Being of an age where I have more to look back on than what lies ahead, pondering forks in the road I followed, I find myself concluding they ultimately turned out for the best.
Still, there are moments when I wonder how my life would have gone if, say, things had turned out better with certain lovers or I hadn’t narrowly missed out in a desired career move – things that would have opened other avenues. In fact, a big goal all along had been to become financially independent so I could hunker down with my more literary writing, the thing I’ve been able to do in retirement.
Here’s a handful.
- Been hired by a really big daily newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, especially, had been interested until laying off a ton of editors and reporters just before my graduation. And there had been a brief flirtation from the Washington Post and, later, Detroit Free Press.. My dreams of living in a major city, with all of its fine arts cultural opportunities, vanished with that.
- Returned to my hometown after college. Well, it would have left me deeply rooted. Or, in one scenario, wedded into a wealthy family on the other side of town, with all of the opportunities that would have afforded. But would I have found that too confining? (Said girlfriend ultimately did.) Instead, I was off into hippie communion and poverty-line journalist existence in foothills a few hours from New York City.
- Stayed in the ashram or at least the Asian spiritual stream. Yoga had saved my life and was a hot field, if I had been more entrepreneurial. But I wouldn’t have encountered Quakers and my family roots. Instead, leap ahead a few steps.
- Not persuaded my fiancée to overcome her jitters. That is, freed me to move on without her. She may have even closed off a few upward moves for us toward the end.
- Stayed with the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, had its major grant not been slashed shortly after being renewed. I would have had another four years in a big university setting, and my first wife could have earned her degree there rather than being uprooted. It might even have led me to graduate school and an academic career after all. But I did have dreams of mountains and wilderness, or else recognition as a poet, and those all led to the next fork.
- Remained in the Pacific Northwest. Despite the grueling demands of the office, my professional career was also exciting and on an upward swing. I was making inroads as a poet, too, and with the mountains and forests, I was living a dream. But there were dark clouds as well, any of which could have erupted even had I been able to relocate to the western side of the Cascades. Instead, I was soon in an eastward ricochet.
- Not faced marital difficulties. That is, had she been faithful rather than leading to divorce. Add to that my near miss with a big management job at America’s eighth biggest newspaper and its sterling ownership. Well, I probably would have had that big heart attack, too. Instead, I rebounded into a whirlwind romance with a sprite who seemed to be everything I ever desired. Leading to the next set of painful forks.
- Moved to Baltimore or managed to remain, including marriage to the dream of my life. First, that engagement went up in smoke and left me, well, a pile of emotional ashes. My hot job on the road covering 14 states turned into a dead end. And I failed to find a shared mission with a devoted lover who would have desired to have children together. From the start, I could have moved to, say, Boston, instead. At least I was able to give myself a sabbatical and hunker down writing for a year amid the debris.
- Had a book manuscript click with an agent or, more vitally, a commercial publisher. Or even a few critics. My goal of becoming financially independent kept slipping away, though my later friendship with one celebrated author has shown me how precarious that bestseller life can be. As for having a book take off? A writer can get trapped by success.
- Married the Georgian. She swept me off my feet, and how, maybe because she seemed to embody everything I thought I desired, as well as what she said she desired, as her mother reminded her. Yes, it was exciting, but after just a month, she panicked. Frankly, I soon saw it would have been a disaster. In addition, she never would have fit in as an editor’s wife, much less in any of the roles that might have opened later.
When I look at the forks I chose to follow, I have to admit the one of going back into the ranks of the newsroom rather than management was crucial. The reasons I stayed there could easily fill another Tendril.