Robert Frost's immortal poem The Road Not Taken is one of the most sensuous poems in our lexicon, bristling with beauty and the specific joy of living. That being said, it's also one of the most misquoted poems in the world, as evidenced by this example:
The most quoted part of this poem reads as follows:
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.
In the 1975 documentary Grey Gardens, about the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis and their isolated lives together in their dilapidated shack of a mansion in The Hamptons, Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale recites the poem thus:
Two roads diverged in yellow wood,
and pondering one, I took the other,
And that made all the difference.
[Isn’t that amazing?]
Little Edie's impromptu poetry, dance and song recitals are a thread through the documentary, unaided by lyric sheets or poetry books and totally reliant on memory. Her mind, and the mind of her mother, are so filled with the ecstatic passion of living that they often don't question whether they're saying or doing the right thing. They simply live and, if someone complains, nuts to them!
One of Little Edie's philosophical speeches entered my life at exactly the right time. Talking to the audience, Edie tells us about how her mother is badmouthing her to the family and telling them how awful she is. The full transcript reads as follows:
"But you see in dealing with me, the relatives didn't know that they were dealing with a staunch character and I tell you if there's anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman... S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There's nothing worse, I'm telling you. They don't weaken, no matter what." (You can watch Edie intone this on YouTube, as her voice and manner are critical to understanding the dramatic impact of this quote.)
Now, imagine watching this documentary clip when you're just entering college, soon to be thrown into the tumult with a stone tied around your neck.
That was my reality in 2009 when I started college. To say I was apprehensive would be understating it - I was scared shitless. I knew what I wanted to do in life and it had to do with music, but I had no idea whether I had the talent to back up my passion. My first week sent me into a dark depression as I soon realized that these classes were far above my technical level and moving far too fast for me to comprehend. It's not that I didn't try, as I sweated over the given assignments with zeal and concentration. It was the fact that I was so passionate about singing that I never thought about the technical mechanics of pursuing a music degree at an institution of higher learning.
The entire semester I was in a constant fluctuating state of panic, over my studies, and ecstasy, as I was part of my first serious chorus that I somehow was miraculously accepted into after my late audition. I was so discouraged that I couldn't master the specifics of learning about chords, theory and ear-training, but I was overjoyed that my voice was being appreciated by the few acquaintances I talked to throughout the year.
Towards the end of the semester it became apparent that I had to make a decision whether to stay along this degree track or quit while I was ahead. It was at that moment I decided to walk into the college library. It was a place that, from the first time I entered it, calmed and inspired me. I was wandering around and ended up in the Broadway CD section. Absentmindedly leafing through the CDs, I came upon one that interested me by the cover alone, a woman's face obscured by a hand-mirror in a sunhat against a dark green canvas. I took it home and devoured the entirety of it several times over in one sitting. That musical was Grey Gardens, a Musical Theater adaptation of the documentary I quoted previously.
I was taken aback by the simplicity and beauty of the score. The most heartrending and touching song in the score is "Another Winter in A Summer Town," where Edie is trying to make the decision as to leave the warm safety of her home and try to forge an independent life away from her mother. The concluding section of the song is particularly breathtaking:
"Yesterday's dreams - a faded bouquet
Roses that died on the vine
Yesterday seems more real than today
It's difficult drawing the line
My season ended
A long time ago
But no one took the party tent down
The pink paper lanterns still twinkle in place
My young navy hero
His tender embrace
That sapphire blue ocean
Oh, how can I face
In a summer town
Oh God, oh God
Hearing those words paralleled my own situation, stirring me to even greater levels of emotion. Furthering my research on Grey Gardens, after enjoying the musical so much, I decided to watch the documentary, the mother of it all. As evidenced before, I connected deeply with Edie. She was intelligent, caring, spunky with just a soupçon of bitchiness. Like drawing water from a well, I drew strength from Edie, copying her attitudes, personality and joie de vivre, things that I carry with me to this very day. I even learned to love my body and my sense of fashion, as primitive as it was and still is thanks to Edie's "Costumes" as she called them.
From the moment I enveloped Edie into my soul, I knew that I had to take the path less taken and continue on my road to being a classical singer. I knew the road would be filled with snares, broken chairs and signal flares, but I had to keep on moving. With dedication, passion and a little of Edie's attitude, I excelled in my time at college, eventually singing two solo and duet recitals and performing in the resident professional chorus to great success. I struggled through the first year of theory classes and the like, but the second year, all of a sudden, it just clicked! I was able to understand and excel at the material, eventually delivering my final composition that I wrote myself. The whole experience was a grand personal victory in finding something you love to and sticking to it like a barnacle.
I will always thank Edie for giving me the confidence to know that I could continue on my road less traveled and, though I may falter, I should never give up, "no matter what."
I will be forever S-T-A-U-N-C-H, thanks to that chance encounter I had with a singular human being named Little Edie.