Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. Or so the poet said, before he talked of traveling through life, of the aesthetics of grass and leaf, of the way footprints lead us forward into new places. It always makes me think about what decisions we make because there are plans, or because there is a well-written map, or because there are others who have gone ahead. And then I think about following the trails that others have forged for us, and the difficulty in seeking out our own.
“I took the one less traveled by,” he wrote, “and that has made all the difference.”
I have also wondered if anyone really believes this line.
At the same time I wonder what led that fabled traveler on, what guided his steps, what opened his mind up to a new vista just beyond the place where the road bent out of sight.
I wonder about my own paths.
I never truly understood this poem. Not until my forties, mired in academia, frustrated with the ways in which my creativity—the result of decades of lived experience, and interesting choices, and fascinating meetings, of caretaking and entertaining and nurturing, of storytelling and creating and connecting, of jobs that included wedding cake decorator, and orchestra teacher, and author, and seamstress for the local theater, the culmination of the creative communities that I have built and the conversations that I have had and the stories that I have imagined are overlooked in favor of more traditional paths—sterile, unimaginative, and well walked upon.
I wonder about those paths that are, ultimately, privileged because they are traditionally male roadways—in my case those of the male academic, the scholar who can commit themselves to full-time scholarship, who can study and read and write all while they entrust the care of their families to someone else entirely. I regret the celebration of one type of labor over another, as if one is less, as if one choice is more worthy, as if the wrong decision makes of us something slight and small.
I do not regret my path.
That is something I think we lose sight of in our efforts at equity and equality, at making the world a more interesting and inclusive place. When we speak about alternative routes and lived experience, and educational parity there are those who see the conversation as grounded in an individual’s regret and remorse. There are those that will only see the domestic as a distraction, a diversion, a delay.
Not for me.
I love the path I chose. Where I fall out of step with those around me is in the idea that those choices—the small worries and the humble concerns, the sandwiches with the crusts cut off, the summers with four children running in and out of the house, the afternoons with blankets spread on the sun warm grass while watching the changing shapes of the clouds moving across the wide blue sky above—that those things are something I should apologize for. There are individuals who see a woman’s choice to be a mother as an end to the contributions they can make in more academic or professional spaces. I don’t believe this is truth, although we act as if it is. We question those who come from nontraditional backgrounds, we doubt their experience, their worth, their dedication. But what is family if not a lifelong dedication to creation and creativity?
I am refusing the attitude that says that being in charge of the messy, miraculous details of life—of the house, of the children, of the pets and the science fairs, of the concerts, the costumes, and the meals, of the plants that need to be watered and the floors that need to be swept, of the stories that need to be told while tucked close together in bed at night with four small bodies at my side, those essential experiences that leave little time for pursuing more worldly concerns is less profitable than time spent among dusty tomes and beige cubicles in the accumulation of knowledge that does not account for the vibrancy of family and community and the messiness of a life well lived.
I think I am coming to terms with being out of step with the world, with following my heart instead of prioritizing what others tell me should be valuable and valued.
I want to walk a different path. I want to embrace the wisdom of a different kind of tribe—the women who surround me, the women who came before me, the creative spirits who knew that sometimes the most fulfilling experiences are also the most overlooked and unnoticed and invisible—the thin threads that bind us together, individual stitches in a wide-reaching web. I want to follow the whisperings of my curious spirit. I want to be courageous and bold and resist the voices that tell me I have to be rigidly regimented to be worthy, to be acknowledged, to be seen as equal with those who make other choices, those who walk other paths.
I want to wake up each day eager for the living.
I find myself unwilling to chase the trappings of traditional academic success. I have become so painfully aware of what we lose when we choose to discard behind us on our abandoned roadways the very things that make our lives worth the living, those experiences that make of the grayscale tones of our memories a tapestry in brilliant technicolor.
I am drawn to stories and films and histories that present this choice, this way of looking at the world not as an either/or, but a yes, and. “She was a mother…,” “Yes, and?” “She was a teacher…,” Yes, and?” “She was a troublemaker…,” “Yes, and?”
It feels like the Dr. Suess book, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go,” complete with a map of the wondrous and strange, the unknown and the unimagined, those places that lay before us like exotic destinations if only we dare to dream up the way to get there.
There are multiple versions of your story.
There are multiple versions of mine.
In one I climb more ladders and take tests and graduate with another degree to go with the ones I already have and I follow the creative impulses of those seen as better, more experienced, more in tune with the needs of an academic life, in hopes that I will someday feel those same impulses, look through those same lenses. In this version I frustrate myself with the way I see the beauty in all stories, when those in charge privilege only a very narrow type of narrative. I put letters after my name to satisfy those who see outside achievements as my only measurement of worth. I quit telling my own stories in order to fulfill the wants and needs of a system that will never acknowledge my personal creative path as valid, my experiences as an equal of their own, that will never prize the different journeys we each took to arrive at the same place.
In another, I make a different kind of choice. I create. I paint. I write. I tell stories. I indulge the impulse to sit on my front porch and watch my neighbors walk by, with a dog at my feet and my husband at my side, and a circle of good friends to celebrate with, and together we hang carefully crafted quilts on every rung of that ladder we have forgotten to climb.
Living a creative life is a radical act.
Slowing down. Talking. Taking long walks with short companions, surrounding yourself with the goodness of children and parents and siblings and friends and the boisterousness of new puppies. In every iteration of the world I long to make it is the letters we read and write to one another that matter the most—it is the way we cultivate connection and community, the way we feel, the way we touch, the way we experience the beautiful and miraculous moments of the lives we were meant to live.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I? I’m taking the more interesting one.
I hope it will make all the difference.
Lead photo credit: Vladislav Babienko via Unsplash
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