The Tyranny of Choice

Long time no post, blog-that-mostly-only-I-know-about! It’s good to see you again. Hi, Nathan.

I started this particular entry several weeks ago before my week long trip to NZ with the intention of revisiting the thoughts in it when I returned, smelling fresh and positively glowing with knowledge of Self and Life Purpose, but like all things I became sidetracked. Probably by $2.90 sushi plates or maybe even an afternoon nap. Also a week “vacation” is only an improbably long time to Americans, so I’m really only two hostel-sleeps more travel-wise now than I was when I started. Baby steps, baby steps.

As Busta Rhymes delivers in the 2011 classic ballad “Look At Me Now”- LET’S GOOOO:

The tyranny of choice is a concept that I struggle with on the daily. I both very much like most things and mildly dislike many other things, which often evens out to a lukewarm ‘sure, I’ll do that’, and I generally come away no worse for wear.

However, when I am faced with NO choices, as in hey-move-to-this-far-away-country-and-rebuild-your-brain-with-no-real-structure-for-a-while, I mentally balk.

For the first few weeks my thoughts were these: I don’t have to work 8-to-5 in a cubicle anymore*? I don’t have to shower or put on pants and can eat ramen noodles in my Days of the Week boxer briefs and binge watch Law and Order: SVU until I pass out for an afternoon siesta? I can finally work on my business? I no longer have to wake up every day already dreading the next one? I can travel anywhere I want to for as long as I want to? What is this wild magic!?!! And I did all of these things, many times, enough to burn out on gleefully drinking tea-quila at 11 in the morning and eating an entire head of roasted cauliflower for lunch just because I can.

The reality of being a jobless bum in a foreign country set in, and set in hard.

I began to become overwhelmed with the idea of choice, of what to do with the endless, unmitigated amount of free time I now had. Time is a luxury much like money, and if you have enough of it it begins to lose its meaning, to the chagrin of people who would be desperate to share in your good fortune.

There are too many choices to be had. I discovered that, without mild direction, I honestly felt more distracted and wholly directionless than I had when being slowly stripped of myself via my loving corporate overlord.

I was doing french learning audio classes, finishing a book every three days, spreading my jewelry across the living room floor in the hope that new inspiration would strike (or stab me mercilessly in the foot). Wandering the city is pretty boring once you’ve done it a few times. There’s only so many times you can eat $2.90 sushi plates for all main meals (I think). The ranch I volunteer at is four hours round trip and going more than twice a week is cost prohibitive. I have met a few people but nobody who is able to hang out during the day when I’m the most bored, and haven’t really had a chance to get out at night much because I don’t want to go alone.

I missed the security of knowing, loosely, what the next day was going to hold, even if it was just emails and the coffee machine and the endless monotone drudgery of cubicle life. At least I could plan for that. Wrapped comfortably in the soft cocoon of the bimonthly paycheck and how-was-your-weekend-I-sure-drank-a-lot drone of other worker bees around the water cooler.

Thinking of home and the structure of friends and places I know best, I lost steam for being here. The tyranny of choice, of too many options, had reduced me to sitting around most days wondering just what it was I should do with myself. I no longer felt motivated and excited to try new things, but also hated the idea of buckling to get a job and losing the freedom I’d come here to have. It felt like inspiration was just around the corner, if only I could choose the right door.

With Nathan’s upcoming trip to New Zealand for work and we’d planned to go skiing over the weekend, so I took a leap and booked a full week there, with five days to myself. My nerves vibrated as I clicked ‘Book Now’ as quickly as possible to avoid second thoughts. I took a breath. My heart drummed its usual fluttering hummingbird beat. I’d just made a conscious choice to do something that put me out of my comfort zone. An exciting new mental escape.

I’m fine doing things alone, and even prefer it sometimes. But not in a ‘foreign country’, not in a place I didn’t know a single soul or have working knowledge of the city, transport system, currency. You need new SIM cards for every new place? It’s winter, how cold is it, what is Celsius, what do I need to wear? Can I get away with everything I need in a 7kg (15 lb) suitcase for a week?

For many people across the world, travel like this is nothing. People in the US are generally excluded from the culture of “holidays”, “gap years”, and taking off for more days than the standard federal holiday schedule. It’s a completely foreign concept to many young professionals and entrenched business people to take more than a week off of work; the school years of summers off and travelling a nostalgic memory for most. When Americans take off they do “staycations”, and catch up on housework, chores, maybe a few days of partying if they can find people who aren’t too busy doing the former.

