How do you make decisions? I make them with the greatest of difficulty. I spent twenty-two years analysing and obsessing over the thorniest of them all and in the end didn’t so much decide as implode in slow motion. But enough about that; my past is strewn with bad decisions, utterly random decisions and the consequences of failure to decide at all.
Ridiculously, I’m good at counselling other people. I listen to them and I get inspired; I see, clearly, what they do not seem to see and when I share my thoughts with them they go Oh, yes… Well, sometimes. Unfortunately it doesn’t work on me. I’m not in the least inspired by my own problems, only beaten down, bleached, leached and generally debilitated.
And deciding gets no whit easier as you get older. That thing about the coming of wisdom with grey hair, twinging knees and shortening telomeres? Sadly, no. What does happen is that you start to recognise your life’s recurring motifs. Having waded through the same disastrous, treacle-like scenarios again and again, eventually the penny drops – oh, that again!
By this time you’re weary. You don’t the same amount of energy to spare for havering and wavering so you look for ways to short-circuit the decision-making process and avoid at least some of the agony.
I’ve made a million For and Against lists. Have you done that? At the end of the process the For list is always, by some miracle, exactly the same length as the Against list – and you still have no idea what to do.
Historically people would decide by means of the casting of lots – by the fall of the dice, the toss of a coin, the drawing of straws. In Roman times a priest would augur to discover the will of the gods, by studying the flight of birds, the types of birds, the noises they made as they flew, whether they flew singly or alone. Augury was complicated. And of course, you have to believe that there are gods, who will unfailingly know best.
I’ve even tried that thing with the Bible, where you let the Book fall open where it will and plump for a random verse. But – as with horoscopes – you can make a random verse mean anything you want it to mean. Perhaps that’s the thing, though – your interpretation will reveal what you wanted it to mean.
The best way I’ve found is to talk on the phone to my Canadian sister; or rather I wait for her to ring because she always does ring, when I’ve got a problem. It’s something to do with that vast, chilly Atlantic Ocean stretching between us. Salt water, sunken ships and a host of little fishes, the conductors of our dilemmas.
So, we rabbit on, going round in circles as ancient sisters do. I have a bit of a rant about the problem. She tells me about her desperately sick husband and I can hear she’s either crying or trying not to cry. I cast around for anything to say that might be of comfort. She tells me her problems and I tell her mine, and at the end of an hour-long call she suddenly says: Supposing I tell you the choice has been made and it’s X rather than Y – are you disappointed or relieved?
Somewhat depressed but – relieved?
So you know, don’t you? she says. You knew all the time.
“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”