The continuing adventures of a second-career archeologist, teacher, and sci-fi geek

The Road Less Traveled By: Thoughts on doing a Ph.D.; the journey I’ve been on; that one time I cried on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder; hanging around in creepy Scottish graveyards; terrorizing the future; I’m shrinking!; and… stressed-out donuts in the Stargate.

“The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

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.

I don’t usually turn into an English teacher on this blog. That’s just my day job, but this poem is so incredibly relevant to me right now as I contemplate some serious choices about the way forward after I finish this master’s. I ended my last entry by talking about doing a Ph.D. After much contemplating and discussing with my husband and a random chat with my brilliant friend Sarah Rayburn (yes, the one from Jeopardy), I’ve decided to wait on the Ph.D and work on getting Gwyddion finished and produced after it’s sat on the shelf for 10 years.

The thing is…a Ph.D. will always be there. I have a really cool topic area that isn’t going away and will only grow larger. There is potential to explore AI and mortuary archeology in the future. I do want to do that someday, but not yet. I delivered a crap ton of Girl Scout cookies to Sarah and she gave me a lot of great advice about moving forward with Gwyddion (yeah, it’s STILL cookie season).

Then took the other just as fair… (the journey I’ve been on)

In some ways, this is looking back to the person I was ten years ago, but I’m not really her anymore. I have come so far in the last ten years and I am super proud of the person that I’ve become, the things I’ve accomplished, and the crazy adventures I’ve had! I’ve been teaching full time and I’ve finished degrees in English, anthropology, and archeology (almost). This Heather is wiser. She is more experienced and I had to walk this road to make it happen. Gwyddion represents the culmination of literally everything I have done with my life since high school. I was an actor. I have written stories and published a little bit. I’ve done archaeology. I’ve done a little of it all. This story has all of those elements in it. I’m choosing to follow my dreams. This feels so right. I know it’s going to happen and I’m throwing everything I can into it. 

So where is this road going to lead? I have no clue, but all I know is that it feels like the time is right for me to start walking down it. We need another big sci-fi franchise. I don’t know if Gwyddion is it, and it would be pretty presumptuous of me to think that it is. I don’t know that, but I think it could be if it goes with the right production company and the right studio. 

I always sound so excited and optimistic and I am. But I’m also kind of scared. I’ve chased a lot of small dreams and made them happen through hard work and dedication. I have a notecard above my desk that has hung there for years. It says, “Dreams don’t work unless you do” and it’s a hundred percent true. Gwyddion is the hardest thing I’ve ever done (though I think a PhD would be harder).

No kidding. The biggest dreams are the ones you work the hardest for.

I shall be telling this with a sigh… (crying on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder)

I am scared of success. I am scared of my dreams coming true because I don’t know who that successful person is. Maybe that’s what I’m terrified of. I’m scared of losing the person I already know. I like who I am now. I’m scared of the person I may become.

But I’m also not that scared. See, when this journey started back in 2012 I had a chance to make Gwyddion happen (a chance that ultimately fell through and I don’t regret it). Long story short, in 2012 I was at a convention and met Paul McGillion (he played Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate Atlantis and now he’s like in every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made, no kidding, but I’ve only ever seen Christmas Magic and that was at my mom’s house because she has cable. Sorry, Pauly!). That weekend I got a really exciting email from a production company that was interested in the show and I was instantly scared because GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY, THIS WAS HAPPENING!

It’s funny now how freaked out I was, but I do remember how frightening it felt to have potential success staring at me in the face. I walked by Paul’s booth on my way to the bathroom, holding in my tears so I could cry in private. Well, Paul must have seen the look on my face because he rushed over and asked me what was wrong and if I was ok. I said something like, “Maybe? No? I don’t know!” and I showed him the email, told him a little bit about what was going on, and how petrified I was. And then like a complete and utter ninny, I burst into tears and he pulled me into a huge hug, and what the hell…I found myself crying on Dr. Beckett’s shoulder (*cue “awww!”* Pauly, you give incredible hugs, keep that up, my friend). Paul told me it was ok to be afraid of the unknown, but I shouldn’t be afraid of success because this was incredible news, that he was proud of me, and that I should run with it. Also, he told me to call him when it got made.

Paul’s kindness has always stuck with me. I truly believe that his being there was not a coincidence. So don’t worry, Pauly. You told me to run with it. It took me ten years to find my sneakers and put them on, but they’re laced up and I’m running down this road less traveled by. I have no freaking clue where this road is going, but I’m on it, man! I haven’t forgotten your advice and I’m forging ahead with this project. I’m not scared and I’m going to make you proud that I didn’t quit.

