Thirty four years ago, MVRHS principal Gregory Scotten addressed my incoming freshman class. During the convocation he cited the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts and its familiar lyric: “It’s a gift to be simple, It’s a gift to be free.”

Oh, how my cynical friends and I savaged these words. This was the 1980s, after all. We were on the runway of life and acceleration alone would lift us into our neon-lit futures. Simple? To hell with that. The word evoked simple-mindedness and drab piety. It was time to rock out, not settle.

It was 1985 and I harbored dreams of becoming the screenwriter who would pen the next sci-fi epic on the scale of Star Wars or Star Trek. It would be glorious; visions born in my imagination would be fleshed out into box office gold. Riches and ego-stoking fame would be mine.

Life happened, decades passed, and I’m privileged to acknowledge I was wrong. Those lyrics, once so casually dismissed, have proven prophetic.

Simplicity is not dullness — it’s the absence of unnecessary parts in the machinery of life. When your happiness is contingent on complexity, the opportunities for frustration multiply. In the case of screenwriting the headwinds are diabolical. One joins the pack of 50,000 writers vying for 600 annual production slots. If one passes this gauntlet they’ll likely witness their concept rewritten by studio hacks. Next, they’ll pray that poor directing and marketing won’t ruin the film, as one box office flop can wreck a career.

My contentment today is blissfully free from such convolutions. Sitting by the wood stove with my cat Gilbert or tending my flock of parakeets provides a measure of joy such that, were I to die today, I could do so with a smile on my face and the thought: “Well, it was a good ride.”

I can leave old dreams behind without suffering pangs of regret. And new ones arise. Last year I launched a publishing imprint; the first book is slated for a summer release.

Occasionally, scenes from unwritten screenplays flash across my mind. One, the story of an underdog field hockey team, still holds emotional charge, as does the story of a bullied teen coached in boxing. Maybe they’ll see the light of day some day — or not. Either way is fine.

This awareness is priceless. It spares me the cruel fate of the embittered soul. Instead, I can watch my daughter grow up, tend my pets, and toss another log on the fire with a peaceful heart.

The Shakers weren’t always brilliant; their leaders advocated communal celibacy and within several generations they’d snuffed themselves out. Still, when it came to lyrics, they were spot on. Who’d have thought?

Julian Wise owns Island Images Gallery. He lives in West Tisbury.