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A holiday card to the industry, 2016

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Robert Fulghum described a scene involving his younger self, when his summer job was working at a resort. The pay was limited, but the position did include meals.

Which turned out to be franks and beans. For every meal. Meal after meal after meal, until he reached his breaking point and threw his plate across the room in a fit of pique.

Which was when a co-worker — a holocaust survivor — suggested, “Fulghum, you need to learn the difference between a problem and an inconvenience.”

Most of us do. As Randall Munroe — the creative genius behind XKCD, of whom I’m insanely jealous for so many reasons – once pointed out, “Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.”

I don’t know about you, but I live in a world of constant irritation, and that was before the election. I need scaling strategies. One recalls my days as an apprentice evolutionary biologist.

So when the folks who run the building our condo is in have to shut off the water for a few hours, or my computer takes longer to boot than I’d like (anything longer than instantly is longer than I’d like), or a call from “Anonymous” interrupts my train of thought (okay, usually it’s my caboose of thought, but it’s the best I can manage even without interruptions) …

Faced with these outrages, I imagine myself explaining why this raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels to Ogg, my hunting companion who lives in the cave next door, but won’t be my neighbor much longer because on our last hunt he suffered a scratch that became gangrenous. Only we really don’t know anything about gangrene. Our diagnosis: “Arm turn green, hurt, and stink!”

Or when I’m stuck in a center seat, our flight is delayed because of the line at the de-icing station, and I just finished the last novel I really want to read on my Kindle and will now be forced to read a book that’s more a professional obligation than something I’m actually interested in …

I imagine complaining about this to my fellow clan members when it’s time to move on to the next hunting and gathering ground because we used this one up. Which means we each tie up everything worth carrying into a bundle we haul on our backs and trudge behind our elder, hoping he knows the right direction.

In my imagined migration, my fellow clan members are something less than sympathetic to my center seat plight.

It isn’t that we all live in a Panglossian wonderland, or should. This evening my wife and I will be attending the funeral of an acquaintance who suffered a massive heart attack. He leaves behind a wife and teen-age children. That he exceeded what was humanity’s average lifespan for most of our evolutionary history isn’t even remotely comforting to his family.

Although, evolution aside, knowing my dad made it to 90, passing away painlessly after living an amazing life, does put quite a cushion on my grief. While I miss him (and on three occasions while writing this wished I could consult him on a matter of word choice), I know I had a lot more of his time than many my age, and I had him lucid until the end besides.

“Old age ain’t for sissies,” Bette Davis once said, and while I refuse to admit “old age” applies to me just yet, I could only continue to claim middle-agedness by joining the post-factual revolution.

Accompanying my steadily increasing codgerliness is a boatload of galling indignities. My self-diagnosis: I suffer from MARD, which, in case you haven’t heard of it (as I just coined it you probably haven’t), stands for Minor Age-Related Disorders.

The specifics are none of your business, but collectively they annoy the daylights out of me. Okay, yes, chronic crabbiness is a MARD symptom, but it’s just a symptom. The root causes are the other MARD symptoms.

Recursion is, I guess, more than a data-design strategy. It’s a way of life all its own.

Most readers of this weekly missive make their living toiling in the fields of information technology. While bending digital devices to our will does provide some unique satisfactions, there’s no question our trade is accompanied by no shortage of crankiness-inducing situations. But only if we let them.

So I’ll leave you with something my wife and I have started to say, to each other and to friends whenever complaining about something that doesn’t pass the evolution test starts to dominate a conversation:

If this is the biggest problem we have, we have a great life.

* * *

Well, that about wraps it up for 2016. Enjoy the holidays. We’ll resume our weekly chats in January.

Comments (5)

  • Very sorry to hear about your MARD Bob. I have noticed that my chronic OFS has been causing me no end of problems too. Some people haven’t heard about OFS — it is a very frustrating age related disorder that combines elements of OLD, FAT, and STUPID. Like MARD, crankiness and self pity are major symptoms.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here’s to a better 2017!

  • Once again, thank you for another year of wisdom, interesting facts, human centered content, and economical prose that I envy. Whether you’ll admit it or not, you’ve carved out a unique niche for yourself, and made a number of folks like me grateful for your pointed ramblings:-)

    While I’m having a merry Christmas, I hope you have a happy Chanukwansamas (or whatever holiday you like to celebrate)

  • My wife and I have a similar scale of problem classification. We grade them on a 1st, 2nd, 3rd world scale.
    2nd and 3rd world problems must be treated with respect and dealt with promptly.
    1st world problems can be annoying but cause no long term harm (e.g. online banking is down and now my car payment is late).
    The ultimate trivialities are designated 0th world problems (e.g. curling iron breaks on prom night).
    And yes most of our problems fall into the 0th category which means we do indeed have a wonderful life.

  • It’s all about perspective, yep 🙂

    Decades ago, I would get very frustrated when the commute I thought should take 15 minutes always took longer than that. I finally decided to allow 30 minutes for the commute, and was amazed how much more relaxed and happy I was arriving to work (usually with 5 minutes to spare 🙂

    Over the years this attitude has carried over into all my travels. It’s still frustrating when a 5 hour trip by air turns into a 24 hr nightmare, but hey, the airport has heat, water, and bathrooms 🙂

    I have MARD too (I’ve come to think of aging as a process of collecting various odd lumps and bumps, most of which are harmless, but very weird). But I don’t think chronic crabbiness is a result of the symptoms – if I’m crabby, it’s because I’ve allowed them to make me crabby, or some other circumstance is making me crabby (like the constant negativity issuing from my chronically crabby teenager. I wish there was a way to teach perspective to kids, but I think only experience does it).

    Coincidentally, just this morning a friend told me that geologists do not have a definition for what makes a mountain. That large lump in the landscape – whether it’s a hill or a mountain is all in the viewer’s perspective.

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