Tuesday, November 8, 2011

buen camino (and a thank-you to Emilio Estevez)

A few weeks ago, I went to see a film called The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, and haven't stopped thinking about it since.

Sheen plays an American father named Tom who, under tragic and unexpected circumstances, embarks on the Camino de Santiago, also known as "The Way of Saint James." And, of course, what he finds along the journey is also beyond his expectations.

I'm being deliberately vague in my description of the film. This is one of those times where I want to give nothing away. I want you to come to the journey as ill-prepared as Tom.

I had to wait at least a week before The Way came to a theater near me. When I was on Long Island two weeks ago, I tried to find a theater close enough so I could take my mother to see it, but we had no luck. I was disappointed; I knew she would be as profoundly moved by the film as I was, and I so wanted to share the moment with her in person.

The Way contains no CGI. There are no explosions, no vampires, and no American heartthrobs. No sex, no guns, and no killing. You can see why Hollywood wanted nothing to do with this film. This is also not a religious film. But there is death, there is love, there is hope, and there is the journey. Not to mention the scenery. The scenery alone is worth it.

Last night I had the opportunity (and honor) to speak with Emilio Estevez via a "fan phone chat" thanks to a contest posted on the Facebook page The Way The Movie (Go there. Click "Like". Now. Please.) Because there were many in line to speak with him, we were each allowed only one question. However, we were able to listen in on his conversations with the other lucky callers while we awaited our turn.

A friend of mine on Facebook remarked how cool it was that I was about to talk to a celebrity. But when the call ended, I realized that was not the case. I hadn't talked to a celebrity. Kim Kardashian is a celebrity. Justin Bieber is a celebrity. No, I had conversed with an actor, writer, and director. Better yet, a fellow storyteller. We talked about writing, and there was a moment when Emilio spoke about writer's block ("as I'm sure you know all about," he said; oh dear God, yes) when I knew I was talking to a kindred spirit. In fact, I was nodding my head throughout the entire conversation, and not just the one he had with me.

All that was great. But that's not what inspired me to write this post.

For the last few months, I've been going to a park near me with a walking path, three to four times a week, and completing anywhere from three to five miles in one stretch. Lately I've been feeling somewhat like Tom--frustrated, fearful, head down, eyes in front. I've had my iPod Shuffle on, yet my mind has been a one-track-thought, looping incessantly.

This morning was no different. Despite having a great night, I woke up deflated. I walked head down, music on, frustrated, fearful, the whole nine yards. Interestingly, I had forgotten to put on both my watch and pedometer (two days before that I'd forgotten to bring my water bottle, to give you an idea of how distracted I've been lately).

At some point I started to replay not just my conversation with Emilio, but some of the other conversations I'd listened to. I thought about some of the things he said (and I'm paraphrasing, at best):
"I'm interested in making films that are uplifting, that feed the soul."
"I'm still on the journey. I get to re-live it every day by hearing all of your stories and experiences."
"I'm a storyteller."

And then it hit me: I'm on the Camino. Right now.

I turned off my iPod and started listening to the ducks quacking, the leaves rustling, the other walkers chatting while their dogs explored. I took notice of how beautiful the foliage is (it's piquing here in North Carolina), how the sun was dappling on the water, streaming between the branches. I exchanged friendly hellos with other walkers.

And sure enough, the fears and frustrations melted away. I found myself mentally composing again: Ideas for the novel-in-progress (the protagonist is a screenwriter, after all--what kind of movies does he want to make?). Ideas for this blog post. Solutions rather than problems. I even remembered a scene from Ordinary World, when Andi begins to write a novel about two travelers on the Appalachian Trail. Her working title was called Walking. Maybe she was on to something. Or maybe I was when I wrote it.

As writers and storytellers, we're all on the journey. Writers so often walk in solitude. But we need that connection with others to make it from place to place. And not just writers. We all do.

That path in the park I go to may not be the Camino de Santiago, but miracles can happen there. And for seventy to ninety minutes, I can walk. Reflect. Heal. Just be. The path is a circle. I don't have to "get" anywhere.

It's not even about the walking. It's about the journey. It's about the way.

Find a theater. Travel, if you must. Go see this film. Tell your friends about it. Spread the word. Then find your own path.

Thank you, Emilio, for making this film.

Buen Camino!