Regarding Decisions

English: A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto...

Decisions are like coffee: they come in a variety of sizes, are frequently encountered at crossroads, and are as bitter or sweet as you make them. Like coffee, decisions can be recognized by their side-effects. Do you feel nervous? Manic? Like you’re just moments away from needing the rest room? Chances are, you’re either faced with making a choice or have just finished choosing.

Decisions can sneak up on you. Sometimes they creep in on the cat’s paws of inevitable, almost unnoticeable change. Sometimes they rush at you, crashing down like the piece of plane in Donnie Darko. You might be tempted to think you can outsmart a decision. You can’t, though, because even refusing to make a decision is in itself a decision. Unlike coffee, you can’t quit decisions.

Sometimes, you make a decision that you need to reverse later; this can come with a helping of humility, because you may be forced to admit you were wrong. Occasionally, you make a decision that cannot be reversed and you regret it. To have or not to have children. To put your money in a speculative stock or not to put your money there. To act out of love or to act out of self-interest.

The really hard decisions come with consequences. This goes at least double, if not triple, for decisions regarding your immortal soul or karma. Most decisions aren’t really that big, not in a cosmic sense, but they could have financial repercussions. As a species, we spend a lot of time deciding things based upon money. How much will that decision make me? How much will this other decision cost me? Should I get a tank of gas to get to work or food to feed my family?

Styron depicts the darkest of decisions in Sophie’s Choice by forcing his character into a situation where she must choose which of her two children will live. One could argue Sophie’s dilemma wasn’t really a decision. It was a torture tactic disguised as a decision. A true decision, the argument goes, will always have Option C: do nothing and let things play out without you ever making a move one way or the other. Semantics couldn’t help Sophie, and certainly didn’t spare her the agony of deciding. Most decisions aren’t that vast, that awful, or that cruel. Thankfully.

Framed this way, I feel that decisions aren’t at all like coffee. To be that blithe and brash would be to act as if there were no true darkness. There is darkness, though, and we are continually faced with choices that could plunge us farther into the dark, or lead us from it.

No, decisions aren’t like coffee. They are like rope. We can use them to hang ourselves or we can use them to pull ourselves to freedom.

Sometimes monstrous people will use that rope to harm you.

How, then, can we make decisions? Excluding the insurmountable and horrific category of decision à la Sophie’s Choice, how do we pick amongst our options? The danger of analysis paralysis, or spending too much time thinking about the pros and cons of any choice, can set in and force you into Option C. The danger of jumping in unprepared is often the road to regret. The most that you can do is make the best choice you can with the information you have at the time. Get your facts, vibes, or Tarot cards and then -right or wrong – make your decision. Don’t wait for one to be made for you unless you’re comfortable with relinquishing ownership of your life.

People might try to waylay you, for various reasons and often out of a sense of helping you. The important thing is to apply your core values and principles to your decision; if you do that, then you will be confident you are choosing what is right for you and your situation. For me, when I make a decision, there are only two essential items I Must Always Consider. First, I think of my marriage and how my decision will impact Mr. Aniko. Second, I think of how the decision will impact my writing. Other factors are relevant and considered, but they are secondary. If a choice will negatively impact either my marriage or my writing, I make a different choice. It’s really quite simple. Except, of course, when the decision is going to be good for my marriage and bad for my writing or vice versa. Luckily, though, each is mutually supportive of the other. I am happier and less anxious when I write, which is good for my marriage. I write better when I’ve been able to spend quality time with Mr. Aniko, which is good for my writing. It’s true,  I take my coffee with milk and honey.

What about you? What informs your decisions? Who throws you a lifeline when you’re stuck?

 

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Expectations, East and Elsewhere

Society provides us with a variety of canned expectations that we are acculturated into accepting as our own. Take the expectation that a long term relationship will end in marriage and children.What about the expectation that hard work will result in promotions? There are a slew of writing-related expectations, too: that you need an agent, that publishing only counts if it’s traditional, that you should write what sells. How many of these things do you want or believe, in and of yourself, separate from what society has programmed you to think?

I have a day job. My choice is to limit my emotional and time investment in my career and put more effort into my true calling, writing. Most of the year, I don’t question this; I agree with Joseph Campbell that “your art is what you would call your work” and “your employment is your job.”* Then my boss gives me my Annual Performance Review. The experience triggers an upwelling of self-doubt and even shame. If it is my choice to do my job well, but not pursue any definite paths to advancement, where does my discontent originate? Why does the review make me feel bad about living and working the way I feel is right for me?

When I was in college, I worked at the dining hall. After one year, I decided to apply for the position of supervisor.  I went to the interview and was sent an odd rejection letter. I kept the letter because I was outraged by it, but now I realize that my interviewer saw a truth about my nineteen year old self that I struggle with to this day. I quote:

“You have proven to be an excellent addition to the Dining Hall staff. However, it seemed in your interview there were two Anikos, one to the East — confident and eloquent, and one someplace else — uncomfortable with the image of you as a figure of authority and longing to escape.”

I am East and elsewhere. I have always lived with this division, and it is only recently that I have begun to understand the problem. On most days, I feel like I’m living my life very well because I manage to stay true to my core values and still make money working in a fun environment with great people. Then comes my review. It forces me to measure myself on the Eastern scale of my employer. My lack of advancement stings because I am internalizing society’s  expectations of how life is ‘supposed’ to go. I feel pain because I am applying a system of measurement that I have already chosen to reject.

I should not succumb to the dark euphoria of pitying self-flagellation when I do not measure up to an arbitrary standard I was never even trying to reach. It’s easy to whine and rage and flail. It is difficult to accept the call to follow one’s own path. Ultimately, I know that that my real reward is to live my life in accordance to my own truths, not a canned set of aspirations. I remind myself of what Epictetus wrote, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things.” I am bothered by viewing myself from a corporate perspective, not by some real problem with me. I may be capable of being ‘East,’ but ‘elsewhere’ is my true place.

Turmoil and angst are generated by focusing your attention through a framework that is a mismatch for your core values. I think this is why so many writers struggle with the decision to go indie. There has long been the idea that publishing is only legitimatized if a work is carried by one of the big New York houses. This was the case in the past merely because there was no other affordable avenue to publication and distribution. Yes, many writers or supporters of writers started their own small presses: Bill Bird’s Three Mountain Press and the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press are two examples. Today you don’t even have to bother with buying and operating a hand-operated press; you can format your novel on a cheap laptop and set it up for publishing on demand or deliver it to readers electronically. The reality of publishing has changed, but societal expectations and judgment are slower to adjust course than is the technology that sweeps us into an egalitarian publishing era. I know the most common question I get when I mention my novel is, “So you found a publisher?” Lay people and writers alike are struggling with the perspective shift. The important thing is to be aware of the expectations, perspective, and framework you are using when you evaluate your choices for publication. Distinguish between you want and those expectations that have been sold to you as being what you “should” want. Then do what is right for you as an author.

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