• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
  • Archives

A Dragon Lives Forever But Not So Little Boys


I met with a young writer last week one semester away from graduating college. The big question: try to get a job in publishing or take some temp jobs and try to keep writing. Obviously, I took the day job and it hasn’t been terrible. But I’ll always wonder. The worst part of working in publishing is not having the time to read War and Peace. The best part is working beside writers and making books.

What is your road not taken?

16 Responses

  1. “Road”? As in, singular? One road?

    No. Many paths branched off. Would I remember them all now? Let’s see . . .

    I did not marry at seventeen and drop out of high school and join the U.S. Army.
    I did not become an editor of a start-up military history magazine.
    I did not go to West Point.
    I did not become a journalist.
    I did not become an actor.
    I did not join the U.S. Marine Corps.
    I did not become a quantum cosmologist.
    I did not make a career in automotive parts and repair.
    I did not become a public television producer.
    I did not tend bar until I died a cynical wreck with a trashed-out liver.
    I did not make a career in hotel food and beverage management.
    I did not become a successful, famous novelist, or poet, or teevee literary intellectual.
    I did not become a professor of philosophy, or any other sort of professional teacher.
    I did not become a successful game designer.
    I did not become a commodities trader on Wall Street.
    I did not become an editorial assistant at a major NYC publishing house.
    I did not go to prison for committing murder in a jealous rage.
    I did not go to prison for growing marijuana.
    I did not kill or injure myself or anyone else in a drunken driving accident.
    I did not go to prison for smuggling marijuana through a U.S. Customs checkpoint.
    I did not become an attorney.
    I did not become an oil markets analyst.
    I did not become a computer programmer.
    I did not become a famous radio personality.
    I was not decapitated in a rush-hour collision with an oversized pickup truck.
    And I did not go jump in the lake, though it is near, and it is big, and I could if I wanted.

    What I did was what I knew from age twelve I not only wanted to do, but had to do, and still do to this day — I lived a life with writing at its center, a life with one foot in the daily mundanity and one foot in the sacred space, a life both fed and starved by the needs of being in and experiencing the world, so that I could be connected to the world in basic ways and still write what I wanted to write and how I wanted to write it — which isn’t to say I can’t take editing, because I can. I’m a professional, don’cha know.

    So, for the young writer, I offer this: Nothing is free. You get nowhere without taking chances and making mistakes and earning regrets. Life will break your heart, and if it has done that already, you can bet it will again and worse. So get to it. If you’re a writer, find a way to write. The rest will find its place.

  2. Actually, I diverted to that road five years ago. This could be one of those times when I can say, no regrets.

  3. I’m with Tetman on this one. Every moment, we shed many opportunities in order to pursue one. There’s no singular branch point that “made all the difference.”

    But let’s play one out. Let’s say that I’d stayed in college the first time, and therefore not gotten married the first time, and therefore wound up with a degree in business administration (also known as “couldn’t think of anything I REALLY wanted to do”).

    I’d probably still be living in post-industrial Michigan.
    I’d probably have kids, because I’d probably have married someone who wanted kids.
    I’d probably have a minivan.
    At this point, I’d probably have grandkids, because working-class generations are more compressed. I have nieces who were grandparents at 37.
    I probably would have believed, without ever really being able to name why, that Hillary Clinton was a crook. That’s just the air you breathe there.
    I probably would have lost my low-level bank manager job when Comerica took them all over and consolidated operations in Dallas.
    I’d probably be getting compliments on my little column in my little bowling association newsletter, because that’s all the writing I’d have ever done.

    It’s the butterfly effect. Every tiny choice leads you a few degrees off center, and pretty soon you have an entirely unpredictable life. Thank god.

  4. I wanted to be an architect. The closest I got was designing and building the home where we lived for many years. Our friends helped us build it, and every work day ended with a modest feast and big party. We raised sons there, had big gardens, and started a tree farm-black walnut, green ash, and pecan. Do architects get to do all that?

    All that as a cop married to a psychologist. It’s not just a matter of no regrets, it is a road of joy and many laughs, and the view is spectacular.

  5. Had an interesting conversation with a friend at my Second Job yesterday. We both work at Second Job because we like it, it pays ok, and we have no ambition. I know where my ambition is (writing), and I asked where her ambition is. We decided it was with her children.

  6. Status Quo Lane. I live in a house on the outskirts, what I see is from looking in. I’m aware it’s a flaw in my personality, but often it’s all I have. Sometimes I knock on very nice, ornate doors, but there’s no answer. I can’t have it both ways.

  7. I took an off-ramp when given a contract and advance for a book 45 years ago. When I think of what might have been, I shudder. If I had produced what they wanted I wouldn’t have what I have now. Life without my family, that’s what makes me quake in my Uggs.

    • Carolynn, this is fascinating. I’ve also turned down a book contract, and I’m grateful I did as well. But what kind of a book was it? And what kind of a path would it have put you on? For me, it was an awful academic book with an awful academic publisher with an awful contract, and would have entailed a vast amount of work for almost no money (for the author, anyway, the publisher would have done fine). But I almost did it anyway, because I just wanted to hang on to membership in that community. It was scary to close that door.

      • It was a book of drawings with captions. Sort of like cartoons but different. I was told it would be another JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL a book which sold a bazillion copies and changed the face of publishing at the time. I used to view my decision with regret but not anymore. I would have made A LOT of money but I can’t put a price on what I have now.

  8. Is the road not taken necessarily a regret? Who can say? Way leads onto way, the bard says. Life’s one of those video games my husband plays…make this move, chose this path, climb that rock, into the cave, out of a dungeon. In real life, I could have gone to this school, might have married that man, should have pursued this or that career. We all just ride the waves, some wiser, some smarter, some luckier. That, or as my son suggests, we are all in a matrix controlled by an alien universe. (Which I don’t believe, though I wax philosophical). A lot is out of our control.

  9. Too many roads not taken to account for them all here. A few of them:
    • Become a fact-checker for Texas Monthly magazine
    • Become a book critic for Texas Monthly magazine
    • Become a stage manager for Twyla Tharp’s dance company
    • Become a stage manager for a small New York theater company
    But I’ve taken more roads than I think many people do. One of my slogans—I apologize if it sounds pretentious—was and sometimes still is “Take the broadening path.” I’ve had a few adventures, I’ve learned a few things, and I’ve worked in a handful of fields, including journalism, theater, TV, and computers. I don’t think much of anything is really permanent; I might choose to take a new road tomorrow. As for the consequences of the choices I didn’t make, I have a saying about that too: If things were different, they wouldn’t be the same.

  10. Didn’t realize how many detours I had taken off the main path, until I went to a class reunion. Most of my classmates had never moved more than 10 miles from their childhood home. Most had embraced a lifestyle which made my life choices seem, almost, exotic by comparison. If I had any regrets for the decisions I have made, those thoughts were abandoned after that reunion dinner. I am content, but still watchful for another opportunity to take a detour.

  11. Broadway star, singer/songwriter, or movie screenwriter. Wait: Are we talking realistic roads or vague pipe dreams? I suppose that might narrow it a bit more.

  12. Rock Star (too repetitive and boring: Rock, swallow, suck; who needs it.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: