“Why would you think there’s another life for you, perhaps another possibility inside of you already, when the walk that you take each dawn is so lovely and safe?” —from The Big Door Prize by M. O. Walsh
In a nutshell, that’s the question that The Big Door Prize asks us to consider.
The show, currently streaming on Apple+ TV and based on the M. O. Walsh novel of the same name, frames its narrative around the unremarkable town of Deerfield, where people seem resigned to go through the motions of life and nothing more, never once venturing off the beaten path, unwilling to even consider the idea of what their lives could have been if only they had made more courageous choices.
All that changes one day when Morpho shows up in the town’s general store. Morpho looks like one of those photo booths you used to see at carnivals and cheesy amusement parks. But instead of taking goofy pictures, this thing is like something out of a Ray Bradbury story. You put your money in, and a little blue envelope pops out. You open it, pull out a card and there you are, your potential you. Not the person you are, but the person you could have been. The person you could still be.
Carpenter. Baseball pitcher. Ballerina. Puppeteer. Director. Gardener. Priest. Bartender. Dog trainer. Firefighter. Dentist. Paleontologist. Janitor. Truck driver. Banker. Exotic dancer. Jockey. Flight attendant. Trombone player. Instead of Joe the school bus driver, you could have been Joe the jazz pianist. Instead of Mary Ellen the bank president, you could have been Mary Ellen the screenwriter.
As a creative person, have you ever wondered what might have been?
Some of us, we’ve been fortunate. From the beginning, there was never any ambiguity. Not a sliver of uncertainty. Our creative goals were never compromised by mortgages or kids to put through school or the omnipresent threat of layoffs. Somehow, the fire never went out. Come hell or high water, we were going to lead a life every bit as creative as when we were kids. I know people like that. Perhaps you do, too.
But for others of us, reality has been a bitter pill to swallow. We might not talk about it much, maybe not at all. And yet, many have been the night we’ve grappled with it. Some pivotal moment back there where we could have made a different decision, when we could have turned left instead of right. If only circumstances had been different, we think, imagine where we’d be now.
As creatives, we aren’t so different from the people in Deerfield. One day, Jake is in college going for his MFA in theater; the next thing he knows, he’s teaching remedial math at the local community college. Or Manuel, a brilliant young dancer who came within an inch of going on tour with Shakira but had to pass when his mother came down with cancer.
And then there’s Helen, that woman who manages the Best Buy at the edge of town. Once she was up for a creative director job at an agency in San Diego, but it never went anywhere because she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Boston, where her star eventually faded. Life took its inevitable twists and turns and now, here she is selling smart TVs, toaster ovens and vacuum cleaners.
Creativity is a fragile thing. Every day, it presents us with opportunities, some of which can determine the course of our lives forever and which might never come our way again. The creative dream job. The campaign you fight for to the end, even if it comes damn close to getting you fired. Getting up at two in the morning to work on your novel or your painting or your photography.
I can’t help but imagine where some of us would be now if only there had been a Morpho in our lives. Look, over there, near the restrooms at Starbucks. Down there on the subway platform. Is that a Morpho next to the Cinnabon at the airport? I can’t help but wonder what could have been if only we’d had Morpho to hold a mirror up to the reality we’ve fashioned for ourselves. Would we have found a different path, changed course while we still could or gone another way?
But of course, we’ll never know. In real life, there is no Morpho. No machine to confront us with the stark reality of what could have been for us as creative people. But perhaps that’s just as well. The call to a creative life is fleeting. Better to seize it when we can than to wait for a second chance that might never come. ca