In Search of Storybook Endings

As I looked at myself in the salon mirror, I expected to see a halo of soft brown curls imparting a youthful glow to my aging face; instead, I saw an orange-tinged strawstack perched on an old face filled with dismay. Once again, reality shattered my rose-colored glasses.

Many years before, when I quit my school-district position as the director of curriculum and staff development to become an independent consultant, I thought I had achieved the glamorous job of my dreams. Then reality intervened.

I remember huddling in the glacial entryway of an unlit city hall, waiting to facilitate the goal-setting session of a civic group in a small Colorado town. Two strangers crowded into the semi-protected corner with me. We couldn’t go inside because “Barb isn’t here, and only Barb knows the code.”

After twenty minutes of forced conversation about my white-knuckled drive over an icy mountain pass blurred by whirling snow, a breathless Barb arrived: “Oh, I don’t know the code. It’s only two digits, so I just punch numbers until it clicks. Sometimes I have to call the mayor.”

Eventually, we entered a small room filled with folding chairs, stained Styrofoam coffee cups and peculiar odors. Barb found the thermostat and soon the heater clanked in complaint and coughed out a cloud of dust-laden air. I found the easel I’d requested in an over-stuffed closet; one leg was jammed and incapable of fully extending; so I propped it up with my purse. When muffled thumps and angry voices reached us through a cinderblock wall, I was told to pay no mind; the jail was next door. “They’ve probably just arrested some drunk.”

In addition to Barb, four people and a large dog attended the meeting. No one claimed the dog, so it introduced itself by sniffing us with more enthusiasm than appropriateness. The leader of the group had a cold, which he shared during red-faced fits of coughing. An older gentleman with wiry hair springing from his ears methodically munched cookies and spoke not a word. Coffee arrived with a pony-tailed fellow who beamed with a benevolent attitude, and grandmotherly woman called me “Hon” and crocheted nonstop.

No one introduced me, so I pushed the dog’s head aside and began.

During the months of planning my move into the world of consulting, I thought I would lead a life of air travel, inspired audiences and standing ovations. Then I discovered, once again, that happily-ever-after is a myth.

When young, my mindset was different: I deliberately predicted worst-case scenarios because I believed thinking of bad things that might happen would prevent their occurrence. Because of this poorly-thought-out philosophy, I imagined my parents had run away when they were late getting home, decided I would faint during my piano recital and assumed I would end up in an iron lung every time I had a cold.

I can’t say dwelling on possible misfortunes made me a happier child any more than imagining bliss made me a bleaker adult. But I’m glad neither approach stopped me from learning, experimenting, changing — and reaping the benefits of doing so. My friends thought my short, slightly orange hairdo an improvement over my long, 80’s perm; and consulting changed my routines, introduced me to interesting people and spurred my creativity.

Stepping into the unfamiliar, not knowing how the story will end, has its rewards.

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61 thoughts on “In Search of Storybook Endings

  1. I, also, am an “over-preparer” and sans the dog and the icy mountain pass, I think I’ve met this group many, many times. For me the high (low?) point was a before-the-semester-starts seminar during the orientation period (for which we were paid) of a community college where I taught. I prepared and gave a presentation on the relation between Jorge Luis Borges story, “The Garden of the Forking Paths” and two very old Chinese novels. Man, I had the most beautiful slide show and an interesting talk and and and and — three people showed up, one of whom was my friend. This scenario had been played out before and has been played out since, once here in Monte Vista where I did a thing at the art co-op on writing an artist statement.

    I wrote today, also, on the disappointing moment when expectation clashes with real life. 🙂 But now I have my own X-country skis. They’re old and a little worn, but I figured $30 was a reasonable investment for something that might not work.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It sounds like you’d understand the difficulty of helping a group set goals with only five people, one of whom wouldn’t talk. I’d been told to plan on thirty. Thanks for sharing your stories with me. Misery does indeed love company. I’m glad you have your skis. Let me know if they work. I still ski on the castoffs of a friend’s husband that she gave me fifteen years ago. I even wear his boots. They fit perfectly.

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  2. Your story resonates with mine. When young, I always thought of the worse case scenario in order to be blissfully surprised when things turned out better than I imagined. I live in hope more today, and I find myself disappointed more often. However, like you, I am grateful to be doing something interesting, to meet new people and to have a constantly changing direction at a time in life where I imagined, in my worse case scenario, that I would be in a rocking chair on my front porch and passed over by the world. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

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    • I agree our imperfect ventures keep our arrogance in check, Kay, and I was, indeed a humble consultant. But I was steadily employed, so I must have had more successful ventures though I don’t remember those experiences as vividly. I’m glad I made you laugh.

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  3. You had me at the opening photo, Janet. Love that face of dismay, but let’s not call it old!
    This is another thought-provoking post and I’m still trying to figure out the-glass-half-empty versus the-glass-half-full thing.
    Your last sentence is wonderful. I, too, love the unknown and I still need to believe that the world is filled with unexpected and endless possibilities.

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    • I am not surprised to learn you still anticipate a world of unexpected and endless possibilities. It’s a a nice mindset to have and is evident in your travels and the blogs you write about your discoveries while on the road.

