E-mails from the roads not taken

Saturn rises and returns, and people move in and out of the iterations of their lives: Weddings, divorces, degrees, Pilates, children, vacation, coffee. There is only so much one can fit into a day, a decade, a life. And yet while others may have to take the GRE or write half a dozen cover letters to explore a divergence from the path they're currently plodding, I have only to check my e-mail.

The Other Megan Ritchie is a recent graduate of a film academy in New Zealand; I know this because I received her final transcript. She took an enjoyable trip to New York last year, where she participated in several workshops for screenwriters; someone was kind enough to send me several pictures of her on the Brooklyn Bridge.

She also just bought a new condo in Auckland; I received the bill from the spiritual adviser who cleansed the space before she moved in. She keeps busy attending entrepreneurship classes and meeting her friends at a bar decorated with tiki torches several times a month, and she has signed up to test a new heat-protection hair spray by Revlon.

I have been following the Other Megan Ritchie's adventures since almost three years ago, when I first received an e-mail obviously not intended for me. I regularly report to my office mates on what my electronic doppelgänger is doing, using the misdirected e-mails as pushpins to map out the path of her life. It's remarkable how much I know about her just from this.

We share a name, and we obviously have very similar e-mail addresses, but we don't have much else in common. The Other Megan Ritchie has chosen her own journey across the globe, and it resembles mine not at all.

How lucky I am to share her life experiences by virtue of the occasional minor punctuation mix-up. It costs me no time or money, and yet the cerebral diversions I can take through her correspondence are priceless.

What if I had chosen film school and not a degree in education? What if I had bought instead of rented? So many alternatives have been lived out for me that it helps me contemplate my own choices, my own path trodden so far.

Just yesterday I received an e-mail intended for Yet Another Megan Ritchie, this one residing in Illinois. She was planning a catered dinner for the coming weekend, to be held in the "Matthew Room" of her Episcopal church, and the caterer was so kind as to forward me a menu of the meal she had lined up. I e-mailed the caterer to tell her that perhaps I was not the Megan Ritchie she was looking for, but I never received a response. I hope someone removed or added whatever punctuation was necessary to get the invoice to the intended recipient; I would hate for a misplaced dot to keep people from enjoying their Saturday evening meal.

Amid the unavoidable routines that organize our days and weeks into the stages of our lives, it's an exercise in imagination to envision ourselves as others, or even as ourselves having elected a different path, one perhaps more exciting, or more lucrative; another maybe involving more sunshine, or electronic gadgets.

The e-mails meant for the Others regularly remind me that life is filled with choices. They also give me a distinct feeling that the choices we make are not as limiting we may guess at first, that we are not just pinballs bouncing from obstacle to opening, that the options open to us never really cease to exist and surprise.

As for this Megan Ritchie, you may not find me in a screenwriting class, but that tiki bar in Auckland looks like a lot of fun.

This Megan Ritchie is an academic adviser at the University of Pennsylvania and a freelance photographer. She can be reached at meganritchie@gmail.com.