Monday, April 22, 2013

The Road Not Taken

RHYS BOWEN: After the emotional roller coaster of last week I feel in a contemplative mood.

When I was a teenager I was very much attracted to Australia. I made a plan to go there as soon as I graduated from high school, and whatï's more I wanted to drive there in a bubble car. These contraptions were new when I was in my teens-- they were glorified scooters/motorbikes with a Perspex bubble over them, making them into tiny cars. I decided I'd drive one of these to Australia and then write a book called "Around the World in a Bubble."
I tried to persuade my best friend to join me but she (wisely) declined. Looking back it was a ridiculously dangerous dream. How would I have carried water for the Iranian desert or the Afghan mountains? Since I knew nothing about engines, what would have happened if I'd broken down miles from anywhere, or met hostile tribesmen? Still, at the time it seemed so very possible and I often wonder--what if?

Mu other big 'what if' was studying opera. When I was a small girl I told my mother I'd like to be an opera singer. She took one look at eighty pound me and said scornfully 'You'll never have the build."  But now, when I go to the opera, I see lots of slim sopranos. So I again I wonder "what if?"
So Reds and friends, do you have any dreams you wish you had dared to fulfill?

LUCY BURDETTE: You have so many talents Rhys! I flirted briefly in college with going to medical school or law school (I was all over the place), but I don't think either would have suited me. In the end, the careers I chose (clinical psychology and writing) are good fits. Now if only I'd had some talent, I would have loved to be a singer like Bonnie Raitt or Emmy Lou Harris...but I hate to stay up late. Hmmm, do you think they'd let me do concerts in the morning or afternoon?

HALLIE EPHRON: I was supposed to spend a summer in Accra in Ghana -- I had a university-sponsored job lined up, was studying West African politics at Barnard and planned to do some field work. When I got to the airport the (charter) plane had been oversold. WAY oversold.
So I went home devastated. Needing a shoulder to cry on, I called the chap I'd dumped a few months earlier. Within a week I had a summer job and a sublet (that sweet man moved in with me.) Less than a year later we were married. Talk about turning points.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yup, I was a law school possibility, too...I had thought that would be the way I could help change the world. Instead, Kent State happened. I went into politics, as a staffer in several political campaigns.  However. Every candidate I worked for--lost. (Not that it had anything to do with me--I was 20 years old.) So instead of being an aide to the governor, I was unemployed.  That was the only reason I--searching for something that could make a difference- applied for a job as a reporter in 1971. And I've been a reporter ever since.
I always talk about how seeming disappointment turns to unexpected wonderfulness. You never know.
SInging? In my dreams. When my family sings Happy Birthday together, you can't  even recognize what song it is.)

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Rhys, I think about this sometimes.  So many choices that could have made my life turn out so differently. What if I'd gotten into Cornell for that master's degree in wildlife biology? Would I have gone somewhere exotic? Ended up teaching at a college and doing research? Lived on a wildlife preserve?
Or what if I'd gone to New York to look for a publishing job after college?
Or what if my ex and I had stayed in Scotland or England instead of coming back to Texas?
What if I'd decided to go back to grad school instead of writing that first novel???
Oh, and a funny thing. When I'd sold the first Duncan and Gemma novel, I contemplated writing another series about a female park ranger, using my hard-won biology training. Guess who published her first novel the same year? Nevada Barr. We were both nominated for the Agatha for Best First Novel. She won.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Road not taken? You mean other than the time I turned down JFK Jr for a date? Just, no, no! I am exactly where I'm supposed to be.

RHYS: I should add that actually I did go to live in Australia in my twenties and met my husband there. My parents and brother bother moved there, so I started a trend. My brother still lives in Tasmania. And I did sing with the local opera chorus for a while├». And looking back, I'm so glad I've been a writer all my life.  How about you, dear friends? Have you ever had a turning point, a road not taken?


  1. Well . . . my biggest change in the road was in packing up my things and driving myself clear across the country to stay with a friend. No job lined up, no idea of what I would do . . . today I think I must have been crazy and I have no idea how I actually managed to do it. But I did get a job, met my husband, went back to school . . . all things that never would have happened if I hadn’t taken that drive . . . .

  2. Great insights into everybody's pasts!

    In the middle of my BA in linguistics I thought of either med school or massage therapy, because I love learning about and working with bodies. I had NO qualifications for med school. I'm firmly in the non-science/math track.

    I could have stayed a farmer in the mid-nineties instead of retraining as a technical writer. But then I would have been tired and poor and stuck in my bad marriage.

