Saturday, June 15, 2019

Hopeful Thinking - Saturday, June 15, 2019 - Collect Life

As a child I remember reading stories about people who had traveled the world, knew fascinating people and had learned numerous and interesting skills. Literary and film characters like Mame Dennis and Missy van Hossmere, among others, illustrated these qualities perfectly. They literally collected life.

Long ago I made a pact with myself to do the same. It’s all in how you evaluate your choices which makes the difference. Poet Robert Frost, whether he meant to or not, taught us to choose the road less traveled by, assuring us that it would make all the difference. I’m not sure he was right. Beyond the fact that experienced readers of poetry recognize that the mainstream view of Frost’s words is entirely different from the actual words he wrote, we have gleaned a meaning for ourselves. We have declared a desire for lack of convention.

But I encourage you to not be afraid of convention. In fact, I don’t think one should give convention any thought at all. What we should be on the lookout for is not the road more or less traveled, but the road more or less interesting.

When faced with a choice we often have a tendency to choose something that feels somewhat predictable or safe, or worse, expected by those around us. Sometimes that’s OK. An interesting life doesn’t always come from being a rebel. In fact, sometimes that can be quite a lonely existence.

Choose an interesting path. Choose the one that sparks your curiosity the most. Select the way which will make the most interesting story later on.

I created a term for this, at least for my own use: future hindsight. When imagining ahead into the later years of your life, how will you look back on the decisions you’re making now? What, on your deathbed, will you be proud of, interested in, eager to share? What would be said at your eulogy? That’s the metric I use when deciding which path I should travel today.

Many years ago when I was a professional actor I had different types of opportunities before me. It was relatively easy for me to get work as a performer. Thankfully, I often had my choice of gigs. Nearly all paths for acting have a thread of mainstream reality to them. Most occur in theaters, often requiring travel from city to city. I did many of those. But I remember in the late 90s making the decision to walk on the path of a more interesting life. Even among two very interesting choices I committed myself to choosing the one slightly more so. I took my first six-month contract as a lead vocalist, MC and stand up comic on a cruise ship. A few years later I did it again.

Collectively, I spent over a year at sea living on board two different vessels visiting over thirty countries, three continents and two hemispheres. I met hundreds of people from all over the world. I experienced pleasure and fear, friendship and romance. I saw real poverty, like nothing in this country. I saw a level of wealth I’d never even read in books. I learned firsthand what the world often thinks about Americans. It typically wasn’t pretty. American tourists are the worst. We are definitely exceptional, but not often in the ways we most like to believe. I allowed myself to be humbled by it.

While on these ships I often chose the most interesting options of where to go, whom to meet and what to see. I’ve kissed a fish while crossing the equator at sea and sipped champagne in a sex club in Buenos Aires. I’ve watched and listened to the thunderous sound of glaciers calving in Alaska, I’ve seen the minefields of the Falkland Islands which are still being cleared of landmines nearly 40 years after the war which placed them there. This may not have been the road Robert Frost envisioned, but it is a road I am grateful I took.

Choosing the most interesting path, literally collecting life, collecting stories, friends and skills is more than a mission. It’s a raison d’etre, the reason and purpose of my existence. I have made it that way by choice.

Of course, one doesn’t have to travel the world in order to choose the most interesting path for themselves. Between right and left, one is bound to be at least slightly more interesting than the other. True, we may not know all that we need to know in order to make our choice. We may see the more interesting path as also being more expensive, more risky, and with a greater quantity of the unknown. But don’t let that stop you. Place your faith in the idea that all shall be well. And proceed.

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