My “Road Not Taken” and Happy Birthday Robert Frost

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Today is San Francisco poet Robert Frost’s birthday, who graced the literary world with his universal and timeless themes in poems such as, “A Road Not Taken” and “Mending Wall.” To honor this day, I decided to write about my experience with my road not taken.

When I shared the news with my colleagues, family and friends that I was going to quit my job in order to pursue writing, I was met with mixed reviews. Some applauded me for having the courage to follow my dreams, others found it unfathomable. Why would I leave a job– one that offered medical benefits, vacation days, a dental plan and 401K? The safe choice might have been to continue working, enjoying the laurels of a stable career. But after 10 years of telling my students to ‘follow your dreams’ I finally decided to take my own advice.

Robert Frost calls this ‘The Road not Taken’ and describes it as the less popular and traveled one. It’s a common poem, one that I used to teach, but I couldn’t identify with, until recently.

When my job was posted and I saw over-qualified teachers with impressive resumes wanting my job or when I looked at my latest bank statement, it wasn’t easy for me to second guess my decision. I came to the realization that I could be replaced quickly and that my former steady paycheck would be cut in half or rapidly dwindle. Also, I had to consider that being a writer isn’t necessarily a coveted career choice. Some might say I was taking two steps backwards, not forward.

But fortunately I don’t have to look far to find comfort in my decision – like when I’ve noticed that it’s been seven months of fully immersing myself in my writing and I’m still able to support my decision financially. Or when I’m in a classroom filled with aspiring writers and we have discussions about plot, characters, and epiphanies. Or the most recent sign– when I stayed home Saturday night and finally dotted the period of the last sentence in my fourth short story. To some, these may be insignificant feats, but to me they are significant accomplishments reminding me that these achievements wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been brave enough to make a different career choice.

As Frost reminds me, I know that when this part of my journey is over, I’ll have to create a new path. Maybe I’ll return to teaching, or maybe the road will lead me to a different direction. This Fall, I’ll be applying to MFA programs and if I’m accepted, I’ll have the opportunity to relocate in the bay area, state or possibly the country. Either way, it’ll be a new road, once again with a new set of possibilities.

The last lines in Frost’s poem state: “Two roads diverged in wood, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” These lines have really resonated with me. Sometimes I have to remind myself to take a moment and look at the road ahead of me while also appreciating the road behind me. I’ve taken some unusual turns, while rerouting and redirecting. Some may say I’m on a dangerous path, one filled with risks and the unknown. But that doesn’t discourage me. It’s more meaningful for me to remind myself that while a very important and meaningful road in my life has closed, I know a different and maybe an even more important one will open.

Happy birthday Robert Frost! This blog entry is dedicated to you.

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My Top Ten Bookstores in the Bay Area

Where do you buy your books? In our economy, we have to be more conscious where we spend our money. And while I don’t necessarily loathe giant retail book stores; as teacher and writer, I highly encourage you to consider shopping elsewhere– your local neighborhood bookstore. Maybe Barns and Noble or Amazon are more convenient and sometimes more affordable; however, by supporting your local mom and pop book store, you’re doing more than just helping the community, you’re also supporting local artists. Many local writers have the support of independent bookstores to shelve their novels, giving them exposure on so many different levels, a kind of support that’s lacking from chain bookstores. Also, by investing a couple more dollars in indie bookstores, you’re sending a strong message to publishers that small businesses are still valued and local bookstores are equally important.

Here’s my list of my top ten favorite independent book stores. I know there are many out there in the bay area, but I’ve listed why these stores are my favorite. In no particular order, here they are…

1.City Lights Bookstore (Broadway, SF)– A literary landmark, home of the Beatniks and located in the historic area of Broadway in San Francisco. They were the first all paperback bookstore, but now it’s three stories of hardback and paperback. Could easily be referred to a Beatnik museum, but ironically it’s located within steps of the actual Beatnik museum.

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2. Marcus book store (Oakland)– there’s another location in San Francisco that I have yet to visit. Who wouldn’t want to go to a bookstore named after philosopher Marcus Garvey? They were originally a print company but because they saw a need for black literature in their neighborhood, they expanded by selling books. Also, they were an integral part in the business movement happening in The Fillmore District in SF. And at one point they printed San Francisco State University’s school newspaper after the strike and the owners even put up their house for collateral after 100 students were arrested. Also, I met author Terri McMillan here and she signed my book!

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3. Green Apple Books (Inner Richmond, SF)– located in the inner Richmond in SF. They carry new and used books, and have such a large selection that there are two stores on the same street. They also hosts a lot of events and sometimes rent out the bar next door for literary readings. I had the opportunity to hear Amy Gutierrez read from her children’s book “Smarty Marty.”

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4. Half Price book store (Concord)- cheap books, found treasures like a paperback copy of Interpreter of Madelines and hard cover of Anthony Kiedis’, Scar Tissue. Also, located in Todos Santos square, visit Tuesday and Thursday and you can also visit the farmer’s market just across the street.

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5. Booksmith (The Haight, SF)– Perfect place to look for special gifts (birthdays, Valentine’s). They carry a plethora of titles and rare books. Everyone who works here is an expert, so you’ll always walk out with a good book that comes highly recommended. My favorite memory is when I attended a book signing for painter/ artist/ author Justin Bua, DJQbert was also there signing away, along with Davey D from KMEL.

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6. Books, INC-(Berkeley). One of the west’s oldest running independent bookstore. IF YOU LOVE BOOKS AND BOOKSTORES, this is a place to visit. Although they are branching out in the bay area with several location, they still have that intimate and exclusive feel.

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7. Bay Area Book Exchange (El Cerrito)- FREE FREE FREE books to give away. They take donations as well. But if you’re looking to build or add to your library, I’d recommend coming here. They have a small selection, as they are donation based, but everything is free for the taking. If you have kids, take them here as well; they have a decent selection of children’s books. Come here off season, where you get first dibs on the best books.

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8. College book stores– I know, an unusual recommendation. Even after college I make it a point to visit college bookstores just to see what the college kids are reading these days. One time I visited the bookstore at Diablo Valley Community College and that’s where I discovered, Jhumpa Lahiri. Her book was sitting on one of the Modern English Literature section shelves. I’ve also visited Stanford bookstore, and it’s probably one of the most impressive college boostores I’ve visited.

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9. Pegasus book (Berkeley)– great section of “essential and staff picks” and also don’t mind the cat wandering around the bookstore.

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10. Shakespeare and company (Berkeley)– if you love the smell of old books, you’ll love this bookstore. Unique layout with a lot of interesting books. A must visit spot if you’re in Berkeley.

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Next time you buy a book, magazine, movie, journal, etc., I encourage you check out a bookstore from my list or any independent bookstores in your area. You’ll feel better that your money is supporting local artists  and also you’re taking a stand in supporting  local businesses. 

What’s your favorite independent bookstore?