    I'd still like to do community theater. But hey, I have time yet in my life, as far as I know. And I'm about to make a big change (I think, I hope, fingers crossed) that will keep me on the path of my dream.

  3. Omigosh, Rhys, I remember seeing one of those cars on the street in Hamilton, Ohio in the late 60's. It was so utterly foreign, it might as well have been from Mars, and I had no idea what it was until just now!

    So many roads not taken, but I never regret them. My life is pretty wonderful as it is. Whether that is because it is wonderful, or because I've cheerfully accepted it the way it is, who knows. I guess it's the same in the end.

  4. Oh, I still feel slightly like a quitter for changing my major my senior year of college (from marine biology to English teaching)! Perhaps it was the wrong program or perhaps just the wrong school. And my mother was convinced I should go to law school (I have nowhere near the self-discipline for that). I wanted to save the marine mammals.

    Regardless, I do wonder where I'd be now if I'd finished that biology degree. But I mostly like where I am, and try to remember to enjoy where I am, too.

    I love the bubble car, Rhys, and am still hoping to get to Australia.

  5. Rhys, I, too, flirted with becoming an opera singer. At the age of 40 I gave myself the gift of singing lessons and had a few salons with other singers. Enormously satisfying. But what I learned is that I didn't have the enormous drive that it took to make it in that difficult business.

    Another road not taken? Letting the CIA send me to South America. Turned it down for love--and maybe a little cowardice? So many roads not taken, but the ones I took have been pretty satisfying.

  6. The roads not taken. I get to take them with some of my characters -- but I try to remember, they have theirs, too.

  7. Terry--I love the way you say, so casually, "letting the CIA send me to South America."
    There has to be a book in that!

  8. I usually take the road less traveled. I moved to Prague when I was 33, just because I wanted to live in Europe & see what it would be like (I lasted 7 months before I had to return home, broke). I moved to Florida with no job lined up. Same with Chicago & then California. Not once have I regretted any of those choices.

    The one "what if" that I do often contemplate is, What if my husband & I got together back when we were just out of high school? We went to school together & there was some chemistry between us after we graduated, but I was too afraid of not seeing the world, so I left Michigan as quickly as I could. I'm glad we reconnected 23 years later, but I do wonder what our lives would have been like if we'd done this all those years ago.

  9. Although I never liked science classes much, my university level geology & astronomy courses were so interesting that I toyed with the idea of becoming either a geologist or astronomer. Those infatuations did not last long, but nevertheless I had them. I never took any science after those brushes with fate. I would've been miserable. Only reason I took those classes in the first place was because of distribution requirements.

  10. Rhys, I too trained as an opera singer when I was young. I studied with a woman who had been a rising star with the Met before marrying a wealthy Oklahoma rancher and oilman, a marriage I realize now as an adult she deeply regretted and felt trapped in. She wanted to adopt me and send me to Juilliard. Bless her wonderful, unhappy heart, she later committed suicide by alcohol and automobile.

    After that I spent a long summer (at an unbelievably young age) traveling the South with a jazz/blues band as their singer. This could have been a disaster, but those guys, all about ten years older than under-aged me, protected and sheltered me from the often drunk customers of the joints we played in. I loved performing, but hated the constant moving to the next gig, the hustling, and the smoky, drunken atmosphere in which we had to perform all the time. So when the band got an offer from LA, I refused to go with them and set my sights toward another life. I've sometimes wondered what would have happened if I'd gone. (I'd probably have ended up a drug addict on the streets or something. Music's a hard, hard business.)

    And I left that other life where I was going to go to college to hitchhike to SF and Haight Ashbury. You can imagine how well that all worked out.

    I think the training and experience in singing is why I give good readings now, though, because I learned how to connect emotionally with an audience. It's always odd fun to think about the many roads not taken, though, isn't it?

  11. The road not taken.

    I often wonder what my life would be like today if I had not gotten off Willie Nelson's bus . . . .

    (just kidding, but it WAS a dream a long long time ago)

  12. Kaye, Linda, I'm fascinated by how many of us prior music connections.

    I also dated a member of a rock band (and that's certainly not a life I would have wanted) and sang in folk clubs, and even made a couple of records. And hung out with members of the music gentry. But I'm certainly glad I didn't stay with that life. Killing people is so much safer!

  13. I could never sing well but I could dance and did en pointe. Anna Pavlova was my goddess.
    When I told that to a costume designer last decade, she looked shocked. Said, "you could never have been a ballerina. You're too tall. You missed your calling and would've been a showgirl."
    Ha. My mother took one look at Las Vegas (as we blew by when I was 15) and remarked, "Look at all that wasted money that could've been spent on education."
    Kind of goes with my first saying about religion written in my baby book...At age two I allegedly said, "Did Jesus go to college?"
    Talk about inculcating values into someone young!

