On Decisions

September 16, 2014


About a month ago, right when I was trying to solidify what life post-Walker would look like, I got an email offering me a new creative project. At first I felt flattered and really excited, and it seemed like a no-brainer to sign on: they want me; it might be fun! But, the more I looked into it, the more I started to feel a ball of anxiety gnawing at my stomach. My old fall-back habit is to say YES to everything, just in case I might be missing out on THE OPPORTUNITY, which worked really well for me in my 20's when I had endless amounts of energy (and more time, too). But these days I have less tolerance for my quick 'yes' responses, which often lead to a ridiculously full schedule, total overwhelm, and my own best work being pushed to the back burner. As I began to realize that this project was not at all the right fit for me, I first felt strangely guilty (who am I to say 'no'?) and then...really amazing. Somehow, by saying a decided 'no' to this one thing, I felt crystal clear about a lot of other things. The lack of shoulder shrugging and "I guess so" cleared space for the things I felt really damn strongly about, and released a hold on any ambiguity that might have been taking up space around my future plans.

Decisions and Violence:
In her book A Director Prepares, theater director Anne Bogart speaks against ambiguity in a way that I love:

"Committing to a choice feels violent. It is the sensation of leaping off a high diving-board... Decisions give birth to limitations which in turn ask for a creative use of the imagination...Ideas come and go but what is important is the commitment to a choice and to its clarity and communicativeness. It's not about the right idea or even the right decision, rather it is about the quality of decisiveness."

I especially like that last bit: the quality of decisiveness over making the right decision. YES.

Bogart's reference to violence feels rather appropriate, because I can't think of a time that a decision has felt 100% warm and fuzzy: saying YES to one thing means saying NO to something else. One of my favorite essays in Cheryl Strayed's book Tiny Beautiful Things is "The Ghost Ship That Didn't Carry Us", in which Strayed gives requested advice on whether or not to have a child. It ends with these words:

"I'll never know, and neither will you of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore." 

There's totally a place for mourning our ghost ships, even as we recognize the importance of continuing to act and choose.

Choices for You, Choices for Me:
Even more on my mind is the importance of making the decisions that feel right for us and standing by these choices. This is the hard stuff, and often the lonely stuff. I've found myself falling into comparison traps, looking around at others' choices and wondering if I'm making the right ones for myself: should I be making more art? OR should I see if a FitBit will change my life, too? (Yes, really.) It's so easy to crave the community of making the same choice as the person next to me.

I've been increasingly aware, though, of what a disservice this is to myself. It totally means second-guessing everything that I know and feel in my gut, and hugely diffusing my energy as I waffle around. I mean, DUDE, I'm 32 years old: that's old enough to know that I'm plenty type-A without attaching myself to a device that counts my steps, and to know that I value a balance of things in my life-- one of which is art-making. It's old enough to apologize less about what I do or don't do; old enough to know that life is way too finite for indecision. There's only so much room and space in the metaphorical life basket. We get to decide what we put in it, and that's pretty awesome. 

Your Creative Endeavor:
This all carries over into our creative endeavors-- one of the most important (and hardest) places to get comfortable making decisions from our gut; our own decisions. There's a lot of noise out there: lots of advice on how to make your work (books and blogs, oh my); lots of people taking different approaches than you are; lots of work that can lead you to second-guessing your own. It takes a lot of self-confidence to look inward and stay focused on your own work and goals. It's challenging to both stay open to new ideas (and resources and opinions), and recognize when they're diffusing your energy. I bring it around to priorities and urgency: what do you choose? what do you want? As that Mary Oliver poem goes, "what do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Choose that first.

[Image of an image by Anthony Zinonos from The Jealous Curator's Creative Block]

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