The Wide River and Admired Trees

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Continuing with this blog series on cultivating creativity jump boarded from Mary Laura Philpott’s “What I’ve Learned From 28 Brilliant Creators,” I’m taking a look today at Paula Hawkins.

Hawkins says of The Girl on the Train that she “built the book in layers […] one or two twists were surprises to me, they came to me late in the process” of writing the novel.

When I read that about Hawkins, I think about my own creative writing process—and whether I am working on an academic paper laden down with research and outside sources or if I am working on a piece of fiction, or this blog even, it is always difficult for me to let go.

Gut knee-jerk reaction tells me I need a plan, a well thought-out detailed outline, a blueprint with all the measurements. So that is how I start. And then I falter; I fall down the stairs, break my arm and stop writing—stop creating—because for all the detailed GPS turn by turn instructions I’ve created for myself, I am completely lost.

If you have been following my blog for any length of time, or follow me on Twitter or are friends with me on Facebook, you’ll have known that I had been turned down for several PhD programs, and how absolutely heartbreaking that experience was/is for me. I do not consider myself old, but I also feel the window of opportunity for a PhD has passed me by. My daughter is a freshman in high school, and that year is quickly wrapping up. Next year she will be a sophomore, the year after that a junior, and before I realize what has been happening, she’ll have graduated from high school and be off herself to college, and I cannot financially afford to dilly dally around with literary theory and books and research when I have to figure out how to foot the bill for another college degree that rightfully belongs to someone else. I am fine with this predicament because I have no other choice; it is the reality I am faced with. And after she is done with college, my son’s turn will be soon after. All my best laid plans are for naught.

Where do I go from here? I have no idea.

Before the days of GPS there was a guy by the name of Robert Frost, and he wrote a poem. Maybe you are familiar with the poem:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To 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 traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Often, Frost’s The Road Not Taken is misinterpreted, read as some kind of regret. Or, read as the difference between following the crowd versus forging your own unique path. What is easily missed in the poem is that both roads for all intents and purposes are the same. In line eleven, Frost writes, “And both that morning equally lay.” Neither path is better or worse. Both ways into life are equally good.

Frost also does not speculate what sits at the end of either road except that of more roads, more choices: “…knowing how way leads on to way,” Frost writes.

If Frost had a map, I doubt his small poem would have been possible. So often we leave out room for exploration and experimentation. Or we build apps that fake accidental discovery, such as Daniele Quercia’s Happy Maps that take travelers not the most efficient route but take travelers the most beautiful route.

When we first moved to New Hampshire, my daughter was interested in a charter school that concentrated on arts and technology instead of the traditional public school. I wanted to visit the school and speak with the school’s administrators before I made a definite decision whether a charter school was the right choice for my daughter. A charter school seemed so out of the ordinary, not the norm, maybe not the best of choices. The Google map lady told us the school was downtown Dover. My daughter and I spent a day wandering around a building, an old textile mill that took up blocks of real estate in the middle of a mess of one way streets that I was unfamiliar with. What the map did not know was that the school had moved and was no longer downtown. Once we figured out that bit of information, we plugged the new address into the GPS and took off, but the Google lady was confused by the new address as well. At one point, we were on an overpass and the mapping software could not figure out if we were on the overpass or on the highway underneath the overpass. She decided we were on the highway, and kept telling us to turn around. And we listened to the app for about an hour, circling, going nowhere, not able to find our way.

Finally, we pulled over and stopped and turned off the Google Maps lady. And we just drove around. We found a wide river and admired the trees.

_________________________

Note to self: When you put in a link to a site that allows ping backs, you can totally spam the site. Stop it. Still, maybe it’s my graduate school MLA training: cite everything!
Philpott’s blog post that you should copy and paste into your URL bar and then promptly read: https://imissyouwheniblink.com/2016/02/08/what-ive-learned-interviewing-28-brilliant-creators/

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