Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Choice and Change III: The Anatomy of a Decision

What I think I'll do now is take advantage of my natural tendency in fiction writing to give way, way too much detail about everything I describe, and slow time down to a crawl to pick apart the stages of a decision I made about a week ago.

(By the way, I'm not joking about that tendency. Once I spent four single spaced pages describing the way a cat moves. I have also spent twelve diving into the way a teacher looks at you when you ditch class. Five about the first step into an ice cave. The reason I sometimes sound stilted now is that I'm leaning purposefully in the opposite direction and sometimes I lean too far.)

It's not a big decision. Just a small decision. An everyday decision. What am I going to do now. That type of decision. The kind that accompanies every tiny crossroads - one path leading to quesadillas and one leading to warmed up soup. One leading to the library and research and one leading to someone's living room and a tabletop bong.

Last week's decision, though simple, is a three-crossroads-decision: work on the background organ chords of a song, struggle through further pages of a book that I mostly find unbearably trite but that my mom has insisted that I read, or watch an old episode of the disgustingly compelling show America's Next Top Model on YouTube.

I already have my preconceptions of the outcome of all three of my choices. Mostly I have vaguely formed ideas that I haven't bothered to examine, but hopefully by the time I write it all down that won't be true anymore.

ANTM is the most lazy option and also the most confusing. I will be entertained despite, and between, bouts of shame. I can eat while doing it, pluck my eyebrows, lose my endless heavy thoughts. There is no risk of failing at watching a reality show (maybe failing BY watching a reality show, but this somehow doesn't make its way into my automated math-maker). It's easy. It's fun. But it makes me feel sick after awhile, and afterwards, I know I will feel regret at the opportunities to be productive that I missed (and back to opportunity cost there).

It's also hard to fail at reading a book. Even when the book is formulaic, as I feel this one is, I can be swept up in it. It's also lazy; I can eat dinner while doing that as well. I'll feel slightly more like I'm doing something worthwhile, but still be angry that I wasted time on something I've read 5,000 times in creative writing workshops. It's definitely the middle option; the settling option. If I'm afraid to fail at something creative but I'm also afraid of too sickening of a regretful feeling, so I go for the one that has the least risk of both.

If I work on my song, it is eminently likely that I'll fall short of my expectations and of how the song sounds in my head. My organ skills will prove to be poorer than those of my imagination, and I'll notice while I'm recording it that some vocal harmony sounds bad, and I'll re-record it, but as it turns out, I'll re-record it worse and then have lost the original. I might realize a portion of the lyrics don't make sense, or feel at a loss about how to string them into a logical end. I might have trouble with the bridge, because I always have trouble with bridges.

But if - miraculously - none of these things happen, I will have spent time creating something I'm proud of. I'll listen to it later and be glad I did. I won't regret the time spent working on it - and in fact, I won't regret it even it if turns out to not turn out well.

So it's pretty clear empirically which one is the best decision for me to make. But - though I did make the right decision last week - more often than not, when faced with a similar decision, I'll choose America's Next Top Model, or, barring that, freeze, and end up surfing the internet thinking I'll eventually make a decision until it becomes - oops! - too late to make a decision. Whoops! I guess it's not my fault, then, if I didn't have time to make a decision!

It's funny how I can so totally absolve myself of regret by convincing myself that I didn't have a choice.

1 comment:

Dan R said...

Inaction is a choice, whether we realize it or not.

Fear of failing is probably going to be one of the biggest factors inplay when we talk about the consequences of the choices we make, and that might be worth working on in the personal realm.

If you did not fear failure, or rather explained away failure with the idea that making a wrong choice teaches us how to make better choices, then there is no fear in risking our resources to enact a choice.