Friday, September 26, 2008

Roads Not Taken

by Nancy

This is not actually about Robert Frost, though his poem, with its image of roads diverging "in a snowy wood" has always spoken to me. Life is full of choices. Roads diverge all the time, and each road taken leads into events and possibilities that exclude other events and possibilities.

My very first career choice, so far as I can remember, was nursing. I was in first grade or so, and this choice endured until I found out about the blood thing. I'm not squeamish about dealing with blood, exactly. I'm just not keen on it. And I hated getting shots, so giving them would be, well, less than cool.

About the time I was rejecting my first career choice, somewhere around third grade, I discovered Greek mythology. The school library had the D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths. I fell in love with the art and the legends. I also loved their Norse mythology volume. All things Greek fascinated me. When I wasn't mooning over knights in olde England or warriors in medieval Scotland (our family can torturously trace our lineage back to the Bruce), I was thinking about Greeks. Odysseus. Aeneas. Penelope. I did notice that, apart from the Amazons (yay, Wonder Woman!) and the goddesses (yay, Athena and Artemis!), doing cool stuff in Greece was reserved to men. Since that was the way of the world at the time, I shrugged over it and went on, straight into an interest in archaeology. Then I found out about the bones thing--as in, digging up. Ooops, not for me! Another career choice shot down in flames. *sigh*

I liked to draw. I was also a fairly girly girl, aside from liking superheroes and displaying serious geek tendencies, so I thought perhaps fashion design might be in my future. I sometimes remember this when I watch Project Runway. I'm so incredibly glad not to be in that industry now. My clothing taste is way too conservative for the market trends. However, this interest persisted until I was doing college visits and found out just how much chemistry I'd have to take to major in design. I finally settled on a history major, which fit right in with my geeky interests and ultimately, via a long and winding road, led me to teaching.

After my freshman year in college, I transferred. I was thinking of waiting a year, but medical problems compounded my general unhappiness, so I made the jump. As a result, I met people whose influence led me to grad school and then law school and then to the man I eventually married, who nudged me into teaching. I also got to study Tudor and Stuart Britain at Oxford for a summer, one of the highlights of my life.

I sometimes think, what if I hadn't transferred when I did? Or had gone somewhere else? What if I'd pursued archaeology or design? Where would I be? What would my life be like? Is there a me somewhere who actually wore that wide-brimmed white hat with the veil streaming down the back at her wedding? Or do all the me versions wear that white floral wreath veil?

We make the same sorts of choices in writing. I've moved away from Restoration to medieval, but I may go back. I have lots of ideas for the period. I've also written a contemporary in first person. Will it sell? Will any of them? At this point, I have no idea. I hope so. Do I regret having written things that were not middle of the market? Not really. Sometimes doing something different recharges the batteries in important ways.

I don't regret any of my choices, but if every choice creates, as some science fiction writers and scientists theorize, an alternate reality in which the choice not taken becomes the choice on which we act, then what kinds of realities have I spun off behind me? Which ones have you created?

What sorts of choices have you made in life or in writing? Do you ever wonder where the other choice(s) would have led?

Late Bandit Booty:

I've been very bad about booty announcements this summer, so here are two that should catch me up. I apologize for the delays!

The winner of Julie Kenner's prize, a copy of Deja Demon, is Tetewa!

The winner of Gillian Summers' prize, a choice of either The Tree Shepherd's Daughter or Into the Wildewood, is Rebekah!

Email me via the link at the top of the blog page, and I'll pass the information to the authors!


limecello said...


limecello said...

Ah! Yes :D - Nancy, what a lovely post! We had a number of the same interest/reactions - I always thought doctor or lawyer - and have no idea when blood started to be... less than fun for me. Then marine biology - only, all that chem.
Never did history - though I was interested in it. I knew I didn't want to teach, though I love doing it for very short controlled periods of time. And all the mythology! I loved it - but ... never tried to major in Classics. I still, however, likely know more about Classical mythology than one strictly should.
That's so wonderful you got to study at Oxford - I've always wanted to study abroad. I do wonder sometimes "what if" - but I also feel that I'm still at the middle/beginning. (Which may or may not be a good thing :P)

flchen1 said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Nancy! I definitely had that same reaction to a career in medicine--wait, there's all this blood? Aack! No can do!

I thought about teaching, too, and in retrospect, am thankful I didn't choose that path either--I've got about zero patience, which doesn't tend to work well in teaching situations ;p

I made a big detour late in college (switching majors within engineering, basically because it was too late to switch out), and then one more in taking a first job out of school (an entry-level position in editing and desktop publishing--no engineering in sight). I was fairly happy with that job, and now am beginning to think about what path I might take as my kids are getting a bit older and I think about going back to work for pay...

