Mapping the Road Not Taken: Three German Words That Threatened Women’s Freedom

My book, The Road Not Taken, poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to self: “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose” is a great lyric, but not the truth.

As a woman, I have fought for freedom my whole life. The feminist movement which I entered in the seventies gave women the freedom to pretend we were equal, but there were a few telltale signs that we were not: Abbie Hoffman said the place of women in our movement is on their backs. The popular slogan “make love not war” never included, in word or deed, “if the woman you’re with wants to.”

I was 16-ish when I was set up to meet a man for coffee. We climbed up endless stairs to his greasy apartment near Sheridan Square. He closed the door and, without even offering me a glass of water, jumped on me and started slobbering. I had ridden the IRT subway for too many years to take this shit, so I pushed him off. He looked at me with shock and asked: “Are you afraid of a man’s penis?”

He was lucky that I simply stomped out the door; I could have said “only big things scare me.” My mother had trained me not to fear the myriad men on the downtown local who would show me their dicks. I’d run home and tell her and she’d laugh. “Forget about it, he’s just a sex fiend.”

That might have been bad parenting, but it was a great life lesson. I was not afraid of a man’s penis. I wasn’t even afraid of men. But that didn’t mean I was free.

I’ve been searching through history to find a time when women were free. My favorite episode on the long march towards equality happened in Weimar, Germany, right on the cusp of WWII. In Weimar, the bars and nightclubs were jammed with men and women dressed to the nines—smoking their heads off and drinking so much that it killed any cancer the cigarettes, cigarillos, and cigars might’ve contained.

There was live music. There were raucous costumes in fantastic colors and loud discussions about art and politics. (Full stop: If you don’t want to hear about politics, I’ve heard that tired old statement more times than I’ve had to pee really bad and couldn’t find a toilet. To me, politics is life. It’s not about political parties, or candidates, it’s about where we are on the way to a Just and Equal society. If you don’t care about that, get a pet.)

Back to Weimar: It was exciting! Women were out at night without their husbands—free (and not just another word for nothing left to lose), they argued vehemently about the rise of a little house painter with a funny mustache and the worst haircut ever. Weimar was at its height in the early 1930’s before the tiny monster became chancellor, but exactly when the frog was put in the water and the heat turned on. Many Germans did not see him as a threat. He was too ridiculous. But they failed to notice that the people surrounding him were demonically brilliant.

He spit out a new way of life: Kinder, Küche, Kirche. Kitchen, Children and Church. Hitler’s promoters saw Weimar and knew that, in order to sell their homunculus candidate, they had to get women back in the house. In order to create the Fatherland, they crafted an effective propaganda campaign. The women in Weimar, they insisted, “weren’t doing their jobs as mothers, wives, Christians.”

They won. Hitler came to power, and women’s roles were relegated to something the 18th century Hamish would have found suffocating. LGBTQ people and artists were called degenerate and forced to flee for their lives. The music stopped. The conversation was stifled.

There’s a lot about Weimar in The Road Not Taken. (There’s even an excerpt of some of those chapters up at Ms. magazine!) To this day, I haven’t seen an environment in which women were so free—and I grew up in Greenwich Village.

This brings me to today’s magical question:

What three words define your freedom?

Maybe you chose mothering, wife-ing and going to Church. If so, did it make you feel full? Maybe you didn’t, and you never looked back. What did you worship instead?

You tell me, in the comments here or on social media,. and I’ll tell you more about the men who tried to scare me with their penises. (It went on for a long time. But I’m still not scared.)

Mapping the Road Not Taken: Four Egyptian Myths and a Second Chance at Life

My book poses many “magical questions”—and I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings in its pages, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to answer a magical question. Leave your response in the comments here or on social media.

Note to Self: If you’re talking about Death, sound cheerful. Or at least mysterious. Try for both!

I am an unreligious person. Spiritual, but definitely not a member of the Bible Book Club. That leaves me fending for myself on the Big Box Store of Life: Death.

Early in my life I read about Egyptian mythology, after I saw the Boris Karloff movie The Mummy. I seriously took on the study of mummification much to the annoyance of my teachers. It made Death alluring not terrifying. (For reference, here are the mechanics of mummification: an instrument is stuck up your nose and pulls your brains out; another instrument is stuck in your torso and organs are pulled out and re-filled with incense, cinnamon and myrrh. So much better than worms munching on you down to the last drop, or an incinerator melting you in two hours.)

