Friday, June 4, 2010


Every time you pick up a novel, whether it is from an old literary friend, a young writer whose face and voice have not been completely weathered yet, or a writer previously unknown, you also lift up a series of expectations.

One such expectation is that you will be seized by the collar, lifted, then transported to a landscape where everything in it and all things within its purview will dispense meaning, insight, and nuance as the syrup dispensers do at International House of Pancakes. Another expectation of this novel calls for your immediate care and concern for the individuals who populate it, the stratagems by which they will conduct their lives in pursuit of the solutions to the obstacles Reality has placed in their way, and the meanings they will extract from the problems that beset them.

Perhaps most demanding of all expectations, you expect from this novel transformative energy and insight of sufficient magnitude to change your life in ways that will cause you to feel, think, and behave with more focus.

If this were not significant enough a burden, you extend the power you afford these expectations to those you associate with love, looking for the signs of transportation and transformation you associate with novels to apply there as well. Thus in your relationship with friends, colleagues, students, lovers, animal friends, you seek and to a large measure find in them an entity you can identify as a transformative force, one you can carry with you in your own times of woe and weal.

The nature of expectations is to outweigh their consequences, to distract us in our step-by-step process by which we seek to excel at the things we do, certainly not for pride but rather for the enhanced satisfaction of pursuing selfhood as though it were a draft of our best novel or short story to date. Being thus engaged and focused, you reckon will not make dying any easier than it ought to be but will make life more a continuous feast to be shared with any who are in the vicinity.

It is arguable that expectations invariably lead to disappointment, just as the idea in one's forge of process can never be equaled by its execution. Some musicians you know of may have achieved this goal: Mozart comes to mind; so does Ravel. Gershwin? Yep. Bach? Of course. But writers? Well, read on, and write on.

Also arguable is the notion that removal of expectation makes us, somewhat the samurai of old, and the likes of the Buddhist monks more open to something more valuable even than expectations, which is to say opportunity. You admire the prospect of opportunity, at this stage in your life being at the point of having expectations of encountering them. Through work, which is another occasion for a definition: Work is the engagement of listening to the senses, hearing them, seeing them, tasting them, rearranging the furniture if they do not all fit comfortably in the room we have, which is the body we were born into and the edifice it has become. Work is living and loving. And writing about them.

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