficult year of junior high school, using my summer vacation oasis to try and recover my sense of self, aided by the music of my “Greek Chorus” playing on the radio and my brothers record player.
PART 9: GUIDES ON THE SIDE – The fall of 1967 and the first semester of eighth grade with finally a couple interesting teachers, but still the uncomfortable school environment. But outside of school a paper route and exploring the cultural analysis provided by some of the best of the comic minds of the time.
PART 10: NOT QUITE A GIRLFRIEND – The beginning of 1968 was my 2nd semester of 8th grade and some new promising dimensions were added to my life, including a girl I actually danced with, my dad’s new world in Ohio, a new male best friend, and a brief stage debut. I also suffered a significant injury that had a silver lining of sorts. My mom was also suffering, her through another phase of extreme anger and depression in the wake of her divorce from my dad.
PART 11: BASEBALL & BOOKENDS – Summer of 1968 when I developed my relationship with a real best friend blossomed, which I had not had since my childhood relationship with the girl across the street. My life that summer, shared with that new best friend, was all about our paper routes and baseball, with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album as the soundtrack and key voices of my Greek Chorus.
PART 12: COPING MECHANISMS – Watching young people protesting the war challenge the adult order outside the 1968 Democratic Convention followed possibly my worst year ever at school and at home. My best friend and my brother and the fantasies we hatched together helped get me get through a situation at school that seemed to be getting worse for me, that I was trying to cope with by staying home sick.
PART 13: STUMBLING TO THE FINISH LINE – My mom finally took action to try to resolve my avoidance of school by long periods of illness, negotiating with my school counselors to get me back in that institution. A “Big League Manager Baseball” game and the songs of key members of my “Greek chorus”, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Motown song writers helped me get through the last difficult stint at Tappan Junior High, beaten and damaged but at least alive.
PART 14: GOOD RIDDANCE TO JUNIOR HIGH – My high school saga starts with a kid (me) having had an awful three years of junior high school which had devastated my self-esteem and made me nearly school phobic, I approached my first year of high school, like every year of school with resignation, but also a hope that it could somehow be better, way better than what I had just been through!
PART 15: FIRST YEAR – After a shaky start in what felt like a huge impersonal facility with over 2000 students, intimidated by some nasty kids in my homeroom, thru a young and sympathetic teacher I gain entry into the world of the theater and the possibility that I have real talents I can explore and a smaller world within my huge bureaucratic school where I can find perhaps a more human-level community.
PART 16: SUMMER SWAP TO ENGLAND – On a very tight budget, my mom figured out how to swap houses and cars with a couple in England for ten weeks in the summer of 1970, between my 1st and 2nd years of high school, in order to give her sons that developmental experience of living in a foreign country that she had never had as a kid. It turned out to be very developmental for me, stepping up to play more of a key role as a family decision maker, which among other things was the beginning of a significant transition in my relationship with my mom.
PART 17: THE PLAY’S THE THING – In the fall semester of my junior year, I had my fist real girlfriend, until I cheated on her with her best fried for my first kiss. I was drawn into theater by seeing the musical Hair in Toronto including naked people singing on stage, and getting involved in a unique youth theater group, that gave me the community and developmental experiences I was craving to start to come out of the shell I had built around myself in my four preceding traumatic years of school.
PART 18: BEHIND THE LIGHTS – After being lured by the stage in the fall, I took my initial “deep dive” into the technical side of theater, finding my place as a lighting designer and beginning to become an integral member of a a dynamic community of young thespians, also a spring break trip to the Soviet Union.
PART 19: IN FRONT OF THE LIGHTS – My “deep dive” into the JLO theater group moved in front of the lights as I put myself in front of an audience and found a way to become characters beyond myself, giving me a path forward to overcome my timidity plus insight into playing my own off-stage self more big and broadly.
PART 20: SONG & DANCE – Upping the developmental ante on my stage experience I am recruited to sing and dance in a musical comedy role, a successful adventure on stage, but not so successful in the romantic endeavors department.
PART 21: STARTING SENIOR YEAR – Starting to rethink my whole approach to my school classes and focus instead on the theater work that was really on my developmental path forward, jettisoning those classes that did not fit that developmental path, including making a shift away from math and science to the arts.
PART 22: ON MY OWN TERMS – By 2nd semester of my senior year I finally had the cadence of my life sorted out, minimizing school to the absolute minimum effort needed to graduate and focusing most of my time on a broadening experience on stage, exploring political radicalism, plus exploring a new area of historical simulation games.
PART 23: SCHOOL’S OUT! – Graduating from high school, my final liberation from mandatory schooling, only to have plans, mostly stage managed by my mom, to go off to school again in the fall. Wrestling with not being ready to think about my future, I continue my deep dive into theater as my theater group takes on an ambitious four musical summer repertory, and I also explore deeper into the world of war gaming, and complicated historical military simulation board games.
PART 24: INTOXICATIONS, ALTERED STATES, SONG AND DANCE, RHYTHM & BLUES IN THE DEEP END – My first semester in college at Western Michigan University, 90 miles west of Ann Arbor in Kalamazoo, ostensibly to study theater. I do have a good experience with a chorus dance partner in a big musical production, but again bail on a budding romance. Perhaps more profoundly, my initial explorations with marijuana and the altered state of consciousness it introduces me to.
PART 25: BEST FRIENDS – Home for the holidays, I grow relationships with with my favorite aunt and three pairs of best friends, including solidifying my participation in a plan my friends Lane and Angie have to join with them in their plan to backpack through Europe next fall. Then back to school at Western for some interesting classes, a deeper exploration of marijuana and the deliciously dark music and rock theater of Alice Cooper.
PART 26: SUMMER 1973 NIGHT & DAY – After my first year of college I’m back to running my own life & engaging in or preparing for new projects & other experiences to push the envelope of my development! That includes what seems like the final production of this incarnation of my youth theater group, and my first full time job, as a janitor/chambermaid at a local motel, as I save money for big fall plans that don’t involve going back to school!