Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Age of The Ten-Year Plan is Over

“What you think is the point is not the point at all but only the beginning of the sharpness.” ― Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman  (Picture Credit)

And I just found out. I’ve always had an empty beer can to throw hard at people who ask six year old children what they want to be when they grow up. I’m six! I’m busy being a kid. Stop rushing me or I’ll give you some crap about being an astronaut or a crime-fighting cyber-warrior or a princess.

So, I don’t know how old I was when the first vague plans began to coalesce around my future. I don’t remember ever saying I wanted to be a middle-management career bureaucrat at Research-O-Rama University. But at some point I knew I wanted to get married, and have kids and have a house – although by then the white picket fence was out. Definitely wanted a hedge instead. These days I’m still planning. For when I can’t drive a car anymore and have to walk out for groceries. For downsizing so if I drop dead without warning my heirs won’t find a hidden porn stash or that puzzling collection of beer bottle caps. I’m planning where to put my DNR and my weed where they will be respectively easy and hard to find.

But this morning I spoke to some Gen-X people who said when an interviewer asked them what their ten year plan was they pretty much said: why bother? Wouldn’t that make them think you were a flake? I asked.  No: pragmatic, they replied. First, there are no opportunities for buying houses with or without picket fences unless your parents are friends with Mitt Romney on Facebook. Second, stuff happens. They said that at every point of their lives, if asked to guess where they would be even five years hence they never would have predicted themselves to be where they found themselves five years later. Why should tomorrow be different?

This is the age of uncertainty, at least for the generation of Baby Boomers’ children who took our advice and went to college only to find themselves with six-figure debts and no job opportunities. Instead of getting mad - or maybe after passing through the stages of denial and anger etc, - they have reached acceptance. And while they may not exactly embrace the uncertainty, they find no cause for anxiety. Like the anxiety I have, for example, about whether I’ll ditch the porn before I’m suddenly stabbed by a door-to-door bible salesman.

Maybe in ten years, I’ll be an astronaut, I said. You never know, they said.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Impatience or Pride?

"Of all the causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring judgment, and misguide the mind,
What the weak head with strongest bias rules,
Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools."
Alexander Pope

My Dad would have been 95 this month. He died when he was 76. The quote above is the epigram at the beginning of his one unpublished novel and I think it was modestly chosen to remind him of what he considered his greatest fault.

Those who knew and loved him all agree that his greatest fault was his impatience. Dad’s impatience was to ordinary impatience as global climate change is to a balmy spring day. A short while before his sudden and mercifully quick death he told one of my siblings that he’d been working on the impatience thing his whole life and thought he might be getting somewhere better. I cling to that with desperate white-knuckled hope: most mornings, I yell at the toaster to hurry up. But some mornings I don’t.  So there might be hope for me too.

I think Dad may have realized there’s a reason why pride is given pride of place as one of the seven top deadly sins while impatience doesn’t even make the top ten. I realize this too when I watch the news or read the internet or listen to people talk about religion or politics. We don’t even listen to each other any more. (I also yell at the TV) Only part of the reason is that we’re impatient for the other person to stop talking so we can reply/rebut. We may like to think we have open minds but we mostly don’t want anybody to put anything into them. We have all made up our minds that our beliefs, opinions and certainties are right and those who disagree are wrong. That, my friends, is pride – even if it happens to be true. And it’s a sin in the non-religious as well as religious sense to be so far along the sliding scale of self-confidence as to surpass arrogance.  I am humble enough to accept that even I can’t be right all the time.

We have two ears and one mouth, and yet we all want to talk more than listen, myself included.  So, I am resolving in Dad’s name to not only stop yelling at the toaster and the TV. I’m also going to try to listen better and talk less. Not sayin’ I’ll agree with every fool who speaks, or that I won’t snort in derision at their foolish biases. Just that I’ll listen and try hear what they are really trying to saying.

Happy birthday, Dad.