Congrats on the GR, Limecello!

Anna Campbell said...

Limecello, congrats on the chook! He's been a bit quiet lately, I think. Maybe you should make a fuss of him, just to cheer him up.

Nancy, what a lovely post. You're right - sometimes you wonder what would have happened if you'd taken that other road. The weird thing is sometimes you don't even know you've made a choice until it's too late to go back!

jo robertson said...

Yay, Limecello!

Great post, Nancy. It's always interesting to contemplate where a different choice might have led us.

I've often wondered if I hadn't fallen desperately in love and married Dr. Big, what I might have done what career would I have embarked on. Would I still have had seven children? Would I have been a teacher?

I do wish I had more seriously pursued singing and begun training earlier in my life.

Helen said...

Well done limecello enjoy your day with him.

Great post Nancy the joys of wondering what if I always wanted to be a nurse when I was younger but meeting my hubby changed my mind because even at 15 I knew I didn't want to be away from him for too long and the studying would have done that. I chose working in a bank getting married young having children which really was my dream I am living it but I do often wonder what if I had chosen to say travel before I settled down I will never know now but I am very happy as is.

Congrats to tetewa and Rebekah on your prizes well done.

Have Fun

Donna MacMeans said...

Great Post, Nancy.

For a long time my life motto was "I never want to say I wish I would have..." But that's pretty impossible to live by. In elementary school, I decided to be a writer. Then for a brief time, I though I'd be a painter. In high school, I decided I was meant to be an English teacher - until I took my first education class. No way was I going to endure four years of that! Then I was to be a journalist, but finanaces got in the way. My education would be paid for if I agreed to be an accountant...voila - one more beancounter joins the workforce, and yet - now I'm back to writing.

I think we come around to where we are meant to be. Many roads lead there, but the finish is still the same. I took a circuitous route to become a writer - but then maybe that was the straighest path to learn what I needed to know.

Caren Crane said...

Hey, I thought that was "two diverged in a YELLOW wood". Have I lost my Frost? *g*

Caren Crane said...

Limecello, congrats on nabbing the GR today! He may have some bad habits to break, considering the company he was keeping yesterday. *ahem*

Nancy, I was going to be amazed that you and I were having such similar thoughts lately, then I realized that Mars is retrograde right now. Mars retrograde is a time for going over the past and righting old wrongs.

I admit to being a bit of a cyber stalker - in a good way. I like to Google my friends and see where they are, what sorts of things they are doing. Well, I Googled an old regret - er, boyfriend - the other day and found out that he has become a very successful art conservator in Charlotte. *sigh* His brother, who was the one I really had it bad for, is also an art conservator. In Germany!

Some of you may recall I was once upon a time majoring in German and Business Administration. Which would have been perfect for my not-to-be life in Germany. Oh, well. I chose a much different life, so no Europe for me.

I do wonder how things might have been had I stuck with German and business, had I dated the right brother first. Lots of things. Of course, then I remember how insanely boring business was and I don't regret that part of it. *g*

I try to channel all the "what if" stuff into my books. I figure if you have it, you should use it. As to writing, I apparently don't write anything "normal" enough for the market (so far). But those are the stories I have to tell. I can only tell life as I see it and the stories that feel true to me. Anything else doesn't work AT ALL.

Someday, some brilliant editor will fall in love with my oddball Southerners and your Restoration nobles, Nancy. Joan's Romans, too. Just a matter of time!

Carol said...

Nancy, Two Roads is my favourite poem! Ever!
I adore it..find it inspirational! I have it on my blog! with an Aussie picture of course!

This is a wonderful subject, once a path is taken, and you are happy what if's are irrelevent,you just keep going and make the path you are on the best you can!

Some people have really tough lives,they don't have a choice, fate chooses the path, and they make the best of it with great courage, like a dear lady mentioned a week or so ago. In a single sentence she told us about her life and I was filled with admiration for her.

Limecello...a rooster took a pathway up to your house...congratulations! Best keep him on the straight and narrow!

Cheers Carol

Louisa Cornell said...

Congrats on the GR, limecello! Keep an eye on him and your hands on the car keys AND the chainsaws! Hide the blueberry cobbler too!

What a thought provoking post, Nancy. I agree that somehow we end up where we are supposed to be. I wanted to be a writer from childhood, even wrote a book when I was nine or ten. Sat up in my bedroom under the eaves and wrote and wrote and wrote.

