Moving to New York was a no-brainer. When I was a 2-year-old, my father took me on my first harbor boat. He wrapped his gigantic hands around me and lifted my body up. There in front of me, across the water, was a tiny island and on it the ever-symbolic Statue of Liberty.
Sounds like a scene from a movie, right? Anyway, something got me into the entertainment business. More likely, it was the endless television and movies.
I became fascinated with the elements of film production possible and began working my way up the ladder. Years later, I became an assistant director on broadcast commercials and music videos. Eventually, I got an agent and am now beginning to write, produce and direct movies. It’s a dream and a living.
Every time I’d meet someone new, I’d avoid the subject of Tulsa. Living in New York City for half of my life, my personality and attitude exuded that I was unabashedly a New Yorker. While on set one day, a fellow worker who had now known me for a good three years was dumbfounded to hear me say I was from Oklahoma. He looked at me as though I’d just passed gas in his face. Hereafter, I withheld this sensitive information for some time. Anyway, after that, the subject hardly ever came up.
I never really felt like I belonged in Oklahoma. While technically it was home, it just never felt like home. I did whatever I could to get out. I started acting. By the time I graduated high school, I’d answered every casting call and had lost count of the number of shows I’d been in. I got a scholarship to Fordham University at Lincoln Center, in the heart of Manhattan, and I was off.
Looking back can be dangerous. You can get mired in things you wished you’d done differently. Once, while trying to develop a new script about my experiences growing up in Tulsa, I found that I felt regret for having taken my hometown for granted by focusing so much on getting out of there and not truly enjoying the actual feeling of growing up. It was as though I had lost my youth by not actually having lived it. But in my line of work, creativity is mined from what you know.
It took time, but I found I am actually more connected to Oklahoma than I ever thought I wanted to be. During a trip to Tulsa, I read a lot of Oklahoma history. I discovered so much richness—good and bad—in its past that I found I had a strong desire to both tell its story and set new stories there (stories apart from my own growing up). That same feeling applies to other places—Peru, Spain, Las Vegas and, of course, New York. But for the first time I finally felt a true connection to Tulsa—one I, quite frankly, may have taken for granted.
Life has long since moved forward, and I find myself looking back just enough to have a fond appreciation for the “home” I once had. But now I am a New Yorker. And I always will be. It is a home now that I can appreciate with a depth I never had before.
“Brooklyn, 1978” photo by Jack Duval