Jo Walton’s My Real Children, and Thoughts About Choices

I recently read Jo Walton’s book My Real Children. First let me say that it is absolutely beautiful. A+, would read again, do recommend. You can read the first seven chapters here, for free, if you like.

It got me thinking about choices.

From a discussion thread I found my way to Jo’s discussion of Florence and it made my heart hurt (in a good way). There is so much world, so little time, and only one me; how can I ever find the time to see and learn all the things that make my soul sing now, much less the things I’ll discover later?

I can’t, of course. Jo has said that it’s kind of a book-length response to Mike Ford’s Against Entropy, and part of what I take from the pairing is that although I do get to choose, I don’t get to know what would have happened. Something else, too, is that whatever I choose, there are costs; and whatever I choose, there are rewards.

One of the choices currently facing me is this: do I try to go to graduate school as soon as I can (next fall)? Do I try to work to pay off my student loans and simultaneously catch up on some of the anthropology education I didn’t get in undergrad? Do I pursue something entirely aside from anthropology grad school? (Listed in order of descending preference.)

Something incontrovertible, which I resist knowing, is that every choice I make closes off others, and the safe choice is often not the one I truly want. It takes me a while to answer the question “what do I want to do, with every bone in my body?” because I’ve been resisting at least one of the answers for nearly half my life: with every bone in my body, I want to ride horses. But what do I want to do with every neuron in my brain? I’m not sure; I’ve been spending the last several years trying to figure that out.

Patricia Cowan’s life splits, at the making of one decision. One woman. Two worlds. Two lives. That’s what it says on the cover. And what lives they are. Both have good and bad, fulfillment and tragedy. The worlds diverge from each other, too, and from our own. (How? That would be telling.) It’s comforting, in a way; every path I see before me has obviously desirable aspects, and I believe that I could make a meaningful life on any of them. But which would I choose, if I were let know what would have happened?

Nobody ever gets to answer that, not really. But if I believe that the ideas I put into words have a chance of making the world better, then perhaps I should choose the path that leads to me having clearer, more informed ideas to put into words, and the ability to find a wider audience for my writing—and sooner, rather than later. “Regret, by definition, comes too late.” What will I not regret trying even if I fail?

The first half of the answer, I think, is “love.” My friends, my family, books and words and ideas. The second half? I’ll keep looking.

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