“I came to explore the wreck./ The words are purposes./ The words are maps. /I came to see the damage that was done/and the treasures that prevail.” —Adrienne Rich
I’ve always been an indecisive person. I learned in a psych lecture once that at a certain point, an increase in choices will decrease our happiness with the outcome. I’m in the position to make so many fucking decisions right now. I get to choose how I show up each day and where I want to go next. I get to choose to step into the wreck. That is a goddamn blessing. An absolute privilege. I know it is.
I was raised on the idea of democracy. I was told I could be ANYTHING I wanted when I grew up. The option to choose is the greatest power, or at least it’s supposed to be. But I never knew what to choose. Even before I could see how broken and complex the world would be, when it felt like everyone wanted to be a vet or a pop star or a doctor or something innocent and real, I just left that question blank. I wished that someone would just tell me the answer. But I also wished they’d stop making us write topic sentences and taking points off for getting too subjective in an essay. I grew up learning, unconsciously, that life is both a series of choices and a fuck ton of shit that is out of our control.
I guess this is my coming of age because I’m finally starting to struggle with how we’re supposed to cope with that.
There’s a saying in recovery that we aren’t responsible for our first thought; we’re responsible for our second thought, and how we decide to act on it. I said I’ve always been indecisive, right? Indecisiveness will tire me out to the point of exhaustion. And that exhaustion has always, to me, led to impulsiveness. It is exhausting to argue with myself. It is far easier to act on my first thoughts. And my first thoughts are the ugly ones. Tell a secret. Skip breakfast. Take everything personally and as a sign that you’re not worthy. The world is absolutely fucked and there is nothing you can do about it.
Our first thoughts can absolutely fuck us if we let them. If you’re like me and sometimes you just feel shit too much. If your mind clings on to the impossible ideal of perfection, if you lack perspective at times, or you’re selfish, or you’re simply scared as hell. And then I wonder what it even means to have intuition, to follow our gut or heart or whatever, to have an instinct for survival, when so often what pops into my head at my most vulnerable moments feels like it’ll absolutely destroy me.
Okay. So if we aren’t responsible for our first thought, we are for our second, and our actions. My first thought will say nothing you write will matter, Emily. My second thought will say just write it anyway. And then, sometimes, in spite of all the decisions I haven’t made, all the guilt and self-doubt and unpredictable outcomes, I will.
My mom at her 8th birthday party in 1978. I've heard a lot over the years about her childhood and her journey coming of age. Her advice is sometimes hard to take but almost always right.
*Correction. My mom is ALWAYS right.