I seem to specialize in bizarre juxtapositions as in the above title. As I mentioned yesterday, reading about my alma mater--Reed College--precipitated a minor stress attack. First of all, as I also mentioned, Reed is a college that inspires conflicting and conflicted emotions. Second, my realization that it would be madness for me to even think of sending my children to Reed made me feel like a failure as, not so much a parent, but as an earner. Truly, it is a head vs. heart kind of thing. In my head, I know that you can get a fine education anywhere (as well as a bad one); in my heart, I have a soft spot for a handful of fine liberal arts colleges.
But then there is the paradox of choice, which I've mentioned before. This is the title of a best-selling book by a professor at Swarthmore. This is one of those books that--sorry--you don't really need to read; the title tells the story. Too much choice is stress-inducing. I read an essay in, I think, the Wall Street Journal about a student who applied to 18 colleges, including Ivies, got into all of them, and was so flummoxed by her choices that she took a gap year. I found this pretty amusing: a student could not decide among loads of fine choices (at $50,000/year) and so took an expensive (I think it was $30,000) gap year trip that included "service." Total self- and over-indulgence as far as I'm concerned.
With both my children, I guess you could say that we minimized the paradox of choice by using as a criterion total cost. So perhaps it was good that money was an object for our family. I had a friend in college who was from a very wealthy family. We once went shopping and I gaped in shock as I watched her pick out a few items and take them to the cash register. Only when she was paying did she look to see how much the items cost. I remember thinking: "How can she choose when she can have anything?"
And, for a screeching transition, that's why I like Goodwill and thrift stores generally. Most of the stuff is awful. There are only a few nice items on any given day, thereby minimizing the paradox of choice.
Today, as is my wont, I took a spin to Goodwill for some stress relief. My faithful readers know that I have been mulling over a tote bag to carry my papers and books. So many choices! I wrote about how, even if I limited myself to LL Bean totes, I would have the color choice (so many!) AND the free monogram choice, etc. etc. Today at Goodwill I came upon two LL Bean totes, both new, both in natural canvas, size medium, short handles. One had lime green handles; one had red. Like all the other bags, these were $1.99.
Both also were monogrammed: AEB, EMP. When I was in dire graduate school poverty, I worked in a vintage clothing store, where I met some talented and eccentric people. One was Gail, who, sadly, never realized her dream of designing costumes for the theater. Her theory was that monogramming was only interesting if the initials weren't yours. As of today, I have adopted her theory. I don't like my initials. Each bag has one of my initials (those of you who like puzzles can figure out which it is).
So until I find the perfect tote bag, I now have 2 LL Bean totes, and the little Longchamp bag I found last week. All these are so useful that I will keep them even after (if?) I find my ideal.
Perhaps that is true too of college choices. One thing my son (now finished with his sophomore year) is that all his friends are happy with their college choices. Isn't that great?