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A Reply to Robert Frost

I never bother to invent language for a situation or feeling when another writer has done the very hard work of doing so. It could be a quote from a piece of writing or song lyrics or somebody's random tweet. For instance, instead of explaining what I call the 'almost syndrome,' I always refer to La Pulchra Nota by Molly McNett. While it is an astounding piece of work all the way, this always stops me in my tracks:

La pulchra nota is the moment of beauty absolute, but what follows—a pause, however small—is the realization of its passing. Perhaps no perfection is without this silent realization.

I was maybe 13 or 14 when we read The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost in literature class. I already loved poetry, so the excitement and illumination I felt were a little more than falling in love for the first time. I have always been fascinated with the idea of choice. It started when I asked Mr. Adebiyi in Primary 4 (I was 8 or 9): If God knows the future and controls everything and everyone, and he knew that Adam and Eve were going to sin, why didn't he just stop them from eating the fruit? Choice. He gave them a choice, he answered. He went on to explain the concept of free will but that only made things worse. It was a heavy burden as a child, this concept of free will. I was being told I could make or mar my life with my decisions. I did not know enough to choose right all the time. So I learned to freeze when choosing even the smallest things, to second-guess myself, to weigh my options with fear and trembling. I also learned to beat myself up when my choices turned out to be the wrong ones, to carry regret as self-flagellation.


The poem summarized my inner turbulence at the time. In simple terms, what Robert Frost was teaching me to do was fuck it. I am just going to choose and I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't. At the time, and until now, I was always making unconventional decisions. My own was always too much. It sometimes felt like I was contrarian for the sole reason of being contrarian. I remember my dad screaming one time; why can't you be normal? Why is your own always different? Everybody is doing one thing and you want to do a different thing. You are always breaking up the family. I struggled a lot with holding on to the kind of life I wanted for myself. But Robert Frost came through all the time:

I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
 

A friend mailed me recently and I have reread my reply to them countlessly. It isn't that I don't believe my own bullshit, but it is the first time I gave it language. I quit Law in 2017 after a very short practice. I was good at what I did. It wasn't the wrong decision but I now question it because I made that decision out of this place - you have to choose and damn the consequences. I didn't stop to consider if I could do both. I now know that I was nuclear in my decision-making. It wasn't as much the output of the decision, but the process. I believe I would still have quit law. It is the same way when I realized that I did not want to be a commercial photographer. I had chosen and was choosing to stick with my choice. I didn't want to start over. I thought it was too late to 'go back.'


Robert Frost was wrong about one thing:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both

I start graduate school properly in a few days and I was telling a friend that I wouldn't mind a diploma of some sort in counseling psychology after. Or even becoming a nurse. You have not even started this one yet. So why are you starting this one in the first place? Fortunately for everyone involved, my super-power is starting over.


I can be more than one thing. I can do more than one thing. I can travel both roads. I will travel all roads. At dinner a few weeks ago, I was reminded of something I said often in 2018: I will live a full life. The warmth spread all the way to my toes. I will live a full life. At least, I will try.


This is not to take away from strictly black and white situations where I have to choose black or white and situations where I cannot go back and undo or redo. I would just refer back to Mr. Frost:

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.

Keep the other choice for another day. It doesn't matter if you would ever circle back to it. Just leave the door open.

 

I can understand how a Creative Writing MFA program can feel like yet another pivot from my long list—game dev, law, administration, photography, brand storytelling, operations, project management, UI design, interior design. I can go on and on. But writing is more of a returning to, than a beginning. 'Writer' is who I have always been and who I will always be. So cheers to this journey.


Yinka Elujoba's words give me hope:

Is a writing life possible? Maybe a writing life is possible. Perhaps, a writing life is possible. A writing life is possible.
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