The choice is yours

I miss cootie catchers.

Fortune tellers, paper 8-balls, whatever. They went by different names, but those of us treated to the American public elementary school experience most likely came across the little origami decision machines at some point. It seems silly in retrospect that I spent so much time obsessing over an 8×8 folded square, but by golly did they make life simpler.

“What should I play today at recess? [Green. Thirteen. Four.] Looks like tag, great!”

“Which boy should I like? [Orange. Seven. Eleven.] Tommy Parsons… eww! [Incessant giggling].”

Just one of these cootie catchers could have prevented the entire economic crisis. Creative Commons.

The problems of a nine-year-old condensed into a laundry list of possible solutions and solved by the arbitrary assignment of numbers and colors. Those were the days.

Unfortunately, random assortment and paper folding don’t hold much stock on life goals once the double-digits hit. Middle school brings with it an onslaught of future-tense thinking. And thus the “game of choice” of choice becomes “MASH” (Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House), teaching children that the difference between a lucky number and a dud is that one of them brings all of your wild domestic fantasies to fruition, and the other eliminates all of your favorite potential spouses.

High school, on the other hand, is the supposed harbinger of “higher thought”; the game of choice, faced with an increasingly complex problem set, gets funneled into experimental pursuits that few take seriously (Ouija, tarot cards, spin the bottle) and/or religious methods of choice deferral that some take too seriously.

I don’t know about you, but I miss the simple decision processes of age nine.

Especially considering this decision-heavy time of year. As we begin to celebrate the end of this particular journey around the sun, most of us are already planning for the next one. Much of my time recently has been devoted to grad school applications; the constant Wheres, Whys and How Muches are only slightly really obnoxious.

But I’m certainly not the only one making plans. Most Gusties are starting to realize that, graduating or not, the hour of summer job procurement is upon them. Those of you lucky enough to have a rollover gig from last summer already lined up, I salute you. For the rest of us, it’s a constant confrontation with the cliché heard ‘round the world: “What are you going to do for the rest of your life?”

If only “Meander somewhat aimlessly through my early twenties, filled with stereotypical ennui and unfulfilled potential, until someone gives me a better job than I deserve and my friends and family all move to the same greater metropolitan area, thereby making life much less worrisome so that I can inevitably figure everything out in my early-mid-thirties” would fit in a cootie catcher.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone invented such a decision-trivializing device for “grown-up” problems? If every state of human reaction could be quantified and calculated in some sort of “Equation of Life” (cue dramatic music here)? Imagine if your perfect major could be discerned simply by dividing your passions by their average practicality, or the decision to go on that second date could be made by subtracting fear from the product of excitement and hope.

It should be painfully obvious at this point that math is not my forte.

Regardless, some magical life-guiding equation wouldn’t help anyone if the problems it’s trying to solve aren’t so readily quantified. It’s not that decisions are any more difficult than they used to be; it’s that the possible outcomes just aren’t as cut-and-dry anymore. Let me know if you can manage to assign a number to impulsivity, or a color to every potential emotional reaction to a touching film; otherwise, I believe it’s safe to say:

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are beyond the realm of the cootie catcher.