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.

Daniel Akst, NY Times

Dad has an announcement

My dad called last weekend. Immediately I was suspicious.

I haven’t asked him to mail anything, pay anything or fix anything. Why is he calling?

We just chatted for a few minutes about how I was doing.

He sounds so happy. Something is amiss.

So I asked how things were going with him.

“Your mother and I got a tree,” he said, as though announcing that they’d got a puppy.

A Christmas tree? Hmm. Strange! The tree will be dead by Christmas, for sure. Unless they’ve gotten some new-fangled long-lasting preservative-filled tree.

“And it comes in three pieces.”

Ah ha! Artificial! I should have known they would do something so devious when I was far away in Chicago and unable to stop them!

“It was on sale!” he said. “And the lights are already attached!”

I think he was actually calling from the store. I could hear crowd noise.

For years, I have relentlessly blocked all movements towards a Muscato family artificial tree. In fact, I was the original instigator of the live tree movement, back in 1988, when I refused to help put together our scruffy artificial one anymore. But he was right. We’d started just going to Home Depot to pick out a tree, which was actually even more pathetic.

And my dad has been looking forward to this for a long time. So. I am going to be mature and accept this. Hopefully.

Fling, flang, flung

Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet:

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. . . . : And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road.

Anne Lamott, Bird-By-Bird:

My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night. The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, ‘Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.’ And I am slowly, slowly in my work—and even more slowly in real life—learning to do this. Flung Comix.

Mental picture of the week: Eliina and I were in the freezer section at Dominick’s, looking for Ben & Jerry’s Primary Berry Graham . No luck. Selection was sparse. We were sad and disillusioned with our trip. Suddenly Eliina plunged both arms into the bottom-shelf area, started rifling through the pints and yelled, “Give it up!”

On miserableness: My first reaction to miserableness is usually some kind of chipper defense mechanism based on the belief that if you learned something from it — hey! It’s all right! You’re learning! But really? Sometimes, you feel so bottom-scrapingly low that it defies rationalization.

Snap, crackle, pop

Last night in improv class, something popped. In a good way. Like an eardrum, once you’re off the plane. In one exercise, everyone in the scene was supposed to be angry. That was the only rule: be mad. We took turns starting these scenes. I was the last person to start one– I’d been delaying. I don’t do agression very well. Someone (anyone) was supposed to step out and join me once I’d started something. So I stepped out and started yelling and pointing, as though I had a classful of children around me: “Listen, you little…” with much swearing. I whipped around, really not sure what was going to happen, and there behind me were two of my classmates writhing on the floor and making hyper-whiny subhuman gremlin sounds, the most obnoxious little brats you could possibly imagine. Suddenly it was quite clear to me that I was a charm school instructor.

After some chasing, I pulled out some handcuffs (from the imaginary handcuff cabinet) and cuffed them together. Then they clotheslined me. This morning on the train, I suddenly got a mental picture of those two writhing on the floor. And I really almost cracked up. I think I was out of my head.