Wouldn’t it be tragic if you were standing on a peak, and never realized it, because all you could see were the taller peaks around you?
The other day I was in L.A., having coffee with an old high school friend, and we were talking about the travails of show biz – he is also a screenwriter, as well as a producer, and like me, has had some success, but has had far more close-calls, sure things that suddenly evaporate, and enough smoke blown up his rear to last a few life times.
After commiserating about our Hollywood woes, we veered onto another aspect of close calls and evaporated sure things: romances. We found ourselves recalling girls we knew in high school, girls who I had crazy crushes on, but never did anything about, because I assumed they didn’t, or wouldn’t, like me. Later I learned through mutual gossip circles that a few of them would’ve been interested, but found me too aloof and reserved.
Basically, a nice way of saying I blew it because I was too uptight to smile, too insecure to relax and be myself.
So yeah, if you haven’t already guessed, I spend an inordinate amount of time cataloguing, reliving, and revising all the things I feel have not gone right in my life. The book is as thick as a dictionary.
And as to all the blessings and good things in my life, and there have been plenty of them? It’s a moment’s joy and appreciation, then right back to the book of woes.
Our conversation veered again, and I told him about how my son Gabriel and I have been trying to set our personal record playing Frisbee: how many tosses we can get in without dropping the disc.
We made it to 97 a few days back. Everything was fine, and then my hand just misfired, and I flung the plastic thing sharply to the right.
“Dad! Your arm just spasmed!” cried out Gabriel, exasperated. Our previous record was 78, and so every toss after that became more and more critical, more and more nerve wracking, and though we counted silently so as not to jinx anything, I still shanked it. 3 short of 100, and I shanked it.
“How could you spasm, dad?!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Gabriel must’ve picked up the word “spasm” recently in school. Recounting this little episode over our coffees, my old friend said,
“Wow, Alf, you’ve got it made.”
I was taken aback a moment.
It’s the type of thing I’ve heard before from him and others, and I usually just nod along, not wanting to be a sour naysayer, or I just dismiss their comment as an attempt to pump me up – and in the process themselves – as we lower our heads and charge forward in the face of life’s challenges.
But this time was different. After we said goodbye, I went back to the hotel that night, and felt a kind of warm liquid contentment and peace of mind that usually eludes me.
I texted him and asked if he wanted to meet again for breakfast the next day. He did. Again we talked shop, but the first thing I mentioned was the strange effect his words had on me, how for once they seemed to penetrate.
We laughed and decided I should have T-shirts made up:
“It’s all about the Frisbee.”
Perhaps my friend is right. Perhaps I am standing on a peak, and just can’t see it.
At the risk of sounding hokey, I know it to be true that we are all standing on peaks – or valleys – it’s all in how we see it.
I remember reading Primo Levi’s memoir about the Holocaust, and how he concluded that the one thing the Nazis couldn’t take away from him was his attitude in the face of unspeakable horror. He somehow resolved to maintain his inner dignity, and he survived the ordeal, physically, mentally, emotionally.
Now suffering a career disappointment or missed crush isn’t the same thing as spending a year in Auschwitz, but the choice to build our own prisons or palaces, when confronted by life’s vicissitudes, is.
So tonight, before drifting off to sleep, I could think about the script I wrote ten years ago which got the attention of an up and coming actor, and an up and coming director. Two of the three of us have gone on to dazzling fame, fortune and success – very obvious peaks – and everything that comes with it. I’ll leave it to you to guess which of the three has found himself on a decidedly more modest path.
Or, instead, I could think of the time when I was standing on stage delivering an acceptance speech for a script of mine which won a prestigious award, and was later sold, or I could also spend that time refining my thoughts on the next script I’d like to write.
I could think of the gorgeous goth girl I dated once or twice in college, and how she wanted to sleep with me, and how I chickened out because it was in the commons room, even though it was two in the morning, and it was college, so who would’ve cared anyway?
Or, instead, I could think of the wonderful time my wife and I had a few weeks ago when the local art house theater showed Hitchcock’s action-comedy-suspense masterpiece, “The 39 Steps,” on a big screen, and how we both, to this day, still love many of the same movies and music.
I could continue to tally up my frustrations and regrets, or I could thank God and evolution and luck and hard work for the good health of my family, the career successes I have had, and the nice home we live in.
Tonight I will watch a basketball game with my 16 year old son Rafael, and I will make sure I have a good chunk of old sheetrock lying around, just in case the Warriors break his heart with a last minute loss, and he needs to punch something. Last time it was the wall. And if I’m really, really, really smart, I will marvel at the fact that my son, my teenage son, not only doesn’t mind my existence, but actually still likes to spend time in the same room with me.
It’s all about the Frisbee.
And even though I know all this to be true, the truth is, I still struggle to feel it in my bones. That liquid contentment spills right through my fingers all too easily, and I find myself thinking I’m in a valley, and I stare with envy at the other peaks around me, or think of the peaks I should’ve attempted to scale, never taking the time to look down at my own feet and see what summit I actually am on.
But I’m working on it.