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I’ve been feeling a bit directionless lately. Sure, overall, I’m happy - my work and family life are stable, I’m in reasonably good health. Still, I’ve been in a bit of a rut, unable to take the next leap. What can I do to kick-start things, to give myself the push forward I really need? Should I start meditating? A new exercise routine? Dig out The Artist’s Way again? Try a fad diet?

[puts hand over mouth, feigns different voice] What if you hired a life coach?

Ha! Who said that? Well, that’s certainly an interesting premise you’re setting up for me, whoever that was. But life coaches - real, certified ones - cost lots of money, and I’m just not in a position to do that right now.

No, I think I’m going to go where I always go when I need inspiration. A place of peace, serenity, and quiet contemplation:

The outlet malls.

Here, with a giant cookie in one hand and an Orange Julius in the other - here, amongst the kitchen gadgets and irregular activewear - here, I’ll find my new direction.

Why, hello there, what’s this?

Well, now, that cuts right to the point, doesn’t it? No hemming and hawing, none of my usual dithering. [wipes mouth, throws cookie wrapper in trash] I think you’re right, t-shirt. I’m going to start ‘moving it’ right this second!

[I start jogging through the mall]

This is terrific! I’ve got my heart pumping, blood flowing, a nice bre-[knocks over display of sunglasses] nice breeze blowing! My whole outlook is changing!

[after one quarter-mile lap of the complex, completely out of breath]

Well then! What an auspicious start. Heck, I should see if this oracle of commerce has any more messages I can build on!

Okay - boy, you’re really all about this, huh, no easing into the pool for me today, huh? You’re right, though. No rest for the weary. [claps hands] Back to it!

[two more laps of the mall, plus a couple sprints up and down a berm by the Culvers’]

[red-faced and huffing, I stumble back into the store] Wooooooooo

YES I WILL. [leans into t-shirt, whispers] Over who? Whom? Who. I never get that right. Oh well, you didn’t tell me to demand grammar. I demand victory instead!

Uh. Hmm. Wait! You there!

[startled fellow shopper looks up from rack of compression socks]

Race you to the sushi bar and back! [I take off running, trip over a display table, bang my head and black out]

“Sir. Sir, are you okay?”

Did he win?

“Did who win?”

My rival, the man in the “Life is good” shirt. Did he beat me to the sushi bar?

“Sir, if you’re okay then you need to get up and leave. Also, you’re paying for this t-shirt that you bled on.”

[I stumble out of the store, dabbing my forehead with the shirt I just paid $7.96 for]

Well, that was humbling. A real setback to my new beginning, and things were going so well there for a- wait, what’s this shirt even say?

YOU’RE DAMNED RIGHT, T-SHIRT, THIS ISN’T A SETBACK, THIS IS A TEACHABLE MOMENT. CHAMPIONS ARE FORGED IN THE FIRES OF DEFEAT. Besides, there are like, six discount activewear stores here, I can find more inspiration. [bursts through doors of next store] TEACH ME.

Yes! Core work. [I drop to floor, do nine crunches] And I am famished, all this stepping and moving and demanding and refusing really burned off that cookie. Proper nutrition is an important part of this new leaf I’m turning!

[an hour later, after pancakes]

Oh boy, self-promotion has always been hard for me, but, this is all about challenging myself then, isn’t it. [hopping up on bench] HELLO GATHERED SHOPPERS, I FEEL STRONGLY ABOUT MY GOALS AND AM WORKING ON MY SELF-ESTEEM. [glancing back at t-shirt] was that enough [t-shirt conveys the same message as before] okay okay you’re right AND IF Y’ALL DON’T LIKE IT, WELL, YOU CAN GO SOAK YOUR HEAD.

That felt good to get off my chest. What’s nex-

I just had brunch.

Is this a carb-loading thing? Runners do that. I’m skeptical of my need for it, but you’re the boss.

[two hours later, after Belgian waffles and a short nap behind the Denny’s dumpster]

I don’t feel well.

Oh, come on, now, this directly contradicts your previous message. I did have a dream just now, though. I was back in middle school, but also I think I was a penguin? Honestly, I think all of the extra breakfasts gave me weird dreams, but-

Can you be a little clearer on who I’m competing with? It doesn’t even have to be on the front, you could elaborate in smaller print on the back, because I feel like I’m getting a lot of broad directives without details or implementation strategies, and it’s starting to get a little frustra-

What? That doesn’t even make sense. I am definitely not hungry anymore. Why am I repeating? Do I need to disconnect from Wi-Fi each time I sleep? My phone will remember trusted networks, it should really be “wifi, pizza, sleep, repeat steps 2-3 as necessary”. I mean, I can concede that that’s bit too wordsy for a t-shirt, but-

But no, no, I’m right on this. The Wi-Fi shirt was bad, and I don’t want any pizza, and I’m not supposed to be sleeping anymore. Just dreaming.

I’m so tired.

I’m sick. I’m scared, and now I’m feeling more directionless than ever. If I could just get a clear, unambiguous message. Someone, give me a sign! What should I do?

[eyes go completely black] As you wish.

[days later, at my arraignment]

JUDGE: How do you plead to the charges before you today?

[I cock both thumbs and point them back at my shirt] Respectfully, your honor:

JUDGE: we’ll count that as guilty