The Tyranny of Choice
Can you learn to trust your gut?
Not even 20 hours into my 10 day trip to Istanbul, I twist my ankle. Airport. Hostel. Sleepless night. Breakfast. Sunscreen. Bam. Down she goes.
Marching confidently out of one of the most touristic parts of town, en route to a neighbourhood where secondhand clothing has been promised, (because somehow I ended up in Turkey without a headscarf—a mandatory item for women in religious spaces—and I refuse to spend over half a day’s budget on a scarf at one of the tourist shops closest to the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia), my right foot catches the edge of a sidewalk and buckles underneath me. I topple over.
A local man rushes to my side, urging me not to move just yet, as a second man watches nearby then strides over as soon as he sees me struggling to maintain composure. The two of them hover close as I sit on the curb in pain, collecting myself and assessing the situation. While there is no mangled or buckled pavement to blame—the gap between the sidewalk and the road can’t be more than two inches—I can already tell that I won’t be walking anywhere fast, anytime soon.
The second man offers his hand and I let him guide me up and into his restaurant just a few paces from where I’ve tumbled. It is a small, open air, hole-in-the-wall sports bar with neon signs and football (soccer) flags covering every inch of the ceiling and walls. The space is, appropriately and of course, garnished with one and only one patron—an older fellow with a gruff beard, drinking pre-noon beers and chain smoking.
As I process the gleaming colours and the tantalizing allure of cigarette smoke, the man who helped me inside, presumably the owner of this place, directs me to sit down. I comply and as I do, he thrusts a glass bottle in front of me. It takes me a moment to understand—it’s sanitizer, because I fell on the street. I open my palms and accept the offering. He nods and then asks if he can make me a coffee or tea.
I consider. “Coffee,” I reply.
“With milk? Americano?”
“Oh. Um. Whatever you think is best.”
He pauses, if only slightly, and then disappears behind an espresso machine. I unzip my boot and cradle my swelling foot in my hands. This is not the first (or even fifth) time I’ve twisted my right ankle—it has been my most problematic body part, with significant stints on crutches in both childhood and adulthood—but this is the first time I am down and out on vacation. Weirdly though, while I do feel pain, I don’t feel upset.
The kind man and probable bar owner places a foamy latte in front of me and I sigh a “thank you so much,” freeing one hand from my aching appendage to lift the cup and drink from it. Real milk. Just the right amount of foam.
Taxis and trams and people pass by outside. Today is not turning out quite like I planned it to be.
Correction: This is not a vacation. Qualification: I went to Las Vegas for a bachelorette party three weeks after I hurt my ankle so badly I ended on crutches for three months but I was too slow on the crutches to keep up with everyone so the hotel gave me a wheelchair and my dear, sweet friends rolled me around, from brunch to cocktails to tossing me into the deep end of the pool.
For about half an hour I sat there, nursing my latte and waiting for the smarting shock to subside. Once it did, the bar owner and his co-worker convinced me to take a tram instead of a taxi (too expensive) and the co-worker walked me over and even paid my fare (as I didn’t have a tram card). And now, here I am, two tram stops and a slow hobble down the pathway between two hulking, giant mosques later, writing to you from my hostel’s rooftop terrace, ice on ankle, in mild to medium pain, wondering if I brought this situation upon myself.
The human mind is predisposed from early childhood to assume object permanence, to assume that objects have shapes and positions in space even when the objects and space are unperceived. It is reasonable to ask whether this assumption is a genuine insight into the nature of objective reality, or simply a habit that is perhaps useful but not necessarily insightful.
- Hoffman and Prakash (2014). Objects of Consciousness. Frontiers of Psychology
Did some part of me want this? Is my subconscious forcing me to sit still? After all I kept saying, to anyone who would listen, “I’ll be working the whole trip. I have a lot of writing to do.” And I mean(t) it, too. I plan to write diligently, throughout my whole time abroad. But, really, my first day?! Was I actually supposed to sit down and work before I’d spent even just a few hours sightseeing?
Before I got on the plane I decided that I would stay in Istanbul for the entire duration of my time in Turkey. As much as I’d love to pop over to Cappadocia for a hot air balloon ride or travel down to Ephesus to visit the ruins, when I looked at my budget and considered the amount of writing I’d like to get done, I knew I had to stay put. While I understood it would be a decision I could come to regret later (“What did you mean you went all the way to Turkey and didn’t visit such and such a place?”), Istanbul itself is, without a doubt, more than expansive and immersive enough to be worth a 13 hour plane trip.
So, I told my mind that the decision was simple. No fixating or fretting. Acceptance with the choice I made. Easy. Except I only booked accommodation for the first six nights. Just in case.
Booking accommodation in one place should have been a simpler task than choosing to stay in one place, but, perhaps because it is a slower time of year, as I went to pick a place, I found dozens upon dozens of hostels and guesthouses to select from.
The first hostel I booked, and I must have been half asleep when I did it because later when I scoped out its location on Google Maps I was confronted by the most horrific reviews, was a bust. Shoot. Okay, but no problem—I rarely book accommodation unless it’s free to cancel, so cancel I did.
The second spot I picked seemed perfect: $14 (Canadian!) a night, breakfast included, and plenty of great reviews. So, when they emailed me a few days later to say that they had to cancel the booking due to last minute renovations, I was bummed out.
As I sat down at my computer to select my third, and hopefully final, Istanbul resting place, I started stressing out. There were too many choices. Did I want to stay on the European side or the Asian side? In a touristic area or out of the way? Was I willing to pay more? How much more? What about the privacy curtains that go around the hostel beds, did I need one of those? Was free breakfast a non-negotiable or could I go without? Did the hostel have a good space to work, somewhere I could take meetings? Was there a social atmosphere, a place I could make new friends?
As I scrolled and scrolled and hemmed and hawed, I finally stopped and got decided to quiet. I closed my eyes, took deep breath, pictured my body grounded, rooted and tethered to the Earth, and asked myself, “What do you really want?”
With each breath slower than the one before, my mind calmed. What vision was I holding? What did my heart truly want? What did my gut have to say? And then it came through: I wanted to stay right in the heart of things and, most importantly, I wanted somewhere with a view.
Thank you for reading and please! dear family and friends, don’t worry about me :) After an afternoon of icing and rest, my ankle is feeling much better. I will rest again tomorrow and I expect to be perfectly (or at least sufficiently) mobile by Friday—but I do vow to write, at the very, very, very least, one hour per day *before* sightseeing, in order to not to tempt the fates.
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I love Istanbul and traveled there alone also. It is magnificent and the people are lovely. While people advised against a woman traveling alone, I did so and never regretted it. The food, the experiences, the amazing history and buildings, all of it, are precious memories. Unfortunately though, I do not find the scent of cigarettes alluring, quite the opposite. And for that reason I've never returned. I love my memories and your sharing of your trip is deeply appreciated!
Enjoy your travels .. and give your ankle the rest it needs! xo