(This is a pretty big opening into my life as a kid, but with a little reservation, VERY LITTLE, as it was for a school assignment. This stops basically as my highschool career stopped.)

An explicit uncensored look inside the soul of Tristan Pope. Written By Tristan Pope 4/6/01

“Culture, the difference between me and the rest of civilization. Culture, the defining aspect of my life. Culture, chosen from my soul. Culture, depending on my life style. Culture, grows stronger every day. Culture, what I strive to decipher in order to live my own personalized, individual, experienced life.” –Tristan Pope

What is my culture? My culture? To choose a culture is to be an individual. I did not choose a culture, I provided myself with pieces of other cultures, and made up bits and pieces of my own, in order to provide myself with a culture that would be ample to my life. My culture cannot be explained in a paragraph or a closing statement. My culture will be described throughout the length of this paper. In order to understand the full effect of what my culture is, this paper must be taken piece by piece and slowly placed into an almost puzzle like form. At the end it will become that beautiful scene that in the beginning just looks like small cut up pieces of paper, but in my case small significant moments in my life.

What have I done to pursue this culture? To pursue my culture I have lived. By living I take in my surroundings. By taking in my surroundings I learn life lessons. By learning life lessons I know where to step next. When I take the next step, be it quicksand or concrete, I am sure never to drown in the never-ending abyss of becoming someone else. I do not seek the affirmation in order to take the next step. Each step I take, I examine it with a fine pinpoint magnifier. At the same time I am careful not to get hung up on that spec of dust under the scope that is unrecognizable or cannot be grasped.

Why do I pursue a culture? Many people believe in running out and going “soul” searching for years on end. I myself have a different aspect. I do not run out and pursue my “soul” in order to figure out my culture. Yes, there are times when I look for opportunities to learn and better myself, but I do not make it a big thing on my “to do list”. The reason my culture fits me so well is because I let culture come to me. By doing this I have the ability to jump in and out of any set culture, only absorbing the parts I want to absorb. With this tactic I protect myself from falling and not knowing who I am if I ever lose contact with that culture. This seems like a perfect spot for an example, to put piece one into the puzzle. At the age of 15, I acquired my first piece of freedom. This to me was what I had needed for a while. I was at the age of rebellion and did not take well to restriction. I needed to become something. I needed to find a piece of me. This freedom did not come in the form of money, or fame, not even parental laky. “Yellow, sleek, the road as my playground, the world in my hand, the game was extreme, the player was me.” A brand new, bright and shiny yellow, Targa LX moped! Now the road only goes so far but to me, it was the road to find myself, without knowing it a huge piece of my culture, and my “soul”! I quit my job being the end of the summer. Not a big loss, “Welcome to McDonald’s. How may I take your order?” was not my favorite thing to say. Within days of getting this new beast of mine (I call it a beast because only it knew the fury it was capable of) I got my permit and began to ride. I would go everywhere, no destination was too far. My parents were like a mist, a fog, a dream. This moped made me a king. “Hey man wanna come to a party, I hear the parents are out and there is gonna be a ton of drinking!” Holy shit! A party? Wow what a new idea this was. I get to the party and met a kid named Casey. He was almost in the image of a superhero to me. He had no parental guidance and never said no. Tons of older people were always at his house. So I figured, “time to fit in”, so I said I was sixteen. I didn’t know I would be with them for more than a year. They had no jobs, no education, and they didn’t really care. I knew this was probably a bad place; the only problem was I never heard that little voice that usually warns you. I was too enveloped in this new experience. There were so many girls, alcohol, and no parents. “Now that was ideal.” The house parties got boring and his parents finally came home. That is when I took my next step in my life. Puzzle piece number two is about to be placed. It was a corner piece that is easy. Just like that corner piece that is so easy to find, I got accepted into a new crew. By crew I mean a group of people who sit around, wearing bandanas, sagging their pants low, smoking cigarettes, sitting in parking lots, doing nothing more than causing trouble and wasting time by “only drinking”, so I thought. I was introduced to all these people, some were white, some were black, even though by the look of things there were no white people (in the mind at least) around. They hung out at a bowling alley, the parking lot in front of it, that is. This sounds like it would be boring and the wrong crowd of people, but this was the first time I felt completely accepted by a large group of kids that could beat up anyone. It took a few weeks to be completely accepted but I had no trouble fitting in. I picked up the slang, “you know what I mean”, put YO in front of every word you say. I wore my ratty wife beaters, and hung my pants down really low. I became a hoodlum. The way I refer to this time now is my “black” days. Racist as it may be, it is the truth. Once in this crowd I still felt a little out of place. I was whiter than Casper. I had blond hair, blue eyes, and no scars. I was a pretty boy. So, I found a new way to get deeper into the group. I lost all regard for authority, and began to experiment with stuff. I tried no more than weed; I mean I had some morals… So I got deeper and deeper into this crowd. Where were my parents? I have no idea. Later I found out they were praying in the house, hoping I would come home in one piece and not in handcuffs. I didn’t care. That was who I was. I was part of this juvenile culture. I was powerful, had a lot of friends, and didn’t have to take “no” as an answer. This bowling alley was my home for a year of my life. I was starting to feel really empty inside. I started to realize part of what I wanted and it was not sitting in the cold, on cars, smoking my cigarette. At that point in my life I was not strong enough to get out. I couldn’t just leave. These were my friends, the people my life was based on. I guess I just needed that shove in the right direction to straighten my path for a few months or so. The opportunity came in the form of a play. Mr. Richins was my savior; he was the current director at Saddle River Day School. He gave me the lead in the play “Flora The Red Menace” with a late tryout and supposedly already pre-cast with me in it. At first I was weary to leave what I had, but my family finally had a chance to put in a piece of their minds. My mother being a thespian all her life pushed at me to do it with everything she had. My father told me of the plays he was in and told me I would love it.

