Today’s poem is cynical, but the prompt asks us to look back, and while I write a lot about my past, I try not to do so with any sense of regret or nostalgia. I hate nostalgia–there’s no greater lie we tell ourselves as humans, I think, than the one in which we imagine a glorious bygone past. The future is measurably better in pretty much every way, unless you’re a white male who feels fatally harmed by losing your position as most privileged demographic group in the history of humankind. I’m kind of glad we’re getting knocked off our perch, frankly.
And alongside the lie of nostalgia, the lie of the self-made man ranks highly among my pet peeves, especially when it comes from people who lay claim to the last three lines of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as though it defines their lives, as though they took the road “less traveled by” and their willingness to do the unconventional was the difference for them. Maybe they did, and maybe it was, but I suspect their successes had a lot more to do with luck, and that they never actually read the poem carefully, or they’d have seen that Frost was saying essentially the same thing.
So I chose as my starting point a line from earlier in that poem, where the speaker is standing at the fork in the road and trying to decide which branch to take, and discovers he has very limited information at his disposal.
“To where it bent in the undergrowth”
So many paths peered down it seems
mental masturbation to attempt
to reconstruct what-ifs, what-might-
have-beens. In movies, the dissatisfied
petulant lead bemoans his life, believes
that if only he’d made another choice
his life would be better. He learns, of course,
that different isn’t always better, but not
before he’s spent Act 2 in glorious
debauchery, then begs to return
to what he had at first. Truth is, we make
our choices blindly, then lie ourselves
to sleep, heroes of our uninspired lives.
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