The Middle Ages

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APRIL 20, 2010 11:48PM

An Uncertain Life

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Maybe I was always indecisive, but I became self conscious about it when I was 18, trying to make a decision about a boy. I was always trying to make a decision about a boy.

I was working full time, running the printing press for the Vancouver Public Library. The details are fuzzy, but the nature of my dilemma was as predictable as the candy colored paper flying off the rollers. Should we get together, Should we break up, Should we have sex, not necessarily in that order. Standing in a building containing a selection of the aggregate knowledge of the human race, these were the questions that dominated my thoughts. 

After work, under the tell-all lighting of a mall food court, I discussed it with two older friends. Susan, who might even have been 20, was my idol, and with good reason: her waist-length hair swung  like a movie star's hips, she looked sexy in overalls and she was living with an older guy. Obviously, she knew things.

Responding to my ruminations, she said,

"You can't go wrong if you follow your heart."

I nodded solemnly. My ears were ringing, possibly the result of drinking three cups of coffee that had been sitting on a burner all day.

Follow your heart! I felt instantly older, initiated into a club that had been off limits when I was younger and less mature. How  poetic. How simple. How gloriously wise yet subversive. I caressed her words reverently, sure - sure! - they held the key to my liberation. 

It took about twenty four hours for me to realize this instruction was somewhat incomplete. 

How was I supposed to tell what my heart wanted? The implication was to ignore my pesky cerebral cortex, but how, exactly, was this accomplished? Did other people's hearts ring them up and identify themselves? Did they slip signed letters under their doors, or drag banners behind small planes during picnics? I was sure my desire for page two of the instructions signified a personal flaw. It was obviously excellent advice, and yet I was no closer to a decision. It was embarrassing.

The feeling that I am missing some sort of innate guidance system that other people possess has stalked me ever since. Doubt is a pair of shoes, faithfully contoured to the shape of my feet. Like the very best sex, moments of unequivocal clarity are rare, amazing, unexpected gifts.

Often, when I am having a tough time with a decision, people inform me that deep down I know what I want to do. With enviable and irritating confidence, they assure me that clarity is available to me, if only I listen hard enough and get out of my own way. This used to make me feel inferior and despairing, kind of like being asked why you think you got cancer, as if a life-threatening illness is a self help book in disguise. 

Recently, I have adopted a kinder approach, one involving acceptance and surrender, which are much nicer ways of saying giving up. Dithering is in my DNA. 

One of the many underreported benefits of aging is the setting of more realistic life goals. One of mine is that every once in awhile, say twice a month, I refuse to spend any more of my precious time in the rabbit warren of "on the other hand". Also, I avert my eyes from books about Inner Knowing and True Callings and Finding Your Authentic Self. Most days, my Inner Wisdom can barely be relied upon to signal when I am hungry, and my Authentic Self bites her nails.

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Julie - I love the end of this! Great writing.
Julie, I giggled at the image of your 20 year old mentor telling you to just follow your heart--I could totally picture that girl/woman moment, of course in the mall. One of the things about "not being sure" that I obsess about is that I will never have ALL of the information. I'll never go EVERYWHERE or know EVERY piece of information, so how can I possibly ever know anything for SURE? And the source of true "wisdom" is...myself? Surely that can't be right...Thanks for writing and sharing the uncertainty! :)
Beautifully written.. Loved the ending. It is really hard to know what to do, or even what to say, when it comes to dating. They say follow your heart, but sometimes that gets you into bad relationships, where you could never be happy. Then they say follow your mind, oh it would never let you down. But then once again you find yourself wasting time on the wrong one.
I say follow both, and focus on you and your life first and foremost. Because if you love yourself and you can be happy being alone with yourself, then love will find you, when you least expect it. And you will be ready to open up and let it in, when it arrives.
What a wry sense of humor--it shows in this. I also love the fact that you acknowledge that it is hard to know what our hearts want! Dithering--love it. Great piece! Rated.