Did you ever read those Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid? “To drink the mysterious glowing liquid, go to page 45. To dump the mysterious glowing liquid down the sink, go to page 91.” One wrong choice and you find yourself drowning at the bottom of the sea or turning into a vampire.
My childhood bedroom had a long wall covered in bookcases full of hand-me-down books from my dad, my uncle, some cousins… The majority of them were in the same vein as Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventures, or Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. There were some books that were a little above my age level, like Christopher Pike books about teenage romance on the beach or Judy Blume writing about two girls coming of age in Martha’s Vineyard, or even Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. An Encyclopedia Britannica even took up a big chunk of my shelf space. I was an equal opportunity reader; I read them all. The books I found in my childhood bedroom made a sizeable effect on how I see the world now as an adult.
Right now I feel like I’m in a critical choice page of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. “To interview for a PhD fellowship somewhere strange, go to page 456. To wait and see where else offers you an opportunity, go to page 731.” There’s potential disaster lurking in every choice. Drinking the mysterious liquid or going so far away for school could both end in abject misery. There could be a happy ending hiding there too. The mysterious liquid might give you healing powers, and you might fall in love with the West.
Unlike in the books, you can’t peak ahead to page 456 in real life to see what happens. You have to make a choice and live with it, regardless of the consequences. I’m on this page looking at my choices, trying my hardest to predict what’s coming on the next few pages. There’s a lot of anxiety involved, to be sure. There are so many other choices tied to this one; choices about my relationships and my daughter and my job. My academic past doesn’t exactly lend me any extra competitiveness. The universities I would apply to might lead me to an even stronger sense of imposter syndrome than I’ll already experience. Or their proximity to certain still-burning old flames might create a whole extra level of strife.
I’m doing my best to make the best choice for myself. I’m trying to put my emotions and percieved stereotypes behind me; I want to make an educated and logical decision. I can only hope I don’t end up turning into a vampire or being abducted by aliens.