It’s a week later and I’m no longer slogging. I’m into A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne and I can’t wait to find out how it all turns out. If this is the first in a series and I don’t find out what happens until the end of the series, I’m going to be angry. In the meantime, it seems like every other page has a deep thought that inspires further rumination, which is why I love Kevin Hearne. Today’s perfect line describes “perfect contentment. That sublime moment when you’re at peak anticipation of something and you know you’ll get it soon. I often think that moment is better in some ways than getting the thing itself: it’s the awareness of your own joy at being alive…”
Interesting concept. Can the anticipation of a thing can be more enjoyable than the experience itself? And further, does memory sharpen or blur the edges of an experience so that it’s better in hindsight than it was in the moment? These questions challenge conventional wisdom about the nature of time and the desirability of living in the present. Sometimes, being in the now involves looking ahead or behind. Confusing, but true.
I’ve read Eckhart Tolle and know all about the power of now. I practice Transcendental Meditation so I can learn how to peek at the reality beneath my conscious thought to the eternity within each moment of time. I do yoga regularly and believe me when I tell you that my becoming a bona fide yogini was an uphill battle. I’m definitely transitioning, only it’s not my gender that’s changing, but my personality type, from triple A to something somewhat less high strung. I’m learning how to pass on the java and sip herbal tea. And I’ve worked hard to relax, and, mostly, it’s all about turning away from the past and the future to see the present as the gift that it is.
And then Kevin Hearne comes along to harsh my mellow. To tell me that sometimes anticipation, the pleasure we experience from the expectation of pleasure, is better than the pleasure itself. But he’s right; anticipation can be more sublime than reality. Because in anticipation is the totality of the potential for perfection, the possibility that our expectations will be met completely. Ahhhh… can you feel the joy? Carly Simon is an absolute genius. Not to mention Heinz Ketchup.
There are few things in life that live up to their hype. Book of Mormon? Possibly, yes. Hamilton, I’m not sure it’s possible and I don’t want to find out. Our wedding? Well, actually, that was a case where I found the anticipation excruciating and the event beyond my wildest dreams. Still the best wedding I’ve ever attended, 22 plus years later. The marriage is still rocking too, and that truth has blown away any expectations I might have had.
That’s a clue there, I think: when the anticipation is blurry due to a failure of imagination or nerve, the experience itself may eclipse its anticipatory prequel. During my engagement, for example, I was so afraid that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t get to marry the man of my dreams, I could barely look forward to the wedding. In terms of the marriage itself, I had nothing on which to base my anticipation: I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ marriage and neither did my husband, so we’ve been making it up as we go along, which seems to be working. So far so good.
Back in the day, when I used to go clubbing in New York and Los Angeles, the time I spent getting ready, putting on makeup, doing my hair, choosing my outfit, that time was often more fun than the night out. While I was primping, I could think about the place, the music and the people I would meet. When I was there, the truth often fell short. Verisimilitude is sometimes more authentic than verity. The same goes for my night out from the vantage of the morning after. A lot of times, it was more fun to recall the dancing and the flirting than it had been to actually do those things. In hindsight, I’d already gotten home safely without finding myself in a bad situation. During the night, the possibility of things going south stifled the excitement of the circumstances. When it was over and done with, from the invulnerability of my living room couch, on the phone with a friend, the passion was amplified by time and distance.
Anticipation and afterglow can gild boundaries and transform something mediocre into something extraordinary. There is no thing, just our reaction to it. And what does that say about living in the moment? Perhaps Mr. Tolle is correct: the power of now applies to both anticipation and hindsight, because we can be in the moment of anticipation or looking backward, enjoying the experience as it happens of looking forward to a lovely future or examining the memory of a joyful past.
Maybe I’ve squared this circle or maybe I’m just writing in them. Up to you to decide. In any event, the writing of this blog post was more agreeable than the anticipation of doing so. Probably a failure of imagination or fear. Or both. But my Muse did not abandon me completely, so I am content to read A Plague of Giants and to think deep thoughts along with Kevin Hearne, philosopher extraordinaire.