Sunday, July 13, 2014

Too Many Choices?

When I was a young mother, I remember being given the following advice. If you ask your child what they want, it can be overwhelming. You can simplify their decisions by making a selection of several things (of which you approve) and saying do you want this one or that one?

In today's world of the 'long tail', we are offered an ocean full of choices for pretty much everything.

It seems to me that this is both good and bad. Right now I am leaning towards thinking it's bad. Maybe that's because the older I get, the more I shut down when overwhelmed by choices. Emily Dickinson composed this poem in 1862.

The Soul selects her own Society -
Then - shuts the Door -
To her diving Majority -
Present no more -
Unmoved - she notes the Chariots - pausing -
At her low Gate -
Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat -

I've known her from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
Like Stone -

Now my interpretation may not be what she intended, but I feel myself closing off to much of what is new and touted as wonderful. The joy of my childhood and earlier years continues to occupy much of my attention.

Instead I am inspired by the Introduction to Lillian Hellman's Pentimento.

"Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman's dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter "repented," changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again. That is all I mean about the people in this book. The paint has aged and I wanted to see what was there for me once, what is there for me now."

And so I plan to limit my reading to those books languishing on my shelves. I am going to enjoy the music and theater I already love. Of course, that's not to say that there will be nothing new allowed into my life. I'm just shortening the 'long tail' so I can focus more on "what was there for me once, what is there for me now."

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