I was on a flight home from London today after an amazing week in Europe. Despite my cosmopolitan nature, I must sheepishly admit this was my first time visiting London and Paris (as a Domme I was always under too much responsibility to take any vacation other than holidays with my family and my yearly pilgrimage to Las Vegas), and it really opened my eyes about what sort of things are out there in the world, ready to be at our fingertips, if we just know how to find and embrace them.
I packed a book for the plane ride -- a book that I had bought two years ago but hadn't had the opportunity to start -- and began reading it on the flight today. Sometimes it's funny what fate puts in your hands at the right moments. The narrative took place in Paris, by all the streets and monuments I'd just visited.
And then I came upon this passage:
I went to a train station today and learned that the distance between railway tracks is always 143.5 centimeters, or 4 feet 8 1/2 inches. Why this absurd measurement? I asked my girlfriend to find out and this is what she discovered. When they built the first train carriages, they used the same tools as they had for building horse-drawn carriages. And why that distance between the wheels on carriages? Because that was the width of the old roads along which the carriages had to travel. And who decided that roads should be that width? Well, suddenly, we are plunged back into the distant past. It was the Romans, the first great road builders, who decided to make their roads that width. And why? Because their war chariots were pulled by two horses, and when placed side by side, the horses they used at the time took up 143.5 centimeters.
So the distance between the tracks I saw today, used by our state-of-the-art high speed trains, was determined by the Romans. When people went to the United States and started building railways there, it didn't occur to them to change the width and so it stayed as it was. This even affected the building of space shuttles. American engineers thought the fuel tanks should be wider, but the tanks were built in Utah and had to be transported by train to the Space Center in Florida, and the tunnels couldn't take anything wider. And so they had to accept the measurement that the Romans had decided was the ideal -- 143.5 centimeters apart.
--Paulo Coelho, The Zahir
I had given some thought recently as to how many of our decisions are made based upon false or outdated information. We do this a lot as children, since our knowledge of the world is so limited. I remember as a little girl, probably no more than three years old, I was deathly afraid of loud noises (I still am, to some extent, even though I recognize that a loud noise does not necessarily signal a threat), and one day I went to use a use a public restroom with a toilet that had a black lid, and the flush it made was so loud that it frightened me to the point where I swore I'd never use a toilet with a black lid again. In my little brain, Black Lid = Loud Noise = Scary and To Be Avoided At All Costs. It got to the point where if I went to a public restroom that had toilets with black lids, I actually checked every stall to see if there was one with a white lid instead. Of course, the day came when I was in a restroom where all the lids were black, and I had to confront my fear. When the toilet didn't make the loud noise, I was shocked. Clearly my information had been wrong.
Similarly, when I was very young I begged my mom to let me have Count Chocula cereal from the grocery store one day, only to hear her reply, "Absolutely not, that stuff is all sugar -- you should never eat that." Right after college I was given an assistant teaching position at a prestigious arts program where the students and teachers lived on campus and dined at the campus dining halls each day, and it was probably at least midway into the second week there when I realized that at 21 years old I was free to partake of the Count Chocula served at the breakfast cereal bar. For at least the first several days, it didn't occur to me that I was subconsciously skipping over it because my brain was making a decision based on outdated information.
I'll give you another more recent example. When I was a teenager, I suffered from moderate (but tragic) breakouts on my skin, until the day my parents bought me the Proactiv skincare regimen, which I used until I was about 23, at which time I continued to break out and was convinced I needed a stronger product. When several months ago I went for my first professional facial, the skincare analyst asked me which products I used. "Well, I use an acne-preventive foaming cleanser, a fruit acid exfoliant, a gel-based exfoliant, several clay masks, and a sulfur spot treatment." She looked at me and said, "You know you have dry skin, right? You're breaking out because you're using harsh products. Throw everything out, wash your face with warm water, and moisturize twice a day." I did as she instructed and a week later my friends were asking me why my skin looked so healthy. I had been choosing my skincare regimen based on the skin I had when I was 15.
How much of this do we do in our daily lives today? More than we are able to admit, I fear. How many of our insecurities come from things people told us when we were adolescents? How many formerly fat people act as if they still carry those extra pounds? How many of us feel obliged to work in the field in which we got our college degree; namely, a decision we made based on what we felt was best for us when we were the tender age of 18?
(Speaking of making decisions based upon false information, no joke, my boyfriend just came into the bedroom where I am typing on my laptop and told me that the most-viewed television show in Korean history was the first episode of the Happy Days spinoff, Joanie Loves Chachi. Why? In Korean, "chachi" means penis. Stellar example.)
I made a decision when I was 18 that I wanted to live in New York, and so I followed through with that and have lived here ever since. The trouble is that the world changes, and my city has changed remarkably in the past nine years. Furthermore, my country has changed remarkably in the last nine years. Nor was I aware of other options when I was 18. Being exposed to London and Paris this week made me really confront my decision -- am I living where I live solely out of habit? Based on limited and outdated information which I viewed through my limited filter at 18 years old?
Of course, like the proverbial potato chip, you can't ask just one of these questions. What other decisions am I making based on false or outdated information? Am I truly happy with the path I've carved in life? Am I a writer because it was fathomable to transition from being a playwright, which was an easy transition to make from being an actress? If the world were a blank canvas before me, if I were to disregard the entire past up to the present moment, what would I do?
At this point you may be asking, But Arden, what does this have to do with seduction? Well, quite a bit, actually, since we make judgments in our romantic lives all the time based on past information. We put together our ideal partner based on what kind of person we think will suit us best, ruling out other types with whom maybe we've had a bad experience in the past -- we make hasty decisions on potential suitors based on things like culture, economic background, age, appearance... assuming that ruling out all the types who may be bad apples will leave us with a good one in the end. Of course, assuming all men who fit a certain category will give you the same results is pretty much the same as assuming that all toilets with black lids are going to make a scary noise at you.
Even more importantly, seduction is about the life you create being able to compel those around you. You therefore must, must, must be in control of that life and must not be afraid to question it in every moment. If you are doing something merely because it's what you've been doing for as long as you remember, ask yourself if it's what you really want, or if you've merely built your train tracks in the way that they've always been built.