Saturday, June 11, 2011

Choose Your Own Adventure: Volume One

by guest blogger, Shanna Germain

PG 1: You’re forty years old, your current relationship is failing and you haven’t had sex in six months. If you choose to go to couple’s counseling, turn to page 2. If you choose to escape to a different country by yourself in the dark of night, go to page 7.

PG 2: You go to counseling. You discover that the reason your partner won’t have sex with you is because your partner finds you intimidating. Also, you’re both submissive. Also, your bisexuality makes you scary. If you go home with your partner anyway, go to page 3. If you escape to a foreign country, go to page 7.

PG 3: At home, things are fine. For a while. You’re still not having sex, though. Which is not fine. If you decide to stick it out anyway, and go buy a huge honking vibrator that revs at speeds faster than light, go to page 4. If you start having an affair with a guy you met on the Internet, go to page 5.

PG 4: At the vibrator store, the woman who helps you has naturally red hair and a nose ring. When she cashes you out, she touches your hand longer than she needs to, and you get a little shiver in your insides. She asks if you’d like to have coffee. If you say no, go to page 8. If you say yes, go to page 6.

PG 5: The guy on the Internet is sexy and sauve and, although his avator is not that cute, he certainly knows how you like to fuck and he can spell, which is important in an Internet affair. He lives in a different country. After four months, he wants to know if you can come and visit. If you say no and stop the affair, go to page 3. If you say yes, go to page 7.

PG 6: You don’t go for coffee. You go home with her. She gets you naked and licks you and brings you to orgasm. Twice. You think you might be in love. She’s leaving next week for a foreign country and wants to know if you’ll come along. If you say no, turn to page 8. If you say yes, turn to page 7.

PG 7: You go to a foreign country. For six months you have great sex. Then it slows down, then it stops entirely. You can’t figure out why. If you choose to visit a couple’s counselor, go to page 2. If you don’t, go to page 8.

PG 8: You go back home. There is someone waiting for you who loves you but who may or may not want to have sex with you. If that’s enough, go to page 9. If it isn’t, turn back to page 1.

PG 9: The end.


When I was younger, I wished life was just like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. If you screwed up or didn’t like the outcome, you could go back and start again. Everyone else waited for you to get it right, and you could try again and again, as many times as you liked, until you made the proper sequence of choices that put you were you wanted to be.

I thought that if I could re-choose, I would do things so differently. I wouldn’t have moved out on my own 16 and worked my way through college. I wouldn’t have broken my father’s heart. I would have known that I was way hot at 20. I would have taken photos of myself naked before I turned 40. I would have been less of a bitch. I wouldn’t have gotten three degrees while trying to avoid what I really wanted to do, which was write fiction. I wouldn’t have gotten married so young. I would have gotten divorced sooner. I would have said yes to that hot redhead in the sex toy store, to the Internet affair, to the counseling. I would have said no to that boy in college, to my professor, to the really rich guy who bought me diamonds. I wouldn’t have nearly drowned in a riptide or eaten that e. coli infested shellfish or had that horrible bike accident. I wouldn’t have been so afraid to say yes. Or so reluctant to say no. After all, CYOA also stands for Cover Your Own Ass.

But now that I’m older, I know it’s not that easy. Every decision I’ve made has changed me, has given me something and taken something away. And in the end, we all up at The End anyway, don’t we? Filled with the joy of “right choices” and the regret of the “wrong ones.”

Have you ever seen the movie, Sliding Doors, with Gweneth Paltrow? If you haven’t, you should. It’s old (1998) and a bit clichéd at times, but mostly it is a funny, harrowing, heart-wrenching story of roads taken (or not) complete with near-misses, a young John Hannah (Batiatis in “Spartacus”) and Monty Python references. The story follows two parallel universes. In one, Paltrow’s character catches her train, meets a man and arrives home to find her boyfriend in bed with another woman. In the other, she misses the train, doesn’t meet the man and doesn’t discover her boyfriend’s infidelity.

