This week the producers of
the Calvino series are in LA working to put together a deal. Maybe they will or
maybe, as in the past, it will come to nothing. This kind of work reminds me of
a gravediggers shoveóit can be used to build or to bury.
It is a devilishly
difficult business. Film. Books. Life.
A friend shared the
thought of a Danish author who toiled without moral support and against the
wishes of husband, family, friends until finally she succeeded in having her
novel published. By that stage all of the people who had been negative shrugged
off her success and let her know that was nothing special. They, too, were now
writing a novel. It seems many people are feverishly writing books.
The Danish authorís
insight illuminates a core problem. The vast number of people have led fairly
predictable, organized, safe and ordinary lives until one day in their 50s or
60s an alarm goes off inside their head. Maybe someone close to them had a novel
published, reviewed, admired, loved. Or someone close to them died on the way to
the funeral they started to ask: What is the meaning of life? Have I wasted my
life? The thought arises that I can confirm and signal the singularity of my
existence by writing a book. Preferably a novel, a work of art, and I pour my
heart and soul into this enterprise as if the demon of a new religion had seized
hold of me.
There is a slight problem.
Writing is more than sitting behind a keyboard, imagining a world as if tapping
into a magical pipeline and typing the script of what youíve discovered. All
writing, in the larger sense, in travel writing, notes from the frontier of a
journey, which has been unpredictable, unsafe, disorganized, and from that web
of uncertainty patterns emerge. It is in the assembly of those patterns after
observation and thought that makes us turn the page. When your worldview is
turned upside down, you flee or you find a way to restructure, evaluate, modify
your factory template of constructs that defined your home reality. You begin to
see the context as an aggregation of symbols, patterns, ethics, or morality
shaped by forces outside of your own experience.
We acquire an array of
weapons and shields when we go into the world. You sense when someoneís shield
logs in a speedy reaction time until the psychological or emotional threat
passes. Or when they deploy a weapon to defend themselves. Our culture and
language equips us with both shields and weapons to go forth in combat mode.
Along the journey you learn the art of reading when shield are activated, what
they are protecting, and understand it is our vulnerability that makes us human
and expressions of that vulnerability differ in substantial ways around the
world. We react too quickly. We shoot to fast. We try to hold our ground even as
it moves beneath us. What is universal is how peopleís shields locked into
defensive mode in light of contractions, inconsistencies, disagreement, and
disapproval. We have little tolerance, it seems for those who disagree with us
or dislike us. We cocoon ourselves in groups that like us and agree with us.
They validate our value. We strive for validation at the expense of tolerance
and co-operation with those who donít like us or agree with us.
In my case, I was lucky as
taking this journey has been a way of life since I was young. The need to break
free of the known and to explore was something that happened to me relatively
young. Can it happen in your 50s or 60s or later? Anything allowed by the laws
of physics is possible. Of course the door only has to be opened and you walk
through. Easy to say. But how many people open that door and close it behind
them? Thatís where the stories are buried. Mountains of them are waiting to be
unearthed by you. Whatever the age you happen to find yourself, there will come
a time when the door to new adventures and experience will be closed. You have
passed a hundred times, rattled the doorknob, but the distractions of life
pulled you away. People can write all they want, but the bank of experience,
exploration, wandering, searching, listening and observing only comes easily in
oneís youth. Or to the young at heart.
Pull back for a moment and
look out at what is around you. It is theatre. Youíve been assigned a part.
Youíve played it. Learnt the lines, know your cues, where the chalk marks are
for you to stop on stage. Some have become stars and that has made them wealthy
and famous. Donít envy them. They, like you, are a mere shadow, and locked in
their roles as securely as any high security prison. Take the red pill and look
again. People have been killed in the slaughterhouse of modern consumer online
life where they are turned into living sausages and processed and packaged and
eaten on elite buns. And that is hugely important to know. They opened a door
like in Monty Hall and thought theyíd won a prize with credentials, status,
position and power. These all prove to be a poor substitute, an illusion of
life. You may be a late starter who never had a chance to take the journey,
opening the door, which appears to have nothing inside. Strangely, that is the
right door. Take it and you can escape the non-living of the past.
Writing wonít recover lost
lives. Breaking out of the grave that they dug all those years ago isnít going
to happen at the keyboard. There is the panic, the envy, the jealousy that winds
through the system. Itís not so much about money or wealth, it is about the
handful who lived their lives and wrote about that experience to be shared their
memories of finding the less traveled path that leads to the same edge of
darkness. Facing what we all face is within. There is no government change,
program, or TED Talk that can act as a time machine and send them back. That
makes them bitter, frustrated, angry and vengeful. They are lost. Writing and
getting their book published is their way of finding out the scope of that
I feel compassion for
these people. I know how very hard it must be to wake up too late. All the
appointments, schedules, and meetings that atomized their lives have left
nothing of substance behind. That empty hole can never be filled. Compassion,
yes, as much as I can possibility deliver to the world. Whether Calvino makes it
on TV or as a film, whether new publishers come along, none of that matters
against the larger reality. I took a chance. I never gave up. I found friends
like you and that has made all the difference in the world. Better than a film
or publishing contract. I donít share the panic of the others. Nor do I deride
them. This is the way people are. They donít wake up soon enough. A couple of
minutes before midnight opens a brief moment in time to do a few things that are
unscripted. Just do them. Improvise. There is life all around you, hungry and
with wings. Donít waste a moment behind a keyboard, Iíd tell them. The shadow
merges soon enough. Donít turn your back and think you can escape. It has your
I know these things and
share them with you. I was recently in Paris at the Musée díOrsay where there is
an iconic clock. This is Ďmeí in front of the clock. It is my shadow. I am
looking out of the window at the skyline of Paris. The picture tells in an image
the story Iím seeking to reveal in this essay and throughout 30 plus
We are a mere shadow on
the clock face of time, facing outward, watching as the darkness closes in to
joint. Does the shadow merge with that large darkness and extinguish it? Or does
the shadow find its destiny by rejoining the darkness from whence it came? I
donít have an answer. I donít really need an answer. Let me tell you why. In
that space between my shadow and the failing light, I took a journey of
exploration, knowing that one-day a void would be lingering on the horizon.
There was no reason to fear the coming darkness. The absence of light doesnít
mean nothingness and this is the main lesson from taking the journey. All of our
lives we stand at this crossroads watching the flow like a river.
Along the road we pass
people whose lives seem to be invisible to us. Often they are beautiful souls
seeking a connection with life. As life has often rejected or ignored them, they
find other ways to perform small acts of grace. These are people just like us.
These are the beautiful people we pass without seeing.
I find elegance and beauty
in this image. It touches and moves me. No shield is raised, no weapons to
attack. This simple human act of reaching out is where Iíd like to find myself
as the darkness enfolds my shadow.