News and Tribune

January 31, 2014

STAWAR: Everyday quests

By TERRY STAWAR
Local columnist

— Most of us like to think of ourselves as heroes and our lives as noble quests. In some instances we might even try to participate in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, saving the children, ministering to the sick, or in my case helping people with mental illness. These larger than life quests, however, can be frustrating. They are extremely difficult and frequently leave us with feelings of futility. To compensate we may regress into taking on smaller everyday quests that are achievable. Completing these quests can be a source of satisfaction and comfort.

Folklorist Josepha Sherman says that the quest theme appears in the folklore of every country. Success in a quest requires great effort and overcoming many obstacles. Typically a quest involves travel to unusual places, dangerous adventures, and encounters with colorful characters. Sir Galahad’s pursuit of the Holy Grail and Jason’s hunt for the golden fleece are examples of prototypical quests.

Quests may have their origin in mankind’s struggle for survival, especially in harsh environments, where food was scarce. Daniel Kruger, from the University of Michigan says that foraging strategies for hunting and gathering have been used throughout human evolution. They are now a regular part of our lives, expressed primarily in our shopping behaviors. Ordinarily we just make our lists and pick things up. If there’s an item, that we can’t find, we get a substitute or forget about it. Occasionally, however, there is something that we feel driven to possess, regardless of the trouble involved. This is when a quest is instigated.

There are different levels of quest, ranging from casual commitment to the full blown obsession. In many quests, the real aim is not necessarily to obtain some object, but to achieve personal change or pursue some higher goal, such as love or god. The quest is a metaphor for such psychological and spiritual journeys. In J. R. R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” the comfort-loving hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out to help a band of dwarves reclaim their kingdom, for a share of a treasure. In her essay, “The Psychological Journey of Bilbo Baggins.” Jungian Dorothy Matthews, says what Bilbo actually gains is “a new level of maturity, competence and wisdom.”

For everyday quests the basic motivation is often rooted in the desire for completion. Writing for Psychology Today, psychologist Jamie Madigan says, “Apparently we as humans don’t like it when we begin something and don’t finish it, and such circumstances create an internal tension and preoccupation with the task. Completing the task provides closure… . With such closure, tension is relieved and we gain a sense of satisfaction. This is just as true for minor quest as the big ones.”

Below are some of the most notable of the Stawar Family quests:

1. The Strawberry Shortcake Quest: Many Stawar quests involve seeking out difficult-to-find toys. When our daughter was little we searched high and low for Strawberry Shortcake dolls. At a Zayre’s store in Florida we stumbled upon the Holy Grail of Strawberry Shortcakedom. Not only did they have every doll in the collection, but they had seriously underpriced them. Best of all they refused to listen to us when we told them the dolls were supposed to cost more.

2. The Cabbage Patch Quest: When Cabbage Patch Dolls were all the rage, we looked for them everywhere without success. Just before Christmas a friend gave us their rain check at Toys R Us. We couldn’t believe it when we got the secret call to come to the store to close the deal. I was quietly ushered into a secret backroom to pick out a doll. Evidently they were afraid that, if word got out that there was a supply of Cabbage Patch Dolls in the store, a riot would break out. The dolls were stacked on a pallet covered with a canvas, which they removed with a flourish when I entered. With all the intrigue and drama it seemed more like a major drug deal than a doll purchase.

3. The Gameboy Quest: I remember getting the call at work from the electronics store that the delivery truck had finally arrived. If I wanted a new Gameboy there was no waiting. I had to take off work and rush over there immediately. I think I told people at work it was a family emergency — I just didn’t say it was a family Nintendo emergency.

4. Quest for the Zhu Zhu: One of our more recent toy quests was for the elusive Zhu Zhu Hamsters, that our granddaughter coveted. In desperation I bought one from a scalper, but eventually managed to get others on-line.

5. The Tablecloth Quest: Not that long ago Diane and I were looking for a tablecloth for one of those small three-legged decorator tables. It turned into a full blown quest after we had little luck at the stores we tried. We assumed that these tables took special sized tablecloths. At several of the places we tried, the clerks thought so too. They said that they didn’t carry the size and that we could only buy them in one or two places in the area. Turns out this was a pseudo-quest since the tables actually take regular-sized round tablecloths, that are available everywhere.

6. The Dress Quest: Each holiday season there is our annual quest for matching Christmas dresses for our granddaughters. Diane is always worried that the selection will be picked over if we wait too long. One year we ended up in a store in Louisville, which was the only place we could get the girls the same style sailor dresses in the right size.

7. The Latte Quest: Recently I was on a quest for a frothing pitcher to go with an espresso machine I had bought. I finally found one lone pitcher, at a clothing store of all places. A week later, I found an identical espresso machine for $3 at the church’s thrift shop. It was a great deal, but now I need another pitcher.

8. The Cap Quest: I have always loved cap guns and Diane and I thought our grandchildren would enjoy them, too. I’m afraid, however, that caps have become passé. I would have never imagined that they would be so difficult to find. A lot of everyday quests involve looking for items that are rather old fashioned. It helps to find a store that stocks such things.

9. Seasonal Quests: Every year we find ourselves on frantic death marches trying to find prizes for our advent calendar and the plastic eggs we use for Easter egg hunts. These items are almost impossible to find because they have to be small enough to fit in a very tight space, inexpensive, but still be fun for the grandchildren.

10. Longstanding Quests: Finally Diane has been on a lifelong mission to find the perfect vacation spot. She’s still hopeful.

Just last week a quest for coffee mugs with a moose motif came up. We wanted to match our inexpensive moose tray. I had been looking for a masculine theme for a tea service for my office and we thought a Northern woods pattern would be easy, which was probably true five years ago. On Sunday we tried the Spring Mill State Park gift shop. The lunch buffet was excellent, but there was no moose pattern in the gift shop. After an online search, we decided that the Bass Pro Shop was our best chance. Diane’s furniture instincts took us to the home décor department, where we finally struck pay dirt. We’re now on the lookout for our next challenge. You never know where it might come from.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com.