Sunday, August 21, 2011

Garden of Forking Paths

Jorge Luis Borges' story "The Garden of Forking Paths" has always been a favorite of mine; Borges packs an alternate-realities tale, a mystery, a puzzle, and an adventure story into a very concise package, and each time I re-read the tale, a different aspect seems to rise into prominence. Because of my predilection to alternate-realities stories, however, that's the part that I always remember the most. The main character postulates that life is an infinite series of forking paths, and each time we take a different fork, we create a new reality... but there are nevertheless realities in which we took the other path instead, leading to an all new series of forking paths on their own.

Ever wonder about your life's own forking paths? I recognize many incidents in my life that seemed uneventful at the time, but each of which led to major changes in the direction of my life. What if I had asked my parents to buy me comic books prior to my tonsilectomy; would I have ever become so involved in the medium that helped to redefine my life? What if I had never paid any attention to that ad for a fanzine; would I have ever become involved in fan writing, which paved the way for Comic Shop News? What if I had never bought that issue of Batman and noticed a letter of comment from a high school girl in Cedartown, Georgia; I would have never contacted her, and thus I might have never met my future wife. As a result, I might not have gotten married right away; had I not done so, would I have continued to pursue my future as an artist rather than a writer? Would I have ever become a teacher?

Were Susan and I not married, would I have ever moved to Marietta? After all, we made the move because Susan had gotten a job in data processing in the Lenox Square area, and Marietta seemed like a midpoint between my Rome job and her Atlanta job. Had I not moved to Marietta, I would have never worked with Benny at Book Trader, and later with Artie at Dr. No's, helping them order comics. Had I not done that, I would have never have had the opportunity to buy Dr. No's; then, years later, I would not have produced a store newsletter that metamorphosed into Comic Shop News.

Were I not to move to Marietta, I would have never have become involved in Atlanta SF fandom, and I would have never met my long-time friend and business partner, Ward Batty. I might have instead spent my years in Rome, making a home there; perhaps I would have gone into teaching, perhaps not.

What if, instead of selling our Rome farmhouse/weekend retreat in 1999, we had kept it? Then I would have been there the weekend I had my heart attack, at least twenty minutes away from medical assistance... at which point I would have been permanently dead rather than temporarily.

So many pivotal moments, so many forking paths. Is there, somewhere, a me who took the other fork at each of these moments? How did his life progress? Does he in turn wonder about the other forks he might have taken, and how it would have altered his future?

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