Christmas eve was horrible. Having been deprived of running hot water and the internet for several days, at last we had managed to have someone assess each problem severally and we hoped (after a long day of work and expecting another to follow) to at last wish our family blessings. With each hour of ‘we’re coming’ our frustration mounted and hope dwindled. At last we broke down and began to boil water in every vessel which could conceivably serve the purpose; at last resulting in something akin to a bath.
Christmas day a foul mood hung in the air. Angry and mistrustful, there was little of any ‘holiday spirit’ to bestow upon our students. The cold gnawed greedily as we limped home and prepared our sullen meal, seething too much to talk to one another. We retired quite early hoping to wake up a little cheered, but were awoken by a sudden knock (when you live on the sixth floor with no elevator, all knocks are sudden). Our internet was being seen to! Within an hour our contact was restored and we proceeded to contact what family we could before settling back under the sheets satisfied (there may have been some compulsory sports-viewing which went rather acceptably as well).
As a student I dreaded to hear those words, but say them Dr K did. It was hard enough to drag oneself to class every day for two weeks knowing that she or he would be subjected to three hours of lecture…nearly all of which was simply summary. Staying awake was a challenge. Paying any attention was another. But this was intolerable. He opened class by telling us that we should be leaving ten-to-fifteen minutes early that day. An audible silence ensued (as it always does) as cheered heads smiled at the prospect. Not I.
I knew better.
I tried to hang on, as did my fellows, but could do nothing but watch the time (and I ‘m a chronic clock checker both as student and lecturer). I do n’t recall a word he said, but I anticipated the end. I finished his sentences for him, inspected what material we had yet to cover and knew as we rounded the turn toward the end that it just was n’t going to happen. He hurriedly finished his last segment and announced we could depart. There were three minutes to spare.
I refuse to submit my students to the same because I know, ever so intimately, how destructive expectations are. We are busy tallying, trying to sort out just whether this will happen. As soon as I ‘m offered extra work I ‘ve spent the money in my mind (often wisely — usually toward debt reduction and letting my wife know she matters). I ‘m not sure if I ‘ve ever had healthy expectations.
–When I performed above average on my tests, I expected to see opportunities open for a career
–When I discovered I did n’t like my studies or the prospect of working in my field, I thought another would be fine so long as I worked hard
–When I worked, I expected to have a chance to get ahead
–When I went to school, I expected my studies to be rewarded, if moderately (instead I saw tuition rise and my scholarship remain the same)
–When I excelled, I expected to see opportunities for graduate school open up (though I had no expectations before my sophomore year)
–When I starting thinking of going to graduate school, I expected to see opportunities to pay for it open up
–When I performed above average, I expected to see opportunities for an academic career
–When I studied abroad, I expected to get a jump start on graduate school
–When I realised I had low expectations, I waited a year (expecting to find work)
–When I sought work, I expected to make enough money to reduce loans
–When I applied to graduate school, I expected to get ahead of a poor job market
–When I joined graduate school, I expected to grow in job prospects and academic enculturation, but mostly in inspiration
I found the pattern for myself as a student was to become enthralled with the course calendar, to accept what the course could be at the beginning, and to consistently lower my expectations as inspiration drifted far from my grasp. In undergraduate there were moments of fire, and I expected that these would be multiplied in higher education. Mostly they were n’t. Certainly not in the classroom. I wrote one or two inspired papers, staged the coldest grammar war imaginable, and felt my frustrations mount.
Then came this year just past. We married (it’s been too much work on either of our or our community’s parts to use the passive) and began life in the North Capital. I expected nothing but work. I was rarely disappointed. When I was disappointed it was because of something I expected. I wanted to add ‘logically’ to that last bit, but all expectations are logical — we estimate what is reasonable and are shocked to find how much less we are forced to settle for. Deflating.
Like watching the clock tick away your seven extra minutes of freedom. Like looking at your bank account. Like looking at the useless phone number you ‘ve been dialing for help and none comes whatever its promises.
I ‘m tempted to end with all the positives of this year (marrying being on that list of course), but still we ‘re left to temper hope. We made lists and now have to pick up some of the scraps. Others wonder why we ‘re not in the next step on the road to success (PhD and publishing and the wondrous world of academe await). But I have no idea what success really is, or why my expectations are so externally defined.
I ‘m still learning what it means to care for my wife. I ‘m still happy to be paid to teach college kids, even if I highly suspect I should be treated more fairly and compensated better. I ‘m still learning how to write.
I honestly did n’t expect the last of these. To look outwardly. I blink and find my eyes have stared far far away and are none too near to the tasks of today. Tomorrow can worry about itself. That does n’t mean I pretend tomorrow won’t come and toss away my budget but I ‘d like to see my expectations for what they are: arbitrary. They ruined our Christmas eve. They ruined quite a few days in the last year and I ‘d like them to have a bit less say in this coming one. So I ‘m making no resolutions, and ex-specting over days and weeks, rather than months and year, and shall endeavor to wake with the opportunity for each day to surprise.