Monday, June 6, 2011

What Is, Is

Have you ever been in the desert and seen a straight road stretching to the horizon with no sign of humans anywhere and wondered why that road was there? That was the road the guys in my family decided to take when they ran into a twenty-mile long traffic jam on their way back from a bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas. This was pre-GPS, so using a bit of sense as they headed merrily off into Death Valley in the middle of summer, they called me and asked me to pull out a map to check that the highway they were on eventually reconnected with the 10.

"That's not a road, it's a pencil squiggle!" I told them.

The way this tale wraps up is that instead of being discovered three years later as mummified remains by a wandering desert rat, the guys made it back onto the 10 and home on time, no worse for wear. They'd even stifled the urge to abandon the annoying groom - their brother - in the middle of the desert despite what, I'm sure, must have been heavy temptation.

R and I have a dare detour down in Orange County called Bonita Canyon road. What's a dare detour? Every time we drive past it, we dare each other to take it instead of our usual route. We never have, but some day, one of us will say, "What the hell," and take that exit. Will we regret it? No chance of it leading us into the depths of Death Valley, so at the worst, I figure we'll be bored. At best, who knows?

But we're talking about life here with roads not taken, aren't we? I wonder how many times in real life people realize that they're at a crossroads, mull over all the possibilities, and look to the long term. In hindsight, sure, but at the time? I never did. All I saw was what would be nice - something to work toward- and what was. I used to camp and hike a lot, and looking back, I realize that my gaze was always on my hiking boots as I trudged along the path. At rest stops, I'd take in the full measure of my surroundings, but when there was work to be done, I shut it out. So maybe there were plenty of times in life when I should have raised my head and taken in the complete view, but at the time, one stubborn, focused step at a time was the only way I'd been taught to live.

I'm jealous as hell of people who were able to spend their college years studying writing. It wasn't possible, but it would have been so nice. Just think of the writer I'd be now if I'd been properly trained. Think of all the lovely, deep conversations that I could have had with fellow writer-students at bijoux cafes, and all the fascinating artistic people I would have met! And think of the lively, stimulating debates in class over rising action and hero's journeys and all that stuff I imagine that writers talk about in advanced writing courses. I think of it all the time and regret missing out. Sort of.

The problem with that road not taken is that the scenery isn't as attractive when reality sets in. People who majored in English in college assure me that my fantasy is just that - pure fantasy, and most of the professional writers I know are really struggling financially. My personal life is happy and stable. My day job is interesting, steady, pays well, and I like almost everyone I work with. My relatives are healthy and reasonably happy too. So basically, I'd be an unappreciative ass to complain. I've seen enough of other people's lives to know Mary Poppins was right when she said, "Enough is as good as a feast."

Pssst - and here's a little secret. That road not taken? There are on-ramps all over the place. Most things in life weren't a one-shot deal - miss the onramp and you've blown it forever. No way. Everyone these days, from Madonna to goat's milk cheese makers to the people next door, reinvents themselves. I could take college courses in writing starting this summer semester. I could find a writing community here in Los Angeles or start one. I could even find a bijoux coffee house and hang out with poets or tragic young things (although I'll admit I don't have much patience for that). See, short of being a professional athlete, there aren't many goals in life that are out of reach because I've hit a certain age. The roads not taken are still open. If one calls to me, even if it looks like a shaky pencil mark, I might just take it.


  1. I like this idea. And it's true, the possibilities to develop, grow and find new paths are always around. Often in the most unexpected places.

  2. Hi, Kathleen,

    First of all, even if you had looked up from your hiking boots, you wouldn't have been able to tell where the road led. The roads in life are anything but straight, with highly limited visibility.

    Also your "dare detour" reminded me of the fact that my husband can't bear to pass a backroad without trying it out...!

    Your final conclusion seems quite similar to mine though - maybe you can get back to the crossroads if you try.

  3. Lisabet - I'll admit that some ships have sailed, but most of the stuff is still do-able.

    Speaking of sailed ships though, I recently reconnected with my not a bf/bf from high school. I always told myself that the reason we never ended up together (for more than a few hours at a time) was that he wasn't really smart enough for me. Our recent conversation proved it. He sure was pretty though.

  4. Fulani - One of the great things about life expectations now is that no one thinks twice if you branch out and grow. It's almost expected. Overcoming inertia is a lot harder than overcoming what the neighbors might think.

  5. I spent my college years lonely and isolated. I majored in English and creative writing, but no-one else actually enjoyed writing. No intense talks about writing took place. If I wanted conversation, I had to talk about going boozing, what to wear, and how much money people had left to go boozing. Went to a good college, too. Didn't make any difference.

    I've found better friends - better writing friends - online. Even in the unlikliest of places, like working for Blockbuster.

    Believe me, you didn't miss anything.

  6. Charlotte - Isn't that always the case? I didn't miss anything, but spent years feeling as if I did. (Although I knew that my vision was a pipe dream)

  7. A friend of mine once called in a panic and said, "I just realized -- I'm too old to ever be a child prodigy."

  8. MTF - Hah! My mother made it clear by the time I was nine, I'd already dashed all her dreams of raising a wunderkind, so I was thrilled that the author photo in the first Agatha Christie novel I picked up showed that she was quite old. Ancient! She must have been at least 50!

  9. Oh Kathleen, your dreams of what could have been are parallel to mine -- but I'm sure it's true, the ideal Bloomsbury (or wherever) Group of talented writers prob. exists mostly in the imaginations of those who think they've missed it.
    Re grower older without having taken a different road, I recently saw a live performance of the musical Chicago - Roxie Hart (who desperately wants a career in vaudeville) says: "I'm so much older than I ever intended to be."
    I'm sure we could all say the same. But we're not dead, & some roads are still there.

  10. Jean - I long for Bloomsbury, but I think I'm more suited to Algonquin Table. If I could convince myself to leave the house at night and meet other writers, I could have that, I think. Inertia is a harsh mistress.


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