After we had been running side by side on treadmills at the gym, my friend Johanna invited me to her apartment for conversation that was free of huffing and puffing. She wrote down some music for me to check out and showed me the hotels she’s considering for her upcoming trip to Capri. She couldn’t choose between two luxury hotels and said she should just hire a travel agent to make these decisions for her. I know a Catch-22 is when someone is forced to make a decision and all possible outcomes are bad, but I wonder what it’s called when someone has to make a decision and all outcomes are wonderful. Since we view luxury vacations as escapes or getaways, I propose we call the opposite of a Catch-22 an Escape-22, or perhaps the opposite of a Catch-22 should be called a Release-22.
Johanna’s indecisiveness was for me so relatable. Lately, I’ve been struggling with making decisions about what to read, what to write, what friends to socialize with, whether I should have a Valentine’s Day with a potential suitor or a Gal-entine’s Day with a group of girlfriends, whether I should run a 5K at the gym or be lazy and take an afternoon nap.
Earlier this week, one of my decisions backfired. I was very tired after a long day and still adjusting after my return from a holiday. I went into a bakery and deliberated over which piece of cake I should buy. I pointed to one that drew my interest and asked the baker what it was. He slid his cake server underneath the piece I pointed to. And then he said, “Alman?” I was so tired, I thought he was telling me the cake had almonds. Only when I sat down and tasted what was supposed to be a delicious piece of almond cake, did I realize he had asked me if I was German. The cake, to my disappointment, was vanilla with some kind of fruity cream filling. And now the man at my neighborhood bakery thinks I am German.
Trying not to make any more faulty decisions, I became preoccupied with deciding which one of my writing projects should be a priority. I’m almost finished with a children’s novel, which I began writing last year. But last week, inspiration struck for a psychological thriller. I had to choose between writing scenes with cute children book characters or scenes with a mentally unstable villain, similar to Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery. I was torn. I decided to write 5,000 words of my psychological thriller and then return to my children’s novel. Both were satisfying experiences. New projects are always exciting, but it’s also exciting to look at older projects with fresh eyes.
For Gal-entine’s Day, some girlfriends and I went to the movie, The Danish Girl, a film based on a true story about the first person ever to undergo sex reassignment surgery. (Thank you, Turkey, for not banning this film from cinemas like so many Middle Eastern countries have.) I was struck by Lili Elbe’s brave decision to undergo the surgery and admired her partner’s brave decision to love and support her so selflessly in a time when most people viewed her non-conformist behavior as mental illness. I loved the film for its complexity and tenderness, as well as the 1920s dresses and hairstyles. The 1920s is my favorite decade -- and that’s an unwavering position.
Now the smaller decisions I’m forced to make -- red wine or white, silver nail polish or green -- seem so trivial. When it comes to big decisions in life, some people, like Lili Elbe, have a strong conviction about the best way to proceed. I’ve made some brave decisions in my life, decisions to move to other countries, to attend graduate school, to take a jazz singing class, and flamenco dance lessons, but none of my decisions put my entire life at risk.
Our choices make us who we are as individuals, but if we decide to teeter on the fence about everything, we risk being similar to all the other indecisive people in the world. And that is a bleak proposition.