observations and opinion
I took my love and I took it down I climbed a mountain and I turned around And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills Till the landslide brought me down
“Landslide can be about anything” she said. She should know, having heard it a thousand times. I agreed, it could mean almost anything. When it came on the car radio later that same day, I smiled and listened closely. The feeling of the song rang through me like the sound inside a guitar. I could feel it but, hearing the words, I wondered: what did Stevie Nicks think it was all about?
Eventually, I found out. But long before then I knew that “Landslide” meant whatever we chose it to mean. That is the magic of being heard. That is the curious power that comes from the powerless state you enter, when you hand over to the world what you have made. Writing for yourself, in whatever form (your diary, for example) is like working out. You feel it all over, and it may even feel good, but nobody else knows: the ache is yours alone. But when you put your words out there – out here, wherever you are right now – those words become something else. Something more. All of a sudden you’re a dancer. What your muscles do, what your balance permits, matters as much to the watcher as the watched.
Most often a writer knows what she means to say. Prose or poetry, the author has it in her mind to suggest ideas or images, overtly or covertly but most often there is intention behind it. What happens when someone else reads it, if the reader pays attention, is that the reader brings herself into the words. She expands them, re-shapes, breaks through them. The reader is the sunlight on the buds; whatever waits inside can only burst out and become, when the sun shines.
Stevie Nicks wrote “Landslide” at a moment of decision (or so she has said). In her early twenties, her musical career stalled and her partner Lindsey Buckingham out working alone, Nicks had holed-up at the Colorado home of friends. There, she asked herself: what now? She was broke and fed-up and prepared, she thought, to surrender the dream of a musical life. She considered taking her dad’s money to go back to school. Dad, an executive with the Greyhound Bus Company, could even give her a free ticket back home.
After a few weeks of gazing out on the “snow covered hills”, Ms. Nicks realized that she and Buckingham were better together than apart. This was more of a professional decision than anything else, as it turned out: their personal relationship foundered as their careers took off. They parted ways as a couple but even now, four decades after Nicks’ fateful choice, they remain tied together by what they made together in their youth. Like a long-divorced couple meeting up at their child’s wedding, Nicks and Buckingham will probably always be connected. None of it could have happened without her decision, without her “landslide.”
Of course, had she chosen differently, something else most surely would have happened. Every fork in the road has at least two tines, after all.
We remember those moments of fateful choice. We remember those frozen mornings when the sun glistens like diamonds on the snow, hoping that the one beside us in bed is real and not a dream. We remember those heavy summer nights of milky air, walking away from what we thought was forever. We remember those grey black November afternoons, looking out the same window and suddenly seeing a different world. We turn a corner and walk on. We remember these turning points, these landslides in our lives, when we had to choose.
When we are young, as Nicks was then, we think our options are limitless. Early on we can make bad decisions because we don’t know what we’re doing, or because we think there is so much gas in the tank that we can afford to drive off aimlessly. We’ll get back on the main road eventually. Maybe.
But equally when we are young, as Nicks was that winter in the Rockies, decisions seem all the more important because we imagine the long road ahead of us. Choose one school over another and everything that follows – everything – will be different than it might have been. Do just a little better in a sport and you will attract the attention of a coach, whose help might alter the game forever for you. Have the baby and prepare for imminent parenthood; have the abortion and prepare for some other life. And so on. Yes, youthful choices seem weighty when you believe the future is a big place.
We tend to think those early decisions are more consequential than later ones, because there are so many possible choices early-on and, having chosen a path, we leave so many other options behind, likely never to be explored. Those early turns loom large looking back at where we traveled.
But when the future is smaller – later in life, when the road ahead may not be as long as the road behind – your landslides may be even more important. If in fact, the future is smaller than the past, time once squandered seems suddenly a precious resource. How shall we spend it? When you don’t have the luxury of time to find your way home, can you really afford to keep getting lost? Of course, if time has robbed us of some chances, it may have rewarded us with a sense of direction: having made more decisions and seen their results, we may know better what we want them to bring us. And we may simply be better at choosing. Even if the weather is worse and the sun is low on the horizon, we’re better sailors now.
Maybe. But I think all too often we let inertia choose for us: the wind at our backs has pushed us this far across the bay, so we let it keep pushing. We fool ourselves into believing that we are making decisions when in fact, we are just holding on for dear life. The young person’s mistake is believing there’s an unlimited amount of present to waste on the way to the future; the older person’s mistake is to believe the past is the path forward. Both are always right, until they are wrong.
What those two share is the inescapable truth that yesterday is gone and by the time tomorrow gets here, it will be today again. We pile up the past thinking it makes us wiser and better, but that’s as big a mistake as any other. Absent the limitless opportunities of youth to be stupid (an illusion, but a potent one) and no longer drunk on the rewards of the past, one must learn new ways to decide. Smart ways, hopefully.
I’ve made a lot of good decisions along the way. The rewards may be richer than I deserve. But there’s a mist on the water and, like you, I don’t really know what lurks beyond it. I no longer trust the past to be my sole compass. So I am learning new ways to choose. I make small decisions, watching how they work and seeing where they lead.
Six months ago, after a long hiatus, I was inspired to listen to music again. Songza kept me up late into the wee hours. One winter night, awake far too late and restless, I read about the annual Round the Bay race at my hometown. In the middle of that freezing night I decided to do the 5K, never having run anything before in my life. I found a wise friend at work who gave me good advice on getting started. Christmas morning I presented my daughter and myself with t-shirts and memberships in a running club. Three months later I did the 5K, as best I could. One month after that I was still running, when I found out, in an unpleasant way, just what a “transverse muscle pull” feels like. Today I am not running, but wish I was – a miracle in itself. I might go anyway, despite the pain and the rain, just to test if it’s better.
You know, it’s true: “Landslide” really can be about anything.Well, I’ve been afraid of changing ‘Cause I’ve built my life around you But time makes you bolder Children get older, and I’m getting older too Yes I’m getting older too, so