Egyptian mythology says that your heart gets weighed against a feather when you die. I like that. You get judged for what you did with the lifetime you just lived. If you lived a full life, and found the meaning life has for you, you die and move onto another level. If you didn’t fulfill your Contract with Creation in this life, you get sent back to do better. What great news: A Do-Over!

This is why I put the Egyptian gods Osiris, Isis, Set and Nephthys into my new book, The Road Not Taken. In case you missed it in history class, they are four siblings who marry each other: Osiris and Isis were blissful, Nephthys and Set were not.

My book’s protagonist is introduced to these gods and goddesses by her 50 million year-old mentor, who flies her back thousands of years to when these myths were created. In her travels, she has a brief encounter with each of the Egyptian gods, Osiris and his nasty brother Set; and starts friendships with both Isis and Nephthys. (If you already want more, click here to pre-order the book, which comes out in September.)

All four of these mythical heavyweights eventually join my protagonist for an epic caper—one involving art theft across the space-time continuum—but first, they teach her, in their own ways, how to seize her own power. How to live beyond the boundaries of her human life. How to begin her next million years of life. How to do it over until she got it right.

Which brings me to today’s magical question:

What is the life you’re waiting to live—and when will you begin allowing yourself to live it?

Tell me in the comments below, or on Twitter and Instagram! If any of this is makes you tingle with curiosity, talk to me. I will answer you. I can’t be the only person on the planet who doesn’t know how to cope with death through traditional religion—or the only woman who has gone wandering in search of herself.

Midwest Book Review on “The Road Not Taken”: “Exceptionally Entertaining,” “Impressive Original,” “Distinctively Crafted”

Mary Cowper of the Midwest Book Review included praise for The Road Not Taken in their August 2020 edition:

Impressively original, engagingly compelling, and exceptionally entertaining from first page to last, “The Road Not Taken” is an extraordinary and delightfully novel that showcases author Susan Rubin’s genuine flair for the kind of narrative storytelling that is fundamental to a great literary enterprise. Very highly recommended for community, college, and university library Contemporary Literary Fiction collections, “The Road Not Taken” will have a very special appeal for the personal reading lists of those who appreciate a well and distinctively crafted science fiction fantasy that will linger in the mind and memory long after the novel itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.

Click here to see the full review. Click here to learn more about the book. And click here to pre-order The Road Not Taken!

Mapping “The Road Not Taken”

Note to self: This is not a diary, it’s for public consumption. But never be boring, make each entry a joy to read. The readers can see what other people had for dinner and get some juicy news elsewhere—for now, stick to the series…

After years as a playwright, documentarian, blogger, sketch writer, cabaret performer/creator, I wrote a book. I could tell a juicy lie about The Road Not Takenthat I saw the coming of quarantine and knew that theatre would be dead for the foreseeable future—but we’ve already been lied to enough, and any more of it will make me climb onto my balcony ledge and jump.

The truth is, I wasn’t aware that these spaces would soon recede—but I did want to get away from the complexities of doing a play. I was sick of actors, directors and designers. All of them are underpaid, and in Los Angeles, they have a constant yen to get out of your play and get a movie or TV gig that actually pays. You can hardly blame them, but questions like “I am on hold for a commercial for opening night, is that okay?” became unbearable.

One man did my play while he went through a crisis because he had turned 33, and felt he hadn’t accomplished as much as Jesus had by that age. He responded by showing up late for his entrance, and ran on stage with a huge subway sandwich that was not part of the scene. He proceeded to eat it, making his lines inaudible, until his leading lady grabbed it from him and threw it on the floor. I’m not sure Jesus did stuff like that.

There were crying fits about costumes that had “obviously been shrunk by the cleaners” in the week between shows. Nobody could tell that person that she had expanded and that was why the costume was too tight. (That particular pain in the ass actress was me.)

After many successful but excruciating World Premieres, with great reviews that had no idea what the play was about, I was done. The documentaries stopped at the same time because we had already written about every atrocity facing women. But I have always been a storyteller—and I couldn’t put that part of me to rest. Other kids who didn’t even like me in my younger years would sit at my table because of the stories I told as we stuffed down meatloaf and other crappy food.

