These are the words that open the trailer for what would become not only my favorite movie of 2014, but one of my favorite films of all time, Wild. I rarely see a movie in the theater twice, this one I've seen three times... so far. My first trip to the cineplex was early morning on opening day at Universal Studios Florida- a completely empty room where I checked in on Instagram with the caption, "I love having a theater to myself. #MorningMovies" The next 115 minutes would wash over me like ten years of therapy. Every once in a while you connect with a film in such a way that it changes you, recharging your batteries, gifting you with a clarity that you didn't have while riding that Regal Cinemas roller coaster just moments before the picture began. (I hope they never change that, especially the explosive popping of that third kernel.) The movie plays from opening frame to final credit like poetry, like a perfectly-crafted album, and not once during the runtime did I shift in my seat or check my phone... I was lost in the screen, on the Pacific Crest Trail with Cheryl Strayed.
When I left the theater I headed straight for Barnes & Noble to purchase both the book and the soundtrack. I love movie soundtracks. It's the first section I always target in any music store. The perfect soundtrack will play like a personal mix-tape from the filmmaker, and while I'll always buy the albums in advance of seeing movies by directors like Sofia Coppola, Cameron Crowe, and Quentin Tarantino, I'll never spin them before seeing the film. The use of music in Wild is possibly the greatest I've ever observed... hints of Simon & Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa" are sprinkled throughout the movie, slowly building along the way before finally climaxing with the full track near the end, almost as if the song were fighting its way into the film the whole time. It wasn't until a second viewing that I realized just how important this song was to the storytelling... in fact, Reese Witherspoon's first dialogue onscreen are the lyrics, "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail." This soundtrack would become my anthem. This film would fuel adventures in my life that may not have otherwise occurred in my immediate future. "How wild it was, to let it be."
"I'm a slow walker but I never walk back." - Abraham Lincoln
I've always loved walking. My dream is to live in a city that doesn't require a car so that I can walk everywhere. There's something liberating about being free from the need of an automobile, unless you absolutely need to hail a cab or ride the subway... that's one of the many reasons I'm in love with New York City, my heart beats for it. I'm currently reading the December issue of New York Magazine entitled "Reasons to Love New York (right now)", as if I need more reasons. Possibly my biggest adventure of 2014 was making the impulsive decision to hop a flight to the Big Apple for a one-day pilgrimage to the Cort Theater at 138 West 48th Street to see the play This Is Our Youth. On Friday, November 28th, I would wake up in my own bed in Orlando, Florida and return to it that night, reflecting on being in the middle of a freezing Manhattan earlier that day with my friend Sarah, hugging the Ed Sullivan theater and selfie-ing the shit out of the Late Show marquee for Twitter. I'd trek through the freezing cold, underdressed for the occasion (my friend Amy commenting on my attire with, "Are you kidding me with that jacket?!"), avoiding subways and embracing the long walks to each destination even though it felt like my feet were wrapped in ice. The city was being dressed for Christmas, with people ice skating at the rink of Rockefeller Center and Christmas music echoing from the small cafes we'd quickly stroll by in search of the nearest heated building. Letterman was on hiatus at the time, being that it was Thanksgiving week, with the CBS Store and even the Hello Deli all locked up with the lights out. The last time I stood at 1697 Broadway I was in the 8th grade, visiting the city with my family. I could see the hotel across the street that we stayed in, my dad had booked a room with a view of the Late Show for us. We camped out hoping to meet Dave, who we never saw, but did end up in a conversation with Paul Shaffer. I got to meet Rene Russo who was kind enough to autograph my Get Shorty soundtrack, and even talked with Carrot Top (which was for some reason a big deal for me at the time.) Probably the most exciting part for me was meeting Biff Henderson, Rupert Jee, and Alan Kalter. I was in heaven. It was my first exposure to film production as we happened upon the set of Keeping the Faith where Edward Norton and Ben Stiller were filming a scene. I ended up chasing Mr. Stiller through a building, nervously asking for his autograph. All I had for him to sign was the booklet to a Paul Shaffer CD which had been autographed for me earlier that day... he signed it, no questions asked, and shook my hand with a smile. This was a big day for little Jason.
"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt." - John Muir
My dad has always been very into nature. Growing up, I lived in both Colorado and Tennessee, so much of my childhood was spent in both the Rocky and Smoky Mountains. Though Rocky Top will always be home sweet home to me, I was always happier during the van rides there, through the winding mountain roads, where my sister and I would share the headphones of our Walkman, shuffling through cassettes and singing songs. I was never too into nature as a kid. I wasn't necessarily opposed, but it didn't "wow" me like it did my father. After seeing Wild, I was certain of one thing... I needed to take a hike. Not because I was suddenly proclaiming the same intense love of nature that my dad still carries with him to this day, and certainly the majesty of the great outdoors in those hills I trekked as a child were nowhere to be found in Florida... but the idea of walking alone, completely detached from civilization, with only the sound of the dirt beneath my feet and my thoughts to accompany me... it just sounded therapeutic.
