Unfolding the Map
We're tired, hungry and thinking that we are lost with William Least Heat-Moon, and hoping to find a place to stop in Viola. Boy, are we going to be disappointed, but that disappointment is going to make for some more reflection in this blog post. Be sure to click on the thumbnail to the right to find Viola on the map.
"Travelers are supposed to ask directions, but I believed, as usual, that I could find the way. Encouraged by a sign pointing to Viola, I tried another road. I had only to follow. Sunset vanished as the pavement again went into the woods; it narrowed progressively to a pair of wet troughs, and pine boughs screeched against Ghost Dancing. Having backed away from two roads already that day, I wasn't retreating again...If a tree lay across the trail, I'd be locked in this blackness - this home of Sasquatch - for the night...Why did I get into things like this? I wasn't going to get to Viola - give up on that. Maybe I wasn't even going to escape the woods unless I walked out.
"But things got no worse...Ten minutes later, I reached what must have been Viola, a few darkened houses. (Note to mapmakers: without a gas station, cafe, water tower, and stoplight, you don't have a town.)"
Blue Highways: Part 5, Chapter 11
When the realization of a goal doesn't quite live up to expectations, it can certainly be a letdown.
LHM, tired from being on the road and just wanting to find a place to settle down, has his hopes set on Viola. After all, the map says that there is a town there. Certainly there has to be a motel or a campground or someplace where he can park, get a bite to eat, and go to sleep for the night. He is traversing on back roads, and in the darkness he's worried he won't make it through. He even mentions Sasquatch as a fear lurking out there somewhere in the blackness.
I can relate to the Sasquatch fear. Back in my youth, when my family used to go out to a piece of property we own in the Northern California wilderness to camp for weekends, at night after the generator ran out of gas, the forest would be strangely quiet for just a moment after the loud motor shut off, and then a cacophany of crickets and other insects would break out, as if they had only been waiting for the generator to stop so that they could get their voices in. Sometime in the night, occasionally the crickets would go quiet for some moments, and in my imagination, something large lurking about in the darkness was to blame. I imagined Sasquatch, or Bigfoot as I knew him from TV and various reading materials, was watching me in my sleeping bag out there, waiting for an opportune moment to grab me. It didn't even have to be night for me to be scared. In the dusk, when the trees went from green to gray, I often imagined seeing a large figure moving about just beyond my vision. Even in the daytime, a glimpse of something out of the corner of my eye in the woods might set my heart to pounding. Secretly, I hope that one day they discover that Sasquatch exists, so that I can say that I had a reason all those years to be afraid.
Along with his fear, when LHM finds Viola, his expectations don't match up to reality, and then he gets angry and frustrated. Why did they put the goddamn place on the map if it doesn't have a "gas station, cafe, water tower, and stoplight"? How I've been in that place. Every one of us has faced times where our expectations exceeded the reality. As a kid, I ordered the x-ray glasses that would allow me to see through walls, and more importantly, through girls' clothes. How disappointed was I! I still have an expectation that there will be flying cars before I die, but I'm not holding my breath. I've been to restaurants that have been hyped, and gone away feeling cheated. I've seen movies and productions where I was truly excited (think of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) and afterward verbalized "what the hell was that?"
It's worse when people don't match up to the expectations you have of them. You meet someone, and in that initial encounter they seem interesting, witty and fun, and then, either quickly or slowly, they are revealed to be at best boring, at worst people who have problems or people who are downright malicious and cruel. If you get pulled into such relationships, it's hard to get out of them especially after you've invested emotionally.
I suppose disappointment is a facet of human life we can't escape. One probably can't find a person who has never been disappointed. Perhaps disappointment is needed so that we can contrast it with those times when we have been genuinely brought to joy and happiness because our expectations have been met and exceeded. Again, to use the Stars Wars story, the first time I saw Star Wars (Episode IV, A New Hope) back in 1977, I was so blown away by the movie that I don't think I'll ever have such a moviegoing experience again. If I'm out in nature, and I wander across an amazing vista, or if I am visiting a place and find something completely unexpected, the joy that I experience is genuine and more than makes up for those times where I have been disappointed. I may have been disappointed by people who can't live up to their hype, but I also have met people who live up to everything that they appear to be, and I have met people who didn't seem like much at first but who have astounded me with their honesty, caring and generosity to me over long periods of time.
A friend of mine who is an out of work orchestra conductor has been trying for a couple of years to float a proposal for a new orchestra now that our established one has gone bankrupt and out of business. He met with a businesswoman and friend of his to present his proposal to her, and went in with such high expectations that he was disappointed when she didn't simply write him a check. In his telling of the story to me, I was clear to him from my perspective that the most significant thing was that she didn't say no to him, but she just didn't give him a commitment at this meeting. She still might. From our different vantage points, what was disappointment to him was a sense of hope to me.
Life is a balance. Joy and happiness must be counterbalanced by disappointment and pain for us to truly appreciate all of them. I think that mostly life is truly in balance, but our perceptions depend on our state of mind and we can tip the balance of what we notice toward more joy or more pain. In other words, we see what we want to see. If I want to live in a state of constant disappointment, I'll somehow make sure that it happens. Sasquatch may or may not be lurking in the shadows of the forest, may or may not exist, but I will certainly convince myself that the dark patch under that far off tree in the corner of my vision is him if that's what I want to see.
This song, No Expectations by The Rolling Stones, just might capture what happens when reality just doesn't add up. A man, disappointed.
If you want to know more about Viola
Sorry, I could literally find nothing about Viola. LHM didn't foresee Wikipedia, but it is so small, it not only doesn't qualify as a town but it doesn't even have a Wikipedia site!
Next up: Somewhere along Hat Creek, California