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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 bail out of most any activity, though in the middle of the typical fray, one might not necessarily consider this option. One gets set into a trajectory, and changing it becomes kind of unthinkable over time, though the latitude to turn off the engagement almost always exists, and remains at least worth considering. At some level, every engagement serves as a kind of dedication test, a check to determine if you retain the stomach not only for the success, but also for the often previously hidden cost of that success, the ordeal. Either you do retain the stomach to continue or you don't, that's The Or Deal in a nutshell.

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 certain 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. There's, as far as I could ever tell, no way to definitively tell in the middle if you're encountering an opportunity to save yourself or to undermine your potential. One must simply choose with much less than full 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 in lieu of purchasing gifts. This practice arose from my finally having had it with that shuffle, the aimless wandering and indecision common 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'd never before ever imagined receiving. The conditions always seemed overwhelming to me, but for many years, I could not see beyond the apparently necessary ritual. 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 really 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 appears to ask me 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 in the moment The Or Deal's proposed, and nothing noble emerges from that moment, either. It's true that choosing to continue does, indeed, preserve the potential for success, but it also preserves the potential for failure. It always feels like a devil's deal, unless, I guess, 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 has done little to hone what little skill with which I started. My annual ritual amounts to a fool's mission, and one 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 neck tie party for their "benefactor," and I continue stroking my beleaguered ego in lieu 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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