Part of the reason I like the movie so much is that it shows us what could have been, if we’d made other choices, caught that train, discovered that infidelity, met that man. But the film does something else – it subtly highlights all the places where we choose not to choose, where we do nothing. Where we let life pass us by without paying attention, without realizing it’s a moment that matters, without taking any action at all.

When I read stories from beginning writers, I notice that they’re full of these nothing-happens moments. Things that pass by, and the characters do nothing with them. Life happens to them. Choices are made by not choosing.

Yet choices – and the consequences of those choices—are one of the main reasons that people continue to read (and watch TV and movies). Will she or won’t she? What will she lose? What will she gain? Would she choose the same thing over if she could? Can she travel back in time and fix it all, or will her new choices make it worse?

It seems to me that the point of choosing your own adventure isn’t necessarily the adventure, good or bad. The point is the choosing. Taking action when faced with a dilemma, of walking onward when we come to the fork in the road, of weighing the consequences and picking the option that feels best for us at the very moment.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes. More than my share, probably. But I wouldn’t go back and unchoose any of them. Not even if I could. Because what I’ve ended up is an adventure of grief and heartbreak and joy and risk and orgasms and dry spells and love and laugher. What I’ve ended up with is a story.

And that’s worth far more to me than any number of second chances.


  1. Greetings, Shanna,

    A very warm welcome to the Grip. I will admit that I did a little squee when Kristina announced you were going to be our guest!

    Excellent post - how did you manage to keep track of all those pages? ;^) I agree that I really wouldn't undo any of my choices, though some turned out better than others.

    And I second your recommendation of the film - a great stimulus for late night conversations on the nature of time, reality and chance.


  2. Great post, Shanna!

    I think that regrets are not something to be avoided. They're an inevitable part of life, whether one chooses or doesn't, it seems.

  3. Thanks so very much all! I've had the CYOA stuff on my brain lately -- so it seemed like a great opportunity to play around with the idea.

    Thanks, too, to Kristina for inviting me!

    Best, s.

  4. What a thought-provoking, stylistically inventive, and psychologically rich exploration, Shanna. Beautiful.

    I often think about the goal of actively making choices—whatever those choices may be—rather than drifting into "default" options by declining to actively choose (or by neglecting even to recognize the existence of nondefault options).

  5. Heh... I'll just stay on page 7. ;)

    I think I spent a lot of my life believing that you don't get second chances. You make your choice, and you follow that path, and the first choice won't come round again. However, it turns out that is not always true.

  6. Thank you so much, Jeremy! I'm probably over-active on the decisions. Perhaps I would be better off defaulting more often :)

    Shar: That made me laugh. And, yes, it's funny how the opening as I wrote it ended being a closed loop, but I don't necessarily believe that's the truth. It seems like lots of people thinks it's a tree going from bottom to top -- you have all of these options and each choice you make narrows it down until you've only get the trunk to choose. But I kind of feel like it's the opposite -- you start with roots, all these options, it narrows eventually into the trunk (which feels optionless) and the tada! -- it branches out again into a million new options...

    And... I have no idea if that even makes sense, so I think I'll just throw one of Nikki's birds in the branches and quit while I'm ahead!

  7. I love the CYOA, Shanna! I cringe every time I hear someone say they have no regrets. Sometimes, when I'm down, I think about all the bad choices I've made in life (and love) and wish I could go back and do things much differently. But I realize that all those choices (good, bad or none) have made me who I am: a strong woman capable of learning from past mistakes and "choosing my own adventure" going forward.

    Happiness is fleeting; contentment is much richer, and comes from knowing you've made the best choices you could when faced with dilemmas, and will continue to do so until The Big End.

  8. Thank you for bringing up the 'not making a choice' option. In our stories, or characters make choices, but in real life? It's never clear that we had one, or should have made one. Lots to think about.

  9. Thank you both. I love The Big End -- such a great term.

    And, yes, sometimes I look back and go, "oh, right, I had a choice there," but in the midst of it, I really didn't think I did.

  10. Oh, I just found this essay on mistakes that I thought was interesting and relevant:


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