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Entries in disappointment (2)


Blue Highways: Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

Looking for a place to stop for the night, William Least Heat-Moon begins to get irritated.  We'll see his irritation over the next couple of posts.  The truth is, when we seek inconvenience and find it, it sometimes isn't pretty.  Take a look at the map to locate the source of the irritation!

Book Quote

"....The map promised Moose Junction, Dairyland, Cozy Corners [sic] - towns that proved either no longer to exist or to be three houses and a barn."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 11

Sunset near Moose Junction, Wisconsin. Photo by Rick Techlin and hosted at the Light from Light blog. Click on photo to go to host page.Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, Wisconsin

Disappointment, frustration, irritation.  Do you see the pattern that is unfolding in this set of posts?  We all get to such places where we just want things to work right, and for all the elements to fall into place, so that we can put an end to the task or chore we are working on, or put an end to the day and knock off until tomorrow.

Douglas County is not proving to be a positive place for LHM.  In fact, this whole series of posts is about irritation.  He begins his Wisconsin segment in Superior which doesn't have much that's interesting for him.  He breezes on through in Ghost Dancing as it is getting dark, and begins looking for a place to sleep.  But Pattison State Park drives him away with a large sign of rules and regulations.  All he wants to do is find a place to pull in and settle down for the night.  He doesn't want to undertake an expedition or camp down for a month.

Now his irritation is growing.  He looks at the map.  As always, he is interested in going to those out-of-the-way places on the blue highways, particularly if their names are different.  Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner seem to promise "interesting" with the practical and the promise of comfort.

How disappointing, then, to find nothing there.  Moose Junction is a small, unincorporated township outside Dairyland.  Dairyland is a crossroads of Highway 35, Town Road T and County Road T that consists of a small cluster of buildings that give no indication that the town has 186 people in it.  You are certainly not going to find a motel or campground there.  Cozy Corner, despite its promise of comfort, is still another crossroads, where County Road T, School Road and Highway 35 meet.  There's not much there besides the people who live in the area.

Of course, we all deal with irritations and disappointments.  In fact, LHM will later say that part of the purpose of his trip is to be inconvenienced.  However, Douglas County will put that conviction to the test.  We often say we want to be challenged, but when a challenge comes, how gracefully do we really respond?  In my case, more often than not, my response is not with aplomb, but with a lot of whining.

I recently read an article written about student education.  You may think this falls far afield from Moose Junction, Dairyland and Cozy Corner, but the article had everything to do with challenge.  The author argues that if we are exposed to challenges at an early age and we are encouraged to respond to them with the idea that they are essential to learning, it appears that we carry that empowerment into later life.  The article lists a study that was done with students.  As we know, some students' IQs are higher than others.  Students that demonstrate early academic aptitude AND are reinforced with the notion that they are gifted and smart often, when confronted with challenges, do not respond well to them.  They give up if the answer does not come quickly, and see their inability to solve a problem as a failure.  Students who are presented with problems as challenges that are interesting and fun not only throw themselves into problems but also eventually work them out.

Take two groups of students.  In one group reinforce students' through statements and praise.  In the other group, present students with problems and encourage them to view problems as fun challenges.  At the beginning of the experiment the students' should be about the same in their ability to solve complex problems.  But over time, the students that are encouraged to view challenges as fun most likely will show significant increases in their abilities whereas the other group of students will not.

This is reinforced by Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers, where he does a profile on a man with an extremely high, genius-level IQ.  This man has, despite his genius, done nothing spectacular with his life.  He knows he has way above-average intelligence.  Yet he has won no Nobel Prizes, holds no academic posts - in fact, he struggled in college because he had trouble playing by the rules and felt stifled.  Perhaps, had he learned to accept struggle and challenge as something that could lead to growth rather than as something that is irritating and unnecessary, he might have achieved an outcome in life that better reflects his genius.

I'm reflecting on these matters because, in a sense, I too follow the same kind of pattern.  I got my PhD at the University of New Orleans, and was perceived to be one of the more promising students who came through the program.  I took to statistics easily, came up with interesting arguments and did well.  But I didn't land a job in academia.  I work on the staff of a medical school and not in a political science department.  I tried a year on the job market and got very disappointed in the dissonance between what I thought I should achieve and what I was offered.  I gave up, and whether you find me to be retroactively justifying a failure or simply reorganizing my priorities in life, I now question whether I really want to be in academia at all.  However, a big part of my disappointment was the constant reinforcement that I was a great student, one who would go places.  When I met a challenge in the job market, and found I was just another guy with a diploma looking for a job in academia, it didn't translate into what I thought about myself, and I struggled.

In contrast, a colleague of mine felt that he struggled all the time in school.  He is from a Catholic neighborhood in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He came to the United States because his parents didn't want him mixed up in "The Troubles."  He told me once that he didn't have the smarts that I had, that everything seemed like a slog to him.  Yet he got his PhD, went on the job market, and took a job at a small state university in an area of political science that wasn't even his main concentration.  His choice was purely utilitarian - he could get a job faster if he took it in a field of political science that didn't interest him as much.  He's now an assisant professor, and quite possibly an associate professor, in a political science department.  He tended to look at challenges as something to overcome.  He'd done it his whole life, and it worked.  He continued to apply it, and it netted results for him.

I'm not saying that we can't be irritated sometimes at our challenges, but meeting them depends much on the perspective we bring to them.  It's taken me a long time to learn that.  I hope that beyond learning, I can reorganize my outlook and apply a new perspective, one that embraces challenge, to the second half of my life.

Musical Interlude

I don't know why this song came to me.  I like the Indigo Girls, but never really listened to a lot of their music other than the songs I knew.  But their peppy, upbeat song called Hammer and a Nail, about avoiding stagnancy and meeting challenges ahead seems to fit both my mood and this post as I write.  I hope you agree.

If you want to know more about Moose Junction, Dairyland or Cozy Corner

Wikipedia: Cozy Corner
Wikipedia: Dairyland
Wikipedia: Moose Junction

Next up:  Somewhere in Douglas (or Burnett) County, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: Viola, California

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapWe'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.

Book Quote

"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

Photo of Lassen Peak from Viola, California by Marcel Marchon (lazytom) at Flickr. Click on photo to go to Marchon's photostream.

Viola, California

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.

Musical Interlude

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