I read Blue Like Jazz, Miller’s first and wildly successful memoir, in what seems now another life and another frame of mind. But Donald Miller is travelling with me in a freakish parallel universe. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years tracks Miller learning to view his life through a camera lens. This hook, life as a story, snagged my inner writer, pulling me through the book as Miller sharpens his point.
The book begins as Miller is approached to edit Blue Like Jazz into a movie script, turning his (mainly internal) meanderings into events that happen to a character named Don. As a writer myself, complete with an overactive inner monologue, I appreciated the irony of Miller reshaping his memoir to translate onscreen. Reconstructing his quiet, emotional growth into visible activity seems daunting. Yet realizing that movie moments are made when the character is doing something, not when he’s thinking, leads to Miller’s extraordinary personal growth in A Million Miles.
As he begins to edit, Miller posits, “My entire life had been designed to make myself more comfortable, to insulate myself from the interruption of my daydreams.” Instead of continuing that story, Miller swaps it for a new one, testing out action/adventure to start (he climbs the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu while struggling with weight issues), then drama (his first serious relationship), and finally mellowing into an arthouse flick (he bikes across the country with a group of misfits) to wrap.
A Million Miles is about the transition from an easy acceptance of life to scaring yourself out of complacency. Miller’s memorable characters — particularly the vivid Bob Goff — imbue his stories with clarity and an honest, translucent feel that let readers embrace the end lesson.
“If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story.”
If most of life is forgettable, it follows that what we’ll recall — easiest or most or fondly — are the absurd moments, the unscripted. Miller’s voice has matured, maybe with age, maybe just with the change in story. His weaving, multi-layered tales build a message powerful in its simplicity: Self-editing is within our power.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:
What I Learned While Editing My Life
Thomas Nelson, Hardcover, September 2009
Review based on a free copy of A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, courtesy of Zondervan.