Since I first heard it, I’ve been fascinated by that story that goes “Once there was an old man who live in a village. He had one horse, and one son. One night, the horse ran away, and everyone said “Oh, bad luck.”
But the old man said ‘maybe so, maybe not.”
The next week, the horse returned, bringing with it another, wild, horse. “Oh, what good luck,” said the villagers.
But the old man said, ‘maybe so, maybe not.”
The son mounted the new horse in order to tame her, but he was thrown off, and broke his leg. “Bad luck.”
“Maybe so, maybe not.”
But then the land went to war, and the king of the land sent his men to conscript all the able-bodied young men from the villages. However, the old man’s son, because of his broken leg, did not have to go to battle. “Good luck.”
“Maybe so, maybe not”
I have an ongoing dialogue with myself about the nature of the universe in this way.
Perhaps I am supposed to gather from this story that there is no good luck or back luck.
On optimistic days, I believe that everything works out in the universe, that every piece of bad luck can be somehow redefined as good luck in the context of later events. I discuss this to some length in one of the essays I wrote in my thesis project about cancer. If I hadn’t gotten cancer, I wouldn’t have taken the emotional risk to say to the world that I wanted to be a writer, etc…
But sometimes I am tempted to want to define things in terms of positive and negative--to believe that life, like movies, somehow has a happy on unhappy ending. I want to play the story all the way out—to see how, at the end, things fall-one way or the other, and to think that at some point I will know if my decisions were right or wrong in that context.
This is the kind of thinking that can drive a person crazy. I got into USC Screenwriting: good luck. But if spend all my money and have to live on the street: bad luck. But if it gives me great insight and I write the great American novel about living on the street: good luck. But if the stress of adapting the book into a movie that bombs, despite having Cate Blanchett in the title role makes me sick and I die: Bad luck.
So ultimately, it was bad luck. So where was my mistake? Was it that December night when I sent off my application, or the May day I sent in my acceptance? Or any of infinite other points between then my ultimate death? Was there some sign or portent I should have seen, that would have kept me from following the wrong path?
The same thing has happened of late with my upcoming trip to the Sundance Film Festival.
I am not someone who hates to travel, who hates a party or an event. More, I am a person who strongly dislikes preparing for these things. I hate trying to predict what I should pack, or wear, or bring. Rather I like the comfort and relative predictability of home.
But when a student organization sent a message saying they were organizing accommodations for students, for just $300 for four nights I thought, “I should do this. It’s cheap, it’s a good way to meet students from other departments, once I graduate, I’ll either be working or very poor…so I should do it…shouldn’t I? Maybe this email is a sign I should do it.
“Yes,” said my friends. “Yes,” said my husband. “Yes,” said the friendly human resources woman at my internship.”
“No,” said my student mentor, “you don’t want to miss the first days of class.”
What? I consulted a calendar. Indeed, the dates included two of the first days of class. And, like many childhood over-achievers, I love going to class, and of course want my teachers to love me and think I’m good. Plus I’d heard my Friday teacher is pretty hard core. So that was the end of the plan for me. I let the deadline go by.
Then I ran into the “hard-core” teacher. I introduced myself as a future student, and mentioned, jokingly, that I had foregone Sundance so that I wouldn’t miss his class.
He said “AWWW—your should have gone to Sundance!” and went on to explain that this was expected among the teachers, and that now was the time to get this sort of experience.
Oh no…had I made the wrong decision? Was the random meeting with the teacher a sign I should go?
I decided to email the organizer and ask if I could still get him a check, and if he said yes, then I was meant to go. As I was doing this, I asked Christine, a friend who was over at the house, if she wanted to go.
“Yeah—that would be so fun!”
So I added a paragraph pleading for her as well, and sent it off.
The reply came back, “Sure, just bring a check to my house before noon tomorrow.”
It was a sign from the universe.
Maybe, or maybe not.
TO BE CONTINUED