Through my years of blogging, I have tried to get various recurring post series going, with minimal success. And by that, I mean that I have had little success in staying organized enough to keep such series going. I’m not going to attempt to start another one, but if I did, I’d be tempted to try an “articles of note” round-up; I love reading them on other blogs. However, I am going to do a one-off (for now! Not committing but also not not-committing!) because I recently read a couple of fantastic articles and, despite making a mental note to share them (organically, as it were) in a style post at the earliest opportunity, I just haven’t managed to do it yet.

Fair warning to you all: neither is precisely about personal style, but both are great reads well worth the time investment in my opinion. I also think that both could be the springboard for some interesting discussion … and you guys know how much I love a good discussion.

First up, The Fashion Law (which is quickly becoming one of my daily reads) recently ran a series on “The 24 Anti-Laws of Marketing” (part 1 / part 2). It focused on the marketing strategies employed by luxury brands to maintain their cachet, most of which run entirely counter to typical fashion industry strategy. The book Bargain Fever touched briefly on some of these different techniques in one of its chapters, but the TFL articles are much more in-depth and specific.

I found them fascinating because I am endlessly fascinated by the luxury industry, and the reaction of different people (myself included) to their products. Growing up poor, I always saw myself as an outsider to the fashion industry, especially the luxury market, and that self-perception has persisted despite the changing circumstances of my life. I love beautiful things, so I am very vulnerable to the lure of luxury, whose products are often (though definitely not always) very beautiful even when not practical. Case in point – and I could point to many:

Gucci via Lyst
Gucci via Lyst
This dress is like a work of art, quite apart from its label. But I am also cognizant that the label is not without an impact on my appreciation of the dress, even though I like to think of myself as a fairly savvy consumer. Recognizing my own vulnerability, I find it intriguing to read about how luxury labels craft their image and manipulate the impact on consumers. Coincidentally, having recently read Propaganda by Edward Bernays, I am more interested than ever in examining the masses of messaging we consume daily, from all sources. If anyone has recommendations for other books on this general topic, I am all ears.

Second, I randomly came across a 2011 advice column from The Rumpus, wherein the blogger was replying to a reader who asked how he could decide if he should or should not have kids. The resulting post is a must-read for anyone contemplating the same question (and deeply resonates with me now, 6 years after I answered that question for myself), but I think it has broader relevance. You guys should definitely read the whole post, but here is the excerpt that encapsulates its message beautifully, and which goes straight to my heart:

 “I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

Chance are, if you’re like me, that just hit you like a metaphorical train. I have spent a good chunk of my life thinking about my ghost ship(s), without ever being able to put their existence and meaning into words quite as perfectly. I love my life, and would not change a single moment of my past (even the really, truly shitty ones) because each one was a link in the chain that guided me through the labyrinth of choices to this present moment … but I have still wrestled, too many times, with my “what ifs” – never quite knowing what to call the feeling they evoked, what it meant, and what to do about it.

Take the decision to have children, for example; I knew, without question (though, in fact, I never asked myself the question point blank, and sort of just stumbled towards the answer like a person left blindfolded in a dark room), that I would regret not having children. But I also often wondered, sometimes regretfully, about what my life without children would have been like. As I have sailed on through my life as a parent, those thoughts are growing ever more distant. The same is not necessarily true of other life choices; there, the wondering still visits me – like a ghost ship – every so often. Somehow, the thought that all I need to do is wave and watch it pass on, is deeply reassuring.

If you’re feeling in a confiding mood, here’s my question for you: how you deal with your ghosts ships or, more generally, with making difficult choices in the first place?

17 Comments on What I Read: Two Articles of Note

  1. I see the ghost ship of my life as being living the gospel of Jesus Christ or not. As an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I look at the world from a conservative strict moral island. Those who don’t have the blessings and peace that come from keeping the commandments as found in the Holy Bible and and from modern prophets seem to be adrift in an every muddy changing stream. There are consequences of choice. The ‘what ifs’. Sure bad things happen to good people. My first husband died at age 37 from a brain tumor, before that it took 10 years of trying to have my babies. But having made eternal covenants with the Lord and each other we knew that this life was just a testing ground and good will overcome; all will be right in the end. Endure it well and receive. I still have daily challenges to live and learn from. I like the idea of waving from the shore at the sister lives we might have had.

    • Thank you for sharing! I love the different perspectives that readers bring to the blog, which is why I love doing posts like these (and reading all your comments).

  2. Thinking about my ghost ships always makes me anxious. For me, making decisions involves heavy research and preparation beforehand, that way I can feel as confident as possible about my choice. Even with all the research, pro and con lists, I find myself constantly questioning if I made/am making the right decision, whether it is something as small as purchasing a piece of clothing to bigger things like where my husband and I should move in the next year as we are looking to start a family. To deal with this anxiety, I make a conscious effort to not think too much about the past EVER, whether my feelings are positive or negative about it. Once a decision is made, it’s made, and I try not to look back. Have you ever met a person who lives entirely in the present? They do not worry too much about the future and don’t question the past and seem to me to be the happiest people around. I strive to be like that.

    p.s. Thanks for the links to ‘The 24 Anti-Laws of Marketing,’ what a fascinating read!

    • I don’t feel much anxiety about past decisions, but I definitely feel it about current/future ones. Daniel Gilbert wrote a great book on Happiness (which I think I’ve mentioned before on the blog), in which he makes a case for the proposition that people are sh*t at predicting their own future happiness, while at the same time having the capacity to adjust to almost any situation. So I just try to remind myself of that every time I worry about whether I’m making the right decision or not.