I Googled Florida nature trails and was shocked to find so many near Orlando. The one that stood out the most was The Disney Wilderness Preserve. I remembered my parents donating money to it as a kid when we were at Wilderness Lodge, and my sister and I receiving themed buttons to wear, but it never dawned on me until now that it was an actual place. So I packed a bottle of water and some nuts to snack on and drove out to 2700 Scrub Jay Trail in Kissimmee where I would hike over six miles through their three separate trails, making a few stops along the way to write in my journal and quench my thirst. The trail showcases the effects of two major forces - fire and water - that have shaped the area. Surrounded by charred trees and fresh flowers, open vistas and dried leaves, dense vegetation and wet depressions which would soak my shoes and socks... it hit me just how alone I was out there.
Standing still you could hear nothing but nature, the wind in the trees and the cracking sounds in the surrounding weeds and woods, prompting paranoia over what type of animal might be lurking nearby. It had just struck me that I was in fact deep in the wild where, even though this was Disney, an encounter with a venomous snake was not unlikely. It wasn't until a couple weeks later on yet another hike, this time through the Black Hammock Wilderness trail along the shores of Lake Jesup, where I would encounter a snake on my path. Frozen in fear, the snake's beady eyes looking directly into mine, I tried recalling what to do should the damn thing start slithering in my direction. Do I keep trekking past it? Or do I turn around? The correct answer would have been to turn around because, to my surprise, I had wandered off the poorly-marked trail. The weeds grew higher around me and any clear indication of a path had disappeared, and I panicked. I couldn't figure out exactly how I strayed from the trail and began to wonder what would happen if I couldn't retrace my steps out of this nature maze. Black Hammock was not as safe and contained as the Red, Yellow, and White trails of Disney... out here there were wild animals like foxes (my favorite animal, by the way, but not one I'd necessarily want to run into alone in the woods), as well as large droppings on the trail that captured my imagination as to what sort of animal left them behind... and was this animal now hungry and watching me stumble alone on the trail? Retracing my steps, I was all too aware of the snake I had run past earlier, now missing from its earlier spot, as I quickly trekked back the way I came from, unaware that a tick had by that time buried itself in my arm (something I'd discover later on with great disgust and a fear of having contracted Lyme disease. Oh, I'm a hypochondriac by the way.) Parts of the trail were sunken in muddy water, which I sloshed through while trying to distract my overactive imagination about what might actually be in that water. This was not what I had signed up for. I wanted a peaceful, relaxing experience... not a nightmare. It reminded me of that time as a kid being chased by a bee, swearing once I had safely escaped back into my home, the bee still buzzing on the other side of the screen-door, that I would NEVER go outside again. "Fuck nature," I continuously repeated aloud to myself as I made my way out of the woods, my wet shoes and jeans so buried in mud that they had to be thrown away. I hadn't been so happy to come home, possibly ever. The Florida wilderness, I decided, was not a place I'd likely return.
"I wish I was homeward bound." - Simon & Garfunkel
It had been years since I visited home, "home" being a term I use loosely since the location of my family changes from year-to-year. For now, "home" is Greenville, South Carolina. The last time I visited was in 2010 to stay with my grandparents for a few days, long before my parents moved there from Wyoming. I was actually born in Greenville and it's where most of my mom's side of the family still live. Being that I hadn't spent Christmas with my family for years due to my work schedule, I thought 2014 would be the perfect year to reignite that tradition by surprising my parents. I phoned my cousin Kate to help me plan the perfect surprise, and it could not have been executed more fantastically. After a heartfelt and tearful reunion full of hugs and laughs with my parents, completely shocked at my presence during the entire duration of my trip, the entire family met up at my uncle Len's house to celebrate Christmas together. It was a holiday ripped from the reel of a warm Christmas movie, with the added element of a contagious flu virus infecting half the family and creating paranoia in the still-partially-healthy other half.
One of the best gifts that came out of Christmas 2014 was an idea. A conversation with my cousin Richlan led to the discussion of turning Fulle Circle into something new- Up until now it had only been my interviews, but now it was about to become something more. We decided, starting with Richlan's essay "The Allure of the Unknown", that this site would house the thoughts and talents of my friends and family... a "Fulle House", complete with its very own cheesy 90s sitcom theme song. It would become a platform by which we could all express ourselves and connect not only with strangers but on a deeper level with each other. It would be the perfect way to start 2015, an adventure in writing and creating with the people in my life I find most interesting. Sure, my heart skips a beat when Camren Bicondova who plays Selina Kyle on my new favorite show Gotham calls my cell phone to do an interview with me from the Fox set in NYC, but it's not as meaningful as collaborating with my favorite people, which has already begun with Emily Alexander's essay, "Adventure... or something like that", after a recent trip to Orlando to celebrate her engagement, or Kara Sotakoun's essay which inadvertently coincides with the idea of most everyone else's writing this month that you don't have to physically travel to a foreign location to have an adventure, it can literally happen in your own backyard (as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids so poetically taught us.) That my friend Juliana Guimarães can submit her thoughts on movies all the way from Brazil, while Mary Schlichting writes her out-of-this-world piece, "Adventurus", only a few miles away, really excited me. And there's much more to come, as essays are currently being written for February by my cousin Stephen Gallutia in Kentucky, Lana McKissack in Hollywood, California, and Jocelyne Barchet in Myrtle Beach who will be the first in addition to myself to interview people for Fulle Circle while at the same time lending her superhuman artistic talents (of which, I posses none) to the site!
While January is the only month themed to "adventure", I hope it's a theme that carries on throughout the life of Fulle Circle, wherever that road may lead, and that the "Fulle House" family continues to grow as "a place of somebody who needs you, everywhere you look."