Saturday, April 26, 2014

A woman walks into a bar

I like knowing what I want. Being decisive is a quality I find exciting in others, and thrilling in myself. The very fact of having choice is pretty amazing, and decisiveness is the best way I've found to revel in this luxury.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed by choices, and to allow the beautiful wonder of plenty and freewill become a burden. I see it in my students, frustrated that they cannot choose a library book, or a sticker, or a bookmark. I see it in adults, torturing themselves to make perfect choices. I see it in myself sometimes, when I have reduced myself to a puddle of angry inertia-tears. With children, taking most of the options out of sight usually decreases the amount of time they require to choose, and increases their pleasure with their choice. Harder to do this simple trick with adults, or oneself.

What I have found I can do is to practice. I create a game, called "What do you most want at this moment?" (WDYMWATM is a terrible title for a game. I guess in my head I don't refer to it by name much.) I play the game when I am sad also - its good for reminding oneself how awesome life actually is, by making plain how much agency one has. But the game is particularly good for building skills in decision-making. Maybe because when you know what you most want, you have, in effect, thrown out the vast array of choices, and can hone in on finding something similar to this one thing.

In any case, it makes me happy to not pick up menus and just ask for what I want. It is less fun in a retail environment - I've breezed by racks to find salesclerks and ask for particular items, but usually the item isn't available. Kitchens are different - magical places of transmogrification where things can be turned into other things and approximations become victories of creative power on a very different level than settling for a blue dress when you wanted an aqua one. But kitchens (my own or an eatery's) are ideal settings to play the game - the stakes are low, the occasions for practice numerous, and the end result is near immediate.

Decisiveness is not always successful. I decisively declare I don't want things before I have actually considered whether I want them or not. If I am startled by an offer or a sales pitch, my answer will always be no, just to eliminate the unwelcome intrusion into my space. Pretty frequently I find myself looking at the back of some boy who asked me to coffee after class or a vendor hawking the exact thing I was looking for, thinking, "Well, crap." Shooting from the hip means failure, sometimes.

But most of the time it makes me pretty happy. And sometimes it makes me ecstatic. It might make me a super annoying person to date, but in casual relationships nothing is more liberating than exiting situations that cease being fun. Oh, here's this environment turning to crap, it's going to be a big bummer, if I was in this relationship long term I'd have to stay and clean this up, but I'm not! So I can just leave and be with my awesome self. Ta-da! I have a vivid memory of driving away from a man's cottage one morning when I was bored and unhappy and he was ignoring me, until he turned around and I was waving goodbye, listening to Norah Jones for several hours on the sunshiney drive home. I felt guilty about it later and sent him flowers (which of course confused him because he'd already forgotten the whole thing), but that was a rock star moment for me, when it dawned on me that I was an adult and did not have to stay.

I'd rather meet people at a place within walking distance than do almost anything else, because it gives me the most agency (when I arrive and depart) with the least responsibility (how much I can drink, how simple it is to find my way home, what obligations I have to others). Other options have to be evaluated on a graph where providing my own transportation (increased agency) is weighed against joining others for transportation (less responsibility). This means I am on my own a lot, among strangers, which is not always ideal, since I also value friendships and intimacy. But I love being on foot. I love the freedom. I listen to old poems romanticizing the sea and its lures to sailors - that's me, on my feet in a metropolis.

I am in love with myself on foot. In love with my agency and decisiveness, even if I am blowing off things I want because I don't think before speaking. The offer will come back, or it won't. Whatever. The sun is shining, my feet are walking, and I'm hopping onto the stool, making eye contact with the barkeep, "What reposados do you have?...This one, in a margarita. Grand Marnier. Lime juice, no sour mix. Rocks, salt." In this one small area, I am queen. I am discriminating and difficult. "Is this okay?" the barkeep nervously hands me a glass. I am a bitch. Sorry. I am in love with myself and my decisiveness. The only thing sexier than watching a self-possessed man is hearing my own voice ringing with assurance as I ask for exactly what I want.

1 comment:

  1. I just found this piece I wrote from Florence - funny how a few years can change a person. This is from December 28, 2009.

    On being skittish
    When forced to make a decision hurriedly, I will always choose the safer way. I will always say no. Saying yes is frightening, laborious, unpredictable. It requires deliberate effort. To say yes means I have worked hard to talk myself out of saying no, weighing the possible outcomes and arguing against the likelihood of horribleness. It means I have agreed to work, to put forth the effort to do something new.
    Saying yes is a commitment to experience and respond to adventure. It is a contract with Chance. You cannot say yes and slide, because saying yes means hiking uphill, possibly scaling something steeper than you have ever climbed. So my default is no, even if I want the thing offered, even if I want it desperately. This means my story is littered with regrets. Each time I make a new regret, I insist that I will not ever be so foolish again. But the next time I do exactly the same thing, led by fear, reacting in haste.
    I wonder if learning to hesitate will help me. Perhaps in those extra moments I can calm myself enough to see the regret coming, to see that it is just as bad as the thing I am afraid of, which may never happen anyway. Perhaps in those moments I could hear from the offerer some of the positives. But I am not sure it would be enough. If I cannot learn after so many negative experiences, this must be more firmly embedded than can be fixed by wait time.
    And what the next option is, I do not know. So I practice, and deliberately jump from planes, poke sticks at wolves, turn the wrong way, hoping to create a confidence, a self-reliance, a history of independent victories, hoping to make adventures so numerous and habitual that a new pathway will be burned right into my brain, an alternate subroutine, a mutation that may one day be selected at the crucial moment accidentally, without my conscious effort. If I cannot train my thinking self to answer the invitation of spontaneous adventure with "yes" on my lips, I will try to subvert my thinking self in whatever way I can.