I hate surprises but I love the unknown. This isn’t a contradiction.

Most social events can make me flinch but nothing’s worse than the dreaded surprise party. This happened once when I hit a banner “decade” number but because it was exactly one of those dates that have no real validity—like agreeing paper dollars are worth more than plain paper—I knew if no one was planning something then there must be a “surprise” organized so I was ready, in response and “glee.”

Surprises are for the giver, not the receiver. The former is going for the “awesome” reaction, the acknowledgement, the glory. The recipient is supposed to feel appreciated and loved. This works best if you’re under the age of four and you still think your parents are gods, and that the world revolves around you—not the gods. Beyond that age, it just feels a bit artificial and managed.

The giver holds the power in surprise. The unknown is about trust; surprises are about control. Think practical jokes; think about the adulterating spouse. Both are about controlling timing, the other’s response and reaction and rarely there’s little merrymaking at hand, at least for the beneficiary.

The unknown can be surprising but in an open, serendipitous kind of way: anything is possible—detrimental as well as favorable—but it’s like floating down a smooth stream rather than rocky rapids. Choice is available for everyone, not just for one, and though the uncharted can make one anxious, it also is a time of great creativity.

The next time you decide to show up early, stop over without calling, pull a chair out from under someone, pay $5 to a popular sixth grader to ask a geeky fifth grader out, keep secrets from your spouse, spit in your sister’s milk or dumbfound your mate with “*A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” like a relaxing work vacation [wink, wink] at a Montana ranch or a **mass-market luxury cruise…well, think again.

*see DFW’s book entitled thus & **essay

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