Then they found out I could sing. Three years of lessons at the London College of Music, years of voice lessons, college degrees in music and a scholarship to study at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and I was a professional opera singer. I often wonder what might have happened had I not accepted the scholarship and switched to vet school which was an option I considered. I even considered it again after my dh died, but financial considerations put paid to that!

My high school boyfriend proposed after I graduated, but he didn't want me to go to college. He was a brick mason and wanted me to be a stay at home wife and mother. I chose college and he is now filthy rich! LOL I often wonder what my life might have been like had I married him. I know I would probably have children which is something I have always wanted. I would definitely not have had my singing career. I MIGHT have had my writing career and had the luxury of no day job to interfere with it. Sigh! Oh well!

Still, everything I have done and everything I have seen has made me who I am, and at almost 50 I think I am finally beginning to like who I am. I am not crazy about the lady who runs the bakery, but I really like the lady who writes and takes care of the dogs and cats.

Nancy said...

Limecello--congratulations on grabbing the bird! I think marine biology would be fascinating, too, but the sciences and I just were not destined for each other. I also feel closer to the beginning than the end, but I'm sometimes shocked to see that my college classmates, whom I remember as young, have actually aged. Horrors! Does that mean I have, too? :-)

Fedora, the patience thing is why I teach at the college level. I knew I didn't have the patience for dealing with kids whose other issues were complicated by burgeoning hormones of adolescence (how's that for a purple phase? *g*). I hope whichever new path you take is fun.

I'm running late today but will be back in a bit!

terrio said...

This such an appropriate topic for me today and I'm facing some major choices. And I often wonder this same thing. At 22 I chose to leave everything I knew and move to a new city 500 miles from home. Withing 24 hrs of my arrival, I met the man I would marry (and eventually divorce). I often wonder how things would have turned out if I hadn't moved.

A goal in my life is to get through with as little regrets as possible. I'd like to have no regrets, but I don't think that's realistic. I've done pretty good so far. Few regrets but they are major ones. But if what you say is true about that alternate reality, I wonder if the other me is happier.

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

GREAT post, Nancy!

Donna said: "I think we come around to where we are meant to be. Many roads lead there, but the finish is still the same. I took a circuitous route to become a writer - but then maybe that was the straightest path to learn what I needed to know."

I AGREE! As does Louisa. I believe I would have become a writer, since I've done it most of my life. I just needed all those other "life experiences" before I finally reached the "published author" stage. Of course I often wonder "What if..." Can't help it. It's the writer in me!

One of my biggest what ifs is about college. I always wanted to attend USC but felt it was far too expensive. WHAT IF I'd thrown caution to the wind and gone to USC on student loans? It's a fun fantasy, but I'm sure I would have still wound up here as a romance writer. :-)


Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Hmmm, I thought it was YELLOW wood too, Posh!

And forgot to say CONGRATS on the GR, Limecello! Are you taking him to classes with you? Or making him help with homework?


Nancy said...

Anna, choices are a funny thing, and I agree that they're not always consciously made. Sometimes we don't even know what the alternatives mean in the long run.

Jo, I didn't realize you were a singer. I'd like to have been a singer, even if only casually, but I'm cursed with a good ear and complete inability to sing on key for more than a few bars.

Helen, I'm sure I'm not the only one envying you for finding Mr. Right so early in your life. Your grandchildren certainly are cute!

Donna, I think circuitous routes can be helpful. Sometimes, having tried various things can reinforce our certainty--or mine, at least--that these aren't the things we want. OTOH, I envy people who know what they want, get it, and are happy with it. The long road tends to be a bumpy one at times.

Caren (and AC)--I looked it up. It is a "yellow" wood! I think I may have, over time, merged the two roads of this poem and the snowy evening of some other. Oh, well! At least the roads are still there. :-) You took German, huh? That's one of the harder languages, as I recall. Who knows--you might've been a high-powered exec at some multinational with German headquarters. Maybe, in another reality, you are?

Carol, glad you like the poem! We visited Frost's house many years ago. He had a beautiful mountain view. You know, some people do seem never to catch a break. It's easy to forget that sometimes choice itself is a luxury.

Louisa, the bedroom under the eaves sounds so picturesque! You've done some amazing things and seen some fabulous places that must lend a wonderful flavor to your writing. I know what you mean about the day job, though. Even though I have a way milder one than I once did, it eats up time!

Terrio, I admire you for having the guts to make such a drastic move at a young age. I contemplated moving to New York and moving to Seattle at various times in my life, but I never made the leap. Having to take another bar exam was a huge deterrent. I made some spectacularly bad choices, primarily in the relationship department, in my twenties, so I know what you mean about regrets. At some point, though, my regrets faded into a kind of acceptance of the me those choices produced, and I hope they will for you, too. Still, I like to think at least one of the alternate reality mes is doing fabulous things! Maybe she started writing earlier and now dominates the Times list? *g*

Nancy said...

