All stories stop: once more you're lost
in something I can merely see:
steam spiriting out of black coffee,
the scorched pores of toast, a bowl
of apple butter like edible soil,
bald cloth, knifelight, the lip of a glass,
my plate's gleaming, teeming emptiness.
- Christiam Wiman, "Sitting Down To Breakfast Alone," Every Riven Thing
* * *
1993. Grant's Pass, Oregon. I am there working on the final, staggering legs of the movie The River Wild. It has, to put it mildly, been something more than an adventure. Beyond the extended contact with helicopters, white water rafting, mountaineers, and bougy Hollywood types, I married a woman I had met but four months earlier. We lived apart for most of the first six months of our marriage and now are within a stone's throw of each other in our divorce.
But to Grant's Pass, 1993.
The primary pleasure of working on the job was the decency and kindness of one of the movie's stars, David Strathairn. It wasn't that he added no drama to the set with outsized demands to stoke his ego (though he never did) it was the interest he took in those around him that made every last one of us willing to walk through walls for him. He was one of us.
We were idling away a cold, dank morning in late October along a quiet eddy of the Rogue River. The film was winding down with only a few more days left to get some shots of David in the water and running along the river. No drama. Just passing shots to give the editor something to work with. I had purchased a sleek, black 1950's typewriter at a garage sale and was banging out a treatment to a story that I imagined belonged on film. It was a take on the fall of Satan from heaven. He held no evil. He was a spurned lover trying to find his way home.
I gave the piece to Mr. Strathairn and in his kindness he said, "I thought you were a poet-guy, not a movie-guy."
* * *
All stories stop. All stories. The terminus is our long dirt nap. Others will be left to tell our tales and over time they'll get them wrong and with enough time even the mistakes will fade as one generation's passions become a further generation's unknowing. Do you know the stories from your great-grandparent's time? How much can you tell? I live for this stuff and only have fragments that may or may not have belonged to them and there is no undoing it.
I'll repeat Christian Wiman's statement: All stories stop.
Knowing this, how can you allow a minute of your life to spent being anything other than your own true self?
It is the habit of the fucked to imagine fields of possibility - and it is true, there are endless possibilities. But so much choice has the tendency to paralyze, thwart, subvert and misdirect our efforts. I loved working in movies. It was a shaggy-dog sort of life wherein I met some of the best and worst people I have known, but the truth is I was there because of possibility - not desire, and that explains why I am no longer there. Life needs a form to define it. One thing must always be chosen over another in order to unfuck yourself.
* * *
Wiman's book has restored something to me, reminded me of who I am. It isn't that I fancy myself a poet - I am not - but I am someone who loves words, language, the process of wrestling words and language into forms that others can enter into. My film career was started with the idea of bringing myself closer to the center of an industry built around process and forms and so find a way in where my words could find a home. But I was bribed, gladly bribed to leave it alone and become a fieldhand. Which would have been fine if I had continued to love words and process. But I did not.
When David Strathairn asked about being a poet-guy or a movie-guy I had no answer. I just wanted work. 17 years later his kindness still stings.
* * *
We are not here for long.
There is nothing to fear.
The frightening thing is not dying.
The frightening thing is not living.
Tattoo it on your forehead.