Sunday, November 17, 2013


Lucy overlooking le Pont D'Avignon

LUCY BURDETTE: Okay, last mention of my vacation, and then I promise I'm done. Just about forty years ago (I know, how is that even possible?), I took off for a junior year semester in France. As my college wasn't encouraging study abroad, I tagged on to a program with Macalester College. We reached Paris in time for New Year's eve and I spent that night celebrating with total strangers eating strange things (my first ever raw oysters!) and speaking a foreign language. I was instantly homesick.

After a month in that city, we transferred to Avignon, in the south of France, for four months. Sad to say, these are not happy memories. Along with a buddy, I was placed with an Italian family who had two small girls in a very small apartment well out of the city. As our stay evolved, they became more unhappy with us--we took too many showers, we ate too much breakfast, we used too much toilet paper, we did too much laundry. Fortunately, my roommate had met a lovely French family in church. They began cooking for the two of us every Sunday. After multiple courses, we hurtled around the countryside, the American girls in the backseat and the Cassans in the front, him smoking a stogie and describing the sights. They were utterly lovely and truly saved us from wretchedness.

Girls take Gourdes, France

So now, back to the present. As part of our October vacation, I visited Provence with my older sister and our two husbands. We had four strenuous but exhilarating days touring the gorgeous countryside and picture-perfect small towns on bikes. My husband and I took one last night to revisit Avignon. It was a do-over of sorts, and a wonderful trip. But whenever I think of that semester, I think of how shy and homesick I was, and how much more I could have done with the time, had I been able to push myself to embrace the adventure.

There are other points in my life that I wish I could do over, and probably many things I learned along the way. And it makes me smile to think that I've given my character Hayley Snow the gumption to make the most of a difficult situation that I lacked back in college. But I'll stop there and ask: Is there a moment you wish you could do over?

RHYS BOWEN: I see my whole life as an echo of Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken, Lucy.  I don't have any major regrets but I have found myself wondering from time to time what would have happened if.... For example when I was in my teens I was at a professional drama school. (One of my classmates was Jane Asher). I was offered a great part in a BBC drama BUT rehearsals started the same day as my final exams at school. My parents wanted me to go to university. Final exams mattered. So I turned down the part and left drama school soon afterwards. But I've found myself thinking What if I'd taken it and gone on to an acting career. What if I'd stayed with the BBC in London instead of accepting the job in Australia? What if I'd stayed in Australia instead of marrying John?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have a do-over a bit like yours, Lucy.  When I was first married to my Scottish ex-husband, we lived in Edinburgh. I loved the city, and the people.  But we had very little money, I had no friends, and it was too bloody cold in our flat to stay inside most days. I couldn't get a work permit, so my days were long and quite empty. I bought cheap bus tickets and just rode around the city to keep warm, or saved up for a cup of tea in the cafe at the Botanical Gardens. I suppose all that time to look at things and think went into the imaginative hopper, but once JK Rowling published the first Harry Potter book and told her story, I couldn't  help but think, "What if I'd kept warm in coffee shops instead of buses, and started a novel???" (It would be ten years before I attempted my first book.) I can pretty much guarantee I wouldn't have been as successful as JKR, but... what if?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing. I was a terrible student in college, but it made me what I am. Two ridiculous marriages-- but I learned about marriage and love and respect and would do it all just the same way. NO regrets, not one. On big stuff.

On little stuff? sure. The other day in a radio interview, the host said--okay, Hank, in 30 seconds, pitch your book. HOW MANY TIMES have I done that? I flubbed, so ridiculously. (Jonathan insists I didn't. But I can think of all the things I should have said, but didn't.) I dearly wish for a do over on that one, and have thought about it WAY too many times. And last night at the library, a woman asked me what to do write her first her book. I regret I told her--find your story and tell it. Sit at your computer--and type chapter one. And go from there. I should have been more--loving.

And Debs and Rhys and Lucy--you are both wonderful. Now. Because of the decisions you made.

LUCY: And we all see you, Hank, as one of the most generous writers around!

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: I agree with Hank — everything you go through, the mistakes you make, make you who you are.

I think my only regret is looking back is at the times in my life when I tried to live my life to please other people. There's just no winning at that game. But is that a lesson I needed to bungle until I figured it out? Maybe I just have a thick head and it took a while to sink in!

HALLIE EPHRON: Ah, this is giving me a Peggy Sue moment. High school. Would love to do over (not all of it, maybe just a few days) knowing what I know now.
I also wish I'd asked my mother more questions about what she was thinking, and what it was like growing up the way she did, what it was like when she had her first child.... Wish I'd gotten to my uncle (her brother) before he died to ask him what she was like as a child. But I wasn't curious until it was too late.

LUCY: I so relate to that Hallie, as my mother died too young as well. Okay, your turn, Red readers. Would you do anything over if you had the chance?

And PS, we are doing something different next week, talking about what we're working on--we think you'll enjoy it!


Joan Emerson said...

Is there a moment, a choice I wish I could do over? Oh my, yes . . . and I’m sure that’s true of all of us. But thinking in that vein is pretty much like slamming yourself into a brick wall, wishing to be able to change what has already happened. Often that hurts far too much, so it becomes a contemplation to avoid . . . .

Karen in Ohio said...