I’ve always fantasized about backpacking my way through the world, skin darkened by sun and hair knotted by wind, bag full of only ‘the essentials’, no cell phone signal for miles. But it seemed like an impossible pipe dream. I had a lucrative sales career that I hated myself for being good at, a slew of bills, a solid handful of pets, a loose collection of friends, a bar I could ride my bike to and back at 3 in the morning after dancing to motown hits all night. I wanted to own a rental property soon. What else was there? America is a big place and I was comfortable, if not satisfied.

Then the prospect of Australia came up through Nathan’s work. Australia? What the hell? Can’t everything kill you there? That’s literally a whole day in the future. Nothing seemed more implausible than dropping everything and flying to Oz. But the wholesome onion of the person I’d been as a kid and through college who wanted to be a dolphin trainer and a wildlife photographer and a streetcar bum had been peeled back by my former job to a meager, pallid, twisting thing, dreading every day that was not Saturday. Every day brought me closer to the frying pan. So I said yes, and found myself flying through the dead of night to this new land. Lots of stuff has happened since then and I’m sure lots of stuff is waiting in the coming months.

So there you have it, sort of. Moving here was the first of my new choices. See previous for some glimpses into what happened when I got here, and see everything above for where I found myself after several weeks of too many choices available. See below for an excruciatingly boring recounting of my New Zealand week. And see future posts for more inane musings on trying to ‘find myself’ and the brief bouts of lucidity it entails. Nine days solo in Singapore starts next Monday, wish me luck!

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Early on Wednesday morning, after assurances from the boy and enough kisses to last me the week, I stepped out to the train station and into a window seat on an Air New Zealand flight. Flying over the glittering ocean and then snow tipped mountains blushing pink from the rising sun, I began to feel like I’d made the first right choice in a while.

The air in New Zealand was crisp and cold, and I was able to exchange the $25 Australian that I keep in my passport as emergency funds to catch the $12 bus into town even though the airport ATM was out. I was met with a second stroke of luck when I moved down to let a woman with a pram take the long bench and left my passport case on the seat, and a woman tracked me down off the bus as I was checking in via my hostel itinerary that I’d left in the back notebook. The owner was at the front desk and he led me around the hostel, helped me book a few things for the next day, and turned me loose. I’d done it! I was alive, with all my stuff, in a beautiful new country. Cue the trumpets.

One of the staff was straightening a clock when I went back to my room and we chatted about his travels, how he liked Queenstown, where he was headed next. I read in the lounge for a while, took a walk down the lake with my french audio tapes, got the best sushi I’ve ever had and some beer from the grocer down the street and went back to my room, where the rest of my all-male bunk mates had finally set up. We pulled the lounge chairs in from the patio and sat in a group, drinking jack and coke out of cans (!!) and telling stories of home and away. Later we went for a bar crawl, the only part of which I remember is pulling cash from the ATM at the start.

Thursday morning I woke up extra early and went skydiving at 15,000 ft over the mountains, sustaining a full 60 second free fall. Dorothy wheeling across Kansas. When I got back I ate lunch and went back out on a boat cruise across the lake, drank crystal clear water straight from a bucket our guide had pulled up, and finished with a Thai dinner and an evening in the upstairs kitchen talking to the other backpackers from all over. They tried to teach me cricket to no avail.

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Friday I woke up extra early again and went on two horseback tours of the Lord of the Rings movie locations, galloping over the riverbeds with our guide and a boy from Brazil alongside the glacial waters and dry winter trees, everything tucked neatly in between the mountains used to form the backdrop to Mordor. When I got back to town Nathan was there, and we had drinks and curled up on a couch in the mostly empty upstairs lounge of The Find. The next forty hours were spent skiing, eating Indian food and taking a gondola ride up to luge down a mountain. I’m now desperate to try boarding.

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I moved hostels Sunday afternoon and met an Irish couple who once lived around the Sydney suburb we live now. The new hostel was situated on the lake, with the lounge looking out over the mountains, so every evening I hunkered down in the cold and watched movies with the group. Watching Office Space took me to a strange place, and having it followed with 127 Hours was an even stranger feeling. That night I took a frosty walk along the pier, no one else around, and watched the moon come up over the mountains.

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Monday it rained and once it let up I ventured out to explore a few gardens and walk to the next town until it began to get cold, where I went to the not-so-great-but-free underwater observatory and had dinner over the lake. Tuesday it snowed miserably all day so I holed up in the lounge to read and watch Anna Karenina with a few of the girl staffers who thought it and Pride and Prejudice had the same author. I had to leave Wednesday but spent a while talking to a Canadian who was flying back home after many months of travel on the 14th.

Hopefully no one else ever starts to read this blog so that I can just use it to jot down whatever excruciating life detail I deem fitting. I plan on taking my laptop to Singapore though so hopefully things will be a little more cohesive!

 

 

* no comment on actual hours or office location.. see figure 3.4 B below for correlating free-schedule related sales numbers

Figure 3.4 B

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