One of the headiest things about covering sports, especially at the championship level, is arriving at an arena and having no earthly idea what you’ll be writing just a few hours after planting your butt courtside. Cameras are rolling, spectators are hopped up on adrenaline, the band is providing a thrilling sound track and the athletes and coaches are waiting to execute what they practice day after day.
Back when this was my living, a veteran sports writer once taught me it’s not OK to favor a team, but it’s natural to root for a particular story. For example, if an athlete is going for a milestone or if a victory by the underdog would make a compelling narrative, it’s only human to want that to unfold so you can bring it to life with words. That is the essence of the job.
As I read the headlines and commentary on the Duke-Butler NCAA basketball final after the Blue Devils squeaked by – i.e., “Duke robbed America of ending we deserved” -- I was amazed by the collective psyche of wanting the “little guy” to win. We really do come to most things with expectations, don’t we?
So often as a life coach I find myself convincing clients to script their own ending. Not ending as in death, but ending as in where life “takes” them in its various phases. It’s an interesting conversation to have because it is asking of them two things that seem at odds – working toward their desired (predictable) result while being open to surprise (possibility). It’s mainly about managing expectations.
Here’s the rub. We like surprises. Except when we don’t. And life is predictable. Except when it isn’t. This comes in all shapes and sizes. How do you make a hard and fast rule when negotiating the terrain of expectations?
The other day I experienced a minor example. Needing a writing break, I turned on my television at 4 p.m. to catch Tina Fey and Steve Carell on The Oprah Winfrey Show. It was a funny diversion and that’s just what I was seeking. After that interview, I was about to turn off the TV and get back to work when something told me to hang on and watch an upcoming segment with Tracy Morgan. His exchange with Winfrey turned out to be an absolute jewel – unexpectedly riveting for its realness. It felt like a reward for following my gut and not being so rigid with my time, for inviting surprise.
Yet we know there is comfort in predictability. During Easter weekend I was watching the “Movies We Love” feature on the E! network with my mother – Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley playing Jane Austen’s inimitable Elizabeth Bennet. We had never watched it together and talked excitedly about how much we love the ending. Imagine our surprise when the credits started rolling and we realized our ending had been cut. Um, programming newsflash, the reason they’re “Movies We Love” is because they’re the ones we watch over and over. We can recite the dialogue. Hello, this is a movie based on one of the most re-read novels of all time. Can’t we at least get a little Elizabeth-Mr. Darcy love as a payoff for watching them simmer from afar for a few hours?
I suppose I’m open to the element of surprise, except when watching “Movies We Love” or going to a favorite restaurant for the phenomenal salmon only to find they’ve changed their recipe (please bring back the shrimp and pineapple tapenade). But of course the first time I watched that beloved movie or tried that salmon dish, I was indeed practicing openness and engaging in something new.
It’s all connected -- jolting the paradigm one minute, creating self-fulfilling prophecy the next. This is how it should be with our goals, long- and short-term. Using judgment on when to let things be or get in there and micro-manage.
In a recent edition of The Writer’s Almanac by Garrison Keillor delivered to my email box each day, he commemorated the anniversary of James Joyce’s famous letter to Random House (1932) regarding getting Ulysses published in the United States. Already published and in the market for 10 years, the novel was banned in the English-speaking world but had made its way to America via bootlegging.
Keillor writes, “Someone suggested to Joyce that he could avoid legal trouble by publishing an expurgated version of his novel Ulysses, doing away with the passages deemed offensive. Joyce turned to him and replied: ‘My book has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Which would you like to cut off?’”
Bravo. That is one cumbersome, albeit brilliant, tome. If I’m going to sift through it, I better get my payoff from the smitten Molly Bloom at the end:
“Yes I said yes I will yes.”
A surprise the first time. A glorious expectation every time thereafter.