Two roads diverged in the wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Inevitably as we age, we look back at our life. To the path we have skated, walked, run, tumbled, clawed our way along, however it has transpired to the place we are at in this moment in time. Looking around, we see faces that have been with us since birth, several decades, or shorter times, and we may miss those who have exited our lives, either to travel different paths or perhaps have ended their physical journey here on earth. We look at the material items we have, the things that may have been with us since childhood, the things we have worked and acquired as an adult. We remember experiences: love, heartache, joy, pain, struggle, triumph. We may identify choices we made that were key decisions in getting us to the place we are today. And, perhaps in the darkest corners of our soul, we may think “what if?”
For me, on the eve of an event called “National Novel Writing Month,” or “NaNoWriMo” on Twitter, as I anticipate what lays before me, I find myself contemplative. Writing a novel in 30 days, 50,000 words or more long, is the goal. I admit I’m a bit nervous that I am biting off more than I can chew, not only in terms of time commitment with all else I juggle in life, but with what truly troubles me: my creative capacity. Can I produce a coherent, interesting, impactful story to entice readers to come along with me on my journey of 50,000 words? I haven’t written creatively in over 3o years! Back then, I would scribble ideas and produce what I thought (and was told) were good works, that I exhibited a talent. Talent such that I should pursue this path as a career. Be a writer. And I think, where would I be if I went down a different path almost 30 years ago? If I had put my time and energy into becoming a writer? Would I have written that novel that’s been sitting in the attic of my mind, ideas like yellowed letters in dusty trunks covered with dust? Perhaps several more? For I knew when I chose my course so long ago, I would need to be all in and focused on that path. The two that lay before me as I envisioned then: the one with the school year espousing the great works of literature to the budding future youth and summers of writing novels in my beach cottage, or the one with days spent in the lab discovering the wonders of the universe and creating solutions for society while reviewing the scientific method in front of a classroom of large numbers of students looking to gain entry to their chosen careers. Which would it be? I faced a fork in the road. I felt I had to make a right brain or left brain choice, and whichever part of my brain I chose to grow meant I would leave the other half to stagnate, and in the worst case atrophy. And I, I chose the left, pursuing engineering and science to the fullest of my capabilities over the last three decades.
I’m not a big Rolling Stones fan (gasp), but I have always felt a peculiar affinity for the lyrics “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.” I like to imagine that embodies my life’s journey. When my fairytale romance imploded, when I had to change my doctoral thesis and advisor midstream and start all over, when I kept moving farther and farther away from family and the warm weather I always dreamed of…well, those wants that I didn’t get or work out quite exactly as I’d hoped over the years on the path I’ve journeyed have translated into the place I am today. And make no mistake, though life is not perfect, life is good. I am fulfilled in many ways. Although my path has seen heartache, compromise, and sacrifice I never imagined, I have also been given unbelievable gifts (like my children), surprises, met wonderful people who stay in my life, and been given opportunities I would never have imagined. In many ways I have my needs met, but yet…I find myself thinking that this one need, to write, has never been given full reign. Never been properly explored. And, I feel, on this journey where I am to find and be my authentic self, I cannot reach that without this one thing. Technical writing cannot take its place. Did I take the wrong path?
I mentioned this one evening to my colleague, and his response was along these lines: “Where you are today puts you in a position to do what you wanted to do so long ago plus do science, whereas if you had gone down that other path, you may not have been able to do science and write. This path you are on is offering the best of both worlds.” As I considered his words and how they fit me, I realized that many of the skills I have acquired and talents I have cultivated are most likely similar to those I would have learned on the path I did not take. The details may not match, but things like determination, confidence, problem solving, and self-reliance are all transferable. So, though I start from a place that seems like a beginning and is unnerving, the mountain to climb in not as daunting in this new endeavor. And, I feel that it is not too late. Not too late to exercise my right brain, to see what’s in there. What can it do? What worlds are contained within that are waiting to be explored? For if I find myself not dreaming or trying new things, then I know I will have chosen the wrong fork in the road. As long as my path takes me places where I keep growing, keep improving, and keep striving to fulfill all I imagine in life, I am on the right path for me. So, with three hours to the start of NaNoWriMo I think: Bring it on.