“I was thinking if I did this there would be no time to play, and hang at that bowling alley every damn day!”

Finally something clicked in my head and I figured that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I could go back to the “crew” on the weekends. This is the point where the entire center of the puzzle is put into place. I quit smoking because of the play. It was a musical, so smoking was out of the question. That was hard but I finally kicked it. I had enough in me to make my own decisions! I was beginning to cleanse myself of the bad influences in my life. I did as I said and went to the bowling alley on the weekends. It is amazing when you stop drinking and smoking how much fun it really isn’t. I started to get sick of doing nothing with my life. The “crew” were always making their own fights. No one could get along and they started not to like me. I wasn’t into everything they were anymore. I was starting to become my own person and they didn’t like it.

“As the play began to envelop my time, I dropped the bowling alley, the crew, left it behind.”

Now I was in a new stage of my life. I was around people that liked me and respected me more than the “crew”. I have never had a smile on my face so much as I did when I was on stage. I would go to rehearsal laughing and giddy. Everything was going right. I found my new talent. I found my new friends. My parents could finally sleep at night. I was home at reasonable hours; I could actually go one night without a fight. Everyone noticed the changes in me. My grades were rising and I actually gave all my effort. The people in my new school started to grow a liking towards me.

“They saw me for who I was and who I would become. Someone with a smile, not a gun.” At the end of all this I came out with a new experience under my belt. I had found different types of people and realized what I loved to do. At the end of the play Mr. Richins had told me, “Don’t start smoking again, you can be whatever you want if you just apply yourself, just stay on the right track and you can do it.” This meant a ton coming from a man who gave me a chance, basically holding my hand. He could see whom I was inside and knew I would thrive. Unfortunately, I hit fame really hard. I took in too much and gave little back. I was like one of the VH1 specials, with the rock stars that hit the glamour and fame, then threw it away for their old, stupid ways. They say once you go black you never go back… Well in my case I had acted black and for some stupid reason, I guess it was my midlife crisis early, I went right back into the mess. This is the point where I started to pick at the edges of my puzzle leaving the main core but ripping off pieces of the outside. I started a job at a gas station. I needed money for a car in a year. I met a new group of “ghetto” people.

“They had no aspirations and no reasons to thrive. Hey, guess what… my life took another dive.”

