Stranger 029


What’s your full name?

Aaron St. Clair Nicholson

Were you named after anyone?

I am a fourth generation “St.Clair.” My great-grandfather on my father’s side, Arthur St. Clair Nicholson, was given his middle name by his mother who was a Sinclair. Now my son, Arik also has the middle name St. Clair.

What’s your average day like?

Weekdays I am usually up at 6am to get ready and help with kids. At work from 7ish-3pm. Get home clean, cook and hang with the family. Weekends are filled with friends, family and catching up on housework. For a long time, I traveled for work and didn’t have the daily routine that I do now. I like having the steadiness of the work-week.

What do you consider to be your “home”? 

Hometown is Abbotsford, BC. My first career was spent mostly on the road and the feeling of home was always where my wife and kids were. Half of my heart is still in NY with my older children, Tomiko and Sachiko. The other half is here in California with Brooke, Kensly and Arik. Family is home.

How far away do you live from where you were born?

I live 1,200 miles from my boyhood home in BC, Canada.

Is that distance something you think about? Do you have any connection to your place of birth?

I think about my lost connections to my native Canada a lot. I love British Columbia and if it didn’t rain there so much I would consider moving back. My father, mother, and sister and extended family still live in the lower mainland British Columbia so I feel connected through them. I have a lot of family friends who mean a lot to me and we connect when we visit.

Are you in touch with anyone from your youth? Is there someone you wish you stayed in contact with but didn’t?

Just recently we went to my parents home in Abbotsford for a visit and I reconnected with a couple of high school friends. It was nice to reminisce and to catch up with each other. While I traveled for my first career I became increasingly estranged from my early life in B.C. and even my college life in Bellingham, WA. To the degree that each period of my life felt separate and independent of each other. It is hard to stay connected in a meaningful way over such distance and time.

There is no one now from my youth that I really miss but I do wonder from time to time about a close friend I had named Scott Williams. We worked together for a couple years on a farm and then in construction and then he moved away and I have been unable to find anything about him. Social media has allowed me to connect with many of my high school cohorts but Scott has remained elusive and that keeps me intrigued about his whereabouts and circumstance.

At the moment, what’s something you’re looking forward to? 

I am so proud of my wife, Brooke and what she has accomplished in her life. She recently has completed her bachelor’s degree and I am really looking forward to celebrating her and that achievement. I am also planning to go and see my two older daughters, Tomiko and Sachiko perform in a school musical at the end of February.

I once had the chance to perform on-stage with my daughters in La boheme and it was very meaningful for us. We continue to share this connection through performance and music when we get together. It will be a real delight to watch them both in the same performance. Tomiko is also graduating in June and that will be a bittersweet event for me. Something about your first child moving into the adult stages of life makes for melancholy and reflection on one’s own life.

Is there anything you need with you throughout the day to feel complete?

In my life and operatic career, I tried to carry with me no items or habits that would hinder my ability to perform without their presence. I am not superstitious and hate that I am dependent upon my phone. I find it a joy when I forget it somewhere and don’t have it for a time. Is it weird not to need something to feel complete? The closest thing I can think of is needing recognition and love when I am leaving my family and returning to them. If I come home and the kids don’t swarm me and Brooke doesn’t look me in the eye and recognize my return, then I can get sullen. I need my wallet if I am going to buy something or drive but that isn’t really the same as a feeling of completeness.

When you look in the mirror, what do you notice first about your appearance?

My hairline.

If you could change something about your appearance, what would it be?

I’ve been a big guy my whole life to some degree so I don’t stress about my body image too much. It is what it is. I would like my hairline back.

What do you first notice in strangers?

In strangers, I notice eye contact and an openness of personality. Some people have elan! I like those people and I am drawn to them. For a long time I was meeting 100 new people a month and working closely with them to create and I became very attuned to whom I connected and whom I didn’t. I am verbose and gregarious at times and my energy then feeds off of those giving back energy. As I age I find myself less prone to seeking out of these people but I am still drawn to them.

What do think those that know you say about you?

What people say about you depends on their type of relationship to you and so my guess is my friends might say that I am loyal and goofy. My colleagues might say that I am a collaborative leader and honest. Some might say that I am too vociferous and egotistical.

What would you hope they would say?

I would like people to say that I am loyal, fun and family focused.

What do you think strangers notice first about you?

My guess is that people notice my energy and passion. I am pretty tall and loud so when that is coupled with my sometimes over-the-top energy it makes a big impression. I also have a tough time with my filter and can say things that shock or hurt people without meaning to and that can also have a lasting impression.

What is your proudest moment? Biggest victory?

Personal victory is having a career in opera. I earned the respect of the best in the industry and managed to perform at the highest levels for several years. My oldest, Tomiko got the chance to watch me perform at the MET from Peter Gelb’s box with Domingo and his grandkids. When Placido’s granddaughter began to brag about him to Tomiko she said: “My grandpa is a famous opera singer.” Tomiko replied, “My dad is too and he is right there (pointing at the stage).” Her pride in me is one of my crowning achievements. Of course, all of my children and my relationship with my wife is cliche but a true achievement that I am proud of.

What is your biggest regret? Biggest failure?

My biggest regret is letting the success and trappings of my operatic career encumber my ability to maintain the highest level of artistry. Staying at the top of any game is really the hallmark of a successful career and I lost focus on the craft and it became a business for me. I may have been able to achieve more if I had not let the fun and excitement of achievement distract me from the work.

I also regret that my divorce from my first wife ended so poorly and caused me to have less and less time with my older girls. Though we are strongly connected it has been extremely difficult to nurture those relationships over time and distance.

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be?

I have a tendency to see peoples actions through the lens of my own perspective and that gets me into a lot of trouble. I am very sensitive and have a strong sense of other peoples vulnerabilities and if I could more easily put myself in their shoes then I might leap to fewer assumptions about people in general. I would be more forgiving.

Are you making plans for the future, or are you more spontaneous?

I don’t often make plans. Plans are made mostly for me in my personal life. My wife makes plans, my kids make plans, my friends make plans, my in-laws make plans, my parents make plans but I tend to go with the flow though I do like planning when the over-all plan is in motion. Details are important.

When was the last time you cried? 

I cry very easily. I don’t often openly weep but in private I cry at sappy commercials… or at least well up. Last time I cried might have been at the Movie “Coco”… “remember me, though I have to say goodbye. Remember me…” cue tears. When the little boy sings to his great grandma, Coco at the end of the movie. Anything around family brings up the deep sadness I feel about my older daughters and our distance.

When was the last time you ever made someone else cry?

I make my wife cry a lot. I think the last time was when she had neglected to renew her passport for a trip to Mexico and emotionally things were sort of elevated. Anyway, I might have said something not so sensitive and made her very upset.

If you could know exactly when and how you would die, would you want to know?  

Yes. I would like to have this information.

What do you do to relieve stress?

Drink with friends, Watch movies with my kids. I like to play racquetball but haven’t had the chance in a number of years. Hitting the ball is very therapeutic.

Do you make friends easily? Who was that last new friend you made?

I develop relationships very easily and quickly but true friendships are few and far between for me. I think friendship boils down to loyalty and support. The most recent new friendship is about 1 1/2 years old. I am not opposed to new friendships but who has time for 10 best friends? I always wondered how someone could manage to put together a wedding party of 10 groomsmen and everyone seems super close and having the times of their lives. I have always been sort of jealous but then thought how exhausting. I can only really have 3 or 4 strong connections at a time. Seems plenty for me. My new friend knows who he is.

What is the one rule you try to live by? Do you feel successful at following it? 

Commit. Ish.

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