“Ain’t No Road Too Long”

[spoken interlude; Waylon Jennings] So you are the bird on the run.
[Big Bird] Oh, yeah! And I can’t wait to get back to my real home on Sesame Street. I figure I can walk back there in, oh, about… three hours.
[WJ] Three hours? More like three weeks, buddy.
[BB] Three weeks?! Oh, no. I’ll never get home!
[WJ] Sure you will. You just gotta keep goin.’ Pick up your feet, and follow your beak.
[BB] I don’t know…
[WJ] Listen to me, son.

I found out a long time ago
You gotta learn to say ‘yes’ when life says ‘no’
Don’t dwell on the bad times once they’re past
That kinda thinkin’ gets you nowhere fast

‘Cause there ain’t no mountain you can’t climb
If you hang on tight and just make up your mind
Once you set your heart to movin’ on
Son, there ain’t no road too long

[Gordon] Don’t look back, don’t you turn around
[Susan] Just keep your eye on where you’re bound
[G&S] And you’re bound to get from here to there
‘Cause a dream can take you anywhere
[Cookie Monster, spoken] Ooo, take me to cookies!

[Super Grover] ‘Cause there ain’t no mountain you can’t climb
If you hang on tight and just make up your mind
[Count Von Count] And once you set your heart to moving on—huh, huh
[spoken] Then there is no road too long! And you can count the telephone poles!! One telephone pole! Two telephone poles! Three telephone poles! FOUR TELEPHONE POLES!!”

[spoken interlude; Maria, looking at a road map] Oscar! This isn’t Route 12!
[Oscar] Picky, picky, picky. [Drives off the road into a field]
[Telly] Oh, no!
[M] Whoa, whoa!
[O] I never promised you a rose garden.

[Ernie] Oh, we’re gonna find him all right, Bert.
[B] Yeah.
[E] Hey, you remember what color he is?
[B] What?
[E] He’s yellow.
[B] Ernie!
[E laughs]

[BB] ‘Cause there ain’t no mountain you can’t climb
If you hang on tight and just make up your mind
And once you set your heart to moving on
Yeah, there ain’t no road too long

[WJ] Ain’t no mountain you can’t climb
          [BB, spoken] That’s right!
[WJ] If you hang on tight and just make up your mind
          [BB, spoken] Uh huh!
[WJ] Once you set your heart to moving on
          [BB, spoken] Sing it!
[WJ] There ain’t no road too long
There ain’t no road too long
[BB] There ain’t no road too long
[WJ] No, there ain’t no road too long.

Written by Jeff Pennig, Jeff Harrington, and Steve Pippin

“Ain’t No Road Too Long” from Follow That Bird

I used to find this song more inspiring when I was younger. I distinctly remember feeling fortified by it, especially Olivia and Gordon’s verse. And in certain ways, for certain things, it does still buck me up. I feel like it’s very apt for my writing career, and there are a few other roads I’m not yet ready to give up on.

I know, in the grand scheme of things, not-quite-36 is still very young, but I’m reflecting on how much more simply I thought about the world when I was younger. There was always depth, yes, but far fewer snarls of uncertainty and ambiguity. The older I get, the more I think the process of being alive/growing up/growing as a human is really just a constant series of stretching to hold more complexity. You may think “Yellow!” when you’re young and nothing will convince you of Blue. Until you experience Blue. Or listen to others’ experiences enough to believe them when they tell you about Blue, even though you’ve never seen it. Even though you wish it was still Yellow, you know Blue exists. And then, somehow, you have to make room for Green. Because between Yellow and Blue, there are infinite shades, flavors, and interpretations of Green.

I talk about complexity because “Ain’t No Road Too Long” used to make me wholly believe it. Now I can think of all the Yeah Buts and Whatabouts.

Some roads are too long. Human strength is not infinite. Human lives are not infinite. And even if we could push ourselves to the limit every time (which no one should), another part of growing up is learning when to quit. Sunk costs fallacy!!—just because you’ve invested time, money, effort, or heart into something doesn’t mean it’s the right option going forward. Plans change. People change. We make a different choice, and a new universe splits off from the timeline of multiverses. Saying ‘no’ to something may mean closing one door, but it frees you up to look around and say ‘yes’ to something else.

It’s like ghost ships—you can only stand on one boat at a time (unless they’re right next to each other and you’re very flexible). In an oft-quoted Dear Sugar letter, Cheryl Strayed wrote,

There’s a poem I love by Tomas Tranströmer called “The Blue House” … Every life, Tranströmer writes, “has a sister ship,” one that follows “quite another route” than the one we ended up taking … I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.

In my last semester of high school, I gave up on pursuing acting as my career because I’d been giving it everything I had for the last six years and I felt I had so little improvement to show for it. It kept breaking my heart. And so, before the last play of the year, within my heart I quit that life path. It allowed me to come down from lead actress in the previous play, a poignant drama with a stage kiss and everything, to my two or three small parts in the absurd musical Bat Boy, and to enjoy the experience with playful detachment.

Wondering what the heck else I would do with my life, I decided to go to pastry school. I wanted to make elaboratly decorated cakes, but in my nine-month program at the (now defunct) Art Institute of Phoenix, we spent only two weeks on cake decorating. When I graduated, no one was hiring, and two years later when I did finally get an interview at a cupcake shop, I discovered that I’d lost what skills I’d ever gained there. What I ended up with from my time in pastry school was one friend, a couple of good quality knives, good chopping skills, some random food trivia, a lot of student loan debt, and some very hard-earned life lessons.

When I’d been working at my first full-time job for two years, I felt stuck. I decided to go back to college to pursue my B.A. Still full of the Save the World enthusiastic optimistic idealism of my mid 20s, I decided to focus on International Studies, which I did for all of one quarter then Noooope’ed right out of that.

So I turned to writing and never looked back. Oh, I’ve looked beyond (how do I make this a long-term career?) and off to the side (what if I could also?) and upside down (WHY CAN’T I JUST), but not back. I’ve never regretted choosing to study and pursue writing.

So, sometimes the road is too long. Sometimes, you gotta say “Thanks, but no thanks, Waylon Jennings” and pick a different road. But whatever road you’re on, you can still count the telephone poles!! One telephone pole! Two telephone poles! Three telephone poles! FOUR TELEPHONE POLES!!


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