This week’s topic is the road not taken—how choosing a different path might’ve affected our writing.
First of all, there’s a whole theory about Frost’s “Road Not Taken” actually being ironic, meaning that the choosing the other path wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever. I prefer interpretations that irritate the majority because I am cantankerous by nature, so of course this is the interpretation I feel is most correct.
The Road Not Taken By Robert Frost (emphasis added)
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Or did it????
The truth is, I knew I would write Girlish since I was in grade school, before I found a career path or had children or made many decisions—both good and bad—that shaped my future adult self. It wasn’t that I was burning with desire to become a memoirist at the age of ten, but I recognized that there was a story there. There weren’t many lesbians raising children in Rochester, New York in the 1970s—heck there weren’t many lesbians raising children anywhere in the 1970s. Throw in my father’s penchant for marrying every few years, and I had an attention grabbing headline: My mother’s a lesbian and my father’s been married seven times. It was either write a book or go on Jerry Springer, and I didn’t think Jerry Springer paid all that well.
That’s not to say that I wanted to actually write the book. I completed three full manuscripts and one thesis on completely different subjects before I succumbed to the inevitable and wrote the story that everyone else wanted me to tell.
Had I a different artistic bend it might have been written as a novel or a sonnet, or performed as an interpretive dance or come to life as an art installation. The bones of the story were always there, waiting to be excavated, and I always knew I had a responsibility to tell it one way or another. Like Frost’s path, which way I chose wouldn’t have made much difference. The characters and location were already set.
Now, had I written Girlish at eighteen it would have been a different book—I definitely gained a deeper understanding of my parents after I had children of my own. And if I had waited another decade to write my memoir it might have slanted another way entirely since all of the main characters are still alive and who knows what is still to come.
But I could have taken that job as a deckhand on the schooner America, or gone to college in California, or even stayed married once or twice, and the essential memoir would not have changed much. I didn’t build a world or invent a culture or even create new and adorable animals. I just wrote down what happened.