An entire life spent shoe-shopping
On Sunday morning, Amanda and I sat at the kitchen table in our pajamas, eating warm chocolate chip scones and drinking coffee. It was one of those how-will-we-ever-decide-what-to-do-with-our-lives conversations. We talked in circles over all the usual terrain: whether to go to graduate school; whether graduate school would lead to jobs that we’re passionate about, pay enough and contribute to a better world; and wait — how do we know what we’re passionate about when our passions change by the day? How many entry-level jobs in various paths can we take before we just give up and pick whatever?
I came across this today in the New York Times. The writer is ostensibly talking about computers that can generate authorless novels, but he’s also talking about the creation of stories, which is essentially what Amanda and I were trying to do, map out our own stories:
The economist Herbert Simon, who reminded us of the futility of trying to consider every possible alternative in a world without end, might have had in mind the budding novelist in Albert Camus’s “Plague,” determined to create a perfect first sentence and therefore unable to advance beyond it.
It was Simon’s ideas – particularly his notion of “satisficing” – that first got me interested in fiction-writing machines. Though in theory a person shopping for new shoes could consider all the pairs on the planet, in fact, the cost is way too high – an entire life spent shoe-shopping. So in the real world we visit one or two stores, try on a few in our size and buy a pair.
Satisficing in this way – settling, or even sensing, what is good enough – is something novelists must do as well. We think of an idea and go with it because pausing to systematically consider every plot twist, character or phrase that might come next would lead nowhere.