Wrong Way

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Have you ever found yourself heading in the wrong direction down a one-way street?

That happened to my mother when she was driving me to a late rehearsal in Manhattan. It was the first rehearsal, and she was unsure of the best route to our destination, so she made a wrong turn.

I was nine, and I remember exactly three things about that turn: the volume of rush hour traffic heading toward us; my mother’s curses in three different languages; and the speed with which she spun the car around and got us off the road.

She was a good driver, my mother—focused and assured, with marvelous instincts and steady nerves, and loved to be behind the wheel. In all her years of driving, she never had an accident.

But that’s beside the point.

She knew, as soon as she made that turn, she would have to change course.

The times we should do that are not always so clear. We rationalize away warning signs, and tolerate unpleasant treatment and sometimes dangerous conditions telling ourselves we’re exaggerating, misinterpreting, being silly, or even at fault. And we tell ourselves things will get better, because, occasionally, they do. We get a small raise or a little praise. There’s that one night pizza doesn’t make us sick, and nuts do not cause a rash. Or, the phone call from a lover, who’s broken our hearts more often than not, comes after six months of silence.

It gives us all the reasons we need to doubt the truth…

…until the boss goes back to being a greedy, unappreciative, or abusive lout; or there’s a sleepless night dealing with indigestion and hives, or worse; or the lover acts like an entitled, condescending ass before disappearing again.

That’s when it’s time to change course and get off.


We can rationalize creative wrong turns, too.

I did it for fifteen years—working on a book, and writing it in ten different ways before I admitted I had turned down ten one-way streets going in the wrong direction.

That was when I decided to forget it, change course.

And a miraculous thing happened: a new route emerged, a fresh point of view…

…from a character who had been begging to speak.

I spent all those years crafting strained and ludicrous narratives for characters in his orbit who didn’t have his eloquence, awareness, depth, or passion.

What a waste…when the truth was in front of me the whole time.

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10 thoughts on “Wrong Way

  1. Beautifully said. How many times have I done this in my writing, and in Life?

    I facilitate a creative writing workshop for young people, and when I first started the workshop, I had an Agenda and a Plan, and This Is How We’re Doing It. But it didn’t work, and I was getting discouraged and the kids weren’t into it… Then one day, I chucked all my brilliant plans out the window and I let the workshop be what it was. Then it became fun and exciting. That was 6 years ago, and I haven’t gone back to my Agenda since.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love this piece. You’re so right. Sadly, too few people have the courage simply to admit they took the wrong turn (in any avenue of life) and that the wisest thing is to backtrack and change course. On the political front, I wish the UK would realise it’s taken the wrong direction, and backtrack before it’s too late.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your kind words, Katia. It is so difficult to let go. I sympathize with your feelings about the UK. I have the same wish for our country. We are heading down a dark and sinister path into hellish territory….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Michael Seidel, writer and commented:
    I’ve shared the same experience as Barb, where the work-in-progress and its characters seem to actively resist where I want to go, because they knew better where they’re supposed to go. I’ve learned that for me to write, I need to get out of the way, and just follow their lead.

    Otherwise, I’ll end up going the wrong way.

    Liked by 1 person

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