Walking through the active Saturday night Gaslamp quarter, after work, I decided I wanted a vodka and tonic, maybe two. I’d make it for myself at home, sit and watch the Summer Pops fireworks from my window, and reflect on something intelligent. I even convinced myself that carrying the bag of ice all the way home would be worth the trouble.
I walked into the liquor store and took out from the cooler a bottle of cranberry juice and grabbed a bag of ice. Before I could even realize that I had already strayed from my original plan, an extremely stoned bro behind the counter was asking what kind of vodka I wanted. I said I was thinking of some rum (even though rum doesn’t really go with cranberry juice on it’s own). As usual, I had no idea what I was saying or doing.
“You want vodka.” he said.
“Ok,” I said. “What is a good vodka, then?”
“Shit, I don’t know.”
“Well, this Svedka tangerine is good. Go well with your cranberry juice. We’ve got this new Smirnoff peach, she’ll love that. She’ll be wasted in no time.”
“No, that’s not…”
“How about this Absolut Açaí, some Brazilian shit, got antioxidations or whatever.”
There are a lot of things that I decide throughout a given workday, naturally, because it is part of my job. This was not one of those decisions. I simply did not want to talk to this man anymore. I was over it, suddenly, and likely to be walking out of the store with an egg salad sandwich and a Twix bar, saturated with regret and lamentations. And no drink. He somehow had the capacity to see my dilemma.
“I’ll decide for you.” He took down the bottle of Smirnoff peach and said, “it will be good. That’ll be $23.76.”
Some people would have been slightly offended by his presumption and apparent rudeness, but I was truly grateful, and now I could go home and enjoy my drink, mostly because the liquor store man said it was going to be good. After all, he must know.
Peach vodka is, of course, ridiculous. And any concoction derived from it undoubtedly will be too fruity and hangover-inducing for anyone who is not on a beach in Tobago drinking it (justifiably) out of a halved coconut with an umbrella stuck into it.
It is silly to say there is no point in regret. I may be wrong, but regret seems more of a complex emotional reaction than a choice. It is a choice, though, to continue to obsess over past events in one’s head, repeatedly asking “what if.”
But a persistent suspicion won’t leave me alone. Regarding decision-making, I’m not sure I’ve gotten it right.
When I was a junior in college, I was suddenly no longer content with the rugged wilderness of Fairbanks, Alaska, or with my own misguided career choice of wildlife biologist. One night, as I relished in the boyish joy of making a snow angel in deep, deep snow under a brilliant display of a blue-green-white Aurora Borealis, I decided that I deserved a life-change (I have always been suspicious of happy moments; they make me uneasy). I went home, I sat at a table, took out three pieces of paper, and wrote on each of them three things representing disparate paths of life I had been pondering, and threw them into a hat. One read Arizona, one read Norway, the other read Alaska. Arizona meant finishing college at Northern Arizona University and relenting to my true love of words and language and getting the dreaded B.A. in English, Norway meant I was to take a foreign exchange program in Oslo and meet a beautiful blonde and possibly climb around the branches of my own family tree and look for my Norwegian grandfather whom I knew nothing about, and Alaska was, of course, the default decision of staying put.
I honestly do not remember which piece of paper I pulled out of that hat, but I do remember that I soon successfully stunted the growth of my career path with an English degree in the mountains of Flagstaff.
I guess things have turned out fine. I sometimes wonder, though, if I should be allowed to make some decisions. Its almost as if I would be better off if the big stuff (or at least some of it) was arranged for me. I could read my books, drink my wine, talk about travel, chase after Latin girls, learn a language or two, get bogged down in self-loathing, marvel at my surroundings, and then some omnipotent oracle could step in, grab me by the collar, and say Ok, that’s enough of that now, and kick me in the right direction. Why do I deserve the ability to solely choose what to do, whenever I want? (Yes, more than a few things have been written as to what that omnipotent oracle is for different people. This is not one of those writings).
