I don’t believe in pre-determined destiny. The conscious and sometimes subconscious choices we make are what design our ultimate path (made up of a multitude of paths) and determine where we end up at any given moment. Have you ever looked back and connected the dots, the moments of your life that lead to where you’re at right now? It can be enlightening. Sometimes I do it on purpose. Sometimes it comes out of nowhere.
This particular path begins in the mid-late 1970’s with the first time I saw one of Clint Eastwood’s lesser known movies, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. I watched it on a little black-and-white television in my bedroom. It’s the tale of cocky drifter Lightfoot (played with sublime brilliance by young Jeff Bridges) who crosses paths with legendary thief Thunderbolt (Eastwood). They form a friendship that leads to them reattempting one of Thunderbolt’s previous heists. (In case you want to check the movie out for yourself, which I highly recommend, I won’t give anymore details than that to avoid spoilers.) The film ends with an iconic/cliche’ shot of Eastwood driving them away down a lonely highway to the Paul Williams song Where Do I Go From Here?
The song’s chorus goes:
Tell me where/Where does a fool go/When there’s no one left to listen/To a story without meaning/That nobody wants to hear
Tell me where/Where does a fool go/When he knows there’s something missing/Tell me where/Where do I go from here
I’ve always been the introspective, contemplative type. A bit of a loner, too. The image of Eastwood driving off towards the horizon with those lyrics playing had a profound effect upon me. It stirred feelings of wanderlust, self-discovery, and solitude. How I longed to be the lone traveler.
[Side Note: Paul Williams was a prolific composer who wrote hits for Barabara Streisand (Evergreen), The Carpenters and Three Dog Night (too many to list here), and Kermit the Frog (The Rainbow Connection) among many others. His song I Won’t Last a Day Without You was one of the few I learned to play on the piano; partly because I liked the song, and partly because it was easier to play than Fur Elise. For those of you not of the 70’s generation, or if you are and want to reminisce, may I suggest the documentary Still Alive that chronicles Williams’ life then and now.]
Jump ahead a few years to me penning what I consider my first real piece of writing. It was a short screenplay about a young man who, along with his best friend, wins a lottery of millions. They use their riches as one might expect – in the pursuit of selfish-excess and needless desires. The young man’s friend sinks to depression and eventually suicide. This shocks our protagonist to walk away from the false-life he’d made and journey down one highway to another, learning that happiness has no monetary value, wealth has no price tag. I titled it Where Does A Fool Go?
It never made it to celluloid. I had considered writing it as a short story, or as a collection of stories resembling Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. But I lacked the discipline for such an endeavor. Somewhere along the way I lost the hard copy.
The “way” was a long and fruitless pursuit to be a filmmaker; I put a great deal of misguided effort into an endeavor for which I really didn’t have the temperament. Nor the vision or the passion. I liked the idea of directing, seeing myself at the helm of a great cinematic production (remember Peter O’Toole in The Stuntman?) feared by producers, respected by movie stars, admired by the public. But fantasies are much more palatable than reality. The only pleasure I found was in the writing of screenplays. For emphasis, let me repeat and clarify that: The only pleasure I found was in writing.
So why didn’t I do that? Why didn’t I pursue what I loved? Oh, you name it: fear of criticism; fear of failure; fear of losing the desire to write because I’d find I wasn’t any good at it – a painful paradox. See the common thread emerging? I was afraid.
Insert here a montage of failed friendships, relationships, careers; a bumpy road rutted by false starts, missed opportunities and self-loathing, all stemming from the seeping toxicity of fear. It still bares its ugly fangs on occasion today. You may recall just a few months back when things fell apart for me. Well, with the help of a few friends and family I was able to put it back together a bit. I’ve settled into a new perspective and found contentment with my writing of which I haven’t experienced for a very long time.
Which brings us to a couple of weeks ago.
With a little extra “free” time on our hands of late, my wife and I are trying to get caught up on some of our favorite shows. Like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. As the closing credits roll to Episode 2/Season 3, to bring focus to the special bond Midge and her manager, Susie, have formed, the song I Won’t Last a Day Without You plays. It is Paul Williams’ version of his own composition which is better than any others. It’s been thirty-plus years since I last heard it, or played it on the piano.
I did a search and found the original album it came from (Life Goes On, released in 1972) on YouTube. There on the playlist, I saw it: Where Do I Go From Here? I’ve listened to that song everyday since, like reconnecting with a dear, old friend. I re-watched Thunderbolt and Lightfoot for the first time in decades. (Still a great movie.) And I’ve connected the dots along all the paths I’ve taken to end up where I’m at right now.
It leaves me to wonder: Have I gone full circle? Like that teen daydreaming and making up stories, I find myself writing with no other agenda than that I enjoy it. It’s fun devising storylines and characters to inhabit them, and watch the alchemy of motifs and themes emerge.
I’ve caught myself looking for new roads to trek, literal and figurative. The actual, physical paths have taken the form of hiking trails. The John Muir in California, Iceland’s Laugavegurinn, the Great Himalaya Trails, and Japan’s Hokkaido Nature Trail, to name a few. I don’t have to go them alone, either; all the better, in fact, that I have my wife and son to wander with. Also, for the intangible paths, I find myself living vicariously through that boy. Oh, how I envy him for the things he has yet to see and experience.
Where do I go from here? I don’t know what my ultimate path is. But what I have come to realize is that I’m happy with where I’ve ended up, even if it doesn’t seem too far from where I started.