Pretty Much the Most Important Thing
December 10, 2009 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink

lf3gracesThe Day of the Decision Maker

by Bethany Saltman

“The Birthday Book” is this great coffee table item with a whole page devoted each day of the year, telling you what kind of person you are. And each day has a name. My day, July 27th, is “The Day of the Decision Makers.” It basically describes me, painfully accurately, as someone who is kind of bossy, but a can-do girl, good with “theoretical structures, working organizations, social groups or leading a family.”

However, so says the oracle, “difficulties may arise…when these dynamic planners attempt to make personal decisions for themselves….the crisis arises when a secondary activity begins to assume primary importance in their life. Not uncommonly this activity has a strongly emotional admixture—it often demands passionate commitment.”

It goes on to describe my current life in some broad but correct strokes: malaise, paralysis, problems with aggression and anger, etc. Ok, ok. Uncle, already!

So now that you’re so smart, Birthday Book, what is my primary activity? And which is my secondary activity? Mom=primary? Writer/obsesser=secondary? What about my day/weekend/nights/always on my mind job? These days I have been STRUGGLING with how to make my life work on a moment-to-moment basis, i.e. am I the kind of person who takes Fridays off in the summer to spend more time with my daughter? Am I the type of person who holes up on the weekends to read and write? Am I the type of person who goes on a diet, or am I the kind of person who is so concerned with my intellectual life I don’t care about such trifles as what I look like in a bathing suit?

I didn’t used to be like this. In fact, before Azalea was born, I didn’t really even know what decision making was, exactly, in the sense of having to choose one thing over another. Things were always pretty clear and I never felt like I was sacrificing all the other men in the world, for instance, to marry my Thayer. Or all the other ways of being to be myself. But since becoming a mom, all of that has changed. My primary identity and “flow” as they say, feels so deeply in question that I just can’t seem to get it together.

Toni Morrison has this to say on the topic:

“I think it is a mistake to think of one’s life in compartments and as conflict. We are trained to think that we have either/or choices all the time and I think this is inimical to what women are required to do. There are so many things, even if one has no career…it’s important to think of them all as going together, and I tend to think that I don’t have to make a choice between motherhood or a career—I just regard them all as pretty much the most important thing.”

I will keep this posted above my desk for another year, or as long as it takes to sink in. I understand what Morrison is saying here, that in general, it all has to be one thing, but this decision maker has some decisions to make about how to spend her time, about what really matters to her. She can’t keep trying to do it all and not really doing anything.

The damn “Birthday Book” warns against July 27th people agonizing over decisions for too long. According to the old me, five minutes is too long.  As we used to say at Antioch, “Subvert the dominant paradigm!!!” Indeed, I feel like a paradigm shift is required here.

Who am I?

What is pretty much the most important thing?

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine, June 23, 2008.

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