The Road Not Taken

THE ROAD NOT TAKEN

(Part I)

I’d like to say I was a typical nineteen year-old: relatively uneducated, inexperienced, and unworldly, but I can’t; it was worse than that. I just wasn’t very astute, and I didn’t have that—I can set the world on fire, I can make a difference—attitude. Whatever I could do with two sticks and a pile of dead leaves would surely go unnoticed even in my little home town.

To this day it always amazes me when I hear that some kid of thirteen knows exactly what they want to do when they grow up. Even my older sister had known before high school she wanted to be a nurse, prompting my parents to enroll her in a private school where they taught Latin. What an advantage to have that kind of insight.

Despite insecurities, I did manage to get myself into college, but it was simply by way of following the crowd. I had no idea what I would do except take classes. Since I’d been doing that for twelve years, I was fairly confident I could do it.

One thing I knew about myself was that I was a monumental underachiever. I didn’t actually know that term; I simply knew I was rather like a horse pulling a wagon. I’d make it back to the barn sooner or later, but someone behind with a whip was just enough motivation to get me moving and staying on the straight and narrow.

That bit of self-awareness led me into an English class with an instructor purported to be “really tough”. She was just what I needed. I had liked high school English—mostly the grammar, diagramming sentences and all that, but I’d had the same teacher for four years and I was ready for some new blood. Insecurity did not prevent me from taking chances—I was nineteen after all.

The first day of class, the stern-looking, wrinkled-up little lady behind her desk instructed us to open up one of our books and read the short poem on page xxx. We were to write an analysis of it right there in class.

I can handle this. As long as it’s not Beowulf or Canterbury Tales. I know some of the buzz words: imagery, symbolism, blah…blah…blah.

Two days later we were back in that classroom and the petite lady, with our papers in hand, did not look pleased. She passed them out, and thankfully she had been kind enough not to put our grades on the top page. I flipped to the end and found a big red C at the top.

Good God, she is going to be tough. Maybe I had the symbolism of the owl all wrong. Who knows? This stuff is all anyone’s best guess anyway. How can one possibly know what was in a poet’s mind?

And then my eyes slid down to her meager comment at the bottom. What!

“You have a flair for writing.”

I have a flair for writing? A “C” and I have a flair for writing? What, for heaven’s sake, did you say to those who got an A or a B? …you could win a Pulitzer Prize?

She stood in front of her desk saying she had been rather disappointed in our first efforts and then began to list the grades. “There was one C,” she began.

What! I had the lowest mark in the class! For a Nano second there was a sharp hit to my stomach.

She continued, “One D, and the rest Failed.”

The discomfort in my stomach quickly shot up to my heart. If I could trust my ears, that C was suddenly looking mighty good. Not knowing if she had already managed to put names with faces, I didn’t dare look over at her…or at anyone. I was embarrassed, proud, excited, challenged…and elated.

This lady was going to wield an excellent whip. Just what I needed.

Her name was Ms. Crisp, and she apparently knew to whom she had given the “C” because she called me to her desk after that class ended. She asked if I had decided on a major yet. In my usual disconnected from the universe manner, I told her that last year I had been a Math major and this year I was a Spanish major.

She was probably a gentile southern lady, opposed to sneering or showing any sort of disgust or frustration, because her expression remained unchanged as she heard my carefree if not careless words.

You never realize when you’re nineteen, or even older for that matter, that there are some remarks you will never forget. So these were her next words. “You have a flair for writing. You should think about majoring in journalism or we’d be pleased to have you in the English department.”

Wow. What?

I didn’t really know much about this woman, but I was beginning to question her cognitive abilities. English department? She couldn’t know how I felt about Beowulf and Old English. So my mind disregarded that suggestion and went right to the journalism idea.

Journalism was non-fiction wasn’t it? People told you what to write and when to write it. At eight in the morning, I might be expected to dash off the facts surrounding some car accident or overnight shooting. They’ll tell me when and how to write. Oh no, I couldn’t do that. That’s too much of a whip. I’m a free spirit; my imagination needs to be let lose. The stories I make up in my head are for fun. I couldn’t possibly make something so special to me into a…a…a job!

Yeah, I was that obtuse.

In my uninformed, miniscule world, that’s what journalism meant to me. Of course career counseling at my small, country high school had consisted of, “You could be a teacher or a nurse or a secretary.”

My would-be mentor was trying her best, but since she couldn’t possibly know all my short-comings and insecurities, I decided to dissuade her with one simple truth.

“I don’t know how to type.”

I can’t quite explain her reaction. It wasn’t a sneer or a rude noise. It was more a slight release of breath. But I have always thought she had looked down at her desk briefly to keep from reaching across it and slapping me. Though her expression remained pleasant, it was there in her eyes when she said through partially clenched teeth, “You can always learn to type.”

I could have told her I had boldly avoided typing class in high school, because it was the surest way to keep anyone from making me their secretary. What a degrading notion that was to my sixteen year old mind. Who knew they were going to stick a screen onto the very same keyboard and connect it to the universe instead of a single sheet of paper. Someone might have told me that.

I had seen Ms. Crisp’s disappointment when I left that day. She had just had a conversation with a twit, an unimaginative, unworldly twit. I’d had a great imagination for fantasy, but in the real world I’d had no imagination at all.

*** To be continued ***

MAY 27th 2015

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