The Candidate. (If you've never seen it, here's the trailer.) In some primal, existential way, it's the question that confronts us every day, in our jobs, our parenting, our relationships, our purpose between cradle and grave. (I'm sure others, depending on their age, find their touchstone lines in Casablanca, The Godfather, The Shawshank Redemption, Finding Nemo....)
In The Candidate, Redford has been on an arduous, absurd, Quixotic journey, which has all been about the process. Suddenly he's confronted with what happens when you get to the end, and he asks his campaign manager "What do we do now?" A very different inquiry than The West Wing President Jed Bartlet's confident, "What's next?"
Sometimes the plan is less clear than you thought it was.
I have had to confront this question more than I thought I would in my 30s and 40s. Jobs ending abruptly, a marriage ending, suddenly being "orphaned," all can be very stranding experiences.
For me, this week's process was trying to give my kids quality time + their last taste of New York for two months, + all the last minute purchases and packing (the required books, the contraband candy, the first razor, the stuffed animal). Suddenly when the bus pulled away, the tasking completed, I felt more than just sad, I felt unstructured -- no physical contact with them for seven weeks, no more shuttling and feeding and comforting and arguing. My first impulse was to just take a nap. (And I'm just a part-time custody parent.)
Modern life is full of tasking. Get from point A to point B, hand in this form, pay these bills, see these friends, read this book -- the race is on. Especially in New York City, you can feel like a shark, where if you stop moving, you die. As a freelance writer -- what I've basically been since leaving Vogue in 1995 -- it's very easy to live from assignment to assignment without formulating a bigger picture.
In the past few years, I have had to shoulder a lot of processes I wouldn't have chosen: moving back and forth across the country, arranging both parents' funerals and the diaspora of their house and worldly goods and my dad's law practice, starting more speculative writing to prove myself yet again.
You get so busy getting things done or selling yourself that you sometimes lose sight of the purpose of the process, and you can wake up older without being wiser. So I have to keep remembering that "what do we do now?" means that under the maelstrom, and past the prize of the moment, to have a bigger plan, and not be caught by surprise.