Like Hank, I have regretted words that spilled out of my mouth, but I don't play the wrong road game. My first marriage was every kind of disaster, and it changed the course of my life as much as any dam in any river could have. But I don't regret any of that. My wonderful oldest daughter came from that time, and I would certainly never have fallen for Steve. He is the opposite of the kind of man I used to be attracted to, but he is and always has been a perfect match for me. It would be downright churlish to want anything else.

Call me Pollyanna, but everything happens for a reason, and our experiences make us who we are.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yup, Karen, exactly. xo

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Winners of the bandanas are Liz Straw and Lynn in Texas. Please send an email with your address to Krista:

Jeffrey Marks said...

Given that I'm now a happily married man writing in a field that I love with a job I enjoy, I actually would hesitate to change a thing. Granted that we all have pains and heartaches that we wish we'd been spared, but if they all built to make you the person you are today (and presuming that you're enjoying your life) then perhaps they were worth it.

Karen in Ohio said...

Having just watched the Hugh Jackman production of Oklahoma, I have had one of the songs running through my head, and it directly correlates to this topic: Many a New Day:

Many a light lad may kiss and fly,
A kiss gone by is bygone.
Never've I asked an August sky
Where has last July gone?

Many a new day will dawn before I do.

Words to live by, no?

Jack Getze said...

Back in the 1970s I wrote a funny story about bankers, a feature for The L.A. Times. The next day I got a call from the Editor of The National Enquirer, who offered to fly me to Florida for an interview. He wanted to hire me, he said. I said I'm a reporter for the L.A. Times. Why would I want to work for the Enquirer? He said, Are they paying you $100,000 a year? I should have taken that flight. That job would have tripled my salary and maybe made me a better fiction writer quicker.

Cari said...

I'm with Hank. I've made mistakes, but I don't regret anything. If anything, I've learned and grown as a person, and that's always valuable.

I do like the idea of do-overs for characters, though - has anyone read Life after Life by Kate Atkinson? It's amazing... I'm on the last CD right now.

Hallie Ephron said...

If I went back, it wouldn't be to change anything. But I would want to TAKE NOTES!

Sandi said...

I'm not thrilled with where I am in my life now, so I suppose the better answer would be to say I'd like to learn how to move forward instead of look back. But honestly, I have a few big moments I'd change. I'd finish college instead of taking a job with a regular paycheck. I'd flirt with the best friend I had a crush on. I'd try to understand the 8th grade queen bee. I'd tell my dad to see a doctor when my cousin commented that he looked unwell. One died at 25, the next at 13, and my dad at 51. When people die young, you tend to have regrets.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Sandi, you are absolutely right about that--it is hard not to have regrets when younger people die...

And Jack wow, that is a fascinating story about the Enquirer--a huge fork not taken!

Liz Straw said...

I look back over my life and I cannot imagine changing anything. If I change anything, I would not be the person I am today. Do I have things I don't particularly like in my past, of course. Do I wish things had been a bit different in some case, of course. But some things were not mine to change. In college our minds are not fully developed and we don't always make the brightest choices, yet my best friend is a person I met the first day in my dorm. We see each other all the time, talk to each other constantly. We are members of each other's families.
I have had great experience when I was young and bad experience, both have molded my character and I am a character. :) I find it is always amazing how when we get home we think of the most amazing lines we could have said to someone, then again it is probably better at times we did not say them. I have put my feet in my mouth enough. I like me just as I am and I don't care if anyone else likes who I am or not.

Ellen K said...

Liz is right-- without what I've done, I wouldn't be the person I am today. But there are a bunch of things I've considered (if I knew then....): A different college (maybe UCLA or USC for screenwritng?); taking the writing courses that Barnard didn't offer across the street at GS or even for no credit at, say, the New School; not going to law school; moving to LA when I ALMOST did in 1978 (my friends there talked me out of it because they were afraid of "The Big One")

None of those would have wrought any real changes, though. I needed to make my mistakes in order to learn. And I would NOT give up some of the people (and pets) in my life for all the trouble that the route to meeting them (i.e., law school, law practice) gave me.

Rhonda Lane said...

I've looked at a lot of different choices I've made and been satisfied with how they turned out. Hindsight has showed me the decisions I made as a new adult after a sheltered life turned out to be pretty good. As Hank said, there've been times when I wish I'd taken more time to think about what I said. Unlike Hank, I can be flip and glib and think I'm helping when I'm not.

storytellermary said...

Ah, such a hard question . . . even Frost's poem can be interpreted multiple ways, a sigh . . . of contentment? or regret?
"What if?" seems such a useless phrase, unless one had Hermione's time-turner to back it up. There are some decisions or accidents I might want to redo, but on the whole, I'm happy where I am, and the journey's side trips got me here.

Anonymous said...

Started researching family before so many were gone. Not fight with my father about my career path do I could go to college out if high school instead of in my forties. I could've done what I wanted as electives. Even with a degree I wouldn't have had to teach. Couldn't have anyway, too shy. So stupid in some ways about some things. But then maybe I wouldn't have gotten the grades and as much out of it back then??? You just can't know. :P
Pen M

Anonymous said...

Why does autocorrect change so to do on me all the time?? (It also changes Mom to Kim & this is the only reason I ever use Kim.) :P
Pen M