Rendered Fat Content

The Or Deal

Master of the Die:
Venus Ordering Psyche to Sort a Heap of Grain (1530/40)

"My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission …"

Near the end of each of her weekly examinations as The Muse went through her cancer treatment, Erin, the designated keeper of records for the clinical trial, would ask the same question: "Do you want to continue the trial?" To which The Muse would respond with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely!" This ritual reminded me of one common feature of successful engagements, The Or Deal. The option always exists to abandon almost any activity, though one might not necessarily consider this option in the middle of the typical fray. One gets set into a trajectory, and changing it becomes unthinkable. However, the latitude to turn off the engagement almost always exists and remains at least worth considering. Every effort serves as a kind of dedication test, a check to determine if you retain the stomach for the success and the often previously hidden cost of that success, the ordeal. Either you maintain the stomach to continue, or you don’t; that’s The Or Deal.

Looking back on my now long life, I easily recall a few of the more prominent choice points.
Some I never noticed going by and didn't notice until all convenient exists had passed me. Sometimes I later left, but not always. Sometimes The Or Deal resulted in success, sometimes by the Suckcess route. Other times, failure. I could never tell for sure which direction the path was taking me. Each seemed more or less like a faith-based alternative until it wasn't anymore. Sometimes my faith was well invested, and other times, disappointed. As far as I could tell, there’s no way to definitively tell in the middle if you’re encountering an opportunity to save yourself or undermine your potential. One simply must choose with much less than complete knowledge. These are Pick Your Poison alternatives, seemingly damned whichever option you choose.

Each Christmas season for the past twenty-some years, I have chosen to write a small raft of poems to give instead of purchasing gifts. This practice arose from my finally having had it with that shuffle, the aimless wandering, and indecision typical to pre-Christmas shopping. One inevitably gets subjected to a doozy of a damned-whatever-I-choose dilemma, especially in those relationships where it's considered off-limits to ask another what they want for Christmas. In those, the giver must successfully mind-read the receiver's desire and then satisfy it, preferably with a gift they never imagined receiving. The conditions always seemed overwhelming, but I could not always see beyond the apparently necessary ritual. Of course, I didn't know better.

It came to The Or Deal one year, and I just chose to say, "No!" to continuing the shuffle. I took a chance, one that sure felt foolish at the time, but I felt desperate enough to proceed, and did. I felt embarrassed delivering my lame alternatives: poems written by someone not recognized as a poet. The receivers were generous, if not effusive. I somehow managed to survive what could have been utter humiliation but wasn't. Twenty-some years later, this ritual has become a seasonal success story, but still, every year, as the Christmas Morning deadline draws nearer, I encounter another in a series of long-ish, dark-ish nights of my soul. A spectral Erin manifests to ask the question, "Do you want to continue this ritual?" It's an honest question, for I could choose to retire, but somehow every year, the Little Drummer Boy in me opts to continue beyond The Or Deal. One day, I might choose different, but not yet, not this Christmas season.

Nothing particularly noble occurs at the moment The Or Deal's proposed, and nothing noble emerges from that moment, either. Choosing to continue does indeed preserve the potential for success but also maintains the possibility of failure. It always feels like a devil's deal unless one's The Muse and brimming with confidence that she's chosen the proper response whenever she's asked the question. I remain decidedly not the poet I always wasn't, as twenty-some years have done little to hone what little skill with which I started. My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission, and I expect to continue ad infinitum, regardless of the annual outcome. So far, though, so good, as those receiving my lame poems have not managed to organize a necktie party for their "benefactor," and I continue stroking my beleaguered ego instead of engaging in an annual Christmas Shuffle, though each year I reencounter The Or Deal all over again.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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