Next Saturday I start a two week vacation. Daegan and I have both arranged time off from work and since I locked my time in I’ve been trying to settle on what we’re doing. I know for sure there will be a bike trip involved but beyond that the details are murky.
It started as a trip to Calgary – we even booked flights. And then, after a bit of hemming and hawing, and online research I came to the conclusion that it was going to be ridiculously expensive just to bring bikes once we paid the baggage fees for two bikes in each direction, had them packed at either end for shipping, then because the route is not so great, from what I’ve read, from Calgary to Banff we were looking at taking a bus from Calgary to Banff to start there. It got overwhelming and the numbers added up to somewhere around $600-800. If we left the bikes at home we could go out and then spend that much on a rental car. So we cancelled the flights (I’ll use the credits for sure someday) and planned on a local trip. At first we thought about riding around Ontario but then I couldn’t decide where to go. Nothing really spoke to me.
Fortunately, we both loved cycling in New England and Quebec and after booking inexpensive train tickets to Montreal we’re leaving on Saturday for a ride. You’d think that would decide things but I’m still trying to figure out what to do. Do we bring camping gear – it’s heavier and last time we used it only one night – or do we go without as we did on our ride to NYC. Then where do we go? A Vermont loop? Out to Maine to the beach and back? Take dice and roll them to decide where we go on a day to day basis?
This is an odd, but common tendency for me. To rethink things over and over with the idea of figuring out the perfect solution. I do it with how to spend my weekends or what to make for dinner. It’s like the classic “Where do you want to go for dinner?” “I don’t know, where do you want to go?” discussion except it all takes place in my head. And then when I think I’m decided I come up another idea that might be good or a challenge that might be just insurmountable that requires giving it all a rethink.
None of this is all that unusual were there not some really glaring exceptions to this habit. I think the clue to why I can be so decisive sometimes and not other times lies somewhere within. Here are a few examples:
We’ve moved a number of times in Toronto. When the idea hits Sage or I and we’re both in agreement, it’s like when they call an election here in Canada. Parliament is dissolved, day to day activities of domestic government stop and we start the apartment search. In a couple of months we’re in a new place.
In 2003, after friends told of being run off the road in New Mexico and yelled at by a belligerent man in a pickup truck because they had a “No War” bumper sticker, we joked with our friends that “We’d always said if the Republicans get any worse, we’re moving to Canada.” Instead of laughing, they looked at us seriously and asked “What’s stopping you?” Realizing there was nothing stopping us, I went back to our apartment and started a job search that night. Within a month I had a phone interview, another month later I had an in-person interview and got my work permit. A couple of weeks later I was in Toronto apartment hunting. About 3.5 months after joking about moving here, we were living in Canada ever since. There was no rethinking it. There wasn’t any “Maybe we should check The Netherlands or England also.” The wheels started turning quickly and immediately. No hesitation. 13 years later I can say this is one of the best decisions we’ve made – and we locked it in within 10 minutes.
In October of 1998 when Daegan was less than two months old my company sent me across the country to Denver for a week of training. Because I was gone for 1/8th of his life up until then (it’d be like being gone over 5 years now!) he was understandably upset when I got back and cried a lot. I made up for it with lots of time together – walks around the city with him in the sling, cooking with him and of course the nearly nightly family reading times that happened around 3:00 AM when he would be awake for an hour or so. But knowing that I could be sent off again – and was already spending 10-12 hours/day away from home was not what I wanted. And so, between Sage’s mom and I we came up with an idea. I would quit my job. We’d give the car back to the bank, and give away all but about 12 boxes of our family’s things that we would ship to the Missouri Ozarks where she and many of our friends lived. We’d use our small 401K savings to build some sort of dwelling that we’d figure out there. (We lived in a 30′ RV for about 2 months after which we built a 20 foot yurt on friends’ land.). We’d support ourselves with odd jobs, computer repair and web design. And without rent, car payment, electric bill – essentially only food, gas for a shared car, and some money given back to our friends who owned the land, we wouldn’t need to earn much. We got to the point we could live on $300/month of rent. I still remember when this decision, which completely changed the course of our lives was made. I was sitting with Sage’s mom and Daegan on the back porch. I said I would love to live simply and cheaply and hoped in 5 years or so to pay off debts and save up enough to do it. She suggested just doing it then. After about 10 minutes in conversation I was convinced and Sage was as well. We started wheels turning and I gave 1 month’s notice at work where about half of my coworkers thought I was crazy, 1/4 were envious, and another 1/4 felt both ways at once. There was no going back and thinking maybe we should live in Vermont or Utah. No thoughts of joining the civil service or just taking a job that required less commitment – I’d already done that the previous year. We made a decision, dove in, and lived with it.
We lived in the yurt two years and spent another year living in a small cottage in the nearby town after that before moving on down the path that brought us here. This decision has defined me as a parent and human being.
Which didn’t mean with either of those huge decisions I didn’t have moments of uncertainty. I remember waking up in the night after handing in my resignation in a panic. After a lifetime of working, now that I was a parent I gave up my job security and took a leap. What if we failed? We don’t know how to build, live in the woods and have been parents for only a couple of months. But even big worries like those didn’t shake us. I was certain that I was making the right decision and as scared as I was I was also very excited to see what happened next.
But give me a small decision like where to go on vacation or whether I want to camp or stay in a hotel and I change my mind hourly. Then I do a bunch of research and change it again.
A part of me is pretty sure of the answer is really simple. Anything I commit to – whether it be a travel destination, a dish to cook for dinner, or the next book I read – it will be good. In the absence of doing or even being able to do, waffling feels like doing something. While my excuse for reviewing and re-reviewing a plan might be to make sure it’s a good one, if I’m completely honest it’s more recreational. I can’t go on a trip today so I’ll read a map and tell myself a story about what will happen. Then I’ll look at a different direction on the map and tell myself another story. And I can’t decide which story might have the most interesting level of unexpected interesting things happening. And so I go back and forth. And then maybe those two ideas aren’t the most fun I can have so I read some travelogues and tell myself more stories. Compare that to the stories one tells themselves when making a decision like “I’m going to give up work and live in the woods without electricity or running water and be a full time parent.” or “That’s it, I’m moving to a brand new country.” There is so much certainty of risk and the unexpected and joy and challenge that I don’t have to do recreational research. (I may need to do some real research, mind you!)
And so, now that I’m aware of this I’m going to try to be more mindful of this in the big picture. In the more narrow picture of where we’re going a week from Sunday, I’m done with research. I know all I need to know. We arrive in Montreal, stay with a friend one night, and head out to Plattsburgh, NY where I have a reservation. After that we have options. And we will have to choose one of them when we wake up in Plattsburgh. None of them requires more than a call ahead or a quick google search for a place to make a reservation for a night’s stay.
And with that, I’ll quit waffling here as well and go make some dinner. As much as part of me is saying “Have a look at cookbooks, and maybe go to the Indian grocery, or maybe to the Asian grocery. Or do you want to make some Cajun food? You have that great cookbook and there’s an excellent butcher and seafood store nearby). I’m going to just dive in and make a Thai red curry. It will have tofu in it if we have tofu and if not I know I have frozen shrimp. I could dither on that and think about other things I could have, but the reality is this: red curry whatever will taste great on brown rice. And you can’t eat the kind of waffles I’m prone to having. In fact, instead of eating them, they eat your time.