Multiple paths in life had led us to being there: collaborating on Steve’s science fiction novel, trying to market it at the 2010 EasterCon where we met the author Liz Williams and the contacts I made through Liz and at subsequent events. Added to these strands were childhood influences, in particular my father’s fascination with the occult and esoteric and his love of science fiction and fantasy. I was reared on myths, legends and fairy tales and started reading Ursula K Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey and Ray Bradbury at a very early age.
My father always wanted a library and he accumulated a vast collection, fiction and non-fiction alike; poetry, plays and novels, as well as music – on vinyl, audio cassette and CDs: classical, jazz, blues and folk, even the occasional rock album. I enjoyed some of it and dismissed a great deal more, taking it all for granted, as I imagine many privileged teenagers do. There seemed to be reference material on any given subject, so if I asked for help with a homework assignment, there was a tendency to be overwhelmed by a list – or worse still – pile of relevant information. Was I grateful? What do you think?
My parents and brother were members of the Epsom Poetry Reading Circle which met monthly to participate in a programme prepared by one of the members. I went occasionally but never felt fully engaged. I assumed I wasn’t really “into poetry” and although there were particular poems I liked, I wouldn’t make a point of reading a particular poet or anthology.
I never really appreciated how lucky I was and there were probably many lost opportunities to learn even more. I absorbed so much through familial osmosis – for example, it drives Steve mad that I rarely lift a finger in the garden but I know what all the plants are called. I recognise pieces of music and, most extraordinarily, I can quote chunks of poetry and in many cases I even remember who wrote it!
I was rooting through some of my early writing pieces this week and found a series of anecdotes, most of them more personal diary entries than anything I would wish to commit to bloggery, but one of them quoted Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, so that’s twice in three posts. In Frost’s poem he talks of choosing one of two paths and feels that he may come to regret the decision. This reminded me of my father’s poem “See What the Map Says”. His view is different – you should seize every opportunity to explore while you have the time, not waste time prevaricating or regretting your decisions.
In “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”, Tom Stoppard has Guildenstern present an even bleaker view of life:
“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered”.
I favour my father’s view – what’s yours?
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long as I stood
And looked down one as far as I couldTo 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 travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
See what the map says
The map is a record of places visited,
all else is hearsay – there be dragons!
The map grows outwards, pausing at times
to consolidate an area, invest towns,
rushing at others to stake new claims.
Always there are places you mean
to go back and revisit, promising
“This time it will be different.”
Always there are places unasked,
visits some circumstance dictates.
And when, as the light fades
on winter evenings, you take out the map
the empty quarters stare at you
asking “Why did you never?”
“What happened? What intervened?”
So perhaps the route to hell
has on it all the missing stations,
the journey of no return encompassing
all the lost occasions of “do I dare?”
But you can never count on it.
Better always to dare further,
gamble on the unexpected, reach out,
seize every ticket, use up the visas
in case there are no Thomas Cooks
waiting your sacrificial goose.
The map unfolds, unrolls
picturing the ebb and flow of time
as the shadow of a tree in leaf
moves on a whitewashed wall
never showing twice the same pattern.
It is far easier to make an excuse
than to make the simplest journey.
The empty spaces stand in rebuke.
While yet there is time, see what the map says.