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.
Yeah, this is the big day for roses and chocolate and those mood-drenched candlelight dinners. Let’s put it all in some perspective.
Historically, it overlaps an ancient three-day Roman festival that included drunkenness, nudity, sacrifices of dogs and goats, and slapping by goatskins intended to heighten fertility. It was something the early church tried to deflect by invoking Saint V.
As for the saint? The bio gets mysterious. Did the man really exist? Or was it eight?
The oldest printed card, 1797, cited a day the sender desired to “be your Valentine.” Whatever that meant.
The Quaker Cadbury chocolate company introduced the Valentine’s Day heart-shaped box in 1861 but failed to register the design. Copycats soon piled on.
About a billion cards are sent for Valentine’s Day every year, second only to the 2½ billion at Christmas.
Nasty cards have also been part of the tradition. Ever get a “vinegar Valentine”? Anyone else intrigued?
It’s big business – by one count, $27 billion pre-Covid, with candy – mostly chocolate? – the biggest gift, followed by cards, roses, romantic dinners, and, for ten percent of recipients, jewelry. Not that you’re limited to just one category. And I’m not sure if the ranking is by the quantity of each one or by the amount spent.
As for that jewelry? Much of it takes the shape of engagement rings – with six million being presented on the day every year.
In Japan, women are expected to give the chocolate.
Teachers receive the most cards, maybe because children age six to ten, exchange the three-fifths of the cards overall.
So far, I haven’t found perfumes, love potions, or aphrodisiacs on the list.
My novel Pit-a-Pat High Jinks gives good reasons for Cassia’s future father to celebrate once he’s finally met her mother, as he does in my novel What’s Left. She quickly becomes the love of his life, and they’re well matched.
Do you know any couples who were brought together by a sage introduction from someone who knew them both well?
Just what was I thinking? Was this supposed to be a philosophy class moment? A reflection on time versus space? Or fate versus free will? No wonder the paragraph failed to take root in my novel What’s Left.
History is filled with unique moments when something flashes up and takes hold. Or a singular intersection of trajectories appears in the universe of motion.
The novel, by the way, has many of these situations, just as life itself does. We just didn’t need to get preachy.
I suppose this just might fit a story about baseball. Or think of football. The great play no fan will ever forget.
There are also those accidents, seemingly chance encounters, like the late-night crash that kills Cassia’s grandparents or the avalanche that claims her father. A few moments one way or the other, and her story would be much, much different.
I was more likely reflecting on those seconds where you have to make a decision one way or another. Say something. Do something. Yes or no. The beginning of a romance, for instance, once you’ve introduced yourself. Uttered the joke that could have as easily fallen flat.
Can you recall a significant moment in your life when something had to happen right then — or never at all? One with no second chances? Please share it! Be bold!
In the final revision of my novel What’s Left, the voice and direction of the story changed greatly. For one thing, it became much more Cassia’s own.
To my surprise, some of the material about her father lost its urgency or importance. Here was one passage that would be refocused and condensed:
The crucial turning point comes, she says, just before Baba arrives here. Tara’s always defended her own space — what she perceives as her essential freedom — and as long as he could accept that, they could spend time together. At heart, though, he’d require more commitment than she would offer, but this once, knowing he’d be headed to the monastery, the situation forced him to take that out of the equation. He had to admit he had no idea what would follow his cloistered withdrawal from the world, and demanding a commitment he couldn’t return at this time would be unrealistic and unfair. That insight, in turn, gave both of them a rare freedom space to concentrate on the present rather than planning an ironclad future together. We can enjoy the next few months together, at best, and they could take everything at that. It was the healthiest — and most rewarding — relationship he’d had. Neither was clinging to the other.
When it comes to relationships, individuals can vary greatly in their needs and expectations and what they can provide for their partner.
Would you feel comfortable in a relationship like this? For how long?
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s aunt Nita personally knew three important non-family members in Cassia’s father’s past.
Tara is one she viewed mostly from a distance, the lover who matched him best before meeting Nita’s sister.
Here’s a longer look, one I condensed in the final revision:
If anything, Tara was a lioness. It’s not just her sunburst of hair. It’s the way she moves and regards the universe. The way she even purrs, when pleased, or growls when vexed. It manifests in an insistence on social justice and rails at power-seeking machinations of any kind, public or private. No, she shares our aversion to anything underhanded or sneaky. But the whole time she and Baba are lovers, she’s far from ready to settle down. She’s searching, even probing, for the direction she wants to follow. What Baba never sees is her underlying anxiety or the ways it’s on the verge of explosion. Still, she opens his eyes and heart to so much.
There have been moments in my life when I ponder how things would have gone when someone like Tara was finally ready to settle down but I was otherwise engaged.
Why a young female as my protagonist? Fair question. Since my novel What’s Left began as an attempt to answer a younger generation’s questions about the hippie movement, I felt a girl would be more receptive to its issues and sensations. Many girls have, after all, continued the identity, while it appears that boys have largely become more militant or even sullen.
As the novel developed, Cassia’s parents and their values retreated into the background. Far more compelling is Cassia’s own identity, development, and confrontations. Hope you agree.
My new series focuses on Jaya and her evolving awareness. Yoga is part of it, along with career issues and close relationships. She has a richer encounter with the events, I’d say, than Joshua does – there are many points where he’s largely a reactive or passive presence. Ultimately, The Secret Side of Jaya has no parallel in his more limited vision or imagination.
I have to confess the story didn’t start out to be told from her side, but it does feel much more fitting this way.
But I am speaking as the author. Readers and critics are open to their own takes.