Thursday, May 27, 2010

Beware Expectations

As a child, you had your dreams.  The nature of those dreams was ephemeral and unstable; in the same day, I saw myself as a princess, Batgirl, and Annie Oakley.  None of these dreams seemed at odds with each other.

As you grow older, though, you develop a really harsh new perspective.  Sometimes things you only dreamed about as a little kid -- happened.  Maybe you thought it would be really cool to go to a water park for the first time ever.  Then you went.  It was a forest of water slides with a lazy river running through it.  It was a new fantasy world of frozen lemonade, cocoa butter, and towels slung over plastic lounge chairs.

The next summer you're told you're going to a new water park, a different water park.  This causes some severe excitement, because a part of your brain expects the same thing that happened the last time; you expect the turnstiles and the waving costumed characters, the wave pool and the kamikaze slide.  On the drive there, you start to notice the difference between that experience and this one.  For me, that didn't release the expectation, though.  Instead, I grew concerned and felt the expectation for the same joy I felt last time back up in my brain.  By the time we entered the park, the expectation was so backed up it caused anxiety.  I was in a mad rush to have just as much fun in this new environment as I had last year.  --Which, of course, made it sheer awful.

I couldn't appreciate the new park for the new things it offered.  I couldn't see the kiddie pool, the all-natural, river-fed water, or the cute German feel of the place.  I sulked over the fact that I was too young to try the surf wave.  I missed the waving costumed characters and rejected the fact that the bratwurst tasted much better than the generic hot dogs I craved.

I wish I could say that experience taught me something about expectations, but it didn't.  I'm trapped in the old pattern of having accomplished or experienced something once, then carrying that blueprint around in my head as an expectation for all future encounters.  Even if the experience I had before was bad, I find myself prejudiced against ever going through that hell again.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because I discovered last night that I'm not properly enjoying the thrill of being a published author, like I should.  I'm not feeling the joy of being able to share a story that was born in some deep, subconscious chamber of my heart.  I don't have any thrill over the opportunity to see my name in print on the spine of a book, to hold it in my hands, and, if I'm lucky, to see it on the shelf of a bookstore.  Instead, I'm slave to my expectations, and they're ruining everything.

Where did these expectations come from?  Oh, well, when a girl like me grows up, it becomes very possible for those idle dreams to become obsessive expectations.  I dreamed that I could be a writer.  In high school, I dreamed I could finish writing one book.  In college, I dreamed an agent would discover me out of the blue and offer me representation.  From there, my dreams became ever-more elaborate and unrealistic.  Matching the reality -- gratifying as it by rights should be -- with my expectations is turning into the hardest lesson of my life.

I'm working on it, though.  These are the times that try my soul.  This is my Crucible.  If I can make it over this particularly aggressive deflation of my ambitious ego, I'll be in the clear.

Then -- watch out.  :)


  1. You are still my hero. The first person I know personally--have hugged and kissed and SQUEEE'd with--that has an ISBN. I own your e-book girl, and I'ma goin' own yo' print book.

    If your expectations continue to plague you with disappointment, just let me know. Me 'n' them? We're gonna have some words...

    - Liz

  2. This is an amazing post, MJ. It took me way to long to figure this particular truth out myself, and I still find myself forgetting now and then.

    What a black hole expectation is! It's a Jabberwocky with claws that catch and jaws that snap, a joy-sucking beast in need of a good vorpal blade snicker-snacking. Goals and dreams are good for direction and momentum, but never as standards of happiness.

    'Are we there yet?' and 'Is that IT?' are signs that I'm too caught up in arriving to enjoy the ride. And I want to enjoy the ride. It's 99.9% of the journey, after all.

  3. For me, there is joy and bliss in the action and journey of writing:

    *in the click-clack of the keys on the keyboard
    *in the exchange of ideas with others
    *in the race to get my thoughts down "on paper" or onto the screen in front of me

    Seeing my name in print . . . not a happiness booster for me.

    I've added three books with my name in them to my bookcase in the past year.

    With each, I glanced at my printed words, nodded that my name had been spelled correctly, and turned back to my keyboard to enjoy the joyour journey of writing.

    Life . . . a journey, not a destination. Enjoy!