This was a good one this time. I had my life threatened many times. People were getting more violent and fighting was almost a way of initiation now. I didn’t get back into the group as easily this time. I was with a more mature group who watched my back but most of them had their own problems, burning them inside. I felt accepted again but this time there was emptiness. I didn’t enjoy only drinking, smoking, being pressured into sex, or hanging in parking lots. I didn’t like the idea that the cops hated us. I didn’t like getting frisked, and punched in the head. This time I was sure I was going to end up dead. Rhyme or not it was the truth I was scared. I didn’t tell anyone but they knew it was there. The person I had wanted to be was in my hands but I gave it back up for these hoodlums. They would say stuff like, “Stop with that school shit talk”, when I would try to defend myself. They wanted to fight, when I would outsmart them. They started to treat me like a weak little thing. Then the worst thing in the world happened. I got a page from my mom at work. I couldn’t believe it and fell to my knees. They let me off work. I rode home with tears filling my eyes. I fell into my father’s arms. My grandfather had died. This was the edge that I needed. This was the most impacting moment in my life. This man had taught me morals, what was good, what was right, what was bad, what was wrong. He taught me how to build with my hands. He had a character so strong. He was loved by so many. I looked up to this man. He was in the army and always managed to keep a smile. I remember smelling the coffee he would make in the morning. He was a role model to me. His life in general added an entire corner to my puzzle. “He helped build who I was and now he was gone. Even though not a strong feeling it was still in my head, “if Grandpa were in my situation what would he have done?”” That and the idea that everyone else put on a fake face to make me feel better and behind my back would say I was faking it so I could get closer to the “crew”. My grandfather had died and they had no affection. Only the closest friends but even they lost attention. I don’t know exactly what happened but I finally woke up after two years of my life. I picked up my things and just left one night. I never really went back to that bowling alley. The crews spread apart and the bowling alley got knocked down. I still see some of them still hanging around. Now if I had been one of those single cultured people I would have fell hard when I left. But instead I took those two-three years into perspective. I realized my faults and also what I achieved. The second time was a wake up call for me. Even though my puzzle was falling apart the core always stayed. I had the heart and the drive to prevail. I hold a lot of myself on my intuition now. This two-three year period if I was asked, if I would do it again, I would say yes. I got out my rebellious side. I went through phases earlier than others, such as drinking, drugs, and smoking. When I would talk with other people they would be like, “Lets go get smashed!” This didn’t appeal to me anymore. A drink or two is fine every now and then but I had gained much more respect for it. I did more things in moderation. I didn’t have to wait till I was 17 with a license and not much room for error. I matured rather quickly. I am glad though. If I had not I would be going through it now. Picking up the street smarts is exactly what I needed to help build my culture. It formed a big part of who I am. My educational life flourished because of it. I learned that I didn’t want to be the guy who would say, “So what if you can say big words, I could kick your ass!” I wanted to be something in life. I didn’t want to sit around all day and watch the days wash away. One of the biggest parts of my culture is to not let any life experience get pushed away. I take in everything and try to put it in my mind for later use. I recall upon the past to form my present. I don’t run ahead too fast. The best way for me to learn is to know when I have made a mistake or have done wrong. To be able to humble myself is the best way to understand and learn from myself.

“I take one day at a time, well sometimes two, but each day I try to remember what I do.”

With the past behind me, and my newfound knowledge of a piece of the real world, I began my journey to my success.

What is Success? Success is ending up where I want to be. Doing what I love, being with people I love, and having little difficulty while there.

Where do you want to be? Where I want to be is the third corner of my puzzle of culture. It all starts with my earliest memory, perhaps not surprisingly, is of my mother. She is an artist, a musician, was an art teacher, and through the fog of the past I see her at the piano playing show tunes, my sister and I dancing around and singing along. It is a memory that has recurred often whenever I have taken the stage. If my education to this point has been distinguished by anything, it has been by putting her inspiration to work in my own life. I guess, at the risk of sounding a bit sentimental and melodramatic, acting has allowed me to remove myself from personal situations that have not always been pleasant—unpleasant, early situations that themselves have competed over the years for first memory. Like a lot of my friends’ families, and a lot of families everywhere in our culture, ours has suffered the usual traumas—most notably, my parents’ divorce when I was seven, and all that goes with it. As far as divorces go, I suppose being four was as good an age as any to endure the sadness that my older sister and parents were obviously much more aware of than I. But still, nostalgia for me always mixes conflict and music. What has become increasingly clear to me over the years is that there must be some connection between what I feel when I perform and what I may have lost, or missed out on, when I was young. My acting teachers, my music teachers, my fellow performers have all been a source of learning to me. From an early age, I have found that I express myself best on the stage. On the stage I have had to learn things about myself and to open myself to emotions and ideas that might otherwise have stayed buried. That is what my mother has done to help build my culture, and how I picture my success. My father has inspired my educational aspect of life. I remember going to one of my fathers Audiophile shows and hearing him giving a lecture on his equipment. That tipped it off for me. The words he was using and the intense detail he could go into. Any question he was asked he would answer intellectually and completely. That is one example. Another, is when we would fight. He would have the ability to send a verbal barrage down upon someone like no other. It was amazing what he could do. I idolized him for that. Even though it was our fight, the way he would phrase things would make sense and sounded so “cool” I wanted to use big words and organize my thoughts so creatively and thoughtfully. He always pushed me to do well in school and to work hard. He said it would pay off. My father, on top of that, gave me an enormous freedom. He respected my individuality and my decisions, up to a point (I mean come on parents have to be parents sometimes). I also admired his patience. He could sit and try to figure out something on the computer for hours on end. I picked that trait up with my games on the computer. All in all, my parents have been role models to be too. Everything I have just explained is now part of my life. I have increased my vocabulary, I work harder in school, I am going to college for acting, so much. I feel much more intelligent, which boosts my confidence to do other things in life successfully. To me, being able to have an intellectual conversation is like scoring a winning touchdown to an NFL player.

“Not only my acting experience has helped me to thrive. It only opened a door for me to realize, what I had inside. I was raised with a strong moral and fundamental basis. These life experiences and people just opened my eyes to see this. Deep, it was, buried inside.”

