• Melinda

The Hurt we Choose

So my best friend Amanda hurt herself on a skateboard in college and I think it was sort of a teaching moment, even though I didn't know it at the time.


Funny thing is, she didn't fall off. She jumped off.


Image via Lukas Bato on Unsplash


Amanda was learning to skateboard. She was getting the hang of it and was gliding down a sidewalk when she began gaining speed. We know this feeling. In fact, I am willing to bet a few of you reading this (well, there's probably actually only a few total, but I digress) are releasing the stress chemical cortisol in just imagining going down a hill on a skateboard. I know I am! Anyway, at some point she decided she was just going too fast and she jumped off. She burned her arm pretty bad on the sidewalk but didn't break anything.


So who cares?


I do. I think about her jump from time to time. I think about the calculation that she went through in her mind. There were essentially two possible outcomes, had she stayed on that board. 1. She makes it to the bottom of the hill unscathed. 2. She falls and hurts herself. Of course there are other, less probable outcomes, but we'll stick with the two likely scenarios. I'm going to assign these possibilities the labels of success and failure, respectively.


On the surface, it seems silly. Why jump and basically force a failure when she had a 50/50 shot at success? I'd argue because the weight of the outcomes were not actually equal. Statistically, she may have had a 50/50 chance of success, but what if one of the outcomes is so scary that it changes the weight of the ratio. For example, you might only have a 1 in a thousand risk of dying while skydiving (I completely made this up), but for many people, that is so scary that it outweighs the very high statistical probability of success.


I think my friend Amanda was so scared of falling that she forced a fall.


You might be saying, "hey, um, Melinda? Are you listening to yourself?"


I'd say, "no way, who wants to listen to that shit?"


Then you'd say, "so how is forcing a fall any different from falling by chance?"


And I'd argue that the monster we know is a hell of a lot less scary than the monster we don't. When we control our own fate, we can take a lot more pain than when it comes by surprise. Amanda was grabbing the bull by the horns and saying "jumping off a speeding skateboard will hurt, but I'd rather do that then fall by fate's hand." Just think of how powerful this mental calculation is. She was giving up a perfectly good chance at landing safely in favor of certain injury.


I think of this now as I am submitting my new sci-fi story to legitimate magazines. This story is probably the most important story in the world to me, of the ones I've written. I believe in it. It's gone through two editors and many friends and I've gotten lots of very positive feedback. More importantly, it represents the absolute best I can do at this point in my writing career. It's with Asimov's now.


But part of me wants to withdraw the submission.


"Whaaaa?" you ask?


"That's not even a word," I say.


"B- b- but, Melinda," you continue, unconcerned with your own grammar, "Asimov's is your dream. And you've submitted a kick-ass story. Why on earth would you jump off the skateboard now? What would you have to lose by waiting for their answer?"


I'd say you're right. It's completely ridiculous. And no, I'm not going to pull the submission. But part of me really wants to. I suppose the prospect of getting rejected from my dream magazine when my story is the best I can possibly do feels like a sort of end of a road. I know it isn't. I will write fiction as long as I live. But it just sounds like it would hurt. Instead, what if I just controlled the fall and jumped off?


Here's why I will not:

  1. I am a scientist, so I am trained to fail. I am not afraid of "no" because I've heard it in every single experiment I've ever conducted in the lab. This has hardened my skin and taught me that "no" simply means "try again, differently."

  2. A rejection by Asimov's for this story would mean it's not right for them right now. It would not mean I can never succeed or even that the story is sub-par. With acceptance rates hovering around just 1% of submissions, I'm sure they have to reject a lot of really great stories!

  3. I am stubborn. And too prideful to quit.

  4. Most importantly, WHAT IF I GET INTO ASIMOV'S? The prospect of success, even if it's so tiny I need a microscope to see it, is just too good to run away from.

So there you have it. Sometimes it's good to bail and sometimes it's not. And sometimes, neither option sounds great so you do nothing and let fate decide for you. I'll have my name in Asimov's some day. It may not be with this story, but it'll be there.


How about you? Have you ever jumped off the skateboard?


Much love,

Your Average Neuroscientist, Melinda

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