Cassius Clay was hated more than Sonny Liston/ Some like K.K. Downing more than Glenn Tipton/ Some like Jim Nabors, some Bobby Vinton/ I like ‘em all

Mark Kozelek

There are a lot of items in the world. Two of those items are “shortcuts” and “backways.”

Shortcuts and backways are far from identical, however I posit that they belong in the same general category. What is this category? Well, they are both alternative paths to an intended destination. In other words, they are minor (perhaps) but still important navigational options. And, both have unique, and in my opinion potentially attractive, features.

I like both shortcuts and backways. However other folks may well like one and not the other. This is because in a certain sense shortcuts and backways are opposites, or at least on different ends of a continuum. Shortcuts take less time, clearly, and backways usually take more time. The midpoint of this continuum I guess would be “the normal way,” or just “the way.” A lot of folks will just take the normal way because it’s normal. Or, they may not even be aware of a shortcut or a backway. Sometimes we have to scout around a bit to find these items.

What might a shortcut look like in practice? Could be jumping a fence, maybe an alleyway, a tunnel, perhaps cutting through someone’s backyard. Could be a path through the trees on a ski slope, or a secret set of stairs in a mansion (the servants’ stairs perhaps). I would suggest, just float, the hypothesis that shortcuts always, or at least almost always, have a degree of real or perceived danger or risk to them. Alleyways are known to harbor RATS. Paths through the trees may have BUMPS and EXPOSED ROOTS. Sneaking through a backyard, we may encounter AN IRATE PROPERTY OWNER with a BIG FAT GUN. Even the servants’ stairs may have GHOSTS, DARK SECRETS, or even ECTOPLASM floating about. When you take a shortcut it’s best to be a bit on your guard.

What about backways? What do these look like? Here we are in slightly more complex waters. A short cut, as mentioned above, when executed properly, takes less time. That’s kind of the point. But while backways often take more time, they need not. In other words, it’s not definitional. Indeed, if there is a normal way and a backway to your home from your work, for example, you may time the two routes and find they are in fact fairly similar. However, the backway is likely to feel longer. This is because the backway, and I believe this to be more definitional, is more scenic. And scenery (scenicness?), being absorbing, can sort of mentally slow us down. Is that right? I’m not sure, but it’s in the neighborhood of right.

After all, what is a backway really “back” of? I mean, a backway doesn’t like automatically lead to a “back door” or anything. Also, we don’t call the normal way the “frontway,” now do we? It’s just the way. Therefore, the backway is back of the way. In other words, again, it’s kind of minor, less populated, or in some other way odd. That’s why it’s the backway.

Now, an interesting difference between a shortcut and a backway is that a shortcut is not only applicable when navigating physical space, but is also applicable when navigating all other kinds of spaces. You can find shortcuts in decision making, in writing, in computer coding, in all types of places. According to Mr. Google a shortcut is:

1. an alternative route that is shorter than the one usually taken.

2. an accelerated way of doing or achieving something.

You see what I mean. On the other hand a backway is mostly applicable to physical space. Mr. Google in fact simply defines backway as “a back alley.” But Mr. Google is way off here. As outlined above, I don’t even think a back alley is a backway per se. I think it’s a subset of shortcut. Mr. Google needs to re-examine the situation. Mr. Google needs to read this blog. Nonetheless, we don’t generally refer to “a backway to a decision,” we might instead say we took a longer time (time not space), or used an unconventional method to reach a conclusion (process not space). Therefore, “shortcut” as a term is much more capacious than “backway.”

That’s about it on shortcuts and backways. Like Mr. Kozelek, I like ‘em all.

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