A gem was found in my Inbox; an article entitled What If You Could Do It All Over: The Uncanny Allure of our Unlived Lives written by Joshua Rothman. His initial college success as a tech founder failed, instead of a life of entrepreneurial success, he went onto graduate school in English and became a journalist. “I now have a life, a world, a story. I’m me, not him—whoever he might have turned out to be.”
Rothman writes:“The thought that I might have become someone else is so bland that dwelling on it sometimes seems fatuous,” the literary scholar Andrew H. Miller writes, in “On Not Being Someone Else: Tales of Our Unled Lives” (Harvard). Still, phrased the right way, the thought has an insistent, uncanny magnetism. Miller’s book is, among other things, a compendium of expressions of wonder over what might have been. Miller quotes Clifford Geertz, who, in “The Interpretation of Cultures,” wrote that “one of the most significant facts about us may finally be that we all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.” He cites the critic William Empson: “There is more in the child than any man has been able to keep.” We have unlived lives for all sorts of reasons: because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time. “While growth realizes, it narrows,” Miller writes. “Plural possibilities simmer down.” This is painful, but it’s an odd kind of pain—hypothetical, paradoxical. Even as we regret who we haven’t become, we value who we are. We seem to find meaning in what’s never happened. Our self-portraits use a lot of negative space. For some people, imagining unlived lives is torture, even a gateway to crisis.” Rothman then goes on to recount the story of a character in a Henry James tale The Jolly Corner wherein the protagonist Brydon faces the ghost of a man that he might have been but awakes happy with the life he has.
Rothman continues: “We may imagine specific unlived lives for ourselves, as artists, or teachers, or tech bros; I have a lawyer friend whose alternate self owns a bar in Red Hook. Or we may just be drawn to possibility itself, as in the poem “The Road Not Taken”: when Robert Frost tells us that choosing one path over the other made “all the difference,” it doesn’t matter what the difference is. Carl Dennis’s poem “The God Who Loves You” tries to make that difference concrete. Dennis poses a question to his protagonist, a middle-aged real-estate agent: “What would have happened / Had you gone to your second choice for college”? A different roommate, a different spouse, a different job: could it all have added up to “a life thirty points above the life you’re living / On any scale of satisfaction”? Only “the god who loves you” knows for sure. It’s an unsettling thought; Dennis suggests that we pity that all-knowing god, “pacing his cloudy bedroom, harassed by alternatives / You’re spared by ignorance.”
is the end of a thoughtful, informative and enlightening piece of literature: “We all dwell in the here and now; we all have actual selves, actual lives. But what are they? Selves and lives have penumbras and possibilities—that’s what’s unique about them. They are always changing, and so are always new; they refuse to stand still. We live in anticipation of their meaning, which will inevitably exceed what can be known or said. Much must be left unsaid, unseen, unlived. “
The entire article may be found at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/12/21/what-if-you-could-do-it-all-over?utm_source=onsite-share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=onsite-share&utm_brand=the-new-yorker. May I suggest a read? It is so thought provoking. It has special meaning for me, of course. Six and a half years ago I began living a previously unlived life – not entirely by choice, things just seemed to happen, unbelievable things. Unbelievable is • so great or extreme as to be difficult to believe; extraordinary. Its synonyms are: beyond belief, inconceivable, incredible, unthinkable, unimaginable; unconvincing, far-fetched, dubious, implausible, improbable, unrealistic; informal hard to swallow. ANTONYMS credible. What about my recent life is far-fetched, incredible, and beyond belief? That fact that in 2020 two Princes of incredible wealth proposed to me – both a great deal younger than I am. Neither offer reached fruition. Synonyms for fruition are: realization, actualization, materialization, achievement, attainment, accomplishment, resolution; success, completion, consummation, conclusion, close, finish, perfection, maturity, maturation, ripening, ripeness; implementation, execution, performance. Nope, marriage to Alexis McBride was not ripe, nor fulfilled. The final nail in the coffin, in both of their cases. was my conversion to the Islamic faith. They both wanted someone to play with, to liven up their sterile existence. But a Muslim man cannot play with a Muslim woman – they MUST marry them in good faith and for life. A Muslim woman can have only one husband – a Muslim man, particularly a Prince, can have more than one wife. But I am a woman, not a man, in case you have not noticed. Hahahaha. I bet you thought the joke would never, ever come. I am not content, even blissful in my reacquired life, living in Marin. After all, I was never found of the heat, or of sand, nor of intrigue, nor of lies and secrets, nor of inauthentic existences.
Unpacking scores of items has led to many surprises. Found within the pages of the 1943 Life magazine was a photograph of Alexis McBride, probably taken in 1986. It forced me to remember a specific time and event in my life. I was newly hired as an attorney in Marin County Counsel’s Office. An esteemed County Administrator was retiring and I brilliant conceived of an idea, sitting the honoree and other members of the Board of Supervisors on stool, taking their pictures, adding captions and blowing them up to poster (or larger sizes). They lined the halls of the Board of Supervisor’s chambers. Someone clearly took a picture of me (that was long before the horrors of selfies). One must admit that I was really rather cute back then, and filled with verve and enthusiasm. However, I was surrounded by negative people who downplayed my gifts, my verve and enthusiasm. I am back in Marin but those people are no nowhere to be found. I do admit that it took me a long time to get rid of them, I do laugh as I type this. I shall speak more of my present life in the blogs which will follow. Please acknowledge that my obsession with the Middle East has died an unnatural death.
By the way, the final nail in the coffin. is an event that causes the failure of something that had already started to fail.” It has a fascinating history: The idea was first expressed in an ode by Pindar (the pseudonym of John Wolcot) in 1792: “Care to our coffin adds a nail, no doubt.”