Pre-conceptions of the Mind

“Nothing is so good as it seems beforehand.”  George Elliot, the 19th Century British Novelist, made this thought provoking statement.  Expectations are formed in our minds each day about a variety of different things.  Sometimes reality exceeds expectations, but only in extremely rare cases.  All through growing up, I have always had some mental picture of what to expect, whether it’s a long awaited trip to Europe or the everyday choices that I make such as what movie to see on a Friday night.

In his essay “The Loss of the Creature,” Walker Percy describes what he calls the “pre-fabrication of experience,” using as an example visitors to the Grand Canyon.  He explains that they are never able to achieve the same experience of the beauty as the first person to discover the canyon.  Everyone after that fortunate first, in this case the first being Garcia López de Cárdenas, always has some pre-knowledge of what they were supposed to see.  Percy goes on to say that people can “recover” this first look sensation; however, I disagree.  I don’t think anybody is ever really able to get some form of preexisting thoughts out of their mind.

Having such pre-fabrications about everyday choices and sights are not always beneficial, as I can attest especially from my experience, in the case of traveling.  My family and I have been traveling to Europe since 1999 to see different places and experience different cultures.  One of the first places we ever went to was Italy.  I have always wanted to go to Rome and was extremely excited.  I was expecting this rich, leisurely culture; one in which everything was like it had been in the ancient times, as described in what I have read in guidebooks and textbook.  Also, from what I had previously learnt in class created about this famous city that had flourished for a thousand years, the Great Roman Empire of the ancient world.  Well, of course I knew there were bound to be some technological advances but I was expecting the feeling of being in an ancient civilization.

Being in Rome was overwhelming, but not for its ancient grandeur.  True, there was evidence of an ancient time everywhere you looked, but it was overshadowed with the chaos of everyday modern life.  There was no leisurely time just to enjoy life, because it seemed, as in America, people were rushing to get somewhere.  I was expecting a far off exotic land rather than the chaotic bustle of what I was use to dealing with in my everyday life in San Carlos; everyone scrambling around trying to get to his or her jobs or to get their errands done.  What I found was a big San Francisco like city comprised of ancient buildings.  I felt like I could have traveled 30 miles instead of several thousand to see it.  Most people there actually spoke English and cars were everywhere you looked.  (Although it was interesting seeing a modern day car driving down a cobblestone street that was paved thousands of years ago.)  A McDonalds was even on the corner near our hotel, not to mention that fast food places were all over Europe, even a Starbucks in Greece that greatly surprised me.

I was sorely disappointed, especially when visiting the Coliseum.  Right before we had left for Europe, I had done a report all about Rome and one of my focuses was on the ancient Coliseum.  This glorious building where gruesome, horrifying events happened yet with my morbid curiosity I was fascinated by it.  I was expecting something more when I finally stepping up to the ancient monument.  The “it” that the two tourists were looking for in Percy’s essay but that they couldn’t find; I guess that was what I was looking for.  A feeling of something that wasn’t there.

Also in Italy, Venice, with its highways of water and everlasting magic, was a disappointment in a way; though in the end it ended up far exceeding my expectations, but in ways I did not expect.  In Venice, I expected the only way for transportation would be on the famous black painted gondolas with gondoliers dressed up in comical outfits singing as they poled down narrow canals.  Instead, there were thousands of boats and water taxis.  The price of even getting on a gondola far exceeded my pocketbook, and it cost an exuberant amount for them to even think about singing.  Although Venice is my favorite place in the world, every time I go I still hold certain expectations of it being as magical as the first time I was there.  Venice lost some of its magic the last time we were there because as we were walking down a side alley suddenly a “kill the tourists” stood out on the wall in graffiti surrounded by anarchy signs.  Also, many of the little street venders and shopkeepers who used to invite us in with friendly gestures (almost as if you were part of their family) seemed distant and rude.  They had changed so much in just five years.

Not all of my expectations were less than magical.  In the square near our hotel was the fish market where every morning vendors would be out selling the catch of the day.  Everything was fresh!  (And you could smell it!)  You could find any fish you wanted there were squids, sharks, stingrays, and even sea snails crawling around.  Right next to the fish market was the vegetable and fruit market, which had a pleasant odor compared to the horrible smell of fish.  In Venice, I found the simplicity of life, the slow paced life style I had expected to find in Rome.  People were in cafes actually talking to one another face to face instead of on their cell phones.  They looked like they were enjoying life.  Everyone seemed to enjoy each other’s company (they all seemed like one big family).  Nuns in full dress walked down the street.  You could see four generations of a family walking down the street together taking the kids to school or at the market buying rosy red tomatoes and fresh polenta.

I have not only had preconceived expectations about traveling.  I have always wanted a puppy for as long as I could remember.  I was in for a surprise.  About owning a dog, I had previous expectations too.  Even though I had been told that owning a dog, especially a puppy, was going to be hard work, I did not realize the full impact of that statement until I actually got one.  All the work to take care of them, they act just like two year olds and I sure wasn’t ready to be a mother figure yet!  My Australian Sheppard, Kongo, was given to me last summer when he was three months old.  Regrettably, Kongo had not yet been potty trained.  (Which was not fun to go through, and it took a long time.)  He also had to be taught what he was supposed to do and what he wasn’t.  That unluckily meant that he had to do something he was not supposed to so we could train him properly.  With that said, I went through two scarves and numerous stuffed animals before he learned his lesson.  (And my parents were not happy about the screen doors either.)

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” we hear again and again, yet, pre-fabrications are also found, for me, in everyday things, such as books.  In just looking at a books cover you can get a preconceived notion of what the book is about.  I find myself sometimes looking for interesting covers instead of actually reading what the book is about.  I also have not bought a book even if the backs of the book seem interesting if I do not like the picture on the cover.  The same thing could be said concerning movies.  I had so many high expectations for The Corpse Bride, a Tim Burton movie that just came out.  I thought it was going to be as good as The Nightmare Before Christmas, another movie Burton had previously made.  However, after seeing the movie I thought that the plot line could have been more developed and the ending was a disappointment.  I did not think the movie was worth the ten bucks to see it.

There never seems to be a way past these preconceived thoughts.  With Percy’s implication into our pre-fabricated lifestyle we need to really take into consideration what we should be seeing or take the time to actually notice what is around us. There will always be expectations but we can try to see something more in them.


Works Cited

Walker, Percy.  “The Loss of the Creature.”  Ways of Reading: An Anthology for Writers.  Ed. David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky.  Boston:  Bedford/ St. Martin’s, 2005.  468-481.


~ by wolfangel87 on December 2, 2010.

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