Erin's Everyday Thoughts

Monday, February 06, 2006

I Want to Know Why

I’ve noticed that as I grow older, I grow happier. I’m more comfortable with myself every year, I understand myself and others more completely, and I feel more focused and thoughtful. How could I be anything but progressively happier?

I have also noticed that as I grow older, I grow more disappointed. I am a predominantly optimistic person. I tend to imagine the best in people and situations, which I think is generally a good thing. It can be bad, however, when a person or situation falls short of what I expected. So I say, as I grow older, I also grow more disappointed in the world and in the darker parts of human nature. When I hear of something dishonest or underhanded that’s been done, I feel a hole in the middle of my stomach, a slow ache that’s a blend of discomfort, sadness, and regret. Why would someone do such a thing? And why did I have to find out about it?

I think the slow ache has less to do with my disapproval of someone’s actions and more to do with my mourning the loss of some piece of innocence or optimism within me. I’ve seen something or heard something that I would have rather done without, and I feel a lack because of that knowledge.

I’ve never been sure if others have this reaction, or if they feel it as strongly as I do. (Although I’ve always suspected that there are people who feel it much more strongly than I do.) I do know that I don’t like it but that I find it very interesting.

For years, I’ve wanted to write a story about this feeling—a story about disappointment, about learning things in life that you wish you’d never learned, about the world falling short of expectations.

On a trip to Half Price Books* a few weeks ago, I happened across a Dover Thrift Edition of Sherwood Anderson’s The Egg and Other Stories. I read Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio several years ago and absolutely adored it, so I was quick to pick this up and even quicker to purchase it when I found that the original price was just $1.50 and I’d get it (at half-price) for $.75. A few days later, I read the first story in the collection—“I Want to Know Why”. I was floored—Sherwood Anderson, in stunning prose, had written about the ache in my stomach!

The story is about a young man who goes to see a horse race and, after a series of events, is disillusioned. The experience affects him deeply and he, too, feels a bit of his childhood, and a bit of his enjoyment for life, slip away. To read the full story (because there’s no way I can do it justice), visit this Web site: (Warning: The language used in this story is not very PC.)

Unfortunately, the story offers no solution to this problem, no balm to soothe the young man’s wound. And really I don’t think there is one, short of completely shutting out the world. And if a person shuts out the world, he may miss out on the stomachaches, but he also misses out on all of the good knowledge and positive experience. I guess when you open yourself up, a few bad eggs are bound to slip in, and it’s simply part of the human experience to deal with that and keep searching for the good to keep everything in balance.

I’d still like to write a story about this feeling. Anderson’s story didn’t discourage me (as it sometimes would have—ack! my story’s already been written) but instead convinced me that this is something that can be expressed on paper. I hadn’t been so sure before. The story is also reassuring in the sense that now I know others have felt as I sometimes do. It gives that feeling of solidarity that I so love, as only a good story can do.

(*Half Price Books is an excellent used bookstore in Cincinnati—and Dayton and Columbus I think?—that sells many paperbacks at half price and an assortment of trade paperbacks and hardbacks at a great discount. I’ve picked up a number of like-new hardback books for just $2. I love it!)


  • Isn't Anderson a treasure? Erin, there is no answer to the "problem" you describe. It is just the nature of life. But it's this bitter sweetness that make our stories and our poems so rich. Now, what you need to do is translate that feeling into your own story. This is such a thoughtful post; I'll be thinking about it all day.

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 2:51 PM  

  • Erin, Theresa directed me over here. It is, indeed, a thoughtful entry. At first, I felt some puzzlement - how could you grow happier, yet more disappointed? But I see what you mean. I think the important thing is not to let the disappointment turn into cynicism, which is oh so easy to do. I must admit, I am feeling similar pangs of disappointment, which alternately stir me to action and leave me speechless.

    Thanks for the stimulus. I shall think more on I grow older...

    By Blogger Vicky, at 9:45 PM  

  • hi e-boe. I get what you mean about the happier and more disappointed. I feel happier in general and less of a need to search outside myself for contentment (this being a good thing, in my estimation). I am also more deeply disappointed in people in general. I was just sitting with some of that disappointment tonight while working on my ethics book. I relived all the shock and disappointment I felt in so many of my fellow Americans who were involved in the Enron/Arthur Andersen/WorldCom debauchery. Yes. Debauchery. And greed. And sacrificing the futures of so many for the gain of a few. I still am deeply disappointed that this could have happened here. I know it sounds silly, but i have higher expectations of my fellow citizens. Specifically that they be honest and do no harm. Thanks for another insightful and well-thought post.

    By Blogger e_doe, at 12:29 AM  

  • very thoughtful post and it is nice to meet you. There are many of us who "feel" more deeply in our daily lives.... perhaps a blessing and a curse, but I prefer feeling to what I see some do as they numb out and do not live their days.
    My best to you,

    By Blogger Judith HeartSong, at 6:36 AM  

  • Thanks so much for your comments, and for welcoming me into the "blogger community." Vicky and Judi, I'm excited to check out your blogs and will do soon. Very nice to meet you!

    Theresa, thanks for this comment and also your comment on my first post. Both mean a great deal to me! I'm so excited that we have a new form of communication. :-)

    Erin D., I don't think it's silly at all to have high expectations for your fellow citizens. I think people tend to expect others to behave as they would, at least on some level. Since you are such an honest, fabulous person who is driven by things much more important than money, I think it makes sense for you to expect others to be like that, too. Unfortunately, many of them are not. On the bright side, we have the Erin Club. :-)

    By Blogger Erin, at 4:37 PM  

  • "... mourning the loss of some piece of innocence or optimism within me." I find I keep hoping that I will grow out of that mourning, or that I will learn so much or become so jaded I won't have to mourn any more. But it keeps happening...and I have learned to love that innocence, optimism, and perhaps naivete that is within me. I like your post very much. Very thoughtful.--Beth

    By Blogger beths front porch, at 5:31 PM  

  • Erin, I was talking to the Imaginative writing class today about change, and how each new realization is both a gain and a loss. I mentioned to them a story by Rick Bragg about when he was young and had a car that "sounded like judgment day" when he turned the key. Of course, he raced the car dangerously and of course he wrecked it and could have killed himself in the process. He described how he had the car worked on but that it was never the same, "as if something was broken deep inside her." I told the class this was how Bragg felt, too. The wreck had broken something deep inside, his feeling of immortality, his absolute fearlessness. Sure, it's great he's going to be more careful from now on, but the loss of that fearlessness is something to mourn. We are always trying to balance those life experiences. That is where our stories come from, that tension between what we've lost and what we gain.

    By Blogger Theresa Williams, at 12:05 AM  

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