This is not to say that I would like to be lead around and told what to do. On the contrary, I have often loathed explicit directions and resisted most advice, and I am proud of that (I think the fact that I usually don’t retain driving directions given to me by anyone else may not be a result of some attention deficiency, but a deep-rooted contempt for mind control). But I am suspicious that maybe my own interests are not always, in fact, best served by my own choices.
Sheena Iyengar’s insightful thoughts of her own observations of choice, cultural influences on choice, and what really matters.
I can only speak for myself, but it seems that as a pretext to any major shift in life, the mind is shaken up, like a bottle of salad dressing, bringing to the forefront new, or rather forgotten, flavors and colors. And when there is this an impending change in life direction, these new flavors and colors translate into little slices of awareness and inspiration that spawn the ability to make new choices. In the last three months, I have seriously considered packing my bags and moving to the following places: Korea, China, Indonesia (Surabaya, Jakarta, Bali), Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, and Japan. A ridiculous amount of choices. And it may be my age, but I have hit wall after wall of self-doubt and discouragement, (sometimes even fearing homelessness and destitution), as well as ridiculous highs of inspiration and cockiness.
I will, of course, attempt a move to Spain. But why Spain above all the other places? I think the answer may lie in a place other than my often-cluttered mind.
I had a phone interview with a school director in Indonesia yesterday. He asked me questions and I answered them, very formal. As I spoke to him, I thought of the irony of my attitude about the interview. I just didn’t have the inspiration to take it seriously. He thanked me for the time and asked me to expect a possible second interview.
“Prepare a lesson plan,” he said, “incorporating the subjunctive for a class of 7-year-olds.”
“Ok, sounds great,” I said. “I look forward to working on it.”
I just didn’t feel it. And I felt good about knowing this. A good friend of mine comes from an immigrant Portuguese family, with a long-standing habit of spouting sayings and pithy wisdom. She often describes the important decisions in life as coming from the guts, the entrails, the tripas, the opposite of the over-analytical mind.
More anecdotal evidence….
As a teenager, I decided I didn’t want to play baseball for a living. I moved, alone, to Alaska. I seriously considered moving to Russia and Norway. I chose to live in the mountains and deserts of Arizona and Utah. I chose to live in the metropolis of São Paulo, Brazil, and on a sailboat on the coast of Croatia. I drank peach vodka and got a terrible headache. Some of these decisions were influenced by others, some were made by my critical brain, and others by my gut. I wonder—-would I have the same regrets and memories up to this present moment if someone else had made those choices for me? On one hand, I am grateful that I have always been able to make unfettered decisions about my own life, without direct condemnation or admonishment, and my experiences have contributed to a sometimes rich and interesting life. But on the other hand, if my decisions had been influenced (or controlled) by someone else, would I have done any of it, if even out of rebellion? Would I have had as many happy moments? Fewer? Would I even be alive today?
A cursory look at the past tells me that I probably would be a little more bitter about the hardships of my life (and less legitimately happy about the highlights) if someone else had told me what to do every step of the way. I would probably have had a more boring life, as well. But it is possible that we, as a so-called developed society, just have too many choices that clutter our brains and sometimes make it impossible to choose a rational path of life? Would we be happier and more productive if given a smaller set of options to choose from?
For me, now, there is little support. Apart from the mostly condensed, blasé advice from friends and family, I am on my own with where I go (insert pouts and sympathy here). I have a plethora of choices of what to do with myself. And I must choose and cope with the ramifications and consequences. At least I know that the times when I decided to go with what I felt, instead of what I cold logic told me what to do, I regret those decisions the least.
Yes, these are the musings of a privileged, discontented idiot. I consider myself supremely fortunate to even be able to have the preposterous decision of moving to either Europe or Bali. But it doesn’t hurt to examine why one makes choices, whether they come from the gut or the mind, how they are influenced by other people, and whether or not the myriad choices themselves are even good for us in the first place.