You Never Know What’s Coming: A Curious Case
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
— Eric Roth
It's nearly 2018. The page has turned. What are you going to do with it?
Not long ago, in the fall, I realized I had watched most of David Fincher's films multiple times but had only seen The Curious Case of Benjamin Button once. While I'm not necessarily a completest by nature (the music of The Beatles, Clifford Brown, and John Williams being exceptions) I decided it was high time to revisit the tale of a man living life in reverse.
Watching it was a slap in the head that was soon accompanied by Star Wars: The Last Jedi (you can read my thoughts on the significance of that film here). I often find that movies have that effect on me. Terry Gilliam’s The Fisher King is a standard for me when things aren’t going well in my life. I can identify with certain — or all — of the characters, and it places my own road in bas relief allowing me to see things from multiple angles.
Well, things are going quite well in life so it isn’t time for Jack and Perry. Things are in flux this past year and, as it turns out, the tale of Benjamin Button remarkably did the trick.
"You never know what's coming."
It's the common phrase used by Button and it is his bizarre circumstances that open him up to meeting each of life's curveballs with such calm and grace. Calm and grace have not been hallmarks of my existence and so I tend to envy them. I also find the ability to simply listen without offering my two cents an enviable quality I lack.
I envy these qualities (or talents or skills) but they are simply not in my specific set of tools. This is not to indicate that these are not skills I can and should develop; merely that the muscles in these areas are weak and wholly underused. How does one become more graceful? Practice, I suppose.
"There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it."
2017 was an anxious year for most of us, myself included. I left a solid gig after a decade and watched as my replacement (and my former assistant) effectively eliminated everything I had built in that time. It has stung a bit to see the absence of legacy events I created and fostered over that decade but as the year unfolded, it became less and less important.
I landed solidly, with a number of freelance opportunities right out of the gate, and floated through on that and my severance. I got creative in ways I hadn't been in some time. While in a DIY sort of way, I’ve become quite the podcaster. I put out a book of word jazz and will soon be self-publishing a book of “I Believes...” This publication started the journey to becoming a sustainable and badass little enterprise and my partnership with David Himmel has been a great source of fun.
But it was anxious nonetheless.
With Trump in office and a quarter of the country losing their minds in blind hatred of him without a clear view of exactly what he represents (Chaos and Obfuscation), with more natural disasters and white men committing mass murder than in any year I can recall, with #MeToo scorching the foundations of a patriarchal system of abuse, anxiety has become a societal default setting.
The fall has been a bit fallow in the moneymaking department (turns out the October–December months are always a bit thin for freelancers) and that creates some dysphoria as well.
"I hope you make the best of it."
As the year begins, I wonder about this. Have I been making the best of it? I'm a generally optimistic cat and certainly focused most of the time on getting things done (whatever those things happen to be) so I suppose I have in some respects.
On the other hand, I've become a bit more misanthropic than I was, in part because when you have no scratch to spare and no regular job to get to, home is the easiest place to be. Squirreling up in the comforts of home is also a reasonable result of my experiences in the past two years in terms of trusting those around me.
As I reflect upon both films I understand that one of the essential questions asked by both is both basic and uniquely human. What is my place in all this? Starting all over again requires courage for certain but a direction is helpful, too.
I know that, at 51-approaching-52, I'm far from over. I mean, at least I hope I am — from the landscape, lots of white dudes in their fifties are ceasing to exist in the corporeal vista. Lots to do before the coffin lid clamps down. But what direction on the road do I take? The tyranny of options (a favorite phrase of my brilliant wife) is a bit overwhelming. This isn't the simple-minded pursuit of resolutions — I generally find those exercises to be futility defined — but rather a want for specificity in where I want to be, who I can be, in the coming year. Given that America is a place of individuals, I believe it is our individual choices of who and what direction that will push us into better waters.
The metaphor that comes to mind is that of the Great Ship of America trying to change course en route to remedy the travesties of racism, sexism and classism so baked into the centuries-long navigation. Once under way in a specific direction, course changes require more fuel than continuing in that straight line of White Male Capitalist dominated trajectory.
I also know that, like Luke Skywalker, my time in the sunlight as Life's Protagonist is over. The story of society's ever-changing nature is no longer my story but the narrative of those younger and with more stake in things than I. Not content to sit on an island far, far away from everyone and everything, navigating my exact position in the melee of discourse will be a task for my fifties.
The intersection of Benjamin Button and The Last Jedi is that of truly taking a look at the road I’ve been on to this point and seeing how much more there is to come yet still acknowledging a more background role in the affairs of the resistance.
I’ve been doing some extra work in Chicago’s thriving television and film scene (thanks in no small part to Vincent Truman) and I’ve noticed that some of those in that specific work really want to be on camera — they want to be seen on television and push themselves to the foreground every opportunity they can. I prefer to be a background artist to the other background artists — being seen on television is fun but hardly the point. The Luke Skywalker revelation indicates that that is my place in life as well.
“I hope you have the courage to start all over again.“
I’m not convinced starting all over again requires too much courage. Does it take courage to dog paddle your ass off when you get tossed overboard or is it merely the instinct to survive? If only to keep one’s head above water, starting all over is a process of will over choice. The choice comes in recognizing one’s place in the game and moving in a specific direction toward land or another craft. Anything outside of those choices is equal to simply thrashing around until the steam is run out and the limbs can no longer sustain the paddling.
It’s true, I never know what’s coming. I wrote a piece a while back that has since been revisited time and time again and it closes with the realization that I have no fucking idea where I’ll be in five years. The hindsight of a Benjamin Button lens, looking at where I was five years ago and the many victories and losses that came leave me rudderless to explain how I am where I am and who I am today. It isn’t a spec different in looking at the next five years.
I can hope, though, and check in to see if I’m proud of my life.
On that level, so far, so good.