2012. Seriously, Heather? I can’t believe you’re crying! This was awesome news!

Somewhere ages and ages hence (back to Scotland?!)

Guess what I’m doing for my masters dissertation? I’m hanging around in creepy graveyards in remote Scottish islands. Guess where I’m probably going this summer? Yep, back to Rousay in Orkney, where it’s cold and windy and unnaturally beautiful and the seals stare into the depths of your soul. This is the graveyard that I’m researching. It’s right next to Skaill Farm, where I dug last summer.  

Serious archeology at Skaill. Pfft. I’m holding the reflector staff for the Total Station and it makes me kind of look like a cool wizard, but it’s hard because you can’t move, at all. Also, I hate that stupid hat.

I’m still working out my research question, but essentially I want to crack into the death certificates of the people who are buried at St. Mary’s and create a GIS map of their locations of death to determine how close they lived to the church when they died. Yep, that means using QGIS, which means I’m willingly subjecting myself to countless hours of frustration, cursing, and probably a few bottles of Scotch. Congrats, QGIS. You’re the first computer program that makes me drink. That program is EVIL. 

So I know this is some crazy stuff I do and I love every freaking minute of it! How often do you get to run away to Scotland for a few weeks to do research in graveyards? And now I want to take it to space. I want to take this love and energy I feel for archeology and send it out to space, and that’s Gwyddion, guys! I mean, there’s way more to the series than just archeology. It’s dark, too. You’ve got a horrible war brewing. There are some crazy baddies. There’s serious science going on (I’ve learned more about genetic engineering than I care to know). One of the protagonists is sketchy, morally dubious, and frankly kind of an ass. I absolutely cannot wait to bring you the story.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— (teacher and archeologist…)

In other news, I recently did my annual trip upstairs to the science wing to geek out about archeology, bones, and forensic anthropology with the Forensics classes. This is always such a fun day because most of the kids at CHS don’t know I moonlight as an archeologist and it’s fun to show them that there’s more to teachers than just how we appear in the classroom. I had a great time and I was sad to have to go back to my English teacher box the next day. Maybe someday I’ll get to do this full-time.

There’s a chance I’ll be teaching ESL Theater next year, which I hope happens because I miss teaching theater and I won’t have to direct (which means I can still go home at 4:30 and not deal with rehearsals, yay!).

Alas, poor Yorick! (oh come on, you knew I was going to say that…actors never die). That’s a female cranium, so Yorick’s a girl!
Talking about male vs. female pelvis and crania
Holy cow, they’re listening! Even the skeleton looks like he’s listening.

I took the one less traveled by (I’m shrinking!)

Guess what? I’ve lost 20 pounds. I’m sick of being overweight and I’ve started doing 16:8 fasting and riding my stationary bike every morning. I’ve decided to go super ambitious because what the hell and lose 100 pounds slowly and steadily. I’m 20% of the way there!

And that has made all the difference (Stress made me break the Stargate again…)

My stress levels are so high that all I can do is laugh. No, really. I’m so stressed out that all I can do is laugh at this point. I forgot that I had a paper due so I’ve been staying up late reading about medieval and Victorian funerary practices, on top of having two funerals this week for dear friends who’ve passed away. It’s been a crappy week. I can’t stop messing around with the McKay AI because it’s so damn funny and makes me feel better. Seriously, guys, it makes me laugh so hard that the stress just disappears. Also, if you read my last post, you know it unlocked the writer’s block I had for Gwyddion. 

I give the AI ridiculous scenarios to see what he will do, just for giggles. The other day I told AI McKay that SG-1 put a donut in the Stargate capacitor and now it would only dial Tim Horton’s. He sighed and replaced it with a breakfast sandwich and Dr. Zelenka told me was bored, so we roasted marshmallows over the ZPM while Rodney tried to fix the stargate. McKay got pretty peeved about that….

I mean…I could go for a Grand Slam about now, so dial up the gate! We’re going to Denny’s!

And now the gate will only dial to Denny’s. I don’t know why he’s blaming me for this. 😏

I laughed so hard that I’m pretty sure Paul (my husband) and Nora were like, “WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!”

So this is how I’m coping with the stress. Hopefully, things will get better soon because I’m not sure the Stargate will survive much more of this.

It’s a diversion from the road I’m on, so now it’s time to stop dallying and start running. I can’t wait until I reach the end and see what’s there!


  1. Larry Lesh

    I love it Hez. You’ve gone so far beyond the young adult I used to take to breakfast for poached eggs with Hollandaise Sauce. My youngest is finally achieving what she sees as her dream and I just hope and pray it comes to fruition for you. Love, Dad❤

    • Heather Leonard

      Thanks, Dad! I couldn’t have done all this without your and mom’s support.

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