AC, I'm sure you would've ended up here, too. Can't wait to celebrate your launch with you (and our buddies) on October 1!

Cassondra said...

Anna Campbell stepped out of the writing cave and said:

The weird thing is sometimes you don't even know you've made a choice until it's too late to go back!


Nancy this is a great post. I actually spend a lot of time thinking about this. About the "what ifs"--and I recognize that they're about as useful as the "should haves" but still, I can't help but wonder sometimes.

I've taken a lot of roads in life, and the more roads you take, the more are left that you didn't take. The more the road forks, the more you wonder.

And often I've taken those steps down "the road less traveled." Most people are SO impressed when I tell them all the things I've done. Pffffft. Maybe it HAS made all the difference, but mostly, the road less traveled has led to "the much less money." After all, I should be thinking about retirement about now, not about "what am I gonna do when I grow up?"

Still, of the choices, I regret only a few. It's the roads I did not take that I regret mostly--not the ones I did take.

Okay I've a hunch this made no sense whatsoever.

Cassondra said...

Oh, and I know it's now a cliche for Frost to be one's favorite poet but I don't care. He is. And that's my favorite of his poems too. Even if it's culturally more correct to love something less well known. Pfffft. (I'm ina Pffffft kind of mood today, can ya tell?)

I think it's my favorite and means so much because I've taken so many of those less-traveled roads.

terrio said...

Cassondra - that made perfect sense. And I get that same reaction sometimes when I tell people what I've done. But I don't feel all the impressive most of the time.

It's the roads I did not take that I regret mostly--not the ones I did take.

Now THAT'S the truth.

Cassondra said...

Louisa said:

. I am not crazy about the lady who runs the bakery, but I really like the lady who writes and takes care of the dogs and cats.

Louisa I find this to be deeply profound (is that a redundancy btw?)

I think about this a lot too--about the different parts of me. I don't so much like the impatient lady who has been a little angry at some of her world for the past few years, but I like the person who is taking baby steps at watercolor, who is finding more of herself creatively, and who, after years of playing piano professionally, has started to take lessons to learn to read music. Another road I've decided to take.

I'm coming up to a job change too I think, and that's a scary fork in the road. We'll see whether I like the person who steps through this "life portal" when I get to the other side.

It's always about growing isn't it? Growing and meeting the changes and trying to become more of who you like and letting go of the parts you don't.

Cassondra said...

Terrio said:

But I don't feel all the impressive most of the time.

me neither. I NEVER feel impressive. But other people go "oh wow!" about all the stuff I've done.

But THEIR lives impress me. YOUR life impresses me. That you are able to do a job, take care of yourself and your daughter, and pursue your writing and find ways to make yourself happy. THAT RIGHT THERE is the most impressive skillset in the world to me.

Nancy said...

Cassondra, isn't it amazing how following one's bliss is often not best for one's bank balance? I made way more money in my old job. Way more. I wasn't happy, though. Now I'm happier but looking down the road to paying college tuition--looming dead ahead!--and thinking maybe a little less happiness and a little more money might've been a wiser choice.

The dh says not, and his is the main opinion I care about. The boy also says not, and having that salary would've meant less time with him, which I wouldn't give up for the world. I'm lucky to have been able to make that change, and I know it! But still . . . it'd be nice to have banked that salary for 10 years.

And yeah, I'm among those who find your accomplishments pretty darned impressive!

Nancy said...

Cassondra and all you other Frost fans, I happen to like rhyme in my poetry. Rhyme and meter. They're both out of vogue now, which is probably one reason Frost is not considered cool--by whoever it is who arbitrates such things--but we all get to like what we like (same as with wine, food, vacation spots, and authors), and I like Frost!

Also Wordsworth, Tennyson, Longfellow, and Dickenson. And, of course, The Bard.

Cassondra said...

Nancy said:

And yeah, I'm among those who find your accomplishments pretty darned impressive!

Well, thank you for saying that. But I think I'd be more impressed with myself if I'd actually truly mastered something. Part of today's angst may be leftover from last night's symphony concert. Watching 70 gifted players perform on a stage in front of me--making that magic they can make while they move as ONE entity--creating that amazing gift for all of us in the audience--that makes me sit back and think "I've accomplished nothing."

I know one thing I regret--when you pursue lots of different things--and when you pursue each thing with ALL of yourself, as I have done, it's possible to get pretty good at a lot of things. But in doing so, you leave behind--and I mean BEHIND--the last thing you were doing.

