This is a brief meditation on choices that linger and haunt you. And what it offers you, as an author or artist.
Even if you don’t read or care much for poetry, you are most likely familiar with Robert Frost’s poem about “two roads” diverging in a “yellow wood”. At the end of the poem, the narrator claims to have taken the “road less traveled by” and says, with a sigh, it “has made all the difference”.
It’s this individualistic idea of choosing one’s own path—one not taken by the masses—that has led the masses to misquote and misunderstand what’s being said in the poem.
The poem is about the lingering presence of roads not taken in our lives.
“What should I major in, in college?” “Which career path should I pursue?” “Should I try to support myself full time as an artist, or get a day job?” “Should I accept that job offer and move my family?”
With every major choice in our life comes a loss. To choose one thing is to give up another.
What if you had married your high school sweetheart? What if you hadn’t slept with her? What if you had taken that European backpacking trip with your best friend after college? What if you had started writing seriously twenty years ago? What if…
We live in a world that will pay you handsomely for answers—for recommendations of roads to take. But the roads not taken—the what ifs—will forever haunt us.
Inside the “what ifs” lie the seeds of your art. Because art is beauty in tension.
Don’t deny them. Don’t try explain them away.
From May 2012 to July 2013, I wrote a weekly series of intimate essays for writers and artists seeking a deeper connection with their identity and place as modern creatives. I called this series Root Notes. This was an essay in that series. It was originally published on August 15, 2012.