Janet Sheridan: In search of storybook endings

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Janet Sheridan

I stared in dumfounded silence at the mirror in the beauty shop.

I had anticipated a halo of soft brown curls imbuing me with a youthful glow. Instead, I beheld an orange straw-stack, spoking out from an appalled face.

Why was I surprised?

I know my expectations are optimistic, but I have a lifelong habit of imagining flawless finales.

One of my greatest self-delusions occurred when I left my job as a director of curriculum and instruction in the Moffat Country School District to become a consultant.

I expected the perfect job. I received reality.

During the first winter of my new career, I huddled 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 20 minutes of forced conversation about my just-completed, white-knuckle drive over a 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."

At last we entered a small room choked with chairs. The heater protested with a series of alarming pings before producing warm air and old dust. Barb yanked the easel I needed from an over-stuffed storage closet. One leg wouldn't fully expand, so we propped it up with my purse.

Muffled thumps and angry voices reached us through the 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 an affable dog attended the meeting. No one claimed the dog, but it made itself acquainted by enthusiastically sniffing everyone in the room.

The leader of the group had a cold, which he shared during woofing 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 also brought a benevolent attitude.

A 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 an alluring life of air travel, inspired audiences and standing ovations. Then I discovered once again that there are no happy-ever-afters.

I think about my tendency to expect the best and wonder if it is a good thing. Perhaps I would do better to imagine worst-case scenarios for my endeavors, experiencing pleasant surprises when things ended well.

For a brief period when I was 11, I believed if I thought of all the bad things that could happen, the act of considering them would prevent their occurrence.

Because of this poorly thought out philosophy, I supposed our parents had abandoned us when they were late getting home, decided I had 10 cavities requiring endless drilling and two extractions before a visit to the dentist, and assumed I would end up in an iron lung when I had a cold.

I can't say dwelling on pretend miseries made me a happier child any more than imagining bliss made me a bleaker adult.

But I am glad that neither approach stopped me from learning, experimenting, changing - and benefitting from the effort.

My grandchildren thought my new hairdo an improvement over my former graying mop. Consulting freed me from routine, 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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