The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Choosing Your Bliss

by Tamara Lee

So, I’ve stalled in my NaNo-quest because I can't figure out where to take the characters next, and now all I want is to curl up and eat ice cream. It’s been that sort of week. Woe is me, I'll get over it. But it's got me thinking.

When I was a kid, I was a figure-skater-in-training and even had a personal trainer for a brief time, up until I was about 9. Then I quit when I declared skating was too hard, and eventually made my way towards fulfilling my dream of being a badass kid.

This lifestyle change crossed my mind yesterday as I took my new used skates out for a spin up at the local ice rink. Three-quarters of the way through my first overly-confident pass around the rink, I fell so hard the wind was knocked out of me, the safety on my watch popped and my knee swelled up into a mound not unlike silly putty.

For me, it’s either one or the other. And whatever is the one; I always seem to think I should have had the other.

Then when I was a teenager, out for my monthly lunch at the White Spot with my dad, ordering was a test of stamina for us both. No matter how long I took, my father always took longer. And no matter what he chose, he always, at some point during the meal, would twist around towards a neighbouring table to see what they were eating. Then he’d return to his meal with that sour look of disappointment, certain he should have had something else.

And so it is, I’ve found myself in my so-called dream job—a so-so paying gig that allows me flexibility and time to write—and now I worry I may have screwed up. That perhaps I should have ordered something else, should have taken that bland office job that would have meant I’d be mortgaging my life up the wazzu. But at least I wouldn’t die an old bitty, sitting alone, eating cat food in a dank SRO.

Like I said, for me, it’s always one or the other.

Choosing this life, this self-employed follow-one's-passion life, at my age, makes no sense to those who grew up thinking that getting the proper job and sticking with it is how one ought to run her life. Or his life, because usually those who think that way also think her proper life, even in this day and age, means she marries a fella who can take care of the family, while she works part-time to help pay off the monstrous mortgage and raises the kids and keeps the house pretty and goes to the PTA meetings or what have you. A good life for many, I know it is, but that life always terrified me. I never dreamed of having kids or getting married or any of that.

So I chose the other life, and ended up with not one of those aforementioned good things. I chose the life that meant following my heart and impulses. I chose the life that meant eternal freedom, taking the degrees I wanted at school, taking the trips I wanted to take, trying different professions to see how they fit. And now… Now, I can’t afford to buy a home in my own hometown. But I’m free to wonder the Earth, free of any debts, and free to write.

When I meet other women my age who are in the same position as I am, terrified of making the wrong decision, or that they’ve already made the wrong ones, yet even more terrified of making the safe decisions, I know, before she even tells me, that she is an artist-type raised by practical parents. This group seems especially vulnerable to this indecision phenomenon, especially those who are heading towards 40 and haven’t a mortgage or kid to direct their decision-making process.

Yesterday, as I nursed my bruises, eating the best papusas in Vancouver, and sipping a good cabernet sauvignon, not really having to be anywhere at 5 pm on a Sunday afternoon (except, maybe working on the NaNoNovel), I considered my current lifestyle.

I was with two other unmarried, childless women my age (honestly, there seem so few of us, but I know so many): one is in the so-called safe job, insisting no one really ever truly loves their job; one was worrying she’d made the wrong decision by letting go of her art-y, fun but low-paying job for the safe one; and the last woman, me, still couldn’t make up her mind.

Doubt is not the domain of the single 30-ish woman, to be sure. But I can’t help but hear somebody’s mother—not mine, for she knows better by now—saying, “Make up your mind. We haven’t got all day.” The shivering 9-year-old budding figure skater stands toe-to-toe with the 39-year-old overeducated and underpaid artist-type, and sticks out her tongue. Is she spoilt or has she spoiled everything?

What flavour do you choose when the options seem infinite? Is it really only a choice between vanilla, chocolate and, maybe, strawberry? Is Bliss a legitimate flavour?

I wonder how high I can pile my cone...


Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I so relate to this, Tamara. I used to be wracked by second thoughts- it's a kind of anxiety. The fear that I'll make the wrong decision. And I would end up doing nothing, frozen, mid-panic on the cusp of every decision with none made. It took me 7 years from the time I decided to go and do my Masters to figure out 'which masters?' I could have done 3 separate ones in that time. Or a masters and Phd.
I took a course on being more decisive. It really helped. I learned to change the way I thought about things and lower the anxiety.
Life's much sweeter.

Tue Nov 21, 11:54:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Being decisive and abiding by self imposed deadlines doesn't guarantee doubt-free living, trust me. We, particularly us gals, live in a time when the options are limitless. How to choose? And then how to be certain? As I've heard said in political circles, it's much easier to make decisions in times of restraint than in times of abundance.

Tue Nov 21, 12:08:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

Yes, I agree, times of abundance can be overwhelming. But why does it only seem as though the lifestyle options are whittled down to two choices? I am very happy with the direction my life is going, btw; it's interesting it didn't come across that way. I may have been too elliptical... :)

Tue Nov 21, 12:31:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

You'll do fine, Tamara. I know it. 30-ish is a good age to start figuring things out.

Wed Nov 22, 01:57:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Anne C. said...

A taxi driver told me recently that forty is the age of wisdom.

Wed Nov 22, 02:24:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Colin said...

Thanks for sharing Tamara. I can relate too, including the part about your father. I think my father was disappointed with various choices he made, although at one restaurant there was no indecision or disappointment - he always wanted the halibut steak. I'm been working on challenging my choices (including my choice to be indecisive) from a perspective of understanding rather than disappointment (albeit not very successfully sometimes), and trying to apply that perspective when I look at the choices of others as well.

And thanks for reminding me to go skating.

Wed Nov 22, 02:27:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

I love that wise and wonderful Montreal attitude, Tony and Anne ;)

Colin, I'm concerned my bout with the ice at the hockey rink make you want to go skating ;) Your new approach to challenging choices, I think, is also one fathers (and maybe their daughters...) the world over would benefit from. Thanks for reading!

Thu Nov 23, 01:32:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous judy macinnes jr. said...

i'm dragging my heels on nanowrimo this year as well. what the wha?
i think i love doing things at the last minute - i'm just figuring that out right now. my goal is just 25K so it's still possible???? i look foward to reading you more....
thx for working on this site!

Thu Nov 23, 01:55:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger tamara said...

hey there jude, how great to hear from you!
nano is killing me, it's true, but i seem unwilling to quit, too. 25000 is doable; lowering the pressure is smart idea.
thanks for dropping by.

Thu Nov 23, 02:49:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger MelBell said...

(My earlier comments didn't take.)

This is also a relate-able post for me as well, Tamara. It's hard to make the leap and "trust the net will be there". I'm still trying to find faith in myself...

Thu Nov 23, 06:00:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Ah, the road not taken, the greener grass dilemma. Having gone way past the age of wisdom, I can tell you that there is time in one lifetime to almost do it all. Do what you love now. You can do later what you postpone today.

Tue Nov 28, 09:13:00 pm GMT-5  

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