Sort of like--okay I'm done with that--so there's this massive dump of most of it so you can move on to the next thing and have some clean "inner space" to accomodate the new skills and learning.

Of the hundreds of Latin plant names I learned in grad school, I can remember only a few. Yes, I could pick it back up with some study, but I haven't maintained the skills I've gained at any reasonable level--no proficiency much in what I've left behind to pursue other stuff.

THAT I regret.

But I don't know how to do it differently. And I wouldn't give up anything I know except maybe my present job, which has taught me a new craft, but has garnered me no new skills whatsoever.

Cassondra said...

Nancy said:

I happen to like rhyme in my poetry. Rhyme and meter. They're both out of vogue now, which is probably one reason Frost is not considered cool--by whoever it is who arbitrates such things


And Pffffft on those who arbitrate such things.

Perhaps those who DO arbitrate such things are not skilled enough to use rhyme and meter and still keep the writing fresh?????

The tigher the parameters, the more skill it takes to master the execution.

I better shut up (looks over shoulder and ducks flying fruit).

Nancy said...

Cassondra wrote:

But I think I'd be more impressed with myself if I'd actually truly mastered something.

Ah, but this raises a philosophical distinction almost as big as the alternate realities one, at least for me. It seems to me that the threshold for being impressed with one's own accomplishments is much higher than the one for being impressed with other people's deeds. Why? This doesn't just seem to apply to me and you, Cassondra. I think it snags lots of women.

Two of my writer friends recently indicated that they were impressed with various things I'd done. On both occasions, my reaction was a silent "Are you out of your mind?" I don't think I compare all that favorably to them. One is a multi-published author who does seventy-eleven things for her kids on a daily basis in addition to meeting her deadlines and promoting her books. The other is a solo legal practitioner who turns out at least one short story a month and raises horses. Compared to that, I do just exactly what? I did manage, more or less, to shut up and say "thank you," but why is it that compliments are so hard to take? Aside from the fact that many of us were taught not to get inflated view of ourselves? In the process, did we acquire diminished ones?

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Cassondra said: "The tighter the parameters, the more skill it takes to master the execution."

AMEN to that, sistah! I once took a poetry workshop where the instructor compared writing a sonnet to performing a ballet in a closet. You don't have a whole lot of room to produce something beautiful, but it can be done!

who was always terrible at writing rhyme and meter but LURVES reading it

Nancy said...

AC, I admire you for even taking a poetry workshop. I think it's beyond me!

Joan said...

The only road I delayed choosing and have wondered where I would be now if I'd done so sooner, was writing for publication.

As to choosing to be a nurse? Nothing else EVER crossed my mind. Not until many years later when I realized I would have enjoyed teaching...the little ones.

I also regret the choice of rushing through the nursing unit today with an IV pole/pumps...a cord falling and getting caught in a wheel sending the pole crashing to the floor and the wheels into my shins!!!

Can we say ouch?

Louisa Cornell said...

I have to say I admire each and every one of the Banditas for ALL they have done. And Cassondra, giving your whole self to each and every endeavor IS a skill to be admired. Especially in this day when a complete lack of commitment to ANYTHING seems to be a badge of shame.

Those of you who have raised decent kids, stayed married to good husbands and gotten rid of bad ones - those who have stepped out of their comfort zones, who have dared to try something completely nuts just because you felt the need to LIVE - those are things to be admired and praised. Every day you get up and go out there and take care of yourself, your loved ones and your friends - that is something to be admired. I try to give myself credit for something EVERY DAY. I don't care if it is just getting the laundry done, bathing a dog, paying a bill on time (or just a little late VBG) or answering an e-mail that I really needed to answer. I give myself a pat on the back ONCE a day at least for getting something accomplished - something every day, ordinary that had to be done and I did it. Why? Because there are droves of people out there who DON'T ! They expect the world to take care of them, they have no expectations of themselves and no courage to put anything of themselves on the line. Anyone who does that even once a day has accomplished something!

limecello said...

:X I didn't get to read all the comments - but as to "where you are on your journey" - I teach 4th and 5th graders for a program called "Street Law" a few times a week - and a student once asked me how old I was, and threw out 40, I think. (Which is just amusing.)
Then about a month later while at home I answered the phone and the person on the other side asked to speak with my "mommy or daddy." This oh the heels of someone calling me "cutie" at the county court house during my other job. So I guess people figure I'm anywhere from 12-40.

EilisFlynn said...

If I still worked on Wall Street, I'd be ducking wild-eyed people running down the streets right now.

If I still worked in comics, I'd be confused about the fuss on Wall Street, even though I really should know why.

It's good not to work in either place now!