I also have to thank my parents for my sister. My sister has had an enormous impact on my culture. She has taught me and showed me how to succeed on many levels. The best example is with college. She helped me with all my applications and got me into the perfect school, for me. My sister and me are on one level. We understand each other perfectly. With all her help she has guided me on the right path, which has helped defined my culture.

Teachers, Media, Religion, Oh my! These are the smaller parts of my culture but still a significant influence on my culture. Teachers have had a strong influence on my culture. Without my teachers I wouldn’t have gotten the basic fundamentals of education. With my education I have decided to grow and take it beyond just a history class, or a math class. I take what I learn and apply it to my own life. For example: This year in Pop Culture, we read the book “A Tribe Apart”. This book gave me a whole new aspect on life as a high school student. I had a much more relaxed view of life, and didn’t get bothered from insults, and teasing from fellow peers as much. The book set a new standing point, for my behavioral culture in a school environment. Education is preparing me for the future, by making me more learned in many different subjects. Media provides me with a link to the outside world. Although after this year I am a little more careful of what news I let into my head, because of a book called “Data Smog”, which describes the media as liars and producers of overwhelming, twisted news snippets. It is still the basic door to the world. I do not take the news for anything more than an educational purpose. I am catholic, technically. I went through communion and all those church ceremonies. I am also Italian which makes religious important, although I seem to only like eating the good food. The thing that always bothered me was the idea that in order to be catholic, you had to believe in only their ways. Their ways were right. Well that idea turned me off to having a specific religion. To me religion is just a way to learn about what might have happened in the past. I think it is great for people who can believe in religion and get fulfillment from it. I have no problem with religion. For myself, I need to look at all religions and take bits and pieces of each, that I like, and use them in my life. I then feel as though one religion is not holding me down and I do not have to be completely into the one idea. If an idea becomes distasteful at a later date, then changing it is not as hard. I stay very skeptical with religion in order to make myself not believe false hopes and when they do not come true I take a harder fall.

Culture (the last piece of the puzzle) Culture has many definitions, but it is always included with the line, “at a specific time”. This is like my culture. I am always part of a different culture, at a specific time, and I take from those cultures what I need to build myself a strong one. I am not always culture hopping, I do have my own fundamentals, but every now and again I jump into another culture, take a look, and jump right back out with new experiences to build me stronger. I do not believe that one must go soul searching, to me soul searching is trying too hard to build oneself. My soul comes to me in bits and pieces. It always has a core of my fundamentals and morals, but the outside is always building from all my experiences. The core, based upon my fundamentals and morals, is the key to my culture. In order for me to move on every day and provide for my own culture, I have to have a basis. I believe in fighting for a cause, when it is worth the effort. This was like last year when I made a controversial web page in school and fought for my freedom of speech rights when an attempt was made to take it off the web, and I was almost expelled. I didn’t just fight it to start trouble, I full heartedly believed in my rights. I choose my battles by which have the best impact on my life and which ones I can recoil from the aftermath. I believe in being completely honest. My conscience is huge. If I lie to my parents or do something wrong, a year could go by and I will still feel unrest until I tell the truth or right the wrong. I believe in respecting your elders no matter what the circumstance. The same goes for women. Yes you can yell at a woman but to get physically abusive is like beating up a small baby. Even though some women are bigger than the man it is just given that you don’t hit any woman. I truly think that just because someone is a minority or of a younger age should be given the same recognition when he/she knows better than the older, non-minority persons. I believe in the virtuous path of moral fundamentals. To follow the dark side, or so it is said, is to give up on life. The virtuous side is not always the easy one to follow but it gives the most satisfaction. To steal and lie are just not appealing. Once you begin that path, the repercussions are much bigger causing the bread crumbs you dropped on the other path to become eaten up by the birds. This makes the walk back nearly impossible. When I have children I want them to be street smart, book smart, and on that virtuous path. I want my kids to do some bad things in order to learn and have their own realization of why not to follow that path. Culture today is whatever you make of it and I chose mine from my own thinking. I kept myself as an individual. I do not want to be part of a circle. I want to be my own person, never tied down to one group. I want to be part of as many groups as I can and then I will choose which I will leave and which I will stay with. There are trillions of questions and answers out there. The way I deal with all the fears, unanswered questions, and soul searching is to take it one day, or even one step at a time, never dwelling on one bad step but using it to take the next. My culture at this point is where I want it to be. Now the last piece of the puzzle can be placed revealing the picture. Looking closely at the puzzle picture, one can only see a corner of a larger picture. Makes sense, my own culture isn’t done yet. I have a chance to take my culture and add to it, in the real world and college.

“Open mindedly and with an understanding of myself, I go into the darkness, that seems to hold a strong bright light in every corridor, that I will pass. Hopefully this light is of the virtuous nature, but if not I will cast upon my mind for reasons to decline, the temptation to go wrong, that falls in the throng of my life, my soul, and my culture.”