  3. My ghost ship has to do with my earlier university education and where I could be had I known more of what I wanted to study. Yet, I try not to hold on those too much because I love my life and where I am in life.

    I wouldn’t change much in my life and I tend to go into decisions head first and think or react with my “gut”. I don’t think things out too much because I’ll convince myself I don’t want it. If I just go for it, at least I can say I tried and saw the results instead of not trying and wondering what the results could have been

  4. My Ghost ship would have to be not going to medical school when I had the chance. I don’t regret not going because then my life would be different and I love my life right now and what I have experienced since making the decision not to go has been wonderful and I would not change it for the world. I just wonder sometimes if it could have still been as wonderful with a medical degree under my belt. Thanks for the thought provoking post, love your blog and always look forward to what you have to say and share. Cheers, Michele

    • I think there can be benefit at times in thinking about ghost ships because it can make us question whether there are changes that can be made in one’s current life to bring more personal satisfaction. For example, I always regretted not pursuing my love of writing in a more meaningful way. So, last year, I decided to do just that … even though my current life is not that of a writer, and never will be. Writing my first (and second, and third) book(s) enriched my current life, without fundamentally changing its course.

      Of course, the key is not to get completely derailed by those ghost ships (or regrets). My two cents, of course.

  5. Thank you for the link to The Fashion Law – really interesting reading! That Dana Thomas Book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost it’s Luster, touches on some related topics. It’s a strange book, and my memory of it is hazy now, though I remember that the only brand she really specifically described as being truly “luxury” in terms of craftsmanship somewhat matching up with brand allure and price (not a focus of the book, but something that came up) was Hermes. I read the book at the same time as I was reading that Elizabeth Cline book about Fast Fashion and I think both books concluded that even a lot of higher end brands are cutting costs and trying to produce things cheaply, so a lot of brands aren’t worth full retail.

    As someone who is so not the target audience/not someone who can really buy “luxury” and comes from very middle class roots, I also remember there being a bit of a snobby undertone to the Thomas particular book. I remember that she sort of venerates the “good old days” when luxury more consistently denoted good craftsmanship and was less accessible to the general public.

    As for my own ghost ships, I actually don’t have many serious ones. I sometimes daydream about financial roads not taken in terms of what I was doing before law school and also sometimes daydream about how things could have turned out if I had worked harder in high school and undergrad, but in actuality I think I’d be in largely the same place now even if I had all those things. I’ve been putting off the really big life choices, like whether to have children, and I may continue to do so for quite a while longer!

    • Luxury is a strange beast, for sure. Reading Thomas’ book, I definitely found myself nodding along with her implicit approval of the “good old days”, only to realize that a return to those days would mean no longer having access to any of those things. So in principle I’m all for the craftsmanship of old, but in practice I’m also a fan of the democratization of fashion … which has a dark side as well (fast fashion). It’s a complex topic, for sure.

      Most of my old ghost ships have long sailed on (in the sense that I no longer feel tethered to them by “what ifs”) but I still struggle with future ones, if that makes sense — ghost ships of decisions that haven’t launched yet. Like, do I choose this career path, or that one? I’m at an age where I have to stop thinking in terms of “when I grow up …” because I am there already. But it’s a difficult perspective shift to manage.

  6. How fortuitous. My husband and I are standing on the dock right now, trying to decide which ship to board. Our decision isn’t about children, its about moving. I think I know the right decision, that will make us happier in the long run, but I burst into tears every time I think of giving up on the other option. The romantic notion of thinking of it as a ghost ship, that I can wave at from time to time, actually makes me feel better.

    • I have been in your shoes (standing on the dock, looking at two equally impressive ships) a few times. hugs! In my experience, as I alluded to in other comments, the ship you choose will most likely take you to adventures you never imagined beforehand, but won’t be able to imagine NOT having afterwards. That thought won’t make THIS moment less bittersweet, but I hope it will give you some comfort. I have always found that idea comforting … as is this other idea of being able to wave (and, thus, acknowledge) the other ship as it sails by. Good luck!

  7. What a great post! I just realized I don’t really ever wonder what my life would have been like if I made other choices. But I definitely wonder about it in a future oriented sense. I think the big one is career wise. I’m currently a therapist but always wonder about switching to another career. And a second issue is lifestyle wise, I guess you could call it. I live in the city right now but have always daydreamed about living a very rural life. I think it will happen in the future though, so the ship has not sailed yet 🙂

  8. My personality (9 on the enneagram for anyone who’s familiar) tends to look for the good in whatever situation I’m in and do almost no second-guessing re: past decisions because it makes me dissatisfied in a way I can’t do anything about. That being said, I find myself totally ghost shipping the future about whether/when to have a second child. It doesn’t feel right yet but I keep wondering whether delaying will make for a hard-to-bridge gap in age or make it harder on my spouse (who is older).
    Great post. I love that you decided to incorporate one of your ghost ships (writing) into your current life. And such cut-to-the-heart-of-it writing by Cheryl Strayed as usual!

    • I always knew I wanted a second child, yet I postponed the actual decision for years in the name of my career. Even though I did not accomplish professionally what I was hoping for, one day I just started feeling that my life and our family were not complete without the second child. Nothing else felt quite right anymore. I remember feeling the same thing before my first child as well. Our pleasant, comfortable life suddenly feeling incomplete without that child. So yes, we took the plunge and now we have an 9-month old baby next to his 9-year old sibling. It’s a big gap and we are not young, and I admit first few months with a baby were hard, but I could not imagine our life any other way. I like to think that our babies are waiting for us to bring them to this world and they let us know when they are ready to come. I hope you will get to experience the same certainty I had.