  14. Such fun stories! Linda Rodriguez, I had no idea you'd been a singer!

    Rhys, someday you are going have to spill the beans about that rock singer...

    Kaye Barley, last year when I was on tour in Central Florida, I had the nicest car service driver. His name was Wayne, and he and his wife had been drivers for Continental Trailways, then had driven charter buses for rock bands. I asked him who was the nicest person they'd ever driven, and guess who he said?

    Willie Nelson.

  15. I agree, Debs. That Rhys, such a tease.

  16. I love these stories too!

    Debs, I especially love hearing this about Willie Nelson. I've had my heart broken too many times by heroes who turned out to be shmucks (a couple former husbands fall into that shmuck category also).

  17. Steve and I visited a winery that was for sale in the hills above Santa Barbara. The following week I learned that I'd been accepted to grad school for an MS in a couples, family and child therapy program. I had to decide which -- winery or more school?

  18. You know, it's the strangest thing... I just realized I can't think of any forks I didn't take (insert own zaftig joke here). I can think of lots of "if onlys" but those aren't the 'wonders,' those are the 'regrets' -- "if only I'd made her get a colonoscopy," "if only I'd stayed home that day."

    There were certainly forks, but when I consider having taken the other path, all I can think is "oh dear, that would have been absolutely miserable, wouldn't it?" Either massive rationalization or a truly charmed life, I guess... or perhaps they are the same thing?

  19. Such interesting stories--love hearing them all! and such a gift--that massive rationalization, right Kristi?

    I thought of another one--after college, I made a trip across the country in a sorry excuse for a car (Chevy Vega) and a tent and started to settle in Santa Barbara. Then we had a tragedy in our family so I went home to New Jersey. My gosh, there's no telling how life might have been different!

  20. I really can't sing now but when I was ten years old I was a Melody Maker in the school group. We only did three performances but I would've liked to have done more. One performance was at the mall and I think there was a fountain there that was noisy. Maybe they had to turn it off so people could hear us sing. We sang Christmas songs at the Board of Education and got a standing ovation! Our other performance was before a school play.

    I was hoping they'd have the group the next year when I was in 6th grade but they didn't.

    I don't know how or why my singing voice went away but I blame it on puberty. (I wasn't kidnapped by aliens so I can't blame it on that, ha ha.)

    I thought it'd be cool to be an opera singer and I try to warble out a little Figaro but that's the only lyric I know from the song.

    Maybe I should've gone to college sooner and studied something different. I didn't go to college until I was 20 and only because my dad made me because I wasn't working. Nobody told me back in high school that you didn't have to have money to go to college and that you could use student loans (and if you're lucky, a grant). Everyone in school expected me to go to college because I was an honor student.

    I studied word processing and got an Associates Degree but if I ever went back to school I'd go into computers (I.T.) and get a much better paying job. I don't know if I'd get another Associates Degree or a Bachelor's Degree. A four year degree would be scary because I never took the S.A.T. or A.C.T. and you probably need to do that. My college was a technical school that because a community college by the time I graduated. I didn't even have to take a test to get in, but I know they do now.

    Never seen a bubble car before but those teeny smart cars are funny looking. I saw one once.

  21. I was going to move to Ireland. I was 22, working for the local telephone company, and I had fallen in love with Ireland on a recent trip. Because my grandparents had all been born there I was eligible for citizenship and I couldn't think of a finer way to live than carrying my guitar to the auld sod.

    Then a met a guy.

    We'll celebrate our 39 anniversary this summer so I guess I made the right decision. I don't really have "what if" moments. Certainly I have no regrets. And I have since been able to get back there a few times and sing in pubs and clubs. I even bought a new guitar in Cork and had to carry it BACK to the states rather than my original plan to bring one from here.

    I must admit that reading the wonderful scenes from the Gemma and Duncan books now makes me want to move to England. First it's a flat in London, then a house in a small village, then a narrow boat. It's not really a fork in the road but a dream. Thankfully, I can visit through the pages.

    Now my plan is to get to collect Social Security later this year. I don't want to divert from that.

  22. Oh, ballerina stories! I adored Maria Tallchief--she just died, did you see? And ALicia Alonso.

    I took ballet, and was SO devoted. Til one day, the Madame took my mother aside and said "Your daughter is charming, but she all NEVER be a ballerina! I cannot teach her."

    So I quit.

    Terry, the CIA? Can you blog here soon? (Will you be at Malice?)

    Such fun to read these! Sorry I've been crazed at work all day...