I recently realized something about myself.
For as long as I can remember I have been bad at making decisions. When I was eight I jumped around the ‘what do you want to be when you grow up’ question more than I care to admit. I wanted to be: a painter, an archeologist, a writer, a dancer, and an explorer. I actually came up with some pretty creative ways to mesh several of them together. From then on I managed to be slightly more reasonable, changing future professions only once a year.
Then I graduated high school. I wanted to be a writer. My mother wanted me to get a degree. Any degree. So I went to business school and got one. Done. Then I hung out for a year working as a barista (one of the mandatory professions of a ‘struggling artisit’. Also a hell of a lot of fun). After that I decided, heck, maybe college could help me be a better writer (and I was right but not at all in the ways I thought. More on this another day). So I applied to the University of Pittsburgh and started pursuing a degree in Creative Writing. Which quickly changed into English Literature. Which changed to English Literature with a certification in Secondary Education. Which changed to an American Sign Language Studies certification. And there I graduated.
Then I started an Educational Interpreting program. And that’s what I’ll be doing. The above paragraph covers the span of my entire adult life to date. I have, in nine years, started to do or completed all of those things. I’m in my eighth year of higher education.
This trouble making decisions, however, does not stop at the big questions like career. For most of my life even things like ‘what do you want to do for dinner tonight’ have been nearly impossible for me to answer. It has been a point of contention in many romantic relationships as well as in friendships. I’ve tried to articulate it for as long as I can remember. And the other day, I succeeded.
In the middle of an argument with my husband my indecisiveness came up. It wasn’t the first time, it has been an occasional guest star in more than one fight in the last 5 years, but it was the first time I was able to explain.
I am thinking, all the time, about any number of given things. When faced with the question ‘what do want to do tonight’, even when it is self-imposed, I am thinking of all of them at once. My brain is going, “You have three new books to read. You could write some of the novel. You could write some Fanfiction. You could do laundry. You could practice signing or German. You could revise your short story. You could learn a new recipe. You could go somewhere. You could see a friend. You could make something.” And it never stops. The list goes on and on and on.
It’s not the options that are problematic. It’s that they are all in my head at once. All jumping around from here to there and I don’t know how to make heads or tails of any of them. I can’t think of one because I only see a mass. The forest, not the tress. And so a simple ‘what do you want to do for dinner’ becomes a gridlock of indecision.
Now imagine for a moment that ‘dinner’ is ‘next in this story’.
When I wrote the first short I ever decided to submit for publication it started as something totally different than it was when it ended. And it is a different thing now in its ‘semi-final- form’ than it was when I wrote ‘the end’. And it will probably be another thing when the latest revision for publication is done. And this isn’t just the inevitable that happens when you revise a story. This is me looking at all the things it could be and jumping around them. Because I can’t decide.
It has taken me a lot of time to learn that it’s okay to plan the story, loosely, but I need to let it have a life of its own. Sometimes things happen that I never planned, never had as a possibility jumping around in my head.
And that is a tremendously freeing thing to happen.
And, of course, it’s not like the whole thing is going to write itself. I can’t just sit here and have no possibilities jumping around in my head and just let it go. Because, let’s be honest here, that would just be a mess. It might be an intriguing, entertaining, mess but a mess all the same.
There’s something to be said for being able to articulate a long-standing issue, especially one that’s been plaguing you since you were knee-high to some kind of insect. So I didn’t do all the things on my possibilities list this weekend. That’s okay. I made progress as a person.
And that’s always on the to-do list.