The Memoir of Comedian, Nathan Timmel
“The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
With a creak of the mail slot and a muffled thump on the foyer floor, comedian Nathan Timmel’s memoir, I Was A White Knight…Once, unceremoniously arrived into my life. I picked up the crinkly Fed-Ex package and opened it with a sense of mild trepidation. I gingerly opened the package and inspected not only the contents, but all the cause of these feelings of apprehension, wondering from whence they came. As I explored the possible causes of this feeling, a note fluttered out from between the pages of the book that explained it all. It simply said, “Hey J.T.: Thanks for taking the time to read this – I really hope you enjoy it!”
The trepidation, I realized, came from the nagging possibility that I wouldn’t enjoy it and that it may put me in the precarious position of hurting someone’s feelings, which is something that I try to avoid at all costs. I began to turn the pages while a section of my mind dealt with these possibilities. Imperceptibly, as the words floated by, those alarming arguments that were careening through my brain quelled as I became instantly immersed and enamored with the story of Nathan Timmel’s life. As I stood there turning the pages, I felt a sense of glaring honesty emanating from the narrative. Page seven slammed the door on any niggling suspicions that may have remained.
Page seven was the beginning of Chapter Two, which was a mere two pages long, but held such brilliant imagery and was so incredibly well written that I not only reread it several times as I stood there, but I have revisited that chapter several times. The chapter is simply titled The Shadow That Shouldn’t Be and relates the account of Nathan attending swimming lessons inWaupaca,Wisconsinwhen he was three years old. One is left with the image of Nathan standing on the edge of the pool, his sagging, soaked swimming trunks dripping onto the rough concrete, a skinny arm outstretched, pointing at a rippling shadow at the bottom of the pool.
While most people would write about such an incident in glaring detail, wringing every conceivable emotion out of it and filling in the blanks with their own perceptions and hindsight, Nathan chose to write about it in the most honest manner: from the perspective of an overwhelmed three year old. The event is painted in that impressionistically hazy hue of all of our childhood memories that are filled with a frenzy of colorfully blurred activity and dreamlike muted sounds with a singular, sharply contrasted snapshot held in time.
The memoir takes us from Nathan’s birth and childhood during the tumultuous time period of the late sixties and early seventies up to the present. Nathan’s parents, young and college educated, married seemingly out of a sense of obligation rather than for emotional reasons. The arrival of Nathan was the inescapable bond that held the marriage together…for a while. Throughout the tales of dysfunction and the ostensible denials that, at once, held the relationship together and tore it apart at the same time, there’s one truth that comes through Nathan’s writing with glaring clarity: perception. Every single one of us, on some scale or another, had a shocking point in our lives when, in dealing and communicating with others, we found that what had been our ‘normalcy’ was, in fact, viewed as insanely dysfunctional or, at best, mildly odd. With no reference point, everything comes down to one perception from whatever point one is standing.
Throughout Nathan’s memoir, the honesty follows through. He presents things as they were, admitting to the things that he has no real clear recollection of or answer to as well as owning the consequences that his own actions have wrought. This is also not a ‘woe is me’ sob story, wherein Nathan tries to foist all of his mistakes and behavior on his upbringing, thereby absolving him of his own responsibilities. This is a glimpse into a life shaped by the experiences, surrounding and subsequent emotions (or lack thereof).
One of the things that I noticed while reading Nathan’s chronicle is that, while it is written in almost chronological order, it is interspersed with interludes that are anecdotal stories of a more recent nature, most of which pertained to his comedy tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a story about a creepy Kathy Bate’s-esque style stalker that he had encountered. If you separate these interludes with the bulk of the memoir, they can almost be seen as being penned by a different hand. No, I am not casting any allegations of plagiarism. I am merely making an observation and one which may have more to do with me projecting my own perceptions about myself onto Nathan’s life.
When you read the interludes, they are written in a very conversational manner. They are very straightforward and contain a certain amount of humor to them. The rest of the memoir that deals with Nathan’s family, childhood experiences and his early travels from home to home, you will see a more carefully crafted account of events and emotions. It is as if there is a separation, a compartmentalization of segments of Nathan’s life; parts that have been boxed up and are carefully pulled out and examined in detail, yet from a distance. There is an accuracy in the accounts of his life that can only come from an observer and not from one who is actively in the fray. You can almost see a child, clothed in his Superman jammies or wrapped protectively in his Batman cape as chaos ensued all around him, taking it all in, unadulterated, through wide shining eyes. The impressions remain until the age when understanding comes and, at that time, the feelings and images are pored over: the child’s perceptions being viewed by the analytical mind.
Nathan Timmel’s book, I Was A White Knight…Once is a memoir that, while not filled with famous names or events, tells the simple story of growing up in the midst of social and familial dysfunction and coming out the other side. It paints a poignant vignette of an era and an epoch that, while not necessarily relatable to all of our lives, still resonates with the reader. The exemplary writing and moving mood of the narrative is compelling without being bombastic or unbelievable. It is just a story of a child becoming the man who, until recently, was unable to see the forest for the trees of his own existence.
Purchase the book in paperback or Kindle edition here.