And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s necessary to adapt and change course along the way, and it’s not because we’re quitters or because we can’t achieve the goals we said, once, we wanted to achieve. Sometimes, when we’re closer to success, we realize that that thing off in the distance isn’t what we needed or wanted, after all.
When I was in 5th grade, my passion for writing was ignited by a teacher whose red pen bled all over the page – equal parts enthusiasm, encouragement, and ruthless critique. It was highly addictive, heady stuff – knowing that an authority on good writing thought I had what it took to be a writer. And yet…
Would you believe that writing wasn’t my first love? Oh, no – I was torn between Volcanology and Archaeology (specifically, Egyptology) and writing was just something I did. My dad tried to convince me that Computer Science was going to be very important, one day, and suggested I seriously consider that. “Dad,” I told him, rolling my eyes like the teenager I was, “computers are boring. Just a lot of 1’s and 0’s and accounting programs and such. That’s your thing – not mine.”
I thought I wanted to harness the awesome, raw power of nature – to harness the energy in volcanoes – and turn it to good use, producing electricity. Then, too, at age nine I stood at the caldera of a small volcano in Hawaii, on a cold and misty day, one foot poised on the wooden step (there were about three steps) that would take me to a small viewing platform where I could see the roiling, molten rock the spewed and splattered up from the earth’s core – and the wind shifted directions. As we were being told to quickly turn back and head for the busses, I noticed a park ranger – someone had introduced him as a volcanologist, but I’m pretty sure now he was just a park ranger – standing there putting on a gas mask. Not leaving. I wanted a piece of that.
Nine years old. I didn’t know the words, “control freak” at the time. I didn’t recognize the spark of petulant rebellion when I argued with my dad – throughout most of what must’ve seemed, to him, an interminable two mile hike across cracked, ropy pahoehoe lava hissing and rumbling underfoot – about the fact that sulfur dioxide and the moisture in my lungs made H2SO3 and not H2SO4. I’d never studied Chemistry, but by God, I could count the O’s. That sheer stubbornness might have been the catalyst for my interest in Geology (specifically, Volcanology) didn’t even occur to me until, reading the biographies of famous volcanologists, it struck me just how little interest I had in Petroleum Engineering. It was possible, I quietly admitted to myself, that I was nursing a grudge over being told that I could not climb onto that platform, as promised, to see lava with my own eyes.
Gradually, I recognized weird preferences, too. I liked pahoehoe – but aa just looked, well, ugly. I found Kilauea exhilarating, but Mount St. Helens would’ve scared me so bad I’d have peed my pants. I love lava flows that look like New York City from outer space at night or fireworks made out of rock; however, Nuées Ardentes just terrify me – you can’t run fast enough from an evil, poisonous, incinerator of a gas cloud as it rolls angrily down the mountainside. Now that I’m a mother, I can say this out loud: I’m chicken. I used to pray to see tornadoes, too. Didn’t exactly want to be a meteorologist or a storm chaser, but would not have said no if invited to ride along. And I lived in Tornado Alley. Watching cloud rotation overhead with your three year old child can make you think twice about your daredevil ways. Now? I have the movie Twister on DVD, and pop it into the player when I need my flying cows fix.
My grandmother took me to Egypt to celebrate my graduation from the university. Instead of deepening my desire to pursue archaeology, it satisfied it – climbing up into the Great Pyramid in 115 F heat, only to see a great stone room with a stone box in it, and to realize that most of the great discoveries had probably been discovered and could be seen for the price of admission to the museum in Cairo – okay, the fact that that thought even crossed my mind just screams, “Not destined to be an Archaeologist of any sort!” doesn’t it?
It wasn’t until I watched a PBS documentary series on volcanoes and volcanologists that the real basis for all this began to rear its head – and it was a bit too late, I thought then, to do anything much about it: I saw the volcanologist, Haroun Tazieff, wearing asbestos and listening to classical music as he strolled around the crater of Nyiragongo.
Tazieff seemed to understand the thing I couldn’t put words to, even then – this melding of beauty, awesome power, breathtaking joy, and heartstopping terror. That a man could listen to Mozart and walk the edge of the caldera, flirting with the dragon…
I watched, mesmerized.
And realized, in that moment, that being behind the lens of the camera was where I saw myself, and where I most wanted to be.
You can imagine how riveted I was by these photos of the volcanic eruptions in Iceland, taken by Chris Lund. In that instant, Iceland made my short list of “places to retire,” and I wrote to Chris begging for a low-res digital image I could use as my PC background, so I could look at my favorite every day. (Yes, I gushed like a 15 year old fan girl over a rock star. What of it? Tell me #1384 doesn’t just take your breath away.)
Even after I landed a job that involved writing, I fought it – I went to Law School. “You like to argue,” people would say. “Have you ever thought of becoming a lawyer?” Apparently, I don’t like to argue as much as they thought I did. I should’ve argued myself right out of that one, but I didn’t.
I have finally settled, rather comfortably, into writing. It comes as naturally to me as breathing. It is work; it is play. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done since I was ten, and it only took me another fifteen to realize that it was a gift, this ability to share – with you – the things that were bouncing around inside my head.
It’s not who I am – certainly, it’s not the sum total of who I am. But being a writer lets me explore a wide variety of interests (if anyone questions it, I can call it “research”) and indulge my curiosity until it is satisfied or driven to know more. I have no regrets about the road not taken.
The Road Not Taken
by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Have your goals changed, over time? Or have you stayed the course and pursued them with unwavering determination? Please – share your story here. And if you like this post, please share it with others – just click the buttons below!