You asked for it.

Okay. John has posed the following after my plea for ideas.

“A woman I met at the college where I briefly taught, once told me I had too many choices, that I was not driven by dire necessity. But that is just an illusion and her mistake. Choices are what we all need.”

…From The Sportswriter by Richard Ford.

Despite what you may think of the book and/or the writer, what do you think of the sentiment as it relates to ‘the struggle.’ Discuss.

Love that I hear Mike Myers’s Linda Richmond in that request.

As I see the preliminary assertion by the woman, these are not mutually exclusive, or even parallel, issues—having choices versus being driven by need. I see this quote from a Maslow’s pyramid perspective, and it seems that being driven by dire necessity comes at the level of fulfilling basic needs: safety, food, water, shelter. At that point your choices are different, your options are fewer, and your ethical limits are very, very high. Not many of us thinks about fairness or altruism when we’re literally starving.

But having “too many” options is, as the narrator suggests, an illusion. Not necessarily just from without, as this narrator posits. Too many choices can be an internal burden of someone whose basic needs are met and whose struggles are existential. Too many choices can also be an external judgment from one with fewer choices. Either way, I have to agree that the “too many” is an illusion and that the juxtaposition is a faulty one. Not just apples and oranges. Apples and skyscrapers.

By the same token, choices is not what “we all” need. Some people just need food, water, and shelter, and they don’t care much about existential dilemma right now. It’s a privileged perspective to think that options are the gateway, for some people can’t get within 100 miles of the courtyard.

In short? They’re both looking at things from a limited perspective, but the colleague is making a faulty assumption, whereas the narrator is assuming everyone is in the same position.

but that’s a cursory view posted mostly to get your opinions. Especially those who’ve read the book. I haven’t. (Should I add it to the pile? The pile is getting unwieldy and I’m loathe to add any more than necessary…)

10 thoughts on “You asked for it.

  1. I think you’re right about the Maslow thing. If you don’t have those basic needs met, you can’t really think of anything else.

    I’m not sure about the other part. If too many choices are “all in my head” WTF is up with the cereal aisle in the grocery store?

  2. The too many choices being bad or good is the part that’s in your head. Dependent on the day and your needs. I wasn’t clear, but I’m saying sometimes I moan that there are too many cereal choices, and sometimes the variety is heaven, but there is no inherent good or bad in the number of choices. There’s no such thing, really, as too many. You know what you won’t eat, so those aren’t really choices. You know what you can’t afford, so those aren’t really choices. There is no “bad” in that. Except if they are all produced at the cost of the environment and the workers who are deformed by the process. You know. Standard Naptime rant stuff. ;-)

  3. In the novel, at the point the quote is from, the narrator is waiting for his ex-wife at the grave of their son–they meet every year. He’s talking about the myth of post-divorce bachelorhood (i.e. hot and cold running sexual conquest(s), a girl in every port, what he calls “cheery womanizing.”) And that is the essence of the criticism levelled against him. Instead, he says, it’s more like “a long empty moment.” So maybe sometimes we can get lost in the choices. Or awash in them, and set adrift. But in those moments of solitude on the boat at sea we’re allowed to reflect and perhaps rediscover ourselves. (Thank God; I feel like maybe a naptimewriting context is in sight here.) Struggling to find that solitude in the midst of these lives we lead (I can only assume this about “KitchenWitch” and “FaeMom” etc. from the names you’ve chosen for yourself that we’re in the same boat [not enough adrift at the moment-bleah]) can sometimes feel like a lost cause.

    Yuck. Sorry.

    • Well, context makes a world of difference, doesn’t it.

      So she is clearly underestimating his experience, and thinking that choices are a burden. (And probably generalizing gender stuff by minimizing what he faces in terms of choices?) He is pointing out that the choices may be window dressing, for in fact they do not ground his struggle to choose meaning in his life; that the need to choose right now is not the point but the need to analyze all the options might be? That too many choices often feels like drowning but also allows you to reevaluate your swimming skills, your distance from shore, and your actual goal vis a vis water-based or land-based living? Geez, I need to read this book.

      I want to read it to reply better and see if I agree with your analysis. Here’s my question: for what are you sorry?

  4. Ok. Interesting take.
    I thought what the point was is that we should all be able to have “too many” choices. That no one should be driven by necessity. Think of all the world resources out there. Imagine if everything was shaken up more fairly. No one would have to choose dinner tonight or breakfast tomorrow. No one would have to choose medicine or gas. If we had “too many” choices then it would be what to have for dinner: chicken, fish, salad, pasta. What to have for breakfast: cereal, oatmeal, bran muffin, toast. What medicine to get: over the counter, generic, brand. Maybe too many choices are the necessity.

  5. Siting at work not able to sufficiently (to my satisfaction) articulate my point. And getting lost in something else; detours and caveats. Sorta like life that way…yes. Your analysis was clarifying for me. I’m still in the midst of the book so my understanding is incomplete. The scene in the cemetery was painful because the divorce is still only half-baked and they’re hampered by shifting expectation and the loss of understanding and familiarity that comes as their lives melt away from one another intentionally and unintentionally.
    The MAN perspective is a heavy one to the spirit of the novel and, maybe coming off Netherland, it might be too much for me. I want to yell at the guy to get his shit together. Maybe I should let him be. But I’m definitely putting something else before finally getting around to Rabbit Run.
    Have you ever read Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson? I somehow got to it via Wallace but I don’t remember why and it was the novel I read after IJ.

    • Oh, dear heaven, we have an Updike reading coming? Not my fave. But I will look up Wittgenstein’s Mistress. Maybe it’s just the Wittgenstein connection, but maybe something else. I’ll add it to my pile, which just might topple and crush me in the night. Oh well. Worse ways to die.

  6. And just an aside on writing, this is from an excellent piece about Michael Silverblatt, the book critic from KCRW in LA, in the October Oprah magazine (yes, I do): “…readers and writers are expanders of feeling centers, of the global ability to imagine other lives.” It has always surprised me that this ability doesn’t exist universally; that not everyone can just simply make things up about people and their lives and stories. But the kind of discussion that reading and writing brings about is vitally important to us.

    • Oh, John, there are writerly and readerly ideas everywhere, and Oprah Winfrey has done more for reading in this country (and for exposing the still high/low art divide via the Franzen bickering) than anyone else I can think of. Quote from her magazine any time you’d like without appending veiled winks. I enjoy Silverblatt’s voice (we lived in L.A. for WAY longer than I would have liked, but enjoyed the vibrant radio intelligence of the area. Kind of shocking.) I’ll read the piece. But on that notion of writers having something other humans don’t (about which I disagree, since I feel, as you do, that it might be a universal ability the articulation of which is the specialized skill, not the empathy.) Anyway, about Wallace’s death, a commenter said:
      “…The deaths [of writers] have always hit me hard because the relationship you have with a writer is greater than the relationship you have with anyone else. In the secret place you go to when you are reading, you and the writer share dreams and fears and wishes and hopes in a way that is nothing like your relationship with anyone else.
      The writer is your lover and your confessor, your mother and your father, your God and your satan. And you are the same for him. The writer tells you what he dreams and what he fears. He will tell you what he dreams and doing so you help him come a little closer to those dreams. He will tell you what he fears and doing so you help him push those fears away a little bit. And you do the same for him….” john guzlowski (I can find the source for you if you want. It’s buried somewhere but I can dig it up. Gross and inappropriate pun not intended, but remedy beyond my ken tonight.)

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