letter

Overcoming Expectations

Our daily expectations are those unconsidered expectations about daily life, like the fact that the sun will rise in the morning, that my morning coffee will be delicious and probably the highlight of my day, and the fact that I will sit in mind-numbing traffic for an hour as I attempt to drive 12 miles to work. These are the expectations that we take for granted, the things we expect due to the fact they have become such regular parts of our daily lives. Expectations like these make life boring, repetitive, and depressing.  It is simple brain reflex that causes the human mind to attempt to predict what is going to happen, whether you’re watching television, reading a book, or going to work for the ten thousandth day in a row. But how boring is it to know exactly what is going to happen all the time?

If everything always plays out exactly like you think it should, then you have in essence learned nothing new. It is through the serendipitous discovery of the unexpected that the human mind finds meaningful existence in this sad little hamster wheel known as life. My 6th grade science students are always required to make a hypothetical prediction before they start each lab experiment, and sometimes they get disappointed at the end if their hypothesis is not correct, like they have failed somehow. But I always tell them that if your hypothesis is correct you have learned nothing. It is only when the hypothesis doesn’t match expectations that we have actually discovered something new. I think that this is part of the reason most people find traveling to new places and cultures so invigorating. Everything is new and unexpected. Each today truly becomes a new day with endless possibility.

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But then there are more profound expectations, the long term plans we have for ourselves and the people we care about. The path we follow toward those expectations may be unexpected. My Grandma wrote me this letter (and many others also) when I was a “hopeless” surf bum living in my van. I surfed every day and worked as a room service waiter and bartender in Santa Cruz. It was by far the happiest time of my life. I had almost zero stress, and hours of free time to write and read every single day. Even living in a costly environment like Santa Cruz I had a very low overhead. A post office box, a storage unit, and my 1975 Chevy molester van with my surfboard and coffee pot felt like all I needed. Every couple weeks I would drive up or down the coast to hang out on some empty beach or campground for a couple days. I was rich in time but poor in money. In many respects I was the most successful person I knew.

But eventually the pull of more profound expectations made me question my own happiness. I wanted more money and more prestige, like these things would make me happier. I wanted people to not think of me as a dirty vagrant living in his van. I wanted a regular job with a regular paycheck. And as I returned to school and became more and more professionally successful, a little bit more of my happiness withered away. I transformed into what other people expected me to become, but it was never really what I expected for myself. It almost felt like I had given up, succumbed to the debilitating pull of my family’s expectations for me.

Now I work more hours and make more money than ever before, but the measure of my happiness seems to be inversely related to these factors. I have saved and scratched to buy a home only to find myself now more in debt than any other point of my life. Those paltry maxed out credit cards from my days living in my van feel like the good old days of financial stability.

I’m not sure why I saved this letter from my Grandma. I reflect on it sometimes to remember where I was and where I want to be, and remind myself that the path we follow to live up to our expectations is not always the path we expect. The letter used to make me angry, but now it makes me laugh. It’s not that I necessarily enjoy having the last laugh, but I think I will in this case, even if it means I am laughing at myself.


Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Great Expectations

(This was an unpublished post that I rewrote. It didn’t end up like I expected. They rarely do, and that’s a good thing.)

Sandals, Camera and Great Expectations (by Elizabeth Thomsen on Flickr)

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Letter to My Future Self

Greetings to me in the future.

I am writing this letter to relate a peculiar happening and also provide a reminder of the utmost importance to you.  The happening occurred fairly recently, and I am only relating it to you now because you play an integral role in its passage despite my current ignorance of the exact methodology. Of course you probably already know this, and if I think on this fact too deeply I find myself paralyzed by a logical fallacy deeper than my tiny brain can endure, so I must just continue on and not consider the implications of it all.

I was wandering along the beach (you no doubt remember the one) lost in many moments of deep contemplation, such as consideration of the number of sand grains on the shore, the exact hue of the ocean’s blue, and the seeming pointless existence that I appeared to be carving for myself through the passing of days. The general melancholy and malaise that had been filling my gut recently had started to take purchase in my physical body in the form of stressful headaches, near debilitating back pain, and a battery of sleepless nights. I had just finished my college education and felt no more prepared for life than the day it had started. My job was a tedious dead end of triviality, and left me each day with a sense that I had accomplished nothing but a continued trajectory carrying me one step closer to the grave. There never seemed to be enough money, enough time, or enough love in my life to allow me to even feign happiness.

As I was reveling in my self-induced circling of the drain, a strange elderly gentleman approached me. I tried to ignore him so I could concentrate on the existential dread that seemed to be so important at the time, but his insistence was difficult to avoid. His hair was grey and frizzed out in the style of Einstein, and he walked with a pronounced limp accentuated by the soft unevenness of the sand. He waved to me and I continued past him, so he turned and shuffled after me across the beach. It was only when he called out my complete name that I halted and provided my attention.

I asked him how he knew my name. He responded that despite the fact that I was not familiar with him he knew me well. I asked if he had been spying on me, and he responded that he had indeed, but from a distance greater than I could comprehend. I then asked him who he was, and he told me he was me from the future, that he had traversed the very fabric of time to provide me with an important message.

The rigors of doubt immediately flooded my mind. I wondered if was he crazy or dangerous, what mental institution he had escaped from, and whether the authorities should be alerted. Of course he was able to understand my skepticism since he had presumably experienced the same moment of doubt himself at one time. He told me that he knew I didn’t believe him, and that was understandable, and someday soon I would come to appreciate this peculiar rendezvous. He told me that he had one simple thing to tell me.

“Just keep writing.”

I am providing it in quotes so you will know what to say to me when the time comes. Indeed the words seem to reverberate through my head without end recently, a mantra that I am unable to forget even with my most determined effort. I decided at the time that even if the man was crazed the advice was indeed useful. I at that point still didn’t believe anything he had said except those three words, not that I felt inclined to act upon them immediately. He then told me that was all he wanted to say, and that he felt it important enough to travel back to this beach to provide me this message using some as of yet unimagined technology. He then turned and started walking away, leaving me in the confusion that had overtaken my conscious thought.

On a whim I asked him what had caused his limp. He turned to me and smiled, and told me it was a motorcycle accident. I found this to be the final straw of discredit to his claims, as I did not own nor had I ever ridden a motorcycle. He winked at me and repeated those three words to me again, Just Keep Writing, and then hobbled off down the beach in a lurch. And I continued on with my woeful meditations and general unease with the process of living for many years after the encounter, positive that it had been a short foray into an old man’s dementia. But just to be safe, I avoided every temptation to ride, touch, or in any way come into contact with all imaginable manner of motorized cycle.

It wasn’t until I was standing on a street corner many years later and witnessed a motorcycle run a red light, get struck by a truck and sent careening through the intersection into me and my now destroyed leg that I realized the true value and importance of the man’s visit.

And of course, after the accident, I sat in my wheelchair during my rehabilitation and started writing immediately.

You know what to do.

Sincerely,

A Man Transformed

DeLorean Time Machine (by Anime Nut)

Written for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Time Machine, and/or the DP Daily Prompt: If I Could Turn Back Time