My stories were always surreal. The characters I created constantly climbed into mysterious caves with walls made of rubies, emeralds and other colorful things; found rooms filled with weird characters way before Star Wars. I couldn’t stand naturalism. I wasn’t wild about reality in general. I made up strange, mysterious stories.

With the theater and documentary life gone, I decided to write a book about a woman who meets her twin sister and kills her. (My sister and I still had a lot to work out!) But when the story began to pop out of my computer, the twin woman became a mentor—a woman 50 million years old who had chosen my protagonist for a very specific journey to fly her through Space and Time, and who would introduce her to mythical and real characters who were now dead to give her a good look at the universe we live in.

True to my own instructions, I’ve been told it’s a joy to read—lots of sex, art, myths, time travel. I am excited to see people respond to a woman as she determines her own life choices and become friends with Vincent Van Gogh, sexually dabbles with the Greatest Egyptian god and ultimately decides the fate of our world.

And then…no. That’s where I end today. And then. (If you already want more, click here to pre-order the book, which comes out in September.)

The book is filled with magic. Not abracadabra magic, but the magic of women discovering why they are alive. Looking back, I see how many people on this planet don’t know the answer to that question. Some even find it annoying.

Since the election of 2016, the world has changed so drastically I think only those who are truly dead inside don’t want answers to the more serious questions we now face: How did we tolerate the lawlessness, the disgusting behavior towards women, the women who enabled the disgusting behavior towards women, the cruelty to every living thing that government has control over?

But I believe my story is filled with questions that are also a matter of life and death. For instance:

Why are you alive?

This is the largest “magical question” asked in The Road Not Takenbut it isn’t the only inquiry that bears further exploration and excavation. I’m going to begin digging even deeper into the historic and mythical underpinnings of the book, here and on social media @SusanRubin1 on Twitter and @SusanRubinWriter on Instagram, in a new series: Mapping the Road Not Taken. Together, we’ll travel through the pages of my book—and at every stop, I’m going to ask you to dig deeper, too. Into magical questions. Into the stuff of life. Into your life.

Come along with me. Tell me your stories, and I’ll continue to tell you mine. We have a lot of time to kill at home, anyway.

The Power of Telling Stories By, For, and About Women

I am a storyteller. At six years old I told stories that took my character deep into a cave where she discovered walls of colorful jewels and cavernous rooms filled with weird creatures. 

Naturalism I learned for my many documentaries where the strong-of-stomach can be sure they will feel sad and enraged after even the shortest look. I wrote about the condition of women in the world. It required many breaks to slam my head into my desk and try to deflect the pain from my soul to the red hematoma I had developed.

In between the years of writing docs-to-order, meaning the subject matter was dictated by who would see it, I wrote plays which were freeing because I chose the topics, the characters, the storyline. But if you’ve ever worked with actors or directors, you know that actors don’t always say the words on the page. Directors are sometimes clueless about the playwright’s intention.

Finally it lead me to write a book.

The Road Not Taken started out as a story about a woman who finds she has a twin sister, and then kills her. As it progressed, it became a journey through Space/Time, living and dying but still being alive, Egyptian mythology, the history of Weimar Germany and many other seemingly disparate elements: The story of the girls in Nigeria captured by Boko Haram and the huge indifference that caused in the world, the importance of having a human spirit, the problem of whether planet Earth is worth the energy it burns in the universe.

Here is my most honest and I hope, most intriguing story of all. It is not about me, though the locations are often landmarks in my life: the West Village, the inside of Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles where I finally achieved my lifelong wish to visit the painter but couldn’t find a way into the canvas. Until I wrote my way in. The corner of Bleecker and 6th where I went to school, songs we played on 45’s, sex and the finer points of enjoying it. These were part of my real life but told through the voice of a woman who has at the beginning, no idea why she is alive. I always knew.

Stories are the most important tools we have. The Bible, which I find largely reprehensible with its efforts to curb women’s curiosity to a “how to” on raising two children, favoring one so much they both end up dead. The New Testament isn’t much nicer – it has been used to train people to think some of the most disastrous lies ever. But as a book of stories, it can’t be topped for its influence. 

I do what I can to tell different stories.