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  4. Yes, I know that surprised, shocked andor dismayed look as the person staring back at you from the mirror resembles nothing like the delusion of your mind. Some days I cannot accept the wrinkles and take to photoshopping away those wrinkles … but then I wake up and realise life, lines and limitations happens to us all eventually. Beautiful post Janet and one so many of us relate to. 🙂 Linda

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    • Thanks, Linda. I really liked your line “I wake up and realise life, lines and limitations happens to us all eventually.” Yes, indeed. And I think our happiness lies in how well we accept and adapt when they do happen.

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  5. LOL doesn’t cover it…this is such a good start to my week! Predicting worst case scenarios to keep the ‘bad’ away—I’ve done that, and really didn’t think anyone else did! And like many of us, I called meetings when hardly anyone came, (and had parties with food for thirty for the three who turned up)!

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    • It sounds to me like we have lived similar lives, Diane. And I confess, I still sometimes slip into my childhood habit of predicting the worst to prevent it from happening. Difference is, now I know I’m fooling myself when I think my thoughts have any impact on the world and its happenings.

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  6. A lot of people have said to me in the past to expect the worst out of any situation for a pleasant surprise, I can’t say from personal experience that the universe cosigns that. Reality has a weird way of trying to put you off things that you want but I happy to read that you continued to learn and evolve as person to your benefit. I look forward to your next post! p.s I’m not sure why but I like that dog.

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    • I think you are right about the universe, Jeffrey. It doesn’t care how we view potential happenings. Actually, I liked the dog as well; it seemed to be the most interested and involved of all the attendees, and it cleaned up the old man’s cookie crumbs quite nicely. And, I’d like to say, reading your blog makes me think you are learning and evolving as a person.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Funny, I used to want the worse case scenarios to happen to me when I was a kid – I thought it would be me more attention. Now, I just wish they would go away. Careful what you wish for?

    I’ve been in the room full of people – you paint them so well, all the way down to the sniffling dog.

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    • I, too, have reason to remind myself to be careful what you wish for. A few weeks ago I thought, more than once, how lovely it would be to have entire days to write and read with no obligations interfering. Then I took a tumble while hiking and my old skeleton was knocked out of whack resulting in pulls and strains hat make it difficult for me to walk. So reading and writing are all I’ve been able to do for a few days; and I find myself pining for obligations: meetings, exercise, even housework!

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  8. Aunt Beulah … you will never be old. You are still in touch with the child within, and she never grew any older than your shoe size.
    Stay in touch with her. She’s your greatest friend and she smiles out of your face.

    LOVE this bit of writing. You took me everywhere you were and because of that I experienced it. Fabulous bit of writing.
    Sending squidges ~ Cobs. x

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I just have to ask; what town were you at for this meeting?

    I have always been the type to think of what might be the worst scenario but not necessarily to keep it away. I have always done that as a way to prepare myself in hopes of being able to handle it better.

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  10. What a wonderful start to my reading day!
    I was there with you in that hallway; I have waited outside many a mildewed room, where you think the uncomfortable chit chat is the worst until you get into the room where your audience decides to make you really work!

    It’s funny (and not) that I used to think up the worst case scenarios too. After all, if you expect the worst, everything better is a bonus, right? Except that as you’ve pointed out, it doesn’t always work that way!

    Being an eternal optimist isn’t really my thing either, I find it frankly quite exhausting.

    So, I find myself in a place not dissimilar to yours: to take each day, each experience as it comes, doing the best I can to make sense of and enjoy it for what it is.

    Thank you, Janet, for this opportunity to think on these things!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I lived my first decades convinced that if I just tried hard enough and had good intentions that everything would work out favorably. Wrong. Enough disappointments and I became more realistic. When I learned to accept I had little control over the eventual outcome, and how to accept what “is”, I became a happier person. Now I can laugh and say ‘we’ll, that didn’t go as planned.”
    I think those who consider worst case scenarios, like yourself, adapt easier. My brother helped me when once I was telling him my plans and he said “well, that’s nice but what’s your plan B?”
    Plan B. Whew….why did it take me so long to learn I needed one.

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    • I’ve heard you say, “Well, that didn’t go as planned,” Mary, and I remember marveling at your ability to laugh as you said it. Plan B has long been one of my scenarios, but there have been times when I didn’t realize I needed one, and I did. I guess, all in all, I, too, have learned to accept what is. Maybe it’s called maturity.

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  12. OK, I guess WordPress dropped me from your list because I can’t imagine missing two of your posts in a row.

    This was a fun read. I switched to consulting for a while, and while I had done tough audiences, I never had a dog or prisoners in close proximity.

    I think the best part of high/low expectations not coming to pass, is that we survive anyway.

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    • I was wondering where you were my friend. I’m glad you found me again. This experience was early on in my consulting career, and I remember driving home through the snowy dark wondering why I quit my job. Fortunately, it wasn’t a sign of things to come. I had marvelous experiences as well; and I often felt I was making a difference for the teachers and administrators I worked with.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m certain you were. Sometimes, I stop getting email notifications, and I think people might be taking a break. I kind of thought you would have mentioned that. I’m going to unsubscribe, then resubscribe. I’ve done that before when this happened.

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