I am editing this post now on a short flight from Warsaw to Cracow, where a small disability film festival will be showing the film I produced and I will be doing a Q&A. The captain will soon announce our arrival in Cracow, and despite my trepidation about being in Poland for the first time (the land my ancestors escaped from), I am looking forward to the adventure. But before I arrive, here are a few thoughts I wrote about the idea of arrival:
I arrived late at my friend Ollie’s house a couple of weeks ago, in the midst of a conversation among some of his “LA friends” about the three legs of the stool that comprised “success.” I don’t recall exactly what those three legs were—I vaguely remember something about opportunity and luck, but I do remember bristling at the idea that—while everyone was arguing about the legs, no one was questioning what “success” meant. So I tried to guide the discussion there, and it came to me that they were discussing something akin to what I might have preferred to call having “arrived” somewhere, not unlike landing at your intended destination. Each of us may start our journeys with a different destination in mind, and at some point we realize we have landed, taxied to the safety of a hangar, and tucked our airplane in for a good night’s rest.
Of course, not all journeys are specifically intended, as has been the case of my last few years living in the thick cloud of fear of my cancer returning. Because it seems that over time that particular fear recedes somewhat, I believe I will find success, or know that I have arrived, when my few and far between moments of serenity become closer together. I don’t suspect the ultimate serenity will likely come until the ultimate end of the journey, and of course it is possible it won’t come even then.
For some of the others at Ollie’s house, it seemed unclear to me that they had any idea of what having arrived at their destination might look like. How many movies must you produce before you feel as though you can rest on your laurels? Must it be just one more than your successful producer father? How many screenplays must you write and how many Oscars must you win? Will one of those gleaming statues on your mantel do just fine, or will you ache for its identical twin? Triplets? How much money will reside in insured bank accounts?
There is an old aviation saying that the key to a good landing is a good approach. In order to do something well, we need to prepare the road in front of it. Perhaps that is where the three-legged stool comes in to play. If the first leg were opportunity, that certainly does seem important. I did not have the opportunity to fly until my kids were grown and I was close to 50 years old. Opportunity might imply a certain privilege, and a certain amount of discretionary wealth. It also might imply a friend in high places who will take you there. Luck also does seem important, although I know there are some who might argue that there is no such thing. I believe though, along with most people and the bumper sticker, that shit happens, which also implies that from time to time shit doesn’t happen. That’s luck, and I do think there are some who manage to inadvertently walk into a lynch mob or catch their big toe in a bear trap or find a malignant lump growing somewhere in their body. Shit happens.
I don’t remember the third leg (and I’m not sure I have the others right either), but I imagine it must have something to do with skill or mastery. There’s just no way to safely get to the end of any runway without having mastered the skill required to fly the airplane. There may be shortcuts to opportunity and luck, but I suspect there are no shortcuts to skill, mastery, and the elbow grease required to get there. At this point I don’t find it particularly difficult to land my airplane, and it is easy to forget the effort it took me to get to that place. I remember occasionally when I think back, or the time that I made the mistake of giving the reins of my airplane to a fellow pilot who flew his own plane beautifully, and we barely survived his valiant effort to bring my steed anywhere near the center of the runway. Perhaps a great violinist can play any violin, but I’m not sure what she would do with a cello. In that sense, perhaps the third leg of the stool is the same thing that is needed to get to Carnegie Hall.
It seems to me that there might be a fourth leg to this stool, which would make arriving somewhere more of a chair, I suppose. In order to know that one has arrived at one’s destination, it seems necessary to know where one is going, although I’m not so sure about this. Some people might refer to this as a goal while others might call it an intention. I have never been a big fan of goals, thinking that it often detracts from the journey itself, but I can’t imagine knowing that we have arrived somewhere without knowing where we intend to go. T.S. Elliot comes to mind here, of course, in poster form from the sixties: We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
I’m not entirely sure Elliot wrote those words, because I don’t trust posters from the sixties, and I don’t know the context. But it’s compelling to tie the notion of arrival directly to departure, in that wonderfully prosaic platitude (and Harry Chapin song) that all of life is a circle. If we are to consider this notion seriously, as in ashes to ashes, then we will ultimately know that we have arrived when we reach the beginning. But for now, I’m looking forward to three days in Crakow.