Another Blank Slate
Here I go again (maybe not) on my own
Made it through February.
For being the shortest month that damn grouping of days and weeks sure wore out its welcome.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it that may have been the hardest month of my life so far.
Harder than when dad died you say?
But mom’s still here isn’t she?
Yes (praise God) but I spent most of the month facing the reality of what happens when she’s not.
Somehow I feel even when “it” happens won’t be as bad as the past 28 days of —
“Maybe it’s today. Maybe it’s tomorrow.” What if it’s tonight? What was that sound? Is she breathing? Am I ready? I’m not ready,” etc..
Maybe it was just a bad cold and maybe I was over-sensitive but the unknown can hit you like that. Good news is I’m ready for when “it” happens — whether it’s a few months or (Lord willing) a few years.
And yes normally such a life-shaping chapter or moment would find me chomping at the bit to share and report.
But not this time.
This was an inner-Everest.
And it almost killed me.
My spirit at least.
But having faced death and lived to tell — I can finally breathe again.
Even if it means jumping back in the soup.
And I can see past today.
Or rather, I can see tomorrow and thus I can enjoy today.
I can leave the house for an hour or for the long work day and the unknown is not the unknown anymore. I know I’ll be ok because there are no regrets, no “shoulda saids,” only love. Love and the last chapter of a long and well-lived life, however long we’ve got.
Mind you I don’t consider myself having completed anything, just that I’ve made it past the first climb and am relishing the altitude-adjusting that happens at the different base camps.
In other words my lungs are adjusting.
Or maybe I should say, my heart is.
Wont to do my mind turns to taking stock of and surveying my surroundings, and then I think holy crap — is this another blank slate? When was my last blank slate? How many blank slates have I faced and how is this one different?
I don’t know what In the Home Stretch by Robert Frost is exactly about (why research it and ruin it) but I love the run-on sentences, I love the stuttered cadence of this slice-of-a-marriage poem, witness here the set-up:
“I think you see
More than you like to own to out that window.”
“No; for besides the things I tell you of, I only see the years.
They come and go In alternation with the weeds, the field, The wood.”
“What kind of years?” “Why, latter years — Different from early years.”
“I see them, too. You didn’t count them?”
“No, the further off so ran together that I didn’t try to.”
That’s the setup for my favorite part:
“You’re searching, Joe, For things that don’t exist; I mean beginnings. Ends and beginnings — there are no such things. There are only middles.
What is this?
from In The Home Stretch,
1916 by Robert Frost
Those lines come to me at moments like this, right up there with some Jackson Browne and Bob Seger lines I imagine you’ve heard as well.
Lines about ends and beginnings and middles.
And while we’re thinking of one of America’s best known poets lets have a look at the old soul himself:
“I kept farm, so to speak for nearly ten years,” Frost wrote a friend. “I can see now that I went away to save myself and fix myself before I measured my strength against all creation.”
I measured my strength? How very Jack-London of you RF.
A Short List
To keep this from getting away from me here are the two biggest blank slates I’ve faced, and what followed:
- Blank Slate 1 — Post Homestead Bicycles, 1995–1997
- Blank Slate 2 — Post Dad, 2012–2018
Blank Slate №1
Post Homestead Bicycles I was spent. It was the mid-90’s after all. I wasn’t looking for anything and nothing came looking for me. In fact that might be a lesson right there. I had invested so much and run on empty for too long that although friendships were strong there was an exhaustion others no doubt experienced that I in turn experienced blowing like the wind back towards me.
’Twas a strong wind and bloweth it did.
What followed after dropping out of college and making and selling 30 BMX bikes — a story you can watch (here) if you haven’t yet — well I went through the usual stages of grief well documented. I spent less time in denial and more in depression, but I still passed through all five stages before coming into acceptance.
And then I met a girl.
My longest relationship came after turning my life around personally. Regrouping my finances, my broken jobs, my broken cars, and most of all taking responsibility for my circumstances. You know the drill, we’ve all been there in some form.
My blank slate ended when I filled it with — wait for it — life. Wisdom. Good decisions.
And yes happiness came — as a byproduct not a goal.
Grade on this first blank slate?
Not an A + but pretty darn close. I saved my life and made better choices, sticking at jobs, going back to college and graduating, paying parking tickets — or more importantly avoiding them altogether. Most of all I learned how to successfully navigate — restless soul though I still was — through this our modern world.
My late 90’s turnaround was huge.
Blank Slate №2
Post dad (I made a movie about that too) was a completely different story.
I’d already pulled myself out of normal life when I moved to Hollywood to make movies, so when my father, infamous California conservationist John Olmsted died, I was left even further removed from normal life, feeling even more untethered — and this time at the harder-to-regroup-ripe-old age of 40.
This blank slate lasted for four years before I even acknowledged I was in one — so the five stages of grief were completely jumbled before acceptance and the next chapter could begin — first with a soul-cleansing road trip in 2016 —
Followed by a risky but mostly awesome Nashville experiment in 2017 —
And lastly throwing ALL caution to the wind and making my best movie to date — hooking up with these dudes in 2018 to shoot the aforementioned BMX autobiography 30 Bikes:
Grade on Blank Slate No. 2?
I’m tempted to say a D + or a C - , but looking at these pictures and knowing where I ended up I’m going with a B +. Floundering is one thing, floundering and not producing is another and that wasn’t me. The first three-four years after dad died were rough, but the next four resulted in my two best movies, and maybe even was the best prep I could have hoped for this present chapter (shocker!).
A true blank slate can be an amazing gift. An opportunity to start over, to pivot, or to do a big, fat, hard reset on life.
It’s even a cinematic tool — we often see it betwen Act II and Act III — the character reaching inside him or herself to pull out their essence and use the lessons from the first 90 min. of the movie to storm the castle and get that flippin’ princess back.
Clear their head. Adjust their goggles.
Some folks in fact only dream of a blank slate. Easy for us free spirits to look longlingly over at the cautious and calculated masses — I’m especially thinking of the person who chooses a career early, never to second guess themselves, and for whom life more or less lines up like they thought it would, with nothing catching them off guard to even necessitate a slate — blank or otherwise.
Sound comforting or boring? Depends of course on one’s appreciation (or fear) of risk.
Wrap — and alternate take
So where does that leave me?
Ready to embrace this third blank slate or fearful of any changes at this mid-stage of life?
Here’s a third thought — what if I were able to enter the next chapter now, instead of after mom goes? I’m thinking this as I’m writing and realizing that the trauma of February had me clenched fists and clenched heart, prepping for the inevitable.
Yet her cold passed. Her cough is gone.
Maybe the best question here is why wait? Why wait on mom’s timeline as if counting down the days — which obviously I don’t want to do — but what if I open my eyes and heart — and my will — to starting a new chapter now?
A new chapter that (hopefully) includes a woman, that (hopefully) includes buying a house, that regardless will include a peace that I haven’t had since maybe ever.
A peace that comes from making better movies, preserving John Olmsted’s legacy, traveling my wanderlust out, and as Robert F said:
“measuring my strength against all creation.”
Maybe that’s exactly what I’ve been doing — instead of struggling and overanalyzing the occasional miss maybe I’ve actually been measuring myself — just as Bob said.
And If I’d give myself a solid A and a B+ on my previous blank slates, maybe I’m primed to knock this one out of the park.
I’m saying bring it.
Facing a blank slate is after all,
a truly classic confrontation.